Monday, October 16, 2017

Who's Steering this Ship?

Do you ever wonder if you could do a better job of running this tumultuous world than God is doing? Or if that seems too vast, perhaps simply your own life? I definitely have moments when I struggle to believe that God is as concerned as I am about some of the more difficult details of my life.

Of course, in our more objective moments, we can easily recognize that these jobs are far too big for us, but I still can't help but wonder why God doesn't sometimes do what I personally think would be best. I can be tempted to believe that this world, or particular details of my life, are spinning out of control, as if God has been negligent in looking after them.

But then I remember how big God is; that His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

God is not oblivious to our circumstances, nor is He negligent in His Lordship. He is not ignoring us and nor are we hidden from Him. God Himself asks us, "'Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24a). Then God answers Himself with a rhetorical question: "'Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24b). In other words, we aren't hidden from God, and nor has He missed any of the latest news headlines, for God's presence fills the earth as well as the entire universe!

Not only that, but the Bible assures us that God has complete authority throughout the earth. Psalm 82:8 says "Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations." And Psalm 83:1-2, 17-18 appeals for God to act on that authority in response to His enemies, "O God, do not remain quiet; Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate you have exalted themselves... Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish, that they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth."

This tells us that God:
  • fills all the earth,
  • possesses all the earth, and 
  • is presiding as the Lord over all the earth.
And each of those great truths apply to every single happening and heartache in our lives, because we are residents of this earth that the Most High God rules over.

So in light of that, do I still feel tempted to think that this world – or any aspects of my life – are spinning out of control as if God has been negligent in looking after things? Do I still wonder if I could do a better job than Him?

John Newton, the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, once wrote, "If it were possible for me to alter any part of His plan, I could only spoil it." God knows what He's doing, and will ably steer us and this world into His will as His wise and sovereign plans unfold. And as He does so, He invites us to pray and obey rather than to complain and interfere.

Yes, God knows what He's doing, and quite honestly, we as stumbling sinners don't. So every day, I must choose to trust Him as I call out to Him to perform His perfect will in all the situations that trouble me in my life and in this complicated world. And every day, I must follow the leading of His Spirit in how I respond to those situations, because God knows exactly how every situation is meant to work out. As our "enemies make an uproar," that is the only way we will be able to respond with perfect peace.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A wedding message for my daughter and new son-in-law

Wow. Walking down that aisle was probably the longest 50 feet that I’ve ever walked. I don’t think I could ever express everything that I was thinking and feeling as we took those precious steps. In a way, I didn’t want it to end. And yet I’m quite pleased that it has ended right here at this altar, with you Ryan, waiting for her. And now, this one step you are taking is going to take you much further than any distance we can measure by metres or feet. You guys are going on an adventure!

As I’ve watched your relationship blossom, I think it’s fair to say that both of you seem to enjoy looking for adventure. How many times did you go hiking in the Whiteshell, or go out in all kinds of weather for walks around Winnipeg parks? There was that day Becky came home sopping wet because she said that the “puddle” she’d stepped into was deeper than she thought. And when I asked her specifically where they went, I said, Becky, that wasn’t a puddle – that was a “ditch!” But it was also an adventure!

And now the adventure continues as you take this step today. And mark my words: It’s a dangerous business taking this step. You step down this aisle, “and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to!” You have chosen a beautiful Scripture passage to be read on this wonderful occasion, and one that fits the theme of adventure.

So let’s read 1 John 4:7-12. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (ESV)

The love that is spoken of in this passage is an adventurous love. It’s a love that embarks, a love that sacrifices, a love that excites, and a love that travels great distances to achieve lofty goals! It’s a love full of challenges and rewards. Some might think it sounds a fitting passage for a wedding because of all the talk of love:  the word love is used 13x in those six verses. But God and His Son, Jesus, are also mentioned 13x in those six verses. So as an accountant Ryan, you’d be interested in knowing that those 2 words account for 21% of the 123 words in those six verses!

But do you see the adventure in the God and in the love this passage speaks of? – This God of whom it is said: “God is love”? Do you see the excitement of it all? The God who sent His Son Jesus from heaven to visit this world to proclaim and demonstrate a message – the message that God is setting up His Kingdom in the hearts and lives of people like you and me so that He can show us what it truly means to live! And that same Jesus showed the world God’s amazing love as He gave His very life to pay the penalty for every act of rebellion humanity has ever expressed against God! And then, while the world waited in astonishment, God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him heaven’s throne! That is the adventure this passage speaks of when it speaks of this love from God.

And may I suggest that the step you are now taking is a part of that adventure? You see, the adventurous “love” this passage speaks of is what the Bible calls a “covenant” love – meaning a love that God solemnly commits to, guaranteeing promises that He includes in the covenant relationship that He initiates and invites us into with Him. And marriage – which has always been God’s idea – is meant to be an illustration, or a picture, or even a demonstration – of God’s covenant love for us!

You see, the love expressed in your marriage is also meant to be a love that embarks, a love that sacrifices, a love that excites, and a love that travels great distances to achieve lofty goals! A love full of challenges and rewards. In other words, a love that follows the example of God’s love for us.

There are people who wonder, “What does God’s love look like?” Well, we’re told what it looks like in what I just read: “This is love… that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…” But the passage also says: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” In other words, our love for one another allows people to see God’s love expressed in us by how we love each other. The Bible is not speaking here of some ordinary love – but about Almighty God’s covenant love being expressed through us! 1 John 4 is speaking of a powerful love that can only be found in God! And when we truly experience that everlasting covenant love, it not only motivates us to love others, but it enables us to do so in the toughest of times when our natural and limited ability to love fails.

This is vital for a marriage. I promise you: There will be tough times when your natural ability to love each other as husband and wife is not sufficient and will not last unless you have the love of God at work in your heart! Only then will your love for each other also become a love that embarks, and sacrifices, and travels great distances to achieve lofty goals.

You might be wondering: What “great distance” am I talking about? Or how do we need to “embark” in order to love each other? The great distance Jesus traveled was from heaven to earth, but the great distance that we need to travel is the distance between our focus on self and our focus others. The distance this requires us to travel in our hearts is proportional to just how selfish we are capable of being. As you learn to share life together as a couple, there will be times when you want your way and not his or her way. And you will want to insist on doing things YOUR way! At these moments, the distance between you will have the potential to increase until there are many emotional miles between you. Loving one another will feel like a long way to travel – and perhaps a great sacrifice. But if you remember the love of God that your marriage is meant to illustrate, you’ll choose to embark from that selfish self, and in one simple act of repentance, travel those many emotional miles because you’re committed to loving each other the way Jesus loves you.

But that can be very difficult in the moment, and so you will truly need God’s help as you embark on this adventure called marriage. You will need God’s love in you in order to be a loving husband and wife. You will need His love at work in you in order to selflessly love each other on the days when the other doesn’t seem so lovable. And don’t be fooled into thinking that your love for each other as husband and wife is a 50/50 kind of thing, as if you’re each supposed to meet each other in the middle. That’s not the example God set for us through His love. God did not ask us to meet Him in the middle. He left all the glories of heaven to come all the way to us to show His love to us. Loving one another is not a 50/50 proposition – nor is it a 60/40 proposition, or 70/30, or 80/20… You can see where I'm going with this... It’s 100/0.

That’s how this adventure you’re embarking on involves sacrifice: You must give all of yourself to love the other, dying to self in order to prefer the other person. If you’re on an exciting adventure, do you hold back and pursue it half-heartedly? NO! You give it all you’ve got! You jump off that cliff with both feet and make the most of that time! Well, that’s how I want you to think of this marriage and of loving one another – you’re all in, ready to make sacrifices, and to go the distance, embarking on an adventure like nothing you’ve ever done before!

But to do this, you’ll need to continually depend on God for the love you will need to survive the dangerous business of stepping down this aisle! So make Jesus the Lord of the adventure you begin with each other today, and Jesus will help you to love each other the way He loves you.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God, Are You Still Listening?

...Hope For Imperfect Prayers
Does God really listen to our prayers? Does he really hear us when we cry out to him?
Sometimes we pray for a long time about big things, like a health issue or a prodigal child or a difficult work situation, and things don’t get better. We wonder if God’s been paying attention.
I prayed for my wife regarding a life-threatening disease for 27 long years. We prayed and prayed, but her condition only worsened. Why aren’t you answering, God? How could it be true that you have “heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Psalm 116:1)? It doesn’t feel like you have “attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
Perhaps my faith wasn’t strong enough. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Such questions assaulted me like a tribunal of vicious accusers. They wore me down, leaving me doubting and discouraged.

Persist in Prayer

“How many of us can say we’ve prayed single-mindedly for something huge we were looking to God for?”
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I continued to look to God’s word for encouragement. There was certainly no shortage of it. For example, Jesus told the people “a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). This was the story of the persistent widow who only received an answer because she kept coming and asking — she refused to give up. Jesus then asked, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:7).
Is that the sort of persistence in prayer that’s required? Many of us who have prayed for years for the same thing have sometimes lost heart amid the ups and downs of waiting for God. And then we’ve wondered how God could possibly answer our inconsistent prayers. This is how the accuser can use God’s word to discourage us.

Faith in Prayer

Jesus is also clear that faith in prayer is vital. He’s bold in his promises about what will happen when we pray in faith. Jesus said,
“If you have faith and do not doubt . . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21–22)
How many of us can say we’ve prayed that single-mindedly — without doubting — for something huge we were looking to God for? If we had, this passage tells us that we’d have seen the answer and been left rejoicing rather than discouraged due to our doubts and double-mindedness (James 1:6–8). Many of us likely feel like we’re lacking that kind of faith.

Never Good Enough

So what do we do when important passages like these leave us struggling with self-recrimination rather than encouraged amid lengthy battles in prayer? Will God only answer our prayers when we measure up to such impossible standards like praying day and night or having faith to move mountains? Such teachings might leave us thinking that we’re just not good enough.
But perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to realize. Perhaps the liberation we long for from that tribunal of accusers is that very admission: We are not good enough! Our prayers aren’t good enough. And there is nothing in our life with God for which we are good enough!

Boast in Your Weakness

Yes, God certainly looks for faith. Yes, we must persist. Yes, earnestly seek God to believe and endure. But even as we do, we recognize that we’ll always be deficient in faith and deficient in persistence on this side of heaven. Yet, this should not hinder us from embracing the reality that when “this poor man cried . . . the Lord heard him” (Psalm 34:6).
“Because Jesus has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.”
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We need God’s help to endure in faithful prayer when things are not going well. The most confident and steadfast saints put no trust in the level of faith they attain, but only trust that Jesus himself is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). They know that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Prayerful saints trust Jesus to be our “advocate with the Father,” who covers our sinful inconsistency and unbelief with the very blood he shed for us (1 John 2:1–2).

Jesus Fills What We Lack

This gives us boldness as we persist in crying out to God, even though we know that our prayers are never good enough. God more than makes up for our inadequacies when our trust rests first in the person of Jesus, rather than first in our own disposition in prayer. Yes, the disposition matters. But the decisive factor is God’s riches of mercy and grace to meet us in our need.
And speaking of God’s mercy, God certainly did answer all those prayers for my wife, when in his perfect timing, she finally received a kidney transplant in 2015. We are daily grateful for God’s gift of life to us!
We aren’t good enough, but Jesus is. And because he has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's all in a Name

I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle to trust God  especially when things aren't going very well. That's why I was so encouraged when I found in Psalm 9 a beautiful summary of the secret to trusting God.

In this psalm of praise to God, King David wrote that "those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you." (Psalm 9:10)

It's all there, packed into that one little verse: A life-changing declaration followed by its own confidence-inspiring explanation; "this can be you because this is true" sort of statement. It's the kind of pronouncement that it'd be good to meditate on every day. And the focus is entirely on a name  a very important name of the One we're meant to continually trust, even when times are tough.

To begin with, we can see that it's the people who know God's name whom David singles out. They're the ones whom David describes as decisively choosing to trust God. Why is that? Why would simply having a name to call someone, even if that someone was God, give me reason to trust them?

David explains that in the very next statement, beginning with the word "for" (which could just as easily been translated "because"), and in his explanation, he very clearly chooses the name, LORD, as the name he has in mind for God: "...for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you." David is essentially saying, Those who know God as Yahweh will most certainly trust God! In English translations of the Old Testament, when the name, LORD, is spelled in all capital letters, it's a reference to the Hebrew name, Yahweh (Jehovah in English). Other Hebrew names for God in the Old Testament are Elohim (spelled "God"and Adonai (spelled "Lord"), each carrying their own emphases and meanings, and each used in specific contexts for specific reasons. But Yahweh is by far the most commonly used name in the Old Testament, and that is the name David used here because it's the name that spoke most loudly of God's trustworthiness and faithfulness.

David knew that Yahweh was the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush when God said, "I AM WHO I AM... Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you... The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exodus 3:14-15). It was in this context, when God first revealed His name as Yahweh, that He said, "I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites... a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17). 

In other words, Yahweh was a name packed with promises to David's listeners  promises that they knew God had kept! And the name, Yahweh, was the name God gave in order to enter into a forever-covenant with His people  a covenant that He would never break, for it would be against His holy nature to do so. That makes Yahweh the name for a covenant-keeping God who is eternally faithful, always with us, never forsaking us. It's also encouraging that the name Yahweh is derived from the repetition of the words "I AM." The repetition of these words in His name is meant to assure us that God is, in fact, very real, and that He does not change, and that He will always be exactly who He knows we need Him to be, whatever we're facing!

The writer to the Book of Hebrews must have had this in mind when he wrote that "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). 

David certainly understood this as he wrote Psalm 9. And if we truly know God's beautiful name  and all it represents in the context of the many bold promises and covenants He has made in that name throughout His Word  we too will be inspired to trust this God who has never yet forsaken those whose hearts are set on Him.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, April 28, 2017

Knowing your Place

Today as I read Psalm 99, I felt like God gently put me in my place. Verse five says, "Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He."

Sometimes I come to God like I know better than Him. Sometimes I come to God like I know exactly what He ought to do about something I want. Sometimes I come to sit with Him, and He with me, as though we're sharing His throne.

But it's important for me to remember that even though He may call me friend and brother, and even though He has delegated spiritual authority to me, He is still the King of kings and the Lord of lords ...and I'm not.

So when I come to worship Him, it's better to worship Him humbly "at His footstool" rather than as a know-it-all wanna-be trying to squeeze beside Him on His throne as I tell Him the way things ought to be.

After all, "Holy is He" and holy I'm not. And exalting the LORD ought to include humbling myself.

Psalm 99 goes on to repeatedly promise that God answers the prayers of His people, even those whom He had to forgive for grave sins! But the inference remains that He prefers to answer the prayers of humble worshipers.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

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.

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