Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading List 2011

     For the past two years, I've tracked what I've been reading here on my blog. If it's served no other purpose, I get the feeling that it has encouraged me to keep reading the books that I get started on. And just like I posted my 2010 reading list at the end of last December, below is a list of all the books that I read in 2011 (in the order I completed them).
     For some reason, 2011 seemed to end up being the Year of the Biography for me. Eight of the 15 books below are either biographical or auto-biographical (and there's a ninth if I include Kendall's devotional book on the life of Joseph). I guess that's because when I'm not reading something devotional or theological, I tend to gravitate toward historical books, which are often about people rather than about events.
     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.
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 2012. Just please be patient with me, as I've already got a few books on my shelf that are waiting to be read!

  1. Filling up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper. This book was given to me as a gift, and I'm glad it was. It tells the stories of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson and John Paton, and of the price they paid to bring the Gospel to the nations. Their stories put life in a right perspective. The introduction alone has been enough to get my attention and to challenge any self-pity that's slinking around in my heart!
  2. Release the Power of Jesus by Bill Johnson. I read this during a week of prayer and fasting at my church. Whatever you might think of Bill Johnson, I find my faith increases as I consider the insights he shares in his books. This particular book addresses the power in recalling and recounting the works of God in our lives, which build faith for God to do even more.
  3. The Roots Of Endurance by John Piper. Having really enjoyed and having been greatly challenged by another biographical book, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ (see above), I chose this book to be the next book I read while walking the treadmill. That way I get changed in more ways than one while doing my exercise! Piper has done an amazing job in this series, The Swans are not Silentof summarizing the stories of godly saints that have faithfully gone before us and of making the themes of their lives so applicable to our own.
  4. Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda. I received this book as an unexpected birthday gift due to a fascination I've long had with T.E. Lawrence's experiences in Arabia. Though I certainly don't personally consider T.E. Lawrence a "hero" (as he seemed a very strange man in many respects), I have appreciated how thoroughly he became enculturated into Arab culture out of a somewhat distorted desire to help them to make a unified nation of themselves. The book was as much about WWI and the formation of the Middle East after WWI as about Lawrence, and I found it very readable and informative.
  5. Thanking God by R.T. Kendall. My pastor recommended this book to me -- and when your pastor recommends a book to you, well, I figure I'd better read it! In actual fact though, I really wanted to read it. Gratitude has not been a strong suit in my life and I believe I need to grow in it. And in the same way that this book has been a wonderful inspiration to many in this regard, God has used the lessons it contains to stir me to becoming more consistently and deliberately thankful!
  6. The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott. This book has been described as "a great achievement" and "the work of a lifetime" as it digs deep into the truths of a pivotal moment in history that I'm sure anyone would benefit from understanding more fully. But what excited me most about this book was that John Stott does far more than simply explain doctrine. As he unpacks what was accomplished by Christ's death on the cross, he emphasizes "the heart of the cross" and all it achieved, and what all that can and should mean, right now, in my heart and in my everyday Christian life.
  7. Mugged by a Moose, edited by Matt Jackson. I was looking in a used bookstore for something light to read during a summer holiday and found this -- 23 short stories written about other people's holidays and travels. Some were funny, some inspiring, and others just made me shrug. But it was interesting to read of some of the crazy adventures some people ended up in.
  8. Design Basics Index by Jim Krause. My wife Fiona took a chance and bought this for me as a Father's Day gift, and I really liked it! It's written for graphic designers to help with designing compositions and with selecting and appropriately placing components for their projects. Problem is, I'm just a wanna-be graphic designer, and even that's probably an overstatement. But I do like playing with desktop publishing projects and this gave me lots of input on how to do that better.
  9. Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson by Bevin Alexander. I picked this up in a used bookstore while I was on summer holidays. I'm fascinated by American Civil War history, and have long admired Stonewall Jackson as an exceptional general who fought in that war. Though this book may give him a little too much credit with a whole lot of would'a, could'a, should'a kind of talk, it still provides a valuable glimpse of a great general.
  10. The Story of John G. Paton: Thirty Years among South Sea Cannibals by James Paton. John Paton was a nineteenth century missionary to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific. His deep trust in God as he repeatedly risked his life, losing loved ones to illness and enduring tremendous hardships for many years in order to bring the hope of the Gospel to a needy people is a highly inspirational read in this comfort-oriented day and age. I found myself getting a bit choked up at parts to do with the eagerness with which some of those island people eventually received the Gospel.
  11. Six months in Sudan: A Young Doctor in a war-torn Village by James Maskalyk. How often does one discover a book in a used bookstore about a Canadian man who recently spent six months serving with an NGO in a dangerous border town between north and south Sudan? I couldn't resist buying it, and found myself quickly drawn into the narrative of his time there. It was quite an intense book. At times painful to read, but always drawing you closer to the people who lived and died in that tiny place so far away. It's not the first book about Sudan that I've read, and I know it won't be the last.
  12. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. I first discovered this book as I was considering going to a conference on prayer at John Piper's church in Minneapolis, and when it turned out that I couldn't attend, I decided to simply buy the book that one of the conference speakers had written. Not only was it recommended on the blog of Desiring God Ministries, but both my wife Fiona and I have found it to be one of the most honest and helpful books we've read on the topic of prayer.
  13. God Meant it for Good: A Fresh Look at the Life of Joseph by R.T. Kendall. This book really puts life in the right perspective! I think this is R.T. Kendall's best book! The title of this book is what Joseph said to his brothers once they caught up with him in Egypt; a quote I always find it helpful to be reminded of. It's a statement that clearly puts God in charge of what we go through in this life. It expresses the fact that God doesn't just cause everything to work together for good in our lives (Romans 8:28), but that He causes things to happen and then uses them for good! In other words, God didn't just use what happened to Joseph for good, but "meant it" to happen for his good and the good of many others. I believe that's true in all our lives as Christians, and this book truly helped me to find encouragement in that perspective.
  14. Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Metz. A man who went to be with the Lord some time ago once highly recommended this little book to me. So I bought it, quickly read it, underlining nothing, and then tucked it away on a shelf wondering what the big deal was. Then quite recently, in the midst of sorting through some personal issues, I suddenly remembered this book, found it on my shelf just where I'd left it over 15 years ago, and began to read. I guess I wasn't ready for this book all those years ago, because I felt very challenged by it this time, and I'm grateful God brought me back to it!
  15. God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau. I felt really touched by the DVD of the same title, so when I saw that an auto-biography had been written by the young man who did most of the narrating in that DVD, I was very interested in learning more about what he went through as a Lost Boy. The publisher describes the book as "The Heartbreaking, Inspiring Journey of a Lost Boy of Sudan", and it certainly was! Knowing something of what those Lost Boys went through (from another book about one of them that I've previously read), and knowing that I was living in northern Sudan when John Bul Dau was running for his life in South Sudan, I really appreciated hearing him tell his story.
© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, December 2, 2011

Enlargements on our walls

I enjoy photography, though with no training in it and poor equipment for it, I'm not sure how well I do at it. But every so often I take a picture that I really like, and every so often I enlarge one to see if I'll like it even more on a wall. An enlargement can do wonders for pictures worth enlarging, and I've recently grown fond of going beyond 8x10s to 11x14s (my camera simply isn't good enough to go bigger, and besides, how much wall space can one use for such things?).

Here are six photos that I've recently enlarged and put into frames on our walls (you can click on any of them to see larger views of them).

This photo was taken near Tucson, Arizona at a church building called Mission San Xavier del Bac. It was founded in 1692 by the Jesuits, making it the oldest (intact) European structure in Arizona. It was over 110 degrees in the shade on the day we visited, making it a challenge just to stand around in the sun snapping photos!

This photo was taken in Southern Sudan in the remote northwest province of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal. I went there with Aken Yel, who had been born in that province and who hadn't been back to see those who remained of his family for over 25 years. It was a thrill to witness many happy reunions. In this picture, the women are preparing a lunch for us from the recently slaughtered goat they're about to cook under that tree!

This photo didn't enlarge so well, but I loved it too much not to try. It was taken in Chefchaouen, Morocco with an old film camera, and I have since lost the negative, so this is an enlargement of a scanned 4x6 image. It was clear that as those two elderly men meandered up that ancient lane, they had a good deal to talk about! I managed to get this shot just in time.

I love the desert. I lived in one for about a year in 1987, and I have always dreamed of one day visiting the southwest United States to wander about in cactus country! My family mocked me for the number of pictures I took, some from some fairly strange vantage points, but I didn't care. I would have stayed hours longer, oblivious to the heat, if I could have.

Another place I've long dreamed of visiting is the Grand Canyon. It was wonderful to hike in it as well as to simply stand at the edge of it, only partially able to take in the scale of it all. Two of my kids and I took a hike down and into the canyon for about an hour before we turned around. I loved it, and hope that one day I can see it all over again!

This photo was taken in Muir Woods, a park just north of San Francisco named after John Muir, a naturalist from the early twentieth century. The redwoods that tower there aren't as big as the sequoias of northern California, but they are still quite impressive as we walked among them.

So those are the 11x14 pictures adorning our walls these days, reminding us of some of the wonderful journeys we've had the privilege of taking over the years.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Saturday, November 5, 2011

People-Watching with Jesus

Can you imagine Jesus having a moment of uninterrupted downtime while sitting amidst a crowd of people? It always seems like the crowds would never leave Him alone. But in Mark 12:41, we’re told that "He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money in the offering box" (Mark 12:41) as if no one even knew He was there. This is Jesus people-watching. Imagine that. Imagine Jesus actually being able to sit down in a public place in Jerusalem during the Passover week, unaccosted by the crowds. It was only a few days before His crucifixion, and yet there He was just sitting and watching the people of the city, all of them unaware that the Prince of Peace was sitting off to the side lovingly studying their movements. I find that a mesmerizing scene.

I can imagine a gentle and thoughtful expression in his eyes as he watched the faces of one person after another visiting the treasury to place their offerings. What must he have been thinking as he watched them all? Matthew 9:4 and 12:25 tell us that Jesus could know people's thoughts. Perhaps He knew the thoughts and motives, the boasts and fears, of every person He watched at the treasury that day. He obviously knew enough to know that most "contributed out of their abundance," but that the poor widow He saw "put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (Mark 12:44). The fact that He knew all that meant that He seemed to know more than what you or I could've been sure of.

And He must have been sitting alone as He did this people-watching, because once He saw the poor widow put in her "two small copper coins" (v.42), He "called His disciples to Him" (v.43) to explain what He'd just seen. Can you imagine that? Something like, "Hey guys! Come here! I just saw something amazing!"

So what, you might say. What I've just described has nothing to do with the point of the story. Or maybe it does. For me, these thoughts highlight something that really encourages me. They tell me that our loving Saviour, Jesus, is a people-watcher. He's sitting in heaven and watching you and me right now, and He takes special notice when we take a step of faith. He gets excited, and perhaps He says, "Hey Father!" or "Hey angels! Come here! I just saw something amazing!" Jesus sees our fears and our faith as we take risks that reflect our trust in Him -- the kind of risks that widow took -- and he boasts about us to those around Him.

That's because He loves each of us as much as He loved that widow. No act is too small to go unnoticed, and no step of faith too trivial, or too fraught with fear, to go unaffirmed by the God who sees everything that's in our hearts. And that's encouraging for anyone who feels like they haven't got much more than two small copper coins to offer God.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Letting God be God

There are times when I act like I know precisely what God must be thinking. Yet even if I can be absolutely certain that I've received a prophetic word directly from God Himself, who am I to think that I know how and when it's going to be fulfilled? Then when things don't unfold just as I expect them to, do I then tell God that He let me down? Am I so wise as to know exactly what the best plan is for such situations? It's almost as though when I no longer seem to know what God is really thinking, I figure I must know better than God.

But God is God and He knows best -- and will do His will His way, whatever we might be thinking. Take Genesis 50:25 for example. Joseph said to his brothers, "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." That sounds like a clear prophetic word spoken by a hero of the Old Testament that Joseph's brothers could have enthusiastically expected to be fulfilled in their lifetime. But Joseph died in Egypt not long after sharing this promise, and then Joseph's brothers all died in Egypt as well, followed by about 430 challenging years of waiting until the Israelites finally left Egypt! Whatever anyone might have thought the fulfillment of Joseph's prophetic word would look like, it didn't happen until, as Stephen of the New Testament later said, "the time of the promise" had come (Acts 7:17). God's time. The right time. Not to be rushed and not to be resented, but certainly to provoke God's people to cry out to Him, asking Him to do as He promised (Exodus 2:23-25)!

This both humbles me as well as instructs me in how I ought to view and respond to the promises and prophetic words God has spoken to my wife Fiona and I. And if I can embrace this valuable truth, I will have peace in the waiting as I let God be God and stop trying to tell Him the way things ought to be.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A lesson even Dirty Harry knew...

I've already admitted that God spoke to me from one of Arnie's Terminator movies, as well as from Sly in one of the Rocky moviesso why wouldn't He be able to from Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry? It was just the other day, as I flicked on the TV and caught the last 20 minutes or so of Magnum Force, that I heard Clint growl a line that left me wondering if God had me in His sights.

It was a simple line, and one that I at first dismissed even though I couldn't help but feel provoked by it. Take a listen to this brief clip...

I don't know about you, but I often can't resist comparing myself to others in my line of work only to be left feeling discouraged at how inadequate I perceive myself to be compared to how amazing they seem to be! It's like I believe that, in order to feel truly adequate or acceptable, I have to be as good as whoever I'm tempted to compare myself to at whatever they do well at. And since I know some very gifted pastors, that can leave me feeling pretty useless at times! And not only useless, but exhausted as well after wasting time trying to excel at things that aren't my areas of strength. Of course, it also reflects a definite lack of humility as I try to be some kind of Superman rather than celebrating the diversity of strengths within the team of pastors around me.

So that's why I think it's important to heed Harry Callahan's advice in the above video. And that's why I also think that Paul wrote in Romans 12:3-4, "For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..."

We all have a unique measure of faith and grace, and each of us has a different spiritual gift mix according to that grace. That means that we need one another as each of us brings our strengths to help with things in areas in which some of us feel weak. And that means we can appreciate each person's contribution, unthreatened by how much better others are at things we don't do so well. 

After all, as much as God calls us to believe Him to do miracles through us, the only way to avoid the petty jealousies that can arise as God uses specific people to do those miracles, is to get to know our limitations – and to be grateful that others have the strengths to make up for them.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, August 19, 2011

An irresistible contrast

I'm so taken aback, I don't know what to say. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut (or my keyboard silent). After all, who am I to judge? I have my own excesses (to a degree). For instance, I buy a smoothie about once every six months. But when a friend of mine came back from a trip talking about a store he couldn't believe existed, I was -- well, taken aback. And however generous the people are who might frequent this store, I still can't manage to accept its appropriateness. As far as I'm concerned, it's a symbol of why some people in this world suffer without adequate food and water while others party. It's a picture of the excesses of western materialism while western newspapers tabulate how many children are dying in the horn of Africa.

I'm speaking of doll spas. American Girl doll spas. Where parents can take their little girls to have their $100 doll's hair done, or their doll's nails done, or their doll's ears pierced. Here's what else is available: "Our stylists will give her doll a thorough facial scrub to get her clean. And to keep her feeling relaxed, we'll send her home with a pampering set featuring cucumber stickers for her eyes, nail decals, flip-flops, a salon cape, and a faux face mask." And that's not all. There are photo sessions for dolls. And you can take your child and her dolly out for a dining experience as well.

So while bony little black children line up for a pot of porridgy food in some arid refugee camp, we use the extra dollars in our wallets to take our child's toy doll to the spa.

No, I'm under no naive illusion that all the world's poverty problems will simply go away if we send all our discretionary income to relief organizations. Corruption, power struggles and vested interests often get in the way. But I also know that the more we spend on ourselves and our toys, and the less we share with others, the less people will be helped as well.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Honest words in difficult days...

I recently discovered some dusty old journals in my crawlspace. They're from 24 years ago, from when I lived in a remote desert village in northern Sudan, doing community development work. Curious, I began to read them, and before I knew it, I was hooked. I read them all, and what I found surprised me. I have long spoken of my year in Sudan in very positive terms, but what I found in these journals didn't match up with the residual memories I had of that time. The journals were full of appalling reminders of long forgotten challenges and failures -- in my circumstances, but more so in my heart-responses to them. And then I found an old prayer letter that I had sent to my prayer supporters that was so honest that (as I recall) my prayer letter coordinator almost didn't send it out. But it needed to go out. And it still seems a helpful reminder for me. Here it is, if you'd care to read it...

July 22, 1987

My dear supporters,
How shall I begin? I sit here writing on the edge of a cliff. An emotional precipice. Shall I conceal from you the danger I'm in? Shall I write only to leave vaguely pleasing images in your minds of my disconcerting circumstances so as not to upset your respective days? Or shall I write with honesty, revealing the darkness of the mood I find myself in? Forget the half-truths; I need to share my real feelings. Devotions aren't always good and poor circumstances can become extremely weighty when God's not considered as a part of them. I'm tired. Emotionally, spiritually and socially. I'm tired of team life and the constant effort and super-sensitivity it requires. I'm tired of the expectations placed on me to visit by the people in this community when I have nothing of any fibre to say in conversation in their language. I'm tired of waiting for a drilling rig that I'm responsible to oversee when I know nothing of what its fully experienced crew can obviously do without me. I'm tired of keeping busy with whatever needs doing until communities I'm involved with are able to do what is expected of them so that I can then offer our resultant help. The other projects progress while my projects are delayed. I'm tired folks. I wanna come home. Enough Lord. The furnace is hot enough.

"My child! What causes this turmoil in your heart? You have asked me to break you of pride; to soften your heart; to help you to grow mature. Surely you didn't expect such things to be painless, easy, or even fully enjoyable. Ken, I love you. I know that this hurts. But Ken, I have heard your prayers -- your pleading for maturity; your hunger for humility -- and I am only now seeking to answer them. Don't allow the troubles which are now in your life to cause you to despair. I am the God of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and I am your God also. Trust in Me. The troubles are to stretch you and strengthen you. They must not come between us, for I want to be with you to help you with these troubles. You must learn to rest in Me amidst the troubles that life in this troubled world always seems to contain, rather than to try to gain control of the problems by your own power. This is humility -- to admit full reliance on Me because of a recognition of your own inadequacy. You must learn to see Me amidst life's many troubles rather than ignoring My omnipotent sovereignty when life's difficulties begin to hurt. This is maturity -- to abandon earthly shortsightedness in order to realize an invisible and infinitely wise and powerful God's presence with you at all times. Be still, and know that I am God. I love you, and am with you now, as always."

I covet your prayers.
Love Ken  (Psalm 66)

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"The Long Silence"

I just finished reading The Cross of Christ, by John Stott. It was quite impacting. Though it sometimes felt like pretty hard slogging due to its very thorough content, it was immensely encouraging as Stott put the spotlight on Christ crucified and explained so encouragingly what was accomplished and completed on that historic day so long ago.

What excited me most as I read this book was that John Stott does far more than simply explain doctrine. As Stott unpacked what was accomplished by Christ's death on the cross, he emphasized "the heart of the cross" and all it achieved, and what all that can and should mean, right now, in my heart and in my everyday Christian life.

As I drew near to the end of this rich reading experience, Stott quoted the following story, which I found quite moving, and I leave it with you to ponder...

The Long Silence

At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame - but with belligerence.

"Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?", snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!"

In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "Lynched, for no crime but being black !"

In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: "Why should I suffer?" she murmured. "It wasn't my fault." Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.

Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.


© 2011 by Ken Peters

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Careful now...

If I'm not careful, I can end up saying some fairly negative things when circumstances unexpectedly go sour on me. It's not even just the big problems that can lead to this, but even the little things that go wrong at the wrong time that can really get me murmuring. Contexts in which I'm particularly vulnerable are when I'm already under pressure, or when many things go wrong in quick succession, or when things break that I don't have the cash or the capability to fix. And the more serious the issue, the more tempted I feel in allowing myself to go down the tubes.

So it strikes me as appropriate that after King Ahaz of Judah had been made aware that Israel and Syria were teaming up to attack him, Isaiah's first words to Ahaz were, "Be careful, be quiet, do not fear..." (Isaiah 7:4). When things go wrong -- even dreadfully wrong -- I truly want those words to immediately run through my mind:  Be careful -- be quiet -- do not fear.

I need to be careful about where I allow my thoughts to wander; about not creating my own little atmosphere of negativity by the thoughts I allow myself to entertain; about where I see God in it all; about not seeing my problems as greater than God.

I need to be quiet lest I speak out of unbelief, and simply discourage myself; lest I give voice to thoughts I'd be wiser to repent of; lest I speak like a fool who refuses to see God in my circumstances; lest I babble on about my fears, thereby increasing them, when I have no need to fear at all!

Isaiah's command to not fear is such a familiar one that we read so often throughout the Bible, but it seems to me that Isaiah's first words, to "Be careful, be quiet" were just as important for someone facing what feels like an overwhelming trial. If we take care regarding how we respond to life's troubles, they will be much less likely to get under our skin and irritate our soul, and we will find ourselves much more often able to face life's difficulties with faith rather than with fear.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, June 17, 2011

Having eyes to see God in it all

It's true that bad things happen to good people, and so often that leaves us with unanswered questions and a struggle to find God in it all. But I'm struck with how often the Bible says that the adversity or affliction that God's people experience is actually from God. Isaiah 30:20 says, "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher." James 1:2-3 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." Though it doesn't explicitly say there in James that the various trials are from God, it's certainly implied by the fact that those trials are described as tests intended to help us to grow. Growth is from God, and so are the tests that produce growth.

It's so valuable for me to recognize this on a daily basis. If I can see life's trials -- big or small -- as something that are often from the Lord for His good purposes, I won't be so vulnerable to offense with God if they persist. Yet so often, I find it hard to see God in the midst of trials. All I can see are the troubles. But God is there, ever wanting to teach us and ever eager to see us grow, and will always eventually reveal Himself amidst our circumstances so that we can see Him as our Teacher in it all.

I really need God's help to see Him at such times, but even if He chooses to hide Himself for a time (see Isaiah 8:17), I want to learn to approach life's difficulties with faith that God really does want to use life's troubles to help me grow increasingly steadfast as I walk in this uneven world. Only then will every problem truly be an opportunity -- for my good and God's glory!

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, June 3, 2011

He moves in inscrutable ways

I often find myself trying to figure God out. Why'd He do that? Why didn't He do that? Why is He taking so long? So many "why" questions can be asked in such a tumultuous world. And so many more such questions can be aroused as we read about how God hardened some to reject the Gospel and softened others to accept it (Romans 10:20-21; 11:25; see also 11:26-27). But then I feel stopped in my tracks by the apostle Paul's response in Romans 11:33 (ESV)... "Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!"

I don't think I have ever used the word "inscrutable" in a conversation. It means mysterious or beyond comprehension. In other words, God's ways won't always make sense to us. He has mercy on some and hardens others (Romans 9:18). He creates some for destruction and others for glory (Romans 9:23). And as Christians, the Bible tells us that God ordains that we should suffer in afflictions (1 Thess. 3:3) as well as succeed in good works (Ephesians 2:10). What a mishmash! It's tempting to want to argue with God about such ways, but then I wonder who am I as such a small and limited created being to argue with such a great and infinite Creator (Romans 9:20)?

On the days when I get really frustrated with God's ways or God's timing or God's choices, I think it's really important for me to remember that I'm not God and can't possibly expect to fully grasp his ways. Like Job, I sometimes need to cover my mouth before answering God rashly (Job 40:4). Yes, God has revealed a great deal about Himself to us in His Word, but that can tempt us to think that we should always have enough data to be able to figure God out. And yet, however much God has revealed to us about Himself, we need to remember that His thoughts and ways will still always be higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that He will continue to move in inscrutable ways. So on those days when I'm frustrated with God, it's far better for me to simply yield to His ways and trust "the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God" than to get offended because I can't figure Him out.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Friday, May 20, 2011

Inspired to say...

The writer of Psalm 91 boldly declares, "I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'" (Psalm 91:2). In light of such a verse, it sounds quite certain that he really did say that, and that he truly believed what he said.  He said, "I will say to the Lord...", and then he spoke of his trust in God and of his intention to find his security in Him -- all in the shadow of some very serious troubles that he then goes on to mention in verses 3-8: a fowler's snare, deadly pestilence, night terrors, arrows and destruction!

And yet in my much smaller struggles and challenges, I can find myself wondering if I'm prepared to say the same thing. When I'm facing the fowler in my life, can I always say to the Lord what the writer of Psalm 91 said? Can I always say, "I will say to the Lord..."? When things are going wrong all around me, will I say with confidence that I consider God a safe refuge and a secure fortress? In other words, do I really trust God?

To make this question more real, imagine that I just received a large unexpected bill, and just noticed an unwelcome noise under my van, and also just got saddled with a truckload of work with an imminent deadline. Will I then say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust""I will say" sounds so certain, so declarative, so confident, even though troubling circumstances can so easily create doubts in us. But "I will say to the Lord" sounds like all that confidence is in God because of who He is and what He promises to those who love Him: "I [Godwill be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him." (Psalm 91:15). Such confidence in God doesn't need to be worked up by struggling people. It's a confidence that's inspired by who we know God to be and by what we know He's capable of doing!

So whatever I may feel like, and whatever my circumstances may feel like, I'd be wise to look to the God "who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32) and to join the psalmist in wholeheartedly declaring: "I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!"

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The path of a cloud

Today marks my blog's third birthday. After three years of blogging, it's obvious that I'm beginning to change the pace at which I add new posts. After initially averaging 7+ posts a month for the first 20 months, I tapered off to four or five a month in 2010, and now only find myself writing about three posts per month thus far this year. I alluded to the reason for this dramatic drop in production in a post I wrote in February, which essentially said that I suddenly began feeling the need to slow down my writing in order to better keep up with living what I write. That feeling hasn't changed, and occasionally leaves me wondering about discontinuing this blog altogether. But however much I may be tempted to quit, I still have my moments when I suddenly feel a strong desire -- nay, even a compulsion -- to write about something particularly meaningful to me at the time. And if someone out there in blogland ends up encouraged or stirred by such posts, so much the better.

So in lieu of this momentous occasion, and just to see how it would turn out, I created a wordcloud of the past six months of posts on The View from Here (which you can click on to see it enlarged on Wordle).

Wordle: The View from Here

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

I never pay attention to the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. It's like the oft-ignored middle child of the Easter weekend. After all, it's nothing but an in-between time -- dead space between two major events. Right?

Upon reflection, I'm not so sure. In some circles, this day is called Holy Saturday. It's the day Jesus was in the ground. A precious seed buried. The disciples struggling with uncertainty. A time of unresolved tension and unanswered questions. Yet even though it was a day of discouragement for all those who mourned Jesus' death, it was also a day not far from breakthrough -- a day of then unknown possibilities.

Does that sound like it could be relevant for anyone dealing with disappointment and confusion in their walk with God? It does to me. It's a beautiful picture of the fact that, with God, there can be hope in the darkness; expectation amidst apparent defeat. A seed may be buried, but there's something going on just beneath the surface. And it's about to sprout forth! This helps me to see that I needn't be so fearful of the unresolved things in my life.

Life is so full of untidy outcomes and unexplainable circumstances, that it's helpful to reflect on a Holy Saturday when God waited...  He chose to let the followers of His Son live in the empty, worrisome space called uncertainty before He moved that stone. In God's wisdom, there needed to be a Saturday, when the minutes may have felt like hours, before the events of that glorious Sunday unfolded!

There's something holy about waiting when God is the One who's in charge. And there's something good about feeling the tension of an uncertain outcome that provides us with the thrilling opportunity to trust God in the dark rather than only when it's obvious how God plans to see us through. I think I need to develop a greater appreciation of the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday.

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The appeal of heroes

Rotten Tomatoes has a list of the most anticipated movies for 2011. What a list. What is it that attracts us to all these movies with such highly unrealistic, larger-than-life characters who save the world from all those wantonly evil villains out there?

I know I might see a few of those movies, and yet I feel a little guilty about it. I think that the reason I'm interested in some of them is because of the thrill ride they can be. And when done well, they can also provide such a sense of satisfaction in how they show an underdog-turned-superhero pulverizing an horrifically evil and egotistical bad guy (even if -- or maybe especially if -- the hero is a little bit flawed himself).

But I think the reason I feel a bit guilty about liking such films is because I wonder how much there's some kind of replacement-theology going on out there? What I mean is, I wonder if -- in the absence of people's convictions regarding a God who wants to save them amidst the obvious troubles of this world -- people feel the need to invent their own saviours to quell the need we feel for them. And then I go to be entertained by them. Is it wrong for me to find some sense of satisfaction in such flawed saviours?

Possibly, but what I'm more inclined to think is that the true Gospel story of a humble Saviour rescuing hell-bound sinners is such a compelling one, that story writers who don't even know the Gospel story aren't able to avoid re-writing it again and again and again. It's ingrained in us. People love the story of a saviour when all hope is lost, and God has provided such a Saviour! And there's nothing wrong with revelling in such a theme on a big screen. I simply hope that more and more people will recognize who the real Saviour is -- this Jesus who has offered Himself up for us -- and that more and more people in this volatile world will begin to find Him even more compelling than the Hollywood heroes ever could be.

But will they recognize a hero who humbly rides into town on a donkey, only to be crucified among criminals?

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A pale blue dot

Just the other day, I added a framed image to my office wall. And every time I look up at it, I'm awestruck. Really. Every time my eyes glance in its direction, I stop whatever I was doing and I stare in wonder.

The print I bought and framed is an image of what has come to be known as The Pale Blue Dot. I've written about it before. Here's some background information on my picture from that previous blog post...

It's a wonderful image taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 while it was on its way out of our solar system, more than 4 billion miles away from earth, and gives a very real sense of our smallness. As Voyager 1 grew increasingly distant, Ground Control on Earth commanded it to turn around and take some pictures of our solar system. From that vast distance, in one of the pictures, Earth can be seen as an infinitesimal point of light visible in a ray of sunlight (enlarged in the image to the right, or click on the image to the left to enlarge it).

As the famous astronomist Carl Sagan later said, "That's here. That's home. That's us." That little dot is where "everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives... every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam."

So now, as I sit at my desk, sometimes stressing over a phone call I need to make or worrying about something I just said in a call I just completed, or sometimes struggling with a project I need to complete or wondering how on earth I'll meet a deadline, I just look up and I get a dose of perspective. Because whatever I'm stressing over or struggling with, it's probably not as earth-shattering as I may think it to be. And whether I succeed or fail at some tiny task at some tiny point in the history of this tiny dot in the universe is probably not as important as I may be tempted to think.

But in addition to realizing that, I find that the pale blue dot in that image leaves me utterly amazed at how God took notice of each person on this "mote of dust," and despite how infinitesimally small we are, God sent His Son Jesus to this precious jewel in this vast universe to rescue us from our sins and to offer us a new and infinite life with Him! That kind of love leaves me in awe every time I look up from my modest pursuits and stare at a simple dot. And it leaves me lost in wonder as I think that God cares enough to draw near to us here and to wrap us in His loving arms!

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Every Command is a Promise (church bulletin cover)

There’s great hope when God tells us to do what’s impossible to do. He knows we can’t do it, and He really doesn’t want us trying to do it as if we thought we could do it ourselves.

For example, we know that God strictly commanded Israel to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land” (Numbers 33:52), and we know that it was actually God who was “driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves” (Deuteronomy 4:38). In fact, God promised that it would be “the Lord your God who fights for you” as the children of Israel took the land (Deut. 3:22). So in light of all that, it makes sense for Moses to say, “...that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised” (Deut. 6:18-19).

Notice it doesn’t say, “ the Lord has commanded.” This is because God promised to do the very same thing that He had commanded His people to do. And this is why we never need to fret when God asks us to do what seems impossible. Because as we take a step of obedience to do what God has commanded, God steps in to help us accomplish what’s in His heart for us to do. We have a part – He has a part. We can’t do our part without Him, and He doesn’t want to do his part without us. So we do our part in faith-filled dependence on Him, and He does His part out of grace-filled love for us. What a wonderful arrangement!

It seems to me that this means that when God’s grace is involved, every command God gives us contains a promise that it’s by His strength that it’ll happen. That’s why I don’t want to get stressed out when God tells me to do what seems impossible — because as a child of God, we can be sure that whatever God commands is also a promise!

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Act the Miracle

I found a very helpful devotional on John Piper's blog today. It's something I very much needed to hear, as it seemed to relate very well to what I'd just recently posted to my own blog, and I plan to listen to the longer version for which a link is provided below. Check it out, and perhaps you'll also find it a helpful insight!...

When it comes to killing my sin I don’t wait for the miracle, I Act the Miracle.

Acting a miracle is different from working a miracle. If Jesus tells a paralyzed man to get up, and he gets up, Jesus works a miracle. But if I am the paralyzed man and Jesus tells me to get up, and I obey and get up, I act the miracle. If I am dead Lazarus and Jesus commands me to get up, and I obey, Jesus works the miracle, I act the miracle.

So when it comes to killing my sin, I don’t wait passively for the miracle of sin-killing to be worked on me, I act the miracle.

For example, Paul says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

So he tells me to put my sin to death. I should not wait for God to kill it while I remain passive. But he tells me to kill it “by the Spirit." Sin-killing is a miracle of the Spirit. But I do not wait passively, I act the miracle.

Again Paul says, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

So Paul works hard to kill the sins of lethargy and distraction in his ministry. “I worked harder than any of them.” But the decisive animation of that work is the grace of God. It is a miracle. But Paul does not wait passively, he acts the miracle.

Or consider Philippians 2:12-13. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Paul commands me to work out my salvation, because God is the one who works this in me. My willing and working is God’s willing and working. It is a miracle. But I do not wait passively, I act the miracle.

I spoke to the Bethlehem College and Seminary Chapel about this crucial act of miraculous sin-killing in my own life. These are lessons I learned afresh on my leave of absence. They feel very fresh, very important and very powerful in my life right now. It is a very personal message.

I invite you to listen or watch “I Act the Miracle.”

© 2011 by Ken Peters

Monday, February 28, 2011

A way to close the gap

Have you ever felt bothered about the gap between how much information you've taken in compared to how much of it you've put into practice? I'm thinking of all the sermons I've heard and of all the books I've read and of the many blog posts I've written! If I were to put everything into practice that I've absorbed in those ways, I would be truly quite amazing, thank you very much! And it's the blog posts that really bug me, because they're things that I often feel God is depositing directly into my heart. Why can't I at least be walking my own personal writings? In fact, it makes me wonder if I should keep writing about present lessons learned if the new blog posts are simply distracting me from past lessons forgotten. If this blog was simply a collection of anecdotes from my life rather than a catalog of applications to live, I'm sure I could write on without reservation. But it's not, and I'm now beginning to wonder if I get more satisfaction from writing about what I'm learning than from seeking and obeying the God I'm learning from, for it's not uncommon to find me spending more time writing about insights I've gained from reading God's Word than praying for His help to live what I'm learning. And I'm quite certain that Jesus didn't say "If you love Me, you will write about my commandments." He'd rather we keep His commandments (John 14:15). And as I continue to write more, I feel a growing gap between what I know and what I do -- what I understand and what I undertake. That can only go on for so long until there's gap so large that I'm no longer living an honest life. But if it's the same challenge re sermons I've heard and books I've read, I can't say that I believe the answer is to stop listening to sermons or to stop reading. So what's to be done?

I was recently reading about William Wilberforce's life, and he stressed the importance of desiring God more than simply knowledge or understanding. And he cultivated his desire for God through what he referred to as the "retired hours" of prayer. Wilberforce also saw that there was a link between life and doctrine, and that link was prayer. In other words, the truths we understand can only consistently become truths that we live through seeking God and depending on Him for strength.

I want to grow in my desire for God more than in my desire for understanding. But knowing that as we seek God, He wants to give us increased understanding, I also want my growing desire for God -- expressed in the retired hours of prayer -- to be the link that I need between what I know and what I do. That may mean I spend less time writing, and then use the time that I once spent writing to pray. I doubt that'll affect too many people anyway. And if there actually is anyone who still wants to know what my mind is on in the wider gaps between my blog posts, just look in the archives of this blog and you may find me there as well, praying for God's help in living some of those past lessons learned.

© 2011 by Ken Peters