Friday, January 29, 2010

Avoiding offense with Jesus

This past week, a close friend of mine turned over a stone in my life to see what was under it, and it wasn't pretty. I'm still trying to sort out what we found under there. Despite all the recent things I'd written in this blog, I was shocked at the struggles that were obviously still going on in my heart. And though this post isn't about all that appeared to be under that stone, there is something that the Lord has recently shown me in His Word that I think is related to it all.

When John the Baptist's disciples came to ask Jesus, on behalf of John, if Jesus was the Messiah they'd been waiting for, Jesus gave a strange answer. He listed the many wonderful and miraculous deeds He'd been doing -- healing the sick, raising the dead and preaching good news to the poor -- and then Jesus said, "And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me" (Luke 7:23).

To the modern reader, it can seem strange that Jesus would be concerned with issuing a warning about offense in the context of such wonderfully amazing good deeds. Surely Jesus was listing all these good deeds to make it clear to John that only someone sent by God could accomplish them. So why the concern regarding potential offense? I've only know one way to answer that question. If John had the typical Jewish idea of what the Messiah was expected to come and do -- deliver Israel from Roman oppression -- he would have been vulnerable to being disappointed by Jesus's lack of action in this regard. And if Jesus had actually dared to tell John about His plan to be killed by the Romans, such a thought would have surely been offensive to John.

And though I've long understood this story in that way, and have often read it with an air of familiarity, contentedly smug in my superior perspective to John's ancient views, I'm vaguely aware of my own vulnerability to offense with Jesus regarding similar issues. It's 2010 now, and Jesus still hasn't delivered my wife of kidney disease. Sure I can see Him doing loads of good things in this world -- but like John, I'm capable of minimizing all of that in light of what I don't see Him doing. I'm capable of being offended because Jesus hasn't done what I thought He ought to have done by now! I'm capable of being distracted by unmet expectations.

But it's not Jesus' job to meet my expectations -- not in this or any area of my life -- and I'll be blessed if I don't take offense with Him over that. It's good to have expectations, but it's also good to hold them with open hands and with an open mind. God does things in His way, in His timing, according to His plan. That was true in John the Baptist's day, and it's true today. And the sooner I embrace that amidst all the hopes that I have, the more blessed I will be as God gradually reveals His plans to me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, January 15, 2010


The last installment of a brief series of personal reflections on how I feel God has been posturing me for this new decade. Nothing profound. Just an honest and vulnerable look at where I'm at and who God is revealing Himself to be to me.

My wife Fiona has been looking for a specific kind of wall hanging for our front landing. She wants to hang the word Believe on the wall we see as we come and go through our front door (...and of course, she has a very specific style in mind that's made finding the right word Believe a bit of a challenge!).

The word believe can at times seem either ridiculous or inspiring, or both, depending on your circumstances. And from a Biblical perspective, it doesn't appear that God always wants to direct our lives in such a way that it's easy to believe. A good example of this is the very first place we see the word believe in the Bible. It says of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, "And he believed the Lord..." That phrase in that context flies in the face of all reason, of all biological realities, and of simple common sense. Picture it: Abraham and Sarah were very old and had no children, and God visits Abraham to tell him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars! Abraham's response is what makes him the father of our faith: he believed God.

I don't know about you, but I don't find believing God in the face of extreme odds -- in the face of stiff opposition -- in the face of uncontrollable uncertainties -- in the face of great hindrances -- in the face of impossibilities easy. In fact, I often end up in unbelief when facing such circumstances. But not Abraham. He believed God when promised something that looked impossible. And even in the midst of his struggles to trust God, as details in the next couple chapters reveal (Genesis16:3-4 and 17:18), Abraham still chose to believe what God had promised him.

Believe. I want to get that through my head and into my heart. I'm a so-called "believer" on account of my belief in Jesus Christ as my Saviour, so can I be a believer in God's goodness and love as I walk with Jesus through hard times? Believe. That's what I want to do. "And I believed the Lord..." I want that to be said of me when people look at my life. By God's grace, I want to believe God's Word, God's love, God's promises, and God's prophetic words. I want to believe despite odds, despite obstacles, despite opposition, despite circumstances, despite delays, despite doctor's reports, despite popular opinion and despite myself.

May God help me to believe Him to be who He is and to do what only He can do. May God help me to believe Him for more than what my flesh would be quite ready to settle for. Because the God I know is truly worthy of such confidence.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

To be owned or on my own: Postures for a new decade (part 3)

A brief series of personal reflections on how I feel God has been posturing me for this new decade. Nothing profound. Just an honest and vulnerable look at where I'm at and who God is revealing Himself to be to me.

I recently noticed that a friend of mine describes his religious views on Facebook in a unique way: "Jesus owns me." Wow. I've never really thought of summing up my religious views like that. But having seen it now, I'm stirred by that three-word description. And I think it touches something in my soul that I want it to touch. Because as this new year begins, I too want to be that sold out to Jesus.

Ownership has its implications. If I own something, then I have the final say regarding what that something is to be used for. With ownership comes authority. And 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that God owns me. This is a little more extreme than simply being a soldier under orders (as in 2 Timothy 2:3-4). This is the idea of being a slave. It says in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that I was "bought with a price." I've heard that phrase used in reference to a person who is on the slave blocks being redeemed by someone else who has paid a price for that person to be freed. But that's not what that phrase is about in this passage, because it immediately follows another phrase -- "You are not your own." It seems to me that this passage is more about the ownership of a slave rather than the redemption of a slave. And with ownership of that slave comes authority over that slave.

This all sounds so familiar. Is this any different than simply calling Jesus my Lord? No, it's the same. But what makes it stand out in my mind is that I feel more accustomed to calling Jesus my Lord than calling myself Jesus' slave. That's because I'm much more familiar with thinking of myself as Jesus' friend or as God's son, which are also true of who I am. But if I'm a Christian, then it's worth remembering that God actually owns me. And if He owns me, then He has the final say over what I do with my life and my day, and I'm not meant to argue. I'm His. I'm not my own.

That's totally applicable to what I do in response to His Word, to daily decisions I face, and to what I do with my future. A slave must die to his or her own preferences or plans. As a slave, my future is no longer mine. Today is no longer mine. And if I don't like that, the only alternative is to be on that slave block, unredeemed and on my own, destined to be owned by my sins until I die in them (Romans 6:16). I don't want that, and it's knowing that the One who bought me is also the One who adopts me (Romans 8:15) that makes me eager to be owned by such a wonderful God!

The Apostle Paul sometimes introduced himself as a slave of Christ at the beginning of his New Testament letters. And I know that he understood the implications of ownership. And if I'm to be as eager to embrace God's will for my life as Paul was, I too need to understand that there's more joy to be found as God's slave than in trying to find satisfaction in the freedom of pursuing my own preferences.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Gifts or the Giver: Postures for a new decade (part 2)

A brief series of personal reflections on how I feel God has been posturing me for this new decade. Nothing profound. Just an honest and vulnerable look at where I'm at and who God is revealing Himself to be to me.

God is using a story I recently read in Luke, chapter 5 to help me to evaluate my priorities. In fact, the conclusion of this story never ceases to startle me. The end of the story seems more amazing to me than the great catch of fish that happens in the middle. It all begins with Jesus telling Peter to put out into deep water to let down his nets for a catch. Peter protests but complies. The nets then fill with fish to the point of breaking, and Peter calls for help to haul in the fish. Peter then falls down in awe before Jesus. Then Jesus says that from now on Peter will be catching men. Then it says Peter, James and John brought their boats in to land -- and here's the part that startles me -- "they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:11). All those fish! They just walked away from a bonanza that they'd probably always dreamed of. All they'd ever known was catching fish, and they knew what a net full of fish would fetch in the market. And they'd finally hit the jackpot! But they just walked away from the whole catch. They wanted to be with Jesus far more than they wanted the great gift He had just given them.

Now I'm afraid that the reason I find that conclusion so startling is because it doesn't jive with my natural sensibilities. I think, why would they do that? At least sell the fish first! And I'm sure that that means there must be things in this world that I'd rather not walk away from if Jesus asked me to. I have to ask myself, would I do the same thing? What if I applied this to something important to me? What have I spent years seeking after, and what have I put a great deal of value in when I've found it? If Jesus gave me a sudden and bountiful supply of that something, but then asked me to turn my back on it in order to follow Him, would I do so without hesitation? I believe I'd only be able to if I were as awestruck with Jesus as the first disciples were.

But I need to make this more personal in order to properly evaluate my heart. What if Jesus led me to a garage-full of old 1st-edition, mint condition, used books that was being sold by its owner, $1 for the entire lot of them?! Then what if -- as Jesus began walking away -- He said that from now on I'd be collecting souls instead of books? Would I want to follow Him? Would I leave behind that garage full of books to follow Him? I believe I would. But I wonder if I'd be looking over my shoulder at the great goldmine I was leaving behind more than looking forward in awe at the One I'd chosen to follow.

I'm conscious of many material things in this world competing for my affections. Has that left me too often focused on some great catch of a legitimate earthly pursuit that's captured my passions? As I get excited from time to time, what does it look like I value most to the casual observer? Is my focus on the things I'd love for God to suddenly drop into my hands, or on the only One who is truly capable of satisfying my soul?

As I begin this new decade, I desperately need to see that all those fish, and all those books, and any other pursuit of this world that can get me excited are of absolutely no significance compared to knowing the One who is clearly capable of filling my life with many good things -- but who would rather fill me with Himself. In 2010, I want to see Jesus in a way that makes any other pursuit seem pale. And as I seek Him, may He fill me with such awe, that I'd give up anything to live for Him.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, January 8, 2010

Unbelief or Continual Hope: Postures for a new decade (part 1)

A brief series of personal reflections on how I feel God has been posturing me for this new decade. Nothing profound. Just an honest and vulnerable look at where I'm at and who God is revealing Himself to be to me.

I didn't want to begin this new year at a faith-deficit. But despite my best intentions, after watching my wife's troubled health go on for another year, I have to admit that I've found it difficult lately to continue believing for a miracle. Should I just let it go and simply learn to accept her illness as an unalterable reality? Or does God want me to still seek Him for the miraculous, trusting Him in how and when He answers?

And as I've considered all this, I began the year reading the Gospel of Luke. I was immediately faced with the familiar story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (a story I've referred to before in this blog). Though we're told "they were both righteous before God" (Luke 1:6), Zechariah sounds like he too had grown unexpectant of an answer to a long-sought-for prayer for his wife's barrenness to be healed. So much so, that he responded rather poorly when an angel actually showed up to tell him that his prayers were to be answered. Zechariah's response: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (Luke 1:18). There was enough unbelief in his words -- and perhaps even his tone -- that the angel Gabriel struck him mute until the angel's words came to pass.

Imagine having so much skepticism or doubt that one would have the cheek to address an angel that way! Yet I can't help but wonder how much that sounds like me in how -- after all the years of disappointing test results -- I struggle with doubts as I read what the Bible says about healing. I feel like a "Yeah, right" has grown in my soul to do with Fiona's healing. And there's no way I want to go through 2010 with such unbelieving thoughts bouncing around in my head. God's plan may be to heal Fiona tomorrow. Is my response going to be, "How shall I know this? Prove it!"? No! Rather, I want God to help me to enter 2010 as expectant as I ever have been, eager for a miracle and trusting God in whatever He chooses to do! Just as C.S. Lewis says of Aslan, with God's timetable, all times are soon. And by God's grace, I will continue to hope and pray for a miracle for my beautiful wife and for anyone else I meet in need of a miracle!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Summing up

Looking back on the past year and looking forward to the year ahead, I wonder how to express what I've learned or want to remember, and how I'd sum up such things in preparation for the coming year.

I wondered that as I read Psalm 117 near the end of 2009. Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm in the Bible. It's two verses. Seventeen words in Hebrew. Some psalmist long ago must have figured that those few words summed things up quite tidily. And I can't help but think that the few thoughts of this psalm are a helpful way for me to keep things in perspective too. After all, when a divinely-inspired psalmist only uses 17 words to express what God has put on his heart, you'd expect him to choose his themes carefully.

As I reflect on the year we've just been through and the year to come, I'm not sure how I'd be able to limit myself to 17 words if I were writing a psalm about it all. I expect I'd want to get into a little contrasting of my situations or struggles with how God fits into it all. Like, "Though I..., God is..." That's because I can sometimes think about myself a great deal more than about God.

But there's no room for that in Psalm 117. When the psalmist boils things down to 17 Hebrew words, his focus is on God. And most of what he says in reference to us as people is in the imperative: commands to praise God. He commands everyone -- "all nations" and "all peoples" -- to praise God. In fact, that was so important that he even felt the need to repeat it three times amidst his 17 words! That's telling if I'm trying to see what's important by what this economizing psalmist chose to focus on in this tiny psalm.

The rest of the psalm explains why God is worthy of praise: "For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever." It's encouraging to note that this is the only other way in which the few words of this psalm refer to us as people -- as the recipients of a faithful God's steadfast love. Encouraging yes, but that doesn't mean we're the focus of this psalm. We're simply the admirers and the worshipers of a wonderful God who has chosen to focus on us!

If that's what I choose to pin to my wall or stick on my fridge in 2010, I'll be doing well. Amidst health issues and work challenges, and amidst my own personal failings, Psalm 117 provides me with a needed reminder: Focus on God. He is worthy of praise -- His love for us is great and He is always faithful! That's an appropriate way to remember 2009, and a worthy focus for 2010. I want it to sum up how I choose to think and live as we embark upon this brand new year.

© 2010 by Ken Peters