Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Blog that ate up all my free time

It's my blog's second birthday today!  Yep.  It's been two years and 163 posts since I began this little online spiritual journal.  And I'd like to believe that it hasn't all been a complete waste of time.  I've enjoyed the opportunity it's given me to write, and I hope others have enjoyed reading what I've written.

A year ago, I reflected on the recurring themes that had appeared in my blog up until that point, and for the most part, I find that the same major themes still stand out a year later (with a few new additions).

But here at the two-year mark, I find myself reflecting back on what my original reasons were in starting this blog.  Why would I spend so much time carefully crafting sentences as I share about my struggles and the lessons that I'm learning in life?

Well, the primary reason is because I love to write, period. Regardless of whether people read what I write or not, I feel an inner compulsion to write my thoughts down.  It feels like a need, and can grow so strong that it's difficult to restrain.  It wants to fill all my free time, rob me of my sleep-time, encroach upon my family-time, and even creep into my work-time.  It truly is like The Blob!

But in addition to that, there are four other reasons why I make time to blog (and I'm grateful to a blogger who has gone before me for the thought he's given to what makes blogging a worthwhile exercise).
  1. To be known...  As I mention in the "Who is this guy?" link above, "I began this blog because I wanted to share with others from the things I'm learning form God."  That often means sharing vulnerably about my struggles in life, but it also means sharing about encouraging things that God is helping me to learn.  Whichever the case, my desire is that those who read my posts will get to know me personally rather than simply the things I'm learning.
  2. To interact...  I enjoy seeing people face-to-face, but a blog is a great way to interact with others in a much more convenient way.  There's room for dialog in the comments option beneath each of my posts, and I welcome people's feedback so that we can learn from each another in this blog.
  3. To recommend...  Every so often, I get so excited about something that I want to recommend it to others.  I've even created a Recommendations category that readers can click on in the index (in the column to the right).  Such posts might be about anything --a book, an opportunity, a charity or even a place.  If I've found something helpful or enjoyable, I want to share it with you!
  4. To teach...  This is simply about me wanting to use this blog to share some of the brief insights I sometimes receive from the Lord during my times spent with Him.  Such lessons may come as I read my Bible, but can also come up as I simply read the news or a book.
With that in mind, I welcome you to continue reading this blog and to leave a comment now and then to let me know what you're thinking!

And in celebration of my blog's second birthday, you're welcome to take a minute to watch a few classic scenes from the second installment of the original "Blob" movie...

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fenceposts of our Lives

Being someone who preaches once in awhile, I sometimes wonder how much people remember from the sermons I preach.  You'd expect a preacher to feel that way.  Because if my sermons are meant reflect the heart of God, I'd obviously want people to remember enough to apply it to their everyday lives.  And besides that, if you knew how many hours I spend preparing messages, you'd understand why I'd be eager for them to make a lasting impression.  No one wants to fail at something they work so hard at.  But the truth is, many of us -- myself included -- forget the Sunday sermon before we're even eating our cereal on Monday morning.

But every so often, something sticks.  Like the sermon illustration I heard over 35 years ago as a ten-year old boy.  It was probably summertime when there was no Sunday school.  There I was, my feet dangling as I sat in those big wooden pews, listening to an adult Sunday morning message.  I recall sometimes being so bored in those adult meetings that I spent more time counting the huge wooden beams in the cathedral-style ceiling than listening to the details of the 30-40 minute messages.  But on one Sunday morning, something caught my attention.

The gentleman preaching was Pastor Hanneman of the First Baptist Church of Royal Oak.  He was a caring man who loved children, and I was no stranger to him.  He always seemed to have time for kids.  If I ran up to him, he would stop whatever he was doing and lift me up high.  When he set me down, I'd happily run off, satisfied that I had just been affirmed by the closest person to God my little mind knew of.

I don't remember the Bible passage he was speaking about that memorable morning, but it was probably something like, "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him..." (Psalm 32:1-2).  Pastor Hanneman described our sins as being like nails in a fencepost.  Sins pierce us and hurt us, and God sees that happening from His heavenly perspective, looking down on our lives from above. It's as though God's perspective is straight above the fenceposts of our lives, and He sees those nails sticking straight out of the post.  Meanwhile, people all around us are fenceposts as well, and we can see each other's sins from a sideways perspective.  But when we go to God in repentance, God reaches down and pulls those painful nails out from us.  And from that point forward, He sees those sins no more, and nor does He even see a trace of them, just as you'd see no trace of a nail having been in a fencepost when looking down at it from above.  All around us though, are people who can see the scars from where those nails once were, and they may have nail-scars themselves.  The question is, will we judge one another by the nail-scars we see in one another's lives -- scars that God doesn't even see?  Or will we see each other the way God sees us -- as forgiven, without a thought of the sins God forgave us for?

The illustration has stuck with me all these years, but I still struggle to live it.  I'm not always convinced that the Lord no longer counts my sins against me as I struggle with self-condemnation.  And I don't always see people from God's perspective as I focus on the nailholes in their lives rather than on the absence of nails.  I pray though, that just as God has helped me to remember this illustration for so long, that He'd also continue to help me to apply it to how I see myself and the people around me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God's favour is now!

Lately I've felt as though God is provoking me to believe Him for more in my prayer life.  Yeah, I admit, there have been times when I've struggled to believe that God gives a rip about what I pray.  But lately, I feel like He's been coaxing me to get more aggressive in prayer.  Psalm 65:2 addresses God as "You who hear prayer" and verse five declares that "By awesome deeds You answer us with righteousness".  Such verses fly in the face of the begging posture I too often assume in prayer, in which the most faith I can muster is a faith that thinks, "Well, maybe one day..."  That's a faith that has given up expecting answers in the now, and results in prayers that have lost their sense of urgency.

But there's a change going on in me.  I was encouraged recently when I noticed that the same verse that says, "now is the day of salvation" has something else to say about the "now" that we're living in.  It says, "'In a favourable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.'  Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).  The initial quote in that verse is an ancient prophecy from Isaiah, and Paul is explaining to his post-Calvary readers:  Behold, now is that time -- the favourable time in which I listen to and help my people -- when I will hear your cries and answer them!  Those who ask will receive, those who seek will find, and those who knock will find that the door opens for you (see Matthew 7:7-8)!

Second Corinthians 6:2 is a verse that's typically quoted in the context of evangelism.  And yes, this verse does speak about getting saved.  But it's also a verse about being saved.  Yes, it's about now being the time to get saved by Jesus, but it's also about living in the great favour of the God who saved us!  It's about the God who listens to all those who cry out to Him in dependence on Him -- why? -- because His wrath has been spent on the cross so that His favour is now available to all who put their trust in what Jesus did on the cross!

In other words, the "favourable time" in which God listens to our prayers is now -- and is everyday -- for anyone who puts their trust in the crucified and risen Jesus!  And that means that everyday as a child of God is a favourable time -- a now-time -- to draw near to God, to know God better, to enjoy His love, to receive grace and help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16)!  And that is why I'm feeling encouraged to get more bold in the prayers I pray these days.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Joy in the midst of Troubles

Does what I know about what Jesus has done for me give me joy even in the midst of troubles?  I wondered that as I read about Jesus' disciples returning to Jerusalem (after Jesus' ascension to heaven) "with great joy", and about how they "were continually in the temple praising God" (Luke 24:52-53). Considering the circumstances, and how the disciples must have wondered if they might be crucified next, it must have seemed strange to the casual observer to see them so happily visible in the very temple where Jesus had been recently tried and convicted by the Pharisees.  I'm sure that anyone who knew about Jesus' crucifixion would have expected His disciples to be full of fear and worry rather than full of joy.  And yet what they saw was a whole lot of joy after what seemed like a whole lot of bad.

But of course, Jesus' disciples could be joyfully praising God because they knew that Jesus was alive! And they knew what Jesus had accomplished by His death -- a great salvation! And the unusual joy and praise of the disciples must have been a significant part of their declaration of the Gospel to a people who would've expected them to be in fear and grief. "Why such joy?" people would've wondered.  

My wife and I experienced grief in 2007 as we coped with news of the loss of Fiona's kidneys.  But our story didn't end there.  We also know that Jesus is alive!  And we know what Jesus has accomplished on the cross -- a great salvation!  So despite what periodic doctors' reports tell us, we can return from those appointments "with great joy" and "continually... praising God" because we've got more news than just what those doctors tell us!  We can have joy that flies in the face of what the world around us would expect in such circumstances.  And the world will see that we know One who is far above our circumstances, who is able to satisfy us despite circumstances, and who can even change the circumstances of those who cry out to Him!  I want that joy everyday, and I know where to find it: it's found in the very Saviour who has given me good reason for it!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A spiritual secret from Hudson Taylor

I'm reading a biography of Hudson Taylor these days, and I just reached a chapter that describes a spiritual insight that changed Hudson Taylor's life.  When I got to the end of that chapter, I felt that I couldn't read on until I had read that chapter again and had processed it more thoroughly.  The insight Hudson Taylor got hold of is one that I need to embrace in my own heart.  I hope it will change my life as well!

The following is an excerpt from the biography of Hudson Taylor (written by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor).  It is from a letter Hudson wrote from China to his sister in England.

First, the problem...

"My mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need personally... of more holiness, life, power in [my] soul...  I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God.  I prayed, agonised, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for meditation -- but all without avail.  Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.

"I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not.  I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, caused me to forget Him.  Then one's nerves get so fretted... that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts, and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control.  Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power...

"Then came the question, is there no rescue?  Must it be thus to the end -- constant conflict, and too often defeat?  How could I preach with sincerity that, to those who receive Jesus, 'to them he gave power to become the sons of God' (i.e., Godlike) when it was not so in my own experience?  Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting low.  I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it.  I felt I was a child of God.  His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, 'Abba, Father.'  But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.

"...sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord; but they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power...

"All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was -- how to get it out.  He was rich truly, but I was poor; He was strong, but I weak.  I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny branch was the question.  As gradually light dawned, I saw that faith was the only requisite -- was the hand to lay hold on His fatness and make it mine.  But I had not this faith.

"I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His Word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was I felt the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?"

And then, the solution... 

"When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I have never known it before... (I quote from memory):  'But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.'

"As I read it, I saw it all!  'If we believe not, He abideth faithful.' ...

"...As I thought of the vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul!  How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of Him!  I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.  The vine is not the root merely, but all -- root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers , fruit.  And Jesus is not that alone -- He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for or needed.  Oh, the joy of seeing this truth!  I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

"Oh, my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Saviour, to be a member of Christ!  Think what it involves.  Can Christ be rich and I poor?...

"The sweetest part... is the rest which full identification with Christ brings.  I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realise this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine.  It makes no matter where He places me, or how.  That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.  It little matters to my servant whether I send him away to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles.  In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases.  So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of much difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength?  No fear that resources will prove unequal to the emergency!  And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me."

Since I can so easily identify with how Hudson Taylor describes his challenges, may God help me to also grasp this spiritual insight he had so that I too can experience the blessing of it!

© 2010 by Ken Peters