Saturday, December 27, 2008

He loved them to the end

I don't know about you, but I regularly disappoint myself and feel the need for some fresh assurance that God actually still likes me. There are many familiar verses in the Bible that one can turn to at such times, but there's a verse in John that, for me, best brings God's love right down to the everyday reality of my routine stumbles and fumbles.

At the end of Jesus' ministry, as He sat in the upper room with His disciples, it is said of Jesus in regards to His 12 disciples that "He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Of all that Jesus did and said, for me, that simple statement that He loved His disciples to the end may be the thing that best demonstrates His divine love. Yes, there's the excitement of all the signs and wonders among the multitudes for whom we're told Jesus felt such compassion. But it's the intimacy of those quiet words in John 13:1 -- He loved them to the end -- that gets me. Here's the 12 guys Jesus spent the most time with, daily witnessing their weaknesses -- 12 bungling, openly competitive, slow to understand, men "of little faith" that Jesus had to work with in all their clumsy humanity for three years. Matthew (ch. 20) tells us that they were still vying for positions over each other just prior to the Passion Week, right before the meal in the upper room of John 13, at the very end of their 3-year training program with the Son of God. I wouldn't have loved them to the end. I'd have turfed them!

But because I know I'm at least as unreliable as them -- and of even less faith than them -- I'm left in wonder at this Man, Christ Jesus, who loves each of us as His disciples "to the end." What an encouragement for one who can never seem to get things quite right or who sometimes struggles to just relax in God's love. It ought to lift my soul to know that the Son of God will love me to the end -- to the end of each day, to the end of this year, to the end of my life. Such encouraging words ought to change the way I approach each day, as well as the coming year with all its challenges and all its potential!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A God-centered alternative

I had one of those "Ah-hah!" moments a couple weeks ago, and I kind of wonder if it was about something that everyone around me had figured out ages ago and had never told me! It's something that now seems so obvious that I'm sure I'm the last person to have figured it out.

I think my slowness to understand this matter up until now is directly related to a Me-centered orientation in my faith. It's all about Me being saved, My needs being met, My prayers being answered. But the Bible isn't man-centered -- it's God-centered. And to be more specific, it's centered around the glory of God -- God being magnified in both heaven and earth. As John Piper writes in God is the Gospel, "The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God's glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savoring it as our highest treasure. 'Behold your God!' is the most gracious command and best gift of the gospel" (p.56).

And yet for many, many years, as I read a very familiar gospel-passage in the Bible, I read it with me in mind rather than God's glory, and as a result, I was often left frustrated by it. The passage is Romans 5:1-5. Because so much of that passage has to do with how we live on this earth, I've failed to see how much it has to do with heavenly things, and specifically, God's glory. Paul refers to having "peace with God" -- something we dearly need here in this troubled world (v.1); Paul refers to the "grace in which we stand" right here in our everyday lives (v.2); Paul refers to the tribulations we face on the earth (v.3); and he refers to persevering and to our character and to hope, all essential qualities for the here and now (v.4).

But it's because of how relevant all those verses are for dealing with the everyday stuff of life that I've been tripped up by what Paul wrote next: "...and hope does not disappoint..." (v.5). What does he mean by that? If that's also applicable to the here and now, why do I keep experiencing disappointment after disappointment as prayers go unanswered, Fiona's kidneys get worse, and friends around me have significant troubles of their own?

I don't know about you, but I think my frustration with that phrase has been due to "Me-centered Christianity." That means I've seen this Romans 5 "hope" as something needed on this earth because we need it for things on earth (like for Fiona's healing). But I no longer think Paul was speaking here of a hope we need for things on earth, but was speaking of a hope for God that we need because of the things of this earth!

In other words, Paul's got bigger and better things in mind to hope for than the now-things of this earth. The hope he's writing about in verse 5 is the same hope he was writing about in verse 2: the "hope of the glory of God"! That's the hope Paul says we're to rejoice in (v.2). And it's that kind of rejoicing that requires perseverance, character and hope to achieve in this world of suffering (v.3-4). The hope Paul had was not for now-things. It wasn't focused on relief from some momentary affliction. His mind was on something far higher and far more satisfying -- something that caused his heart to rejoice in the midst of sufferings -- the glory of God.

God's glory is something exciting, to be sure. It's meant to give us hope in an uncertain world that is actually only a temporary residence for us. And by having such a heavenly mindset that longs and hopes to see the glory of God, we can remain encouraged no matter what this world throws at us. That should not only make me a happier person, but it should hopefully make my life far more appealing to people around me who have no such hope.

Does this mean I no longer hope for unpleasant things to change in the here and now? Of course not. But it means that as I focus on a hope that never disappoints -- the hope of the glory of God -- I will have greater stability as I seek God regarding the uncertain things I face in this world. And that heavenly focus enables me to live more happily in the tension of the things God has done "already" and the things that remain "not yet."

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Waiting well... (church bulletin cover)

I don't do well at waiting. And Christmastime can produce a LOT of waiting. Waiting in traffic, waiting for a parking spot, waiting in line ups. There are times I want to yell, "How long is this going to TAKE?!"

For kids, waiting for that special day is what this season is all about, and that kind waiting is filled with anticipation rather than stress. They know the day will come -- it's just a matter of waiting, and with each passing day, the excitement builds! They count the sleeps, and however long it feels, they know it's coming!

But so much of the waiting we do in life doesn't have a fixed date to be sure of. We just don't know how long it's going to take, or even how things may turn out. And in every circumstance like that, we face the choice of either getting stressed or trusting God. Worry or worship -- react or relax.

Sometimes we have to wait for something for months or years, or even decades. And with each passage of the sun or the seasons, the wait becomes increasingly painful. With this in mind, it's a challenge to appreciate what it would be like waiting for something that was taking many generations, each generation waiting for the same precious promise spoken hundreds of years earlier. At the time of Jesus' birth, the people of Israel had been waiting for centuries for a Messiah -- a Saviour -- whom God had long ago promised would come. But to make the wait even more sorrowful, God was silent for the 400 years before Jesus came, calling no prophets to speak in His name during that long time of waiting.

How would that have felt? I'm sure it would've been difficult after one generation of silence, let alone 400 years. It must have felt like a crushing disappointment as foreign empires occupied the Promised Land and no Saviour came. I find it an effort to hope after 20 years. How did it feel after 400 years?

That's why Simeon is such an encouragement to me. Luke 2:25-26 says, "Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ."

After 400 years, this man was hopeful. When the Holy Spirit spoke to him, he didn't look back on generations of disappointment and respond with unbelief or cynicism or with fear of more disappointment. He hoped. And he was willing to wait in hope from the time God spoke to him, knowing that surely God's Word would somehow be fulfilled! And when he finally saw Jesus, he rejoiced and blessed God.

Simeon was more child-like in
his waiting than me. Despite the challenge of waiting, Simeon seemed to know the thrill of anticipation. Like Simeon, may we all find grace this Christmas season to wait for God with hope, whatever our circumstances!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Learning to be Missional

What do children want to be when they grow up? A doctor? A teacher? A fireman? How about a missionary? My daughter Becky once said she wanted to be a missionary when she grew up. I remember responding reflexively: “But you’re already a missionary!”

Because Becky knew Jesus, she’d already been sent out into her world to share His Good News. To this day, she can do that in a neighbourhood in Canada as much as others do so in foreign lands. And when it comes time for her to choose a profession, she can share Christ’s love as a doctor or a teacher, or as a full-time Christian worker if that’s how God leads her. In other words, if she knows Jesus, she’ll be a missionary in any place or profession she chooses.
In recent years, the word missional has been coined to redefine how we as Christians are meant to approach our lives. Though I'm convinced of the priority of taking the Gospel across cultures to unreached parts of the world, “mission fields” are no longer viewed as simply somewhere you go, but as any place a Christian may be found. No longer is “missions” viewed as something you do for a summer or a season, but as something that followers of Jesus do throughout their lives. To missional Christians, life is missions and the ground beneath their feet is the mission field.

This means that a Christian child talking about becoming a missionary when he or she grows up is like someone talking about becoming a person when they grow up. If a Christian is truly meant to be missional, every Christian is a missionary as much as every child is a person. The two are inseparable by definition.

The reason our understanding of the term “missionary” is so important is because as long as we see it as a career one chooses rather than a command one champions, we will continue to see our participation in the Great Commission as an option rather than a lifestyle; as a category of people rather than a characteristic of a Christian. And unless we see missions as an activity of the whole Church, the task of the harvest will fall on too few shoulders.

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). As Christians, each one of us has already been sent, and the people we’re sent to are all around us wherever we happen to be! When God chose us to be His child, we became a vital worker in His harvest field, which begins outside our doorstep. We do not need to wait for a “call” on our lives in order to feel a part of God’s plan for reaching this world. We’re already a part of God’s missions strategy.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). Let’s change that as we move through the harvest fields of our world each day. Jesus told us they are ripe for spiritual harvest (John 4:35). With Bethlehem LIVE! just one week away at our church, we have a wonderful opportunity to be missional as we each do our part to make Jesus known this Christmas season!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Engineer's Report on Santa Claus

I found the following report on the sad demise of that jolly ol' Santa fellow. I share it with you now so that you have plenty of time to do your own shopping in lieu Santa's fate, as described below. It outlines the implications of the incredible job Santa has to accomplish on the night before Christmas...

In regards to Santa's means of trans
port, there is no known species of reindeer can fly. BUT, there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer, which only Santa has ever seen.

In reg
ards to the sheer scale of Santa's task, we could say that (in round numbers) there are approximately 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't seem to handle most of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children who don't celebrate Christmas, that potentially reduces the workload to as little as 32.5% of the total - or 650 million. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 185.7 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

nta has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 1,664 visits per second. This is to say that for each household with good children, Santa has less than 1/1600th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 185.7 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household, a total trip of 144.846 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding etc. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 1,315 miles per second, 6,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 649,950 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 433,300 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 714,945 tons. Again, for comparison - this is eight times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

714,945 tons traveling at 1,315 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 28.9 QUINTILLION joules of energy per second each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vapourized within 8.62 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 35,400.45 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 8,728,709 pounds of force.

In conclusion - if Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's been vapourized by now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Finding God in our more honest moments (church bulletin cover)

It always amazes me that the writers of the Bible -- a book entirely inspired by God -- could be so honest about their struggles. Psalm 94 gives us a glimpse into the heart of one of those writers. The psalmist reveals two parts of his heart: the anxious part and the part that's delighted in God. Here's a man (likely a priest) who writes, "my anxious thoughts multiply within me" as part of the inspired word of God (Psalm 94:19)! So even though God is close enough to that writer for him to participate in writing God's thoughts in this text, he can write that he struggles with anxiety. Though I myself haven't been chosen to write God's inspired Word, I can relate to a guy like this!

But if anxiety is the only part of this man that I can readily relate to, I'm in trouble. There's more to him than that. Psalm 94:19 goes on to say,
"When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." This writer also knows how to escape anxiety. He's not stuck. He knows how to receive God's assurances when he's anxious.

I, on the other hand, can get so focused on what's making me anxious that I don't even recognize God's consolations. I get fixated -- my eyes and thoughts riveted on the negative, unable to believe there's a solution, my anxiety growing. The lesson of this psalmist is that you're in good company if you're anxious about something, but not if you can't see God's consolations amidst it. God wants to
"delight my soul" despite my anxieties, and He does that through the "consolations" or assurances found in His Word and through His Spirit within us. In fact, Psalm 94 is full of such words of comfort: "If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, 'My foot has slipped,' Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up" (Psalm 94:17-18).

My part is to take my anxieties to God and to receive the consolations He offers. But to receive such comfort through His Spirit, I need to believe the many promises He offers in His W
ord to help me and "hold me up." And that's the way in which I really want to relate to the writer of Psalm 94!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poems from the desert

When I was 23 years old, I lived in the desert of northern Sudan for nearly a year, doing work for Emmanuel International. It was an adventure to be sure. I was young and single, and probably thought I could be another Lawrence of Arabia. But in the midst of the excitement of camel rides, sand storms and practicing my Arabic were the unwieldy challenges of culture shock, team life, unfamiliar illnesses and 120 degree heat. Needless to say, I had my ups and downs over there.

It's probably fair to say that I'm still vulnerable to experiencing ups and downs right here in Winnipeg amidst the adventures of a dove on our window sill and meaningful times of prayer for Fiona, as well as the weighty challenges of disappointing doctor's reports and Fiona's ongoing illness.

But I'm happy to say that I don't fall quite so far as I used to when big challenges follow closely on the heals of encouraging times. I was reminded of that when after receiving some disappointing news from the doctor, as I was encouraging myself in the Lord about it, I recalled two poems that I wrote in Sudan amidst somewhat similar, though different circumstances. I realize that I was quite a different person when I wrote them, but I'll share them here in the order I wrote them.

Bitter Sands
The sand blew by
With ferocious intensity
It filled the sky
It cut the skin

I didn't care
I simply leaned against
A whithered tree
And squinted
At what I didn't know
For I knew not what
Lay beyond that blanket
Of bitter sand
I didn't care
I had wandered
Into a desert
To find peace
And contentment
The peace of the desert
Is the peace of death
And contentment
The contentment of a madman

April 7, 1987

Whispers in the Silence
How clean the desert is! 
How pure in her golden radiance.

Where is man's mark within her?
She has filled her borders
With the power of her impeding presence
That man might find no room
To dwell in his customary comfort
Within her.
Yet she is welcoming to the humble,
Placing before him no obstacles
Save the challenge of her company 
And the company of her challenges.

Enter her company then,
Accept her challenges, 
And leave behind the confusion

And the noise
And the endless distractions
Of the world of man. 
Sit down in her silence,

And hear the whisper of God 
Speaking of peace

And quiet contentment.

April 24, 1987

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God is so awesome!

Ever since I first heard Louie Giglio speak about the heavens revealing the otherness of God, I've been fascinated by images of the universe around us. That's why I've placed an "Astronomy Photo of the Day" in the left column of my blog. God is so huge and I am so small, and the more I realize that, the more I'll respond with proper humility before God in the midst of life's challenges. When facing such times, why would I ever argue with a God who is so wondrously great that by the word of His mouth, He filled a universe with billions of galaxies (the Hubble telescope images suggest 125 billion), each one filled with billions of stars, while also loving me enough to choose me before the foundations of this planet were even in place (Ephesians 1:4)? He is God, and there is simply no one like Him (Isaiah 45:5-7)!

I've resorted to using photos of galaxies as wallpaper on my computers just to keep this perspective fresh on my mind. I used to have the Barred Spiral Galaxy on my home computer screen. Take a look...
It's a galaxy about 69 million light years away from earth, and is over 100,000 light years wide, meaning it would take a person 69 million years traveling at 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light) to get to it, and then another mere 100,000 years to travel across it! The sheer scale of such an object is mind-boggling!

At the office, I presently have the Sombrero Galaxy on my computer screen. It's only 28 million light years away, and a mere 60,000 light years wide...
But even though it may only be half the size of the Barred Spiral Galaxy, it's estimated to contain nearly 2,000 globular clusters (spherically shaped collections of up to a million old stars held together by gravity), which is 10 times more than our humble Milky Way contains!

And as I think of how our sun is considered a small to medium sized star, and that there are billions of stars in each of the billions of galaxies, and that God knows exactly how many there are and knows them all by name (Psalm 147:4), I'm humbled at how extremely small I am!

How small? A wonderful image taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 while it was on its way out of our solar system, more than 4 billion miles away from earth, gives a very real sense of our smallness. As Voyager 1 grew increasingly distant, Ground Control on Earth commanded it to turn around and take some pictures of our solar system. From that vast distance, in one of the pictures, Earth can be seen as an infinitesimal point of light visible in a ray of sunlight (enlarged in the image to the right, or click on the image to the left to enlarge it).

As the famous astronomist Carl Sagan later said, "That's here. That's home. That's us." That little dot is where "everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives... every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam."

What's even more amazing about all this is that the same psalm that says that God knows all those billions of billions of stars by name (147:4) also says just one verse earlier that "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). What a contrast! A God who is great and awesome enough to create the entire universe condescends to bind up our wounds. Psalm 147 goes on with this contrast: "Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground" (Psalm 147:5-6). A God of infinite power gently lifting up those who humble themselves before Him. That gives me great reason to want to respond like Job and say, "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand on my mouth" (Job 40:4).

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Journey I Don't Expect (church bulletin cover)

It’s become popular to say that the journey is as important as the destination. Maybe somebody should’ve told that to the Israelites in the wilderness. Yet whatever the Israelites might have thought about God’s route for them to the Promised Land, there’s a phrase repeated throughout their story that is worth remembering: “just as the Lord commanded Moses.” Then as the people of Israel neared the end of their long journey, it is summed up as “their journeys by the command of the Lord (Numbers 33:2).

I’d sure like that to be the way my life can be described – a journey by the command of the Lord. I want to be led by God, to walk according to His Word, to follow His initiative. Yet I can see that the Israelites’ “journey by the command of the Lord didn’t always look like what I might expect a journey directed by a wise and loving God to look like. The command of the Lord led His people to places that appeared to have no water and where it looked like He’d abandoned them (Num. 33:14), to places that appeared threatening through a person’s natural eyes (Num. 32:7-8), and to places where warfare was necessary to pass through. In fact, the journey by the command of the Lord began with the feeling that they were trapped between a murderous army and the Red Sea!

The point is that God’s commands do not just lead us into sunshine and meadows. He leads us in ways that teach us dependence, that test us in areas of obedience, that discipline us for unbelief, that strengthen our arms for fighting the good fight, and most importantly, that show us His glory! Will I stay the course and continue to do “just as the Lord commands” me when God’s leading takes me into hard places? I must, because any other route on my journey in this life would be for my own self-interest rather than for God’s glory being displayed as I put my hope and trust in Him.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Friday, November 7, 2008

Three Simple Steps

Why have I been going on and on about numbers and consumerism and more numbers? C’mon! Lighten up, right? What’s so important about how many cups we use as a society anyway? From all those pictures in my previous posting, one might think that all I’m concerned about is how much ends up in our landfills. Though that might be a valid concern, it’s not something I think about much.

I don’t get stirred up about consumerism for ecological reasons. In fact, my primary concern about consumerism isn’t even about excess. That’s because the Bible isn’t against wealth. In fact, it says that wealth is from God. My primary concern about consumerism is about needs – desperate needs. We as Westerners have so much to share, and can easily do so with little impact on our comfortable Western lifestyles. And if we actually do want to impact our lifestyles, there are people in this world who truly need the help we can offer.

All it takes is a little investigating, a little thought, and then a decision or two.

Investigating is easy. For example, just try doing a Google search on the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN has recently declared it to be the worst place in the world to be a child. If you really want to know, keep reading and you’ll discover that earlier this year, a UNICEF report declared that the DRC was one of 11 countries where 20% of children die before the age of five. According to other news clips you’ll find, at the beginning of 2008, 45,000 people were dying each month, nearly half of them children, and the fighting has recently intensified!

If you want to know details, the Guardian in the UK reported that The International Rescue Committee said preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by conflict have claimed 5.4 million lives since the beginning of the second Congo war in 1998, equivalent to the population of Denmark. Although the war officially ended in 2002, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition continue to claim thousands of lives. The study of 14,000 households across Congo between January 2006 and April 2007 found that nearly half of all the deaths were of children under the age of five, who make up only 19% of the population.” This is why many people don’t take this first step – the truth is too awful to know, the images too hard to see.

But if you get that far, the next thing you’ll want to investigate is who’s offering meaningful help? I tend to check Samaritan’s Purse first, and I generally find that they’re involved in the area I’m concerned about. But another Google search will reveal many agencies helping in any significant crisis.

If you’ve taken the time to investigate a situation like that, you’re already way ahead of your average Western consumer. Way to go! Now step 2 is to simply think a little. Think about whether you want to give once in awhile to needs like these, or on a routine basis. If you only want to do it once in awhile, just think about how much you can spare right now – how much money do you have to give? That’s what most people do. They give occasionally as situations arise. Giving routinely is simply unaffordable to many because their budget is maxed out with too many other monthly bills and payments.

This is where my concerns with consumerism arise, and this is where it’s worth thinking about what we can do without in order to give more generously to desperately needy people. It’s this kind of regular giving that makes a huge difference to those trying to feed the hungry, but it’s also the kind that requires sacrifice from a people who are used to having what they want when they want it.

And that brings us to step 3: a decision or two. What regular expense will I give up so that I can afford to give regularly to those who need my help? Will it be a few of those 410,000 coffee cups that are used every 15 minutes? Or will it be a few of those 2 million plastic beverage bottles that are used every 5 minutes? Once you get used to thinking this way, you may consider giving up things of even more value in your life, like instead of buying as many CDs or DVDs, I’ll give to others instead. Or maybe, spend less on sports or leisure activities. For us, this is a primary reason we gave up cable TV at our house.

The challenge for us all is to match our Western lifestyles with the compassion and convictions of our hearts. What can you do? Investigate. Think a little about your consumer lifestyle. Then, make a decision or two. If we all do that, those three simple steps will make a huge difference in a world of need!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Photographing statistics

If you've read my posting below called "The Value of Numbers," or if you've visited the live global stats counter at the bottom of this page, you'll have noticed my appreciation for numbers. Numbers tell us a lot. But not everyone loves numbers, and in fact, as I wrote in "The Value of Numbers," most of us find what we see with our eyes more compelling than what we can count on our fingers.

I also wrote in my previous posting how troubling I find consumerism (which is often most easily measured by numbers). Part of my trouble with consumerism is my own vulnerability to it. But the other reason is because I see a world pursuing it without reservation and I can see where that will inevitably lead. That's why I believe that economics will be as great a factor in the fulfillment of Biblical end-time prophecies as religion or politics. Just bear in mind that the original meaning of "consume" is to destroy.

So when I discovered the following photographs produced by Chris Jordan as a unique visual and statistical perspective of contemporary American culture, I found them compelling in a completely new way than all the scrolling numbers in the statometer at the bottom of my blog! They gave me visual images of the statistics of consumerism -- images that wowed me. They gave me a visual impression of how much money we spend on so much discretional stuff while so much of the world struggles just to provide for their basic needs. Take a look!

As you view the images below, you can click on any image to see it full-sized.

Photo below: 2 million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every 5 minutes

Partial zoom:
Detail at actual size:

Photo below: 426,000 cell phones -- the number of cell phones retired in the US every day

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:
Photo below: 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Photo below: 410,000 paper cups, the number of disposable hot-beverage paper cups used in the US every fifteen minutes.
Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Photo below: 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds
Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:
Photo below: 30,000 reams of office paper, or 15 million sheets, equal to the amount of office paper used in the US every five minutes

Detail at actual size:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Desires for Other Things

I walked into Wal-Mart the night before Halloween and found that the promotional area just inside their doors was already 90% Christmas stuff. There's no sentimentality in consumerism. Before a holiday is even over (though I'm stooping quite low in order to refer to Halloween as a holiday), the boxes for the next one are being carted out. It's not, "Wasn't that nice?", but rather, "What's next?!"

And though I bristle at the crass consumerism of the retail world, I must admit that I do get distracted by the materialism of the culture in which I live. I want stuff. The world's teetering economies depend on us to do so. And I can't deny that the attraction of stuff has had an impact on my pursuit of God -- diluting my passion for Him. Sure, I've steered clear of most techno-gadgets and I don't even get any channels on my 21" TV. And sure, I've resisted putting new flooring in our house and I'm happy buying used clothes. But I can still end up wanting way more used shirts than any one person needs! And despite my restraints, I still feel drawn to look through the weekly flyers to see if there's more stuff to be had at a reasonable price!

So as I read Mark 4:18-19 recently, I felt a twinge of conviction and wondered at how fruitful my life is for God. Jesus is speaking there of the seed that fell among thorns, and He says, "but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."

I felt pricked (as if by a thorn) as I read those verses, and as I wondered at the amount of fruit in my life -- in terms of people being saved and in terms of the amount my life shines before an unsaved world the way Jesus said it should in the subsequent verses of 4:21-22. I felt pricked because I know that I'm rich (by most standards of this world), and I have many possessions that can cause me worry if there's trouble with them (car repairs, an appliance on the blink, a basement shifting, a memory-stick lost). And I can certainly feel "desires for other things" that distract me from the things that really matter to God. "Desires for other things enter in and choke the word and it becomes unfruitful." How much more fruitful would I be if my desire to see my neighbour saved was stronger than my desire for books or CDs or good sale prices? What an indictment that such things should appear more important to me!

I realize that the availability of so much stuff in this culture will always have the potential to be as thorns that want to choke the word in my life. But even with the retail world gearing up for the Christmas season, I must not let that happen! May I always want God's will for my life more than any temporary material pleasure. And may Jesus always be the Treasure of my heart, even amongst so much product glitz and excess!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coming to a Complete Stop

Recently, I got a rather expensive traffic ticket. It had been nearly a decade since I’d last received a ticket of any kind, and on that occasion, it had come with such a clear word from the Lord, that I literally received it with rejoicing! So I was keen to discern whether or not God was again trying to get my attention through His servants of the law enforcement community.

The ticket was at an intersection I typically drive through 4-6 times a day, and I have never previously seen the police monitoring that intersection (and never since). But on that day they were watching, and I was nabbed for failing to come to a complete stop at a 4-way stop sign. I slowed down, but I was in such a hurry that I rolled through without bothering to stop.

It didn’t take much thought to connect this experience with what I had already been feeling rather convicted about lately. My desire is to spend devotional time with the Lord every day. But life is busy, and though the needs I deal with require the wisdom and grace of God, I must confess that I’ve neglected my devotional time with God amidst the many needs that come my way. This is the opposite of what Jesus did. Luke 5:15 tells us that as “news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses”, verse 16 says “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Jesus was in far greater demand than I am, and yet He still found time to spend with His Father. And if the Son of God needs time in prayer to cope with the pressing demands of life, I most certainly do! But this fall, in the midst of much busyness and much weariness, I had fallen well behind in my Bible-reading schedule and was praying on-the-fly more often than withdrawing to a lonely (or quiet) place to pray. In other words, rather than stopping to pray, I was rolling through my prayer times as I hurried on with my Many Important Activities. And though I knew God was trying to get my attention regarding all this, I busily carried on, planning to do something about it next week.

I’ve heard Barney Coombs say that if God really wants to get your attention, he’ll touch your pocketbook. And it’s extremely wise to pay attention the first time He does this, or it can get costly! It seems, God felt this was important enough to touch my pocketbook. So I’ve had some great times with God lately and hope to do so every day. While so many situations around me continue to seem urgent, I can’t afford (both financially and spiritually!) to get involved in them without the wisdom and grace that comes from spending quality time with God. Jesus thought so. I’m obviously still figuring that out!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Power of Pie

Thanksgiving is a day of celebrating our gratitude by feasting on the blessings we're thankful for. Nothing wrong with that, so long as we remember to also make time in our lives for those who have very little, and share our blessings with them. But the fact that there are people in need in this world is certainly not a reason to decry our enjoyment of God's wonderful gifts to us. God wants us to enjoy His blessings, and He wants that enjoyment to give us increased joy in Him, and He also wants that joy to spill over to bless others as we share His blessings with people around us.

For me, the part of Thanksgiving that best accomplishes all that is pecan pie. Yes, pecan pie. I love pecan pie. It's delicious. It's delectable. Give me a pie and a fork, and that's all I need. My thoughts will turn heavenward with every bite. And it just so happens that my wife Fiona makes the best pecan pie on the planet. She tends to bake it at Christmas, on my birthday and at Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, she's made three pecan pies! Three pecan pies! What a perfect opportunity this provides for overflowing joy in God! Think of it... Fiona gets to share something of incomparable taste with me... I get to feast on the blessing of many pieces... my joy in the One who has given us the wonder of pecan pies increases by the mouthful... and with three mouth-watering pies, I have an abundance to share with others, thereby increasing both my joy and the joy of others! It's the power of pie -- pecan pie! Such delicacies in life are meant to be God-given pointers to our Father in heaven, in whom we can find far more delight than in any earthly feast and who provides us with such feasts as mere tastes of His eternal and infinite love for us. I want to remember that as I fill my face this Thanksgiving. Just as I also want to remember the people in this world I'm meant to share God's blessings with -- people who don't know how much God loves them. The blessings on which we feast taste best when shared with those who've never tasted them!

Oh, and there's gotta be a lot of whipped cream on pecan pie. Each piece has got to be smothered in whipped cream.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A prize for the 500th visit!

It's been 161 days since I started this blog on April 28 of this year. And just this morning, someone dropped by for the overall 500th visit to this blog! No, it wasn't that particular person's 500th visit and nor was he the 500th visitor -- but his arrival to the blog marked the 500th time someone had checked out "The View from Here. " So to celebrate, I'm giving away a prize!

I'm pleased to announce that the prize for the 500th visit goes to my dear Dad! And the prize is a copy of the book "Pierced by the Word" by John Piper.

I can assure you that my Dad had no inside information regarding this prize. I had told absolutely no one about any prize or even that the blog was approaching this milestone. But it does seem a happy coincidence that my Dad's 74th birthday just happens to be tomorrow, October 6! It looks to me like God simply wanted to bless my Dad on this special occasion. Happy birthday, Dad! The book will be in the mail tomorrow.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A memorable visitor

This past Saturday afternoon, I was reading Luke 1-2 as part of my regular devotional time with God, and I found myself freshly impacted by the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I always find it a bit startling as the angel Gabriel appears and says, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son..." (Luke 1:13). It's startling to me because I assume that Zechariah and Elizabeth had stopped praying that prayer a long time ago. Verse seven tells us that "Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well along in years." In other words, old -- too old to have kids. And then along comes this angel promising a son, with no reference to why this answer to their prayers had taken so long. To God, it seems, the time-delay is irrelevant. What matters is God's timing, and this is God's time for the answer. But to us, who sometimes struggle with unanswered prayers in our lives, such lengthy seasons of unanswered prayer can be difficult, and I expect Zechariah and Elizabeth must have felt that way. Judging by what Gabriel said to them -- "Your prayer has been heard" -- they may have wondered if God had even been listening to their prayers. And I know from personal experience that it's also a temptation to wonder if you've prayed enough -- maybe God hasn't healed Fiona because we haven't been persistent enough or haven't prayed with enough faith. Or maybe I'm just not good enough for God to bother with my prayers! It's amazing where your mind can go as heartfelt prayers remain unanswered. But this passage shows us how unanswered prayers can have very little to do with whether or not we're "good enough"! Verse six says of Zechariah and Elizabeth, "Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly." That's high praise for a couple that happened to be barren and might have wondered if God was displeased with them. But in fact, God was very pleased with them, and He had heard their prayers, and was now answering them according to His timetable. But as I finished reading Luke 1-2, I found myself asking God, "Have you heard my prayers, Lord? My prayers for Fiona?"

Later that day, in the early evening, I walked into our bedroom, and there on the window sill of the window just beside Fiona's dialysis machine, was what appeared to be a dove (see picture above). I stopped in my tracks and called Fiona, and the kids came in closely after her. We were all amazed. We had never seen a pigeon or a dove in our neighbourhood before, let alone one with such striking colour on its wings. The dove was aware of us in the room, but didn't seem disturbed. It didn't even mind as we edged closer and closer to the window. Fiona and the kids eventually got right up to the glass in order to see its features more closely, and it just looked at them, unconcerned at their proximity.

Later, at bedtime, it was still there. We moved to and fro getting ready for bed, and it remained on the sill, calmly watching us. And even when Fiona pulled down the blind on that window, it wasn't frightened away. In fact, it stayed there all through the night. Every so often, Fiona would wake up and would hear its little feet pitter-pattering on the sill and as she would peek out at it, the dove would casually turn and look at her. And in the morning, when we eventually opened the blind again, there it was, still keeping us company. And just minutes before we left for church, I went back up to our room to get something, and it was no longer on the sill. But as I looked through the window from across our room, I could see the dove sitting on our neighbour's roof still staring back at me. That was the last I saw of it.

Later that day, I wondered again about our little visitor, and I wondered if God had sent that bird. I then thought that it would seem more like a God-thing if I happened to read about a dove in my regular Bible-reading schedule. Unfortunately, I didn't give that another thought and didn't even get around to reading my Bible that day!

The next morning, I opened to Luke 3 as I was reading my Bible. I was oblivious to what I was about to read, and I wasn't even considering what had happened on Saturday as I began reading about John the Baptist. But as I got to Jesus' baptism, and the dove came fluttering down from heaven, my head shot up and I stared out at the sky for what seemed a long time. What just happened, I wondered. And as I connected the dots from the Father's affirmation of His Son at His baptism to the dove on Fiona's window sill to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and all their supposed struggles with years of unanswered prayer, I was in awe. It seemed to me that God was saying, "Yes, I have heard your prayers." And if that assuring message is even more like the one delivered to Zechariah, that could mean He also intends to answer our prayers.

I'm no closer to knowing what God will do or when He will do it, but it does seem to me that He sent us a visitor so that we would know He is with us, and that He hears and cares about the many prayers we've prayed for Fiona. I'd like to believe that dove was also meant to assure us that He will answer our prayers for healing, but I need to leave that with God, trusting that whatever He does, whenever He does it, is good and acceptable and perfect. And I thank God for the beautiful way in which He sent us such a message!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Value of Numbers

Numbers can be numbing. But we’re battered with them everyday. Polls and percentages, stats and stocks, discounts and death tolls – it’s all coming at us in every form of media available. It’s no wonder people switch off when they hear the latest estimates of a famine or a bomb blast. It’s the downside of an IT culture in which so much information is available that we can’t possibly absorb it all, let alone give a considered response.

And yet I think there’s value in knowing what’s going on. As a Christian who believes that Christ has called His people to share the Gospel with every people group on the planet, I find numbers helpful. I think it’s worth knowing that there are about 16,314 people groups in the world and that about 6,739 of those are still considered unreached with the Gospel (that’s about 41.3%). Now depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty person, you could find that encouraging – about 59% of the world’s ethnic groups have a viable Christian church already among them, and essentially two-thirds of those groups are considered primarily Christian! In fact, of the world’s 236 countries, 169 (or 72%) are Christian-majority countries. And isn’t it encouraging to know that over 95% of the world’s population has the Bible, Bible-portions, the Jesus film, gospel radio, or gospel recordings available in their language (4,334 out of 6,516 languages)?

I could throw around so many more numbers that you’d have to be a real stats junkie to keep reading. If you want more like that, Joshua Project is a great place to go. But it doesn’t take long before all those numbers begin to feel overwhelming – or like some kind of artificial reality. After all, a number doesn’t move us the way a real person does. A number is data that informs our mind, but a face is a neighbor that touches our heart. That’s why it is known among aid agencies that the calamities that draw the television cameras will get far more dollars than more serious tragedies that are merely reported in print.

Though I understand why this would be, I still believe that numbers have great value in helping us to understand the state of the world. Do you know how many people are on this planet? Do you care to know how many of those people still have no Christian witness living among them? Or do you want to know how many people in this modern world still live without safe drinking water, or how many kids in Sudan have no access to a school? Such numbers shouldn’t be used to appeal to a sense of guilt, but rather to stir our interest. Figures can feed passions, and depending on what our passions are, some numbers will interest us more than others. But the point is, know what God has given you passion for and know the numbers that will feed that passion. Don’t go numb to all the numbers coming at you just because there are so many. Look for the ones that matter to you. That’s why I’ve inserted a population counter just above the news headlines in the left margin of this blog. And that’s why you’ll also find a live stat-counter regarding all kinds of concerns at the bottom of this blog (just scroll down to view it).

But the million dollar question is, What good are such numbers – even the ones that pertain to our passions – if we aren’t going to do anything about them? The danger, of course, is that if all we do is read the data and do nothing with it, we will become bloated with facts and calloused to the plights of the people they represent. We’ve got to act! Ezekiel 16:49 says that the sin of God’s people was that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” I live in a land of physical and spiritual abundance, and that leaves me feeling vulnerable to the same thing being said of me! And it is for that reason that numbers matter to me. Numbers like how many are in need, how many are unreached, how much money do I earn, how much can I share? I can’t respond to all the numbers – and nor am I expected to – but I can do something about the numbers that tally the things God has given me passion for. And that is why there is great value in numbers.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seeing God in it All

Many people are reading the news these days and asking, “How bad are things going to get?!” Well, whatever the answer, my conviction is that whatever is happening in this world, both now and throughout history, on either a personal or societal level, God 's purpose is to magnify Himself and make Himself known. I believe that because of how much I see that to be the case in the Bible. Quite recently, I was reading Ezekiel 38, which happens to be an intense battle scene. It's an event far more serious than today's news headlines. Gog of Magog and a vast army of many peoples “like a cloud covering the land” (38:9) are advancing “like a storm” (38:9) on God’s people, intent on destroying them. What could be a worse scenario for Israel? Isn’t this the kind of global scene that would cause a person at risk to wonder where God is or to question God’s faithfulness and to flip out with anxiety? Though more serious, it has the same feel of the financial storm that many people today see approaching (if they don’t feel it’s already come upon them). The picture Ezekiel describes in chapter 38 is one of imminent disaster, of impending doom, much like many news headlines today.

Enter God. In fact, God has been in the picture all along. It is God who actually gathers that vast army from Magog to stand against His own people (38:16). And when the battle is over, it says that all those troops and peoples will be strewn on the mountainsides, food for the beasts and the birds (39:4). God says in Ezekiel 38:23 that all of that tension and catastrophe will be to magnify Himself, to set Himself apart and make His name known in the sight of many nations! Wow. Why such extreme measures? Many people suffer in a scene like that. But God’s view is that wherever there are those who put their trust in something other than Himself, like Prince Gog of old, those lesser things must be shaken, and if necessary, struck down, for God will not share His glory with another.

So how then should we view the troubles we face in these days? Is God uninvolved in the turmoil of Wall Street or Bay Street? Or is He allowing things to escalate until all will clearly see where we ought to put our trust and who ought to be our God? God will allow enemies to advance in our lives, and He will allow pressures to build, with the ultimate intent of magnifying Himself above everything else in our lives! He wants to do that in each of our hearts, but as we see in Ezekiel, will sometimes do so on a wider scale so that all will see that God “is the Lord” (38:23).

My desire is that this realization of what God was up to in Ezekiel 38-39 will spill over into my perception of 2008. God is worthy of all glory, and is robbed of glory when anything becomes so important to me that when it is shaken, I lose my trust in God. So my response to the news these days is to magnify God – to trust and depend on Him through it all – before He needs to take desperate measures to make sure He is magnified in my life.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Monday, September 22, 2008

Has your day ever started like this?

I tend to feel better if I avoid caffeine -- it makes me feel like an electric current is coursing through my veins -- but this commercial is still a personal favourite of mine. ...Though I think it should've been called "Ken" instead of "Glen" in memory of the years I worked in the credit and revenue accounting offices at Reimer Express. There were days when I would have appreciated the guys in this video. Check it out!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lord of Everything (church bulletin cover)

The world sometimes seems out of control. Stock markets are in turmoil... people in countries like Haiti and Burma starve at the hands of oppressive regimes... terrorists bomb markets full of innocent people… the list can go on and on. And then one can add personal challenges to the list — a serious health issue, a relationship in trouble, a vehicle breaks down. Life begins to feel like the perfect storm.

Last week, Stanley Mehta preached at Gateway on Jesus and His disciples crossing the sea amidst a serious storm. It was so bad, the disciples thought they would drown. Perhaps some of us felt similarly overwhelmed this week as we read some of the news headlines. Yet as chaotic as things seemed in the storm of Matthew 8:24, it says in the same verse that Jesus was asleep. Is Jesus equally calm amidst the storms of September 2008? I think He is. As the disciples woke Jesus while waves were crashing into their boat, Jesus’ immediate response was to challenge their lack of faith in the midst of the storm. He then rebuked the storm so that “it became perfectly calm” (v.26). Fear turned to amazement. As one of the disciples aboard that boat, Matthew writes this account in a chapter packed with other miracles-stories. The disciples had just seen Jesus heal a leper and a centurion’s servant, as well as Peter’s mother-in-law. And now they discover that He is even Lord of the elements! Then, when they come ashore, Jesus delivers a demoniac. But not before the demons asked if Jesus had come to torment them “before the time” (Matt. 8:29). This is significant because their question revealed the truth that Jesus even had authority over the times in which we live and the times to come. This brief chapter essentially tells us that Jesus is Lord of everything!

If that is true, then we can know that the world is not out of control. Jesus, who is clearly Lord of all creation, is Lord in all of Matthew 8 as well as Lord of all September 2008. Why then should my faith be small in days of turmoil? Everything must obey Jesus, and He has invited us to call out to Him in time of need. Seas, wind, sickness, demons, nations, commerce -- it must all obey the Lord of creation. And I’d be wise to obey Him as well, by putting my faith in Him in every situation I face in this uncertain world. Only then will I be able to have confidence amidst a world that seems out of control!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When God lets the Pressure Mount

Pressure in life is to be expected. Especially amidst the hectic lives we lead in a fast-paced society. But sometimes, pressures can become overwhelming, and while I was in Sudan last month, God helped me in how I view such situations. From our very first day in Sudan, we were faced with the pressures of unexpected expenses and big uncertainties about our tomorrows. We were flying into a town packed with displaced people due to flooding in the surrounding areas, where hotel rates were set at NGO-levels of $150-per-person-per-night, and where we had no one to pick us up at the airport and no affordable accommodations arranged. For our first eight hours in that town, I had no idea where we would actually spend the night as we shuffled from one shady spot to another in search of something affordable. But God spoke to me on the very flight that took us to that town, and He assured me that whatever happened on this trip… it was Him. Yes, that’s what I felt He actually said: “Whatever happens on this trip is of My making.” That gave me a whole lot of peace amidst a whole lot of uncertainty for much of our time there.

Not long after leaving Sudan, I wondered why I didn’t always seem to live with that same sense of peace amidst pressures in Winnipeg. And I remembered something God had shown me from King Saul’s life just a few months ago. I’m thinking of the story in 1 Samuel 13 in which Samuel tells Saul that the kingdom will be taken from him due to Saul’s disobedience. I realize that King Saul got things all wrong in that story, but I find it so easy to relate to Saul’s earth-bound insecurities. I feel for him, in a way.

It had not been a very long time since Saul had been yanked from a life of peaceful obscurity, chosen to be king of a fledgling nation. Now he’s facing enemies of great numbers, and his people are without swords or spears and have inferior numbers, and all the people expect him to do something kingly to deliver them all. Talk about pressure. It says in 1 Samuel 13:2 that Saul had 3,000 men and in 13:4 it says that “the people were then summoned.” Whether that speaks of the 3,000 or to others in addition to them is almost irrelevant, for 13:6-7 describes them as so fearful that they were hiding in caves or high-tailing it across the Jordan.

Meanwhile, the Philistines have gathered for battle with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horseman and soldiers as numerous as the sands on the seashore (13:5)! And now Saul is expected to wait! When Samuel had anointed Saul as king, he had instructed Saul to wait seven days at Gilgal for Samuel to come offer burnt offerings to God (10:8). But every day that he waits, more soldiers desert. Every long day, Saul’s numbers were reduced while he waited for Samuel (13:8). So what does Saul do? He’s the king, so he takes charge – he makes an executive decision. He literally takes the bull by the horns and presents the burnt offerings himself. Saul was down to 600 men at that point. I’m sure he felt understandably desperate. I think I would have too.

But Saul’s disobedience to God’s servant Samuel reflected Saul’s lack of trust in God. His eyes were on earthly pressures rather than on the God who is Lord of our circumstances. Even though that’s probably because God seemed as far away as the troops who had scattered, things were not as they appeared. God was there watching as Saul was tested – as Saul failed to trust God as the pressures mounted. Interestingly, in Judges 7, Gideon was down to 300 against “innumerable hordes” and he won a victory. But Saul lost the battle and the kingdom because he allowed the persistence of life’s pressures to rob him of perspective. In the end, he tried to rush God rather than waiting for God's way in God's timing.

In Sudan, I had to trust God amidst many pressures that left me wanting to get aggressive and make something happen! And God then worked things out way beyond my expectations. I hope I can remember that here in Winnipeg. That way, I can live amidst life’s pressures with peace rather than panic, trusting that the sovereign God will work out His will in my life in ways that only He can do!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Action-Cluster of Life (church bulletin cover)

There are certain behaviours that are meant to go together like action-clusters. Action-clusters are like atoms—separate the components of them to your own peril. Split an atom and there’s trouble. Break up an action-cluster, and your life loses its potency. As I read Jesus’ story of the man who built his house on a rock, I see an action-cluster containing three key activities: pursuing, listening to and obeying Jesus. Jesus said, “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.” (Luke 6:47).

I can’t help but think that so often I major on one or even two of those things, and not often enough on all three. I may find myself coming to Jesus and enjoying His presence in times of worship, but not do much listening amidst the familiar songs and my hasty prayers, let alone obey what I would’ve heard if I’d been listening more carefully. Or, I may find myself able to hear Jesus as I cruise through my day too busy to come to Him for a devotional time, but in that busyness, fail to obey whatever I heard Him say! Or, I may be so busy doing things I once heard Jesus asking of me that I’ve switched off listening any longer, and have even stopped coming to Him because of how busy I feel doing what I’m doing for Him!

The variations of all the ways I can smash this action-cluster begin to feel so complicated when Jesus made things so clear in Luke 6:46-49. He simply wants us to come to Him (spend time in His presence), hear His words (be quiet enough to listen), and obey His words (do what I hear God saying). Simple. Come, listen and obey. An action-cluster that represents the building blocks of our spiritual lives. That’s all Jesus asks of those who want their lives to be able to stand up amidst the winds and storms that come our way. And it works, because of course, the One we’re coming to, hearing and obeying is the Lord of the winds and the storms! Who else would we rather turn to?

So as we look to the season ahead of us, let’s not allow ourselves to become so busy with the activities of this world that we’re unable to regularly come to Jesus, hear His words of life and put them into practice!

© 2008 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Waiting in Aweil

In the 11 days we were in Aweil, Sudan, it was a strange paradox to get so much accomplished in a place where it took so long to accomplish anything. A Ugandan pastor who ministers in Southern Sudan told us that however long things take to do things in Uganda, it takes five times longer to do the same things in South Sudan. It is a war-torn region that is recovering from over 20 years of civil war (1983-2005), or from what the state Governor referred to as “the disaster of the last 20 years.” Yet despite all that, in a whirlwind 11 days we managed to meet with…
  • the state Governor
  • the state Minister of Education
  • the previous state Minister of Education
  • the state Minister of Infrastructure (re buildings and land)
  • the former Secretary General of Aweil Town
  • the Executive Director of the Aweil Town Council
  • two pastors of the Episcopal Church in Aweil Town
  • the lead pastor of the Sudanese Pentecostal Church in Aweil Town and for the outlying areas
  • two Presbyterian church planters in rural Aweil
  • a portion of the teaching staff of a public primary school in Aweil Town
  • a UN/NGO Taskforce on regional health issues
It had to be God, in answer to the prayers of His people, who ensured that we were able to have so many valuable conversations with so many people. I say this because there were times during our visit when the simplest things took hours to accomplish. For example, one day we planned to drive to a village northwest of Aweil Town to see Aken’s sister as well as to drop off Aken’s brother and Aken’s nephew.      For this to happen, we had arranged to borrow a vehicle from the Ministry of Infrastructure.
All we needed to do was to get the vehicle to come to the place where Aken, Carlos, Aken’s brother, Aken’s nephew and I would be waiting. This is how it all came together…
  • At 11:00am, on the day we planned to make this trip, Aken went to get some medicine for his brother and to confirm the vehicle’s availability while Carlos and I went back to the house we were staying at to get what we needed for the trip.
  • Having got our stuff, Carlos and I walked back to a tea stand at which we expected Aken to return with the vehicle.
  • There we sat around for awhile.
  • Eventually we got hungry, so Carlos and I told the people at the tea stand that we were going to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
  • After eating, Carlos and I sat and sipped our water for awhile.
  • Then after awhile, I pulled out my Bible to read and Carlos slipped on his MP3 player to relax.
  • Then Aken came to the restaurant without the car, without the medicine for his brother and unsure where his brother was.
  • Aken then sat down to have lunch with a relative of his.
  • Carlos then went back to the house to get something.
  • Aken, his relative and I remained at the restaurant and sipped our water.
  • After awhile, Aken’s relative left.
  • Aken and I remained and waited some time longer.
  • After some time, the driver of the vehicle appeared and explained that he needed money for gas.
  • We gave him money and instructed him to return after purchasing the gas.
  • The driver then sat down to eat.
  • Then the power went out and the restaurant’s electric fan, which I had strategically placed myself right in front of, stopped spinning.
  • Not long after that, Aken and I got up and went back to the tea stand, and as we left, I looked back at the driver still sitting at his table eating and I wondered how we could just leave him there when it took so long to find him!
  • After sitting at the tea stand for awhile, I pulled out my sermon notes to review them for Sunday.
  • Then, at about 2:30pm, Carlos returned to the tea stand.
  • Not too long after that, Aken’s brother appeared and sat down at the tea stand. All we needed now was Aken's nephew and the vehicle.
  • But then Aken got up and went to purchase some clothes from the market for his brother.
  • While Aken was away, his nephew then arrived at the tea stand. Now all we needed was Aken and the vehicle.
  • Then Aken’s nephew went away somewhere. What next? Would Aken's brother be the next to leave so that when the vehicle came, it would be for just Carlos and I?
  • Then Aken returned with the clothes.
  • And then suddenly, at 3:10, the vehicle arrived with Aken’s nephew.
  • But gas had to then be siphoned into the vehicle from two jerry cans.
  • We then loaded up the luggage, and at 3:17, we departed for our destination.
Whenever we faced long waits like this, it often seemed like everyone around us knew more about what was going on than Carlos and I understood. We would sometimes try to clarify what was happening, but people seemed to think that we’d be better off if we just trusted them rather than them having to explain things to two confused North Americans. And like I said, the things that were accomplished on this trip seemed to work out in ways far beyond what we could have accomplished by our own understanding anyway!

© 2008 by Ken Peters