Thursday, December 30, 2010

Firmly rooted for the coming year

Back on December 5, 2001, God said something to me that changed my life. It was about 5pm and I was sitting alone at my desk at home staring at a blank computer screen. I had been feeling very low for many weeks and all I could muster as a throwaway prayer was, "God, what's going on?" But as soon as I uttered those words, a thought flew into my mind: "It's not what I do for Christ, but who I am in Christ that matters." In other words, all the perceived failures that were leaving me so utterly depressed had absolutely no impact on God's view of me. Whatever I did or didn't do just didn't matter. It was only because I was in Christ that God loved me unconditionally as His son. At the very moment that God put that thought in my mind, everything changed. The heaviness lifted. The darkness passed. The depression evaporated. I was free. Free of a performance-mentality before a God who fully accepted me as His dearly beloved son.

That was nearly ten years ago. And for many years after that God-encounter I walked in the good of that revelation. But for the past year or so, I feel as though I've lost sight of the simplicity of that truth: "It's not what I do for Christ, but who I am in Christ that matters." And as I approach 2011 and the ten-year mark of that precious moment when God's Spirit dropped that gem in my mind, I want to fully recover the priceless value of it in my everyday walk with God.

Back in 2001, there was a key passage that God spoke to me through to confirm how rock solid the truth of His love really is. Colossians 2:6-7 says, "Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude." I've chosen the NASB here because of how it translates one particular phrase: "having been firmly rooted." That is how we as Christians are to see ourselves, and that was how God wanted me to begin seeing myself when He spoke to me that afternoon.

The NIV doesn't quite capture Paul's emphasis here and the New Living Translation misses it completely, referring to the idea of letting your roots go down into Christ as if they weren't already. But what Paul is meaning here is that we already have been fully rooted in Christ! When Paul wrote about being "rooted" he used a perfect passive tense, which points to an action completed in the past that has ever-continuing effects! Thomas Trevethan (who wrote Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians (if you can find this out-of-print book used, buy it and read it -- it's amazing!)) writes that the full sense of this perfect passive participle is "once-and-for-all settled in a fixed spot not to be uprooted." In other words, nothing can shake us loose from being fully in Christ, fully accepted by God!

If we can live our lives fully convinced of that truth, nothing will be able to discourage us, because nothing can shake us loose from His hand of love. So in 2011, instead of focusing on me (and my blunders and my expectations and my disappointments), I want to make Christ and who I am in Christ my focus so that I can live in the joyful confidence that being in Christ is meant to provide every day!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reading List 2010

I'm a slow reader. Which leaves me reluctant to read as well as forever reading once I start! And because I read so slowly, I end up reading quite a few books at the same time. I'm sure it reflects a lack of discipline, but I simply find that because it takes me so long to finish books I start, as I'm plowing through one book, I get distracted by another, and possibly another (and sometimes even another!). But I eventually get back to most of the books I begin reading.

This is a list of the books I read in 2010 (in the order I completed them). Apart from all the books listed here, I also read the Bible through each year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as what is most essential for me to be feeding on. Most of the postings I add to my blog are a result of my time spent reading God's Word.
Perhaps there's a book listed here that you'd enjoy reading. And please feel free to leave a comment if there's a book you'd like to recommend that I read in 2011. Just give me plenty of time to do so if I decide to read it!
  1. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. I read this book during a 3-day spiritual retreat in January.  It was a particularly timely book for me to read, as I was struggling with some issues that this book addresses for pastors. Though I struggled with the blanket judgments that Peterson sometimes seems to make about other pastors, I found his urgent emphasis on finding a spiritual rhythm that keeps God as more important than ministry extremely helpful.
  2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Had a hankering for a little Dickens, and I decided to finally discover how much of the book wasn't included in the movie. It was an enjoyable read, but I often find Dickens novels more than a little contrived by how every little thing comes together in the end and by how every character seems more like a caricature of either good or evil.
  3. Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper. This book is a passionate call to Christian leaders to keep first things first and to minister out of a life in God rather than out of a professionalization of the ministry. And with thirty chapters, it's more about keeping the first thirty things first! But Piper makes a clear case for each issue, and leaves me wanting to grow in all of them.
  4. Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor. Amazing.  Faith building. Life-changing. This book has changed the way I pray. It has given me a higher view of God and a greater sense of my oneness with Christ.  This particular book is an abbreviated version (half the length) of a longer biography written by the same authors about one of the most fruitful pioneer missionaries in the history of Christianity. Hudson Taylor's profound commitment to living an "exchanged life" as he depended on God for his every need has made the story of his life a great example to anyone who desires to live their life fully committed to Jesus.
  5. Spiritual Leadership:  Moving People on to God's Agenda by Henry and Richard Blackaby. This is the best book on leadership I've ever read. That said, I found it a great challenge to complete (after beginning it over a year ago!) due to how densely packed each and every chapter is. It was so full of relevant leadership principles that I found myself underlining stuff on nearly every page!
  6. Finally Alive by John Piper. This book became more and more helpful as I read it, and was truly meat to be chewed on. It deals with the flippant and demeaning way the term "born again" has come to be used in North America. And it affirms how being born again is a profound supernatural event that leaves a person radically changed, despite what careless telephone surveys may say to the contrary! God has made us "truly, invincibly, finally alive", and knowing the implications of that is a great encouragement.
  7. God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself by John Piper. This was the second time I'd read this book, this time as a part of a small group book study.  It is a book that unflinchingly nails a blessings-based North American Christianity right between the eyes! The question it asks again and again is do we truly want God or do we simply want His salvation blessings of peace and forgiveness?  But what has made it such a compelling book to me is the way John Piper exalts Jesus Christ as the only One who can truly satisfy our deepest longings. It's a book that leaves you hungry for Jesus!
  8. When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles by Bill Johnson. After watching a video of Bill Johnson, I felt prompted to want to find out more about his theological approach to the issues of healing and the sovereignty of God. But more than that, I've been feeling a growing hunger in my heart to see God's power at work in the lives of people who are in desperate need of miracles. This book is about the reality of God's Kingdom invading earth, and my prayer is that that reality will become more real to me than the keys I use to type these words!
  9. The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson. I have found my struggling faith strengthened by Bill Johnson's fresh perspective on what the Bible has to say about God being an active, invasive, here-and-now God who does the miraculous as we take up the authority He has given us. I've been encouraged as I've been processing the Biblical teachings of a man who has regularly seen God move miraculously.
  10. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written as an autobiographical letter from an aged father to his young son. It is both random and reflective in many ways, but has much to do with the theme of father/son relationships and has a strong spiritual pulse in the many fatherly musings and memories. Some of the father's memories go back to his grandfather's time in the Civil War, and ever since I lived in the United States, I've always appreciated reading about that period of American history.
  11. Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through The Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnson. I began reading this book in the fall of 2009, and even though it took me awhile to finish it, I really enjoyed it. It was given to me as a gift, and I wanted to read it because of how impacted and excited I've felt the last couple times I've read Revelation. I wasn't disappointed. Every chapter clarified my understanding and made the Book of Revelation much more relevant in my everyday life.
  12. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. The story of a remarkable man who narrowly escaped from the dangers of a chaotic civil war in Burundi only to find himself lost among the dangers of NYC, America. But through the kindness of strangers who were willing to help him, he not only flourished in America, but was able to eventually return to Burundi to offer help that would transform an impoverished community.
  13. What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper. Fifty demands, all drawn from what Jesus said in the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. Fifty chapters, all relatively brief, each one unpacking a command Jesus instructed us to observe. If you want a book that will challenge you while also emphasizing the grace of God we need to meet the challenge, this is the book for you. There's no shortage of application in this book! So much so, that I typically only read one or two chapters a week lest I'd have too much to work on all at once!
  14. Father to the Fatherless: The Charles Mulli Story by Paul H. Boge. The true story of a Kenyan man whose life began in desperate poverty, and who eventually became a highly successful businessman who then felt called to reach out to help orphans and street children in a way that would give them the same hope in Jesus and the same hope for their future that he experienced.
  15. The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger. Every so often I pick up a book to read simply as a diversion -- a book about some faraway place or some extreme circumstance. In such instances, I'm fond of books about the desert or the sea. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I suddenly felt inclined to read it. As usual (when I read such books), I was impacted by the courage of those who risk their lives at sea.
© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Path to True Rest

As Christmas approaches, I'm really looking forward to having a few extra days off from work. I've outgrown the anticipation of gifts, but in its place is a craving for calm -- a time to dial down and relax. But I'm all too aware from past experience that such rest can be elusive, even when my schedule is emptied. And I also know it's possible to end a holiday break as weary as the day it began, even if I do very little during that break. I think that's because I'm seeking external rest when what I really need is internal rest. I'm resting my body while my heart remains restless.

And as I was reading the Letter to the Hebrews in my Bible this month, I think I began to understand the path to the kind of rest I really need. In Hebrews 4, the writer mentions "the promise of entering His rest" (4:1), and assures us that that promise still stands. But then he issues a warning about the rest God promises us: "let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it." That's a valid warning, because in my harried and weary state, I sometimes wonder if I'm failing to reach that wonderful rest God promises, and such uncertainty only adds to the disquiet in my soul. So what to do?

It was only when I noticed what the writer had just been writing about in the previous chapter that I realized the kind of rest he was meaning, and saw how I could remain in the deep, meaningful rest God promises. Just a few verses earlier, in Hebrews 3:12, there is another warning issued: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God." That's a serious warning. And six verses later, referring to God's posture toward the children of Israel, it says, "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to to enter because of unbelief" (3:18-19). In other words, the evil of unbelief in their hearts robbed God's people of God's rest.

Does that same warning apply to me? And is it possible to have a whole sabbatical (let alone a brief Christmas break), and still not feel at rest at the end of it all if one doesn't heed such a warning? Well, as the writer continues and addresses the Christians he was writing to, he says, "Since therefore it remains for some to enter it [God's rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience [the disobedience of unbelief], again He appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts.'... So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience" (4:6-11). That "same sort of disobedience" he's writing about was the disobedience of unbelief that he'd previously mentioned (in 3:18-19). And that hardening of their hearts is also a reference to what we're doing when we walk in unbelief.

This means that true rest -- the "rest" God promises -- the rest my soul continually craves -- is something we can only find by believing God. Because if the sin of unbelief is what prevented God's people from entering His rest, it only seems fair to say that the virtue of believing God will open the door to God's rest. In fact, I wonder if it's fair to say that believing God is the "rest" God promises in Hebrews 4:1. Believing God is rest for our souls. And we lose that rest every single time we fall into unbelief.

So as I long for rest and refreshment during this Christmas season, I'd be wise to note that the surest way to find rest for my soul is to take God at His Word, to trust His promises, to accept His instructions and to walk in His ways because I believe His will to be "good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). That's rest. That's freedom from the pain of trying to get things done my way.

And as I've pondered all this, I was alarmed at the thought of how easily unbelief can creep into my heart and rob me of the rest of believing God. The antidote is to attack unbelief wherever I see it in my life -- to turn from it quickly, and by God's grace, to grab that door-handle of believing God so that I can enter His rest as easily as stepping into a room full of God's promises. Now that sounds like Christmas!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trademarks of Prayer (or... The Need for Persistence doesn't mean I'm Wasting my Time!)

There's something about myself that I'm all too well aware of:  I struggle to persist. Just look at how many posts I've written about perseverance and trust. That's not because I know so much about it. It's because I'm still trying to learn how to do it amidst all the stuff that comes up in life.

This is especially true for me in the area of prayer. I get discouraged easily and feel defeated quickly if an important answer seems slow in coming. And after twenty years of disappointing doctor's reports about Fiona, I've even grown a bit confused about prayer. I've sometimes wondered what it accomplishes. Bad things happen even though I pray, and then good things happen in other areas I haven't even prayed about. And then I see godly, biblical examples that put me in my place. Biblical examples like the apostle Paul who never let life's trials or troubles convince him that prayer was pointless, and who made prayer an absolutely essential part of his life no matter how many disappointments came his way.

This is obvious in the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians. Paul wrote that letter while he was in prison, and yet he clearly describes God as being in charge of his life as well as of the hostile world around him. And there are three places in that letter to the Colossians where Paul expresses how committed he was to not allowing the reality of persistent troubles to discourage him from believing in the value of persistent prayer.

Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9 that "from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you." Wow. "Not ceased"!  Ceaseless prayer characterized Paul's busy, trouble-filled, fruitful ministry. Then in Colossians 4:2, Paul exhorted the Colossians to "continue steadfastly in prayer". Another translation (NASB) says in that verse to be devoted to prayer. Those are more strong words about prayer: steadfast, devoted. That means Paul didn't want them to give up praying when answers seemed slow and troubles seemed overbearing. Then in Colossians 4:12, Paul described a man named Epaphras as "always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers." Always. Laboring. Earnest (meaning zealous and heartfelt). Here's a man who didn't treat prayer like some casual listing of requests expecting immediate gratification. He knew he was in a battle and was prepared to persistently struggle for the victories that would only be won through prayer.

None of these verses suggest that we ought to be surprised or frustrated when prayers aren't answered immediately. Paul used words like "not ceased" and "steadfast" or "devoted" and "laboring" for a reason. I'm still learning that prayer requires persistence so that the praying I do changes me as much as the things I pray for. To Paul, we're to be: Always in prayer -- Devoted to prayer -- Steadfast in prayer -- Labouring in prayer --  Earnest in prayer. And the one who is determined to make those words the trademarks of their prayer life is the one who is far more likely to find value in praying, and will see the answers that just don't come to those who don't persist.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, December 3, 2010

Superabundant Love

I don't use the word abound too often in conversation. Pretty much never, actually. But it's a great word, packed with meaning. And do I ever need to be reminded of that sometimes. Like when I get mad at my kids or my wife, and then I let it linger, feeling justified in my selfish, unloving withdrawal from them until I decide to resolve it.

At times like that, the word abound jumps off the page as I read of Paul praying that the Lord would make the saints of Thessalonica "increase and abound in love for one another and for all" (1 Thessalonians 3:12). That's a lotta love. I looked up the word "abound" and it means "to be present in great quantity... to be copiously supplied." Copious means "taking place on a large scale."

We're talking God's scale here. It's clear from Paul's prayer that it's only God who can supply us with such abundant love. God pours it out using gigantic heavenly portions so that we can overflow excessively with love for those around us. The Greek word here suggests a superabundance that is exceedingly beyond measure. Picture the violent overflow of Niagara. You can't miss it as you get close to it, from the roar you hear to the mist in the air to the sight you behold. That's a picture of a place abounding in water. In the same way, God wants to cause us to abound in love for others.

Does my life reflect a superabundance of love for others? Am I abounding in love for my wife and children, let alone others around me? Not really. I've got some love for others. I'm somewhat loving. What a contrast to the superabundant, exceedingly excessive overflow of love beyond measure! Those are the kind of words I want at the front of my mind every time I face an opportunity to express God's love to someone around me: superabundant, exceedingly excessive love, overflowing beyond measure!

And I'm so grateful that it's God who is not only able to make His love increase in me, but is eager to do it at any given moment! I simply pray that I'll be open to receiving it and sharing it until His superabundant love is superobvious to everyone around me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters