Friday, February 23, 2024

A Glorious Glimpse of Grace

As the Gospel Story unfolded after Jesus' resurrection, God arranged for Jesus to meet two men on a road, and we're told that "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:47). 

Who were those guys to whom Jesus explained all that? That episode happened at a time in the story of the early church when Jesus' 11 remaining disciples were main characters, and yet Jesus chose to reveal himself to two unknowns. That matters. That tells us that when God wants to make himself known, he includes those who may not feel noticed by God, or worthy of a visitation from him. It tells us that he doesn't just show up to walk alongside those we view as spiritual superstars. He loves to visit ordinary people. That's an illustration of God's grace.

And that thought of God's grace revealed takes me way back in time to a story in the Scriptures when I believe Jesus revealed himself in an extraordinary way to ordinary people. And it's a story that reveals God's grace on a scale I find difficult to comprehend. Let's travel back in time to a story that gets very little attention. You may not even remember it's in the Bible. 

Shortly after God had delivered his people from Pharaoh, God said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar" (Exodus 24:1). It sounds like God was keeping his distance here, because in a sense, he was. This was just before the time when "the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (24:17). But even with the glory of the Lord about to cover the mountain, God called 70 unnamed people to “Come up to the Lord."

In fact, it then says that "Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank" (24:9-11).

Those 70 unknown men "saw the God of Israel"!  "They beheld God"! Or at least we know they saw his feet! Is this one of the stories that Jesus told those other two unknown men about when he told them "what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself"

Jesus said that "God is spirit" as he described his Father (John 4:24), and therefore doesn't have a body. That's why I believe that when those men saw those feet walking on sapphire, they were seeing the beautiful feet of Jesus before he "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). But this unexpected unveiling of what sounds like a glimpse of heaven wasn't only for Moses to see, the way most Bible-readers may recall, but it included 70 elders of Israel who represented all of God's people as they were invited to come and behold God. 

And though those men wouldn't have known it, the feet they saw would one day be pierced for the sins of the people they represented, as well as for their own sins. After all, God knew how quickly Aaron and these 70 elders would create a golden calf and worship it with all the people (Exodus 32:1-10). God knew that in a matter of mere days or weeks, while Moses remained on the mountain, those men who God had graciously invited to behold him, and who "ate and drank" in his holy presence would soon sit down "to eat and drink" before a golden calf (32:6). God knew it all. He knew they'd make that calf, and that they'd feast at its feet, and yet we're told that "he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel." Perhaps that's because God's reason for inviting them to behold him was so that he could reveal the precious feet of Jesus, thereby foreshadowing what Jesus would do when "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 

God the Father revealed God the Son to those 70 unknown, unnamed men because they represented a whole nation of ordinary people who were prone to sin and in need of a Saviour. We're no different, and God still loves to visit ordinary people. It's also impossible to measure the grace that's revealed in those feet that would step from the sapphire streets of heaven to the dusty roads of Judea, and to then be nailed to a tree for our salvation.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Do You See Who I See?

I have selective vision. I see what I want to see. 

My wife, Fiona, has been known to place fruit in prominent places to try to get me to make better snack choices. She figures if I see it, it'll occur to me to eat it. For example, she began to place apples and oranges in a clear glass bowl on the kitchen table, and then she waited in hope as she wondered, "Do you see what I see?"

I initially noticed it, but because fruit doesn't appeal to me, I eventually stopped seeing it. On the other hand, I never stop seeing chips or chocolates, if there are any in the house, even if they're hidden at the back of a pantry. I see what appeals to me.

As accurate as that description may be, I don't ever want it to affect who I see around me. If Jesus places a person in front of me, hoping, "Do you see who I see?", I want to be alert and responsive to that person. And you never know who that person will be.

To illustrate this, I'm intrigued by how two stories appear, one after the other, in The Gospel of Luke, making it clear who Jesus took notice of as he lived life in this world. When Luke wrote his account of Jesus' life, there were no chapter numbers separating the stories, so nothing separates the story at the end of chapter 18 from the story at the beginning of chapter 19. And take a look at some of the similarities and contrasts between these stories. I wonder if they're intentional.

Luke 18:35a says, "As he drew near to Jericho..." Luke 19:1 says, "He entered Jericho and was passing through." 

Luke 18:35b says, "...a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging." Luke 19:2 says, "And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich."

Luke 18:40 says, "And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him..." Luke 19:5 says, "And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him..."

Jesus took notice of them both. But look at how the people around Jesus responded...

Luke 18:39a says, "And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent." Luke 19:7 says, "And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.'"

People around Jesus rebuked the poor man, and resented the rich man. They didn't think Jesus would want to waste his time with a poor beggar, and nor did they think he'd want to associate himself with a rich robber. But Jesus saw and spoke to them both as each of them were looking for Jesus.

The result? Luke 18:43 says of the blind beggar that, "he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God." And Luke 19:6 says of the rich robber that "he hurried and came down and received him joyfully" and then he said to Jesus, "Lord... half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8).

Jesus stopped for a person others were annoyed by, and reached out to a person others were offended by. Is it possible that with Jesus now in heaven, and with His followers on this earth as his hands and feet, that Jesus is asking us as his followers, "Do you see who I see? Do you see the people who are looking for me?"

Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds of people in this world, "he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36). Jesus then described the crowds as a plentiful harvest. He saw them that way because of their need for a Good Shepherd, not because they were were rich or poor. All of them were helpless, regardless of their social status.

So as we live life in this world, may we see who he sees, and may we see people the same way he sees people. Don't overlook those who seem unhealable, nor those who seem unsavable. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and he saved and sent us so that we would go and tell the lost about him.

The question is, do we have selective vision or do we see the people he sent us to see?

Friday, February 2, 2024

Sparrows and Watchbands

It could happen in the lunchroom at work, or with someone on your street, or in school. Maybe it’s already happened to you. It has to me. As we follow Jesus, we’re bound to end up in a situation where we’re uneasy about mentioning Jesus in front of someone who might be hostile to the very idea of Jesus. Nobody likes rejection.

That’s not a new thing, which is why Jesus addressed it with his first disciples. He spoke of being bold amidst opposition, but as he did, he included an encouraging thought. He emphasized God’s care for us. He made it clear that we matter to God. Jesus’ antidote to fear before opponents was to emphasize our worth before God. If Almighty God truly treasures you, what can some guy with an attitude do to you?

Jesus said in that context, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

He’s speaking about Almighty God taking notice of the flight trajectory of a solitary sparrow. It’s estimated that there are 1.6 billion sparrows in this world, and God notices when any one of those 1.6 billion sparrows happens to crash land.

Jesus also mentioned the hairs on our heads. That number varies greatly from person to person, but the average number of hairs on our heads is about 100,000. God literally has them numbered.

Does all that mean that sparrows and head-hairs are of the utmost importance to God? No. It means that if God is that attentive to sparrows and head-hairs, how much value must God place on those for whom his Son Jesus died? His attentiveness toward us is immeasurable.

I was once in the West Edmonton Mall wave pool with my three children. We were frolicking in the water in the middle of the pool as big waves washed over us. But as we splashed in the water, suddenly my waterproof watch felt loose on my wrist and about to fall off. As I quickly reached for it, I saw that the metal watchband had separated from the watch, and when I held it in my hand I could see that one of the tiny pins that connected the watchband to the watch was missing. The pin was now lost in a vast pool of water. We’re talking about a tiny cylinder of metal about 1 centimeter long and 1 millimeter wide. I started walking toward the shallows of the pool with my head down as I examined the watch in my hand.

Then I had a thought. Perhaps it was a thought from the God who sees sparrows fall. Maybe, just maybe, I could find that tiny pin somewhere in this wave pool of 3.3 million gallons of turbulent water.

So I turned around, and guessed at how many steps I’d taken from where I’d been when the watch fell off. After taking those steps, the water depth was about up to my rib cage. I then took a breath, swam to the bottom, and lay my hand flat against the bottom of the pool. I immediately felt something small pressed against my palm. It was the pin from my watchband.

God’s attentiveness toward us truly is immeasurable. It’s seen by how he notices birds in flight and tiny pins on pool bottoms. And it's obvious by how he paid a much higher price to have you with him for eternity than for either of those things. That's why he wants you to be certain that when you feel vulnerable when speaking with people about Jesus, he is there with you, with his arm around you, and with his Holy Spirit to help you.

That is the reason we can be bold about the love of Jesus. And that’s the reason some people will believe you. Go ahead. Give it a shot. There’s someone in your life waiting to hear about him.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Immovable and the Undefeatable -- What a Team!

Picture what's generally considered an immovable object. ...Something we'd consider permanent in our lifetime. You might think of a mountain – a huge, solid mountain of rock. 

The picture above is one I took of Mount Hood in Oregon after I had hiked up to a high point near the mountain. Mount Hood was entirely hidden from my view until all of a sudden, as I stepped out from the forest in which I'd been hiking, it suddenly filled my gaze. I nearly gasped. That massive mountain truly seemed an immovable object.

Now imagine that huge, solid, immovable mountain of rock to be completely surrounded and protected by an undefeatable never-departing army. It's an army so massive and well-equipped that there's not even the slightest gap in its defenses, and it never departs from its place around that mountain. The army is as immovable as the mountain itself. 

An immovable mountain surrounded by undefeatable defenses. ...Sounds fairly secure, doesn't it?

Well, imagine that YOU are that mountain, and GOD is that army. Because that is the truth of our reality when we put our trust in the God of the Bible.

It says in the Bible, "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore" (Psalm 125:1-2).

As we begin 2024, I don't know what might be disrupting your sense of security. Are there circumstances that are causing you to feel uneasy or anxious? Whatever our situations may be, let's shift our gaze to the image above – because that mountain is us when the Lord is our God. 

The Lord God's divine Son Jesus said, "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20), and then he sent his Spirit to fill us so that "by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13). I like to think of abounding in hope as being the same as being surrounded by the undefeatable God of Hope, because God surrounding his people should certainly fill us with hope. And the God who surrounds us offers us strength for every situation we face. That's the only reason we could ever be accurately likened to a mountain "which cannot be moved". We are an immovable mountain because we are surrounded and helped by a loving and powerful and undefeatable God.

Let's focus on that the next time troubles try to move us.

© 2024 Ken Peters

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Reading List 2023

I read less this year. Blame it on busyness. But it's also because I discovered a Bible Memory app that kind of became a hobby for me, if it's not wrong to call it that. The number of books I read in 2023 is actually nearly the same as last year, but the average length was less, so it amounts to fewer pages read, but it's all about quality, not quantity, right? 

In fact, this will be the first year since I began publishing my reading lists that my list will not include every book I read. It's not that the books I omitted were bad books -- quite the opposite. A couple of them were just too personal.

Apart from the books listed here, I consistently read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as the most important book to be continually reading. 

Here is a list that includes most of the books I read in 2023...

1. John Wesley: The Man and his Mission by Godfrey Holden Pike.
It's hard not to be inspired by John Wesley. This 1904 biography provides plenty of detail without going into too many details about a highly exceptional man. I appreciated the care taken in the selection of various personal stories in the midst of explaining the bigger picture of what John Wesley accomplished. The overall impression I was left with was of a man who so obviously depended on the Lord to live a highly generous and sacrificial life for the sake of others, and who as such a disciplined and scholarly man, made the gospel message so hugely accessible and understandable to so many worldly and uneducated masses.

2. Gettysburg: The Final Fury by Bruce Catton.
This is Catton in all his descriptive powers. I find that Catton's prose helps me to feel what happened as much as to understand it. Something as simple as describing General Lee as appearing "to be on the crest of the wave" after his successes on the first day of fighting provides more than a simple historical account. It's a graphic image of Lee's perspective that helps me to feel the momentum of his emotions rather than simply understand the outcome of a day's events. And that's why I find Catton's writing so compelling. Couple that with the succinctness of this book, and you have a very readable and enjoyable introduction to an extremely significant battle.

3. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
I'm a little uncomfortable saying, and more than a little surprised, that I actually found this book to be emotionally moving. I'm the leader of what I'd consider a fairly healthy team, but this book inspired me to believe we could be even more healthy and effective. At the same time, this book sobered me as I saw how much courage and persistence will be required to increase our sense of teamwork. Growth doesn't happen overnight, and even what's achieved requires discipline to keep what's been gained. That's what makes the simplicity of this book's five principles so appealing: keeping it simple is what makes it achievable. I'm looking forward to trying some of the very practical exercises Lencioni has provided.

4. Between God and Satan by Helmut Thielicke.
An interesting mix of theological exploration and of well-written creative expression as Helmut Thielicke examines Christ's temptation in the wilderness. Again and again, Thielicke made observations I had never considered before, and offered applications that both challenged and encouraged me. And he not only thoroughly honoured Jesus in this book, but he also made it plain just how much what Jesus endured in the wilderness was for the sake of us being able to experience true communion and companionship with him.

5. Five Secrets of Living by Warren W. Wiersbe.
I love John 15, and though I found some valuable nuggets about that passage in this little book, I had hoped for more. Too many of Wiersbe's statements felt overly sweeping or too simplistic, and too many of his conclusions felt overly hurried. Sometimes that left me feeling like I was reading a condensed version of a longer book. I appreciated Wiersbe's outline of the passage, as well as his personal applications to do with abiding in the Vine. And I hope what I read will help me grow in the area of abiding as knowing Jesus leads to loving him more, which will lead me to obeying him more, which will lead me to abiding in him, and then to bearing fruit for him, which all leads to that abundant life Jesus has promised us. That's a great sequence of thought. But too often this book made me feel like we were paddling in the shallows of those thoughts rather than going deeper.

This book is immensely practical, and is simple enough to not be overwhelming in what it suggests, while also detailed enough to feel like it's more than just a pep talk. Groeschel is incredibly honest, as well as very well acquainted with his topic. Each chapter follows very naturally after the other as Groeschel lays out a very accessible and hope-inspiring strategy. I did every exercise, and will need to review my answers to properly follow through on what I wrote down, but I found the exercises helpful. And it was worth persevering to the end, as the main points in the second-last chapter felt to me the most encouraging. That chapter clearly emphasizes what sets this book apart from any better known secular books on this topic. He could've ended with it, as I found the last chapter more than a bit anticlimactic.

I found this book incredibly helpful! In fact, so much so that I kept a journal of the valuable things I was learning. After all, George Muller made it clear that he wanted his life to be a lesson for people. He specifically said that he wanted observers of his life to grow in their understanding of the things of God, and so he did what he did with his life for the express purpose of strengthening people's faith in the prayer-hearing, prayer-answering God of the Bible. What a privilege it was to be taught in such a way by a hero of the faith like George Muller, who never actually wanted to be seen as exceptional, but only as an example of what any Christ-follower can be and do. That's why I wanted to record and remember the lessons Muller sought to illustrate -- to help me to grow in my own experiences with God in life and ministry.

Steer described Muller's detailed thoughts about what successful prayer depends on, and about why prayer may not be answered immediately, and about how to persist in prayer and grow in faith. And I relished the experience of learning such valuable things from such a proven prayer warrior.

Perhaps it felt so helpful because so many of Muller's life-lessons were so relevant to my own personal struggles in prayer. He expanded on the importance of believing as we pray, on the value of facing trials to pray through, and on the benefits of having to wait for answers as we trust God's timing. I personally hate delayed answers, and can become easily discouraged, but Muller spoke of delays as precious opportunities to continue waiting on God, and of communing with God being the real work we do for God as we seek to do his will in this world.

Amidst all my ups and downs in prayer, I needed to be reminded of such things. I found this whole book -- George Muller's whole story -- a wonderful collection of invaluable reminders, lessons, and quotes that I want to long remember, and by God's grace, put into practice.

8. Waiting for a Angel by Helon Habila.
How would one best write about a volatile time period in a nation's history in which uncertainty, loss, and grief were persistently prevalent themes? Helon Habila does a masterful job of it by writing a story about Nigeria's past in which he creates an amazing tapestry of intersecting plotlines that steer the reader between time frames and characters to build a palpable sense of uncertainty and suspense. As the story abruptly zigzags back-and-forth between what-happened and what-led-to-what-happened, characters are introduced and then disappear, usually tragically, and often with scant explanation, leaving the reader guessing ...A little like people must have felt in the time period Habila was writing about. But the over-arcing story of one character, Lomba, ties it all together so that there is someone the reader can feel engaged with, and invested in, and for whom one wants a good outcome. But true to the days Lomba lived in, one can only wonder what came of him in the end, as well as of various people around him. In this way, I loved how Habila's story-writing style mimicked the unstable context he has written about. And while I've read some authors who've attempted this style of writing quite clumsily, I found this story both compelling and illuminating as I caught a glimpse of Nigeria's history.

This is a book on grace that's heavy on the application side of the subject, which I greatly appreciated. Over the years, I've felt motivated to read a number of books on God's grace, because if I'm honest, deep down, I don't fully grasp it. But the books I've read are typically about receiving grace, while this book emphasized the importance of personally passing it on to others. That's what attracted me to this book. The act of practicing grace in more intentional ways seemed to make God's grace more real for me. And Blackaby's specific examples of how to express grace more generously with people around me helped me to grow more comfortable with my own need for grace, even as he took my eyes off of myself and onto others. (Perhaps that's the secret!) I didn't mind that the content of some chapters was fairly similar to the content in other chapters -- in fact I valued the repetition. I wanted to soak in the truths that kept getting repeated so that I could increasingly become a face of grace to people around me. As I read the book, opportunities abounded to put it into practice, and I appreciated the coaching it felt like Richard Blackaby was providing me. And by what he included in this book, Blackaby has shown himself to be a very patient and able coach.

Carey Nieuwhof consistently finds a way to distill complex issues down to what intuitively feel like their core elements, and then to somehow consistently come up with a list of compelling applications for every insightful observation he makes. In fact, almost overwhelmingly so, on page after page. And I was amazed by how much his thoughts on cultural trends, written before all the upheaval caused by the pandemic, still felt so incredibly relevant. That's why I found it helpful to have Carey's thoughts in book form rather than his usual blog posts, so that I could underline and make notes in the margins for easy recall later. This is an immensely practical book with loads of thought-provoking, discussion-starting content that's worth pondering well after reading it through.

Jon Meacham is a fan. He clearly admires Abraham Lincoln, and perhaps that's the only reason he wrote this book. It was sometimes difficult to tell how his angle on Lincoln's life offered anything new enough to warrant yet another Lincoln biography. Though he certainly went out of his way to try to clarify and discern Lincoln's spiritual perspectives, which may have been Meacham's primary concern. Sometimes that felt forced, and sometimes unclear, though sometimes illuminating.

But the Prologue alone inspired me to want to read this book to the end. I was stirred as Meacham set the stage for this biography as he wrote, "A president who led a divided country in which an implacable minority gave no quarter in a clash over power, race, identity, money, and faith has much to teach us in a twenty-first century moment of polarization, passionate disagreement, and differing understandings of reality... This is why his story is neither too old nor too familiar... It is a fact of American history that we are not always good, but that goodness is possible. Not universal, not ubiquitous, not inevitable -- but possible."

Meacham revisited that theme in his Epilogue as he wrote that "Lincoln's life shows us that progress can be made by fallible and fallen presidents and peoples -- which, in a fallible and fallen world, should give us hope."

I found much of Meacham's research helpful, especially what he wrote about the little that's known of Lincoln's views on Reconstruction. But I often found his writing style awkward -- especially his frustrating tendency to wait until the very end of long quotes to finally tell you whose words you're actually reading. I'd often choose to peek ahead in frustration.

One of the voices Meacham often quoted, and from whom he seems to have derived the title of his book, is the freed slave turned statesman, Frederick Douglass. Meacham included one of those quotes in the Prologue, as he wrote, "'I do not despair of this country,' Frederick Douglass said. 'The fiat of the Almighty, "Let there be light," has not yet spent its force.' And it fell to Abraham Lincoln to shed that light in the darkest of hours."

I happened upon this book. I wasn't looking for it, as I didn't even know it existed, but I happened to walk into a place where I was unexpectedly offered a free copy. And the timing was perfect, because my soul was not doing well. I thought, I think I need to read that. But I was taken aback when I realized that the author had only been 38 years old when he wrote this book on soul-care. I then thought, what does a youthful guy in his 30s know about the troubles of the soul? I'm nearly 60, and is this 38 year old going to help me with my internal struggles? Well, it turns out that, yes he is! Judah Smith wrote this book with genuine wisdom and insight, and I found it tremendously helpful. He gently and humourously invited me to a place of greater surrender to God and of trust in an amazing Saviour amidst the messiness of life. Again and again, he hit the bullseye in my heart, and left me both challenged and encouraged. I'm so glad God put this book in my hands, and I'm so grateful that I read it!

I got this book with high hopes, both because of the topic and the author. But in order to now commend this book, I'd have to use that drab adjective in saying that it was... interesting.

To be fair, it was extremely interesting at times. I learned a lot of interesting details about "backgrounds and the linguistics, [and] the biblical passages" (as Michael Card summarizes in his Afterword). But a book all about something as significant as hesed ought to be far more inspiring than interesting. That's why I was disappointed that this book too often felt educational rather than devotional. My desire to read about hesed was so I'd grow in my affection for God, and yet all I felt I grew in was my education about God. Too many chapters were so heavy on background and context that I felt like I was in a lecture hall, or reading a term paper, and then just when something heartfelt was being said -- the chapter suddenly ended.

It's not that I never read longer and more scholarly books. I do, and I enjoy them. I see great value in having a thorough understanding of biblical truths. But I picked this book up about the infinitely heartfelt lovingkindness of God because I wanted more heart than head in my longing to better grasp what "hesed" is. The content in the very last couple paragraphs of the Afterword is what I actually longed for more of throughout the many interesting chapters of this book. But then, yet again, just after reading those heartfelt paragraphs -- the book suddenly ended.

What I really appreciated about this book is that it revived a whole bunch of passions and convictions that have previously been at the forefront of my heart and mind, but had cooled a bit over time. It wasn't even all that long ago that I was preaching some of the themes in this book, but as I got too busy and as time went by, I feel like I've gotten distracted from them. There really wasn't a lot written here that I hadn't previously been a passionate proponent and pursuer of, but as I read each chapter, it was clear to me that I really needed to be reminded of them. Life gets full. And the demands of ministry can pull a person in many directions. But reading this book helped me to focus again on the main things that I need to remember as I pastor a relatively new church.

15. Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Time Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Major Dick Winters, Commander, Easy Company.
Some years ago, I really enjoyed reading Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers, and so I thought there'd be value in hearing the story again, but this time from the leadership perspective of Easy Company's commanding officer, Dick Winters. Major Dick Winters truly was an amazing leader, and his book certainly does add some interesting stories to Ambrose's historical account. But too often, I found Winters' wartime recollections substantially lacking in details, leaving me wanting more, and wondering if he wasn't allowed to go into much detail regarding the best of Easy Company's stories that Ambrose had already told.

But part of my motivation in reading this book was to imbibe some leadership principles from an example of good leadership in extreme circumstances. And while there are some worthwhile leadership insights to glean from Winters' reflections, it felt like even when he focused on the subject, his thoughts seemed cursory, and mostly shared in a summary manner, which left less of an impression than I'd hoped they would.

Though this book was published in 1913, it couldn't be more relevant today! And though it's formatted like a textbook, it couldn't be more devotional in its content! I was both inspired and challenged by this book as Roland Allen persuasively turned my attention from material focuses in ministry to a reliance on the Holy Spirit in all missional pursuits. Allen's emphasis was that the Life we have in the Spirit is far more compelling to people we reach out to than our latest strategies. He acknowledges that the Spirit can certainly use material strategies and means in missions, but that if we want spiritual outcomes in people being saved, we need to depend on the Spirit as we set our strategies. This book left me as a new church planter in Canada with a strong desire to seek more of the Spirit, and to abide more in Jesus, than to simply sharpen up my methods.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Most Obscure Christmas Character

There’s a significant character in the Christmas story who is quite hidden from view. As the Bible begins telling us about Mary and Joseph and the others who celebrated Christ’s birth, there’s a unique character mentioned in two verses, but not by name. And though I’ve rarely heard much made of the way this character reacted to the baby Jesus, I’m sure there's something we're meant to learn from him. 

No, I’m not talking about the little drummer boy. We read in Luke 2:41 that “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Then in Luke 2:44, Elizabeth says, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

That baby in Elizabeth’s womb was John the Baptist. He was a baby in a womb, unable to see the world, but able to hear and sense the world around him. And when he heard Mary's voice, he sensed the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. 

In the past, as I’ve read that, I’ve simply chalked it up to John being a prophet, and so even as a baby, he recognized the things of God. Cool stuff. But is it possible that there’s more to it than that?

I'd like to suggest that there is. We may think it remarkable that an unborn baby actually leaped for joy because he sensed the presence of the Son of God. And it is. But as readers of this story today, it’s worth recognizing that we aren't restricted by the confines of a womb, and so we don't need a prophetic gift to know that Jesus is not only near us – as he was to John – but is actually with us, right now, by the Holy Spirit.

John's joy-filled response as a baby reminds us of how incredibly exciting it is that God is literally here among us – God with us. We can now live in a personal and spiritual union with Jesus that makes him more accessible to us than he was to John the Baby Baptist. And yet, we don't tend to overflow with the same exuberant joy that John felt! We certainly don’t go around leaping for joy at Christmastime. That’d be a sight! Perhaps it's because the message of Christmas has become so familiar to us that it ceases to excite us that much. Or perhaps we've become too grown up (so to speak) in our theological understanding of the Christmas story to leap for joy. If so, I'm sure that God wants the story to become fresh in our hearts again.

But let’s be real. I don’t plan to start leaping around with joy this Christmas. I just want to be amazed again at the amazingness of it all! I want to feel excited about Jesus coming to Earth to be my Saviour and my Friend and my God, who offers me a new life with him. But I recognize that sometimes we can struggle to feel joy at Christmas because we’re going through a really tough time. How can we leap for joy when life’s circumstances are weighing us down? That’s understandable. But even in such times, I hope the story of an unborn baby leaping for joy at God’s nearness will remind us that Jesus is closer to us now than he was to John the Baptist then. And Jesus wants to bring you joy by drawing ever closer to you in the midst of the struggles of life.

The sound of his greeting is in our ears as we read the Christmas story. The God of all comfort, who came near to save us, is truly still here with us now.

© 2023 Ken Peters

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Life's Test Questions 101

Ever get confused when circumstances don't seem to line up with God's promises? I do. In fact, I not only get confused, but I can get discouraged too.

Like when Psalm 105 says to "seek the Lord and his strength" (v.4) because he promises to be "the Lord our God" (v.7) who "remembers his covenant forever" (v.8). That's a big deal. The psalmist is referring to an "everlasting covenant" God made with Abraham and his descendants (vv.8-11). It sounds pretty encouraging! And I'm super grateful that God has welcomed me into an everlasting covenant with him through the faith I have in Jesus.

But wait a minute... The psalmist then suddenly starts talking about God summoning "a famine on the land" in which Abraham's descendants were living (v.17). A famine summoned by God? What's up with that? What happened to that blissful "everlasting covenant"?

Questions like these pop into my mind when things go wrong – when things go sideways – or when I just can't reconcile my circumstances with what God promised me. Maybe you wonder the same. 

Oh, but it gets worse! ...Or so it seems. One of Abraham's descendants (Joseph) is betrayed and sold into slavery as "the Lord tested him" (vv.17-19). Wow. God's wonderful covenant is followed by famine, slavery, and testing. That's not what I thought I signed up for in my covenant-relationship with Jesus.

But the truth is that being in a covenant with God doesn't mean there'll be no troubles, because it seems that God sends troubles as tests. And testing isn't a sign of God's disapproval, but a means to growth in the midst of God's covenant promises. 

In other words, God tests his children in the context of covenant. That's why troubles don't mean God is distant, but can actually be a sign of God's love as he helps us to grow.

I'm personally experiencing a time of testing right now, and I can feel tempted to get discouraged. But the tests that Joseph went through were meant to make him ready for God's purposes to be fulfilled in his life. The famine and the slavery were ordained by God to further the will of God in Joseph's life and in the lives of people around him. 

So when we face troubles in life, rather than doubting God's love and promises, this psalm encourages us to embrace such circumstances as tests to help us to grow in our trust and dependence on God. Nobody grows without testing. And testing happens in the context of an eternal covenant – like being in the arms of God as he gives us a difficult exam to write.

So exam Question #1 is: What circumstance are you facing right now that seems contrary to God's promises? Whatever the answer, Question #2 is: What character trait is God trying to help me to grow in right now. Bingo. Now it's our turn to ask our loving Father to help us to grow in that area by his great grace in our lives!

© 2023 Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Battle of the Very Great vs. Nothing

There's an epic battle going on in many people's lives. Maybe that includes you. It's the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing."

You know, like when a problem is "very great," and you've got nuthin. You feel like there's nothing you can do. It's overwhelming. It seems insurmountable. The "very great" always overpowers "nothing." Not much of a battle, it would seem. 

That is, until Jesus shows up. In Mark 8:1, we're told that "In those days..." ...Wait a minute... What days? Well, how about the days Mark was just writing about in Mark 7 where he wrote, "And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak'" (Mark 7:37). "Those" days! "In those days," there was a battle raging: the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing." Mark described "the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat..." (Mark 8:1). There's the battle! The multitude was very great in number, and the food was scarce. Worse than scarce. There was "nothing to eat."

Perhaps you're facing a situation where a huge expense is worrying you, or a major health issue has caught you by surprise, or a relational difficulty feels hopeless. Whatever the challenge is that you're facing, it can feel "very great." I know because I've had that feeling.

But then Mark continues: ""In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, 'I have compassion on the multitude, because they have... nothing to eat" (Mark 8:1-2).

If you're in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," you need Jesus. He makes all the difference. He clearly sees the situation, and he knows how overwhelming the challenges feel to us. He also sees how small our resources are, and he lovingly longs to intervene.

But we might look at Jesus and say, "How can anything be done?!" That's what the disciples asked. They asked, "How can one satisfy these people [4,000 people!] with bread here in the wilderness?" (8:4). And you might be asking, "How can I cover these huge expenses, or solve this health issue, or resolve this relational difficulty with the nuthin that I've got?"

Jesus is calm through it all. He simply asks, "What do you have, however little it may seem?" As a bustling multitude of 4,000 people crowded around him, Jesus calmly asked his disciples, "'How many loaves do you have?' And they said, 'Seven.'" (8:5). In other words, Nuthin. Not enough to feed four thousand people! But Jesus still told those 4,000 people to have a seat – it's chow time. It's time to show all these people how much God loves them.  

Perhaps Jesus is asking you what you have. It seem as small as seven loaves for 4,000 people. It may be a shrunken bank account. It may be an empty parking space that comes with your apartment but doesn't come with a car! It may be nothing more than a small act of kindness you can offer to an estranged family member. Even your prayers may feel like a weakened cry to a God who seems far away. 

Jesus can do something big with anything small that's offered in faith. When Jesus arrives on the scene in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," he can multiply your "nothing" until "they ate and were filled" and there was much "leftover" (8:8). So in fact, the "very great" does not always overpower "nothing" – not when Jesus shows up.

So bring Jesus your seven fish today. Bring him what seems like nothing. And even if your faith feels weak, bring that and ask him to multiply that too! He doesn't reject us for having our doubts. The disciples had their doubts as they objected to Jesus' desire to feed a multitude with nothing. But that didn't sway Jesus. He loves us too much for that. Bring him your nothing, and let him leave you "astonished beyond measure" in these days as well.

© 2023 Ken Peters

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Two Questions Worth Asking...

"Then He rose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm." (Mark 4:39). 

What a sight that must have been! The spray of the waves still on their faces, the disciples must have been stunned by the sight of those suddenly placid waters. But then we're told that Jesus asked his disciples, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" (Mark 4:40). 

Amidst all the challenges that each of us face – challenges that may feel like stormy winds and waves – Jesus' questions feels very appropriate in our day as well. It's worth imagining Jesus turning to us and asking, "Why are you so fearful?" 

It's a relevant question. It's relevant because all of us as people can be prone to feeling fear in stormy times. But Jesus' response is to ask, "How is it that you have no faith?" 

I need those two questions to be ringing in my ears DAILY. I have good reason to have faith in Jesus. As I've gotten to know him, and as I've seen what he can do, I have no reason to fear when I know that he is with me. He might as well be saying "Peace, be still" to my own heart.

So it's really worth remembering Jesus' questions whenever we feel anxious or afraid...

"Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

© 2023 Ken Peters

Friday, September 29, 2023

Seeking God Every Which Way

Is seeking God best achieved by actions or by words? Perhaps the best answer to that is, Yes.

Nearly every English translation uses one English word for two Hebrew words in Psalm 105:4. For example, the publishers of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) boldly describe it as "the most literal" English translation of the Bible. It translates Psalm 105:4 as, 

"Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually." 

But when the psalmist wrote that, he used two different Hebrew words that we translate "seek." Only the recently translated Common English Bible (CEB) seems to note this, as it translates Psalm 105:4 as,

"Pursue the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

In the first half of the verse, the Hebrew word is daras, which means to tread or to beat a path; to frequent or to follow; to "pursue" (CEB). In the second half of the verse, the Hebrew word is baqas, which means to search out or to strive after; to ask or inquire; to "seek."  

Perhaps the psalmist chose two different words on purpose. Imagine that! A writer actually caring about the words chosen to express what he or she is thinking. The two words put together in this verse give us a picture of running after God as we cry out to God; of exerting ourselves to get to the place of prayer while expressing ourselves in the practice of prayer. 

As the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek the LORD and His strength," perhaps he was thinking of an ongoing pursuit. To "beat a path," or to "frequent" a favourite place speaks of an action that's repeated and persistent. For example, there's a used bookstore that I have frequented so often that the owner greets me by name, and knows the kind of books I look for. And in my life with Jesus, I want my relationship with him to be defined as an ongoing pursuit, not an occasional visit. If I really want to walk closely with Jesus, and truly want to live by his strength, I'll be sure to beat a path to his door every day!

But as the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek His face continually," it seems he was thinking of a search that may not be so easy. To "search out or to strive after" or to "ask or inquire" suggests that sometimes God is not so easy to find amidst our circumstances. Sometimes God seems hidden. Sometimes his face seems behind a cloud of troubles we're struggling with. That's not rare, and the psalmist goes on in Psalm 105 to share examples of instances in Israel's history when God may not have been so easy to find. He writes of famine (v.16) and of oppression (v. 25), and gives God the credit for causing those troubles. Anybody who says that God only calms storms, but never causes them hasn't read of the God who "called for a famine upon the land" (v.16), or elsewhere, where we're told that "He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted the waves of the sea" (Ps. 107:25). But in Psalm 105, before the writer mentions any such troubles, he urged his readers to search hard for the face of God, and to ask him to reveal himself. 

Both of these words are a help to me. I want my life to be characterized by a running after God, beating a trail to be in his presence, and to be frequently found waiting in his presence, eager to receive the strength he gives to those who wait for him (Isaiah 40:31). And I don't want troubles in my life to hinder me from calling out to him as I strive to find him in such circumstances. I want to urgently inquire after him in prayer and Bible study as I search for him until we're face to face amidst life's challenges, so that I can learn what he wants to teach me in those times.

That's why I think both Hebrew words are truly important in this psalm. And it's why seeking God is best achieved by both our actions and our words.

© 2023 Ken Peters