Friday, September 25, 2009

The Essentials for Effectiveness

Prior to the summer, I wrote about how valuable I find it when God sums things up using lists in the Bible. Lately, as I've been asking God for His kingdom to come in my life each day, I've found it a great help to pray through a particular list. As I wrote in June, 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" (2 Peter 1:8), would you pay attention? And what if He told you, "If you practice these qualities, you'll never fall" (2 Peter 1:10)? Well there is such a list, and it's in 2 Peter 1:5-7...

"...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love."

Those are eight qualities that I've been regularly asking God to increase in my life. And I know He doesn't want me simply trying harder in order to grow in these things. He wants me coming to Him for them, because as Peter wrote a few verses earlier, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3). We will grow in these qualities as we draw closer to the Source of these qualities.

But lately as I've been praying straight from the pages of 2 Peter, I've found myself wondering, what exactly are these qualities? So I did a little digging. And if you'd like to join me in praying for these qualities so that we can all be more effective and fruitful, here's some simple explanations of what we're asking for...

faith: This can mean both a strong conviction regarding the truths of God as well as a strong reliance on Christ as we seek to walk by faith rather than by what we see around us.
virtue: This word is not simply about moral excellence, but is actually about the exertion of strenuous energy -- vigour of soul -- to pursue moral excellence. It's energetic moral action, not merely living a quiet nice-neighbour morality.
knowledge: This isn't simply about accumulating information, but is about gaining insight and understanding.
self-control: This is holding passions and desires in check.
steadfastness: I'd really like more of this one! This is staying power, but it's not simply about endurance. It's about patient and courageous and hopeful -- and even cheerful -- endurance.
godliness: This is actually about living a worshipful life -- worship rightly directed to God. It's from the words "worship" and "well." It's about living a life of reverence paid to One who is worthy of it, that reverence being evident in our conduct, speech, convictions and lifestyle.
brotherly love: The Greek word for this sort of love is phileo, meaning an affectionate love that's rooted in our feelings, that results in friendship, and that truly likes being with a person.
love: The Greek word for this sort of love is agape, which is a love based on a decision more than a feeling -- a decisive act of the will to love others unconditionally and even sacrificially.

So that's what we're praying for if we're wanting to grow in the qualities needed to serve God most effectively!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sound the alarm!

If I'm truly honest, I've felt lately like an alarm has gone off in my soul. It's been a sobering sound but also a ring of hope -- a wail of warning but also a cry of love. I believe it's been because things have been out of balance, priorities wrong, intentions misplaced. And God has been trying to get through to me. I've even recently written about it in this blog. And amidst it all, I've found myself identifying with what Jesus said to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.

Jesus says there, "I know your works. You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead" (3:1). As a Christian of 33 years, and as a pastor, I know that to some I have a reputation of being spiritually strong. But God sees more than meets the eye, and when He says, "I know your works", He means that He sees what's really going on. If my devotional life with Him is languishing, He knows that the many pastoral sacrifices I may make are no more than works of my own doing and are therefore worthless. And what may look like a result of my life in God may actually be something squeezed out of a deadness in my soul due to a lack of time spent with Jesus. So Jesus sounds the alarm. "...but you are dead. Wake up! And strengthen what remains and is about to die! For I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God" (3:2).

Jesus lovingly offers such warnings because He sees that there's hope of recovery. I know that if I neglect my devotional life with God long enough, I can become quite useless to God. But it's as though God is saying, "There's still some life in you yet, but unless you strengthen yourself in Me, you'll end up way off course, never completing the things that I want you to do for Me!" Perhaps thoughts like those, and passages like Revelation 3:1-6, are meant to instill the fear of God in me so that I seek Him above everything else.

I've been reading a book recently called Discipleship on the Edge (by Darrell W. Johnson), and it has really challenged me. Here's a sample of it...
"Every congregation and every individual disciple is always on the brink of losing authentic spiritual life. Why?... Because of the nature of the Christian life. Because of the dynamics of the life into which Jesus Christ calls us. It is a life that can only be lived in relationship -- in relationship with Jesus through his Holy Spirit. It is a life we cannot live apart from him. It is a life we cannot sustain in and of ourselves. It is a super-natural life that requires regular super-natural resources. Drift out of, or ignore, or cut the relationship and the life drains away... ...'Apart from me you can do nothing' [John 15:5]. We can be busy and active. We can go through the motions. We can perform all the various duties associated with life in Jesus and do them all in such a way that we gain a reputation for being alive. But apart from intimacy with him, cut off from the vine, we die. It is as simple as that."

I'm grateful that though such potential choices may leave me "on the brink", God is so loving that He sounds the alarm when we get too close to the edge, and then He tirelessly helps us back to the center of His will for our lives.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 11, 2009

12 Rules for Fighting Fair

Nobody gets married because they’re looking for a fight. A man and a woman get married because they want to share the rest of their lives with the person they love. Think about it though. Can two imperfect people spend the rest of their lives together, in close proximity, and never experience conflict with each other? After 18 years of marriage and 17 years as a pastor, my conclusion is, no, not a chance! Arguments happen in every marriage. The trick isn’t finding the secret of how to have a fight-free marriage, but rather, discovering how to fight fair in a marriage by establishing the appropriate boundaries for the arguments spouses are sure to have.
That’s why I believe every husband and wife should know the rules of engagement for having a healthy argument. That way, when an argument takes a couple by surprise, each person has a pre-determined understanding of what’s appropriate. I’ve observed that however simple some of these rules may seem, it’s easy to forget them when emotions spike if a couple hasn’t intentionally considered and agreed upon them. As a pastor, it’s not rare for me to invite those who are struggling in their marriage or those who are brand new to marriage to commit themselves to following these rules.
So what are they?
Number 1: No name-calling. Sticks and stones aren’t the only things that hurt people. To angrily throw insults at one another can easily leave spouses feeling scarred due to how difficult it is to forget such pointed words, like, “How could you do something so stupid?!” What’s worse is that because name-calling often amounts to an unrighteous judgment of a person, it can easily provoke angry reactions like, “Okay, if she thinks I’m a slob, I’ll act like one! I’ll show her what a slob is.”
Number 2: No sarcasm. Even when spoken in a joking fashion, like, “Yeah, like I'm sure you'd follow through on that!”, it only leaves the listener feeling insecure as they wonder if the person they love really believes what they're saying in a joking fashion. The only things that are accomplished by such comments are to nurture unbelief in the speaker and uncertainty in the listener.
Number 3: NO YELLING! Yelling is simply verbal violence. It’s a way of seeking to achieve control of a situation by dominating it through sheer volume.
Number 4: Never walk away without permission. Again, this amounts to control. It’s a reflex of a coward who can’t face what’s being said. If it seems necessary to be apart for a period of time in order for emotions to cool, then ask permission to do so with an understanding that it’s unto purpose and that the disagreement will be resolved when a couple is together again. I used to need to go for a drive on the highway for awhile, and my head always felt clearer when I got home.
Number 5: Don’t contact your parents or siblings to get them involved. Blood is typically thicker than water, and family will find it difficult not to take sides with their dear son or daughter. This will only tempt them to get offended on behalf of their child thereby complicating the present situation and possibly poisoning their future view of the in-law. The leaving and cleaving principle is truly worth maintaining when in conflict with your spouse.
Number 6: Don’t bring matters up for which you’ve previously forgiven each other. If something has been forgiven, it’s not only off-limits in an argument, it has no place being on your mind at all! It should be considered washed away by the precious blood of Jesus!
Number 7: Don’t fight in front of your kids. This is important not only because it’s healthy for children to see their parents as united, but also because it provides very damaging role-modeling when kids see their parents breaking any of these rules toward someone they love.
Number 8: Never, ever, get physically aggressive. This is the worst form of control that can occur in an argument and must be considered completely off-limits. If there is ever a temptation in this area, breaking rule number 4 is forgivable!
Number 9: Don’t ever talk about divorce. If such talk comes up in an argument, all it does is sow insecurity into a marriage, and it’s difficult to regain such security once it’s been lost in this way.
Number 10: Resolve things the same day a fight happens. This means not going to bed angry, which means not letting the sun go down on your anger. And this can sometimes mean having quite a late night. Though depending on the hour, your level of tiredness and when you need to be up in the morning, it is sometimes better to come to a place of agreement before bed that you'll be sure to revisit the issue you're arguing over the next day with cooler heads rather than with exhausted heads late at night. In such cases, it's important to schedule a specific time that you will discuss it the next day and then briefly pray together, asking God to prepare your hearts for that discussion.
Number 11: Clearly express what you did wrong when apologizing and verbalize forgiveness. I’ve heard apologies like, “I’m sorry I made you angry” or “I’m sorry I hurt you.” Those aren’t apologies. They’re the avoidance of an apology. They’re deflecting the focus from oneself and one’s sin to the anger or hurt of the person who was sinned against. Truly apologizing means to specifically acknowledge one’s wrong, as in, “I’m sorry for being late and for reacting so harshly when you confronted me. I was wrong to do that.” It’s then very important to be just as clear when expressing forgiveness. Speak the words, “I forgive you” and don’t bring the matter up again.
Number 12: Don’t withhold affection after a matter has been resolved. In other words, rather than saying, “Let’s kiss and make-up”, it’s probably more accurate to say, “Let’s make-up and kiss!”

I don’t mind saying that I find a few of these rules particularly difficult to follow. But by God’s grace, I believe I can follow them all, and if my wife and I can maintain these boundaries when we argue, I know it’ll help every argument to be an opportunity for growth. So rather than focussing on the impossible goal of avoiding fights with that imperfect person at your side, ask God to help you fight by the rules, despite your own imperfections!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Monday, September 7, 2009

When God stirs my heart...

Quite awhile ago I came across this picture in a discarded magazine from 2002. I was struck by it. I studied it carefully and wondered about the circumstances that surrounded it. I wondered if the two children were brother and sister. What were their names? Maybe they had memories of happier days. It appears from what the girl was carrying that they had once had a home. But did they have anything more than each other and the meager possessions she carried? Were their parents alive at the time of the picture? I wondered where they were going and what they were thinking at the time of this photo.

Then I cut it out and put it in my desk drawer and forgot about it (or where I'd gotten it from).

Yesterday I found it as I was cleaning my office. Once again, I was struck by it. But this time I wondered about my life as much as theirs. I have a very comfortable life. I'm well-off and have enough to share. It's not that I don't already share with people in need, but it's just that I'm wondering if I'm meant to do something more with part of my remaining surplus. I'm wondering if I can look at this picture (or the millions like it if I dare to look for them) and then continue my life unfazed -- unchanged -- unconcerned.

I'm looking in the mirror here, not at whoever may be reading this. And I know Ezekiel 16:49 all too well to put this out of my mind. "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." Consider me fazed. Once again, I'm stirred to adjust some of my spending patterns to ensure that my excess results in someone else's solace.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Significance of Obedience (church bulletin cover)

Obedience to God is not just some Old Testament emphasis that's been replaced by an emphasis on grace in the New Testament. That's why Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). That's why Paul said, amidst a discourse on grace, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2). So when God sums things up in Jeremiah 7:23 by saying, "But this command I gave them: Obey My voice, and I will be your God", I need to heed that.

I'm quite sure that God speaks to me, directs me, counsels me, or simply commands me regularly. Daily. Many times a day. But am I listening? Or am I blithely carrying on in my own familiarity with all my routines, comfortable with my own momentum, feeling certain that I know what to do with my days? Jesus said, "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am" (John 13:13). So does that mean I'm carefully listening to my Teacher each and every day, ready to obey Him as Lord? It may be that I often do that when the "big" things in life come up, but not necessarily with the "little" things.

But if I truly want to treat Jesus as my Teacher and Lord, and to obey His commands, then I ought to aim to be so sensitive to His voice that I can hear Him even amidst my ordinary routines, and so alert that I obey His voice even when He asks a very little thing of me. That's the way I can express that He is my God. And isn't it wonderful that immediately after Jesus explains that those who love Him ought to obey Him, He then says, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [His Holy Spirit], to be with you forever" (John 14:16). The obedience God asks for is not something He leaves us to do by our own strength, but God helps us every step of the way!

So with such wonderful promises as that, it is wise to daily remind ourselves of what God said next in Jeremiah 7:23 -- "And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you." Obedience is never outdated.

© 2009 by Ken Peters