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