Sunday, June 28, 2009

Giving like I'll always have enough! (church bulletin cover)

It's so easy to fall into the mindset of "not enough." I think, "I need this!" and "I need to save for that!" and "I need to fix all that!" Such thoughts can leave me feeling needy when I actually have an abundance. And if I fall prey to such feelings, I can end up selfishly hoarding more and more while sharing less and less.

But God's Word offers a completely alternative way of living. Proverbs 11:24 says, "One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want." That is so counter-intuitive to the world's way of thinking -- or more specifically -- to my natural self's way of thinking. Proverbs 11:25 puts it a little differently: "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and the one who waters will himself be watered." This is the "reaping what you sow" principle at work. If I look after others, I'll be looked after. As I bless others, I myself will be blessed.

It seems to me that this is only possible because God is involved in such matters. He must keep an eye out for those who are generous with what they have so that He can bless them with even more to give away. And if we believe that, it's an indication that we're trusting in God more than in our stuff. Proverbs 11:28 says, "Whoever trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." Do you see how all these proverbs fit so well together? The inference of verse 28 is that we'll flourish like a well-watered plant when we trust in God rather than in riches, and the message of verse 25 is that we'll be well-watered as we generously water others with what we have.

In other words, trusting God leads to blessing by taking us down the avenue of generosity! That's a promise!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Living for Eternal Glories

Michael Jackson died today. So did Farrah Fawcett. After careers that made them pop culture icons of the 70's and 80's -- each of them superstars in their own way -- they are suddenly gone.

Farrah Fawcett was one of Charlie's Angels in the hit TV series of the 70's, and became a sex-symbol who seemed to remain forever young in our culture's corporate consciousness. And Michael Jackson was the artist who gave us Thriller, Bad and Billie Jean, legendary recordings that immortalized Jackson as "the King of Pop." Amidst the bad press in recent years, what seemed clear was that Michael never wanted to grow old. Naming his ranch "Neverland" after the land of Peter Pan where little boys never grow old, one would've been excused to think that Jackson wanted to be with us forever. But he died at 50. Farrah Fawcett at 62. Both still young as they gave up the glory of their places of stardom in this world.

As I heard the news today, I couldn't help but to think of the biblical story of Daniel. The story of Daniel begins in Babylonia, likely the most powerful empire in the world at that time. Daniel, chapters 1-4, chronicles the life of the great King Nebuchadnezzar, chapter 4 ending with a quote of Nebuchadnezzar. And then the fifth chapter of Daniel suddenly begins with the words, "Belshazzar the king..." It's such a sudden change. And then in Daniel 5:11, Belshazzar's queen is quoted as saying, " the days of your father..." She was referring to King Nebuchadnezzar. But what happened to him? It's strange that someone so great would pass away without so much as a mention of it.

The Bible provides a good deal of detail about Nebuchadnezzar. We're told that he was so feared that "all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive" (Daniel 5:19). He was so powerful, he seemed to conquer everyone and anyone. His "dominion reached to the ends of the earth" (Daniel 4:22). And then suddenly, without explanation, he's gone. Dead. A memory. A corpse. As Daniel chapter 5 begins, he has suddenly become someone to refer back to, speaking of "the days of" a man who is no more. No matter how powerful or famous he was, he couldn't beat death and death took him. And the Bible wastes no words drawing attention to his inevitable demise.

Then the book of Daniel goes on to chronicle the life of Daniel himself, a man who had no desire to live for the glories of this earth. Daniel refused the gifts offered him by kings (Daniel 5:17), and when threatened with death if he continued to pray to God, he very deliberately and knowingly prayed to God regardless of the consequences (Daniel 6:10). Obviously Daniel wasn't living for earthly glories that he would one day lose when he died. Daniel went to prayer unconcerned that it could result in his death because he was living for something eternal -- for the rewards of a kingdom that death can't take away.

I don't know where Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett were at spiritually when they died. I only know that they can no longer enjoy the stardom they once sought in this world. And I want to make sure that I live my life like Daniel -- with the glory of God as my passion rather than the temporal attentions of this world that will do nothing to prepare me for the eternity that surely awaits us all.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, June 20, 2009

There's still 5.7 billion of the rest of us who can share what we have!

I read a headline today that I couldn't ignore. BBC World News reports that "World hunger 'hits one billion'". What kind of headline is that? Is it a scream? Is it an announcement? Or is it a defeated sigh of resignation? One billion people. If you tried to count them all, counting one per second, it would take you over 31 years.

The article states that "One billion people throughout the world suffer from hunger, a figure which has increased by 100 million because of the global financial crisis, says the UN. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the figure was a record high. Persistently high food prices have also contributed to the hunger crisis." By "hunger," the FAO means food deprivation and undernourishment. They mean ongoing subsistence diets that are deficient in both calories and nourishment.

As I was reading about those one billion undernourished people (plus or minus a few tens of millions), I wondered about the concerns I face here in my little neighbourhood -- like how expensive the cereal aisle is getting at Superstore. And like how the high price of flour is jacking up the prices of things like bagels and the 12-grain breads that are so good for us.

But it doesn't usually take me long to remember how good I've got it in this rich land. After all, I only have to spend about 15% of my income on all the groceries we buy, and there's additional money available for my family to buy restaurant food as well. This article tells me that "For poor consumers, who spend up to 60% of their incomes on staple foods, this [higher food prices] means a strong reduction in their effective purchasing power". When food prices go up for those one billion people who spend so much of their income on food, there's not much wiggle room when they're only making one or two dollars a day.

Are you still reading? If so, let's agree to spend less time worrying about the travesty of how much it now costs us to buy all those bags of groceries we bring home, and let's determine to do something to put food in the mouths of some of those one billion people who have never known the abundance we enjoy!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Everyday choices

Everyday I face choices -- very practical choices to do with money. And sometimes I feel compelled to stop and ask myself how me-centered my choices have become. How much do my choices regarding money revolve around me? The alternative, of course, is that they ought to revolve around the Lord of my life, Jesus Christ.

But I feel like the commercial culture in which I'm immersed is constantly wooing me, wanting me to fix my mind on the things of this world. Electronics and entertainment -- recreation and recliners -- CDs and Starbucks. These are all good things that are okay to enjoy. But it can all begin to feel so important that I'd greatly resent it if some young rabbi told me to "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21). That's the trouble. When it comes to choosing, all our stuff and our pursuits have the potential to end up feeling far more attractive than Jesus.

St. Augustine once said of Jesus: "He loves You too little who loves anything together with You, which he loves not for your sake."

I also appreciate how John Piper puts it in the following video. Amidst the daily doses of commercialism thrust upon me wherever I turn, I'd do well to routinely set aside 3 minutes or so to watch this video every once in awhile.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A man who has greatly impacted my life

I just found out today that Dr. Ralph Winter passed away on May 20, 2009. I hadn't even been aware that he'd been struggling with cancer, so it felt like quite a blow to discover the news of his death.

For me, as a Bible college graduate ('86) with a B.A. in Biblical Studies/Missions, Ralph Winter is best remembered as the man who founded the U.S. Center for World Mission, and who (together with Steven Hawthorne) edited what I consider the most valuable Christian mission handbook ever created: Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.

But the best way to describe how significantly Ralph Winter has affected my thinking as a Christian who is passionate about "this gospel of the kingdom" being "proclaimed throughout the whole world" (Matthew 24:14) is to mention one simple term: unreached peoples.

In 1974, Ralph Winter pioneered the use of that term as a new way to measure the progress of the global advancement of the Gospel. To missions-minded Christians today, the term "unreached peoples" is as familiar and important as the idea of global missions itself. It is a reference to the ethnic groups of the world who have not yet heard or received the Gospel, which Matthew 24:14 tells us is a requirement for His return. This change in focus from "mission fields" to "peoples" may be one of the most significant contributions ever made in the great cause of Christian missions. It resulted in us realizing that the Great Commission will not be completed by simply saving more people, but by reaching more people groups -- by reaching all people groups!

So it's with sadness that I realize that a great general of God's kingdom is gone. But I know he is filled with joy as he now sees his King face to face!

And to give you a taste of who Ralph Winter is, I invite you to watch a brief but insightful video that I found helpful...

© 2009 by Ken Peters

The Commands of a Faithful Commander (church bulletin cover)

There's nothing like a list of imperative commands to get a person sitting up straight and paying attention. Paul writes such a list to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22. In these verses, Paul challenges his readers to...
  • encourage one another
  • build one another up
  • respect your leaders
  • be at peace with each other
  • warn the undisciplined
  • encourage the fainthearted
  • help the weak
  • be patient with everyone
  • don't return evil for evil
  • seek to do good for others
  • rejoice always
  • pray without ceasing
  • give thanks in all circumstances
  • don't quench the Spirit of God
  • don't despise prophecies
  • examine things carefully
  • hold fast to what is good
  • avoid evil
Eighteen imperative commands in twelve verses! Such a list can either crush us or inspire us. To be inspired rather than crushed, I find the verses that follow those commands extremely helpful. Verse 23-24 says, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it."

God raises the bar that we're to leap over and then He promises the boost we need to get over it! We must never ignore the commands, but we must also never separate the commands from the promises. This is how God demonstrates His mercy toward us: He calls us to do the impossible -- be holy -- and then He promises to sanctify us completely. The One who calls us is faithful to help us. What hope that gives to those who want to serve Him by obeying every command He gives us!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What's with all the unpleasant stuff we go through in life?

What does it mean that God tests us? What does he test us for? One example is found in 1 Peter 1:6-7 where Peter tells his readers that "for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perished though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ." God allowed various trials for those Christians so that He might test the genuineness of their faith.

I take that to mean that there are trials I go through that are sovereignly ordained of God -- and not only to test my faith but also to help my faith to grow! Psalm 66 says, "For You, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out into a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:10-12). A net, a crushing burden, men riding over our heads, having to go through fire and water! All said to be tests from God. We're told that God's the author of it all. Why? For what? To bring us "into a place of abundance!" To a place of faith! To a place that says, "Come and see what God has done!" (Psalm 66:5). To a place of praise! To a place that says, "How awesome are your deeds!" (Psalm 66:3).

Let's not be too quick to discount God's involvement in the "various trials" that come our way. And let's not be slow to turn to Him in the midst of them rather than turning away. After all, He's also involved in delivering those who call out to Him!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lists to Live by

When we make a list, we're making note of things that matter to us -- we're listing things we'd rather not forget. And with about three-quarters of a million words in the Bible, wouldn't it be handy if God just cut to the quick sometimes and used some clear concise lists to tell us precisely what matters to Him? Well, if you haven't noticed, God does do that. From the ten commandments in Exodus 20 to the eight fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, He uses many lists throughout the Bible to highlight what He truly values!

God uses lists to tell us what we should pursue and what we should avoid. He uses lists to tell us what He requires of us as well as what we need in order to be fruitful. If God offered you a list of character traits and told you, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they'll keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful", would you pay attention? And what if He told you of that list that, "If you practice these qualities, you'll never fall"? That'd be an important list to have! Well, there is such a list, and others like it. And personally, I think we ought to remember what God puts on such lists, because they provide an easy way to recall what matters to Him. Let's look at a few, beginning with the shortest list, but also the most important!

Jesus lists in Matthew 22:35-40 what the two greatest commands are in all the Bible... a) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and b) Love your neighbour as yourself.

In 1 Timothy 6:11, we find a helpful list of what every man or woman of God should pursue...
  • righteousness
  • godliness
  • faith
  • love
  • perseverance
  • gentleness
Micah 6:8 provides a brief but invaluable list of what God calls "good" and what "the Lord requires of us"...
  • doing justice
  • loving kindness
  • walking humbly with God
And Peter is the one who gives us the list of qualities that will keep us from falling! (2 Peter 1:5-9)...
  • faith
  • virtue
  • knowledge
  • self-control
  • perseverance
  • godliness
  • kindness
  • love
Those are things God values. And those are things He lists for us so that we'll be sure to notice them. Perhaps they should be on our fridge by our grocery list or in the workshop by our to-do list. And if you want to look up some other valuable lists, see Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9; Ephesians 6:13-18; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 4:12 and 2 Timothy 2:22.

God makes it very easy for us to see what matters to Him. Just check the lists. And be encouraged that the rich wealth of words before and after each list tell us how God provides us with all we need to live these lists every day!

© 2009 by Ken Peters