Monday, July 25, 2016

THIS is the Prosperity Gospel we need!

Today I was reminded of how fabulously wealthy I am. I mean loaded! Like some carefree billionaire, I am so incredibly rich that I couldn't possibly spend all that I have! But unlike most billionaires, I'm capable of sitting among my piles of treasure while forgetting how incredibly rich I am.

Here's how I was reminded of all this: I was reading my Bible in Romans, chapter 10, and felt startled as I read the NKJV translation of Romans 10:12... "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him." The ESV translates it as, "...bestowing his riches on all who call upon him." In other words, God makes us rich! It's as simple as that. So why aren't I rolling in dough?

Paul follows that verse with a clarification: "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v.13). Those are the "riches" he's talking about! Any other riches this world has to offer don't matter too much to Paul. The world's finances are fickle and fleeting; here today, gone tomorrow. But the riches of salvation aren't like that. They're eternal, untouched by unstable economies and well guarded from greedy thieves.

After pausing at that verse, I wondered to myself, what are these "riches"? I felt forgetful of how extravagantly rich God is toward those who call on Him. So I looked around, and what I was reminded of left me feeling like a man standing among huge sparkling piles of gold coins and precious gems! Check out a few examples of how Paul describes the riches God bestows to us...
  • "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4)
  • "In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us" (Ephesians 1:7-8a)
  • "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7)
  • "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27)
  • "that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ" (Colossians 2:2)
Is that enough? Because it's just the beginning! Father God has "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). And "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3)! Like I said, I am fabulously wealthy! You are too if you have called on the name of the Lord Jesus to be saved!

But just like the riches of this world must be pursued to be accumulated, so too must we pursue these spiritual riches if we want to enjoy them. Otherwise we end up as C.S. Lewis describes us in his book "The Weight of Glory": "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." If we do want to pursue spiritual riches, Paul is quite clear in the verses above about precisely where we can find them: in Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossisns 2:3).

To enjoy the riches of heaven means to pursue Jesus. He is the treasure we're blessed with; He is the Good News of the Gospel. And just like those who have accumulated the world's wealth are intentional and decisive with their resources, we too must be disciplined in seeking Jesus each day in prayer and by reading God's "living and active" Word (Hebrews 4:12), routinely storing it in our hearts by memorizing strategic Bible verses. But we don't do such things to simply tabulate how wealthy we are  we pray and read and memorize so that we can enjoy the very One who is our Treasure and who wants to lavish His treasures upon us.

The Gospel is like a lottery in which every person who has bought a ticket  the price being our lives (Galatians 2:20)  wins the jackpot: a new and abundant eternal life with Jesus! Riches are awarded to all! And it's okay to flaunt our wealth as long as it's by lavishly scattering the love and grace and kindness we've received among the people we're surrounded by! Our riches are not meant to be accumulated in heaps all around us. We ought to spend, spend, spend, with lives of kindhearted love, because there's no end to the incredible riches we've been blessed with!

© 2016 by Ken Peters

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Brand New Day

He arrived for his pre-op appointment in a hospital he'd never been to, in a city totally unknown to him, having no idea what to expect. And after quickly running through some introductory questions from a friendly receptionist, who obviously seemed much more at ease in this unfamiliar place than he was, off he was sent for various tests and samples. Basement level, turn left, then right, take a number, 2nd floor, another left, show your card, "did they call my name?", and everyone he met was new, necessary, and never to be seen again. It already felt a blur and an hour hadn't even passed. Now to get back to the pre-op unit. What floor was it on again? Everything was so new. And everything was turning out to be a lot. 

Once back at pre-op, he and his wife were taken to a sunshiny room, where plenty was asked about the past and about lately. It was a relief that amidst so many questions and directions, the people he met were so friendly. This time, he stayed in one place longer. Lots was explained. More than he'd remember. It was good his wife was here; she seemed to be following along better than him. Though they got his attention when there was talk of postponement! It seemed that there was an unusual backlog of patients in the hospital waiting for heart surgery. All non-urgent cases must wait! And a postponement could mean months. This was alarming. But as the orientation continued, there was not even time to send friends a prayer alert, for before he had the opportunity, the surgeon himself came in. 

This was something - to meet the man who might be exploring the inside of his heart tomorrow. What was he like? Throughout the conversation, this world-renowned surgeon's manner was gentle and kind, unhurried and curious. Yes, curious. He seemed genuinely interested in his new patient, asking questions that made him feel cared for as a person rather than just another mitral valve to be repaired. What had been a blur until then suddenly took on the nature of a snapshot - of a face, a smile, a handshake. Before the doctor left, he mentioned the pressure to postpone. He wouldn't allow it, he explained. We had come too far, and it wouldn't be right, he said. He was not only a surgeon; he was the CEO of the Heart Institute, and his word was final. We would proceed as planned. God had made a way. 

As the doctor finally left the room, his next morning's patient felt in good hands. How much time the entire appointment had taken in all of its components was hard to say, as the length seemed better measured in details and subjects rather than the racing units of an unseen clock. But eventually it seemed that there was no more left to explain, and he was expected back early tomorrow for surgery. He needed to be back at 6:00am. 

His mind spun as he walked with his wife back to their lodgings. Things that had once seemed so far away and theoretical were now very real and imminent. He was about to have open-heart surgery. "Thank you, Lord" was all he could think of quietly praying. Yet they now had time on their hands, and their daughter was there to do something fun with. So it seemed sensible to use the remainder of the afternoon to see a bit of the town. After all, it was the nation's Capitol. So off they went, catching a bus, wandering about to find a lunch spot, then tromping up the hill to take a few pics of the parliament buildings. But he had no energy for tours or for too much time in the hot sun; so before long, they were back at a bus stop waiting for their ride "home."

They took the evening to get settled and to complete a few preparations for the surgery, but getting to bed early seemed the highest priority. He and his wife prayed together before bed. This was all in God's hands - they both knew that. In fact, it was because of that fact that sleep came easily to him, unhindered by any nerves about what might come of all this. The only thing that was going to come of it was God's will being done. And as he went to sleep, he felt fairly sure that God had made it clear to him that He had more for him to do in this world on the other side of this surgery. He was certain that God wasn't going to let him get away with not living in the good of all He had been teaching this son of His throughout the many months of waiting for this surgery to come about. God would see him through. 

All three seemed to find it easy to wake up around 5am the next morning. Though it was still a dimly-lit summer morning, there was plenty of light and activity in their small apartment. Soon they were ready to walk over to the hospital. Everything seemed a little less new than yesterday, as they now knew their way through the many halls and tunnels without needing directions. But it still felt like newness was unfolding before them as they walked and arrived and prepared for this amazing experience that only God could have ever given man the ability to pursue. 

Eventually, the patient was ready, lying on a bed, waiting for a call from the operating room that all was ready. His wife, sitting beside him, asked if she could pray for him now. There was time to once again give everything over to their Father, asking Him to oversee the surgery and to guide the doctors' thoughts and hands. And then the phone rang. It was time. As they wheeled his bed out, they paused under a domed mirror in the ceiling above his bed. This was "perfect for a selfie," he said, and asked his wife for her phone. Feeling relaxed after clicking his silly shot, they headed for the elevators and down to the O.R. There was time for no further pauses now; just enough to kiss his wife, hug his daughter, and to wave as he was rolled away through one last set of doors. 

Here everything was busy, everyone bustling about a spacious room, each with a specific roll in that operating room. He did his best to look around and take it all in before he knew what would inevitably...

To say he awoke in the ICU would be an overstatement. It was more like he gradually regained a state of consciousness, and yes, he was eventually awake. But it took some hours. During the initial stages of this regaining of consciousness, although the able staff around him were all contentedly sure that everything was going well, it would be fair to say that the patient more or less resembled poor Jacob Marley breathing his last breaths in "A Christmas Carol", right down to the detail of whispering his words so softly, his eyes barely open, that his wife had to lean in with her ear next to his mouth to properly hear him. Out of this present-day patient's mouth came shaky heartfelt utterances like, "D'you have my wallet?", "Wow," and "Hi Amy (his daughter). I love you" repeated over and over. 

Once again, everything became a blur for the next 24 hours. They kept wanting his blood, or to print his heart rhythms, or to refresh one of the myriad I.V. bags. And always, the staff were pleased with how he was doing. His head felt more and more clear hour by hour as he took in his surroundings, yet never so clear as to be able to ever properly remember that room or its routines. There were too many beeping machines and busy people coming and going to recall it all. But once again, the blur became a snapshot when the surgeon came to visit. He wanted them to know that he was very happy with how it went, the valve was repaired, the patient was doing fine. 

There was so much to thank God for; so much to be pleased about. He had a new heart. He wondered at the wonder of it all. He pondered how this might impact his everyday life. Would the new strength he'd have mean new direction from the Lord? He didn't know yet, because before the everyday came today. For now, he simply needed to get stronger, to recover. This was only the beginning of his recovery, which would soon open the door to a brand new day of possibilities. 

© 2016 by Ken Peters

Monday, July 4, 2016

I'm having heart-surgery!

I'm about to have heart surgery! Go figure. I'm leaving town for heart surgery in a week, and the truth is, I've hardly thought about it. Don't get me wrong. I've been doing plenty of reflection these past six months. I haven't been to work since late December (!!), and yet, despite my physical limitations, I haven't wanted to waste this precious gift of so much time off. So I've been reading some really good books that I've felt God direct me to read. I'm presently on my 11th devotional book since February, and I'm journaling what I learn from each one. God's been touching lots of character stuff. Click here if you'd like to see my 2016 reading list. 

But lately I've felt as though the Holy Spirit has been nudging me – trying to get my attention – wanting me to reflect a little more on what's been happening with my heart. I've gotten the feeling that He's been wanting to emphasize a specific lesson I'm meant to learn from this health issue, as though there's more going on than what I see with my eyes and see in my schedule. So I decided to look some things up. Feel free to be amazed that I hadn't done this sooner, but I went to a couple websites to check out how they described what my cardiologist said my problem was. Here's what I found:

Mitral valve regurgitation is a condition in which your heart's mitral valve doesn't close tightly, allowing blood to flow backward in your heart. As a result, blood can't move through your heart or to the rest of your body as efficiently, making you feel tired or out of breath. If regurgitation is severe, increased pressure may result in congestion (or fluid build-up) in the lungs, and the heart may become enlarged in order to maintain forward flow of blood. This may produce symptoms ranging from fatigue, shortness of breath during exertion, coughing, congestion around the heart and lungs, heart palpitations, and arrhythmia, and can potentially lead to heart failure.

Treatment of mitral valve regurgitation depends on how severe your condition is, whether it's getting worse and whether you have symptoms. For mild leakage, treatment may not be necessary. For severe leakage or regurgitation, you may need heart surgery to repair or replace the valve. Left untreated, severe mitral valve regurgitation can cause heart failure or heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia) that will create an increased risk of blood clots that may cause a stroke.

Wow. Sounds pretty serious. And I've experienced all of those symptoms since December, and would be considered in the "severe" category. Yet those details fill me with gratitude, because if it hadn't been for the endocarditis I had this past winter – an infection in the lining of your heart that will either damage or (as in my case) worsen previously damaged heart valves – we may not have discovered that the regurgitation in my heart had become life-threateningly severe until it was too late. Thank you Lord!

But I sensed that the Holy Spirit wanted me to look beyond what's been happening to my physical heart. I feel like He's been helping me to see how there's more going on than meets the eye, and how I'm receiving more than one kind of heart surgery during this time off.

It was then that I wondered – if you'll permit the analogy  that if we all have physical heart valves that receive life-giving blood for our bodies, what would be our spiritual heart valves that receive the life-giving blood of Jesus? And what would it mean if our spiritual heart valves were regurgitating, or resisting, the life-giving blood that was meant to be flowing through them? What would cause that?

The Gospel of John has many references, from start to finish, to the spiritual "life" that Jesus came to bring. In chapter one, we see that "In Him [Jesus] was life..." (1:4), and near the end we see that "these things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (20:31). The many references to the life found in Jesus that occur between those two verses frequently mention what we see in John 20:31, that it is by "believing" in Jesus, and in what He has done for us, that we experience the spiritual life flow He wants us to enjoy both now and for eternity (see 3:15; 5:24-26; 6:35, 40, 47 for some examples). But John also mentions another aspect of how we receive life from Jesus, and that is to "come" to Him (see 5:40; 6:37, 44). John 6:35 mentions both: "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.'" 

That would mean then that the spiritual life flow of Jesus would be restricted when we fall prey to unbelief and unwillingnessSo according to my analogy, spiritual heart valve regurgitation would be unbelief and unwillingness. And that would mean that the valves of our spiritual heart would be our mind and our will. You can also be sure that the symptoms of this heart condition would also lead to death if left untreated.

If this analogy is valid, then for anyone experiencing severe spiritual heart valve regurgitation, it is imperative that we give attention to our mind and to our will. We may even need the Lord to do surgery on them. And that is why I believe that the first passage that came to my mind (without any sense of context) when I first began sensing the Holy Spirit nudging me regarding all this was Romans 12:1-2, which says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." This speaks of both our will and our mind being totally surrendered to God for His purposes, which is what Scripture teaches us is truly living. 

I believe there are two clear applications from all this, and they just happen to be the very same two things that God has very lovingly been persuading me to focus on these past six months. By God's grace, both my prayer life, and my reading and study schedule have flourished since recovering from the endocarditis in February. Prayer and reading/study.

It is by prayer that we repent of our independence and submit our will to God. John Piper wrote that “Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence.” It is the act of "waiting for God  acknowledging our helplessness and His power, calling upon Him for help, seeking His counsel.” An active prayer life allows God to operate on the spiritual heart valve of our will. It is how we can increasingly "come" to God, presenting ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, flexing our will to continually wait on God. 

And it is by reading and studying and memorizing God's Word, as well as reading books by godly writers, that we can grow in our knowledge of God and His ways, so that our mind can thus be transformed. A well-planned reading schedule of both the Bible and of other books allows God to operate on the spiritual heart valve of our mind. It is how we can increasingly "believe" God, our mind being transformed by His living word, as we fill our mind with His truth.

So please join me in receiving spiritual heart surgery every day as we wait on the Lord in prayer and learn from Him in His Word. It will save our lives, as well as give us His life!

© 2016 by Ken Peters