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.