Thursday, December 30, 2010

Firmly rooted for the coming year

Back on December 5, 2001, God said something to me that changed my life. It was about 5pm and I was sitting alone at my desk at home staring at a blank computer screen. I had been feeling very low for many weeks and all I could muster as a throwaway prayer was, "God, what's going on?" But as soon as I uttered those words, a thought flew into my mind: "It's not what I do for Christ, but who I am in Christ that matters." In other words, all the perceived failures that were leaving me so utterly depressed had absolutely no impact on God's view of me. Whatever I did or didn't do just didn't matter. It was only because I was in Christ that God loved me unconditionally as His son. At the very moment that God put that thought in my mind, everything changed. The heaviness lifted. The darkness passed. The depression evaporated. I was free. Free of a performance-mentality before a God who fully accepted me as His dearly beloved son.

That was nearly ten years ago. And for many years after that God-encounter I walked in the good of that revelation. But for the past year or so, I feel as though I've lost sight of the simplicity of that truth: "It's not what I do for Christ, but who I am in Christ that matters." And as I approach 2011 and the ten-year mark of that precious moment when God's Spirit dropped that gem in my mind, I want to fully recover the priceless value of it in my everyday walk with God.

Back in 2001, there was a key passage that God spoke to me through to confirm how rock solid the truth of His love really is. Colossians 2:6-7 says, "Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude." I've chosen the NASB here because of how it translates one particular phrase: "having been firmly rooted." That is how we as Christians are to see ourselves, and that was how God wanted me to begin seeing myself when He spoke to me that afternoon.

The NIV doesn't quite capture Paul's emphasis here and the New Living Translation misses it completely, referring to the idea of letting your roots go down into Christ as if they weren't already. But what Paul is meaning here is that we already have been fully rooted in Christ! When Paul wrote about being "rooted" he used a perfect passive tense, which points to an action completed in the past that has ever-continuing effects! Thomas Trevethan (who wrote Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians (if you can find this out-of-print book used, buy it and read it -- it's amazing!)) writes that the full sense of this perfect passive participle is "once-and-for-all settled in a fixed spot not to be uprooted." In other words, nothing can shake us loose from being fully in Christ, fully accepted by God!

If we can live our lives fully convinced of that truth, nothing will be able to discourage us, because nothing can shake us loose from His hand of love. So in 2011, instead of focusing on me (and my blunders and my expectations and my disappointments), I want to make Christ and who I am in Christ my focus so that I can live in the joyful confidence that being in Christ is meant to provide every day!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reading List 2010

I'm a slow reader. Which leaves me reluctant to read as well as forever reading once I start! And because I read so slowly, I end up reading quite a few books at the same time. I'm sure it reflects a lack of discipline, but I simply find that because it takes me so long to finish books I start, as I'm plowing through one book, I get distracted by another, and possibly another (and sometimes even another!). But I eventually get back to most of the books I begin reading.

This is a list of the books I read in 2010 (in the order I completed them). Apart from all the books listed here, I also read the Bible through each year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as what is most essential for me to be feeding on. Most of the postings I add to my blog are a result of my time spent reading God's Word.
Perhaps there's a book listed here that you'd enjoy reading. And please feel free to leave a comment if there's a book you'd like to recommend that I read in 2011. Just give me plenty of time to do so if I decide to read it!
  1. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. I read this book during a 3-day spiritual retreat in January.  It was a particularly timely book for me to read, as I was struggling with some issues that this book addresses for pastors. Though I struggled with the blanket judgments that Peterson sometimes seems to make about other pastors, I found his urgent emphasis on finding a spiritual rhythm that keeps God as more important than ministry extremely helpful.
  2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Had a hankering for a little Dickens, and I decided to finally discover how much of the book wasn't included in the movie. It was an enjoyable read, but I often find Dickens novels more than a little contrived by how every little thing comes together in the end and by how every character seems more like a caricature of either good or evil.
  3. Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper. This book is a passionate call to Christian leaders to keep first things first and to minister out of a life in God rather than out of a professionalization of the ministry. And with thirty chapters, it's more about keeping the first thirty things first! But Piper makes a clear case for each issue, and leaves me wanting to grow in all of them.
  4. Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor. Amazing.  Faith building. Life-changing. This book has changed the way I pray. It has given me a higher view of God and a greater sense of my oneness with Christ.  This particular book is an abbreviated version (half the length) of a longer biography written by the same authors about one of the most fruitful pioneer missionaries in the history of Christianity. Hudson Taylor's profound commitment to living an "exchanged life" as he depended on God for his every need has made the story of his life a great example to anyone who desires to live their life fully committed to Jesus.
  5. Spiritual Leadership:  Moving People on to God's Agenda by Henry and Richard Blackaby. This is the best book on leadership I've ever read. That said, I found it a great challenge to complete (after beginning it over a year ago!) due to how densely packed each and every chapter is. It was so full of relevant leadership principles that I found myself underlining stuff on nearly every page!
  6. Finally Alive by John Piper. This book became more and more helpful as I read it, and was truly meat to be chewed on. It deals with the flippant and demeaning way the term "born again" has come to be used in North America. And it affirms how being born again is a profound supernatural event that leaves a person radically changed, despite what careless telephone surveys may say to the contrary! God has made us "truly, invincibly, finally alive", and knowing the implications of that is a great encouragement.
  7. God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself by John Piper. This was the second time I'd read this book, this time as a part of a small group book study.  It is a book that unflinchingly nails a blessings-based North American Christianity right between the eyes! The question it asks again and again is do we truly want God or do we simply want His salvation blessings of peace and forgiveness?  But what has made it such a compelling book to me is the way John Piper exalts Jesus Christ as the only One who can truly satisfy our deepest longings. It's a book that leaves you hungry for Jesus!
  8. When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles by Bill Johnson. After watching a video of Bill Johnson, I felt prompted to want to find out more about his theological approach to the issues of healing and the sovereignty of God. But more than that, I've been feeling a growing hunger in my heart to see God's power at work in the lives of people who are in desperate need of miracles. This book is about the reality of God's Kingdom invading earth, and my prayer is that that reality will become more real to me than the keys I use to type these words!
  9. The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson. I have found my struggling faith strengthened by Bill Johnson's fresh perspective on what the Bible has to say about God being an active, invasive, here-and-now God who does the miraculous as we take up the authority He has given us. I've been encouraged as I've been processing the Biblical teachings of a man who has regularly seen God move miraculously.
  10. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written as an autobiographical letter from an aged father to his young son. It is both random and reflective in many ways, but has much to do with the theme of father/son relationships and has a strong spiritual pulse in the many fatherly musings and memories. Some of the father's memories go back to his grandfather's time in the Civil War, and ever since I lived in the United States, I've always appreciated reading about that period of American history.
  11. Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through The Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnson. I began reading this book in the fall of 2009, and even though it took me awhile to finish it, I really enjoyed it. It was given to me as a gift, and I wanted to read it because of how impacted and excited I've felt the last couple times I've read Revelation. I wasn't disappointed. Every chapter clarified my understanding and made the Book of Revelation much more relevant in my everyday life.
  12. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. The story of a remarkable man who narrowly escaped from the dangers of a chaotic civil war in Burundi only to find himself lost among the dangers of NYC, America. But through the kindness of strangers who were willing to help him, he not only flourished in America, but was able to eventually return to Burundi to offer help that would transform an impoverished community.
  13. What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper. Fifty demands, all drawn from what Jesus said in the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. Fifty chapters, all relatively brief, each one unpacking a command Jesus instructed us to observe. If you want a book that will challenge you while also emphasizing the grace of God we need to meet the challenge, this is the book for you. There's no shortage of application in this book! So much so, that I typically only read one or two chapters a week lest I'd have too much to work on all at once!
  14. Father to the Fatherless: The Charles Mulli Story by Paul H. Boge. The true story of a Kenyan man whose life began in desperate poverty, and who eventually became a highly successful businessman who then felt called to reach out to help orphans and street children in a way that would give them the same hope in Jesus and the same hope for their future that he experienced.
  15. The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger. Every so often I pick up a book to read simply as a diversion -- a book about some faraway place or some extreme circumstance. In such instances, I'm fond of books about the desert or the sea. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I suddenly felt inclined to read it. As usual (when I read such books), I was impacted by the courage of those who risk their lives at sea.
© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Path to True Rest

As Christmas approaches, I'm really looking forward to having a few extra days off from work. I've outgrown the anticipation of gifts, but in its place is a craving for calm -- a time to dial down and relax. But I'm all too aware from past experience that such rest can be elusive, even when my schedule is emptied. And I also know it's possible to end a holiday break as weary as the day it began, even if I do very little during that break. I think that's because I'm seeking external rest when what I really need is internal rest. I'm resting my body while my heart remains restless.

And as I was reading the Letter to the Hebrews in my Bible this month, I think I began to understand the path to the kind of rest I really need. In Hebrews 4, the writer mentions "the promise of entering His rest" (4:1), and assures us that that promise still stands. But then he issues a warning about the rest God promises us: "let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it." That's a valid warning, because in my harried and weary state, I sometimes wonder if I'm failing to reach that wonderful rest God promises, and such uncertainty only adds to the disquiet in my soul. So what to do?

It was only when I noticed what the writer had just been writing about in the previous chapter that I realized the kind of rest he was meaning, and saw how I could remain in the deep, meaningful rest God promises. Just a few verses earlier, in Hebrews 3:12, there is another warning issued: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God." That's a serious warning. And six verses later, referring to God's posture toward the children of Israel, it says, "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to to enter because of unbelief" (3:18-19). In other words, the evil of unbelief in their hearts robbed God's people of God's rest.

Does that same warning apply to me? And is it possible to have a whole sabbatical (let alone a brief Christmas break), and still not feel at rest at the end of it all if one doesn't heed such a warning? Well, as the writer continues and addresses the Christians he was writing to, he says, "Since therefore it remains for some to enter it [God's rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience [the disobedience of unbelief], again He appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts.'... So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience" (4:6-11). That "same sort of disobedience" he's writing about was the disobedience of unbelief that he'd previously mentioned (in 3:18-19). And that hardening of their hearts is also a reference to what we're doing when we walk in unbelief.

This means that true rest -- the "rest" God promises -- the rest my soul continually craves -- is something we can only find by believing God. Because if the sin of unbelief is what prevented God's people from entering His rest, it only seems fair to say that the virtue of believing God will open the door to God's rest. In fact, I wonder if it's fair to say that believing God is the "rest" God promises in Hebrews 4:1. Believing God is rest for our souls. And we lose that rest every single time we fall into unbelief.

So as I long for rest and refreshment during this Christmas season, I'd be wise to note that the surest way to find rest for my soul is to take God at His Word, to trust His promises, to accept His instructions and to walk in His ways because I believe His will to be "good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). That's rest. That's freedom from the pain of trying to get things done my way.

And as I've pondered all this, I was alarmed at the thought of how easily unbelief can creep into my heart and rob me of the rest of believing God. The antidote is to attack unbelief wherever I see it in my life -- to turn from it quickly, and by God's grace, to grab that door-handle of believing God so that I can enter His rest as easily as stepping into a room full of God's promises. Now that sounds like Christmas!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trademarks of Prayer (or... The Need for Persistence doesn't mean I'm Wasting my Time!)

There's something about myself that I'm all too well aware of:  I struggle to persist. Just look at how many posts I've written about perseverance and trust. That's not because I know so much about it. It's because I'm still trying to learn how to do it amidst all the stuff that comes up in life.

This is especially true for me in the area of prayer. I get discouraged easily and feel defeated quickly if an important answer seems slow in coming. And after twenty years of disappointing doctor's reports about Fiona, I've even grown a bit confused about prayer. I've sometimes wondered what it accomplishes. Bad things happen even though I pray, and then good things happen in other areas I haven't even prayed about. And then I see godly, biblical examples that put me in my place. Biblical examples like the apostle Paul who never let life's trials or troubles convince him that prayer was pointless, and who made prayer an absolutely essential part of his life no matter how many disappointments came his way.

This is obvious in the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians. Paul wrote that letter while he was in prison, and yet he clearly describes God as being in charge of his life as well as of the hostile world around him. And there are three places in that letter to the Colossians where Paul expresses how committed he was to not allowing the reality of persistent troubles to discourage him from believing in the value of persistent prayer.

Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9 that "from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you." Wow. "Not ceased"!  Ceaseless prayer characterized Paul's busy, trouble-filled, fruitful ministry. Then in Colossians 4:2, Paul exhorted the Colossians to "continue steadfastly in prayer". Another translation (NASB) says in that verse to be devoted to prayer. Those are more strong words about prayer: steadfast, devoted. That means Paul didn't want them to give up praying when answers seemed slow and troubles seemed overbearing. Then in Colossians 4:12, Paul described a man named Epaphras as "always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers." Always. Laboring. Earnest (meaning zealous and heartfelt). Here's a man who didn't treat prayer like some casual listing of requests expecting immediate gratification. He knew he was in a battle and was prepared to persistently struggle for the victories that would only be won through prayer.

None of these verses suggest that we ought to be surprised or frustrated when prayers aren't answered immediately. Paul used words like "not ceased" and "steadfast" or "devoted" and "laboring" for a reason. I'm still learning that prayer requires persistence so that the praying I do changes me as much as the things I pray for. To Paul, we're to be: Always in prayer -- Devoted to prayer -- Steadfast in prayer -- Labouring in prayer --  Earnest in prayer. And the one who is determined to make those words the trademarks of their prayer life is the one who is far more likely to find value in praying, and will see the answers that just don't come to those who don't persist.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, December 3, 2010

Superabundant Love

I don't use the word abound too often in conversation. Pretty much never, actually. But it's a great word, packed with meaning. And do I ever need to be reminded of that sometimes. Like when I get mad at my kids or my wife, and then I let it linger, feeling justified in my selfish, unloving withdrawal from them until I decide to resolve it.

At times like that, the word abound jumps off the page as I read of Paul praying that the Lord would make the saints of Thessalonica "increase and abound in love for one another and for all" (1 Thessalonians 3:12). That's a lotta love. I looked up the word "abound" and it means "to be present in great quantity... to be copiously supplied." Copious means "taking place on a large scale."

We're talking God's scale here. It's clear from Paul's prayer that it's only God who can supply us with such abundant love. God pours it out using gigantic heavenly portions so that we can overflow excessively with love for those around us. The Greek word here suggests a superabundance that is exceedingly beyond measure. Picture the violent overflow of Niagara. You can't miss it as you get close to it, from the roar you hear to the mist in the air to the sight you behold. That's a picture of a place abounding in water. In the same way, God wants to cause us to abound in love for others.

Does my life reflect a superabundance of love for others? Am I abounding in love for my wife and children, let alone others around me? Not really. I've got some love for others. I'm somewhat loving. What a contrast to the superabundant, exceedingly excessive overflow of love beyond measure! Those are the kind of words I want at the front of my mind every time I face an opportunity to express God's love to someone around me: superabundant, exceedingly excessive love, overflowing beyond measure!

And I'm so grateful that it's God who is not only able to make His love increase in me, but is eager to do it at any given moment! I simply pray that I'll be open to receiving it and sharing it until His superabundant love is superobvious to everyone around me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gift-Getting

Every Christmas, I find myself internally-conflicted in a couple of ways. On the one hand, I love giving presents. Turns out that gift-giving is one of my top love-languages. And I'm known in my family for buying gifts that people don't expect but are thrilled to get. Like the Australian leather cattleman's hat I bought for my dad not long ago. I should also mention the diamond ring I bought for Fiona one Christmas.

But on the other hand, I'm not so great at getting presents. Fiona tells me that I'm very difficult to buy for. Either I'm totally distracted by the cost of her buying me something after I spent so much on her, or I'm just not very easily pleased with what people get me. I can be ungrateful, focusing on the gift rather than the giver, wanting them to provide me with the same thrill I just gave them.

I guess that may be why I found the following video of Andy Rooney somewhat amusing...




Add to that the huge distraction of world poverty compared to the extravagant amount of money we as North Americans spend on Christmas presents and I can end up a real grump on Christmas morning. For example, did you know that last year, consumers in the United States spent about 10.7 billion dollars on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), 6.9 billion dollars on the Saturday before Christmas, and 7.9 billion dollars on Boxing Day? That's over 25 billion bucks spent in three -- count 'em! -- three short days. To put that in perspective, Burundi's GDP (gross domestic product, or the total value of all the goods and services a country produces in one year) is about 3.1 billion dollars. Haiti's GDP is about 6.7 billion dollars. Those figures create some of the internal conflict I feel at Christmastime as we lovingly buy unnecessary items for each other.

Ah, the joy of living in the tension of two truths. I want to remember the poor, but does that mean it's wrong to bless Aunt Nellie with a new set of tea towels?

So that leaves me needing to remember two important lessons as Christmas Day approaches. First, when it comes to gift-giving, gratitude is as important as generosity. Gift-getting is as much an act of love as gift-giving, and no one's act of kindness ought to be spurned, no matter what the circumstances! And secondly, in the same way that God doesn't intend for the needs of the world's poorest people to prevent me from blessing my family and friends at Christmas, I don't believe He wants me to spend so much on them that I'm unable to give anything to help the poor in a meaningful way as well.

Hopefully I can remember those things this Christmas, and then I'll be able to enjoy the gifts I get as much as I enjoy being a blessing to others in the many meaningful ways that God leads me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Praying to Jealous

God's name is Jealous.  There aren't many adjectives that are capitalized and made into a proper noun so that they can be made into a name for God.  But in Exodus 34:14, God declares His name to be "Jealous" -- "for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." That sounds negative to our modern ears, but it's actually a strong indication of God's love. God's jealousy is directed toward us when we're unfaithful because He loves us and longs for us to return and find our complete satisfaction in Him.

And of course, the unfaithfulness spoken of in the context of Exodus 34:14 is that of idolatry, the most frequently mentioned sin in the Bible. And so as I read that verse, I feel compelled to pause and to wonder what the idolatry is in my life. I don't even wonder if there's idolatry, but simply what it might be -- how it's manifesting in my life. I guess I take for granted that something we're so frequently warned about in the Bible must be something that's likely to show up in my life more than infrequently. And when God declares His name to be Jealous, it gets my attention, letting me know that dealing with idols ought to be a priority any time I approach Him. This is not something to deal with occasionally, but something to prayerfully consider everyday.

For example, because the God I approach in prayer is actually named Jealous, (though we're graciously invited to call Him Daddy and Father as we approach Him (Romans 8:15; Matthew 6:9)), I feel as though I ought to be serious about making sure there are no hidden idols in my heart as I pray. And as I consider that, I wonder what sort of idols may crop up in my life now and then. Perhaps ministry has been one -- or rather, success in ministry. Or perhaps affirmation from other people around me -- even on Facebook -- is another! I'm also aware that my wife Fiona's healing has even been an idol to me at times. An idol is anything that so competes with God for my affections that my mood is soured if I don't get it, and so competes with God for my attention so that I'm prepared to give up time with God to seek it.

Such a definition can illuminate a fair bit of idolatry in most people's lives, and if one of God's names really is Jealous, I'd rather not carelessly enter His presence with such everyday idols stashed away somewhere in my heart. The good news though, is that God's name is also Daddy, and He's very happy to help us topple any idols so that He can be our all-sufficient, ever-increasing joy!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heavenly foretastes

I've been involved in two fairly large funerals this week, one with over 300 in attendance and one with over 500. They were for a young man and woman (by young, I mean 51 and 37 years old respectively) who had died after battles with cancer. Each of them is in heaven now, and each of them had expressed a longing to see Jesus as they faced the immediacy of their deaths. And as I officiated at one of the services last night, and then conducted the interment this morning, I couldn't help but look forward to that day when I too will get to see my Saviour face-to-face.

In fact, there are a couple of verses in Revelation that have really sharpened my sense of anticipation regarding such things. And the two phrases in these verses make it clear to me that Jesus intends for us to experience genuine foretastes of heaven -- heavenly teasers, if you will -- for those who follow Him.

Revelation 21:3 says, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man." What an amazing promise! God dwelling with us! Then in Revelation 21:23, speaking of the heavenly city where we'll one day dwell with God, it says, "its lamp is the Lamb." In other words, God's glory will illuminate it all! The Lamb of God -- Jesus -- will be so glorious to behold and He will dwell among us forever! It's verses like that that make me long for heaven. They give me hope of an indescribably wonderful eternity with an ever-loving God. That's a big encouragement at funerals like the two we've had this week. And it's a big encouragement amidst all the unpleasant things life might throw at us.

But the really encouraging part is that we don't have to wait for heaven to sample such wonderful promises! We don't have to wait for heaven for God to dwell with us or for the Lamb to give us light. God has given us heavenly foretastes here on earth, and I want to find encouragement in them. Otherwise I can end up ungrateful in this life. Jesus said in John 14:16 that the Father would send His Holy Spirit "to be with you forever." And that's not just to be near us so that we can behold Him, but that's to live inside us. That's like saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is in man." What an awesome foretaste of Revelation 21:3. And the Lamb who will be our lamp has already shone His light into our hearts "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6) and has already given us His Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)!

Yes, there's a great deal to joyfully anticipate about heaven, but there's also loads to enjoy here and now as God's kingdom comes in our hearts. I want to live in the good of the samples that God gives us of the heavenly wonders we have to look forward to!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sticking with the plot

There's a little verse in the book of Acts that jars me nearly every time I read it. It happened to me again yesterday. And once again, I didn't see it coming. As I read the verse, I felt that familiar sinking feeling of disappointment over how Paul's circumstances played out toward the end of Acts, even though deep down, I know full well that they unfolded precisely how God intended them to.

In Acts 25:11, as Paul is defending himself before Festus, he appeals to Caesar in order to avoid being taken back to Jerusalem. Then just a few days later, in Acts 26:32, King Agrippa visits Festus and hears Paul's defense, and then says privately to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar." Right there. That's the verse that leaves me feeling struck with disappointment and regret. I wonder why Paul couldn't have waited a little longer with that appeal to Caesar. He had been in custody for about two years at that point, and then only a few short days before a man comes along who sounds like he would've authorized Paul's release, Paul appeals to Caesar -- so that he must then be sent as a prisoner to Rome! Why couldn't God have gotten Agrippa there a few days earlier?! Why couldn't Paul have been released so that he would've been free to go on so many more mission trips and write so many more God-inspired letters? And my struggles with such questions are a clear indication that I've lost the plot.

In Acts 23:11, God had promised Paul that he would testify in Rome just as he had in Jerusalem. And later, in Acts 27:24, as Paul sails toward Rome, an angel tells Paul that he's not to be afraid of the storm they're in, for he will surely stand before Caesar. So that must mean that when Paul appealed to Caesar and got an all-expense-paid trip, with an armed escort all the way to Rome courtesy of the Roman Empire (instead of being released and being in danger of people trying to kill him), all things were working according to God's plans, right? So why am I bothered that Paul's appeal to Caesar seems to have prevented him from becoming a free man? It's because I don't like trouble.

I like carefree highways. I like smooth sailing. I want happy endings, with Paul getting set free and happily heading back to his home church in Antioch or strolling down some Missionary Road with his band of brothers. So I must have an idea in my head that Paul's troubles (like unjust incarceration, false accusers and ending up in a storm-tossed boat) suggest that he was in danger of missing out on God's complete will for his life. And then when I face troubles, I can take it to mean that I must be missing out on the sunshine of God's favour over my life, and that I too may be outside God's will for my life. And that not only leaves me wanting to avoid troubles (which is quite natural), but also feeling quite threatened by them (which is quite unnecessary if I'm convinced of God's goodness and sovereignty).

But my reaction to Paul's prolonged custody is not a kingdom-view of things because it simply fails to see God in it all. Instead, it's a misguided notion that God wants us as North American, 21st century followers of Christ to find our fulfillment in a comfortable trouble-free life. Our whole culture aims at such goals, and we as Christians can be drawn into that view of things. But in contrast, God promises troubles (John 16:33), allows troubles (Matthew 6:34), causes troubles (Matthew 10:34ff) and uses all things (including troubles) to work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28, 35).

And so, if I can, by God's grace, "consider it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds" (James 1:2), I will be able to show the people around me that what truly gives me satisfaction and confidence in this life is not the absence of troubles, but a good God who is with me through every one of them, turning them all for my good and for His glory!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seeing something amazing!

I'm trying to imagine a scenario. What if there was something that many world leaders and church leaders were longing to see but couldn't find? What if our prime minister, and the President of the United States, and many other world leaders of countries like China and Russia and all the E.U. nations wanted to see this one specific thing, but were somehow prevented from doing so? And what if the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and well-known evangelicals like Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Ravi Zacharias were all itching to see this special something, but couldn't?

And then -- imagine this -- what if God chose to show that special something to you? What if you suddenly found yourself staring right at it, with Jesus standing right beside you smiling and asking, "So, what do you think? Pretty amazing, eh?" (Jesus speaks in Canadian idiom).

It could be said that that's the sort of scenario Luke 10:23-24 represents. "Then turning to His disciples He said privately, 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.'" Jesus was talking there about the Gospel. The disciples had just returned from an evangelistic outing, and Jesus was talking about how they had seen the power of the Gospel over sickness and demons.

But Jesus was talking about so much more than that in light of the fact that He in the process of gradually revealing to His disciples the many amazing truths of the Good News He had come to proclaim. He was talking about the salvation and forgiveness and abundant life with Almighty God that makes Jesus' Good News so good! He was talking about being a friend of God and a child of God. He was talking about being set free from the power of sin and about becoming a new creation with a life full of purpose. If you know Jesus, then you are among the ones He's chosen to reveal His Father in heaven to through the wonderful expression and demonstration of the Gospel! Li'l ol' you and me. That makes us blessed big-time. That means we're loved.

The other day, I got to lead a whole family to Jesus in one simple conversation. In one moment, all of them were made new in Jesus. I got to see that. So I not only get to see the wonder of the Gospel realized in my own life, but in the lives of others I meet as well. Because seeing what we've seen means we've got to want to share it, like the 72 disciples that Jesus had sent out in Luke 10:1-20 and who came back rejoicing! Thankfully, that's a scenario we don't have to only imagine as we find joy in Jesus every day!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worship when things go wrong

It's been a few weeks between posts, which is unusual for me, but it's because I wanted to get a good run at putting into practice what I wrote in my previous post before adding something new. And as I write this, the theme of worship is still on my mind. Perhaps many who take a first glance at these posts on worship will feel they already have these issues settled in their lives and needn't read on. But as I was reading Job 1 recently, it became very clear to me that they weren't settled in my life.

You probably already know something of the story of Job and of how he experienced immense tragedies in his life as his children and all he owned were lost to him. His response astounds me, and here's how I'd sum up how Job responded to the death of his children and of all his livestock: God can be God and do whatever He chooses. Job 1:20 says that he "fell on the ground and worshiped" rather than curse God. Job uttered that famous phrase: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). In other words, God can do whatever He wants. Blessed be His name.

Is that how I respond to difficulties? Is my response to worship God? Often not. The troubles I've been through have been extremely tiny compared to what Job faced, and even then, my response has not always been to worship God. In fact, I can get in a snit with God if I have an unexpected car repair as well as a small appliance stop working both in the same week. And self-pity and anger can mingle together as I moan about how bad-off I am because a computer goes on the fritz. This is evident by how I've handled what's come up in the past few weeks, during which a series of very minor (and very fixable) things went wrong in our house as if God was setting me up to see what would proceed from my heart. A toaster suddenly stopped working, then a shower drain was found to be leaking into the room beneath it, then a tap started dripping, then an air compressor quit working, then our new van's radio wouldn't work, and then we found our furnace wasn't turning on in the increasingly cold nights. What next? And I'm sad to say that in the midst of such a short sequence of minor events, my responses weren't as exemplary as how Job responded to much graver circumstances. Instead of worship proceeding from my heart, there were groans and gripes, some of them directed upward.

But as I considered Job (the way Satan himself was invited to do in Job 1:8), I was provoked to wonder -- how shallow is my worship of the God I profess to trust so much? How feeble is it if it can be disrupted by such simple challenges? Is my worship actually dependent on things going smoothly -- at least to a certain degree -- in my life? Do I require blessings from God before I bow to God? I certainly hope not! But that's what my response to my circumstances suggests.

A true test of my worship is how willing am I to bow down and bless God whatever the circumstances? And as I examine the place of worship in my life these days, I need to check my heart every time troubles come my way. Each time I do, I will need God's grace to respond in worship to the God who is Lord over every difficulty I face.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Work or Worship?

September has been a busy month for me. Crazy busy. Sometimes life's like that. Busy, busy, busy. And it's times like this when my Christian walk feels more like a frantic sprint. But before I assess this past month with too much disdain, I need to remind myself that Jesus did lament the desperate need in His Father's harvest for labourors -- that is, hard workers (Matthew 9:37-38). And Jesus was such a hard worker that He said His "food" was to accomplish the "work" of His Father (John 4:34) and that "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). In other words, God sees great need for work to be done and wants us to be working too.

But that doesn't mean God spends His time scanning the earth searching for workers. That would be like God looking down here and saying, "Ah yes, there's someone who could probably put in a good effort. He looks good and strong for all the hard work I've got to get done." Instead, Jesus specifies (in the same context in which He says His food is to do God's work) that God is looking for someone else: "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him" (John 4:23). The latter part of that verse is typically lost in the shadow of the more famous phrase mentioned at the beginning of the verse. Yet the end of that verse is absolutely vital. The verse begins with Jesus defining true worship, but then He explicitly states who God is looking for as He scans the earth: God is searching for worshipers. God is looking down here saying, "Ah yes, there's someone who's heart is completely Mine. I will give her the strength to do great works in My name!" (see 2 Chronicles 16:9).

But with Jesus' great emphasis on working, as well as stating that the Father is searching for true worshipers, is it fair to say one is more important than the other? After all, isn't it true that our worship of God and our work for God are so closely intertwined that they're meant to appear indistinguishable? In other words, can I be a true worshiper of God if I'm unwilling to be a worker for Him? And can I even say I'm a worker for the Lord if I neglect to be a worshiper? To truly be one means I must truly be the other. Which would mean that a worker who worships is as valuable to God as a worshiper who works, right? And it is that very question that causes me to hesitate to equate these two characteristics of a follower of Christ because it fails to clarify the order in which I came to be both a worshiper and a worker -- and that is what I think Jesus was stressing when He said that the Father is seeking true worshipers.

Worshiping God must precede working for God. It must be so or we'll end up working in our own strength for the dim glow of our own glory eventually becoming a hard-hearted Pharisee who's forgotten the One we're working for! That's why God is seeking worshipers, whom He will then make into workers according to His strength working in us and through us (Colossians 1:29). He wants our hearts before we offer Him our hands. I'm sure that's why Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary had "chosen what is better" (Luke 10:42, NIV) when Mary chose to sit listening at Jesus' feet rather than to be so distracted by busyness.

So I now need to ask myself why I've been so busy. Is it because I'm busy working at all the things that the God I love and adore -- and listen so carefully to -- and receive all my strength from -- has asked me to do? Or is it because I think I need to work this hard for God in order to win His approval -- perhaps because I haven't found it easy to draw near to Him in worship amidst all my self-imposed busyness? And if God is seeking worshipers, what will He find in me when He finds me busily serving Him so hard?  Yikes. The answer will be in whatever the posture of my heart is as I serve Him with my hands: a worshiper of God who has become a worker for His God.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First things first

This past spring, I read a biography of Hudson Taylor. It was extremely helpful in how it turned my attention to Jesus Christ's sufficiency in all circumstances, and I highly recommend it as worthwhile reading. Today I was reminded of a few passages from that book that feel extremely relevant to me these days. My prayer is that I can put them into practice rather than simply recall that I read them! I hope that you too will find this selection of quotes from and about Hudson Taylor a great encouragement.

God came first in Hudson Taylor’s life—not the work, not the needs of China or of the mission, not his own experiences. He knew that the promise was true, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

From a practical standpoint, he knew the truth of Oswald Chambers’ statement: “God does not give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome.” And to Hudson Taylor, the secret of overcoming lay in daily, hourly fellowship with God. This, he learned, could only be maintained by personal prayer and faithful meditation on God’s Word.

With the life he lived, and its demands on his time and energy, finding opportunity for his own spiritual maintenance wasn’t easy.  But he made it a priority…

...The hardest part of a missionary career, Hudson Taylor admitted, was to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”

So he would have fully agreed with the words of Andrew Murray who wrote: “Take time. Give God time to reveal Himself to you. Give yourself time to be silent and quiet before Him, waiting to receive, through the Spirit, the assurance of His presence with you, His power working in you. Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life.”

That’s just what Hudson Taylor did. Even in the midst of many difficulties.

...Are you in a hurry, flurried, distressed? Look up! See the Man in the glory! Let the face of Jesus shine upon you—the wonderful face of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is He worried or distressed? There is no care on His brow, no least shade of anxiety. Yet the affairs we are concerned about are His as much as ours...

Flesh and heart often fail:  let them fail!  He faileth not!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 17, 2010

Let's go up!

I was quite surprised recently by the encouragement I found in the final few words of the many words written in Chronicles. Chronicles can be a discouraging book given how badly God's people behaved. But in the last two little verses, the writer speedily fast forwards the story so that he can end the book with great hope following the lengthy and tragic explanation of Judah's and Israel's spiritual decline. And it was there that four simple words caught my attention.

The final verse describes Cyrus king of Persia inviting God's people to return to Jerusalem to build the house of God. Cyrus said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up." (2 Chronicles 36:23).

Now that's an amazing thing for a pagan king to say to a conquered people, and focusing on that fact is reason enough to be encouraged by this verse. But as I finished the book, the words "Let him go up" caught my attention like never before. It seemed to me that that invitation must still stand. I paused and wondered, haven't I received that invitation as well?

I couldn't help but wonder if I'd heard an echo of this verse in the gospel. After all, isn't Jesus' invitation in John 7:37, "...let him come to Me..." an expression of the same heartfelt longing that we see at the end of Chronicles? In Chronicles, Cyrus said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth..." Then he said, "Whoever is among you of all His people... let him go up." Centuries later, in the Gospel according to Matthew, we're told that Jesus said, "All things have been handed over to me by My Father..." (Matthew 11:27). Then He said, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).

Cyrus had the authority from God to invite God's people to go up to build the house of God. And now Jesus has the authority from God the Father to invite us to come to Him to be the house of God, as God dwells in our hearts through faith in Him. The invitation stands: Let him come! Let him go up! This reminds me that when we chose to put our faith in Jesus, God "raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). In other words, as I come to Jesus each day, I am going up to be with Him. Up above my circumstances, up above this world's view of things, up above the emotional swirl that's sometimes in my heart. You see, the main reason I was taken aback by that ancient invitation "Let him go up" was because of my own emotional frustrations with my own spiritual struggles. There are days when I feel like a loser, low in faith, and can wonder if God even wants me near Him. But I can know that -- just as a people who had been disciplined for grave sins can be given an open invitation to go and build God's house -- I can be certain that a spiritually inconsistent man like myself can be invited to be God's house simply because Jesus is the King who's doing the inviting! A King who was crucified to pay the penalty for all my failures, and who's been raised to heaven to now call us up to Him.

That's why I'm encouraged by those words, "Let him go up!"  I believe it's still an invitation for today -- for right now. And I believe it's an invitation to rise above the discouragement of our troubles and to open our hearts to be a house of the living God -- Christ in us, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27).

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Opposite of Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness is a common weakness in this world.  It happens to me regularly, though it's often as harmless as a brief search for my misplaced car keys.  But forgetfulness can also take on dimensions of greater seriousness when we fail to remember a shift at work or carelessly miss a spouse's birthday.  And I was recently reminded of how much more serious it is when my forgetfulness creeps into my life with God.  In this regard, forgetfulness can be as serious as sin. And I was surprised by what the antidote appeared to be.

The Bible warns us of many expressions of sin, but God got my attention the other day as I was reading Psalm 50, and He appeared to refer to forgetfulness as a sin.  The writer of Psalm 50 is King David, and in verses 16-21, he quotes God listing many of the sins of the "wicked".  Near the end of the quote, God says, "Mark this, then, you who forget God..." (v. 22).  Who?  Who's "you"? Verse 16 had begun that quote of God with the words: "But to the wicked God says..."  In other words, those who forget God are the wicked!  And before I had a chance to think that I don't forget God, but think of Him quite often, the very next verse showed me how I could be certain that I haven't forgotten God: "The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me" (v. 23).

That suggests that if I want to avoid forgetfulness, I need to practice gratitude -- deliberate, daily, conscious expressions of gratitude to God.  Gratitude is the opposite of forgetfulness.  It's a sure way to remember how much favour God has shown us, and to remember how much we need Him.  Thanking God all the time keeps us from forgetting God in our everyday lives.  And when we "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18), it's how we can remember God in all circumstances.  By doing so, we are not only acknowledging God in every area of our life, but also glorifying Him with the wonderful "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psalm 50:14).

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A great name not found in most baby books!

There are times when I really need to hear it again. Times like when I've yelled at my kids over nothing. Or like when I've behaved like a selfish jerk with Fiona. Things said that I can't take back, an example set that makes my kids look more well-adjusted than me, and I'm left feeling like a loser that even God couldn't love.  It's times like that when I really need to hear the simple truth of what God chose to name His people despite their previous rebellion and how much He knew they'd rebel in the future: "you shall be called My Delight Is In Her" (Isaiah 62:4).  And it's times like that when I need to remember who the God of this far flung universe truly is to me: "You, O Lord, are our Father" (Isaiah 63:16).

However I've failed lately -- whatever my blunders -- however disappointed I may be with myself, I can be encouraged that because of the faith I've been given in the saving power of Jesus' death and resurrection, I am now adopted as God's beloved son and have been given the wonderful name of My Delight Is In You. Wow.  These are simple truths I need to be reminded of now and then. Reminders that God delights in me and that His love is a perfect Father's love. What an encouragement it is when I focus on Him instead of me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A lesson from Rocky

Here's a clip from a movie that I was initially quite skeptical about, but once I watched it, liked it so much that I soon bought it.  It seemed such a ridiculous premise: A beaten up old boxer who had retired long ago coming back to fight the reigning heavyweight champion (much like George Foreman's career when he won an improbable championship fight at 45 years of age!).  And yet the screenplay is so well-written that it comes across as both believable and inspiring.  Most film critics loved it, and it did better than expected at the box office.

But one scene in particular caught my attention.  So much so that I played it over and over until I had a significant part of it transcribed into my journal.  It's a conversation between Rocky and his grown son.  And for a Hollywood movie dialog, it provides a fair bit to reflect on for those of us who are sometimes afraid of what others may think of us, or who can sometimes be discouraged by adversity.

Check it out... and "keep moving forward!"



© 2010 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Good Wait

I think my wife and I have probably learned a few things about waiting in the last 20-plus years.  And I'm sure I could learn more (just ask me next time I'm in a hurry in busy traffic). But as I've read my Bible over the years, one thing I know I've learned is that there's a good kind of waiting that God seems to like.  It's not the frustrated kind, or the passive kind.  It's the hopeful and the prayerful kind.  It's the hungry kind that eagerly endures.

I'm coming to grips with the fact that waiting is an inevitable part of a life with God.  Jesus taught us that "at all times [we] ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1) even though we may need to "cry to Him day and night" (Luke 18:7) for an answer.  In Isaiah 64:4, it says that God "acts for those who wait for Him."  Though I can find such waiting to be difficult, I believe that if I do it without resentment or offense, persisting in prayer for what I'm waiting for, it can become a beautiful expression of trust that would never bloom so fully if everything in life came quick and easy.  Waiting for the Lord teaches me to focus more on God than on the things I'm asking Him for.  And waiting for the Lord makes it obvious that He is in charge rather than me.

Isaiah 64:5 then shows me what else I can be doing while I wait.  It says that God will "meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways."  That means getting on with doing God's work even as I wait for something that feels so show-stoppingly important!  Put verses four and five together and it looks like they're saying that as I joyfully get busy doing the many good deeds God has prepared for me to do, I'm expressing a trust that God will do the good deeds that I'm waiting for Him to do for me.  My wife Fiona has been amazing at putting this into practice as she has energetically and unflinchingly poured her heart out for the many kids in our church's Children's Ministry, all the while prayerfully waiting for God to do what only He can do to heal her kidneys. She's a wonderful example to me.

And if you can believe it, as I've studied this theme in God's Word, I found a gem of a definition in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (ed. R. Laird Harris)!  Check it out (the italic emphases are mine)...  "Wait [qavah]:  wait, look for, hope:  This root means to wait or to look for with eager anticipation.  Waiting with steadfast endurance is a great expression of faith.  It means enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act for the salvation of His people.  Those who wait in true faith are renewed in strength so that they can continue to serve the Lord while looking for His saving work."

Wow.  No wonder those "who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength" and "mount up with wings like eagles" (Isaiah 40:31)!  That's the good kind of waiting I want to be doing, no matter how long I need to wait.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My first job

I was walking home from Mark Hock's house, who lived just three houses down my street.  I think we were about five or six years old, and in those days, Mark and I spent many sunny summer days on our driveways racing Hot Wheels around imaginary cities.  Those Michigan summers of the late sixties/early seventies were all about having fun for us, and whether we were climbing trees, riding bikes, splashing in a pool or playing with toy dinosaurs on a porch, we had a lotta fun.

But as I headed home that day (could've been for lunch, I don't recall), I was distracted before I even got past the first house between Mark's and mine.  I could see a man I didn't recognize banging a hammer in the Mills' backyard, so I went to investigate.  I watched him for a bit before he acknowledged me.  He seemed friendly enough as he greeted me, and after about as much chit chat as any man-on-the-job would care to have with an unexpected little neighbourhood kid, he asked me to fetch him a bag of nails from the back of his truck out on the street.  I recall feeling both eager to help and flattered to be asked by this important workman, and ran with my little boy legs down that long driveway to his truck.  I stared at all the stuff in it, scanning, scanning for the desired nails.  I grabbed a small brown paper bag that seemed to match the description he had given me and ran back, hoping it was the right nails.

They seemed to be, for he received them happily.  And then something amazing happened.  He told me to stretch out my hand, and he placed one thin dime onto my palm.  I'm quite certain that my mouth must have been hanging open.  A whole ten cents!  Aside from my allowance from my parents, this was the first money I had ever received working for someone.  I don't even recall if I thanked him.  I hope I did!  I just remember my wide-eyed excitement at being given a dime for a job well done.  I clutched it in my fist as I ran home to show my mom and tell her the news:  I had just earned ten cents for fetching nails for a workman!

It was a great feeling.  That little dime made a lasting impression on me, and I'm quite sure that that carpenter had no idea how much his kindness impacted a little boy.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, July 16, 2010

Two words to set me straight

There are still times when I find myself struggling to keep an accurate idea in my head of what God truly thinks of me.  All it takes is a few failures -- or a few not-good-enoughs -- whether in my actions or my attitudes, and I can wonder if God is frowning at me.  But there are two words in Hebrews 10:17 that do a good job of getting my mind back on track with the truth: "no more".  There's something very final and complete about those two words.  But the writer to the Hebrews doesn't use those words in the way we typically do, focused on ourselves in a vain attempt at absolute self-control to get God to like us again.  His focus is on God's thoughts as he quotes God's promise: "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."  No more.  Never again.

So what does that mean if I sin?  Harsh words said in an outburst of anger -- selfishly insisting on getting my way -- a flash of pride in an unkind remark -- the lust of the eyes on a hot summer day.  Should I assume God doesn't care? That He'll turn a blind eye and pretend it didn't happen?  No.  This isn't talking about an ignoring of sin.  It's talking about not counting our sins against us.  When God looks at Ken Peters, with all my hang-ups, the sins He sees in me are something that He no longer keeps in mind in regards to who He considers me to be!

This sounds astounding -- even ridiculous when one stops to consider how much we blow it in life.  But it's possible because of the blood of Jesus that was shed for us (Hebrews 10:19).  Hebrews 10:22 says that our hearts have been "sprinkled clean" and that our bodies have been "washed with pure water."  Why would God focus on our mistakes and blunders and foul-ups in light of the amazing and eternal cleansing we have received.by His own Son's blood?

Remember:  He remembers our sins "no - more."  That is why I can be encouraged and boldly draw near -- no matter how distracted I may be by sins that God doesn't even consider a factor in His opinion of me -- with "full assurance of faith" in the One who died in my place so that I could be forgiven forever!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, June 28, 2010

No stretching required

If I want "the things above" (or heavenly things) mentioned in Colossians 3 (verses 1 and 2), it's good to remember that I don't need to stretch very far to reach them.  It's not a stretch because they're as close to me as Christ Himself! When it says, "If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1), I need to remember that being "raised up with Christ" means that I am already right there "where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God".

Many people reading this verse may imagine a picture of us down here on earth straining to reach up to Jesus and "the things above" way up there in heaven. But that's not a true picture of reality for a Christian.  When we consider this verse, we need to remember Ephesians 2:6 which tells us that God "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus".  So all those "things above" are actually right at our fingertips!  Easily within reach.  And if we're prepared to "keep seeking" them, we should find that they are quite easy to grasp and that as we do so, our lives will better reflect the fact that we're living "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 2:6) as ones who are "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

These verses in Colossians also urge us to "set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth" (Col. 3:2).  That means setting my mind on where I'm seated, and especially on who I'm seated with, as well as on all the abundant life-giving blessings that come with being in Christ.  That's a daily choice to set our minds on such things.  In fact, it's often a moment-by-moment choice that helps us to live in the wonderful reality of being united with Christ. And it helps me to remember that it's not such a stretch to lay hold of "the things above" that I so eagerly set my mind on!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Growing in faith

How on earth did Abraham keep believing God for promises that took 25 years to be fulfilled?  Abraham had no written Scriptures to read and be encouraged by.  There were no biographies written about saints who had gone before him to read and be inspired by. He was surrounded by a pagan culture with no faith community to support him through those 25 years of waiting (Genesis 12:1-4; 21:1-5).  And the longer things took, the more impossible it must have seemed that that promise would ever come to pass.  In fact, all those years of waiting would have given Abraham plenty of opportunities to second-guess God and to wonder, "Did God really say...?"

And yet, Romans 4:20 says "with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief" (NASB) or "no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God" (ESV).  How did he do that?!  Or perhaps I should be asking about how -- with the myriad of spiritual supports and encouragements that I'm surrounded by -- can I so easily fall prey to struggles with unbelief or a lack of trust in God?  Obviously I have something to learn from Abraham.

Paul tells us in Romans 4:20 how Abraham kept believing amidst so many obstacles:  "he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God" (ESV).  It was glorifying God that cultivated his convictions and strengthened his faith.  In other words, he firmly focused more on God than on the obstacles.

This means I've got to be ready to praise God amidst any circumstances, thereby declaring that I don't believe any circumstances can trump God.  Praise is the language of faith.  This means exalting and worshiping God regardless of delays or disappointments. And as I do all that from a sincere heart, this verse is proof to me that God will then grow in my perceptions and my faith in Him will rise.  That is the way to grow in faith so that no distrust will make me waver concerning the promise of God!  Praise and worship of God regardless of what's going on around me. That's a choice we face daily, and it's a choice with a certain outcome: increased faith.  Not to mention, wonderful promises fulfilled!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, June 18, 2010

What a scene!

There are times when I need to re-examine my expectations of Jesus.  And recently, as I read Matthew 15:30-31, I felt the need to do so again.  It's quite an amazing scene.  And I don't think I've ever actually paused long enough at these two brief verses to consider what it would've been like to be there.  It says that "the crowd marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking and the blind seeing" (Matthew 15:31).

Imagine the excitement! The exclamations being shouted and the joy and amazement of all the people!  Over there is a woman excitedly speaking for the first time in years -- people crowding around her, grinning and laughing at the wonderful sound of her voice.  And over there is an old man who'd been maimed for years, surrounded by his awe-struck family, joyfully demonstrating all the ways he can freely move about, and how he can lift his giggling grandchildren high in the air without pain.  And there is a man who'd previously been paralyzed, running around a bunch of laughing people, chasing children, everyone overjoyed to see him on his feet for the first time since a childhood accident. And closer to Jesus, who is smiling happily, is a young woman who is crying with joy as she sees the smiling tear-stained face of her father for the very first time.  And there are others celebrating additional miracles before a crowd who is glorifying God at the sight of so many laughing, cheering, crying, hysterical people!

It's a stunning snapshot of Jesus' ministry.  Heaven invading earth.  So do I believe God calls us to create such scenes?  Or am I a cessationist at heart when faced with the idea of seeing miracles on such a grand scale as this?  I'm challenged by it, to be sure.  But more so, I'm excited by it!  Because there's no reason to believe that God wouldn't want to create the same scene today as His children take up their delegated authority to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." (Matthew 10:8).  Through our obedience to such commands, heaven can continue to invade this world!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Divine Appointment amidst the Sewage (church bulletin cover)

Eighty out of 100 of the units at a Manitoba Housing complex had recently had their basements flooded with at least 12 inches of sewage-polluted water.  As I checked the basement of a single-mom whose social worker had called Gateway Church asking if we could help get the sewage-soaked stuff out of her basement, the smell was unbearable.  I quickly got back up the stairs and told her I'd let her know.

Once I'd confirmed enough volunteers to do the job, I called to tell her that we would do it.  When we arrived the next evening, I found a sign on her door saying she was at the complex's community centre, so I went to look for her.  The centre was full of life and conversation as people crowded into a room to enjoy a dinner graciously provided by ladies from Calvary Temple.  And there she was with a plate of food in hand, grinning when she saw we'd arrived.  She quickly stepped out to open up her house to us.  But as I followed behind her, another lady called out to ask, "Could you clean up my basement to?"  I had no idea how long the first basement would take, so I simply asked for her name and address and said I'd let her know.

It was clear from the start that we had a big job on our hands as we donned our face masks, rubber gloves and gumboots and headed downstairs.  The smell was overpowering, but as we picked away at the dripping clothes, the soggy boxes and the crumbling particle board, we encouraged one another in the work!  Occasionally Ron would shout something like, "This is what we were made for!"  The camaraderie grew as the work progressed, and after about an hour, the job was done.  There were smiles all around as the masks came off, and the biggest smile was that of the mom we had just helped as she thanked us.

But what of the other basement we'd been asked about?  We checked it out before deciding, but of course, we agreed to do it and went back at it!  And it was soon clear that this resident was finding the losses from this flood very hard.  It became apparent why as we began carrying up items that reminded the mother living there of a 25-year old daughter who had died of cancer only two years earlier.  There were pictures on hard drives that may have been damaged, and tears were welling up in the eyes of both the mom and her other daughter at the thought of losing those memories, as well as other special items that had to be thrown away.

Once that second basement was finished, we asked if we could pray for the mom and daughter.  And as Mary prayed, the mom broke down and sobbed as the pain of what she'd been through came to the surface.  But the gratitude she expressed to us, as she hugged each of us, her eyes still wet with tears, clearly revelaed how much Mary's prayer had comforted and touched her heart.  And to think of the "chance" way we met her while looking for the first lady in that noisy, crowded hall.

You could think of this as a pretty smelly and messy way to love Winnipeg.  But amidst all the sewage and the losses, the Lord had singled out a broken-hearted mom who needed His love, led us to her, and helped us to express His love and comfort to her and her daughter.  God is good.  And He loves Winnipeg -- each and every one of us.  And the smell of sewage won't even keep Him away!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, May 28, 2010

A closed door now opened wide!

The gospel is always meant to be an encouragement.  It's never meant to feel ordinary, and when it begins to feel familiar, God has a way of showing it off from a fresh angle so that we're encouraged by it yet again.

That happened to me recently.  I was reading a very familiar Bible passage, Romans 3 (which I've written about before), and I suddenly felt freshly impacted by how a door that had once been closed to me is now wide open.  Not just any door, but the door to God.  And as I read verse 20, I felt sobered -- and even alarmed -- by the reminder of how desperate my position once was in regards to God.  It says, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight".  Zero.  None.  No one will be justified -- that is, declared righteous -- by such means.  And the means that that verse is speaking of is a life of trying to measure up to a code of rights and wrongs -- trying to live right.  It's that kind of trying, with all the sweat and effort and good intentions we can muster, that leaves people staring at a tightly closed door to God.  "No human being will be justified" in God's sight that way.

But how much time do I spend trying so hard to do right so I can measure up in God's eyes?  And how much time do I waste worrying about my intentions and my limitations?  Too much.  And then I'm reminded that the only thing that such toil leads to is a closed door -- to an absolute "No..." -- no entry, no admission, no acceptance.  A big NO from God.


That is why those words, "But now..." in Romans 3:21 are among the most encouraging words in all of the Bible! Because as I continued reading, I felt an excitement grow as I was once again reminded of how God has swung open a door for us to approach Him through.  If we long to know God, the door to Him is wide open for those who trust in what Jesus has done for those who can never do enough!  For even though "no human being" is justified by their own efforts, "all" whose efforts fall short (3:23) "are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24).

What a contrast.  "No human being" is justified, compared to "all" are justified by God's grace who receive what Christ has done for us "by faith" (3:25)!  An impossibility has become possible for those who trust Jesus.  A door to God that was locked tight is wide open in Jesus!  And it takes no effort on my part to open it, because it's Jesus who did all that was necessary to open the door for us to truly know God.

This reminded me once again of the wonderful fact that all God invites us to do is to believe what Jesus has done on the cross for us and to receive Jesus into our hearts.  There are many people seeking God who desperately need to hear these wonderfully reassuring truths -- truths that thrill us when we first embrace them, and that are meant to continue to encourage us even after knowing them for years!

© 2010 by Ken Peters