Sunday, July 26, 2009

Keeping tabs on where I go for satisfaction (church bulletin cover)

Isaiah 55 begins with the words, "Come, everyone who thirsts..." As I read that, I can't help but ask myself two simple questions: Am I thirsty? And where have I turned lately to satisfy that thirst?

I'm conscious of a thirst that causes me to open my Bible to read such verses. It's a desire to find assurance and encouragement in something solid and reliable. But I have to admit that it's not typically a raging thirst. And I'm also conscious of a craving for other things -- things less solid and reliable -- hoping that I'll find some satisfaction in them. I don't mean the things that we'd all consider brazen sins, but rather, the simple earthly things that we'd all consider harmless until they became too consuming. In other words, I can say no to the brazen, and then pursue the blasé. It might be an innocent thing like a book or my blog, which aren't bad things. But if I neglect my life with God in my desire to pursue them, they become imposters for what deserves to be my true source of satisfaction: my pursuit of God and His ways.

The thirst is there whether I'm conscious of it or not. The vital question is where I am turning to satisfy it? Isaiah 55:1-2 says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!... Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food." God freely offers us an abundance of that which deeply satisfies. The world charges money for things that don't satisfy. We simply need to choose what we'll turn to for the life we all crave.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We want your soul

The culture of consumerism wants your soul. They want all of our passions to be focused on the glitz and bling of this material world. They want us living for what's now and what's new. But what does it profit us if we have all the fun in the world but neglect our soul (Matthew 16:26)?

Someone decided to approach consumerism from the lighter side and made a mini-musical about it. Why not? It mirrors the background music of our many malls and the flashing lights of our commercial strips. And yet the bags we fill can leave us as empty as the way the following video feels as it concludes...

It's worth a bit of reflection.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Great Faith of those who have Little Faith (part 4 in a series on faith)

(Not so much a series of teachings as much as a series of personal reflections on Bible passages that God has used to stir my heart regarding this important matter of faith amidst the challenges He has led me through. See part 3.)

I don't know about you, but I'm easily inclined to view Jesus' rebukes to His disciples for their lack of faith as being applicable to me. Jesus says numerous times to them, "You of little faith" and in Luke 9:41, "You unbelieving and perverted generation!" That's a strong rebuke, and if it's true of Jesus' first disciples (to whom it was addressed), it must be even more true of me! For that reason, I tend to take those rebukes to heart and can end up feeling discouraged by the little faith that I have.

But I don't believe that was Jesus' intent. I've noticed something else about the two stories that surround the rebuke in Luke 9:41 -- stories that are about Jesus' disciples going out and doing miracles in Jesus' name. Luke 9:1-6 speaks of the twelve going out, and says they were "preaching the Gospel and healing everywhere" (9:6). And Luke 10:1-24 speaks of the seventy going out to "heal the sick"
(10:9) and of how they "returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name'" (10:17).

Now I think that is what Jesus wants me to be mindful of when reading these chapters in Luke. Yes, I need to grow in faith -- yes, Jesus wants me free of unbelief -- but Jesus also wants me to realize how much can be accomplished by disciples who have only a little faith! When He said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation" to His disciples, Jesus didn't intend to leave His disciples discouraged over how unbelieving they were. He was expressing a heartfelt burden for them to grow in faith, and it wasn't long before He sent them out a second time ready to do miracles in His name.

What this tells me is that, yes, there will be times when I encounter situations beyond my present level of faith, but that shouldn't leave me discouraged. Because God can take someone without faith for some situations to do miracles in others! That's why I can't allow myself to become so fixated on my limited faith that I'm paralyzed with a fear of failure or of disappointm
ent. These chapters in Luke tell me that God can still use those who sometimes struggle in faith, and can even use such people -- like me -- to do miracles in His name!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Faith: A Precious Commodity (part 3 in a series on faith)

(Not so much a series of teachings as much as a series of personal reflections on Bible passages that God has used to stir my heart regarding this important matter of faith amidst the challenges He has led me through. See part 2. Go to part 4.)

Faith in God is something precious for those who have it. The apostle Peter called it "more precious than gold" as he wrote to Christians who were facing persecution that was testing their faith (1 Peter 1:7). But I sometimes feel like it takes only a minor test of my faith to feel in short supply of it. A little thing goes wrong and I can end up struggling to believe God will help me.

But faith is way too valuable to lose it so easily! It's clear from how Matthew describes Jesus' ministry in Matthew 9, that faith was an essential factor in the miracles Jesus did for people. After the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus' cloak, Jesus said to her that "your faith has made you well" (Matthew 9:22). Six verses later, Jesus asks two blind men who had come to Him if they believed He could help them: "'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to Him, 'Yes, Lord'" (Matthew 9:28). So Jesus healed them and said, "It shall be done to you according to your faith" (Matthew 9:29). That makes faith pretty important!

For someone like me who feels as though my faith has been weakened by personal disappointments, it's encouraging to see how the above stories are sandwiched between two references to the certainty of Jesus' love for sinful and distressed people. In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus was accused of eating with "tax collectors and sinners" (9:11), and His response was to say that He desires to show mercy to those who are sinners (9:13). Then in Matthew 9:35-38, as Jesus was traveling through all the cities and villages, it says, "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36).

So if the Gospel stories of healing in Matthew 9 cause me to become worriedly introspective, wondering if I have enough faith for my prayers to be answered, I don't have to look far to find stories of Jesus' mercy and compassion that should get my eyes off of myself and onto Jesus where they should've been all along! After all, that's who the
woman with the hemorrhage and the two blind men were focused on! If I feel in short supply of faith, Jesus is the source of it and He's the One I should be seeking in order to strengthen it. And as I spend quality time with a merciful and compassionate God, He will give me the faith I need to keep praying in faith for the challenges I face.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blessed by Faith, not by Effort (part 2 in a series on faith)

(Not so much a series of teachings as much as a series of personal reflections on Bible passages that God has used to stir my heart regarding this important matter of faith amidst the challenges He has led me through. See part 1. Go to part 3.)

Whenever I find myself discouraged by the idea of not being good enough in the eyes of God, I know it means I'm not looking at my life through spiritual eyes. There was a time when God opened my spiritual eyes to see my need for a saviour and to see Jesus as that saviour. But too often I'm prone to going back to using my old earthly eyes as I strive to be good enough to please God.

Galatians 3:3 calls that foolish. "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Paul then goes on to refer to being people of faith or to living by faith 13 times in the next 23 verses. He also mentions eight times in about as many verses that the great promises God made to Abraham had nothing to do with anything Abraham did to earn them. The message? That the way to please God is not by striving to be good enough, but by believing His Word and by receiving all He has promised us!

Okay, but I find myself thinking that I know all this. It sounds familiar. And yet I still sometimes find myself battling thoughts that I'm not good enough for God, and that I have to measure up to be entitled to His promises. And I can still let myself get discouraged when I make a mistake of even the smallest variety!

Well, according to Paul in Galatians 3, my battle cry in such times should be: Have faith! Faith in God's mercy, faith in what Jesus did on the cross, faith in God's fatherhood, faith in God's promises! And I need to persistently remind myself that the promise of my inheritance in Christ is not based on how well I perform (3:18), but on God's goodness, and received by faith in God (3:22). I ought to shout that out the next time I'm distracted by my own humanity! And as I do, I will be blessed simply because God blesses those who believe.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, July 10, 2009

Keeping Firm in Faith (part 1 in a series on faith)

(Not so much a series of teachings as much as a series of personal reflections on Bible passages that God has used to stir my heart regarding this important matter of faith amidst the challenges He has led me through. Go to part 2.)

When my heart is persistently shaken by challenging circumstances, it can feel like the core of who I am is vulnerable to wear and tear. This affects things that are essential -- the pillars of my heart that my life in God depend on. One of those pillars is the pillar of faith.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it's impossible to please God. Romans 14:23 says that whatever isn't done with faith is sin. But Isaiah 7:9 puts it yet another attention-grabbing way: "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all" (ESV). In other words, if our faith fails, we fail. If we're not firm in our faith in God, we won't be able to be firm in love, hope -- in anything that God is meant to provide.

This makes faith mighty important. "More precious than gold" according to 1 Peter 1:7. It's something I don't want to lose. It's something that I need to pursue in order to grow in (1 Timothy 6:11) so that when circumstances shake it, it will be firm and I will be firm.

I've known such shaking and there have been times when I've seen serious cracks develop in my faith. And the only way of repair that I know of is to fill my heart with the truth of God's Word, for I
know that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). And as I cling to "the hope of the Gospel that you heard", I can be "stable and steadfast" in my faith (Colossians 1:23) no matter what I face!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Gospel: Spread it or Lose it

Nearly a month ago, I posted a video by and a comment about Ralph Winter, a man who has greatly impacted my life. More recently, I found a related posting on John Piper's blog. It expresses further insights from Ralph Winter that are a great challenge to me. I wanted to share them with you here.

John Piper writes:

At Ralph Winter’s memorial service in Pasadena on June 28, I drew attention to one main reason for gratitude out of many I feel.

I thanked God that Dr. Winter’s relentless pressing of the global application of the gospel and his tireless emphasis on the biblical and global reality of unreached peoples (not just fields), helped me know and love the enormity and centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He explained why such a missions focus would have this effect. I find this insight historically true and needed today. He wrote in 1995 in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research,
One of the most important functions of the missionary movement is to continually rescue the faith itself from becoming lost through institutional and cultural evolution and absorption.... That process of trying to make our faith understandable cross-culturally has in many different but vital ways pumped back into the home church a constantly renewed sense of what is, and what is not the [gospel]...
Unless we become as serious about rediscovering the true faith in contrast to the assumptions of our own culture, we will trumpet an uncertain sound wherever else we go. (Vol. 19., No. 2, April, 1995, p. 60)
In other words, the constant effort to spread the gospel—especially across cultures—is crucial to preserving the gospel. This is true for more reasons than we realize. I would say it is true at the global level, the denominational level, the local church level, and the individual level.

Where a person or a group is not spreading the gospel, they are losing their grasp on what it actually is.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The chase is on! (church bulletin cover)

I went swimming with my 11-year old son the other day. At first, we threw a ball back and forth. That was okay. We splashed each other a bit, but he didn't like that much. Then I began to chase him, and he was immediately excited!

A good chase can cause an adrenaline rush. In a movie, a good chase scene can be worth the ticket price. There's suspense in it. Where will it lead? To what extremes will it go? Well, I believe we're meant to apply that sense of excitement and urgency to our pursuit of God.

Look at Paul's choice of words in 1 Timothy 6:11 -- "But as for you, O man of God, flee these things! Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness." In other words, we're being chased and we're chasing something ourselves. Does that excite us or would we prefer a more sedate Christian life? The message of this verse is that we have no choice -- the chase is on! Either we flee or get caught. And if we flee, it's best that we run to Jesus and pursue the life He intends us to live.

Paul's very next words are "Fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12). This reinforces the fact that we're in an aggressive situation whether we like it or not, and we might as well embrace the excitement of it all! My son Nicholas was excited by the chase I provided for him because he knew the person chasing him is his friend. As a man or woman of God, we can be excited by the chase of faith because we know the One we're pursuing is infinitely greater than the sin we're fleeing from.

This means we're in the most exciting chase-scene imaginable! We're fleeing the temptations of the enemy of our souls and pursuing a God who lives right inside of us so that He can help us to live godly lives and deliver us from temptation. The only suspense about such a chase is provided by the choices we make, because the outcome is clear: Jesus, the One we pursue, catches our pursuer, and we will one day see Jesus' glory (1 Timothy 6:13-16).

Here's a short sample of a foot chase unlike any you've probably ever scene. Let it be indicative of how determined we are to flee from sin as we pursue the One who gives us strength to run!

© 2009 by Ken Peters