Friday, January 23, 2009

Intimate, yet at Awe

Next week, many in our church will be involved in a time of corporate prayer and fasting as we seek the Lord for His direction for 2009. For myself, I want to simply wait on the Lord and to hear and receive from Him. And as I approach this special week, I want the posture of my heart to be right.

There are two unhealthy extremes I know I can be prone to at such times regarding my perception of Jesus. One is to see Him almost like a buddy that I'm so casual and laid back around that I trivialize who He truly is and forget how awesome it is to know Him. The other is to think of Him as so awesome and so lofty that I don't believe He'd have the time of day for me -- as though He's just too high and mighty to have anything to do with me. Neither of these extremes will help me to grow in my relationship with Him.

I see in Luke 5 a better example of how I can perceive Jesus in both His humanity and His divinity that will help me to avoid those extremes. Luke 5:4-11 tells the story of Jesus being in the boat with Peter, James and John, and of how Jesus told them to let down their nets for a catch. Though Peter protested that they'd fished all night (when fish are much closer to the surface) and had caught nothing, he agreed to lower their nets anyway, and then the amazing happened. The nets quickly filled with fish to the point of breaking, and so they called out to those in another boat to come and help them, and they filled both boats so full that they began to sink! It says, "But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'" (Luke 5:8).

Picture it... Here's Jesus, out at sea in a creaky, smelly old fishing boat, the waves happily slapping up against its wooden bow as the men "put out into the deep" where they could let down their nets. Then, moments later, I can see Him smiling as He kneels amidst a sinking boat full of flopping fish, watching the looks of amazement on these men's faces, everybody scrambling and clamoring about what just happened. And then Peter turns from the fish and the nets and the shouts of joy and cries out to Jesus, "Depart from me, for I'm a sinful man, O Lord!" At that moment, Peter was very aware of Jesus' complete otherness -- Jesus' awesomeness -- and his response was to say, "I'm not worthy to be with You!"

But it's valuable to remind ourselves that prior to the miracle of the catch, Peter had been sharing his boat with this amazing Man, Jesus, kneeling with Him amidst the nets and the ropes, both of them feeling the spray of the waves and the warmth of the sun together. Peter was experiencing the gift of Jesus' complete nearness and was experiencing the privilege of getting to know who He was and what He was like, up close and personal. And though Peter ended up awestruck by what Jesus was capable of doing, when Jesus responded gently to Peter's plea to depart from Him with an invitation of, "I'm willing to be with you so that you catch men for now on" (v.10), Peter's immediate response was to leave everything and follow Him (v.11). Though in awe, Peter desperately wanted to be near this great Man who offered him His friendship.

That's how I want to perceive Jesus... always with me, and in fact, wanting to be with me, calling me to be with Him, to partner in His purposes with Him..., and so powerful and awesome that He continually amazes me by what I see Him accomplish in His Word and in my life and in this world. Yes, He wants to be close to us, but His nearness should continually astound us.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jesus stopped.

I don't know how much significance Luke put on two words he wrote in Luke 18:40, but they sure have an impact on me. The words, "Jesus stopped" cause me to wonder at what it means for the Son of God, who at the time was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish God's awesome long-promised epic plan of saving the human race from the consequences of sin, to stop. What would He stop for? What stopped Jesus from continuing such an infinitely important journey?

Well, the fact is, Jesus stopped for what the people around Him found annoying. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus was shouting for Jesus to have mercy on him, and the people around him were "sternly" telling him to shut up. But he persisted. And that caused Jesus to stop.

Jesus could've stopped the first time Bartimaeus called out, but He walked on until the man's determination was obvious. And then He stopped. Stopped to talk to a poor, blind beggar. And having stopped, Jesus asked the strangest question to a man whom I'm sure Jesus could see was blind... "What do you want?" Why ask such a question of a blind man? It's obvious he wants his sight. But Jesus seemed to love hearing expressions of faith! For upon hearing Bartimaeus ask that his sight be restored, Jesus immediately opened his eyes and said, "Your faith has made you well." Faith was persistently expressed, and that persistence caused Jesus to stop and pay attention to someone no one else was interested in.

It's interesting that this story is told shortly after Luke writes of Jesus' parable of the unrighteous judge who responded to the widow because of her persistence (Luke 18:1-5). Jesus' application is, "Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?" Persistence stops God -- especially persistent faith. But that's not something that I, for one, am very good at. I want quick answers -- quick resolutions to problems. And I wonder, would Bartimaeus have received his sight if he'd called out to Jesus only once? This story, and the parable before it, tell us that it's as we persist in calling out to God that we'll find the God of the universe willing to stop what He's doing for us. Jesus will stop, for you.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Challenge of Persevering

I'm not the most persevering of souls. I find that I'm sometimes very easily discouraged or distracted. And yet perseverance is described in the New Testament as of paramount importance, and is spoken of in contexts of great opposition or affliction. In other words, it's both vital and difficult, so I need God's help to accomplish it.

This seems doubly apparent in Revelation 14:12 where it says, "Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus." This means that the perseverance we're called to is both external and internal -- a matter of both our deeds and our disposition. This is no small thing. It encompasses actions and attitudes. That's probably why I feel so inadequate to achieve it. To be persevering is to faithfully do the works of God in a life of obedience as well as to believe the promises of God in a life of faith!

There are times when I may do well at how I live but struggle with issues of my heart. And there are times when I may do well at trusting God, but struggle to live the life I know God has called me to. Discouragements or distractions can so easily trip me up both internally and externally. But the call is clear: Perseverance in both faith and action.

I believe this makes it abundantly clear that we're simply not capable of perseverance without God's help. It's beyond me, of that I'm sure. I know that if I'm to persevere as a husband praying for my wife's healing -- or as a pastor seeking to live the life I write, teach and converse about -- it's not going to be all about me trying harder. My inadequacies are plain, so as I seek after God, persevering is going to be much more about God's grace at work in my life. And that's why it's His grace I want to call out for as I read God's call to persevere.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, January 12, 2009

What we can learn from our kids' drawings

This is a picture my daughter drew in early 2000 when she was six years old (you can click on it for a clearer view of it). The title is Mummy and Dad at home!

There's a great deal to observe about this drawing. To begin with, Fiona is obviously much larger than me. Dominatingly so. And she looks so happy in her beautiful dress, high heels, blouse and necklace. But I, on the other hand, though wearing a very snappy tie, have been drawn wearing knickers and a dreaded don't-take-me-seriously white short-sleeved dress shirt. And if it's not enough that Fiona is firmly clutching the hand of my miniature arm, her svelte uniform body also creates an extremely uncomplimentary contrast to the disfigured form of my limbs of various lengths and widths. And then there's my face. Fiona seems quite happy with her carefully drawn teethy grin, but I appear completely crazed with my disheveled hair and unkempt beard and my eyes of uneven size.

And then there's the apple in Fiona's hand, which on close inspection looks to have a bite taken out of it. I wonder somehow if (with the mess all around my mouth) I'm the one who's eating it as Fiona kindly feeds the weedy little man at her side.

I don't want to over-psycho-analyze this drawing, but when I first saw it, it did occur to me that perhaps I hadn't been home with the kids often enough. "Who's that little man we see with Mummy sometimes?" they might have wondered. I think they've figured that out by now.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The one thing to ask for (church bulletin cover)

If you could ask just one thing of God, what would it be? Health? Wealth? For a problem to be solved? Solomon asked for wisdom (2 Samuel 3:5, 9). Bartimaeus asked for his sight (Luke 18:41). David, the man described as a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), asked for something entirely different. David wrote, "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4).

Which leads me to wonder, what's the value of believing in God and of even committing my whole life to Him if I don't actually adore Him? In other words, is it enough for my mind and my will to be responsive to God, but for my heart to be engaged elsewhere? I don't think so. To suggest otherwise would mean that God preferred mere recruits more than a meaningful relationship with us. The one thing David asked of God was a reflection of what God also desires from us: a deep and personal relationship.

But for David, this was not something to merely ask for and then patiently wait for God to provide. We see in Psalm 28:4 that this was something David wanted enough to seek after it! David wanted intimacy with God. He wanted to dwell in God's house every day of his life. And in doing so, he wanted to behold God's beauty. As I appreciate the passion of this verse, I see a man who seemed so completely mesmerized by God that all he could want was to be close to Him. His delight was solely in God -- his gaze was fixed adoringly on Him -- he was captivated by Him.

I want to share this same longing that David had. I don't want to want anything else as much as I want God. Too often, I whet my appetite with lesser things like big-budget movies or low-budget computer solitaire and then find I have little appetite for God. It's as though I can graze on junk food and then not find a magnificent feast appealing. David saved his appetite for God so that when God said, "Seek My face," David's heart said, "Your face, O Lord, I shall seek" (Psalm 27:8).

What's my answer when the Holy Spirit says, "Seek after God. Read God's Word. Spend time in prayer with your God."? Do I say, "I'm kinda busy right now" or "I don't really feel like it" or "I'm not hungry"? Or do I rush to the table, eager to be with God, in love with Him as my Father and thrilled to be with Him as much as I can? May He be the "one thing" I truly feel that way about! And may I seek Him as eagerly as I ask for His nearness!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, January 5, 2009

A prize for the 1,000th visit!

I started this blog just over 8 months ago on April 28, 2008, and today at lunchtime, someone dropped by for the overall 1,000th visit! I don't mean the 1,000th visitor, but the 1,000th time someone arrived at "The View from Here " for a visit. In October, I gave away a prize for the 500th visit, so I want to also give away a prize to celebrate this mildly interesting occasion as well!

The prize for the 1,000th visit goes to a long-time friend and former co-worker, Dianna Symanski! And the prize is a copy of the book "Life as a Vapor" by John Piper.

As I also mentioned in October, no one had any inside information regarding how close this milestone was. I had told absolutely no one. And yet it seems rather interesting timing given that I had only just responded to Dianna's request to be her friend on Facebook (a couple hours earlier). Very soon after that, she visited my blog via my Facebook Wall and won this prize! Isn't that special?

I truly hope you enjoy the book Dianna! And if you already own it, please share it with someone!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, January 3, 2009

You think this is bad?

There are times when it feels like everything is going wrong. So just to transition into the new year as smoothly as possible, in the span of about a week I've experienced a small series of mechanical failures, each one having an accumulative effect on me. This has had a way of testing my sanctification lately.

Oh sure, I can handle having my watch being unexpectedly torn off my wrist, because watches don't cost that much to replace. And Fiona and I can afford to lose some sleep when her dialysis machine keeps going wonky lately, because we've been able to just sleep in a little later. And when our DVD player suddenly fails, I'm sure I can find another one for under $100. But then when I'm on my way home with the new DVD player, and the van's dreaded "Maintenance Required" light comes on, I'm beginning to lose it. I found myself growing increasingly irritated as this little list of minor inconveniences grew.

And it was then that I felt reminded of a psalm I'd read quite some time ago that puts these problems in a proper perspective -- one that sees God in the midst of them. Although the writer of this psalm had been through circumstances exceedingly worse than mine, it's clear that God was in control of them, and that without God, he would have been facing far bigger problems!

Psalm 124:2-5 says, "Had it not been the Lord who was on our side when man rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the waters would have engulfed us, the stream would have swept over our soul; then the raging waters would have swept over our soul!"

If this is about the Babylonian captivity, then it's worth remembering that it was God who raised up these men against Israel, as well as God who defended and delivered Israel from them all. In other words, it's possible for God to be the author of both our difficulties and our deliverances. And because of God's goodness and worth, we can know that it's all meant for our good and His glory!

And yet Psalm 124 also tells us that if God wasn't for us, or "on our side", the troubles we face would be much worse! The staying hand of God is a reassuring thing! It assures me that among God's people, God will never allow difficulties to be bigger than the purposes for which He allows them in the first place. It's encouraging to know that God will measure them by His mercy, and will be "on our side" through them all! So if I'm tempted to dive into self-pity or bitterness of soul -- or to just grow increasingly irritated -- I need to remind myself that whatever troubles are coming my way, God is in charge to make sure I'm not "swallowed" up amidst them, and that they're not more than He intends for His purposes.

In fact, if it weren't for a merciful God, I'm certain that for every person in this world, such waters would have long ago "engulfed us" and "swept over our soul". But as those whose "help is in the name of the Lord" (124:8), God is for us, and we can be sure He'll sovereignly keep a leash on how big our problems become.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Entering a new year God's way

The start of a new year. There's nothing magical about the date January 1, but as the launch day of a calendar year, it's an opportunity to pause at a societal marker that signifies the end of something past and the threshold of new opportunities. Some set goals as the year commences. Others make resolutions. Whatever you do, I recommend including God in the exercise as you put your stakes in the ground that mark the path of His purposes for your life.

Thinking of something past and something new took me back to the exactness of the language that God used to describe how the Israelites were to approach the threshold of their entry into a new land. They had left a hostile environment in Egypt, and were on the verge of a new life in a new place. God knew they had old habits from the influences of where they had been and would face new temptations from the people and practices of the land they would enter. How true is this of us as we exit 2008 and enter a new year? How well did we handle the influences and circumstances of 2008, and what will be the challenges of 2009? What temptations have assailed us in the past and what temptations will we face amidst the unknown challenges of a new year? It is simply a change of times instead of place -- a question of chronology rather than geography.

God's advice to us? Put your foot down. Mark this day. Take a stand. God told Moses, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you... You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.'" (Leviticus 18:2-4).

Could God have made Himself any more clear? His emphasis is "I... My... My... I..."! In other words, whatever is going on around you, keep your eyes on Me -- My words -- My will -- My ways! Whatever the sinful ways of your past (in Egypt), stay away from them! Whatever the temptations of the future (in Canaan), do not succumb! "You shall not do... nor are you to do..." No negotiation. No rationalization. Just "no".

For those of us who have struggles or temptations in our hearts as 2008 fades behind us, God says to make a decision this day: "No" to what has hindered me in the past; "No" to future temptations that want to pull me down. But what is the alternative to such temptations? Simply put: God. He says, "You are to perform My judgments and live in accord with them". Why? According to this particular text, because the One who told me to is God: "I am the Lord your God." If I am His child, His servant and of His people, then that is reason enough. He is the God who created me, chose me and saved me. He's the God of the universe. Who am I to defy Him? And besides, we know that because He is God, His ways are always higher, wiser and more fruitful than ours.

And as clear as God is in giving His people direction for obedient lives, He is equally clear later on about how His people can expect to get through day 1 in a new land or a new year with any semblance of success: "Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). God goes with us and His grace works in us! Happy new year!

© 2009 by Ken Peters