Sunday, December 27, 2009

Intimacy amidst adversity

The chips are down, enemies are pressing in, things are looking bad, and yet David is hopeful. How? Or why? The answer to both questions may be the same. And I believe that the more I can understand the answer, the better I'll respond to tough circumstances in my own life.

After listing all the many ways that he's in serious trouble, I'm struck with how confident David's concluding thoughts are: "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!" (Psalm 27:13). Then he extends an invitation: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14). Usually that word "wait" in Hebrew is a mixture of the idea of waiting and hoping as if to mean "wait in hope." David's encouragement then? Hope, strength and courage. All in the midst of a whole lot of bad news.

So now I'm back to my questions of how and why. I want to know how or why I can wait in hope, with strength and courage, all in the midst of bad news. It's because this same psalm is about intimacy with God. In the midst of all David's problems, God says, "Seek my face!" And David's answer is, "Your face, Lord, do I seek" (27:8). And in the midst of so much danger, David says that the one thing he seeks is to dwell in God's house and to gaze on God' beauty (27:4). Time with God is precisely how and why David can so confidently say, "I believe!" David doesn't require new circumstances in order to hope -- he simply needs to see God amidst it all. In other words, the reason he can hope is a Who, not a what. I know that Who to be Jesus. Time spent with such a wonderful Lord and Saviour will always generate hope, strength and courage, even when we're surrounded by trouble.

That means we shouldn't just passively wait for hope, strength or courage to drop out of the sky. The God we wait for is the God we must also both seek and see as the beautiful God who inspires us to hopeful strength and courage -- whatever the circumstances! And I'm certain that the more clearly I see the God I seek, the more hope, strength and courage will grow in my heart.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Inherent Hope

Christmas is over and 2009 is drawing to a close. And as the milestone of another New Year's Eve approaches, even though I'm mindful of many things in my life that I can be grateful for, I'm conscious of a quiet disappointment that's lurking in the shadows of my heart. It's the disappointment of unanswered prayer regarding Fiona's health. Nagging thoughts in that area have sometimes left me pursuing the call of God on my life in feet-dragging, head-drooping, soul-draining ways.

That's why I'm going to end 2009 with a couple posts intended to encourage myself in the Lord. It won't be difficult to do, because as I've already said, I have a lot to be thankful for and simply need to remind myself of that. These posts will be drawn from a journal I've kept in 2009 as I've read through the Bible.

Earlier in December, I was reading Ephesians. And as I read of being blessed "with every spiritual blessing" (1:3), of experiencing "the riches of his [God's] grace" (1:8; 2:7), of "the great love with which he [God] loved us" (2:4) and of being "seated with him [Christ] in the heavenly places" (2:6), I was struck with how easily I've let circumstances and disappointments rob me of the joyful hope that all those truths are intended to provide. Imagine that! I've been wonderfully welcomed by an extravagantly loving God, and I'm capable of approaching him warily as though he disapproved of me. That's no way for someone who's been so lovingly adopted as a son (1:4-5) to live, and I don't want to enter 2010 living that way!

That's why Ephesians 4:4 strikes me as such a vital verse in my life. In the ESV, it ends with the phrase, "just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call". When I think of the salvation-call on my life in that way, it gets my attention. It reminds me of the absolute non-negotiability of hope for those who believe in the risen Christ. Hope actually "belongs" to my call as a Christian. Hope and God's choosing of me go together -- they're inseparable. That means that the call of God on my life comes with a full tank of hope that can never run out as I choose to walk in that calling.

Do I ever need to speak to my soul everyday to remind myself of that -- that being chosen and adopted by God ought to thrill me in ways that no disappointments can smother. And I need to keep my hope-tank full by regularly filling my mind with the encouraging Truth of God's Word. And because hope belongs to my call, I can confidently enter 2010 full of hope for a new year!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I am such a fool sometimes...

I don't know what it is about Christmas that makes me this way. Maybe it's the pressure and momentum of all that needs doing leading up to it. Or maybe it's my irritation with the commercialistic frenzy that surrounds it. Or maybe it stems from a strange insecurity that's uncomfortable with the special gestures of love that are extended my way at Christmastime. If so, there's pride in that, and it's something to repent of. It's probably a mixture of all those things that make me feel irritable and even downright angry as Christmas approaches.

And so often that anger is toward the ones I love the most -- my family -- my children and Fiona. Which brings me to what I saw in Proverbs 29:11. "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back."

Ah yes, some people may want to console me by saying I can't be so bad as that. They'd say that I'm not the person that proverb was written for -- I don't "always" lose my temper. No, but lately I don't think it'd be an exaggeration to say that I often lose my temper -- especially with my kids. And from where I sit, often looks a great deal like always. And when I do lose my temper, it causes the very thing that Proverbs 29:22 says it will cause: "strife." As I snap at the kids, they tend to snap back, and strife is instantly created.

Another verse that's quite well known is Proverbs 15:1. It says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" -- which in turn stirs up strife. And it's only a fool who would consciously choose to answer people in a way that only served to create a clash.

But I'm so glad that the Bible understands that we're human. Proverbs 29:11 says that "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back." It doesn't say that the wise man never has to deal with anger in his heart. It simply says that "a wise man holds it back." Old fashioned self-control.

There's one other proverb that puts it a little differently: "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick tempered exalts folly" (Proverbs 14:29). In this Christmas season and throughout 2010, I want to be a man of "great understanding" who understands that a gentle answer will minimize strife and that I can bring out the best in others by how I respond to them. I want to grow wiser as I check my anger before I express it, choosing instead to show love in a gentle answer to those I love most. May you have a peaceful, strifeless Christmas!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Futility of Regret

I love reading books by A.W. Tozer. As a writer, he wasted no time in getting right to the heart of a matter. The man was a prophet who fearlessly declared Truth to a 20th century Church in need of hearing it. And his deep love for God, God's Word and the Church are obvious throughout his writings.

One of the most helpful chapters I ever read from one of Tozer's books was called The Futility of Regret from the book, That Incredible Christian. Until a few days ago, I hadn't read that chapter since high school, but I've always been able to recall the essence of it over all these years. Below is a sampling from the beginning of the chapter...

The human heart is heretical by nature. Popular religious beliefs should be checked carefully against the Word of God, for they are almost certain to be wrong.

Legalism, for instance is natural to the human heart. Grace in its true New Testament meaning is foreign to human reason, not because it is contrary to reason but because it lies beyond it. The doctrine of grace had to be revealed; it could not have been discovered.

The essence of legalism is self-atonement. The seeker tries to make himself acceptable to God by some act of restitution, or by self-punishment or the feeling of regret. The desire to be pleasing to God is commendable certainly, but the effort to please God by self-effort is not, for it assumes that sin once done may be undone, an assumption wholly false.

Long after we have learned from the Scriptures that we cannot by fasting, or the wearing of a hair shirt or the making of many prayers, atone for the sins of the soul, we still tend by a kind of pernicious natural heresy to feel that we can please God and purify our souls by the presence of perpetual regret.

This latter is the Protestant's unacknowledged penance. Though he claims to believe in the doctrine of justification by faith he still secretly feels that what he calls "godly sorrow" will make him dear to God. Though he may know better he is caught in the web of a wrong religious feeling and betrayed.

There is indeed a godly sorrow that worketh repentance, and it must be acknowledged that among us Christians this feeling is often not present in sufficient strength to work real repentance; but the persistence of this sorrow till it becomes chronic regret is neither right nor good...

And a page or two later, the following paragraph concludes the chapter wonderfully...

Regret for a sinful past will remain until we truly believe that for us in Christ that sinful past no longer exists. The man in Christ has only Christ's past and that is perfect and acceptable to God. In Christ he died, in Christ he rose, and in Christ he is seated within the circle of God's favored ones. He is no longer angry with himself because he is no longer self-regarding, but Christ-regarding; hence there is no place for regret.

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pithometer / pith’-ō-mē-tər / (n) : an instrument for assessing pithy remarks. Today’s remark: “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

The evangelical church is fond of bashing "religion." And the myriad of pithy phrases used to do so will typically emphasize a relationship with God at the expense of religious practice. It fits into a nice little alliteration as we pit relationship against religion.

And on the surface of things, that sounds fine. Far too many people perceive religious practice as a legitimate way to reach God even though God makes it clear in the Bible that the only way to reach Him is through simply knowing and following Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). And the Apostle Paul also went to great lengths in many of his New Testament letters to debunk the idea that following some religious code would get a person closer to God. Paul wrote, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

That being said, I simply do not believe the Bible defines Christianity as an abandonment of religion for the sake of a relationship with God.

By "religion," I mean the outward expression of one's commitment and devotion to God -- such as good works and spiritual practices. And according to the Bible, such religion comes in two forms, one being good and one being bad. (This categorization is based on two of only five passages in the entire Bible that use the words "religion" or "religious," the other three passages using those words in a neutral sense.)

Colossians 2:23 speaks of "self-made religion," and offers strong warnings against those who rely on such a thing to help them to grow mature as a Christian. Notice this is not a warning against "religion," but against "self-made religion." It's a warning against a human-centered approach to God in which we as people think we can define the parameters of our interaction with God. And this is worth speaking against as many people lead others away from God by emphasizing personal spiritual practices and experiences more than God's work of grace on the cross.

But there's another kind of "religion" spoken of in the Bible, and it's not only spoken of as something positive, but as something essential. James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by this world." It is because of this verse (and parallel passages like Matthew 25:31-46) that I wince every time I hear some pithy remark about religion being bad. If we want to make such remarks, then let's be mindful of the few verses in the Bible that offer explicit instruction on this topic. If we're going to dis "religion," then let's be clear that we're dissing "self-made religion," because Scripture is pretty clear that "religion" in the correct sense is important to God.

Of course, it is important that the cart not be placed before the horse. Yes, God most certainly expects us to value the religious acts of helping the poor and of practicing moral purity. But God also expects us to trust in Jesus for the resolve needed to practice such religious deeds and for the forgiveness needed from Him when we fail. Or, one could say that a relationship with Jesus is how we're saved from the consequences of sin in our lives, but religious acts are how we're truly meant to express the salvation we've experienced.

So there's no need to bad-mouth the "pure and undefiled" "religion" that God wants a relationship with us to help us to practice!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Following a Crooked Line

I think I've got a silly notion in my head that if an all-powerful God has a sovereign Plan, then His Plan should be accomplished the way a missile takes a straight and steady path toward its target. I mean, when the great God who created all things sets His will to do something, how can any created being -- human or otherwise -- hinder Him? It'd be like flies trying to push a missile aside.

And this idea in my head tends to leave me resentful of the turmoil in my life that leads to sharp turns and blind corners. I guess I figure that if I'm following God closely enough, I'll be a part of His Plan, and the path of my life will be reasonably straight. But so often, life feels more like a crooked line, as though someone's messing with God's plans for my life.

Then I read about the story of Jesus' birth -- the most important of God's plans -- and I see a
very crooked line -- with loads of turmoil!

  • A pregnancy before marriage (Luke 1:31-35).
  • A marriage about to be called off (Matthew 1:19).
  • A marriage plan restored, but amidst the public disapproval of a pregnancy before marriage (Matt. 1:24).
  • Then an unwelcome donkey ride in the last days of the pregnancy (Luke 2:1-6).
  • Then a dirty stable is all God reserves for the baby's birth (Luke 2:7)
  • And though wise men coming from afar speak to King Herod in their search for Jesus, they're then warned to avoid King Herod as they leave due to the danger he poses to Jesus (Matt. 2:12).
  • Then Mary, Joseph and Jesus flee for their lives to avoid King Herod's sinister plot (Matt. 2 13).
  • King Herod then kills all the male babies of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16).
  • And finally, though all seemed well to return from Egypt, Joseph & Mary are afraid to dwell in Judea, so they must return to Nazareth to live among the people who knew Jesus was conceived before marriage.
Turmoil. Discomfort. Fear. Changes. Disruption. Crooked lines.

So why shouldn't I face the same? I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that God doesn't simply want to accomplish plans
through me, but He wants to accomplish plans in me as well. Crooked lines work much better at that than straight lines. Crooked lines teach me to listen, to trust, to obey and to persevere. And our sovereign God is still able to accomplish His great Plans through our lives as we follow Him around every corner we face in life!

© 2009 by Ken Peters