Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do not say...

You got fears? I got fears. I shrink back from things all the time. What's up with that? I serve a God far bigger than anything I'll ever face, and yet I keep getting scared of the challenges God sets before me.

Jeremiah did too. God said to him, "I have appointed you a prophet to the nation (Jeremiah 1:5). Big job. So understandably, Jeremiah responds with, "Alas, Lord God! I don't know how to speak, because I'm a youth" (Jer. 1:6). But God doesn't back down and His response to Jeremiah is firm: "Do not say, 'I am a youth'" (Jer. 1:7). In other words, "Your objection is all about you. Do not object based on who you are, but remember who appointed you." Because the next thing God said was, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you" (Jer. 1:8).

So what has God asked of me that's left me nervous and objecting? And what's my objection typically focused on? "Alas, Lord God! I'm too insecure. I'm not clever enough. I'm too socially clumsy. (etc.)" Every objection is all about me, and oblivious to who God is. And God's response to me is the same as His response to Jeremiah: "Do not say, 'I'm too insecure' or 'I'm not clever enough.'" If Almighty God promises to be with me, then what is there to fear? Do I trust Him to provide for my security (which is in Christ)? Do I trust Him to give me His wisdom when I ask for it (which He promises to do)? Do I trust Him to help me when I choose to follow Him (which He'll do because He's always with me)?

The choice is clear: I can worry about who I am -- because I've forgotten who I am in Christ -- or trust God for who He is -- because I've remembered what He did for me at the cross. "For He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things!" (Romans 8:32)

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, February 19, 2010

Promises for those who've blown it

Isaiah 40 is so familiar to many Christians because of how often its many wonderful promises are quoted. Remember this one?... "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). Or how about... "He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; he will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young" (Isaiah 40:11)? And then there's... "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

But how well do I remember that this chapter was written to a people who were living in exile as punishment for their idolatry? These verses weren't written for the faithful but for the chastised. They weren't intended for those who had been working hard for the Lord but for those who had been disciplined hard for their sins. Do I realize that the wonderful promises of Isaiah 40 were meant for the miserable rather than the mature?

That's why it begins with "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned" (Isaiah 40:1-2). No Christian who has been in God's dealings due to their sins should feel unworthy of the promises of this passage. It was written specifically for such people! Isaiah 40 was written to help repentant sinners to see that there is hope.

So as God has seen fit to address a persistent sin in my life this past week, and as that has left me discouraged and tempted to feel like a failure, it's really worth remembering that those who "mount up with wings like eagles," and those whom God helps to "run and not be weary," are the very same people God came to comfort after they needed some serious discipline for their sins! For He may bring us low, but only so that He can lift us up!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, February 15, 2010

An awesome combination!

Power and grace. What an amazingly awesome combination when an infinite amount of each of them are mixed together as God's gift to us! God truly wows me when I read about "the immeasurable greatness of his power" in Ephesians 1:19 and about "the immeasurable riches of his grace" a few verses later in Ephesians 2:7. Immeasurable! Both are totally evident in what Jesus did for us on the cross (amazing grace) and in how God raised him from the dead and seated him on heaven's throne (awesome power).

But as I pause and consider the incredible scale of God's grace and power, I wonder how evident it is in the routines of my everyday life that I've been on the receiving end of such glorious gifts. Does my life appear as though it's been touched by "the surpassing greatness" of God's power and "the surpassing riches" of God's grace (as the NASB describes them)? Surpassing what? Surpassing our weaknesses. Surpassing our understanding. Surpassing our expectations. Surpassing our mistakes. Surpassing our abilities. Surpassing our insecurities. Mixed together, God's grace -- meaning his unmerited favour -- and God's power -- meaning his unlimited strength -- ought to radically change our lives, utterly altering our perspectives on what we see in this world and what we see in the mirror! They ought to fill us with complete confidence in the One who is "far above all rule and authority" (Eph. 1:21) and with genuine joy at having been shown his kindness (Eph. 2:7).

Though I can't possibly comprehend the sheer scale of these divine attributes, I have tasted enough of each to be made a new creation and a minister of the good news of Jesus (Eph. 3:7). And the key to living in the good of them -- when challengers rise up amidst the troubles of this world -- is to continually remind myself that the God whom I've invited to live within me and lead me everyday is the same God who is immeasurably powerful, gracious and kind!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A little food humour after a night out...

I took Fiona out for dinner last night. It's not something we do that often and we really enjoyed ourselves. Time to talk and laugh, and of course there's all that gazing into each other's eyes. Yes, we're in love. Then as the waiter brought us our complimentary bread, Fiona and I both remembered some lines that we'd heard from a funny-man named Jim Gaffigan to do with restaurants and food. Here are a couple samples from him...

"I enjoy bread, but when I go out to dinner, suddenly I crave bread. 'Bread! They got bread here? We should have bread at home. We've gotta get the recipe for bread.' You ever go to a restaurant and eat the whole basket of bread? And you still want more? It's kind of awkward asking the waiter for seconds on bread. 'Yeah, can we have some more of that free bread? And you can cancel my entree; I'm just gonna load up on the bread.'"

"I'm moving a little slow tonight. I had a Hot Pocket for dinner. I buy those things, but I've never eaten a Hot Pocket and been like, 'I'm glad I ate that.' I'm always like, 'I'm gonna die! I paid for that? Did I eat it or rub it on my face? My back hurts!' I was looking at a box of Hot Pockets; they have a warning printed on the side. It's like, 'Warning: You just bought Hot Pockets! Hope you're drunk or heading home to a trailer, you hillbilly. Enjoy the next NASCAR event.' You never really see them on the menu when you go out to dinner, you know. 'Um yeah, I'll have the Caesar salad and a Hot Pocket.' There's also the vegetarian Hot Pocket for those who don't want to eat meat but still want diarrhea."

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Removing a stone in my soul

Someone who writes as much about "perseverance and trust" as I do (see index in right column), must have a problem with it, right? Yep. You betcha. And those of you who read my previous post know that God recently exposed some other issues in my life that took me by surprise. Well, due to how troubling the combination of all that felt, I decided to take a personal prayer retreat at a monastery for a few days. I needed to get to the bottom of what God was trying to say to me. I spent considerable time in silence and in solitude, reading and praying.

And I heard God. In fact, as I was reading something in one particular book (if you'll permit another stone metaphor), I heard the familiar clang of a spade that's been aggressively thrust into the earth and has hit a significant stone. I was reading the chapter on Psalm 130 in Eugene Peterson's book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Peterson says that "the two great realities of Psalm 130 [are that] suffering is real [and] God is real." And the psalmist speaks of suffering in the context of a prayer to a God who is clearly understood "as a personal and concerned being."

"Eight times the name of God is used in the psalm [in eight verses]. We find, as we observe how God is addressed, that he is understood as one who forgives sin, who comes to those who wait and hope for him, who is characterized by steadfast love and plenteous redemption, and who will redeem Israel. God makes a difference. God acts positively toward his people. God is not indifferent. He is not rejecting. He is not ambivilant or dilatory. He does not..." -- CLANG! Here was the word at which my shovel hit the stone in me. I had been underlining that paragraph with my pen and suddenly stopped underlining. I paused. I stared at the word. I stared at Psalm 130. No, I thought, I don't see that idea in this psalm. I moved on.

The next day, as I read from a second book and sat reflecting on what I'd just read, it felt as though the Lord reminded me of that stone in my soul that I'd hit with my shovel the day before. It felt like God was asking me, "Why did you stop underlining when you hit that word?" I said I didn't think Psalm 130 supported the use of that word. "Yeah right. Look again." I looked again. The psalm definitely supported the use of the word I was stuck on. "Okay, so why did you stop underlining at that point?" I admitted that it was because I didn't believe it. Ah hah! That was the issue, right there. Unbelief. And what was the word? This is the phrase at which I stopped underlining: "He does not act arbitrarily in fits and starts." CLANG! I found myself struggling to believe that God's love wasn't arbitrary.

By arbitrary, I was thinking random, unplanned or even careless. And I began to realize that in light of my past experiences -- both distant past and recent -- I've come to see God's love as arbitrary. Most recently, I've thought of God's lack of action on my wife's behalf as so unexplainable that it felt arbitrary and uncaring. And because God's answers to my prayers didn't seem consistent with what I saw Him doing in the Bible, I felt that God's answers seemed arbitrary rather than according to any divine plan. And of course, that simply means I was thinking that God is not good. And of course, that means I was in a spiritual danger zone as I recalled the warnings of verses like Hebrews 3:12... "Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."

The second book I'd been reading was Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper, and in that book, Piper emphasizes that one of Satan's primary strategies is to convince us, amidst the suffering in this world, that God is not good. It seemed as though I'd stepped into that very trap, and the pain and anxiety it was causing me was resulting in an anger and cynicism and negativity that was coming out in various areas of my life.

But Piper's point in that book is to emphasize something far more helpful. And what Piper wrote now leaves me far less inclined to interpret God's responses to my prayers for my wife as arbitrary. After reading his book, I was ready to repent of the lie I've believed about His love and to embrace the God who has shown His love quite convincingly in the suffering He endured for us.

He writes: "When Joseph tried to do his very best, it went wrong. But God was never against him. Never. As a Christian you're interpreting your situation wrongly if you think that. If you cast yourself on the Lord, if you trust him, if you love him, he's going to work everything together for your good, if it takes thirteen years or twenty-seven years... You can always look at Jesus hanging on the cross and ask, is that infinite worth not sufficient to cover my sin? Is it not sufficient to cover my problem? Is it not sufficient to give evidence that he will help me? Just fall there... The bottom-line answer is: Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Only in looking to Christ and the cross does Romans 8:16 powerfully happen. 'The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.'" And God's love for His children is certainly not arbitrary. It is always, and ever will be, extravagant!

© 2010 by Ken Peters