Friday, May 29, 2009

Living life with God

I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle to be encouraged when things go wrong. I want to keep my heart set on praising God, but I can get so focused on the difficulties or disappointments in life that praising or thanking God feels awkward if not impossible.

But Psalm 63 shows that it is indeed possible! David wrote this psalm when facing a great deal of trouble. Enemies were threatening his life, he was living life on the run, and he says in verse one that he's "in a dry and weary land where there is no water." That sounds a great deal worse than my petty problems. And yet David somehow manages to find encouragement in God. Just look at how vibrantly David describes his relationship with God while troubles rage all around him...
  • "earnestly I seek You" (v. 1)
  • "my soul thirsts for You" (v. 1)
  • "my flesh yearns for You" (v. 1)
  • "I have looked upon You" (v. 2)
  • "Your steadfast love is better than life" (v. 3)
  • "I will bless You as long as I live" (v. 4)
  • "My soul is satisfied" (v. 5)
  • "my mouth offers praise with joyful lips" (v. 5)
  • "You have been my help" (v. 7)
  • "in the shadow of Your wings, I sing for joy" (v.7)
  • "My soul clings to You" (v. 8)
Wow. He sounds like he's doing quite well. Excellent, in fact. And yet his circumstances are awful. If you're like me, you're wondering how does he do that? Well, it's no mystery. It's all about living our lives close to God, depending on God, rather than on our own by our own resources.

David had nurtured a life with God before his troubles came. That's what sustained him through the tough times, and that is also what the tough times pushed him back into. David didn't wait for a crisis to seek God. Verses 2-7 of this psalm are all about his memories of the good times he's had with God in the past -- "I have looked upon You in the sanctuary..." And the other verses are all about the confidence that his life with God have given him -- a confidence that doesn't fade when a crisis comes. So the key to being encouraged or thankful in all things is choosing to pursue a life with God -- spending time with Him each day! Pushing into Him, being earnest for Him, thirsting for Him, yearning for Him, clinging to Him, being satisfied only in Him, being joyful in praising Him!

All of this involves choices. Choices before troubles come and choices in the midst of troubles. But one thing seems clear: Having an ongoing life in God sure makes it easier to choose to be encouraged when life gets tough. It's intimacy with Him and dependence on Him that will help us to experience hope and joy in the midst of any challenges we face. Not only is this the only way to find true satisfaction in this life, but I believe it's the best way to show a watching world how truly great our God is!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, May 22, 2009

Can God speak to me through Terminator movies?

Terminator 4 has hit the theaters. So what, right? Well, I find it of mild interest because of the impact that one line of dialogue in Terminator 3 has had on me ever since I heard it.

Near the beginning of T3, when John Connor first meets Kate Brewster and is trying to give her some context for the crazy things that are happening, he says, "It's just... The life you know... all the stuff that you take for granted... It's not gonna last."

That line penetrated my heart like a laser. "It's not gonna last." All that is so familiar, we don't even think about it -- all that we see around us, and think is so important -- all the stuff we take for granted -- it isn't going to last.

I remember when I heard Connor say that, I was struck with how absolutely imperative and how completely life-changing having that perspective ought to be. And there I was being reminded of it by a script-writer for a fictional character in a sci-fi movie. But it's a fact: The life we know with all its familiar routines and comforts is not going to last. And the changes may come sooner and more unexpectedly and dramatically than we can imagine. So we'd better be sure we're not living for the things that are gonna disappear -- but rather, for the things that are going to last!

I'm sure that the reason that line resonated in my soul was because of how seriously Jesus spoke of the same thing. Speaking of the time before He returns, Jesus said, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be" (Matthew 24:21). Sounds like some scenes I've seen in the trailers for T4! Those will be days when many valued things that we take for granted will be no more. And that's when Jesus will return, looking for those who have made Him their treasure rather than the temporal things of this world. All of that is why Jesus warns us repeatedly about those days, saying, "keep on the alert" (Mark 13:33), "stay on the alert" (Mark 13:34), and "be on the alert" (Mark 13:35 and 37)!

Are we alert? Or are we oblivious? Are we prepared? Or are we living like everything will carry on as usual forever? Are we focused on the things that are going to disappear? Or are we seeking Jesus? Many years ago, Terminator 3 actually reminded me of the futility of living for what isn't going to last. And my Bible has continually reminded me that I can live instead for a loving Saviour who wants me to live with Him for eternity! That's why I want to live my life focused on Jesus instead of on all the stuff around me in this world.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"One anothering one another"

My previous posting made reference to the importance of living a missional as well as an attractional lifestyle. I've written before about learning to live missionally, but wanted to say more here about the priority of also living attractionally. This is a theme throughout the entire New Testament as writer after writer goes to great lengths to describe how Christians are meant to live in community with one another.

In fact, the term "one another" occurs 56 times in a relational sense in the New American Standard New Testament. "Love one another" is 17 -- or 30% -- of those references, but in essence, all of those references are about loving one another. Such verses are the nuts and bolts of Christian community. Their intent is to explain how people can live together harmoniously. They express how we can demonstrate such a unity of spirit to a watching world that people will recognize that we are followers of Jesus! After all, Jesus did say, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

There are at least 25 unique and practical ways that the New Testament writers explicitly urge us to express our love for "one another." The theme of this collection of "one another" verses is what I like to call "one anothering one another!"

Try reading this selection of
references in sequence. It can be both a challenging and encouraging exercise. Then let’s one another one another!

  • " at peace with one another." (Mark 9:50)
  • "This I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:17)
  • "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love..." (Romans 12:10)
  • "...give preference to one another in honour" (Romans 12:10)
  • "...let us not judge one another..." (Romans 14:13)
  • "So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." (Romans 14:19)
  • " of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus." (Romans 15:5)
  • "...accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us..." (Romans 15:7)
  • “…through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • "I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,...showing forbearance to one another in love" (Ephesians 4:1-2)
  • "And be kind to one another..." (Ephesians 4:32)
  • "...and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." (Ephesians 5:21)
  • "...regard one another as more important than [your]self."
  • "...bearing with one another..." (Colossians 3:13)
  •  (Philippians 2:3)
  • "...forgiving each other..." (Colossians 3:13)
  • "...teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)
  • "Live in peace with one another." (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
  • "...always seek after that which is good for one another..." (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • "...encourage one another day after day..." (Hebrews 3:13)
  • "...let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24)
  • "Do not speak against one another, brethren." (James 4:11)
  • "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." (James 5:16)
  • "Be hospitable to one another without complaint." (1 Peter 4:8)
  • "...clothe yourselves with humility toward one another..." (1 Peter 5:5)
© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, May 18, 2009

Being both Missional and Attractional

As I’ve been reading about how we as Christians can be more effective as good workers who do the good works God has called us to do (Ephesians 2:10), I’ve noticed that many seem to feel the need to consider two common themes as being at odds with each other: being Missional and being Attractional.

These two words represent more than just the adding of the suffix “–al” to some old and static nouns in order to make them into fresh and exciting adjectives! They take something like a mission trip, an event that has a beginning and an end to it, and make it a descriptive word about how we’re meant to live all the time -- missionally! The word missional is an extremely positive
word that describes a person who makes mission a part of who they are and how they live, not just something they do.
But the word attractional has typically been viewed in a negative light. Many use it to describe Christians who make a lifestyle of trying to attract people to their church buildings while doing little to go out to them and become a part of their lives. It's a "Let them come to us" mentality. An attitude that expects people to find the church relevant to their lives apart from any meaningful relationship with anyone in the church.

Such positive and negative applications of these two words have caused people to use them in a way that polarizes them to two opposite extremes. People describe a church as either missional or attractional, only one being considered acceptable. But I disagree. I believe that both are extremely important aspects of Christian outreach.

Jesus called us to live in such a way that reaches out in love to our neighbours and that attracts those same neighbours to the love we have for one another in the Body of Christ. One goes out and the other invites people in. If we’re only missional and never attractional, people will never be added to the Church, which God was doing continually throughout the book of Acts. And if we’re only attractional and never missional, the Church will never reach the many people who would never come near a church unless they first met a Christian who showed them what Jesus is like.

I believe we’re meant to be both missional in how we go out, faithfully demonstrating what we believe, and attractional in how we invite people in, lovingly offering them a place to belong. Being missional is the “Love your neighbour” command of evangelism and being attractional is the “Love one another” command of community. They go together. We reach out and we invite in. And though these two activities will often try to compete for our time and energy, we must make them partners in our desire to see people saved and added to the corporate expression of the Body of Christ.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, May 17, 2009

So eager to spread the Word (church bulletin cover)

As we approach Love Winnipeg, a two-week time of intentional evangelism for the church of Winnipeg, I wonder about my lifestyle for the other fifty weeks of the year. And as I do, a little verse in the book of Acts comes to mind: "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).

This was no evangelistic program organized by the church. These were people running for their lives! Acts 8:3 tells us that Saul was ravaging the church, systematically dragging men and women out of their homes and throwing them in prison. Stephen was dead and Saul no doubt intended the same fate for many others. So people scattered. And in my comfort-oriented, pleasure-seeking, self-gratifying world, I think that if I were going through similar circumstances, it might be said of me and my kind, "Now those who were scattered went about keeping their heads low and out of sight!"

Is it a given that those who are threatened because of the Gospel go about telling even more people about it? Would Christians in the culture I'm a part of be just as quick to risk our lives for the Gospel? It's as though the attitude of the Christians in Acts 8 was something like, "Hey, let's tell as many people as we can before they catch us!" That's because they were so convinced of the truth of the Gospel -- so satisfied in their lives in Christ -- and so aware that this world is not our home. All this must have filled them with a desire to tell others about Jesus even as they were running for their lives!

Such a scene compels me to examine my own heart as I realize that I'm not so eager to make waves through the sharing of the Gospel. May I treasure Jesus as much as the early believers did so that I'll be found sharing the Gospel as eagerly as they did!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Staggering data regarding real people

Here's some perspective. At the time of writing this entry, the global stat-counter at the bottom of this page showed that around the world, about 22,515,000 people had died thus far in 2009. Not included in that number is 15, 354,000 babies who have been killed by abortion thus far in 2009.

That's right. Take 68% of the number of total global deaths that have occurred this year so far, and you'll have the number of babies who have been killed this year before they were even born.
Compare that to other causes of death that we take seriously enough to exert great energy trying to solve. At this time, about 2,875,000 have died of cancer in 2009, 1,227,000 have died of AIDS, 620,000 from TB, 389,000 from diabetes, 67,000 due to war. And while all that has been happening, 15 million, 354 thousand babies have been killed by abortion.

Why can't people see that a baby is a baby even before it's born? Why has this gone on so long with the permission of politicians and the help of health professionals? The global numbers are staggering.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My enthusiasm for the Pillar of the Truth

I've grown tired of the church-bashing jargon that gets tossed around so flippantly by some Christians these days. It's as though the Church of Christ was just another piece of plastic in our disposable world that we can discard when it no longer feels relevant to our fickle souls. Yes, I know that people have been hurt in churches and so that seems to legitimize a disregard for whatever caused them pain. But I'm not so sure. It seems to me that the Church of Christ is too important for such drastic reactions. My reading of the New Testament leaves me convinced that the corporate and unified expression of Christianity is not an option -- but is a vital part of God's plan.

An old friend of mine who is quite the scholar has for some time been grappling with the place of the church in this world. In one of his reflections on this topic, he quotes William Willimon, a Methodist bishop, theologian, writer and preacher whom I'd never read anything by...

"I hold to the statement that we [he and Stanley Hauerwas] made in Resident Aliens. 'The only way for the world to know what it is to be redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people.' The only way for the world to know that it is the world -- namely fallen, corrupt, yet being saved and redeemed -- is through the presence of a 'being saved and being redeemed' community, the church. Salvation must have institutional embodiment, for it is hard to keep so strange a story going, over time, across the generations when the triumvirate of the government, the economy, and Hollywood have such powerful means of marginalizing such a story. It's hard to envision a new heaven and a new earth, all things restored in Jesus, if we do not at least have a glimpse of that future here and now. Left to our own devices, we tend to regard this world with its present princes, powers and social arrangements as normal. The church's existence is in itself a corporate, material, political claim about salvation that the world cannot smother, despite its best efforts." (Emphases mine)

As more and more people seek to distance themselves from what they call organized religion and institutional Christianity, I think of things that Paul said as he wrote to Timothy. Right there in the inspired pages of the New Testament, Paul gave us his view of the Church. He instructed Timothy to establish the office of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1) and explained that there must be qualifications for both overseers and deacons (3:2-13). Paul spoke of people having authority to rule in the Church (5:17) and of there being roles in the Church, such as the public readings of Scripture in obvious reference to the public gatherings of the Church itself (4:11-14). And he spoke of young and old all being together in unity in the Church (1 Timothy 5).

I don't intend this to be a study of everything Paul wrote about the Church. I simply want to reinforce the idea that the Church is actually meant to be an organized and structured corporate expression in which authority is exercised and unity is essential. Such ideas are not the evil invention of some controlling so-called modernists!

There is one statement Paul makes that seems to communicate this better than any other, and it appears right after all his organizational talk of offices and overseers : "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

Two things jump out at me in that statement. One is that Paul saw the corporate expression of Christianity as a "household" or as a family, something that has its own necessary expressions of authority and unity, and which is meant to be defined by God rather than by the preferences of humanity.

The second is that the Church is a "pillar and buttress of the truth." Ask your average Christian what they think the pillar of the truth is and they'll likely say the Word of God or Christ Himself (the living Word). But Paul says it's the Church. In other words, the Church is needed in a unified corporate expression -- with its offices and its public gatherings -- in order for a watching world to know what the truth is. So why don't we as Christians stop bashing the church, and instead try to be of assistance as it sincerely attempts to accomplish that task (in all its many valid expressions)!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Praising God no matter what!

Today was a day we got results back for Fiona's bloodwork. We had high hopes. Recently, she had really sensed God's touch while being prayed for. She'd seen consistent changes for the better in many of her outward symptoms for a couple of months now. And yet today's bloodwork did not show change for the better. Quite the opposite actually. So what's our response?

Praise, that's what. And if any of you who read this are people who've been praying for Fiona, let that be your response too. Fiona and I settled before we went to the doctor's today that we'd hope for the best but not allow disappointment to dampen our faith. And in the past, when disappointments have come, we've looked to Psalm 112:7-8, which describes the righteous as one who "is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks with triumph on his adversaries."

That's what I plan to do: To stand firm. Steady. And to trust God. In fact, today's results made me feel more tenacious than ever. Jesus taught us "that at all times [we] ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1), and if that doesn't apply now, when does it? So we will continue to pray, and would appreciate any of your prayers as well!

I recently described Psalm 22:1-5 as being a great description of Fiona. It begins with a familiar phrase that Jesus uttered from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day and you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest" (22:1-2). Who can't relate to that? Can't most of us think of times we've cried out to God for something that never seemed to come about? If you're like me, you've been tempted to give up. And after 20 years of praying for Fiona's healing, I've felt that way many times.

But look at the very next word of Psalm 22... "Yet..." What a great word! It's a word that suggests that we're about to see a contrast to what's gone on before. It's a word God uses when everything seems dark. "Yet..."

"Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame"
(22:3-5). The contrast is that of God's blazing holiness compared to the fleeting shadows of any troubles we face in this world. This contrast is meant to show those who are struggling with troubles that just don't seem to go away that our focus should be on God and how great He is! And when we choose God as our focus, and praise Him in times of trouble and disappointment, we're declaring that we consider God to be bigger than our troubles and more important than any solutions we seek.

And notice what God did for those who trusted Him in such a way: they were delivered, rescued and "not put to shame"! If you want to know who models this kind of God-centered tenacity far more consistently than I, it's Fiona. That's why these verses are such a great description of her. She has struggled with unanswered prayer for 20 years and yet she still consistently and confidently turns to God for deliverance. And after today's test results, it's time for us to do that again!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, May 2, 2009

To my bride!

Today is Fiona's 40th birthday! We were married when she was 22 years old and she's as beautiful today as the day we wed. More so! As we've shared the last 18 years together, my admiration for her has continually increased. I've watched how she has dealt with a kidney condition for 20 years, and how she responded when her kidneys eventually failed so that she needed dialysis, and I've been amazed! In fact, she amazes me in so many ways that I want to list some of them here for everyone to see!
  • Despite many difficult circumstances, her faith in God has grown stronger and stronger.
  • She is cheerful and positive, even under pressure.
  • As she has grown in God, she has become a real fighter in areas of spiritual warfare.
  • She knows how to encourage herself in God when disappointments come.
  • She's a wonderfully wise and intuitive mother to our three children.
  • She's not a worrier! She has a deep trust in God in times of need.
  • She's really smart with a phenomenal memory and great organizational skills.
  • I regularly watch her handle and sort out details in several contexts at once without getting flustered and without missing a beat.
  • She's careful when spending money on herself while extremely generous toward others.
  • She has a very willing spirit and a very high capacity in her service to the Body of Christ.
  • She's sacrificial in her love for others, and serves without complaint when she sees a need.
  • She calls me up to a higher perspective and to greater maturity on a regular basis!
  • She's an extraordinarily caring and sensitive wife!
  • And she's incredibly beautiful!
I love my wife! I'm so glad that the Lord led us to each other and that she's such a wonderful friend. I love sharing life with her, walking together in the journey we're on. I continually see the grace of God at work in her, and she's often a minister of grace to me. Though she'd never think it of herself, she's an amazing lady. And she's more amazing with every year that passes!

© 2009 by Ken Peters