Friday, November 26, 2010


Every Christmas, I find myself internally-conflicted in a couple of ways. On the one hand, I love giving presents. Turns out that gift-giving is one of my top love-languages. And I'm known in my family for buying gifts that people don't expect but are thrilled to get. Like the Australian leather cattleman's hat I bought for my dad not long ago. I should also mention the diamond ring I bought for Fiona one Christmas.

But on the other hand, I'm not so great at getting presents. Fiona tells me that I'm very difficult to buy for. Either I'm totally distracted by the cost of her buying me something after I spent so much on her, or I'm just not very easily pleased with what people get me. I can be ungrateful, focusing on the gift rather than the giver, wanting them to provide me with the same thrill I just gave them.

I guess that may be why I found the following video of Andy Rooney somewhat amusing...

Add to that the huge distraction of world poverty compared to the extravagant amount of money we as North Americans spend on Christmas presents and I can end up a real grump on Christmas morning. For example, did you know that last year, consumers in the United States spent about 10.7 billion dollars on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), 6.9 billion dollars on the Saturday before Christmas, and 7.9 billion dollars on Boxing Day? That's over 25 billion bucks spent in three -- count 'em! -- three short days. To put that in perspective, Burundi's GDP (gross domestic product, or the total value of all the goods and services a country produces in one year) is about 3.1 billion dollars. Haiti's GDP is about 6.7 billion dollars. Those figures create some of the internal conflict I feel at Christmastime as we lovingly buy unnecessary items for each other.

Ah, the joy of living in the tension of two truths. I want to remember the poor, but does that mean it's wrong to bless Aunt Nellie with a new set of tea towels?

So that leaves me needing to remember two important lessons as Christmas Day approaches. First, when it comes to gift-giving, gratitude is as important as generosity. Gift-getting is as much an act of love as gift-giving, and no one's act of kindness ought to be spurned, no matter what the circumstances! And secondly, in the same way that God doesn't intend for the needs of the world's poorest people to prevent me from blessing my family and friends at Christmas, I don't believe He wants me to spend so much on them that I'm unable to give anything to help the poor in a meaningful way as well.

Hopefully I can remember those things this Christmas, and then I'll be able to enjoy the gifts I get as much as I enjoy being a blessing to others in the many meaningful ways that God leads me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Praying to Jealous

God's name is Jealous.  There aren't many adjectives that are capitalized and made into a proper noun so that they can be made into a name for God.  But in Exodus 34:14, God declares His name to be "Jealous" -- "for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." That sounds negative to our modern ears, but it's actually a strong indication of God's love. God's jealousy is directed toward us when we're unfaithful because He loves us and longs for us to return and find our complete satisfaction in Him.

And of course, the unfaithfulness spoken of in the context of Exodus 34:14 is that of idolatry, the most frequently mentioned sin in the Bible. And so as I read that verse, I feel compelled to pause and to wonder what the idolatry is in my life. I don't even wonder if there's idolatry, but simply what it might be -- how it's manifesting in my life. I guess I take for granted that something we're so frequently warned about in the Bible must be something that's likely to show up in my life more than infrequently. And when God declares His name to be Jealous, it gets my attention, letting me know that dealing with idols ought to be a priority any time I approach Him. This is not something to deal with occasionally, but something to prayerfully consider everyday.

For example, because the God I approach in prayer is actually named Jealous, (though we're graciously invited to call Him Daddy and Father as we approach Him (Romans 8:15; Matthew 6:9)), I feel as though I ought to be serious about making sure there are no hidden idols in my heart as I pray. And as I consider that, I wonder what sort of idols may crop up in my life now and then. Perhaps ministry has been one -- or rather, success in ministry. Or perhaps affirmation from other people around me -- even on Facebook -- is another! I'm also aware that my wife Fiona's healing has even been an idol to me at times. An idol is anything that so competes with God for my affections that my mood is soured if I don't get it, and so competes with God for my attention so that I'm prepared to give up time with God to seek it.

Such a definition can illuminate a fair bit of idolatry in most people's lives, and if one of God's names really is Jealous, I'd rather not carelessly enter His presence with such everyday idols stashed away somewhere in my heart. The good news though, is that God's name is also Daddy, and He's very happy to help us topple any idols so that He can be our all-sufficient, ever-increasing joy!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heavenly foretastes

I've been involved in two fairly large funerals this week, one with over 300 in attendance and one with over 500. They were for a young man and woman (by young, I mean 51 and 37 years old respectively) who had died after battles with cancer. Each of them is in heaven now, and each of them had expressed a longing to see Jesus as they faced the immediacy of their deaths. And as I officiated at one of the services last night, and then conducted the interment this morning, I couldn't help but look forward to that day when I too will get to see my Saviour face-to-face.

In fact, there are a couple of verses in Revelation that have really sharpened my sense of anticipation regarding such things. And the two phrases in these verses make it clear to me that Jesus intends for us to experience genuine foretastes of heaven -- heavenly teasers, if you will -- for those who follow Him.

Revelation 21:3 says, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man." What an amazing promise! God dwelling with us! Then in Revelation 21:23, speaking of the heavenly city where we'll one day dwell with God, it says, "its lamp is the Lamb." In other words, God's glory will illuminate it all! The Lamb of God -- Jesus -- will be so glorious to behold and He will dwell among us forever! It's verses like that that make me long for heaven. They give me hope of an indescribably wonderful eternity with an ever-loving God. That's a big encouragement at funerals like the two we've had this week. And it's a big encouragement amidst all the unpleasant things life might throw at us.

But the really encouraging part is that we don't have to wait for heaven to sample such wonderful promises! We don't have to wait for heaven for God to dwell with us or for the Lamb to give us light. God has given us heavenly foretastes here on earth, and I want to find encouragement in them. Otherwise I can end up ungrateful in this life. Jesus said in John 14:16 that the Father would send His Holy Spirit "to be with you forever." And that's not just to be near us so that we can behold Him, but that's to live inside us. That's like saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is in man." What an awesome foretaste of Revelation 21:3. And the Lamb who will be our lamp has already shone His light into our hearts "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6) and has already given us His Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)!

Yes, there's a great deal to joyfully anticipate about heaven, but there's also loads to enjoy here and now as God's kingdom comes in our hearts. I want to live in the good of the samples that God gives us of the heavenly wonders we have to look forward to!

© 2010 by Ken Peters