Wednesday, April 26, 2017

R.E.G.R.E.T. can be beaten! Don't let it beat you!

I personally find regret one of the greatest enemies of my soul. Regret attacks without mercy at our weakest moments. All it takes is the slightest sense of failure and regret jumps in and kicks us when we're down, sometimes pile-driving us into an utter sense of hopelessness that we'll ever be able to change. It's one thing to feel an initial sense of regret that leads us quickly to repentance, but I can allow regrets over the smallest of infractions to linger for days or even weeks, robbing me of peace and joy. So you can imagine how life's larger blunders affect me. And what makes it worse is that I can sometimes want to go there. Yes, there's something twistedly appealing about beating myself up with that soul-bruising rod of regret to punish myself for some self-declared inexcusable fault.

But it's all pride and vanity, and we must not allow such regrets to rob us of our joy in the present or our hope for the future because of our pointless self-reproach regarding the past. Regret can be beaten! Even the most persistent regrets can be slain! So if you too want to grow stronger in your battle against vain regrets, try using the following acronym to turn the very thought of the word "regret" into something positive!

Every time regret attempts to sabotage your confidence in God, this acronym defines how you can respond. When we rehearse this acronym, God will consistently rescue our souls from the seductive snare of regret.

R.E.G.R.E.T.
Re-live the Gospel
Encourage yourself in the Lord
Get low
Remember Romans 8:28
Ears to the Lord
Take action

Re-live the Gospel: Begin by decisively reminding yourself of the glorious good news of Jesus Christ! Timothy Keller urges us to do this every time we find ourselves feeling the need to prove our worth through our performance. It's like we want to put ourselves on trial to prove ourselves whenever we fail, when in actual fact, for those who know Jesus, the trial is over and the verdict is in! Jesus demonstrated our value by dying for us! And so every time regret causes us to question our worth, "re-live the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned." When regret haunts us, we must remind ourselves of the many wonderful truths of the gospel of Jesus!

Encourage myself in the Lord: Then, remind yourself of who God is and of His ever-reliable promises. In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men returned to Ziklag where they'd been living, and found that the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and taken away their wives and children! Verse 4 says, "Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep" and verse 6 says that "David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him" in their grief. David was their leader, and I'm sure he must've had regrets about how his leadership had led to this tragic outcome. But verse 6 goes on to say, "But David strengthened [or encouraged] himself in the LORD his God." To do this, David must have turned his thoughts to the truths he knew about the God who had faithfully led him this far. He likely encouraged his soul with thoughts of God's promises and thoughts of God's unchanging character. Focusing on who God is and on all His promises is a sure way to lift our perspective and encourage our soul in regrettable circumstances.

Get low: Then, own up and bow low before God. God's word is clear: If we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:10). We all fail at times. We all commit regrettable blunders. And the faster we own up to them, acknowledging our sins and our limitations, the sooner God will release His grace to us. Getting low reinforces the fact that the only thing we truly have to boast about in this life is that Jesus died for us and makes us both willing and able to follow him each and every day. We can't even boast about the times we get things right because we only do so by the grace of God. And when we get things wrong, and regret assaults our soul, the best thing to do is to "agree with your adversary quickly," admitting that we are truly regrettable pieces of work without Jesus, but that Jesus has made us brand new creations, fully accepted by God despite our blunders and regrets!

Remember Romans 8:28: Then, remind yourself of this central truth: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." The beauty of this verse is that "all things" means all things  even our regrettable blunders and mistakes. We therefore need to remember that God, in His wonderful wisdom, is able to take every poor choice made by those who truly want to walk in a loving relationship with Him, and weave them into the tapestry of His sovereign design for our lives, causing those poor choices to work together with His perfect contributions to our lives for our good and His glory! God is the great Artist who redeems every smudge we make with the skillful brilliance of His brush. 

Ears to the Lord: Then... listen. For every regret in our hearts, we must take time to listen to what the Lord wants to say to us. Just because God can cause all things to work together for good, and just because He loves us despite our blunders, doesn't mean God has nothing to teach us through it all. We must turn our ears heavenward as we look to God's Word (the Bible) and wait on the Lord in listening prayer so that we can learn the lessons of every one of our regrettable failings, trusting God to teach us so that we can have gretaer hope of steering clear of those failings in the future.

Take action: Finally, resolve to obey what God speaks to you as you humbly wait on Him. This is not a works-based response to the anguish of our regrets, but rather, an obedience-based approach to life as a follower of Jesus. We're not meant to wallow in the futility of regret, but nor are we meant to minimize the importance of repenting of the specific incidents that led to our regrets. Taking action means choosing to turn so that we avoid stepping again into the same muddy mess that stained us with those persistent regrets in the first place.

So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed with regret, let that R.E.G.R.E.T. remind you of these six redemptive responses. As we put them into practice, we'll find freedom from the regrets that linger longer than God intended.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Help, I need Somebody. Help, not just anybody.

It seems to me that as our children grow from being babies to teenagers, it's a good thing to see them grow increasingly less dependent on their parents, right? It certainly doesn't seem all that healthy if a teenager needs his or her parents in the same way a baby does. 

But that's not the way it works as children of our heavenly Father. In our life with God, the more mature we become as God's children, the more we ought to depend on our heavenly Father. It's a good thing to both need and want God's help every day, reaching out for it consistently in prayer!

This came to mind the other day when God rebuked me for something that I thought He ought to be comforting me about! It happened while I berating myself for some blunder I'd done, and then I began telling God how comforting I found it to remember that He "does not deal with us according to our sins" (Psalm 103:10). I then felt like God asked me why that was so comforting. Well that's obvious, I thought. It's because I often beat myself up when I blow it. Again, I felt like God asked me why. Praying, I told God that I guess I thought I should be able to do better, like a child who gradually grows more mature and learns how to better handle things. Then came God's clinching question: "Are you trying to impress Me?... As though you're trying to show Me that you can manage certain situations without needing My help, as if that seems a good thing?!"

Ouch. I knew that God wouldn't ask a question like that unless that was exactly what I was doing. What I realized at that moment was that I ought to be far less concerned about "blowing it" than I am about depending on my heavenly Father. That's because God really wants us to become more comfortable with the mistakes we make while depending on Him, and less comfortable with trying to avoid mistakes while not depending on Him! Simply put: God wants us to need Him. Depending on God for help is the mark of the strongest Christians.

That's why in Pilgrim's Progress, it's so inspiring when the mighty character named Great-Heart says, "It is my duty to mistrust my own ability, that I may have reliance on Him who is stronger than all."

That wonderful example of dependence on God is also set by the writer of Psalm 121 as he wrote: "I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the maker of heaven and earth." (vv. 1-2).

Those verses seemed quite fitting to me the other evening as I was walking my dog outside our city in a wide open setting. As I walked, I marveled at how huge the prairie sky was above an expansive horizon that stretched out before me like a braggart showing off how much it could put on display in one remarkable view! It all seemed so vast and awe-inspiring. As I stared up at a pale and imposing moon that was already rising before the sun had fully set, I found myself wondering how far that clear blue sky around it went on and on into the empty space that I knew stretched far beyond where any eye could see.

"Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the maker of heaven and earth." If the Maker of the amazing scene that I beheld has offered to help me, then why, oh why, would I not want to depend on Him who offers me that help? All my challenges and needs feel so tiny compared to that outstretched scene that I beheld, and to the outstretched hands of the great God who made it all – and who extends those hands to help me!

So I must resolve that as I face life's challenges, I'll make it my aim to daily depend on my heavenly Father, like a little child, so that I can grow into the man of God I truly want to be.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Boy who is the Word of God (A Poem about a Painting)

Boy Jesus in the Temple by Heinrich Hofmann (Luke 2:41-51)

This past November, I posted five poems that sought to articulate the facial expressions and body language of the five men surrounding Jesus in the above painting. Only recently did I feel that I had something I could write with my focus on the young Son of God named Jesus in the center of that painting. 

THE BOY WHO IS THE WORD OF GOD

Even now at this tender age,
He knows His Father's voice,
And says He needs to be
About His Father's business.
But does He truly understand,
The assignment He's been given?
Does this gentle, earnest boy,
Who is so eager
And so passionate
In His reflections on His Father,
Know that the business of His Father
Will one day cost His very life?
Can He see the distant cross
From this first of
Many Temple scenes,
Or hear the accusations
Of men who now
Stare at Him in awe?
What Scriptures have they opened
To inquire of this boy who is
The Word made flesh?
Are they reading of the Lamb,
Silent before its shearers,
Or of a people lost in darkness
Who see a radiant light?
That Light is shining bright this day,
As this boy who is the Lamb,

Who has spoken from the start,
Begins to speak 
at last, 
For all on earth to hear.

You can also hear the thoughts of the other characters in the painting at "Who is this Boy who Speaks such Things?"

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, February 10, 2017

My times are truly in His hand

Every time I read Psalm 31, a phrase in the middle grabs my attention and adjusts my oh-so-easily distracted perspective: "My times are in your hand" (Psalm 31:15a). That changes everything. In fact, it's a life-changer.

One reason that phrase gets my attention is because reading Psalm 31 in its entirety can feel like driving by an accident scene in which a great rescue is going on. David writes of his affliction and his distress (v. 7); he writes of grief and of sorrow and sighing, and of wasting away (vv. 9-10); he feels he's become a reproach and an object of dread, "forgotten like one who is dead" and "like a broken vessel" (vv. 11-12); there's terror and scheming, and "they plot to take my life" (v. 13). That's quite the gruesome car wreck.

But that is when the Great Rescue is mentioned. The Emergency Response Force has arrived! David suddenly shifts his focus and writes, "BUT I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!" (vv. 14-16).

What a declaration! In the midst of such horrible circumstances, David resolutely declares his trust in God! He's not going to let that accident scene suggest that his God can't be trusted. In fact, he's going to shout the truth in the midst of the confusion: "I trust in you!" – "You are my God!" Derek Kidner points out that the "I" and the "you" in those Hebrew phrases are emphatic, stressing the decisiveness and boldness of those statements. Whatever is going on around him and even inside him, David insists on declaring that God is still his God and that he will trust Him, confident in His never-ending, saving, steadfast love. But the phrase, "my God" is more than a mere theological acknowledgment – it is a personalized expression of closeness and relationship: He's my God. David is saying that "My God is with me, even in the midst of these difficult circumstances!"

But how can David be so amazingly certain of such truths in such incredibly tough times? It's because David understands one further important truth: his times are in God's hand. That changes everything. And it's true for every one of us. It means that the God of steadfast love is not only with us when things get tough, but is in complete control of every situation we face.

Think of it: my times – in God's hand. What a combination! "My times" means my circumstances, my challenges, my troubles, my victories, my day, my life. "God's hand" means God's power, God's strength, God's control, God's authority. Put those together and it means that no matter what happens to me as a child of God, I can be sure that my day is in God's control, and that my life is under God's authority. Nothing will happen to me that hasn't passed by His throne to receive His permission, and nothing will happen unless He has a sovereign purpose to work it for good in my life! My times are truly in His hand.

Let that turn your head when you hear it. But turn your head to look up at Jesus rather than down at this broken world we live in, and thank God, acknowledging that He has you in the palm of His hand. For David goes on to then adoringly write, "Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!" (Psalm 31:19).


© 2017 by Ken Peters

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Memories of a Desert-Loving Canadian





Thirty long years ago today, I entered the desert of northern Sudan to live in a faraway, unforgettable village of mud huts, roaring camels and beautiful people. My role was community development, but my dream was to simply meet with God in the desert. 



Perhaps I'm too much of a dreamer, but I had long felt a tug to desert places. Call me monkish, or blame Lawrence of Arabia; all I know is, I was attracted to the desert. Its emptiness attracted me, the scale of it awed me, its extremes excited me. 

Years ago, while traveling in the same deserts of northern Sudan, Wilfred Thesiger wrote, "Hour after hour, day after day, we moved forward and nothing changed; the desert met the empty sky always the same distance ahead of us. Time and space were one. Round us was a silence in which only the winds played, and a cleanness which was infinitely remote from the world of men."

I found Geoffrey Moorehouse even more inspiring as he wrote in The Fearful Void about his travels in the western Sahara: "...we were confronted with a passage across what looked like an eternal plain. Its dimensions were only emphasized by the presencie, low on distant horizons, of isolated peaks and tabletops of rock... their greatest effect was to provide such scale to the entire panorama as to reduce two men and four camels to their proper proportions in this towering and and barren universe. We were insects creeping forward to a rim of the world that might never be reached, across pure and unbounded space in which we had no hope at all of encountering anything else that lived and could offer comfort by its presence. It was appalling; but at the same time, it was exciting, with a spellbinding quality that penetrated even the dulling of the senses that it imposed... 

"...in its utmost desolation, I began at last to understand its attraction. It was the awful scale of the thing, the suggestion of virginity, the fusion of pure elements from the heavens above and the earth beneath which were untrammelled and untouched by anything contrived by man."

So there I was thirty years ago, a 23 year old kid with a head full of romantic notions about what turned out to be the hardest year of my life up to that point, cheerfully hopping in a Land Rover and being driven into an 11-month crucible of fire for my yet half-grown character. Ah, but what better way is there to be refined than in a furnace of desert heat while being mocked by petulant camels and enveloped in mountainous sandstorms? 











My journal entry from all those years ago as we left Khartoum and eventually approached the village of Hamrat reflects my fascination: "The ride is across desert where no roads exist; just the paths of previous lorries that travel the region with supplies. At one point in Khartoum, the pavement abruptly ends, and the bumps of the 'paved' roads become the bigger bumps of dirt and sand... Soon we were out of [town], save the few odd homes seen in the middle of nowhere as we drove through the desert. Nothing for hundreds and thousands of square miles, and you suddenly see a home built of dried wood standing all alone. We saw some camels, and a few herd of cattle in the beginning too, but most sights became pretty rare after about 20 minutes. There was sand, shrubs, scrawny trees and sky..."

The next day, after a chilly desert night, I wrote, "as we drove up a dune or hill (or both), apparently off course with no path to follow, we saw appear in the view from the top of it, a town in the distance below! Hamrat el Wuz."

Google Earth allows us a glance-from-above, gradually zooming in on my desert home for 11 months in 1987 – a year I will never forget, among a people I will always cherish, and during which, I truly met with God in the desert...



© 2017 by Ken Peters

Monday, January 2, 2017

Milk for my Tea

The year I spent living in the desert of north Sudan had some life-risking moments, not least of which was exposure to the blazing sun when temperatures regularly exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) in the shade. The times we got stuck far removed from any source of shade, or of any human existence for that matter, due to vehicle failure or inhospitable terrain were not uncommon. So you can imagine the relief we felt when after a long day of driving, we'd find a place of shelter – a hope of hospitality – amidst the desert heat. Finding it could be a matter of life or death.

I remember one desert shelter we found that was made out of about a bazillion desert sticks that largely blocked the hot sunlight but which allowed the desert breeze to easily flow through the hut. What a pleasure it was to rest there. The host in that remote establishment was a camel herder by trade, and said that, though he could, he wouldn't trade all his camels for a life of carefree luxury, for then (he jokingly asked), "Where would I get milk for my tea?" He was a man at rest in a shelter surrounded by a hostile environment.




Which begs the question of me: Am I at rest in my environment? Or do I think I need to trade my environment for one of my own making in order to enjoy rest in this world? Or can I find rest in this life despite what the elements around me are throwing my way? It's a question I need to periodically ask myself, and one which I've recently found that Psalm 61:1-4 helps me to answer.

This psalm of David was written in unfavourable circumstances. David was crying out to God and was struggling to feel God's nearness: "From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint..." (Psalm 61:2a). God seemed far away, and David was tired. I expect even his prayers felt tired, as I know mine do at times. But then as David finished the above sentence, he shifted his focus to who God is: "...lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (Psalm 61:2b). David knew that God was bigger than his circumstances; stronger than the hostile forces of his environment. "For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings." (Psalm 61:3-4).

We rightly emphasize the fact that God is Emmanuel – that God dwells with us and in us, never leaving us or forsaking us – because that's extremely encouraging and reassuring! But King David turned this around and encouraged himself with the fact that we can dwell with God! God invites us into His tent so that we can find shelter with Him from a hostile environment – from the difficult circumstances in which we may find ourselves. The Apostle Paul went further along these lines, saying that we are "seated with Him [God] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). What a refuge that represents! Our "life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2)!

"Let me dwell in Your tent forever..." Yes, please! I never want to leave it. The storms will rage around it, but never inside it. For God is "a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy." And I will always have milk for my tea as I share fellowship with my God.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading List 2016


This was a year like no other year. Due to a heart ailment that began around Christmas 2015 and which led to heart surgery in July 2016, I didn't work a day in 2016 until the latter half of October! I wasn't able to work during those ten months, but I was able to read most of the time. And because television felt of no interest to me, I read a considerable amount. I'm sure the 37 books I read this year were more than I had ever read in a single year. There was quite a mixture of themes, but among the history books I read, Lincoln was a topic of several books, and among the devotional books I read, joy was a repeated theme of many of them. That was quite intentional. I truly wanted to grow in joy this year!

Apart from the books listed here, I read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, which means if I want to grow in joy, there is no better source of it than the Truth of God's Word. Most of the postings I added to my blog are a result of my time spent reading God's Word.

I doubt I'll experience another year like this one for a long, long time, and I'm truly grateful for the wonderful opportunity I've had to devote so much time to reading and study (I wrote many notes on much of what I read). (Here's what I read in 2015, and here's what I read in 2014 and here's what I read in 2011 and here's what I read in 2010 (this blog was dormant for 2012 and 2013).)

Here are the books I've read this year...

  1. Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition: The Voyage of the Nimrod by Beau Riffenburgh. What at first appeared like a tedious 300+ page historical account of an explorer's failed efforts in a mercilessly cruel environment turned out to be quite the page-turner for the last 100 pages or so. One of Shackleton's claims to fame was that he never lost a team member in any of his Antarctic adventures, and though it looked like many could've perished in several different close calls on this expedition, they all made it out alive despite not achieving their quest for the South Pole. But to be honest, Shackleton should receive little credit, for he was fighting his own battles with the elements while his team members in other places were battling theirs!
  2. Trafalgar: The Nelson Touch by David Howarth. This is the second book I've read about the sea battle of Trafalgar, and I thoroughly enjoyed it due to my fascination with the large sailing ships of old. David Howarth has a gift of recounting historical events without going into so much detail that he loses all but the most devoted of readers. This 248-page edition, loaded with illustrations and maps, is an easy and engaging read for those who love stories of the sea.
  3. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper. This is a book that I have long ignored due to my initial reaction (in 1986) to its unique subtitle, but which God put in my hands by a pleasantly surprising sequence of events, and I believe it was exactly what He wanted me reading at this particular time. This is essentially a book about enjoying God, which is exactly what I know I need to grow in right now. I was mesmerized by the content on every page, and plan to read it again as there was so much to take in and I'm sure I didn't absorb enough of it yet! Highly recommended.
  4. Knowing Christ by Mark Jones. This book felt at first like a dry academic book, but slowly it began to grow on me as the richness of one description after another of Christ's nature and character began to permeate my heart. But that was because it was far more than mere description, as the author explored the many practical and eternal implications of Jesus Christ being who He is. A very edifying book!
  5. Waterloo: A Near Run Thing by David Howarth. I bought this book together with "Trafalgar" (above) as part of a two-book box set at a used book sale. I had long been curious about the details of this battle but had never read anything about it before, and felt that David Howarth's uniquely concise writing style (as an historian) would be a way to be introduced to something I'd likely never read another book about. I was intrigued by how singular this battle was in that Napoleon behaved quite out of character in key ways that cost him the battle; so much so that it felt like the hand of God resisting a war-mongering dictator. Though not mentioned by Howarth, I suspect there may be some truth in that perspective.
  6. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This is another book that I felt God had intentionally put in my hands to read at this particular time. It's a book specifically written to help churches to reach the poor both locally and overseas in a developmental and participatory way. This book really challenged what had become my reflexive relief-oriented approach, as it called on readers to consider the more difficult time-intensive, relational approach of asset-based community development. This book was exactly the message I needed to hear as I consider the existing mission policies and practices of our church, as it brought me back to many important principles of proper community development that avoid the paternalism and expediency of many of our western church approaches.
  7. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. This was a difficult but rewarding book to read. The story is tragic, though the latter half of the book caused me tears of happiness for the young boy this book is about. I had read many books about the Lost Boys of Sudan, but never a book about and by a child soldier. This story takes place in Sierra Leone, and while it begins with stories of running from the war and then fighting in the war, it ends with a very moving account regarding this boy's recovery from the war, with the help of some amazing people who helped to rehabilitate the child soldiers of this conflict.
  8. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. This is a book I've long wanted to read, and it was well worth it! Foster has a very encouraging and engaging writing style for what has the potential to be a very demanding topic, as I found insightful gem after gem in every chapter. Foster manages to explain the Disciplines in a way that motivated me forward in my practice of them without having to get heavy-handed in his applications. His approach feels fatherly and kind, and gave me hope that this book will impact my everyday life in the days and years ahead!
  9. When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy by John Piper. This book feels quite a bit like a sequel to the book "Desiring God" (see #3 above), and my interest in reading it stemmed from the subtitle, "How to Fight for Joy", as I long to grow in my delight of the God I already know. And this book most definitely addressed that. The crux of what Piper shares in this book is that our joy in God is our essentially our enjoyment of God, and that it must be based solely on Him and the great redemption He has provided rather than on any circumstances - even if they are good circumstances like God's tangible blessings or answers to prayer. And he provides some very practical strategies to help us maintain such a focus in the midst of all the curve balls life can throw at us!
  10. The White Spider: The Classic Account of the Ascent of the Eiger by Heinrich Harrer. The north face of the Eiger. Only about 13,000 feet in height, but one of the most feared climbs in the world. There have even been accomplished Himalayan climbers who have declined to attempt it due to the level of risk involved. It offers just about every hazard a mountain can throw at a climber, and only the most experienced and patient climbers have reached the summit. This book is filled with the stories of all those who have attempted it until 1964, written by a member of the first team to succeed in 1938. It may not be easy to understand why people attempt something so dangerous, but it's quite easy to admire the courage and tenacity of those who overcame such a great obstacle or of those who sought to rescue those who tried.
  11. The Pilgrim's Progress: From this World to that which is to Come by John Bunyan. I have long owned an old 19th century edition of this 17th century book, and have talked myself out of reading it a number of times. But after finally reading it, I am so grateful I did! I found myself both challenged and encouraged again and again as I met character after character and saw how they each responded to the pilgrim's life. Some left me convicted, others left me teary-eyed as I admired their character and their love for the Lord. Great-Heart is a wonderful example of a hero I found myself wanting to walk with as I walk my own pilgrimage with God. Though he was a courageous warrior, at one point he said, "It is my duty, said he, to mistrust my own ability, that I may have reliance on Him who is stronger than all." Amen! It is a book well worth reading, and one I recommend reading in the original 17th century English.
  12. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Timothy Keller. This is a very small book - more like a booklet, really. It's no longer than a typical chapter of a book, and seems to simply be a transcript of an amazing sermon that Timothy Keller preached. But does it ever pack a punch! No wonder someone decided to put a cover on it and make it available to people! There is such incredible insight in this book, and it is explained so well that after reading it once, I promptly read it again. I want it to sink in. And I expect I'll read it again just to make sure it does! Keller's aim in this book is to set people free from the futile games we play to achieve what society calls proper self-esteem, and to do so, he points us to Jesus and the Gospel in some very practical ways. I am thrilled that the Lord drew my attention to this book!
  13. Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge by Chris Bonington and Charles Clarke. After 19 Himalayan expeditions (as well as being part of the first British ascent of the north face of the Eiger in 1962 (see book #10 above)), Sir Christian Bonington is an extremely accomplished mountaineer, and so I was glad to have found this old book in a used book store last summer. It's the first book I've read by Bonington, and it's about a tragic and unsuccessful attempt in 1982 to climb Mount Everest via the northeast ridge without supplemental oxygen (at a time when only two people prior to this had successfully summited Everest without supplemental oxygen). It is tragic because two members of the four-man climbing team lost their lives. The authors are not afraid to be honest in their account of this climb, and truly, reading it left me with a growing feeling that the expedition was simply too ambitious for such a small team and that it was doomed from the start. Despite the expected justifications at the end, this felt like one climb that simply shouldn't have been attempted.
  14. Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton. This book is a bit of a departure from the stream of thought I tend to wade into when looking for devotional material. Thomas Merton was a Catholic theologian who was once a Trappist Monk. But I knew enough about him to know that he loved Jesus and was a deep thinker about the things of God, and that was enough for me. This book was definitely worth my time! In a nutshell, this book emphasized above all else that our spiritual life is all about taking our eyes off of ourselves and fixing them on Jesus. It's not about my work for God, but about God's work in and through me. So many of the books that I've read reinforce this theme, as I obviously need to be regularly reminded of it. And it felt refreshing to read it again from such a unique perspective.
  15. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller. Timothy Keller has a way of discovering profound truth in very familiar Bible passages, and then explaining them in very compelling ways, and this book is no exception. In this book, as he walks the reader through the story of what we know as "The Prodigal Son," he not only shows us why it would be more aptly named "The Prodigal God," but insists that at the very least, we call it "The Prodigal Sons." The emphasis on a prodigal God stems from the fact that the word "prodigal" literally means recklessly extravagant or having spent all, which reminds us of a God who spends extravagantly without reckoning our sins against us, and Timothy Keller repeatedly and abundantly emphasizes God's extravagant grace in this book as he reminds us of the Gospel message. But the emphasis on both sons being viewed as the focus of this story is where this book impacted me the most. Keller shows us how deceptive the elder son's sin was, and how prevalent it is in the Church, and reminds us of how that elder brother didn't return to the father at the end of the story the way the younger brother had. This should sober many readers, and did me, and is why we so desperately need the Gospel of a "prodigal God"!
  16. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James M. McPherson. This is a collection of seven essays that explore Abraham Lincoln's approach to leadership, his far-reaching influence on American politics, and the the long-term implications of the American Civil War, which all represent the primary reasons I'm fascinated with the history of that conflict. To many, this would be a boring book; to me, it was a page-turner. Lincoln's leadership style provides a great many lessons, and the American Civil War has had an immeasurable impact on the character and politics of the United States that can be clearly seen to this day, which in turn affects the world in varying degrees. I love exploring such hinge-events in history, upon which so many things turn, and McPherson does an admirable job exploring it as one of the foremost historians for that period.
  17. Pure Joy: Receiving God's Gift of Gladness in Every Trial by R.T. Kendall. R.T. Kendall has a very pastoral way of approaching most of the subjects he writes about, and this book is no exception. Rather than systematically and thoroughly explaining Biblical joy in the way that John Piper does in several of his books, Kendall approaches the subject more as one who is admiring a diamond one facet at a time. Piper seems to examine the diamond of joy on the molecular level, as much as a mineral as a gemstone, but Kendall simply turns the stone in his hand to examine and explain each facet of its beautiful face. He not only helped me to see more clearly how trials are meant to enhance my joy in God, but also how I can cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that He can increase my joy. A very encouraging book!
  18. Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths by Stephen B. Oates. This is the second book I've read about Lincoln this year, primarily because I rather admire the man. But I chose this book over one of the many massive biographies out there because this book so succinctly and informatively distills from the myriad details of Lincoln's life both his greatest qualities as well as his great humanity, while also debunking some of the more persistent yet fanciful romantic notions that have persisted about him over the years. And it helps that it was written by the author of what many consider the best one-volume biography ever written about Lincoln. It's a fascinating read, not only because Lincoln was called upon to lead a nation in the midst of an horrific civil war, but also because Lincoln was able to persist as a leader amidst such incredible hostility and adversity. His moral backbone and tenacity in pursuing a vision amidst great resistance are truly characteristics worth celebrating.
  19. The Chosen by Chaim Potok. This is the first novel I've read in a few years, and I'm so glad that God led me to it (on a clearance shelf at Sam's Place for 50 cents)! It's an amazing story that I was captivated by as I absorbed this touching story about a world I know virtually nothing about. It's about a Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York, just around the times when WWII was ending and when the nation of Israel was recognized in 1948. The story is written from the perspective of a teenager named Reuven Malter and revolves around his friendship with Daniel, who is a member of a local Hasidic sect. It's written in a way that is both illuminating and moving, as these two very different boys come of age together as close friends, and each play a key role in each other's lives. 
  20. Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit's Work in our Lives by R.T. Kendall. I've been reading so many challenging devotional books this year, each of them addressing character issues in my heart and inviting me to live in ways that are impossible by my own strength. This has resulted with an increased hunger for more of the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life because I know that I can't put any of the things I'm learning into practice without His help. This book came to mind because it was highly recommended by my pastor, Ron MacLean. I found it very helpful, partly because Kendall begins with the basics and expands from there. But it was his emphasis on the "immediate [as in, suddenly!] and direct testimony of the Holy Spirit" as a "conscious experience" that was especially helpful to me. That assertion provided an excellent basis for why the baptism of the Holy Spirit is meant to be something that typically happens repeatedly after conversion, and for how that baptism is meant to provide the "highest form of assurance" available to us, which was very encouraging.
  21. Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God's Gift of Joy by Mike Mason. This is a book of 90 two-page chapters unpacking the author's many personal and random thoughts regarding Christ-centered joy, and his experiences in seeking to live out the premise that any Christian should be able to be happy, by God's grace, every day. I found the book both rewarding and frustrating. On the one hand, it was always easy to read a chapter since each one was so brief, but the book often left me feeling like there was so much more to be mined from the subjects of such brief chapters. The resulting lack of thematic momentum made it difficult to keep reading. That said, I found about 20% of the chapters truly impacting, but the rest too often felt overly philosophical and sometimes lacking in obvious Biblical support. I believe this was more due to the limitations of such brief chapters than to the theological integrity of the author.
  22. Thanking God by R.T. Kendall. My third book by this author this year, its focus is as simple as its title suggests: showing God our gratitude. A great deal of this book is unapologetically about stating the obvious, but which we often need to hear because we often neglect what's obvious. For me, gratitude to God is something I've often neglected, and I appreciated the reminders of this book. Not every chapter seemed equally relevant to me, but many were extremely so. Kendall's main point is a good one, and it is to remember well so that we can be appropriately thankful, as God's continued blessing hinges on our acknowledgment of His grace in our lives.
  23. Captain Cook: The Seaman's Seaman by Alan Villiers. I found this book in used condition and very spontaneously bought it, knowing very little about James Cook, and I'm glad I did, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Alan Villiers is not only an excellent researcher and writer, but also has a great deal of experience sailing a full-rigged (or "square-rigged") ship of the types Captain Cook sailed, so he knows how to describe many of the challenges Cook faced. I love books about sailing from this era, as I think I'm attracted to the extremes that such sailors went to in order to sail these vessels to uncharted waters in such inhospitable conditions. It could be accurately said that Cook was "the greatest explorer-seaman the world has known" as he was the first to accurately chart much of the world's southern oceans as well as a great deal of the vast Pacific Ocean.
  24. Joy Unspeakable: The Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This is an expansive and inspiring collection of sermons from the great preacher - "the Doctor" - on the work of the Holy Spirit. I have never read such a thorough treatment on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and though it has left me with some questions, I found this book to be amazing. I felt downright childlike (like a true beginner) in the things of the Spirit as I read it. It felt fresh and appealing and vital and remindful all at the same time. I felt like it took me back to earlier years when I was so excited about these things - things that Martyn Lloyd-Jones clearly hasn't lost his zeal for in his own life as he preached these chapters. Note: I read the longer 442-page version published by Kingsway that includes the sermons/chapters on the gifts of the Spirit (those chapters were previously published under the title, Prove All Things), as there is a 280-page abridged version of this book out there that doesn't include those chapters.
  25. C.T. Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer by Norman Grubb. Just as I began to feel that I was overdue for reading a missionary biography, I found this book in a thrift store! As one of the more notable pioneer missionaries of the nineteenth century, it's odd that I've never gotten around to reading C.T. Studd's story, but this is partly due to a bias I felt against him as a man who had left his wife and children to pursue missions. Yet he is still spoken of in the same discussions in which William Carey and Hudson Taylor are mentioned, so I thought I should look a little closer. As I read it, it was difficult not to admire Studd's dedication and zeal for people who needed to hear about Jesus. His desire was always to reach those who had no other witness around them and would not hear of Jesus unless someone went to tell them. This zeal took him initially to China, then to India and finally to the Belgian Congo where he had the greatest impact. His love for the people he worked among was obvious, and his wife, in fact (who was unable to go to the Congo for health reasons), zealously led the work at the home base in England. I wouldn't want to follow in all of his footsteps, but I certainly could learn a great deal from this passionate man of God!
  26. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. This is one of the best books I've ever read on prayer. It revived my hope for a deeper prayer life by building on a foundation of who God is and what He has done to make intimacy with us possible. But his emphasis on grace and the Gospel doesn't cause Keller to shrink back from calling us to the simple discipline and hard work necessary for one's prayer life to thrive. And if I'm to benefit from this book, it will require heavy lifting. But Keller provides so many practical helps and perspectives on how to approach and practice prayer, that he left me certain that it's worth the effort to grow in an ever richer experience of God in prayer.
  27. The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813 by Pierre Berton. I have always wondered about the War of 1812. I've known virtually nothing about it, learning nothing about it in Michigan (where I grew up, near where much of the war occurred) except that, "Oh yeah. We [the U.S.] won that war," and learning little more in Canada (once I got here as a young teen) except that, "Oh yeah. We [Canada] won that war." Well, I've picked up enough information over the years since then to know that Canada, in fact, did successfully repel America's attempt to invade Canada, so it could at least be said that Canada didn't lose that war, though whether or not anyone won it seems dubious. But I still lacked details. Then I discovered Pierre Berton's two-volume explanation of the War of 1812 and having immensely enjoyed the previous Pierre Berton book I read (Vimy), I bought it! I haven't been disappointed, as Berton writes in a way that draws you into the lives of the characters as much as into the historical events they're involved in, creating real empathy and suspense in his historical accounts.
  28. Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814 by Pierre Berton. The second of Berton's two-volume set on the War of 1812 brings the story to its tragic conclusion. Was any other war ever fought that achieved so little at a cost of so many who never understood what they were fighting for? I doubt it. And apart from the great grief carried by so many due to all the bloodshed, nothing really changed between these two nations ("as if no war had been fought"), except for how the war helped to forge the identities of the two young nations involved. For America, it meant they were now taken more seriously on a world stage, and the few battles they won were enthusiastically celebrated, giving fuel for newfound national pride. For Canada, a common identity was forged as settlers of many backgrounds banded together to successfully resist an invader. This resulted in a shared appreciation of cherished Canadian values that distinguished the colonials from their bellicose republican neighbours. In fact, one could probably say that the War of 1812 was the seed of many key distinctions between Canadian and American values.
  29. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. First of all, I am not depressed! I read this book mainly because it came so highly recommended from a variety of sources, one of them being R.T. Kendall. In "Holy Fire" (#20 above), Kendall states that this may be his favourite book by Lloyd-Jones, and I'd have to agree that it's an amazing book! But perhaps an equally suitable but less provocative title might have been "Encouraging Yourself in the Lord", for that is what Lloyd-Jones describes in each chapter: how the Scriptures teach us to avoid discouragement and how to encourage ourselves when we're struggling spiritually. Lloyd-Jones approaches this subject with a deep love for God's Word, a thorough understanding of its teaching on this topic, and a gentle and loving heart toward any who may struggle mightily in this area. I found chapter after chapter enormously relevant and applicable to my own life, and was encouraged by the many Christ-centered, Word-based antidotes that Doctor Lloyd-Jones prescribed.
  30. Out of the Salt-Shaker and into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life by Rebecca Manley Pippert. Like the previous book in this list, I picked this one up based on a recommendation by another author. I have had an unread copy of this book on my shelf for decades, and when I read recently that Timothy Keller considered it to be his favourite classic book on evangelism, I knew it was time to read it. I had already been feeling weak and ineffective in the area of personal evangelism for some time now, so it seemed fitting to include it in my reading list for this year. Though written in the 1970s, and aimed primarily at college students, the principles Pippert explains in this book seemed easily transferable and applicable to my own life. Her approach is enormously practical, and I found immediate ways in which I could incorporate what I was learning into my routines. There's nothing complicated about this book, but that's what made it so helpful. Pippert has a way of making evangelism so simple that I was encouraged to believe I could grow again in this area.
  31. The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life by Louie Giglio. By coincidence, I happened to be reading this and the previous book in this list at the same time and both books have subtitles that refer to their theme "as a way of life"! It would certainly be wonderful if the truths of both these books were clearly reflected in my way of life. Giglio's book is very brief and very to-the-point: He provides a descriptive definition of worship and then works his way through that definition line by line, chapter by chapter. What seemed most important, and worth being repeatedly reminded of, was that each of us is "a worshiper." It's what we were created to do, and it's what we'll do no matter what the focus of our worship. Giglio very passionately and practically then directs the reader's heart to Jesus, the only one who is truly worthy of our worship.
  32. Our Heavenly Father: Sermons on the Lord's Prayer by Helmut Thielicke. As I read this book, I found that the impact of each chapter (sermon) seemed to sneak up on me and take me by surprise! Thielicke seemed to preach from such a unique perspective, with such fresh insights and with such pastoral care that I felt encouraged by each sermon. Perhaps it was partly due to the context in which these sermons were preached. Thielicke was a German theologian who was preaching these sermons in Germany at the time when the allies were aggressively bombing his city. The series could not be completed in the location in which it began because his church building was destroyed along with a great deal of the rest of his city. One sermon was even interrupted by an air raid as sirens alerted them to take cover. It felt an honour to read the sermons of such a loving, Christ-focused leader, who persevered through great trials as he sought to keep his congregation's eyes on the Lord through such a trying time.
  33. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospel by N.T. Wright. This was probably the heaviest read I attempted this year. N.T. Wright is a great writer but also a very well-studied theologian. I found this book slow-going as I found myself re-reading many sentences to fully track with Wright, but it was worth the effort in terms of the subject matter. I've never read (nor likely seen) a book that examines the theological content of the parts of the four gospels that fall between the incarnation and the Passion Week, and that's what Wright ably tackles in this book. I must admit, the book is heavily weighted on the side of Wright simply (though not so simply) building a case for his premise, and is somewhat light on application, but an alert reader will be able to deduce plenty of application for how a church ought to behave in a world in which Jesus has already been made the true King in His ever-growing kingdom.
  34. Making Room for Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships by Randy Frazee. I was given this book ten years ago, and should have read it ten years ago when my kids were younger! Even though I found a fair bit of the book either inapplicable to my situation or unendorsable as a premise (eg- no work happening in the evenings), I was challenged by the emphasis of making sure one made room in their schedule for, and made a priority of, meaningful relationships with family, neighbours and church. The book strongly encourages investing in community in a way that minimizes how many unrelated circles of friends we're involved in, and in a way that mixes our friendships as much as possible with our pursuits of various other things like work, recreation, neighbourhood and church. A worthy ideal, but not always possible.
  35. Lincoln's Battle with God: A President's Struggle with Faith and What it Meant for America by Stephen Mansfield. I've long wanted to read an historical account of Abraham Lincoln's spiritual life, and this book was just what I was looking for. Mansfield is a balanced historian who is not quick to jump to conclusions based on questionable anecdotes, but has laid out a carefully researched account of the process that Lincoln went through to grow from being an aggressive religious skeptic to being a genuine spiritual seeker of Biblical truth. Despite what a reader of this book might desire, Mansfield refuses to declare resolutely that Lincoln became a Christian, but what Mansfield does do is provide historical evidence of the steps Lincoln took toward belief in the God, Jesus and the Bible as God's Word. Without any record of an explicit conversion, he then encourages his readers to consider the evidence and conclude for themselves what that evidence points to. And I actually found that some of the quotations of Lincoln's spiritual considerations really encouraged me in my own walk of faith.
  36. the furious longing of God by Brennan Manning. Every so often I want to read a Brennan Manning book. It's like a dose of medicine for people who need reassurance that God is deeply in love with us. This book, like all Brennan Manning books, focuses on the love and grace of God. The word "furious" is used in the sense of intense energy, like "the fury of a gathering storm." The back cover reads, "Such is God's intense, consuming love for His children. It's a love that knows no limits and no boundaries." I need to be reminded of that from time to time, and if you can endure Manning's tedious and profuse addiction to alliteration and adjectives, he will leave you with no doubt that God has the fullest affections for you!
  37. My Calvary Road: The author of The Calvary Road tells his own story by Roy Hession. I ordered this book by accident while attempting to order a copy of The Calvary Road for someone. But I soon realized that this very well may not have been a mistake from God's perspective, as it turned out to be a very helpful book! There is so much of Roy's story that I found relevant - especially in light of all the lessons God has been teaching me in all the others books I've read this year - that I'm glad I accidentally ended up with it. Many of the lessons of The Calvary Road are reinforced in this autobiography, but they felt more accessible in a way by learning how Roy Hession initially learned those lessons. His life inspired me by the way he showed me how he walked the Calvary Road.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Crooked Path to Christmas


Hello. My name is Joseph. I realize it may be a bit of a surprise hearing from me, as not many people think much about me in light of the far more important people in the story I’m known to be a part of. But I was there – I was a part of the story that I understand you call the Christmas story. In fact, I believe you have a day in your calendar called Christmas on which you celebrate the birth of Jesus. I could tell you a thing or two about that birth, for as I said, I was there. And it was all quite unforgettable! But it did not seem very festive at the time. No, quite the contrary.

The truth is, the path that Mary and I took to the first Christmas (as you call it) was a very crooked path – which took me off guard, actually – you know, given the importance of what the angels told Mary and I.

You see, I've got this idea in my head that if an all-powerful God has a big and important Plan (one so important, he sends angels to explain it in advance!), then He must intend to accomplish that Plan the way an arrow takes a straight and steady path toward its target. And you’d think that when almighty God sets out to achieve His Master Plan to do with the Messiah, it would happen with such great deliberateness that it would firmly push through any and every obstacle, straight as an arrow, with immediate effect!

And the coming of Jesus was God’s Master Plan – the most important of all God’s plans for the human race! The coming of Jesus as that little baby represented God’s greatest expression of love ever expressed. It was all about how God was going to save us from the power of sin in this world – how God was going to re-unite us as God’s children with our heavenly Father – and how God was going to reveal His glory in the greatest demonstration of mercy and grace that the world had ever seen! The coming of Jesus represented God’s Plan with a capital “P” – the Master Plan of the Great Creator for uniting God the Father’s family with God the Father! It was God’s loudest “I LOVE YOU!” of all time!

I mean seriously, when the great God who created all things sets His will to do something so incredibly important, how can any created being -- human or otherwise -- hinder Him, right?! It'd be like little flies trying to push that arrow aside!

So that’s why it strikes me as strange that an all-powerful God’s Master Plan would happen on a road that wasn’t all that smooth and straight, despite the infinite greatness of its Author and the supreme importance of its objective. I say this because it was a road that included disappointments for Mary and I. It was a road that included unanswered questions – things that God has never sent any more angels to explain to us! And it was a road that felt confusing at times as we travelled that road.

I’m sure that surely you’ve seen turmoil or disappointments or unanswered prayers in your life as well – twists & turns on rocky roads. And you’ve probably wondered the same thing I did: Couldn’t God have made this path a little straighter?!

Well, even though the path to that first Christmas was a crooked one – and your path to this Christmas might be as well – I can tell you from experience: God wants to use those twists and turns to express how great He is and how great His love is toward us!

So perhaps you’ll allow me to share a little about Mary’s and my crooked path to Christmas, and perhaps it will be a help to you on your path.

A man named Luke recorded this small but important part of the story I want to talk with you about… “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

There were so many twists and turns that created turmoil on that path to the very first Christmas…
·         A pregnancy before marriage (Luke 1:31-35),
·         A marriage about to be called off (Matthew 1:19).
·         A marriage plan restored, but amidst the public disapproval of a pregnancy before marriage (Matthew 1:24).
·         Then an unwelcome donkey ride in the last days of Mary’s pregnancy (Luke 2:1-6).
·         Then a dirty stable is all God reserved for the baby's birth (Luke 2:7)
·         Then Mary and I and Jesus had to flee for our lives to avoid King Herod's sinister plot (Matthew 2:13).
·         King Herod then murdered all the male babies of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).
·         And finally, though all seemed well to return from Egypt, Mary and I were afraid to dwell in Judea because of Herod’s relatives, so we had to return to Nazareth to live among the people who knew Jesus was conceived before marriage (Matthew 2:22-23).
Turmoil.  Discomfort.  Fear.  Tragedy.  Disruption. …Crooked lines. And rather than looking at all of those circumstances, I just want to talk with you about two of them… What I’ll refer to as…
·         A poorly timed summons in the mail…
·         And an example of…“How much more can I take?”

I’ll start with the Poorly Timed Summons in the Mail… I’ll never forget that day! Mary was in the last month of her pregnancy, feeling very uncomfortable, and suddenly our entire region receives a pronouncement from ROME that we must all return to our home towns IMMEDIATELY for a census!

How could the timing have been worse?!  We lived 120km away from my home town of Bethlehem! I immediately wondered resentfully why God couldn’t have arranged that better. But there was no choice in the matter – and it was beyond our control to change it. It was inconvenient and it was uncomfortable. Have you ever ridden a donkey? It’s not very comfortable! But no matter how bad the timing seemed – no matter how difficult the journey would be – we eventually realized that God was in this, because the Scriptures actually taught that God wanted the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem!

And when we realized that Jesus being born in Bethlehem was part of God’s plan – as foretold in ancient prophecies – we had to then conclude that the awkward – difficult – uncomfortable and unwelcome journey to Bethlehem was actually a part of God’s plan.

So that means that just like the exciting fulfillments of prophecies – or the wonderful answers to prayer – or the plans God calls each of us to accomplish – are all loving examples of God’s will for us, so too must be the journeys God chooses for us to get there – even if they include twists and turns that we ourselves would never choose.

It reminds me of when Joseph-of-old was sold into slavery in Egypt, and he summed that journey up with: “God meant it for good!” Something that terribly difficult was actually God’s will for Joseph. And he could say “God meant it for good” because he knew that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God – to those who are called according to His purpose­ – and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Not even tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or dangers or the sword!

Well, it’s a fact that Mary was called to a very great purpose, and that she certainly loved God, and her response to being told she’d bear God’s Son as a virgin might’ve been similar to her thoughts about the donkey ride: “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

How about you?...  …Have you received a summons in the mail lately?... Something unexpected? Something uncomfortable? Something that feels like a mountain before you? Something beyond your control to change it? And the timing couldn’t be worse? Something from someone close to you? Or something from a doctor, or from a Roman officer? Some of the best lessons I’ve learned from the Lord have been when I’ve been stopped by the Romans. God has used fines from the Romans to send me timely messages that I needed to hear… to tell me to, yes, to slow down – to tell me to stop & spend more time with the Lord – and to tell me to listen to my wife!

But rather than reacting in anger or resentment, I suggest taking time to allow God to speak to you through the unexpected circumstances of life – because He’s fully in control of every circumstance! And if God wants to use all things for good, it’s vital that we pause before we react, and listen carefully to what God is trying to say to us, and look for God’s sovereign hand in whatever you’re going through. If you’re on a journey this Christmas, then pause, look and listen for God in whatever part of the journey you’re experiencing right now.

But now comes the “How much more can I take?” part! When Mary and I finally reached Bethlehem, it was no silent night! We found the town’s only inn to be full to the brim, and all that was left was a stable. Bethlehem was a very busy place during that census!  It was hectic!

At this point, I would’ve been able to forgive Mary if, after that long donkey ride, she lost her composure when she discovered God hadn’t saved a simple room for her to have the baby in.
I mean think about how you feel when you can’t find a single spot to park your donkey in at one of your big mall parking lots a day or two before Christmas! I’m a model of patience when stuff like that happens, but you might struggle with that!

So after 120km of donkey riding, an innkeeper tells us that, “No vacancy means NO ROOM!”
And we wondered, “How much more can we take?” Have you ever had a week where something in your home breaks, then an unexpected bill arrives, then your donkey starts making funny sounds, then you get pulled over for trotting too fast…?

I believe God has a two-fold purpose for all such situations: something to do with God’s glory and something to do with our good. And I believe that this is true for why God wanted His Son to be born in a stable. The angel who visited me in a dream told me that Jesus would save His people from their sins! Salvation at last! The mercy and grace of God! Nothing reveals God’s glory like God’s grace does!

So to make His grace abundantly clear, God made a way – through His Son Jesus – to forgive us for every sin we ever committed against Him and to be freed from the power of sin! What great grace! To accomplish this, God’s Son would have to lower Himself to the lowest place – and would start His life in the lowest of places – emptying Himself of heaven so that He could take the form of a bond-servant – and as a servant among men, He would be a substitute for every sinner when He eventually died on a cross to pay the penalty for all our sins.

That’s God’s glorious grace revealed! The glory of God revealed in a baby in a stable! But He was also born in a stable because God wanted it to be clear that His Son was to be accessible to ALL – even to the lowest in society, like carpenters like me, and to shepherds. No one should be afraid to approach Jesus, and Jesus would be willing to approach anyone.

At first, being in the stable felt like a disappointment to us, but as we gazed at that baby in a manger, we wondered at how much this baby in a stable revealed God’s glory for our good! Are you also dealing with disappointments that God has a purpose for in your life – to reveal His glory for your good? What may feel to you like a detour from God’s plans may actually be a part of God’s plan. The right response to such turmoil is trust.

A man named Jon Bloom has written that “maybe what we need most this Christmas is not less turmoil, but more trust. For God chooses stables of desperation as the birthplaces of his overwhelming grace.”

If that’s true, why would I want to be kept from the kind of challenges that Mary and I faced on that crooked journey into Bethlehem and into that stable? Those difficult circumstances happened to be God’s will for our lives.

And God is committed to not only accomplishing His plans through us, but also to lovingly accomplishing plans IN us as well – and I think He finds that crooked lines on the paths of our lives achieve that much better than straight lines.

Crooked lines teach us to listen – to trust – to obey – and to persevere amidst resistance.
And because our sovereign God is also a loving God, we can be sure that He will still be able to fulfill all that He has planned for our lives as we follow Him around every unexpected corner we face!

© 2016 by Ken Peters