Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A year of blogging

It's my blog's birthday today. It's one-year old. I realize that's not too big a deal, but it's a milestone I want to mark because of how much I've enjoyed the hobby this blog has become for me. I've appreciated the motivation it's provided me to write, and even though I don't often know who's visiting the blog or whether they're enjoying what they read or not, I'm certainly pleased that it's received nearly 1,800 hits in the last year.

When I began this blog, I really wasn't sure what I would write about. But after 88 postings, it's clear that the theme that has come up most often has been "perseverance and trust." I guess that should be no surprise given the serious health issues my wife Fiona has faced. And that would explain why "prayer" and "Fiona's health" came up ten and six times respectively. I'm sure it's also why the second most mentioned theme has been "God's centrality." Finding God in the midst of difficult circumstances has been how Fiona and I have been able to remain hopeful whatever the circumstances. If there's anything that puts me at peace, it's the assurance that a powerful and loving God is sovereignly in control of everything we're going through, and we can trust Him like no other. The "John Piper" postings are a reflection of the fact that his writings have encouraged me a great deal in this regard.

There were two other themes that I was pleased to see coming up regularly. If you put the two topics of "consumerism" and "justice issues" together (which fit together quite naturally), they represent the third most mentioned theme on this blog. Those are issues that have always mattered a great deal to me, as the postings on "Sudan" and "reaching out" would suggest.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reaching the nations among us

I live in a province that's expecting over 12,000 new Canadians to move here in 2009, and most of them will move to Winnipeg. I know from having visited the areas of the city in which they'll be able to find affordable housing that they're not the kinds of neighbourhoods that established Canadians usually desire to live. They're rough areas with a great deal of gang activity and a considerable amount of crime.

And yet, amidst all the needs of such neighbourhoods are incredible opportunities! Many new Canadians are eager to worship Jesus! Our church presently rents a bus each Sunday to bring many new Canadians from the core area of our city to attend our church, and other new Canadians who now own cars drive from the core area to be at our Sunday services. We love what all these beautiful people of various nationalities bring to our corporate gatherings, and we've made it our aim to become an increasingly inter-cultural church.

But the following video expresses another very exciting approach to showing the love of Jesus to the many people groups who come to Canada from all over the world. I would love to see what's expressed in this video happening right here in Winnipeg! Perhaps my family and I should even be praying about participating in such a strategy. However challenging, I'm sure it would be a rich and rewarding experience. Take a look at this fantastic video!



© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Looking to the One who's always calm

Last weekend's 2009 Masters tournament certainly provided an exciting fourth round. And I know that even if I could golf, there's just no way I could've handled the pressure of it all! The crowds intently watching a player's every move, the huge purse of prize-money at stake, the consequences of one slightly wrong move in every swing of a club. How do those guys do it?

Then I think of how much sports mirrors life. The goals we shoot for, the pressures we face, the persistence required, the mistakes we can make, the ways we respond to those mistakes -- it's all part of life in far more significant ways than in a mere game of golf! And anybody who knows me knows that routine pressures can sometimes cause me to lose my composure in ways that make me look no better at life than at golf!

And though I do believe there must be many lessons about life that we can learn from golf, I'll leave it to those who know the game to explain them to you. I simply want to share an old newspaper article written about Mike Weir after he won the 2003 Masters. Here's a excerpt from the article...

"Yesterday [fourth round], Weir found himself suddenly in the lead after the third hole, when Maggert suffered a two-stroke penalty for having his ball bounce back from the lip of the bunker and hit him in the shoulder. Maggert made a triple bogey and Weir led by two.
"As the round progressed, however, Mattiace caught fire and passed Weir on the back nine, leading the Canadian by as much as two shots. Weir, however, held his nerve and focused on his own business, making important birdies at the 13th and 15th holes.
"His support group, as it turned out, lent a big hand. In the gallery were his wife, Bricia, his brother Jim and his father, Rich.
“'My dad is such a calm guy, an even-keeled guy,' Weir said. 'I was actually thinking about that today when I was walking around. I saw him out there and I think that calmed me down.'”

Now there's a sports metaphor I can apply to my life. There's always stuff going on in life that causes me stress. There's plenty I can get worked up about, and plenty of it is pretty serious in nature. How am I supposed to combat that?

Keep my eyes on God my Father, that's how. I can see in the Bible that He's not stressed. He's calm and in control, and He's working out His eternal plans. To see Him with the eyes of my spirit, calmly seated and ruling from His heavenly throne, ought to calm me down and give me peace in every situation.

King David, who needed God's help in many tough spots, said, "My eyes are continually toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net" (Psalm 25:15). "For my eyes are toward You, O God, the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave me defenseless" (Psalm 141:8).

So to adapt what Mike Weir said to fit the context of our lives: "I saw God out there and I know that calmed me down."
He's always there. Not just in the galleries, but in life's fairways where the action is. And He wants us to look to Him to find the hope and strength and reassurance we need in every challenge we face.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, April 17, 2009

No-Nonsense Christianity!

When he was sixty years old, John Steinbeck set out to re-explore America. He was accompanied by Charley, his French poodle, and he traveled in a truck camper named after Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante. He then wrote about his trip in the book, Travels with Charley, in Search of America (1962).

The following is a superbly -- and hilariously -- written excerpt from that book about a trip to church one Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, in a Vermont town, my last day in New England, I shaved, dressed in a suit, polished my shoes, whited my sepulcher, and looked for a church to attend. Several I eliminated for reasons I do not now remember, but on seeing a John Knox church I drove into a side street and parked Rocinante out of sight, gave Charley his instructions about watching the truck, and took my way with dignity to a church of blindingly white ship lap. I took my seat in the rear of the spotless, polished place of worship. The prayers were to the point, directing the attention of the Almighty to certain weaknesses and undivine tendencies I know to be mine and could only suppose were shared by others gathered there.

The service did my heart and I hope my soul some good. It had been long since I had heard such an approach. It is our practice now, at least in the large cities, to find from our psychiatric priesthood that our sins aren’t really sins at all but accidents that are set in motion by forces beyond our control. There was no such nonsense in this church. The minister, a man of iron with tool-steel eyes and a delivery like a pneumatic drill, opened up with prayer and reassured us that we were a pretty sorry lot. And he was right. We didn't amount to much to start with, and due to our own tawdry efforts we had been slipping ever since. Then, having softened us up, he went into a glorious sermon, a fire-and-brimstone sermon. Having proved that we, or perhaps only I, were no damn good, he painted with cool certainty what was likely to happen to us if we didn't make some basic reorganizations for which he didn't hold out much hope. He spoke of hell as an expert, not the mush-mush hell of these soft days, but a well-stoked, white-hot hell served by technicians of the first order. This reverend brought it to a point where we could understand it, a good hard coal fire, plenty of draft, and a squad of open-hearth devils who put their hearts into their work, and their work was me. I began to feel good all over. For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me. He put my sins in a new perspective. Whereas they had been small and mean and nasty and best forgotten, this minister gave them some size and bloom and dignity. I hadn't been thinking very well of myself for some years, but if my sins had this dimension there was some pride left. I wasn't a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it.

I felt so revived in spirit that I put five dollars in the plate, and afterward, in front of the church, shook hands warmly with the minister and as many of the congregation as I could. It gave me a lovely sense of evil-doing that lasted clear through till Tuesday. I even considered beating Charley to give him some satisfaction too, because Charley is only a little less sinful than I am. All across the country I went to church on Sundays, a different denomination every week, but nowhere did I find the quality of that Vermont preacher. He forged a religion designed to last, not predigested obsolescence.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

He hears every prayer

This may seem extremely shallow to most people who read it -- or simple at the very least -- but I'm afraid it's a reminder about prayer that I really need once in awhile. I don't know if you can relate but I've had times when I'm praying for something for the millionth time (it seems), and I wonder if I'm talking to myself as God attends to prayers He's more interested in hearing. Or times when my prayers feel so weak and wobbly that they barely make it past my lips and I wonder if God deems them earnest enough to turn His ear my way. Or times amidst busy, noisy days when I throw a desperate prayer upward in a time of crisis, hoping it will be heard amidst the many other voices crying out to God. It's at times like those that Psalm 65 offers me great hope.

Psalm 65:2 is addressed to "You who hear prayer". That feels like a declaration that I need to hear once in awhile: God hears me when I pray. Prayer can sometimes feel like a ball being thrown up to a hand that seems higher than the height we're capable of throwing. The ball goes up, but sadly arches back to the ground long before it comes close to the Great Glove we're aiming for. But Psalm 65 tells me that the God who has the strength to establish the mountains and to still the seas (verses 6-7) will stretch His hand down to catch such prayers! He hears the prayers we desperately heave upward.

But what's more encouraging is that God not only catches our prayers, but He catches us! Psalm 65:4 suggests that even though we may feel like we're all alone in our times of prayer, the God we're praying to draws us close to Himself to dwell with Him so that we will be "satisfied with the goodness of [His] house, the holiness of [His] temple!" And just to make sure we don't think that our many mistakes will exclude us from such hopes, verse 3 assures us that "when iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions." That's something I can be sure of because of what Jesus did for me on the cross!

Such promises should revive any prayer life! Especially with the further promise of verse 5 that says, "By awesome deeds You answer us with Your righteousness". God hears and God answers. But while it's good to be reminded that God can do awesome deeds to answer my prayers, I need to remember that He answers according to His righteousness rather than my preferences. If I can trust Him in that, I'll have less trouble believing that He hears every prayer I utter -- and have an easier time accepting however and whenever He chooses to answer.

Some other helps I've found regarding prayer in the Psalms:
Start in an attitude of thanksgiving! (Psalm 95:1-2; 100:4)
Confess my sin to Him! (Psalm 32:5; 66:18)
Seek God persistently! (Psalm 86:3-5; 105:4)
Don't let a sense of inadequacy hinder me! (Psalm 34:6; 86:1)

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Creed for Postmodern Times

Having dug into Steve Turner's poetry for my previous posting, I couldn't help but to continue reading. And I happened upon a great poem that seems more relevant in the postmodern milieu of 2009 than it might have felt nearly 30 years ago when he actually wrote it.

And it seems particularly relevant as Easter approaches. Before reading the poem, take a look at the following video which shows what comes to mind for a random selection of people who are asked what Easter means to them.



I'm quite certain that many people in Canada today don't know the original meaning of the "stat holiday" they'll be enjoying this weekend. And among those who do realize that Easter is about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, many arbitrarily reject the credibility of that historical claim based on their personal feelings and perspectives about God, and with minimal awareness of any supporting arguments for Biblical claims. In essence, people don't want to think about it. As Steve Turner says in the poem I posted yesterday, they're simply happy with chocolate bunnies and chicks. Don'
t bring up that uncomfortable talk of nails and blood. Don't bother them with historical documentation and logical conclusions.

In other words, "Don't trouble me with facts when I've already made up my mind."

That sort of approach to facts and to truth is not as modern as many critics of postmodernity might suggest, and it's well illustrated by this poem (from 1980) also by Steve Turner...


Creed

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy's OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe that there's something in horoscopes,
UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.

We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We belive in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, April 6, 2009

A poem for the holiday weekend

A favourite poet of mine is a rather modern dude who used to freelance for Rolling Stone magazine in the 70's and who co-authored a book about U2 in the 80's. His name is Steve Turner. His poems have a freestyle sort of feel to them as he often mixes his British wit with cutting satire. Many of his poems also offer a refreshing perspective on many familiar spiritual themes.

As Easter approaches, I'm reminded of a poem Steve Turner wrote about Easter that feels appropriate for our times.

It's called,
Christmas is really for the Children


Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they'd do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there's any connection.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, April 5, 2009

He's still the Expected One (church bulletin cover)

The people of Israel had waited hundreds of years for a promised Messiah -- for a Saviour -- and when Jesus entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, the people were stirred with excitement and hope that this wonderful teacher and miracle worker might actually be the One they had been expecting for so long. Yet I suspect that for some, it may have been difficult to believe that God's promises were finally coming to pass. After all, even the most certain can sometimes find their expectations are shaken.

John the Baptist was a man who clearly knew who Jesus was. When he saw Jesus coming to be baptized by him, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29). But in Matthew 11:3, we find John in prison, sending word to Jesus in order to ask, "Are You the Expected One [or literally, the Coming One], or shall we look for someone else?" John had sufficient understanding to be sure of who Jesus was, and yet discouragement had caused him to doubt. And in his inquiry to Jesus, he used a unique name for Jesus: the Expected One or the Coming One. What a descriptive name!

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that historic day so long ago, so many must have been hoping that "the Expected One" had finally come! And I believe that this is a hope Jesus would still want us to have today no matter what might cause us to doubt.

I don't simply mean in the sense of His promised second coming. I mean that I think Jesus wants to be known as the Expected One or the Coming One in reference to our everyday lives. He wants us to see Him as the Expected One in the everyday challenges we all face. I don't think He ever wants us to stop expecting visitations, interventions or revelations. After all, He's still the Expected One, isn't He?

But the key to maintaining this conviction is contained in what Jesus says in reply to John the Baptist. He says, "People are getting healed, the dead are being raised and the poor are hearing the Gospel, but blessed is he who doesn't take offense at Me." In other words, trust Me to be the Expected One, but be sure to hold your expectations loosely. Jesus may come, but then not do as I expected. That seems to be what John was struggling with: Why hadn't Jesus delivered the people from their Roman oppressors?

I can somewhat relate to John's struggle when I consider prayers that haven't been answered and words from the Lord that have not yet been fulfilled. But such challenges must never become challengers to who we know Jesus to be. And none of those struggles should prevent us from rejoicing in Jesus as the Expected One and the Coming One in every situation we face!

© 2009 by Ken Peters