Growing up poor in Kansas, and living with a mentally ill mother, singer-songwriter Mike Rathke made the decision at age twelve to leave home. He spent subsequent nights on friends’ couches and eventually dropped out of high school. Then, at nineteen, Mike accepted Christ into his life, ultimately leading to his leading worship at church, getting his GED and even earning a BA in college.
Mike bought his first guitar with the $20.00 his mother gave him on his fourteenth birthday. When he was sixteen, he received an electric guitar as a Christmas gift from a friend. After he began writing songs, he produced three independent albums, before joining the music label Prazor. It was there that Mike was able to deliver his first professional project, which was produced by Billy Chapin. Touring in support of his new EP, The Dawning Fire, Mike shared the Gracefest 2019 stage with Tasha Cobbs and Mercy Me.
What started you on your Christian music journey?
All I ever wanted to do as a kid was play music. I grew up with two older siblings whom I really looked up to. They were always on the cutting edge of what music was cool at the time. As a result, I took my music preferences really seriously and always felt that I would write music as well.
When I became a Christ follower, I turned that desire over to Him. Music suddenly had a deeper purpose. It was an expression of art. As an expression, I felt strongly that it needed to be something that told “truth” within a frame of creativity.
Sometimes, when we’re making other plans in life, our Heavenly Father writes in a twist that ultimately blesses us more. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?
Oh, for sure. I think that’s part of the journey. We all have general ideas of how we imagine the Lord is going to direct our steps. So often, it ends up being totally different than what we anticipated. I know in my family; we’ve seen that time and time again. We have three awesome kids. Our first two are 19 and 16. We had them really young so we used to joke about how we’ll still be young when our kids are grown. With the arrival of our third child, we won’t be quite as young when they’re all grown (laughs). But she was the missing ingredient in the Rathke family. She brings so much joy to the house. It’s hard to imagine what life was like before she was born. Truly a blessing.
Let’s talk about your new EP, The Dawning Fire (Octiive Records, April 10, 2020). Please tell us about it.
We live in a time where it’s becoming increasingly expensive to stand on the pure word of God. There are times when Christian artists are being put on the spot about some of the more controversial truths of scripture. It’s vitally important that in our response, we hold to the pure milk of the word while proclaiming the love of God.
There’s a line in The Dawning Fire that says, ‘let Your word be exalted and every man a liar. Come aboard Heaven’s Ark before the dawning fire.’ Our duty is to proclaim the good news of the gospel. But if we shy away from the problem of human nature, that we are born into sin, the good news loses its impact.
We have to be careful and present that with humility and love, we remember that our sin is no less grievous to God than anyone else’s on the planet. It’s important that we speak from that place when we’re faced with those uncomfortable questions. The Dawning Fire is simply a reflection of that. Today is the day of salvation. Enter into the Ark, which is Christ, while the opportunity exists because there is a day coming when the door will close.
What’s your favorite song from the project and what led you to write it?
All of the songs on the EP are really special to me, but Every Era is definitely at the top of the list. I wrote it back when we were still living in Kansas. I had a job for which I had to get up pretty early in the morning. I used to get up around 5:00 am to read the Bible and spend some time with the Lord, while everyone else was still asleep. One morning, I got up and was in the kitchen drinking coffee and listening to a song by Matt Redman called ‘Facedown.’ It was still dark, I had my eyes closed and was just sitting there listening when I had this scene sort of play in my mind.
There was a platform full of musicians and a congregation standing before the platform. The congregation was wearing white robes and had palm branches in their hands. Everyone was just worshiping. On the platform there was a throne. After a minute or so, Jesus came out and sat on the throne. When He did, all of the musicians stepped off the stage and joined the congregation. In the congregation there were cellists, violinists, and other musicians standing side by side with everyone else but there was no one on the platform but Jesus. That image really stuck with me and still does to this day.
Sometimes, especially as worship leaders, it’s really easy to lose sight of our focus in worship. This is never intentional, but it’s a trap we have to beware of. There is a reason that worship music has become a large revenue source. I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing, in and of itself, but we have to remain humble and never allow anything but Jesus on the platform of our hearts. Every Era was written from that imagery, along with the scene in Revelation 7.
What’s your favorite song from the project to perform live?
Probably Reign Forevermore. That song speaks about the death and resurrection of the triumphant return of Jesus. It really contains everything from our fallen state, to our redemption, to our arrival at the Wedding Feast that Jesus spoke about. It’s a celebratory song and I love singing it with His church.
A few fun questions…
When on tour, what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Having lived in Texas for a few years, I can’t turn down a good Tex-Mex restaurant. Something about smothering giant burritos with melted cheese and endless chips and salsa makes me happy, ha-ha.
What Bible passage or parable best describes your journey of faith?
I think that’s something that changes with every season. Andrew Peterson had a song some years ago called Mystery of Mercy.
I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path
I am the son who ran away
I am the bitter son who stayed
My God, my God
Why hast thou accepted me
You took my sin and wrapped me in
Your robe and your ring
My God, my God
Why hast thou accepted me
It’s a mystery of mercy
And the song I sing.
I think if we’re honest, we can be any number of characters from the Bible. Maybe that’s part of what makes the Word so impactful in our lives.
In the story that is your life, are you the tall, dark stranger; the romantic lead; the mythical warrior; the mad scientist; or the child in an adult’s body?
I’m definitely the ‘child in an adult’s body’ and I hope I always stay that way! It does a body good to just be silly sometimes.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
I’m what you call a dog-lover and a cat-tolerator, haha. We have a dog named Tuck and two cats named Little Foot and Dubv (pronounced Dove). They’re ok…but Tuck is my buddy. We even have the same beard!
Thanks, Mike! It’s very nice to have you as a guest at Divine Detour.
Thank you! It’s been a pleasure!
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