Saturday, February 21, 2009

A new lamp

So just a few hours after posting "Living with Eternity in mind", Fiona and I went out to buy a new living room lamp. Our old one had broken, so we found ourselves out and about looking at lamps. Now in view of what I wrote on Friday morning, I have no worries that I'm in grave danger of becoming too focused on a new lamp. I was simply a bit taken aback at the price of lamps and the thought that we were now spending more money on stuff that fills our house. In essence, more money on stuff for me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not racked with guilt for buying a lamp. I'm just distracted by how much money we continually spend on making our living environment functional and attractive, and how challenging that makes it to have resources left over to share with people in need, a priority we don't want to lose.

And then I was reminded of the video below. A very funny video that chastens me for becoming too attached to the stuff in my life, and then sneaks in a plug that new stuff is much better than old! And of course, the main attraction in the video is a lamp. Take a look!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, February 20, 2009

Living with Eternity in mind

I've been asking myself a simple question lately: What am I living for? I think it's because there's something about all the turmoil in this world that makes me wonder how much of my life is focused on things that can't be shaken. I want to live for things that last, not for things that crumble. I want to get life from things that really matter, not from things for which I'll slap my credit card down with gusto. I want to be pursuing things that count for eternity rather than some flashy thing that may be exciting for a moment, but then amounts to nothing more than a nice little puff of smoke when the day is done.

That's the crux of what I'm wrestling with lately... I want to live with eternity in mind. Thinking about eternity changes everything. It changes my view of life. It changes how I view my CD collection. It changes what I think of fashions and gadgets. It changes my definition of successful or productive. It changes how I see my neighbour.

Jesus told a story about a very successful man who had filled his barns with goods and said to himself, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come. Take your ease. Eat, drink and be merry!" But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you. And now who will own what you have accumulated?" Jesus then said, "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:16-21)

To be "rich toward God" has eternity in mind. It means to be rich in the things that matter to God. Jesus is warning us here that it's foolish to be preoccupied in pursuing the temporal and material things of this world rather than on accumulating a treasure in heaven that will never fail.

John Piper describes it this way... "being 'rich toward God' means looking Godward for heavenly wealth. It means 'taking your ease' in him, finding your security in him. And it means using your money in such a way that enlarges the barn of your joy in heaven, not the barn of your comfort on earth. God gives us money on earth in order that we may invest it for dividends in heaven."

What I'm asking boils down to this: Life is short. Compared to eternity, life on this earth is very short. I'm going to die one day and I don't know when. So am I living my brief life on this earth in a way that counts for the eternity that follows?

As morbid as it sounds, when I drive past cemeteries, it's not unusual for me to consider that I'm going to be in the ground one day. All that I'm doing with my life will come to an end. My CD collection will mean nothing to me then. All my books? Someone else will get them. So what am I pursuing that will still have significance when I enter eternity in heaven?

Two vital things are mentioned in this passage of Luke 12. First, in Luke 12:8-9, Jesus explains that everyone on this earth who acknowledges who He truly is will later be acknowledged by Jesus in heaven. But whoever denies who Jesus is will be denied by Jesus in heaven. That is of foremost importance. But Luke 12 tells us a second thing about how to live for eternity, and it's an implication of actually acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Jesus says, "Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with wallets that do not grow old and will have no holes in them so that you will have a treasure in heaven that will not fail and where no thief can steal it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:33-34).

I don't see this as an edict to make ourselves poor by giving all we have to the poor. I believe God wants to materially bless His people. Jesus is simply teaching us not to make such blessings our treasure, but rather to handle those blessings with the same generous spirit that God has expressed to us. As Frank Stirk writes in PK's magazine, "Seven", God measures success not by how much we earn, but by our willingness to part with it in order to bless others. That is how we can live so that we'll be rich toward God for an eternity in heaven, and a blessing to others while we remain here on this earth. And that is what I want to live for.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Great Cause for Assurance (church bulletin cover)

What should we do when someone divinely inspired to write the Word of God writes, "Now this is the point..."? Sit up and take notice, for it's a wonderful thing when God makes Himself so clear. I think of such statements as heavenly handles we can grab onto when trying to understand what God wants to tell us.

In Hebrews 8:1, after seven chapters of rich and sometimes dense doctrine, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, "Now the point in what we are saying is this..." And then he writes that we have a High Priest who has taken His seat in heaven at the right hand of God. The writer's explanation of this main point continues through to chapter 10 where he then amplifies this picture of Christ being seated in heaven. And as I read chapter 10, I feel such great assurance before God that any striving to please God seems to drain from my soul!

Hebrews 10:12 and 14 says, "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God... For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." One sacrifice -- one offering -- and then He sat down. Job done. Mission accomplished. An echo of "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

This is why the writer then goes on to remind us of what Jeremiah prophesied would one day be the case: "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more" (Hebrews 10:17). And that means that "where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:18). Why not? Because one sacrifice -- one offering -- accomplished it all! The sacrifice of the One seated in heaven as our Great High Priest!

This means there is nothing I can do to earn it by my own sacrifices. In fact, when I attempt to add my sacrifices to Christ's, I have "insulted the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29)! All I'm meant to do is to appreciate what Christ has done and receive the forgiveness He provides. What assurance of love and acceptance! That is why we're encouraged to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean" (Hebrews 10:22)! God welcomes us with open arms, for "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23).

That is the point in what God wants to say to each of us.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I've chosen to read the ESV

Do you want to guess what had me excited in 2008 as 2009 drew near? I had bought an ESV Study Bible (which, by the way, is an amazing resource for any student of God's Word), and I was excited about the thought of reading the English Standard Version of the Bible this year! I haven't changed the translation of the Bible I've been reading for 29 years, and was wondering if reading the Bible in a different translation would help me to catch some fresh insights. So since January 1, I've been reading the ESV.

Prior to 2009, I'd been reading the New American Standard Bible (NASB) since I was 16 years old. My parents gave me my first copy on my 16th birthday, January 24, 1980. That was the year (in early spring) I really began seeking to live for God rather than for myself, and I made good use of that new blue, bonded leather Bible. It's pretty beat up now, with a few loose pages and lots of personal notes written in the margins (some of which reflect my very first exposure to various passages). I don't suppose it would have mattered what translation I was using in those days, as long as it was English. I just loved reading God's Word, and found that God spoke to me as I did so.

We live in a time in which a multitude of wonderful English translations of the Bible are available, all of which help us to get to know God and to see His beauty as we read them. I don't care what translation you read as much as I care about whether you read one or not. The key is that we feast on God's Word in any translation rather than filling ourselves up on the the junk food of lesser things.

But that being said, I can't help but have a preference for the Bible translation I read, and to have reasons for it. The main reason for the translation I choose is the method of translation used to write it. I want a translation that shows me, as closely as possible, what the original writers wrote rather than what someone thought they meant.

There are two main methods of translating texts from one language to another: the literal method (NASB, NKJV, ESV) and the dynamic equivalent method (NIV, NLT). Simply put, the literal method translates word for word or phrase for phrase as much as possible, and the dynamic equivalent translates idea for idea or thought for thought, taking larger blocks of words at a time, translating the essence of what writers meant without worrying about the words and phrases all being as close to the original as possible. The result is that the dynamic equivalent translations are more readable while the literal translations are more stiff and wooden in their style. But another result is that the dynamic equivalent translations make ample use of paraphrase and offer far more interpretation (a text explained) than I like to see in a translation (a text in a new language). So I prefer literal translations.

But dynamic equivalent translations have proven to be enormously popular because of their readability. And that is actually the reason I chose the ESV for 2009. It's a literal translation that flows better and is more readable than the NASB. It feels as though I may have found a translation that I'll be happy with for another 29 years! As John Piper writes, "I do not claim that the ESV is without its own level of 'paraphrasing.' Some will always be necessary. And there will always be disagreements about how much is necessary. I am simply arguing that the ESV is the best balance available of readability and literalness."

So if you've been reading the same translation of the Bible for quite awhile now, I encourage you to consider a change. Look at God's Word in a fresh way with a translation you're not so used to. And if you choose to do so, consider the ESV. The ESV Study Bible is well worth the investment!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In memory of Tom, with thanks to God

My friend Tom died today. I saw him take his last breath. And as he did, he embarked upon a passage like no other as he passed from this fragile world to where he will live an exhilarating new life for eternity. Tom is now enjoying the glorious presence of the Lord Jesus, surrounded by the wonders of heaven, and blessed with a new body that causes him no pain.

As I stood at the foot of his hospital bed, staring at the peaceful expression on Tom's face, I wondered at the miracles Tom had experienced to prepare him for this day, and I felt honoured to be with him as he was ushered into his heavenly home.

I met Tom in 1989. He lived in the neighbourhood our church had recently moved into. And because Tom was such a friendly guy, he was one of the first people we met as we went out to get to know the people in our new neighbourhood. He had a great sense of humour and the same desire to help people in his neighbourhood as we had. But there was one difference between us. We came to show people the love of Jesus, and Tom couldn't stand hearing the name of Jesus even mentioned.

I remember the first time it happened. I was chatting with Tom and his wife Wendy in their living room, and I mentioned Jesus. Tom was up and out of the room with no warning and, according to Wendy, with no plans to return until I was gone. It was not the last time I would witness such an episode in my friendship with Tom.

I quickly learned that if I wanted to be friends with Tom and wanted him to stick around during a visit with him, I had to avoid mentioning Jesus. So I decided that, rather than trying to tell Tom about Jesus, I would try to show him what Jesus was like.

But not mentioning Jesus was difficult at times, for there were ways in which Tom clearly needed Jesus in his life. When I met Tom, he was on disability after having fallen 30 feet from a steel beam onto a concrete floor. Since that accident, pain was a routine part of his life. Tom's health began to suffer in other ways after he was diagnosed with diabetes. And then his wife Wendy left him due to personal issues that she too was grappling with. But still Tom was unwilling to talk about Jesus. He would weather these storms by his own strength. And I and others from our church continued to keep in touch with him, helping him with needs that arose, seeking to show him that the love of Jesus was not something to run away from.

Then a day came when Tom came to the end of his own resources. I remember that day well. Tom phoned me and asked if we could do coffee somewhere. As we talked over coffee and donuts (that he shouldn't have been eating), he poured out his pain. He asked me what was he to do? I said, "Tom, you're in trouble and you called a pastor. What do you want me to say? You need Jesus!" This time he didn't run away. Tom asked Jesus to become Lord of his life that day. And he began a new journey of following Jesus that would lead him to joyfully renew his wedding vows with his wife, and then to this day when, with Wendy weeping at his side, he would finally enter heaven's gates.

To me, it all seems a miracle. A man who once had no time of day for Jesus would now find immeasurable joy in His presence for eternity. A man who wasn't able to stay in the room if Jesus' name was mentioned was now being welcomed into Jesus' throne room where he would be lovingly and eternally embraced as a son. No wonder the Bible speaks of "the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7). Though we reject Him for years, if we eventually turn to Him in our need, He will welcome us into His eternal kingdom where "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

Tom couldn't be persuaded of all this with words alone. But when he experienced God's love through God's people, his heart became open to receive. This is how many people can experience the same miracle that occurred in Tom's life if we reach out to people in word and deed. And it's how witnessing a good friend's death can actually bring us joy.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Atheist bus ads

I recently read about the so called “atheist bus ads” that have appeared on public buses in the UK. They simply say, “THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD, NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

Brazen, you might say. Foolish, I would add. But something for Christians to oppose? I think not. A Winnipeg Free Press article (January 30, 2009) asks “When will city get atheist bus ads?” If it ever occurs, I sincerely hope that Christians don’t try to form a protest or a petition to ban them. If someone does, it’s something I won’t be a part of.

The freedom of speech we have in this country is a valuable right, and one that was fought hard for by many Christians who came here from countries that had far less freedom in this regard. And censorship is a double-edged sword. If Christians think it wrong for atheists to print their thoughts on the sides of city buses, then no Christian should be surprised if they’re refused when they try to put “Jesus is the reason for the Season” on a city bus. Do we as Christians want that freedom? Then who are we to take that freedom away from someone of another viewpoint that is entirely legal to hold in our country?

Rather than wasting energy protesting such a sign, I’d rather put my energy into the discussions such an ad could create. The possibilities are endless. Especially in light of the fact that the atheist bus ad is a flawed premise in so many ways! For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply list the headings of some of those flaws: 
a) It doesn’t seem wise to stop investigating something this important if you only consider your conclusions a probability (see Acts 17:11-12)
b) Believing that there “probably” is no God is far greater cause for worry that believing in a wise and loving God who offers to be powerfully involved in our lives (see Philippians 4:6-7)
c) The enjoyments of this world have left people feeling empty and dissatisfied time and time again, and the sooner people realize that the greatest satisfaction comes from a life lived for the God who created us, the sooner people will truly enjoy their life (see Psalm 16:5; 42:1)
d) It’s important to recognize that the people who wrote that ad view the life they want us to enjoy as the life we live on this earth, and even if some people find that life on this earth actually feels suitably satisfying, it’s important to realize that our time on this earth will last no longer than a vapour compared to the eternity in one place or another that awaits us (see 2 Corinthians 5:8; James 4:14). 

That’s just a few introductory thoughts that I’d enjoy discussing with anyone who had seen the atheist bus ad and was open to talking about it.

These sorts of ad campaigns are not a threat to God. They are a sign (a true sign) of where many people in this world are at, and are a springboard for conversations about the God they dismiss. There was a time when a man named Friedrich Nietzsche created quite a stir by writing, “God is dead.” Though Nietzsche was actually referring to his culture’s apparent abandonment of a belief in God, Nietzsche was not out to convince anyone that they were mistaken. And now, all these years later, I see great evidence of God being alive in my life and in this world, and Nietzsche… well, Nietzsche is dead. And today, we still have work to do if we want to counter the same mistaken notions about God. That doesn't mean starting petitions, but rather, proclaiming an alternative message that in fact, there is a God and He loves people enough to have died to save them, and has risen from the grave to offer us a life of eternal satisfaction in Him!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I support this ad campaign. Such ads have potential to subtly influence the general spiritual perspectives of many people who give these things very little thought. This could be especially true of children who read the ads (for they tend to accept advertising at face value). But such concerns don’t leave me wanting to boycott these ads. I support the idea of people being free to choose what they believe and to express those beliefs freely.

But in light of Luke 17:1-2, perhaps the question is not about whether or not the atheist bus ads should be allowed, but about whether or not it would be wise for those who pay for the ads to do so?... “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone [which weighed hundreds of pounds] were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones [those young in faith or in age] to sin.”

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Continuous Pursuit (church bulletin cover)

We've just had a week of extraordinary 24/7 corporate prayer and worship -- all after three and a half extraordinary years of 24/7 prayer and worship! How amazing to be able to spend so much time with such an awesome God! And why wouldn't we want to spend so much time with Him? We have the privilege of being able to draw close to the living God of the universe and, through prayer, to be a part of what He is doing throughout the earth!

And the more we get to know God and what He's capable of doing, the less it makes sense to miss out on time spent with Him. I'm sure that's what the writer of Psalm 105 must have thought. For in the midst of a psalm that tells of God's wonderful works amidst His people is a little verse that says, "Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!" (v.4). Continually! And why wouldn't a person do that if they realized "the wonderful works that He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He uttered" (v.5) throughout history?

Yet I know how capable I am of getting on with my personal history with its busy days, urgent tasks, and long to-do lists with little more than occasional cries for help. My prayers feel rushed and my prayer times random. That's why I would love for those ten words of Psalm 105:4 to sink deep into my soul so that I'm never satisfied with fly-by prayers, but feel compelled instead to seek God -- to seek His presence -- to seek His strength -- and to do so continually! This verse is an invitation to deeply enjoy God for who He is and for all He has done for His people. That's why Psalm 105 begins with words like "give thanks" and "sing praises" and "glory" and "rejoice" before it then urges us to continually seek the One so worthy of such responses.

All this suggests more than just a brief prayer time on our knees, though such times are good. These opening verses, and the rest of Psalm 105, are about a God-consciousness that is ongoing -- that drives us to our knees and then stays with us as we rise up and get on with our day. It's a continuous seeking so that we might know that God is in every circumstance of our lives -- the triumphs and the disappointments -- and that He gives us the strength we need for both.

So even though our week of extraordinary corporate prayer is behind us, I hope that as we all get to know God better and better, we will be eager to carry on seeking His presence continually! Knowing Him as much as I do already, I know that such a pursuit will not be disappointing.

© 2009 by Ken Peters