Saturday, March 28, 2009

Issues of Existence

Spring break is upon us and the kids are home from school for a week. And since I'm able to take some time off from work, I've been wondering what we'll do. It's a great opportunity for some family time, and yet I know how easy it'll be for each of us to get lost in our own pursuits.

I can see it now... I'm in the dining room grinding my teeth as I do the taxes, Fiona is curled up on the couch in the living room enjoying a good book, Nick is in the family room intently focused on some game on the kids' computer, Amy's down in my office texting someone on Facebook, and Becky hasn't appeared yet -- she's still in her room sleeping.

And as I thought about how we could be sure to spend some quality time together as a family, I wondered about the many choices we each make that revolve around our own personal lives. I could also see in my own life that so much of my life revolves around me: my interests and my appetites; my need for rest and my desire for fun; my diversions and my collections. I could go on and on. Sure, I'd like to believe that as a Christian, I aim to base my choices in life on what God wants me to do, but I wonder what percentage of both my pursuits and my possessions are more about me than about God.

I recently read how plainly Paul puts things when he says, "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist" (1 Corinthians 8:6). Paul couldn't get more basic in his focus here -- these are simple issues of existence. We exist for the Father and we exist through Jesus. So this means that without the Lordship of Jesus, I wouldn't even have another heartbeat nor take another breath. I can't exist without Him and His all-encompassing Lordship. And without my heavenly Father, I'd have absolutely no eternally meaningful purpose to live for. I exist for what He sovereignly determines to be my purpose on this earth, and I'm to seek Him to discover it.

The thought that this leaves me with is that my life ought to revolve much more around the supreme God of all things than it does. If the truth is that I only exist through God and for God, then I have to ask how much of what I presently pursue and possess reflects that kind of God-centeredness? I want to begin examining my life with this in mind -- each choice, each purchase, each challenge -- is this why God gave me breath? Is this what I exist to spend my time at? And as I ask such foundational questions about my very existence on any given day, I hope that an ever-increasing percentage of my life will be focused on the awesome God who gave me life.

And I trust that what I do with spring break will reflect that!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A love for desert places

In the film Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence is asked by a reporter why he loves the desert so much. Lawrence simply replied, "Because it's clean."

Having lived in a desert for a year, I understand that reply. There's a purity found in a place where the arid heat is so intense that no bacteria can thrive and where the push and pull of societal ills are as minimal as a desert's population.

But I'm not one to romanticize the desert. I had too many bad days there for that. As the real T.E. Lawrence wrote in the initial lines of his masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, "Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars." In other words, the desert may be clean, but it has a way of humbling those who enter it (as a couple of my own writings from the desert illustrate).

But though I'm no desert romantic, I do feel an attraction to desert places. My favourite quote regarding the desert is that of Geoffrey Moorhouse from his book The Fearful Void. He set out to cross the Sahara from west to east by camel and by foot, and the following description has always struck me as both a beautiful portrait as well as an insightful observation...

"Next day dawned cold and clear, and a new world lay endlessly ahead. ...we were confronted with a passage across what looked like an eternal plain. Its dimensions were only emphasized by the presence, low on distant horizons, of isolated peaks and tabletops of rock. These made for confident navigation, for they were marked on the chart, but their greatest effect was to provide such scale to the entire panorama as to reduce two men and four camels to their proper proportions in this towering and barren universe. We were insects creeping forward to a rim of the world that might never be reached, across pure and unbounded space in which we had no hope at all of encountering anything else that lived and could offer comfort by its presence. It was appalling; but, at the same time, it was exciting, with a spellbinding quality that penetrated even the dulling of the senses that it imposed.

"For over three months I had laboured across the Sahara, and there had been few moments when I had experienced the magnetism of the desert to which so many men before me had succumbed. But now, in its utmost desolation, I began at last to understand its attraction. It was the awful scale of the thing, the suggestion of virginity, the fusion of pure elements from the heavens above and the earth beneath which were untrammeled and untouched by anything contrived by man."

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How God knows what's in my heart (church bulletin cover)

What would God do if He wanted to know what was in my heart? Stories in the Bible indicate that He'd likely test me by sending a few challenges my way. Deuteronomy 8:2 days that God led His children for 40 years in a wilderness in order to humble them, "testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."

That doesn't always look very nice. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that God let His people hunger. In other words, these tests weren't mild experiences. Sometimes I've come down a little hard on the Israelites for their bad attitudes and harsh words toward Moses when they wanted food or water. But would I have handled it any better?

Take Numbers 20:2-10 for example. It starts by saying, "Now there was no water for the congregation." What if God used me as a leader to lead you (along with 2-3 million other people) to where the ground was parched and you couldn't find any water for your children or yourselves (not to mention the many livestock the Israelites had)? Would you take kindly to that? The Israelites "assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron" and they quarreled with them. They wished themselves dead (20:3) and called the place they'd been led to an "evil place" compared to Egypt (20:5). This wasn't because they had no ice in their iced tea, or because they had to wear mitts and toques for an extra couple weeks of winter. It looks as though it was because their situation must have felt truly desperate.

And yet Moses called them "rebels" (20:10). Rebels because they didn't believe God no matter what the circumstances. Rebels because they complained about their hardships rather than praying for help. And rebels because they thought their old captivity was better than God's way out. So now we know what was in the hearts of the children of Israel. Does that leave me any closer to knowing what's in mine?

I have to wonder how much God tests me in similar ways, and how much God actually allows challenges in my life to become truly extreme simply to see what's in my heart, and whether I'll keep His commandments or not. If we look back at Deuteronomy 8, we can see where this is all meant to lead: It was the Lord who "led you through the great and terrifying wilderness... where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna... that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end" (8:15-16).

What are you going through? Is it a test? May I suggest that all of life is meant to test what's in our hearts, and that amidst both the everyday challenges and the experiences of God's faithfulness, God's desire is to do us good! And the good that He does for us will include a growing humility in our hearts as we look to Him and give Him glory in all that we go through and for all that we receive from His hand.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pithometer / pith’-ō-mē-tər / (n) : an instrument for assessing pithy remarks. Today’s remark: “We’re human beings, not human doings!”

I’ve heard it said – and I think I’ve said it myself – that we are human beings, not human doings. That little phrase is usually mentioned when someone feels they’re experiencing a sense of drivenness in their activities and tasks. Among Christians, it’s a cry from those who feel they’ve lost their sense of rest in God – as though they’re only finding joy in what they do for Him rather than from who they are in Christ.

I have absolutely no difficulty understanding what it’s like to get caught up in the momentum of busyness as though I were mistakenly measuring my significance by what I do. As a Christian, I’ve made the futile mistake of trying to do stuff in an effort to better be in Christ. But the Bible clearly indicates that there’s a proper order for such things. We’re to be in Christ so that we can then do what He calls us to! But I’m still uneasy with addressing such struggles by saying, “We’re human beings, not human doings.”

I think that’s because, rather than setting an order to things, this pithy remark forces me to choose between two valid aspects of the Christian life. Not only that, but it complicates my choice by using terminology that makes the latter option sound ridiculous. Of course I’m not a “human doing.” But rejecting that label then suggests a rejection of, or at the very least, a minimization of the idea of doing.

Doing, though, is an essential part of the Christian life. Without doing, we can’t even call ourselves Christians! Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus later said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Jesus is big on believing in who He is and on knowing Him in a personal way. But He is also not afraid to demand obedience of those who say they know Him.

Other writers of the New Testament obviously felt the same. In writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul said, “And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command” (2 Thessalonians 3:4). Notice Paul didn’t say, that you are being and will be...” It’s not that Paul didn’t care about them being in Christ. In the very next sentence, Paul directs his readers to the “steadfastness of Christ” because he knew that it was only by being in Jesus that they would have the strength to obey. But Paul also knew that if who they were in Christ wasn’t expressed by their actions – by doing – then who they claimed to be in Christ wouldn’t be genuine. James warns us to: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

So let’s dispense with the unnecessary polarization of two vital virtues that are actually meant to go together, in the right order, rather than pitted against each other. As Paul said: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved [start with being], put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience [continue with doing] (Colossians 3:12).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Enjoying God's Love (church bulletin cover)

Why is it that we can sometimes get nervous when doing something for God in a public context. Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps you've been asked to share something in front of a crowd or a group. Or perhaps you've been asked to plan or organize something that you feel needs to go well for the sake of all involved. Or perhaps you need to provide leadership in a context that feels full of potential hazards. I've felt nervous in situations that resemble all of those examples. I get nervous because I'm overly concerned about missing the mark -- flubbing things up -- or getting in the way of God. And that can really diminish the joy I'm meant to have as I serve the Lord. But King David found a great way of stating the obvious fact that such struggles are all because our focus is all wrong!

David says in Psalm 5:7 that as for him, "by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house; at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You." If I walk into a context of public ministry among people who simply desire to meet with God or to hear God or to enjoy God, and my gaze is on myself -- my inadequacies, my weakness, my insecurities -- my, my, my, me, me, me -- I'm obviously going to be dejected. That's because I'm worshiping my weaknesses! How depressing! Have you ever done that? But David is saying that before God, neither our adequacies nor our inadequacies matter. We're not meant to enter God's house by our competence or our capabilities. We're meant to enter by God's abundant lovingkindness. Or as Romans 5:17 puts it: the abundance of God's grace! And I'm not meant to bow to my weakness or my insecurities. I'm meant to bow in worship to God alone.

Wow. With God and His abundant lovingkindness as my focus, I can forget however I might flub things up. And since the means of my entry into His presence is His loving invitation, my feelings about a Sunday morning should be more like David's in Psalm 5:11 -- "glad", "singing for joy" and "exulting" in God! Be happy, because God loves us with an abundant love that will never run dry!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, March 6, 2009

We are not alone... (and a video to prove it!)

I love maps. I just put a world map up in my home office. It's made by National Geographic in beautiful antique tones, and is mounted on wood with braces on the back so that it appears to float about an inch from the wall. It truly looks like a work of art.

Every Christian's home should have a world map up on a wall somewhere. They're beautiful, colourful reminders of the many wonderful peoples and cultures that this world consists of and that God wants us to share His love with. God wants us to see beyond ourselves, and a map is a simple way to help us do so. I love what Jesus said in John 4:35 -- "...lift up your eyes and look..." And then He pointed us to vast fields representing the myriads of people who need Him! Combine that with what John said he saw in Revelation 7:9, and the implications are amazing: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb..."

God loves the nations, and He's going to reach them! But He wants to use His people to do so. He wants us to go to every nation to share the good news of Jesus so that there will be people from every tribe and language enjoying Him forever in heaven. In fact, this is so important to Jesus that He said that His return would not occur until every single ethnic group heard the Gospel (Matthew 24:14).

That's why I love having maps up in my house. There's one above our kids' computer in the family room and now there's one in my office. They help me to remember that I'm not on this earth by myself or for myself. And they remind me of the many beautiful people I share this world with. People who desperately need the hope and power of Jesus. People who are desperate for food in refugee camps of Darfur and eastern Chad. People who are desperate for peace in Palestine and eastern Congo. People who are desperate for freedom from tyranny in North Korea and Zimbabwe. Maps keep all of this before me, and ought to cause me to both pray and to act on those prayers.

How about you? Go for it! Put up a map in your home. And let God touch your heart regarding the precious people beyond our horizons. And if you need a little something to spark your interest in geography, check out the following video. I know it's fairly dated, which means quite a few countries aren't mentioned, but it's a really enjoyable way to get a feel for how many people we share this world with. Take a look, and enjoy!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Old poems

I haven't had the time or inclination to write something new here lately, and when I found myself interested in reading a little poetry today, I ended up rediscovering a couple of my old poems that I'd written long ago, both of them inspired by trees serving as metaphors. I thought I'd share them here, and hope you enjoy them.

Standing in the Stillness
I stand among the trees
As one of them,
Imitating their stillness,

Longing to stretch upward
As they do.
Each trunk a naked form;

Twisted, gnarled, aged,
Vulnerable to axe or blade,
And yet oblivious;
Only stretching upward -
Heavenward -
Each day a little nearer.
And at their tops,
What regal clothes they wear!

Adorned in garments of green
Given from the sun above,
They gently wave their branches
In silent wonder
Of the sky which is their source.
There is simplicity here.
The gentle breeze whispers of it,
And this garden of wood
Embodies it.
It is to fix our gaze upward,
Whatever leaves may fall,

That we might find
Our Source
Of stillness
In the Son.

Our Lady of the Prairies Abbey, Holland, Manitoba
August 19, 1994

The Hope of Spring
Arms laid low
Across a frozen earth,
A dead, decaying trunk
Clings to lifeless leaves,
Desperate for the root
That gives them green.
There is no beauty
In its sagging garb,
And no springtime hopes
Of shriveled leaves becoming new.

Arms spread high,
Naked before God,
An old and noble oak
Has shed its garb
In autumn’s cold, persistent winds.
Its outstretched limbs
Have released
their crown of leaves.
But in the wilderness of winter,
The life that flows within its grain
Provides the hope of spring.

Sturgis, Michigan

December 1, 2000

© 2009 by Ken Peters