In Retrospect: 30 Years and Counting

The men who went to try to rescue the five brought back to me from Jim’s body his wrist watch, and from the Curaray beach, the blurred pages of his college prayer-notebook. There was no funeral, no tombstone for a memorial…. No legacy then? Was it “just as if he had never been”? “The world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Jim left for me, in memory, and for us all, in these letters and diaries, the testimony of a man who sought nothing but the will of God, who prayed that his life would be “an exhibit to the value of knowing God.”  from the Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot.

by Jeff Martin

October 1, 2021, marked our 30th anniversary of serving here in Chetek, Wisconsin.

Martins News Clip

That was us in 1991, as pictured in The Chetek Alert.

Since arriving in the “City of Lakes” back on October 1, 1991, a lot of water has flowed under the Long Bridge on the north end of town. Over the course of 30 years, we have lived and raised a family here. To date, I have preached 1,022 regular Sunday morning messages (not including uncounted youth and other special event messages). 

Over 30 years I’ve preached and taught the Scriptures, prayed for people, and conducted numerous hospital and pastoral visits. I’ve ministered to young and old, single and married. I’ve led Sunday school classes for kids and shared the Word with “old folk,” too. I’ve presided at weddings and funerals, dedicated babies, and prayed over more people heading out on mission than I can easily recall. I’ve listened to those who are brokenhearted and disappointed, and I’ve sought to console those who have described themselves as lost.

All these activities (and many more like them) are standard fare for a “one-horse” parish like the one I serve. But in my particular situation, over three decades I’ve also moonlighted in many other capacities—whether that’s driving the hearse for the local funeral home, coaching kids at the middle school and high school, writing for the hometown newspaper, performing in community theater, and presiding at church, school, and city meetings. And, of course, the most significant addition to my resume in recent years is serving as mayor of our city since 2016. I think it’s fair to say I get around.

Since October 1st was a beautiful day, I drove out to Lakeview Cemetery and went looking for Rev. Runar and Ruth Mattson’s marker. Rev. and Mrs. Mattson founded Chetek Full Gospel Tabernacle (now renamed “The Refuge”) in 1956. It was during his time of service that the lots where our sanctuary now stands were purchased, the building built and the mortgage satisfied prior to his untimely death on January 1, 1975. By all accounts he was a good and godly man revered by his wife and children. While the church was small at his passing (frankly, it still is), what greater legacy could he have left other than being loved and respected by his family and the community he had so faithfully served.

Printed at the bottom of Pastor Mattson’s marker is his last sermon: “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

Since his death, six have followed him as pastor of  our church: Jonathan Reine (1975), Del Grandstrand (1975-1977), Chester Logelin (1977-80), David Bakken (1979-1980), John Tuttle (1981-91), and myself. Del, Chester and David have long since gone to their reward, Jonathan no longer is in pastoral ministry, and John presently has been serving a congregation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for many years. Each in their time here made deposits into the life of the kingdom of God in our town and beyond, but only God can say—and, ultimately, will say—which was of eternal value and which was not (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). The same goes for me.

For the last few months I have been reading Shadow of the Almighty: the Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. Following his death in 1956, his wife, Elizabeth took the journals he had kept and the letters he had written to put together a biography. As it happened, it was on October 1st—30 years to the day since arriving in Chetek—that I came to the end of the book. 

Upon his death, all Jim Elliot left was a wrist watch, some well-worn clothes, and a one-year-old daughter. He had no life insurance policy. Their home in the wilds of Ecuador would rightly be considered a crude shack by any definition. But considering his influence on the cause of missions and the ongoing life of disciples worldwide, he “done real good” for his nearly 30 years of living. (He was 29 when he died.) Ultimately, only God can evaluate the worth of his ministry—and mine—rightly. Best to leave it there.

Honestly, I’m just grateful to be here. I’m thankful for the life we’ve made here, the friends we’ve made, and the things we’ve been able to be a part of. When I re-read Psalm 16:6-7 “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me” (NIV), I see our home at the corner of Fifth and Banks, the “church behind the Dairy Queen,” downtown Chetek and the nature trail behind Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High and Middle School.

Chetek Sign

Boundary lines in pleasant places.

I see it all, and the multitude of lives that have touched ours over three decades of living here. However long my service to this fellowship and this community may last, I pray to be found faithful to my call, to my post, and to them. 

As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you” (Daniel 12:13, NLT).

Jeff Martin has for 30 years been pastor of The Refuge, Chetek, Wisconsin.

Fervent Faith in Turbulent Times

Some are perceiving it, others are not, but everyone is experiencing it. We are living in days of darkness when evil is reigning.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1 ESV).

We are seeing our government and other entities being overtaken by spiritual forces of evil. We are accepting the marching orders of radicals, the breakdown and overturning of social and sexual mores, and the abandonment of basic law and order. Our religious liberty is being threatened while lies, deceit, and hypocrisy go unpunished. The fear of God, our Creator, has been subordinated to the fear of man, merely part of creation. Of special concern is the apostasy, the falling away of believers.

Although the wicked continue to conspire and plot evil, the time is coming when God will suddenly shoot his arrow of judgment and bring the wicked down. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Until then we must now, more than ever, stand up and contend for the truth (Jude 3). We need to be bold and courageous, unwilling to compromise, and unmoving in faith. “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

These days are calling us to have an unwavering faith and to be a bright light. We are set apart by God and for God. We trust in the name of our Lord! Having that kind of trust means that we have a confidence to stand firm based on the character and reputation of God himself. Our relationship with God is built on his character and his reputation. And because of that relationship, we have every reason to be encouraged during these times of testing and tribulation.

God is faithfully moving according to his plan and his purpose for glory. We are obliged to continue to shine brightly in our faith and for the truth knowing who God is, whom we belong to, and why we are here. True believers are not to be entangled with the world and these evil spirits. We are called by God to be separate and stand out and up for the truth, clean, pure, and undefiled.

We must remain in the Word to know the Word to live the Word and to share the Word. Whether it be from the pulpits or in the streets, we believers must stop telling stories to connect only on an emotional level with people. Rather, we must be letting God’s word speak for itself, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict the heart and change the spirit and person.

I personally believe we’ve become people so sensitive we’re afraid to speak the truth for fear of causing others to feel offended. I’ll let you in on a secret, truth offends us all. Don’t be afraid of it!

This is the hour to stand fervently proclaiming the truth to a nation and a culture adamantly rejecting the truth, but needing it so desperately more. This is not a time to retreat, but to stand up for truth moving forward and advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Messiah! “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV).

Thomas Yerman is an FCA pastor ministering at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village.

A Time to Prepare

by Thomas Yerman

Here we are, in a world and nation full of changes, challenges, and controversies. We are being told to do this and don’t do that. We are trying to live a life that is full of uncertainties! Yet in the midst of the storm, we must not forget about the Advent Season we are in.

In the middle of turbulent hurricane winds, there is a place called the eye of the storm were things are calmer. Now is a good time to find that peaceful place. I believe Advent season provides an opportunity for us to do that.

Advent began on November 29 and ends on December 24. It’s a period of time to prepare our hearts before we celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. These four weeks have been given to us to remember, to pray, to meditate, to read Scripture, and to deeply contemplate the true meaning of the birth of Christ.

There ought not be anything that takes superiority over that. For it is Christ who holds all things together.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

Let us not be distracted by the virus and the politics going on around us. Distractions come to weaken you. It’s a tactic of the enemy to take your focus off of that which will strengthen you and give you hope. You will find things being thrown at you to interfere with achieving the peace you’re seeking. Don’t give up! It is God who has given us Christ that we might be reconciled to him and have peace. A peace only God can give—a peace that transcends all understanding, a peace that will guard your heart and your mind. That peace is found only in Jesus Christ.

So, make every effort to find your place of peace and calm in the eye of the storm, with Jesus. Take time each day to remember the importance of Christ’s birth for your life. Prepare your heart for a joyful Christmas. It’s yours, embrace him like never before. Christmas is coming, and Christ’s coming return is evident. Be alert, aware and blessed!

“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things
that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)

Thomas Yerman is an FCA pastor ministering at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village.

Church on the Front Lines

Helping people in need is a passion for Greg McMullen and The Well Church, which he pastors in Lake Stevens, Washington. When he and his wife, Amy, began their ministry, they put a blessing box in front of their house. Each day they would put over $200 worth of canned food in it, as well as food donations from others.

McMullen and his church began to provide food three times a week for any who came. They also made 200 to 300 sandwiches to distribute to the area’s homeless. They ran into a few logistical and bureaucratic snags, however.

“We had a bumpy start,” says McMullen, referring to some early opposition that sidelined a few of their efforts. They were even questioned about delivering groceries to the elderly and others in need.

Then, over a year ago, the blessing box was destroyed when it was hit by a car. McMullen felt that they should wait for the right time to rebuild it.

He could not then have imagined what would happen, because all of that was before COVID-19 came along. A few weeks ago an area gleaning (or benevolence) ministry asked for some assistance, and the McMullens started bringing in food to help during the quarantine.

The Well

Food ministry to many in and around Lake Stevens, Washington, who have lost their income during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Some friends of ours heard about our earlier problems,” says McMullen. They informed a large food bank, which responded by dropping off two big truck loads providing food for more than 1,000.

A number of people lobbied for the food ministry of The Well Church—including the county representative, himself a former pastor, mayors from two neighboring cities, and the county Sheriff’s department.

Recently a mother came to get food for her family, asking how much she could take. “Take what you need,” McMullen told her. She fell on her knees, crying and thanking God.

“The Lord broke my heart with his mercy,” says McMullen.  The family with four children had been eating only what the school gave for the kids’ lunches. “I began to weep as I felt the Father’s heart for his people,” he says.

Now the county helps with traffic, staging vehicles for parking, a critical issue for a small church with limited space. “Now we see people coming from 30 or 40 miles to fill up two shopping carts of food,” says McMullen. “It is truly amazing to see.”

Over 2,500 people have been coming to the church each week for food. McMullen drives a rental truck 120 miles round trip, aiming for three trips each day they distribute food. Over 350,000 pounds of food were delivered last week.

Why rent a truck at nearly $1,000 a week? “Unfortunately,” McMullen explains, “I destroyed the engine in my pick-up in the process of pulling a trailer with food.” Although a local dealer provided them with an excellent deal on a new pick-up, they are trusting God for a larger box truck to haul the amount of food needed for the ministry.

Officials estimate 18 months are needed for area families to recovery from quarantine restrictions, so McMullen has made a two-year commitment to bring food, which is shared with two other churches and three gleaning ministries.

“Many people have come to Christ,” says McMullen about the spiritual impact of their work. “We have been baptizing people during this time.” It’s typical to see them praying for people in the parking lots. They have given away over 1,000 Gideon Bibles—their entire inventory.

McMullen says, “It is almost like the book of Acts. God has really moved here.”

He still thinks of the desperate mother, thanking God for his blessings. “I have not been able to stop crying,” he says. “All I think about is how we can bring more food in to help the people.”

McMullens

Amy and Greg McMullen.

As their ministry has grown and McMullen’s “tent-making” role as a contractor has been put on the back burner, he is praying for financial partners to help purchase a used box truck for $34,000 or to provide ministry support for the next 18 months.

More information about the ministry can be found at the church’s website, Facebook page, or their GoFundMe page.

Hope Until the End of the Age

by Thomas Yerman

Hope seems to be in short supply these days. Media reports are often bleak and pessimistic, despite occasional attempts to end with a “feel good” story.

This year’s lead up to Easter has been unlike any in recent memory. But what an opportunity for us to offer the world some life-giving hope!

Hope means to expect—even anticipate—certain things to happen. Hope helps us avoid worry or, at the least, manage it. Without hope, worry can distort the way we see things, the way we feel. Worry can rule over us, dictating what we do. Worry can manipulate our feelings, feeding fear and even despair.

Worry strangles the strength of hope. Seven hundred years ago, the Old English word, wyrgan, which evolved to become our word, “worry,” literally meant “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat”—as in an antiquated phrase about a dog “worrying” an old shoe.
That’s what worry does to hope!

Spring and nature remind us that hope can be a common experience, essential to life. This “common hope,” however, is more of a wishful expectation that something you want will come. There are benefits in having that kind of hope, but there are no guarantees. In fact, common hope could set you up for disappointment when your expectations fail to materialize.
Essential hope” on the other hand, is quite different from common hope. Essential hope is, well, absolutely essential to life.

Where do we find that essential hope? How can we offer essential hope to the world? That kind of hope is based on God’s presence and promise, found specifically in Jesus Christ and salvation that comes through him. That’s why I like to define HOPE as: Heavenly Optimism Promoting Eternal-life.

Essential hope is an expression of a confident expectation we find in a three-way relationship between the Creator, his Creation (us), and his Word. Connect these three properly, and our feelings and desires will align with God’s. It’s a hope that points to our future life in eternity: “…we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…” (Rom. 8:23-24)

In this season especially we remember the source of our hope. Through Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter celebrations, believers are revived in the hope God has given through the resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

If we are truly building our lives on the redemptive work of Christ, we should all be optimists, filled with hope. We know whatever happens to us here on earth is temporary. Jesus promised us that after life with all its hardships has ended, we will be in a place where pain, suffering, and death are no more. Jesus came to earth to take our sufferings upon himself so we could one day be free from every form of suffering forever.

The reality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his promises throw open the gates of heaven that give us the optimism we need for promoting eternal life in and through our lives today.

When we stray from living out our redemption as God intended, we can lose our hope. When people feel no hope, they begin to fear. According to Cliff Wilt, FEAR is “Forgetting Everything About Redemption.

Hope is dependent upon our redemption—having our sins forgiven. Because without redemption a person has good reason to fear.

So hold on to your faith and your hope in Christ! It gives us the strength to make earthly suffering bearable. It gives us the confidence to trust in God’s sovereign plan, looking forward to the day of Christ’s return when our bodies will be resurrected and all creation will be redeemed.

It’s good to cut pollution and clean up our planet, but it’s even better to remove sin and redeem our lives. Jesus has the authority and power to restore all things, perfectly. Both “a new heaven and a new earth” will come in God’s timing.

In the end of the age, the earth will be a place where God makes his dwelling among his people as he originally intended in the garden of Eden. Everything happening between now and then is moving us toward that glorious time.

God is fulfilling his sovereign plan! We trust in him as we anticipate heaven and Christ’s bodily return. Hope might not remove today’s suffering, but it can help us put pain in perspective. The time is coming when we will participate in the glory of Christ, but for now we are being prepared for eternal life. We have a purpose to accomplish while we are here and a hope to sustain us until we get there.

Our hope enables us to rejoice and celebrate even in the midst of suffering.

Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”
(Col. 3:1-2).

Jesus gives us the hope we need so we know something good is going to happen.

Let Heavens Optimism Promote Eternal-life in and through you today! God is building his Church, and he still has his arms wrapped around the world. Believers in Christ have an essential hope and calling. Jesus promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age when the permanent will overtake the temporary. Heaven is coming, can you feel it?

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with the seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)


Thomas Yerman is an FCA pastor ministering at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village.