Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading List 2015

I continued to track what I've been reading throughout the year. I don't remember reading this many books in a single year since Bible college! How can you tell my kids are all out and about as adults now and that I don't have cable? This was also the year Fiona and I made part of our holiday into a used book store tour of 21 book stores! So this year shows a considerable increase in what I've tracked on my blog in past years (here's my 2010 reading list, my 2011 reading list and my 2014 reading list in the order I completed them).

Included in this bunch are three small devotional books that have each been a huge help to me, and it felt the right time to re-read them all; three books on America's Civil War, one being about my favourite general of that war; two books on Antarctica, but more about Ernest Shackleton; and several books (that really rocked my world) about Muslims coming to know Jesus in unprecedented numbers! And when Elisabeth Elliot died this year, I felt inspired to finally read her account of the martyrdom of her husband Jim and four other missionaries, followed by a more current account written by Steve Saint, the son of the pilot Nate Saint, who died in that incident as well. Powerful stories.

Apart from the books listed here, I read my Bible throughout the 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.

  1. The Calvary Road by Roy Hession. Began the year with yet another re-read of a classic book that really helped me to re-calibrate my heart for the coming year. In fact, I don't think it'd be a bad idea for me to read this book at the beginning of every new year! In essence, this book is about personal revival - "the life of the Lord Jesus poured into human hearts" - and about what gets in the way of that. It's certainly something I could always do with more of!
  2. In Shackleton's Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic by Henry Worsley. Years ago I read a gripping account of Shackleton's Endurance expedition in which Ernest Shackleton displayed truly heroic leadership skills as he saved his men from near catastrophe. I thought that Worsley's book might shed more light on Shackleton as Worsley retraced the route that Shackleton took to nearly reach the South Pole in his 1908-09 Nimrod expedition. But apart from some brief descriptions and quotes from Shackleton's journey, the book is mainly about a fairly forgettable effort, which was not entirely "in Shackleton's footsteps", that Worsley made to reach the pole exactly 100 years later. 
  3. Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges. This must be the most thorough and practical and readable book on how a Christian can live a life of growing trust in God ever written! I found it extremely helpful in so many ways that I wonder how soon it'll be before I read it again so that my understanding can grow even more. What wonderful challenges Jerry Bridges provides while also presenting these challenges in such grace-filled, accessible ways.
  4. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus by Jerry Trousdale. I shed tears reading this book. It contains amazing true stories of unprecedented moves of God among Muslims in extremely restricted environments! It has rekindled hope in me that the Gospel both can and will penetrate the Muslim world, as it is already doing through the faithful and extraordinary acts of obedience of many extremely ordinary people.
  5. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. Some might wonder why I would read such a book. To begin with, having grown up in America, I've always been fascinated by the stories of the Civil War. But more than that, I have always been fascinated by the legendary reputation of General "Stonewall" Jackson. Not only did Jackson redefine in his day what was possible on a battlefield by his bold and daring tactics, but his deeply heartfelt devotional life with God so encompassed every aspect of his life that I've found myself stirred by his godly example. Perhaps like King David, he was truly a warrior with the heart of a worshipper. This book was excellent in how well it highlighted the mingling of those two traits in him.
  6. Changed into His Likeness by Watchman Nee. I think this is, no doubt, the most penetratingly insightful devotional book I have ever read. It's like Watchman Nee is reading my mail. As he delves into the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Watchman Nee identifies lessons to be learned from each of these men's lives, and gracefully opens the curtain to show us who "the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob" is. And the truths that he highlights felt so extremely relevant to my everyday walk with God. I highly recommend this book. This was my second reading of it in less than three years.
  7. A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You by John Piper. This book contains 50 short devotionals written to turn a reader's heart toward God. I found some to be more pertinent to where I'm at than others. Some seemed like a razor-sharp scalpel, while others simply seemed interesting. But all of them were clearly God-glorifying and encouraging.
  8. They Met at Gettysburg by General Edward J. Stackpole. This book sort of fell into my hands some time ago. I found it in a box of free books and couldn't pass it up. Written by an American general in the 1950's, less than 100 years after the Civil War, I was eager to hear the kind of measured, non-emotive treatment that a military man like Stackpole would provide to as complex a battle as Gettysburg. I was impressed with his balanced approach in terms of the Union/Confederate perspectives to be considered. Though at times awkward in his writing style, I was fascinated by many of his insights into the why's and what for's of the battle.
  9. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery by David L. Watson and Paul D. Watson. This is a companion book to Miraculous Movements (#4 above), and spells out in detail the methodology used to spur on the movements described in that book. I found it incredibly practical, at times underlining nearly entire pages. My prayer is that I'll be able to put the principles of this book into practice so that I can have a small part to play in reaching people in my city for Jesus. I believe that anyone with a desire to do the same wherever they live would find this book a great help!
  10. The Father Glorified: True Stories of God's Power Through Ordinary People by Patrick Robertson and David Watson. This is another companion book to books #4 and #9 above. I can't seem to get enough of this stuff. Amazing stories of amazing miracles by an amazing God. I find myself wanting to saturate myself in these stories so that my own faith will grow  faith for such stories to be possible in my own interactions with people right here in the city of Winnipeg.
  11. Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make your Church Invaluable to the Community by Dr. John Fuder. Not to be confused with another concept referred to as "spiritual mapping," this book is more about community analysis for the purpose of churches having a meaningful social and spiritual impact on a community. This is a very practical book born out the author's passion for today's churches to be intentional about becoming relevant in the neighbourhoods God has placed them. Although the book is fairly repetitive, it may be that that is what many of us readers need in order for the unconventional message of this book to get through to us!
  12. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. This is the third book I've read this year to do with the American Civil War (and the tenth book I've read in my lifetime regarding that war). I can't fully explain why I'm so fascinated with it all, but obviously I'm not alone. Over 50,000 books have been written on the Civil War - more than regarding any other war in American history, which is perhaps justified by the fact that more soldiers died in the Civil War than in all the other wars in which America fought put together. This Pulitzer Prize winning tome does much more than simply indulge a reader with explanations of battles fought, but digs deeply into the social contributors and consequences of the war, which may be why I enjoyed this book so much, and which may be why I'm so fascinated with this piece of history. I find it hard to imagine how anyone can overestimate the social impact that the Civil War had on the history and the shaping of America. The values that the winning side fought for are for the most part my values, and for that reason, I wonder how much my life has been impacted by this war of so long ago. In this regard, I see the Civil War as a hinge that history has swung on, for the betterment of many more people than the number who bravely died fighting in it. That in itself has left me fascinated with the context, the characters and the conflict itself, and has kept me reading on and on.
  13. Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. When I heard the news that Elisabeth Elliot had died, I felt it was time for me to finally read her book that tells the story of the death of her husband Jim and four other men who gave their lives in an attempt to reach a feared and violent tribe in the jungles of Ecuador. It's an inspiring and moving story of five families who were devoted to God and dedicated to doing His will whatever the cost. And while the courage of the men who died provides a gripping narrative, I found the response of the wives to the news of their husbands' deaths to be just as stunning. After receiving the report that the bodies of the men had been found, the wife of Roger Youderian wrote in her journal, "God gave me this verse two days ago, Psalm 48:14, 'For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our Guide even unto death.' As I came face to face with the news of Roj's death, my heart was filled with praise. He was worthy of his home-going." Wow. May I be so trusting in the face of life's difficulties.
  14. True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna by David Roberts. Years ago, I read "Annapurna" - an heroic account of the first ascent of an 8,000 metre peak. Little did I know how much controversy surrounded that climb! In "True Summit" David Roberts is essentially seeking to give credit to where credit is due, as Maurice Herzog, the leader of the French team that summitted Annapurna in 1950, seemed intent on glossing over any negative elements of the expedition in a way that would consistently put himself in the best light possible. Though Roberts does an admirable job of honouring those whom Herzog appeared to minimize, Roberts at times seemed to overstate his case. But certainly an interesting read.
  15. God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation by Joseph Sebarenzi. The dramatic story of a Rwandan man who survived the genocide in Rwanda and then, following his return there, met Jesus Christ in such a meaningful way that God changed the anger in his heart to a powerful sense of forgiveness. Then following this transformation came an unexpected opportunity to fill the third most powerful seat in the Rwandan government, and with it an opportunity to steer the country toward ethnic reconciliation and long-term peace. But politics in Rwanda was not so simple, and Joseph would eventually need to flee for his life again as he stood for truth amidst power-hungry opponents. It is a story that inspires one to aim high whatever the price!
  16. If You Will Ask: Reflections on the Power of Prayer by Oswald Chambers. I was attracted to the simplicity of the title of this book by the author of "My Utmost for His Highest," and I was looking forward to the insights of a man remembered as deeply spiritual man. I wasn't disappointed. This book felt like an intriguing mixture of refreshingly unconventional, frequently insightful, sometimes confusing and immensely practical. Upon finishing it, I felt I should to go back and re-read all the parts I'd underlined before simply placing it back on a shelf. It just felt too helpful a book for me to forget what I had found helpful as I was reading it!
  17. Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller. This was the first book I've read by Timothy Keller and I really enjoyed it. He knows how to get you thinking without being too academic (even though he is quite an academic). And he often writes like an apologist who is trying to help people find Jesus, which I appreciate because those apologetic sections of the book showed me insightful ways of presenting Christ to people who don't know Him. That said, I definitely found specific chapters more personally helpful than others, but Keller certainly struck a chord in most chapters, and when he did, it sometimes struck deep and as something that I truly needed to embrace.
  18. Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson across Western North America by Jack Nisbet. This is a book my Dad has read a couple of times because he enjoyed it so much, and this past summer he gave me his copy because he knew I was interested in books about explorers and about travel in remote places. In the days of David Thompson, western North America was indeed remote! When David Thompson first crossed the Rockies in 1801, he was the first to survey and chart the rivers and landmarks west of the Great Divide, and his teams were the first white men that many aboriginal tribes encountered. And though the adventures that such wilderness exploration created made for great reading, it was Thompson's warm and teachable manner with the indigenous peoples of the region that made his travels so engaging.
  19. End of the Spear by Steve Saint. After reading "Through Gates of Splendor" earlier this year (see #13 above), I really wanted to read this subsequent story written by the son of Nate Saint, the pilot who had died along with four other missionaries in the Amazonian jungle in the 1950s. Steve tells a very moving story of how many in the Waodani tribe turned to Christ through the involvement of several family members of the men who were martyred. Even Steve himself grew up among the tribe and learned their language, and much of this book is about his efforts to help the tribe deal with the modern world's encroachment upon their culture and into their lands. Through Steve's winsome stories, I grew very fond of the men who murdered those five missionaries, as Steve makes it abundantly clear how God radically saved and transformed the men who were once his father's killers.
  20. The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper. For me personally, this is one of the books God put in my life years ago at just the right time for life-changing reasons. And I felt it was time I read it again due to some things God's been addressing in my life. It's my favourite book by John Piper. It's very short (only 84 pages), and that's what makes it so compelling. When one of your favourite authors condenses his thoughts on one of his favourite subjects to a mere 84 pages, it's good to take notice! Because you know he wouldn't want to waste a single word when narrowing down what he wants to say on that subject. The result is concentrated goodness, and compelling reading. I'm so glad to have read it again!
  21. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. It just so happens that I began and ended the year with a book on Shackleton. Though the first one (above) was a bit disappointing, this one was thrilling! It may be fair to say that Shackleton's Endurance expedition is the most glorious and triumphant failure in exploration history! Though the lofty goals of this expedition had to be abandoned after the ship was trapped and destroyed by ice, it is truly amazing that not a life was lost. Apart from the goodness of God, it was Shackleton's amazing leadership made the difference as they escaped one life-threatening hazard after another. I had my appetite whetted when I read Shackleton's own account of the story in his book "South" years ago, but Lansing's version is far more gripping, and he wrote it when some expedition members were still alive to interview.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Superduper, superabundant, superabounding Grace!

I think Paul made a word up. I can't prove it, and I'm certain there's evidence to the contrary, but I want to believe Paul that made a word up because he needed a special word to properly describe an exceptional attribute of God! It's a word that probably caused many to think that the apostle Paul was getting carried away. But in actual fact, the big huge word hyperperisseuo reveals the heart of God in a very special way!

Perisseuo basically means "to superabound"! Not just to abound, but to superabound. To abound, according to Mr. Webster, means to be plentiful or prevalent. So to superabound must mean to be super-plentiful, super-abundant! I love the word perisseuo. Paul uses it over two dozen times in his letters. It's a fascinating study to see what Paul wants to see superabounding. He exhorted followers of Christ to superabound in love for one another (1 Thessalonians 3:12), in hope in God (Romans 15:13), in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:7), in rejoicing in Jesus (Philippians 1:26) and in much, much more!

But if perisseuo means to superabound, I'm sure you can imagine what hyperperisseuo means. We're talking super-duper-abounding! Hyper-active-abounding! It literally means to abound exceedingly, beyond measure  to ultra-superabound! What a word!

But it's the context in which Paul uses this fantastic word that is really exciting. He only uses the word hyperperisseuo twice in all his letters, and in Romans 5:20, it refers to God's grace: "Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound [the Greek word here means to superabound]. But where sin abounded [superabounded], grace abounded much more." Those last three English words are the one Greek word, hyperperrisseuo, or super-duper-abounded!

Paul is writing here about supernatural superabounding. We have our earthly examples of abounding, such as an apple tree laden with fruit at picking time, or a rushing waterfall during spring thaw in the mountains. And we have earthly examples of superabounding, such as our propensity to sin again and again and again (Romans 5:20). How disheartening that such a word can be applicable to the level of sin that's in our lives.

But God has a response to that sin. If sin superabounds, then the grace of God exceedingly superabounds. In other words, no matter how much we sin, God's grace superabounds beyond measure over and above that sin, however much that may be! There's simply no limit to God's grace.

So when we stumble in sin, there's no reason to let that discourage us if we're prepared to live in God's unlimited, ever-exceeding, super-duper abounding grace. Because for those who trust in God's greatest expression of grace  giving His Son to willingly die for us – God's grace will always abound far more abundantly than our sins. 

No wonder Paul anticipated the objection that he appeared to be saying that it's okay to sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1-2). Paul rejected that suggestion without retracting his insistence that there will always be enough grace for us to be forgiven, no matter how many times we've failed. And that's because of God's hyperperisseuo grace!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Something I never get tired of hearing

There are some statements in the Bible that never cease to amaze me. I'm talking about verses that stop me in my tracks nearly every time I read them, and perhaps they always should! It happened again when I read for the umpteenth time Romans 3:20-21... "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe."

To think that the righteousness of God can be found in any of us apart from how well we've done at keeping God's law is staggering! It simply doesn't matter how many do's we've done or how many don'ts we haven't done. The righteousness of God is available to us all through faith in Jesus!

Righteousness apart from rules seems like an oxymoron. But here it is  God granting to us a righteousness that is the result of our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in all that He accomplished for us on the cross. Such faith is Abrahamic faith: "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). This is the ultimate pressure-reliever, as God takes the burden of performing perfectly off of our shoulders and lays on us the gentle robe of righteousness that His Son Jesus bought for us at the cross. 

I never seem to get tired of hearing that: "the righteousness of God apart from the law"  "the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ." So we can stop measuring ourselves, constantly checking if we're doing okay, worried that we're not good enough, and simply enjoy the God who not only makes us righteous in His eyes, but also helps us each day to live righteously in this world.

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Thursday, November 5, 2015

He gives us the very thing He longs to find in us

I think I can safely assume that not many people think very often about circumcision. And it's not often that God brings it up in my devotional life with Him. But it has happened. Picking up the apostle Paul in mid-sentence, I was reading, "...nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but... circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God" (Romans 2:28-29).

As I read that, it struck me that God cares so much more about our hearts than He does about outward things. Perhaps that's because He knows that outward conformity doesn't translate into heart-change the way a changed heart translates into a change in behaviour. Perhaps it's because He knows that outward conformity cannot produce intimacy with Him, but that only a true heart-change can bring about greater closeness between ourselves and God. That must be why God cares so much about our hearts. 

What's encouraging about this focus on the heart is the fact that doing so not only results in God being pleased with us  "praise... from God"  but also releases us from having to earn God's praise. Can you imagine that? We typically only think of Biblical praise as being toward God, but Romans 2:29 speaks of God praising us! But the heart that God praises is a heart that has been given to us from God, and in which Jesus rules and reigns. He won't praise us for anything that's of our own making or done by our own efforts. When Jesus is invited to dwell in our hearts by His Spirit, God gives us new hearts so that we can live for Him, enjoy Him, and also be enjoyed by Him! And these new hearts have no interest in people's praise (which is often focused on what people see on the outside), but are instead, captivated by God's pleasure in us. 

That is so freeing because the very thing that pleases God the most  a heart dedicated to Him  is the same thing that we can totally depend on God to create in us! He is the one who gives us a heart that pleases Him. Our part is to simply draw near to God and keep our hearts focused on Him (rather than on our outward performance), and God will then do His part of keeping our hearts soft and responsive to Him, thereby allowing us to find incomparable pleasure in His infinite pleasure in us.

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Monday, October 26, 2015

Saved by an Angel?

I was reminded of this excerpt from “God’s Desert Highway” (see tab above) when the subject of angelic visitations came up in conversation this week. It was an unforgettable experience, 28 years ago. [Note: A "wadi" is a dry riverbed that fills up in the rainy season.]

...The next morning, we awoke early and pressed on to the last village we would pass through before Khartoum. From there we had two choices: The long (20 hours) and much more likely to be dry route, or the short (12 hours) and more likely to be wet route. We were told that both should be open, so we chose the short route. As a 12-hour route, it took over 24 hours of driving, pushing, wading, and digging to get through the three wadis in its path. It was a horrible route to have taken.
The first wadi we entered was large. We drove up and down its edge looking for a suitable crossing point. Finally Ahmed stopped and said, "This is the best place for us to cross." Ahmed's "best place" was about 50 yards of water, six to 24 inches deep, under which was six to twelve inches of mud, some of which could be seen above the water’s surface here and there to offer hope. It is difficult to describe the five hours of labour it took us to cross that 50 yards at temperatures that certainly well exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. The mud was often right up to our undercarriage and we were on our bellies in the water trying to dig it out. Then we'd lay branches of the wadi’s trees or shrubs under the tires, and then push. Then after managing to get the vehicle about 80% of the way across, we hit the deepest part. If four local shepherds hadn’t been nearby to come and help us (for a price), I’m sure we would have been there for many additional hours.
Tired, dirty and wet, and our feet cut up from the sturdy thorns of the branches we'd had to walk over as we pushed the vehicle over them, we drove on. The next wadi was worse. Instead of a mere 50 yards of water and mud, this one was at least 100 yards wide, with dozens of deep, steep, muddy and slippery ravines weaving their way across our path. Once again, Ahmed drove up and down its edge looking for the best crossing point. As he began our journey across the wadi at the best place he could find, we entered a ravine that was about five feet deep with slippery mud-soaked sides. We immediately got stuck at the bottom of it. Using piles of branches and some determined digging, we got out, but we got stuck over and over again – the final straw being when all four of our wheels were spinning freely on perfectly level ground in mud that was only one or two-inches deep. And given the energy we’d expended and the heat of the desert, we were getting increasingly fatigued as the wadi was becoming alarmingly impassable. It seemed we couldn’t move forward, and going back the way we’d come was looking equally uncertain as the afternoon sun sapped both our bodies and our spirits. I wondered if we were going to die in this remote and inhospitable place. Then along came a man out of nowhere – a nomad of the land, and he offered us help.
"You'll need to turn back," he told Ahmed. "The farther you go in at this place, the harder it becomes." So he led us out. He just began walking away from us expecting us to follow, and as Ahmed tentatively put his foot on the gas, and as we gave the vehicle a push, the vehicle moved and he was able to turn to follow the man. Somehow – I can’t explain how – he led us out of a place that had taken us over an hour to cross into in a matter of minutes. Once back on the side of the wadi where we’d started, the nomad jumped in the vehicle and directed us north.  It didn’t seem like he took us further than where we had looked before when searching for the best crossing-point, but then suddenly we saw what seemed impossible: a passageway  a level and dry place to cross the wadi where we could drive straight across without a single barrier between us and the other side. 
      Once safely across, we expressed our thanks to him, and as he kindly declined our attempts to pay him for his help, I remember wondering at how gentle the look in his eyes was, and I wondered where he had come from in this lonely place. Eventually, he just turned and walked back into the trees of the wadi from where he’d come. I couldn’t resist wondering if he had been an angel.
Once he had left, and as we paused to take some water from a container we carried, I went aside to a distant bush to be alone for a moment. As I began to thank God for the help he had given us, I began to weep. I remembered the psalm that says, “They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; they did not find a way to an inhabited city. They were hungry and thirsty; their souls fainted within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. He led them also by a straight way, to go to an inhabited city. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness” (Psalm 107:4-8).

It was as though that very psalm came to life for us that day in Sudan. And the only reason we didn’t die was because it seemed as though God showed up.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Protection on Paper

Someone once showed me a poster of "The Christian in Spiritual Armour" that left me feeling like I needed to take a few steroids to measure up to the soldier in that picture. I was a rake of a twenty-something year old, and felt like quite the wimp compared to that muscular dude wielding his powerful sword and shield.

Fortunately, the Apostle Paul's reference to our spiritual armour has nothing to do with our physical stature. The spiritual armour Paul wrote about fits Christians of every size and the sword that goes with it is something that even the most physically weakened Christian is fully capable of swinging.

In fact, I think it would be better to draw the picture of "The Christian in Spiritual Armour" as a young child carrying a paper-product sword and shield rather than some strongman carrying heavy weapons. That's because much of the armour we wear or carry in our spiritual fight is found on paper.

Yes, God calls us to arm ourselves with something found on paper pages. Think about it...
  • The "sword of the Spirit" is clearly referred to as "the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17).
  • The "shield of faith" (Eph. 6:16) is produced by the Word of God, since we know that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).
  • And we know that the "belt of truth" (Eph. 6:14) is also the Word of God, because Jesus prayed that the Father would "sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17)
This means that we are to arm ourselves from the pages of the Bible. When we do so, we can be certain that the words in that book are sharp enough to pierce through any of the enemy's trickery, and that the truth on those pages is fire-proof against the "fiery darts" that our enemy throws at us (Eph. 6:16). Imagine that! A fire-proof shield on combustible paper, and flimsy pages that are made immeasurably strong and sharp by the words of heavenly truth they contain.

What does any of this mean? It means that no matter how weak you may feel, you can wield and wear spiritual armour. It means that a picture of a child with a paper sword and shield is closer to Biblical reality than a poster of a muscular soldier with his hefty steel sword and shield. It's not brawn that beats the enemy back, but it's the person who reads and embraces God's Word who will overcome the enemy's constant lies and accusations.

That is why it's so worthwhile to saturate ourselves in the Bible's precious contents. And the fact that Jesus is the living Word means that all our spiritual armour is available in Him, and that as we spend time meditating on His Word in fellowship with Him, He will bring His Word to life in our hearts, enabling us to be victors against our enemy by His power rather than by any unreliable strength of our own.

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dwelling on the good stuff!

I'm pretty excited. I just got a reminder that God doesn't want us brooding over our failings. C'mon. How many of us find our failures distracting, playing them over and over in our minds like some kind of masochistic looping video? But it's totally clear that God doesn't want sinners who follow Jesus to worry about their sins! 

Yes, that's right! The writer of Hebrews helps us to see this as he explains how the old animal sacrifices weren't enough to make people perfect. He writes that if they could have made people perfect, then sacrifices would have ceased to be offered, "for the worshipers once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins" (Hebrews 10:2). So that was God's goal? That people would no longer be conscious of their sin?

Whoa. Wait a minute. Push pause. I sin. Daily. But this writer is inferring that God doesn't want His people conscious of their sins. He writes of a people who are purified by a better sacrifice that he's about to discuss - namely, Jesus Christ - and who are supposedly undistracted by the sin in their lives! Read on.

"And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man [Jesus], after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:11-14). 

So the reason God's people don't have to be distracted by a consciousness of their own failings is because Jesus' sacrifice has fully satisfied what God requires as a consequence for sins, and those who accept that sacrifice as being for themselves are considered "perfected" [Greek word: teleio, meaning to complete, to finish, to fulfill, to make perfect] even as we're still being "sanctified" [Greek word: hagiaz, meaning to be made progressively holy or purified]!

So then, even though it's pretty obvious that we're works in progress that are clearly still being made holy, this passage says that God considers believers in Jesus already perfect and complete! New creations! No wonder Christ's sacrifice means we no longer need to be conscious of our sins! There's no need to self-consciously beat ourselves up for sinning if God considers Christ's sacrifice as fully sufficient to account for our sins.

Certainly we want to be conscious enough of our behaviour to turn from sin when God makes us aware of it, but God's message to us in Jesus Christ is that there's no need to live in any conscious regret of our failings when God has declared us perfect before Him and is daily helping us to increasingly live that way as His Spirit works within us!

So rather than dwelling on our sins, God wants us celebrating and enjoying the wonderful work of life-altering grace He has accomplished - and is continuing to accomplish - in our lives!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 18, 2015

I love Garbage Day!

I enjoy garbage day in our neighbourhood. I really do. I really enjoy it. I get some sort of satisfaction from the thought of garbage that was once cluttering my house being thrown into a truck and taken away from me forever! Occasionally, albeit rarely, I get the opportunity to actually watch the workers throw my garbage onto the truck. It gives me a feeling of, “Ah! It's gone!” Tossed into that bottomless-pit-on-wheels that rumbles through my neighbourhood consuming everything people can throw at it, never to trouble us again!

Why is that such a thrill? I think it’s because there’s an innate desire in most people to be rid of garbage that's in our lives. And there’s a deep satisfaction felt when we get rid of it, completely and forever.

The foulest garbage that clutters my life is sin. Nothing else in my life is uglier and fouler smelling than sin. The Bible likens sin to filth: "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (James 1:21, NIV).

The Good News is that we don’t have to do this by our own efforts. God made a way for us to be rid of that sinful filthy garbage of sin in our lives when Christ gave Himself up for the Church "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). When we turn from sin and turn to God, God takes away our sinful heart and gives us a new heart, leaving us clean – a new creation before Him. When this happens, there is no limit to the amount of garbage Jesus will collect from any individual. And He takes it all away forever!

Unfortunately, we tend to collect new garbage. It can feel extremely difficult to remain experientially clean in this sin-polluted world. But it’s God’s Word that helps us to keep garbage from accumulating in our God-given hearts. When James advised believers to get rid of moral filth and to humbly receive the word planted in them (James 1:21), he was calling on those who had already accepted God's word to humbly yield to it in the way they lived their lives. James explained what he means in the following verse: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22).

So he’s saying we can remain experientially clean by simply living right? Well, duh! Anybody knows that. But that's not too helpful for those of us who can’t manage to steer clear of a sinful act or attitude for even our first hour out of bed. That’s why I don’t think James was implying that receiving God’s word was the same as never experiencing the filth of sin in our lives again. Rather, I think James was focusing on our posture as believers. Are we postured to yield to God’s word or are we more inclined toward the garbage that tempts us in life? Do we prefer our ways or God’s ways? Are we more prone to willful pride or humble submission? When faced with a choice of sin or righteousness, James encourages us to humbly “accept the word planted in you.” In other words, cooperate with God’s truth – prefer it – and its roots will then go even deeper into our lives, making it easier and easier to live according to it. And if we blow it, we can be encouraged that every day is Garbage Day! We can confess our blunders to our merciful God and enjoy watching Him carry them away! What a cheerful chore Garbage Day can be!

The truth is though, my sense of satisfaction comes from more than just having my filthy sin taken away. It also comes from what I'm left with. Such as a conviction of who I am in Christ as a son who is totally loved and accepted by my heavenly Father. And God's Holy Spirit of truth living inside me, keeping me alert to new garbage in my heart while also helping me to create less garbage as he gradually makes me more like Jesus. And a spiritual family who helps me walk in the light and challenge me to walk in ways that are pleasing to God.

In the brief moment it takes for us to confess our sin to God and to those around us, our lives are cleansed of the garbage of sin and we have true fellowship with God and with one another! And in the simplicity of receiving and believing God's word of grace and truth, the cluttered rooms of our heart are swept clean!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fun to Say - Incredible to Know

Some words are simply fun to say. A good example is the word, inconceivable. Give that one a try, putting particular weight on the third syllable. InconCEIVable!

Another word I like is, immutability. Try saying that one a few times. You'll find it kind of just rolls off your tongue... Immutability.

It means unchangeable. It's the characteristic of being inherently incapable of change. Think of something rock solid, weighing thousands of tons, like a mountain that's been there for eons, and you will still lack an adequate example of immutability. Even a mountain's shift of one centimeter a year disqualifies it from being considered immutable. The fact is, there is only one reliable example of immutability: God Himself.

Hebrews 6:17-18 says, "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us" (NKJV).

This tells us that God's words to us are absolutely unchangeable, as is His oath or promise to us. And it's obvious that God is super eager for each of us to recognize this unparalleled immutability that is manifest in His character. We see this in the way He set out to show Abraham how changeless He was (which is the example Heb. 6:17-18 is referring to). God chose a doubly-abundant means of doing so when He not only spoke to Abraham of His plans for him and his descendants, but also confirmed those words with an oath. Why would Almighty God need to confirm His words with an oath? Because He wanted to "show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel." This is God in His mercy going out of His way to reinforce a point. He speaks and then He makes an oath as if to say, "I really mean it! I will not change My mind! You can count on the reliability of My immutability."

Hebrew 6:18 then tell us that it is because of God's incredible constancy that we can be greatly comforted in difficult circumstances and flee for safe refuge in the sure and certain hope that God's promises provide for us. Promises like:
  • We can "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16)
  • "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him [Christ], since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25)
  • "...with His own blood He [Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]" (Heb. 9:12)
  • "...the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, [will] cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14)
  • "...but now, once at the end of the ages, He [Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26)
  • "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10)
  • "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14)
  • "Then He adds, 'Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Heb. 10:17)
Isn't that encouraging?! So then, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23). And it is inconCEIVable that the God who promised all of this will ever change!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's amazing world of "You See, I See"

Is it possible to feel stuck and yet be totally in the will of God? Is it possible to be in grave danger and yet in the safest place possible? Is it possible to feel caged and yet be completely unhindered?

Welcome to God's amazing world of "You See, I See." 

Take Acts 21-23 for example. Paul sees himself going to the temple to purify himself and pay for those who have taken sacred vows so that his enemies, the Jews, will see that he lives in observance of the law. This was the advice that the elders in Jerusalem had given Paul (Acts 21:23-24). Surely you'll be blessed if you heed the advice of the elders of your church, right? The next thing you know, Paul sees himself being dragged from the temple and beaten by a mob in the street (21:30-32), only to be arrested and bound with chains by the people who should've been protecting him as a Roman citizen (21:33)! 

Seems pretty bad. Paul had gone to Jerusalem with the hopes of then going on from there to Rome, and now he was stuck in the custody of a Roman authority that was bent on doing favours for the Jews just to keep the peace. What Paul could see from those Roman barracks must have appeared rather grim.

But what very slowly unfolded before Paul's eyes must have made it even harder for Paul to remain confident that his hopes of taking the Gospel to Rome would be fulfilled. After being sent to Caesarea for his own protection, Paul remained stuck in confinement there for two long years. It wasn't until Paul finally appealed to Caesar due to a governor's plans to send Paul back to Jerusalem to please the Jews that God provided Paul with a trip to Rome, courtesy of the Romans who had held him up for so long!

Can you relate to any of that? Do you too feel stuck - maybe in some dead end job rather than in some barracks, but still stuck - unable to pursue hopes you thought God had put in your heart, and those you thought would help you seem unconcerned or even unhelpful? Or do you feel that what you courageously offered to God in hopes of blessing seems to have backfired and left you stuck in some unintended consequences? Or is year after year passing you by while you wait for an opportunity to pursue hopes and dreams, all the while knowing that no doors are opening for you? Or at least that's how you see things.

But in God's amazing world of "You See, I See," God has a different point of view. As Paul waited in those barracks, the Lord came to him in the night and said, "'Take courage, for a you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome'" (Acts 23:11). Paul saw chains and enemies surrounding him, and saw two long years pass him by. But God saw an opportunity to have the Gospel clearly proclaimed to key leaders of the day, as well as step one of Paul's journey to Rome. God may have even caused the initial ruckus Paul endured resulting in his long confinement, just as He once caused Joseph's because God "meant it for good" (which Joseph certainly didn't see until in hindsight). Because God sees things differently than the way we see.

The story in Acts goes on and the ship God provided for Paul to get to Rome eventually hit a terrible storm. Once again, Paul's hopes were being threatened. But God sent an angel to speak to Paul, telling him, "'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you'" (Acts 27:24). Paul could clearly see the storm that threatened the lives of everyone on that ship including his own, but God made sure that Paul also saw what God could see: Lives saved and hopes fulfilled! This should remind us that we can't always rely on what our eyes see, and we will do well to seek God for what He sees when all seems lost.

Eventually Paul made it to Rome, but he was never freed before he was finally executed. How could that feel like hope fulfilled. Through earthly eyes, that has the distinct appearance of failure. But God doesn't see the way we see. The book of Acts concludes with these amazing words: "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:30-31). We see a cage, but God sees no hindrances.

How did Paul manage to live in such unshakable hope in the way God saw his circumstances, despite bumping up against so many barriers and being delayed for so many years? The story reveals the answer: 
1. Paul was listening whenever God spoke to him.
2. Paul trusted God in whatever He revealed to him, despite the circumstances.
3. And Paul was committed to serving God at every stage and in every delay and despite every barrier on the journey toward the hopes that Paul felt God had given him. Paul's obedience wasn't dependent on the outcome of his dreams, but was a constant expression of the trust he chose to walk in as he trusted the One who put those dreams in his heart.

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Friday, August 21, 2015

It's a tie! After 21 stops, it's Fiona 16, Ken 16!

As I explained and illustrated in my pre-summer holiday post, Fiona and I wanted to do a used bookstore tour in our holiday travels this year. So we visited 21 used bookstores beginning and ending with a few shops in Winnipeg, and including B.C. stores in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Vancouver, Victoria, Penticton and Kelowna as well as a few in northwest Washington state. And after all those visits, each of us found we had bought 16 books!

We didn't buy books in every store we visited, but we did enjoy the hunt as we sifted through who knows how many books in those 21 stores. And amidst it all, a few truisms seemed apparent. Yes, if you can believe it, lessons learned (or reinforced) in used bookstores. The simple morals of the bookstore story...
  1. Everyone likes to find a surprise under the tree at Christmas, and that's the way you sometimes feel when you see that certain out-of-print title staring at you from a shelf in the back corner of a crowded store - or up a ladder on a top shelf, or in a pile on the floor, or right in front of you as you step up to look! In one store, I crouched down to look into a short little glass-doored shelving unit, and one of the books behind the door might as well have had a bow on it! It was a treat to discover!
  2. "What? More words?" (General Allenby in the film, "Lawrence of Arabia"). There isn't necessarily greater wisdom in an abundance of words, just as piles of dusty abandoned books don't necessarily make a better used bookstore. Time after time we found that the vastly bigger bookstores did not necessarily have more books that we wanted to buy, but instead had too many books that nobody wanted to buy! Bigger isn't always better, and the humble store of 30,000 titles may be in far greater touch with what you as a customer are looking for.
  3. If you're hungry for words that give life, you're likely to get hungrier looking in a used bookstore. We found the lack of Christian content (amidst a good deal of other spiritual content) in most of the stores we visited to be surprising and disheartening. Whether it's a reflection of bookstore owners having their own spiritual bias, or an owner simply not wanting to invest in what they know customers are no longer looking for, there either very little Christ-exalting material in most used bookstores, and if there is, it's often nothing but old obscure books that look like they've been on the shelves too long.
  4. Be diligent in your seeking, but don't be reluctant to seek help. There's certainly a thrill in finding something on your own, and there are often staff who don't have a clue what's in their shelves, making it necessary to search diligently if you want to be sure you haven't left a gem behind. But some staff know more about how to find what you're looking for than you do. And sometimes we'll miss finding it if we try to go it alone.
  5. "You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run!" (Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"). It's called price too high, value too low. I've walked away from many a used book that I really wanted because I knew it was priced way too high for something too unnecessary in my life (even for an avid book collector). Besides, a cheaper version may be in the very next store!
  6. Write it down. If you're a frequenter of used bookstores, keep a list in your wallet of the books you're looking for. Memories are unreliable, and nothing will muddle your memory more than a room filled floor to ceiling with books, books and more books!
  7. Holidays are for what you never have time for any other time, and if you've read this post this far, it's because you too love used books. Make a visit to a used bookstore wherever you may go on your holidays! Checking store locations is one of the first things I check online before taking a trip. I wish we had a selfie from each of them, but the image above includes most of the stores we visited this year (and also includes Munro's, a new bookstore in Victoria that we visited long ago on our honeymoon, so we had to go back again while visiting Victoria).
© 2015 by Ken Peters

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Let's give Jesus all the credit!

A miracle happened. People were going crazy over it, amazed at what they saw. Authorities caught wind of it and knew they had a problem. People were getting out of hand. So they brought in Peter and John and attempted some damage control.

What a blur. What a scene that must have been so soon after Jesus' crucifixion. The intensity level must have been extreme. And you can feel what's coming as the religious leaders ask Peter and John, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" (Acts 4:7). 

Peter had likely been chomping at the bit for the entire night that he and John spent in custody, praying for God's help for the moment he would finally be able to address the same men who had caused him such fear on the night he had repeatedly denied knowing Jesus. 

So filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter said, "Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole!" (Acts 4:10)

There it is! The name of Jesus spoken clearly and boldly before all! No shrinking back this time. Jesus got all the glory! 

And as I read this today, I found myself wondering how often life presents us as Christians with great opportunities to exalt His name before a watching world – to give Jesus public credit for the mercies He performs. This is obviously possible to do with dramatic miracles, but can also be done in the ordinary occurrences that we more often simply whisper quiet prayers of thanks for, such as safety on a trip, provision for a project, good health in virus season, a beautiful sunny day, a profitable business deal coming through, a baby sleeping through the night - the examples are endless!

We can intentionally and enthusiastically proclaim Jesus' goodness in all these circumstances and more – every chance we get – as we share life with our family and neighbours and workmates. And as we do, may the people around us marvel at the God who helps us each and every day in ways that radiantly reflect His great love for us.

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Collectors Unite!

I'm easily distracted by books.

I've walked into someone's house whom I barely knew and quickly become so interested in their living room bookshelf that I forgot to engage in the appropriate introductory chit chat that's fitting when you visit someone for the first time ("...Oh  do you live here?"). And though my family knows that when we are traveling at highway speeds, I'm incapable of stopping for anything but the most dire emergencies, I have suddenly stopped and turned around on a highway because I passed an unexpected used book store ("...You can hold your pee until the next bookstore!"). But my wife, Fiona, is in on this too. We once planned a holiday in scenic England entirely around a search for used books ("...Castles? What are castles?"). But I've always taken it too far even for her. One winter day I left her waiting in an idling car with two small children in car seats in snow suits, parked for who knows how long because I "had to" investigate a used bookstore, and she didn't want to unpack the kids and bring them in ("...Can you keep the kids warm for the next hour or so?"). I seriously grovelled and apologized for that one!

The simple fact is, my one and only hobby is books. Collecting books. I know I'm not the most zealous collector out there, as I've met fanatical types whom I could never keep up with. But I'd like to think we could be in the same league. 

There are many types of book collectors.

There are the "Get as many books in my house as possible" book collectors. Genre or quality are not the issues; quantity is the issue. And quantity makes for great displays!

Then there are the "Nothing but New" book collectors who insist on books being in pristine condition, and whose shelves look immaculate and whose books are never lent out.

Then there are the "Only dusty old hardcovers will do" book collectors who swoon over the smell of old books, and have beautiful rows of vintage books of various colours which may have the occasional blemish, but it's all part of their character.

And finally, there are the "Don't bore me with that genre" book collectors who go for the old and the new, the hard covers and the soft covers, but are quite selective in the themes represented on their shelves. This one probably best describes myself, though most book collectors are likely a combination of different types.

But there's one thing that sets many book collectors apart from other lovers of the printed page: Libraries confuse us. Why take home a book that you have to return after you read it? I don't understand. If you want to read a book, buy the book. I don't want to give books back. I like them. I want them.

Book collectors don't always buy books to read them, but always to enjoy them.

When Fiona and I bought our first home, a little two-story house with a 450 sq.ft. footprint and a tiny living room (smaller than the family tent that we impulsively bought at Costco when we simply went for eggs - but that's another story (behold, the Behomoth)), we built a large room-dominating floor-to-ceiling bookshelf unit and attached it to the walls in the corner of the living room. As life went on, I added books to it with no thought as to when I might read them. Some people seemed to find this silly when they heard that I hadn't read so many of the books displayed in our living room. But I would simply shrug. I collect them, I'd explain. (Some of you understand).

The truth is, I've read a great many of the books I've bought over the years, and continue to do so. It's not unusual for me to pull a book off one of my shelves to read it many years after I bought it. But some of the best books I've found over the years have barely been opened since I put them on my shelf long ago. A few examples include...
  • A first U.S. edition of T.E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" (I also bought a soft cover to read so I wouldn't have to handle this old hardcover version too much).
  • An out-of-print copy of "The Gobi Desert" written by two intrepid woman missionaries in China's pre-communist years to add to my desert genre collection.
  • A rare nineteenth-century breast pocket-sized book containing a collection of John Wesley's writings.
  • A first edition of George Eldon Ladd's famous "Gospel of the Kingdom." (For this one, I also have a soft cover for reading purposes).
  • An obscure book with a beautiful cover that describes the missions history of the 2,000 years between the 12 Apostles and William Carey.
  • A small, gorgeously bound KJV Bible that we found in a bookstore in England that contained a long, slender, pressed leaf on which someone had beautifully written: "Gertie" South Africa 1877 on one side, and With Love on the other side. A romance preserved for over a century in God's book.

Eventually we moved from that little house, and Fiona didn't want to take those homemade book shelves with us. For our new home, we planned to buy new book cases. And when they were full, more book cases. And when they were full, more book cases.

Fiona and I have each bought each other book cases as gifts on special occasions. Why not? Isn't that normal? It has to be for a married couple whose favourite thing to do whenever we visit my parents in British Columbia is to go to two local bookstores that are both among the best of all the used bookstores we've ever visited (which is many). 

What makes a great used book store?

For starters, they have to be crowded with books in every nook and cranny you can possibly place them. Multiple floors is a plus.

And they must have a wide selection of genres available, with an obvious balance in their stock between hard cover and soft cover books, but biased toward hard covers in most genres. 

And the staff need to be knowledgeable but also unobtrusive so that you can feel on your own amidst the books until you need a question answered. 

Prices also shouldn't be so low that you wonder if you're shopping among the dregs of someone's garage sale leftovers, but nor should they be so high that you are robbed of the joy of discovering literary treasures at a discount! 

And there should be a bathroom. Definitely a bathroom.

A Bookstore Tour

When Fiona and I took our first holiday with our first child (when she was a highly literate three month old baby), we visited the official used book store capital of the United Kingdom – perhaps the world: Hay-on-Wye. It was amazing!

Now, 21½ years later, Fiona and I will soon be launching out on our first summer vacation with no children accompanying us since that trip to Hay-on-Wye. And surprise, surprise  we plan to visit 12 used bookstores between Chilliwack and Victoria, BC! Of course, we also plan to stay in a hotel right on Victoria's waterfront and re-visit Butchart Gardens for the first time since our honeymoon. But because we've been to British Columbia so many times over the years, it feels like we're done doing the touristy stuff, and we're not big-time hiker types. 

What we are is book collectors, and collect we shall. We may be needing another bookcase.

© 2015 by Ken Peters