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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Go this way...

I hate stopping to ask for directions.  It feels like it'll slow me down even though not asking can sometimes leave me frittering my time away as I wander around, not knowing where I'm going.  That's why it's so helpful to find a sign that simply says, "THIS WAY" and points me in the right direction.

I found a verse the other day that felt like such a sign -- a sign that's intended to direct my heart in the right direction.  And considering the context in which this sign is posted, I'm sure that the direction it points is not where I would have naturally wandered, left to my own devices.  That's why I'm grateful to find such signs!

Here's the context, or the environment, if you will, in which the sign is posted. Paul has just asked for prayer -- prayer for evangelistic fruitfulness.  He also asked for prayer for protection from wicked men.  Then he declares God to be faithful, assuring his readers that God will establish them and protect them from the devil.  Paul then declares his readers to be faithful, and that he's certain that they'll obey what he's taught them. And then we find the signpost...  After all that talk of evangelistic needs, danger from enemies, God's protection and people's sustained obedience, Paul says, "May the Lord direct your hearts to..."  Direct us where?  Which way are we about to be directed?  In the context of prayer requests and gospel-opposition and praise for obedience, what would Paul then ask the Lord to direct his readers' hearts to?  Getting on with evangelism in their own lives? Putting on spiritual armour?  Pressing into God for His protection? Continued obedience?  I can find writings from Paul that encourage all those things.  But that's not where he asks God to direct his readers' hearts in this context.

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ" (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

That's what Paul wanted to emphasize amidst all those other important details:  God's love and Christ's unchanging, rock-solid sufficiency!  That's what Paul knew his readers needed in order to endure amidst the hardships of their journey through this world.  They needed to know and experience the rich love of God and to rest in a steadfast Saviour whose acceptance of us is firm and who's redemptive work for us is irreversible!

This sign points us to the truth of the "great love with which He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4) and "the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7).  This sign also points us to the fact that Jesus Christ "has now reconciled [us] in His body of flesh by his death, in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before Him" (Colossians 1:22), and that due to Jesus Christ's immeasurable steadfastness, we can be encouraged by the fact that we are now "firmly rooted and built up in Him" (Col. 2:7), "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10), "buried" and "raised up with Him" (Col. 2:12), and "made alive together with Him" (Col. 2:13).

I could go on and on!  To have our hearts pointed in this direction is like being told to continually think these thoughts: God loves me and Jesus Christ is my Rock.  Paul wanted those two simple truths to be received and settled in the lives of all those who live for God.  God wants them to be posted on a huge road sign in the hearts of every follower of Christ.  Because when they are accepted and embraced in our hearts, they provide a bright and shining sign that will clearly guide us even on the most dangerous foggy mountain roads.  And when we go in the direction that they point, we'll be encouraged each and every day of our walk with God.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Using both pedals of the bike

During the two years that I've been writing in this blog about perseverance and trust, and about faith and hope, and about my wife's health, it's always felt a challenge to accurately express what I believe without feeling like I'm contradicting myself.

On the one hand, I want to write about how the Bible teaches us that God is glorified by how we trust Him amidst whatever troubles we face in this world, no matter how unpleasant they may be and no matter how long they last.  That way, when people around us see that we can have real peace and joy and gratitude no matter what the circumstances, we will clearly demonstrate that God is our treasure above all else, and that even if we lose everything -- even our lives -- but still have Christ, we would call that "gain" (Philippians 1:21).

On the other hand, I want to write about how the Bible teaches us that God is glorified by how we persistently pursue Him as the One who can deliver us from desperate circumstances, trusting Him as the God who can do miracles to rescue or heal us.  That way, when people around us see the great deliverances God can work for those who cry out to Him in faith, God will clearly be seen as the God who lovingly responds to those who depend on Him (James 5:15).

So I find myself writing that God is glorified when we faithfully trust Him in the midst of troubles, and that God is glorified when our prayers of faith result in deliverance from troubles.  Which is it?  Trust or change? Trusting God's wisdom to allow certain difficulties to persist in my life as He rules and reigns amidst every circumstance, or seeking to change things in this world through persistent prayer or by exercising the authority God has delegated to His disciples?

I believe the answer is both.  I've certainly written about both those themes in this blog.  For me, those two perspectives represent the two pedals on the bike of the Christian life (metaphorically speaking, of course).  To live as a Christian with only one of those two perspectives is like awkwardly riding a bicycle with only one pedal.

In a sense, this is the Biblical tension between God's sovereign decree that "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33) and God's encouragement for us to not lose heart in prayer because God will surely "bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night" (Luke 18:7).  This suggests that there are difficult circumstances we must go through in order to grow in character (Romans 5:3-4), to grow in endurance (James 1:2-3) and to grow in faith (1 Peter 1:6).  It also suggests that there are other times when God wants us to persistently and confidently pursue Him for a change in our circumstances so that we will be more fruitful (John 15:16) and more joyful (John 16:24), and so that we would "find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16) and God would be glorified as He helps us (John 14:13).

Sometimes it's not easy to know which of those two outlooks to adopt when we face a mountain in our life.  My rule of thumb is to seek to move the mountain by "the prayer of faith" (James 5:15) in Jesus (pedal #1), all the while trusting Jesus as my Sufficiency as I pray about that mountain -- especially if the mountain simply refuses to budge (pedal #2).  That's how I keep moving forward in my Christian life, come what may!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When faced with extremes

As I've read the Gospels lately, I've felt increasingly aware of how extreme the circumstances were for the people who turned to Jesus for help. Some of the terminology used expresses just how desperate people must have been. Try this one: "Your daughter is dead" (Luke 8:49). Wow. Or how about this one: "she could not be healed by anyone" (Luke 8:43). Those are extreme examples of need, indicating how bad it got for some of the people who came to Jesus. We're told that the woman who couldn't be healed by anyone had spent all her wages on doctors who had failed her. And we're told that the daughter who died was the parents' only daughter. Dead. Broke. Hopeless. Why does Luke go out of his way to paint such extremely harsh pictures?

I believe it's simply because Luke wanted his readers to clearly see how amazingly great God is! No matter how extreme our situation, God is greater! The Bible tells us that God even allowed situations to become extreme so that He could better reveal His glory. In the story about a man born blind (certainly an extreme circumstance), Jesus' disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to leave the man with such a harsh lot in life. Jesus said that it had nothing to do with anyone's sin. God allowed it to happen "so that the work of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). In such extreme situations, God glorifies His name as He shows us the contrast between what was and what it can become when we cry out to Him and He intervenes.

All of that is meant to give us hope for when we face extremes situations. As my wife Fiona and I go through what feels like something harsh or extreme, God wants us to believe that no matter how extremely bad things get, God can do something about it! He wants us to believe -- to dare to hope -- to dare to reach out to Him, and to cry out to Him. And in order to help us to do so, God shows us a daughter who's "dead" and a woman who "could not be healed by anyone."  And then He shows us something wonderful!  He shows the parents of that girl risking faith in His name, and the woman who'd been sick for so many long years choosing to believe that Jesus could help her, and then Jesus raises the daughter from the dead and completely heals a desperate woman. Amazing!

So I can't allow myself to be intimidated by extremes. No situation is too far gone for God to turn it around. And I must realize that God sometimes actually allows things grow increasingly extreme so that we can better see His glory when He intervenes. That's why I must never let such circumstances eclipse God. God is much bigger than whatever I may be facing and He invites me to cry out to Him in faith and with hope.  By doing so, we will be seen to be fully depending on Him no matter what the circumstances, and He will be seen in all His glory by the great contrast between our crises and His amazing answers.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I am truly blessed!

King David said it with such straightforward certainty:  "For You, O Lord God, have spoken, and with Your blessing shall the house of Your servant be blessed forever" (2 Samuel 7:29).  David had just heard through the prophet Nathan of the Lord's plans to bless his family line.  And with no clue regarding the global and eternal implications of that messianic prophetic word, David responded with a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact confidence in God's perpetual blessing on his family.  He took the gift of God's extravagant blessing at face value with a "You said it, I believe it" kind of certainty.

Well, if David could be so unwaveringly sure of such significant blessings after a single prophetic word from Nathan the prophet, then, by God's grace, I ought to be able to walk in a state of continual and absolute certainty of God's promised blessings for my family based on the great work Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross and on all that we know about God from His Word (not to mention all the prophetic words we've received as well)!

Think of it.  I could say, For you, O Lord, have spoken!  Your Word tells me that all of God's promises find their Yes in You, Lord Jesus! (2 Corinthians 1:20).  And that God has rescued me from sin's hold on me, forgiving me for all my wrongs, because every one of them was nailed to the cross on which You died! (Colossians 1:13-14; 2:13-14). And Your Word tells me that because the grave couldn't hold You, You caused me to come alive with You -- to be born again as a new creation! (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  And You've promised that God's Spirit will dwell in me as the Spirit of adoption, making me God's son (Romans 8:15) -- "chosen of God, holy and beloved"! (Colossians 3:12).  And that same God has blessed me in You with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).  In fact, Your divine power has provided me with everything I need for life and godliness! (2 Peter 1:3).  Your Word even tells me that God has raised me up with You and seated me with You in heavenly places!  All this so that in the ages to come, God can show me the infinite riches of His grace and kindness that He has expressed through You, Lord Jesus! (Ephesians 2:6-7).  In other words, I should be able to say with David, "with your blessing shall the house of Your servant be blessed forever!"

God has spoken.  It's the truth.  And I believe it.

I realize that the mistake we sometimes make is to make these blessings our focus in place of seeking the loving God who has given them to us.  But to be clear, I believe that "if we don't want God above all things [including "redemption, forgiveness, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven"], we have not been converted by the Gospel." (John Piper, "God is the Gospel").  But when we, like King David, are people who seek after God's own heart above all else (1 Samuel 13:14), all these promises simply become the myriad of blessings that we're meant to walk in as children of God!  And that's meant to encourage us.  That's why they're called blessings!  Such promises ought to impact how we well we can face the challenges that come our way, as we remember what Jesus has done for us on the cross and realize what living a life of confidence in Him accomplishes in our hearts.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Devotions aren't Magic

Jon Bloom is the Executive Director of Desiring God, an excellent ministry that seeks to share God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. I’ve been encouraged by a great deal of what I’ve read by John Piper and by much of what I’ve discovered on his website. The following post from Jon Bloom's blog was no exception...

Devotions Aren’t Magic
We know that – for the most part.  But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula – the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer – we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord.  And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.
The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement.  Cynicism sets in and we give up because devotions don’t seem to work for us.
The longing for intimate communion with God is God-given.  He will satisfy it fully some day.  And the Spirit gives us occasional tastes.  But God has other purposes for us in our daily Bible meditation and prayer.  Here are a few:
  1. Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24, Romans 15:4):  We exercise our bodies to increase strength, endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off.  Devotions are like exercise for our souls.  They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits and on to God’s purposes and promises.  If we neglect this exercise we will go to pot.
  1. Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2):  The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it.  Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way.  The same is true for the soul.  It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. 
  1. Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:97, Proverbs 23:12):  A thorough, repeated soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our body of biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life. 
  1. Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10-17):  Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know what to do.  Similarly, devotions make us more skilled warriors. 
  1. Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3-4, James 4:8, Psalm 130:5):  When a couple falls in love there are hormonal fireworks.  But in marriage they must cultivate delight in one another.  It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and healthy times that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase.  Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God.  Many days it may seem mundane.  But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of Him.