Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Contrast to keep in mind for the New Year

As you begin the year 2018, encourage yourself with the wonderful contrast found in Psalm 147! The psalmist wrote in verse 3 that the LORD “heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (or literally, “their sorrows”), and then immediately added that God also “counts the number of stars; He gives names to all of them” (verse 4). Tenderness and awesomeness, side by side. The comforting arms that hold us capably hold the universe as well.

The psalmist wanted us to know that the same God who tenderly and caringly draws near to the struggling, the hurting, the discouraged and the disappointed is also the God who is great enough to name every single star in the universe.

Scientists have concluded that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on this planet. Estimates put the score at about:
Sand:          7,500,000,000,000,000,000
Stars: 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

And God calls each of those stars by an individual name. No wonder the very next verse in the psalm says, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite!” I can hardly remember one person’s name just 2 minutes after being introduced to them! Yet God can recall the names of 70 thousand million million million stars!
But this contrast goes even further. Even though God may know all the stars by name, He has much more than mere knowledge of our sorrows and disappointments. The psalmist writes that He “heals” those who are hurting, and carefully “binds up” their wounds and heartaches. Consider this! He tenderly touches us with those same strong hands that hold every massive star in the universe. And on top of that, because “His understanding is infinite,” we can be sure that we can trust His wisdom. He knows what He’s doing as He leads us through whatever we're going through.
So if you’re wearily carrying heartfelt sorrows or deferred hopes into this new year of 2018, take heart! The same God who has every star in the universe accounted for
according to His infinite understanding and strength, is also attentively looking after our hearts.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Reading List 2017

I continue to find the reading of books far more engaging than watching television (or most other things). Someone recently joked that I should get a shirt that says, I'd rather be reading!, and wear it all the time. In fact, when I'm not reading (or working on a writing project, or at work), you'll sometimes find me making memes about books. Here's the latest one I created this year...

The truth of such a meme is reinforced by the fact that just over half of the books I read this year (13/24) were bought used. And as usual, just for the record, here are my reading lists for 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011 and 2010 (this blog was dormant for 2012 and 2013).

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.

Here are the books that I've read this past year...

  1. Hidden in Christ: Living as God's Beloved by James Bryan Smith. This is a book of devotionals based on select words found in Colossians 3:1-17, one of my long-time favourite passages of Scripture. Each chapter hones in on the rich meanings of words carefully chosen by the Apostle Paul, and I found that Dr. Smith's insights repeatedly brought the words home to my personal context so that I could better experience the reality that Paul intended for his readers to realize in their everyday lives as they reflected on this passage. It's another of those books you want to start reading again as soon as you complete it!
  2. Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. This book is a must-read for all desert-lovers. The book reads as slowly as a camel crossing the Empty Quarter, but is thoroughly mesmerizing in its recounting of the cultural and contextual details as Thesiger crossed the vast Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula by camel two times. The stories Thesiger tells are made all the more appealing by his obvious love and respect for the Bedu people, who helped him across "the sands" where no Westerner had ever before travelled. These desert adventures occurred just before the oil companies appeared on the scene, which Thesiger rightly feared would forever change the cultural landscape of the Bedu people, making this book a precious time capsule of an age we will never see again.
  3. The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense by John Bevere. I get offended. And sometimes I let offenses linger. And I know that every day, I face numerous opportunities to get more offended. I don't always resist those temptations. So when a particular instance of this came up in my life, someone recommended I read this book. I'm glad I did, because as I read it, I became more and more aware of how much I needed to read it as personal examples of what Bevere was writing about kept coming to mind. This book is very direct and very practical, and I found it very helpful. I now plan to work through the study guide that came with the version available at the link above.
  4. Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall. I found this book around the same time that the above book was recommended to me, so I figured I must really need to carry on with this theme. Kendall had a completely different approach from John Bevere, each with their own strengths. And though I struggled at times with what seemed like Kendall's somewhat passive approach on how we respond to significant sins in the Church, I was encouraged by his humble grace-oriented perspective on how we need to avoid carrying superior attitudes toward others. But the chapter on forgiving oneself was worth the price of the book for me! I went back and prayed through that whole chapter after I had read it and may do so again. The many insights of that chapter could make a real difference for me!
  5. Come Back, Barbara by C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani. A wonderful book written by a father and his daughter about the many challenges they faced as parents and as a daughter growing up in a Christian home. This book tells the story from both the father's and the daughter's perspective about the journey each of them experienced and on the lessons that each of them learned about themselves as the daughter turned away from God and then eventually returned to Him.
  6. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi. The scope of this book is astounding. Thoroughly researched and well-written, Mangalwadi presents a compelling case for how radically the truths of the Bible have influenced the world we live in. I found reading it hard slogging at times, and sometimes grew quite weary from how thought-provoking this book is, but I'm glad I read it. This book serves as a beacon in a dark and deteriorating world, offering a Christ-centered worldview, in contrast to the hopeless relativism being tossed around these days.
  7. Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill by Stephen Mansfield. This is not your typical biography, as it quickly breezes through the many events of Winston Churchill's life. The majority of the book consists of 30 brief 3-4 page chapters that explore the major contributors and/or characteristics of Winston Churchill's leadership style. It's really a book on leadership that uses Churchill's life as a reference point. I found it both very illuminating and challenging.
  8. Union With Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. I was really looking forward to reading this book, and I wasn't disappointed. It is a treasure trove of truths that are too much to take in! It's the kind of book that one needs to eventually go back over and read again for it to properly sink in. Wilbourne gave me an appreciation for the huge importance of understanding the wide-ranging real-life blessings of our union with Jesus, and made me hungry to experience more of the reality of that union.
  9. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. I found this little book in a used book store just after preaching a sermon on God making all things new, so I couldn't resist it. Henri Nouwen aims this book at people who want "to enter more deeply into the spiritual life" and he offers a simple and yet extremely insightful path to get there. Interestingly, he focuses on our "worry-filled world" as what hinders us from communion with God, and offers a very practical and Christ-centered path to experiencing the the presence of God and the new life God wants for us. This book is a gem.
  10. The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones by John Rucyahana with James Riordan. A sobering read that shares the horrifying context and story of a genocide that happened before our very eyes, while those with the power to prevent it dithered and denied it was happening, until over one million people were killed in less than 100 days. But Bishop James Rucyahana has more than just that story to share - he also shares a story of healing and restoration and reconciliation centered around the Gospel of Jesus. The miracle of Rwanda's ongoing recovery is as amazing as the genocide is horrible. 
  11. Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope by Frederick Ndabaramiye and Amy Parker. After reading the book above describing the historical context and story of the Rwandan genocide, I decided to read this book, which is one man's - or rather - one boy's story in the midst of it all. What makes Frederick's story so readable is that the outcome is so amazing. The horror he goes through as a boy is incredible, but somehow, by the grace of God, Frederick doesn't allow his wounds to stop him from being a blessing to others. He dreams bigger than most of us Westerners would dare, and has seen all of those dreams realized! An inspiring story.
  12. Making Disciples: Developing Lifelong Followers of Jesus by Ralph Moore. This is an intensely simple and practical and motivating book on the Biblical mandate of going and making disciples. Moore's premise is that nothing should be more important than making disciples as we live lives of loving God and our neighbours. I had never heard of Ralph Moore, but now I want to read more of his books, and I'm eager to put the principles of this book into practice. It's the kind of book I want to keep close at hand rather than on a shelf so that I can refer back to it repeatedly to keep myself from forgetting what I want to do about what I just read!
  13. Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham by Iain M. Duguid. I found this book to be intensely relevant to mind games I've routinely played and lost. The book lives up to its title by offering very accessible strategies for living in what Duguid calls the Reality Gap that all of us face in our lives on this earth. Duguid very capably applies the lessons of the story of Abraham to our everyday lives in ways that I found surprising and encouraging and refreshing. I shouldn't have been surprised, as I have long believed that Abraham's story is meant to be a centerpiece of the Christian life, providing many signposts for our journey of walking by faith. I highly recommend this book and this author.
  14. Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell. Given that the Battle of Waterloo was a pivotal moment in history with huge implications regarding the history of Europe and beyond, I wanted to understand more about this complicated battle and its outcome. The fact that Napoleon nearly won the battle makes it a riveting story, and begs many questions regarding why he lost - and in the end, he was routed. But regardless of the outcomes and the reasons why and their implications, the story of the battle itself is deeply saddening. It was the kind of battle where it seemed everyone died, both humans and horses, and yet, there were survivors, all of whom, whether the victors or the vanquished, left Waterloo grieving their losses.
  15. The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi. An excellent tribute to a man who truly laid his life down to take the Gospel to the peoples of India. The Mangalwadis being themselves from India, they highly prize the contribution that William Carey made to their nation, and they provide a wonderful description of what he achieved in his lifetime as well as the long-term implications his achievements have had in India. The Mangalwadis don't make the mistake of over-glamourizing Carey, or of ignoring his weaknesses, but they do emphasize how effectively God was able to use this humble man from humble origins, who knew that he was an imperfect servant in the hands of his Master, to eternally impact an entire nation for Jesus.
  16. Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ by Michael Card. What a treasure this was to find in a used book store. This book contains devotional reflections from Michael Card on each of the songs he wrote for his CD-trilogy on The Life of Jesus. One can tell that Michael Card is a student of God's Word from his lyrics, but even more so from his devotionals. I read one chapter each night as lay down, and was often powerfully touched by his thoughts on the life of Jesus. This book was so good, that it will be one of those rare books that I begin reading again immediately after completing it! I want what I learned from it to sink in even deeper.
  17. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 by Cornelius Ryan. This is an excellent account of the build up toward and the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Based on meticulous research among both allied and German sources not long after the war, it provides a compelling picture of what happened that day. I find it helpful, in my consistently comfortable surroundings, to be reminded of those who performed amazing acts of courage and sacrifice for the sake of others. It shouldn't require a war for us to make sacrifices for others, and so I believe that the example of those soldiers is relevant to us today.
  18. Job by John Piper. This is a beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book consisting of a poem and accompanying artwork that captures the essence of the book of Job. Though I at times struggled with the flow of Piper's poetry, I loved how he captured so many gems of truth from Job's story in his interpretation of it. I found that the most poignant portions of the poem were the brief stanzas that related the story of Job to the story of Christ and the Gospel. A truly beautiful book.
  19. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose. Following up the pick I read above regarding D-Day, this book follows the exploits of the most famous of the American airborne divisions in WWII. I think I may have been as fascinated with Ambrose's description of Easy Company's training as I was with his accounts of what they achieved during the war. The men of this company were exceptionally prepared for highly exceptional circumstances, and as the title suggests, the strain of the circumstances they endured created a sense of brotherhood between them that few things in this world can duplicate. It truly illustrates how and why God uses troubles in this world to mature us as individuals and as a faith community.
  20. Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel in the Lives of Isaac and Jacob by Iain Duguid. Duguid doesn't have much to say about Isaac in this book (if you want to learn some amazing lessons from Isaac's life, check out what Watchman Nee wrote!), but most of us can easily relate to Jacob's control issues, and I felt that Duguid did a fantastic job of explaining how relevant the lessons of Jacob's life are to me! I've struggled with my own spiritual ups and downs as I read this book, and as a result, this book felt extremely relevant and encouraging. As Duguid did so well in book #13 above, he helped me to repeatedly shift my focus from myself and onto Christ and His Gospel and His faithfulness and to the new covenant He has included me in! The truths I found in this book are truths I want to remind myself of every day!
  21. Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. Every so often (typically not more than once a year), I feel like reading a work of fiction. Never having read anything by Jules Verne, this book caught my interest at a driveway booksale this past summer. I picked it up for $1 thinking it'd provide me with a nice light read sometime, and I was right. It's the first work of science fiction I've read since I was a teenager, but this one felt different. It was first published in 1864 long before science fiction took readers into space. Verne was a pioneer of the science fiction genre, and is probably still widely read because he was such a wonderful storyteller. Reading it simply felt fun.
  22. Secrets of the Secret Place: Keys to Igniting Your Personal Time with God by Bob Sorge. I've picked away at this 52-chapter book little by little throughout 2017. There are some real gems to be found among Sorge's treatments of various devotional topics. Many chapters certainly improved my spiritual posture or perspectives, and it would definitely be worth reviewing the many things that I've underlined. However, I was often distracted by the unrealistic verbiage Sorge chose to describe what we're aiming for in our devotional times with God. Phrases like, "to help you pursue God with absolute abandonment" left me feeling flat, knowing that no human alive is capable of such "absolute abandonment." Too often he seemed to get carried away in hyperbole he expected to be taken literally, leaving me feeling like he was setting the bar too high to attain. But apart from that, there's much encouragement to be found here.
  23. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander In Chief by James M. McPherson. After discovering this book in a used book store, I found it a surprisingly gripping book. McPherson is supremely qualified to zoom in, so to speak, on this particular aspect of Lincoln's presidency. Lincoln is the only American president whose time in office was filled from beginning to end with the country being at war, during which, he served as the practicing Commander-in-Chief. Of course, having no military experience, Lincoln had to grow in this role through diligent research as well as painful experience. And what makes this book so inspiring, is how McPherson portrays the courage and tenacity that Lincoln modeled as a leader through many desperate times that would've caused many other leaders to compromise and fail. This is truly a book on leadership for any of us who feel like quitting when there seems great cause for discouragement.
  24. Living in the Light of Inextinguishable Hope: The Gospel According to Joseph by Iain Duguid and Matthew Harmon. My third book by Iain Duguid in this series on The Gospel According to the Old Testament was well worth it. There are so many lessons to be found in the story of Joseph, and Duguid is able to make them seem incredibly relevant to our everyday lives. I especially appreciated his emphasis on how a supremely wise and loving God is able to use both our own sins and the sins of others committed against us to accomplish His purposes. In other words, our or others' failures don't determine the outcomes of our lives, but only God does, regardless of what may appear to get in the way. This is a comforting conviction when I consider how many ways my sins have surely affected others, and when I remember that God is at the center of my circumstances.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Now there was a man..." (Luke 2:25)

(Artwork by Grace MacLeod, used by permission)

"Now there was a man"
Who'd been told he would see
The awaited Messiah
Before his death came to be.

How long did he wait,
After receiving that word?
How many nights dreaming
Of that promise he'd heard?

How many prayers
Did this Simeon pray
For the great consolation
That seemed so far away?

Did so many visits
Feel like such a great price –
All those walks to the temple
In search of the Christ?

Who was this good man –
This man without tribe –
Who represented his nation
In all that he cried?

Surely it pained him
At times through the years,
But God's Spirit was with him
To collect all his tears.

But then the day came –
Though nothing set it apart
Except for one Child
Whom he knew in his heart.

The Spirit did tell him
That this was the Boy –
The awaited Messiah!
And it gave him such joy!

The parents brought doves,
As gifts of the poor;
Though they were richer than any,
And their acceptance was sure.

For the child that they brought
To present unto God,
Had just come from heaven
Where angels He awed.

The man longed to hold Him,
He had waited so long –
A lifetime of waiting for He
Who would right all that's wrong.

He said this was the One
Who would save all the world,
His life and his purpose was
Heaven's banner unfurled.

So how did he feel
With his heart now replete;

His heart overflowing;
His life's longings complete?

He would never stop thinking
Of that baby he saw,
And as he pondered God's goodness,
He felt nothing but awe.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Star at their Backs

What were they thinking
As they made their way home,
Their backs turned to the King
On which the bright star had shone?

On their long journey home,
As they looked back with awe,
Did their hearts feel pulled back
Toward the Child that they saw?

And when they were with Him,
Were they eager to stay?
A star led them to Him,
But what led them away?

They’d come far to see Him,
Somehow sensing His fame;
But He’d come so much further
With them as part of His aim.

Bowing low, they gave gold
To that humble young Boy,
Who would give them Himself
So as to bring them great joy.

They must've longed to find out
How His life would progress,
Never dreaming that one day
Their own nation He'd bless.

What had they witnessed?
Their memories were blurs.
They had gone forth as seekers…
To return worshippers.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Excitement of the Angels

Across the lofty unbridged void,
At God's great Throne above,
A host of angels were convened
To hear God's plan of love.

They heard how He would save the world
By sending His own Son.
They'd been called to speak of it,
And they must leave at once!

These mighty angels felt great joy
To be chosen and sent down,
They finally saw how God would save
The jewel of Creation's crown.

With excited hearts and blazing eyes,
They in set formations flew
Down from the heavens - like a flood
Of God's love for me and you.

They rushed urgently, eagerly!
They'd waited ages for this day.
Something planned from long ago,
Now they finally knew the Way.

Their destination was not grand,
Not a palace nor a crown;
Just a humble little pasturage
Outside a tiny town.

This luminescent heavenly troop
Looked not for crowds to grant a sight;
Just a few simple shepherds
Whom God took notice of this night.

Shepherds much ignored by most,
In a cold and lonely place;
Simple men God longed to draw
To receive His boundless grace.

The angels must have noticed
How fitting were these men;
The Saviour they would soon proclaim
Was a Shepherd just like them.

And these heralds must have also felt
A sense of buoyant mirth –
How would these sleepy men respond
When mighty angels hailed His birth?

They came upon them unawares,
Just resting with their flocks;
So to begin, just one shone forth
To reduce the initial shock!

That angel came upon them, lo –
As God's glory shone around;
The angel said, "Don't be afraid"
As the shepherds cowered down.

The angel shared good tidings, saying,
"All people" was who they’re for;
He said, "This day is born a Saviour,
which is Christ the Lord."

He told these simple, humble men
Of a Baby in a nook:
"Wrapped in swaddling clothes," he said,
"In a stable - go and look!"

Then suddenly! A multitude!
“Praise God!” the host did call.
"Glory to God in the highest, 

Peace and good will toward all!”

Silence of centuries broken,
By the sound of what was sung,
The choir smiled at the wide-eyed men
As they watched them rise and run.

The shepherds fled, eager to see
The Babe that had been sent,
Then the angels sped into the skies,
Eager to share how it went.

Myriad angels were at the gates
To welcome the heralds back,
And so loud was their rejoicing,
Some on earth said, "What was that?"

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Monday, December 18, 2017

Joy and Peace for Each and Every Day

Joy and peace have been dominant Christmas themes ever since angels came to dramatically announce Jesus’ birth. But God wants joy and peace to be dominant themes of our lives each and every day. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Paul’s blessing makes it clear how joy and peace can be everyday experiences in our lives. Paul essentially explains that “believing” is the tap handle we can turn for joy and peace to flow in our lives! But precisely what are we to believe? There are obviously many false and harmful beliefs that don’t result in joy and peace! The context makes it clear in Romans 15:8-12 that Paul is writing about believing and hoping in Jesus. “...In Him shall the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).

These verses in Romans 15 highlight that Jesus, whom those angels excitedly announced, is the inexhaustible source of true joy and peace for those who believe in Him. But another biblical writer has a very helpful way of explaining how God wants our beliefs to be aimed: “...he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). In other words, we’re called to believe very specifically that, no matter
what the circumstances, God is who He says He is, and that all His promises of blessings and rewards for us are true.

The Christmas message is not lost in all this. Jesus came in that manger scene and ministered in this world to reveal who God is and how much He loves us. We’re told that Jesus is “the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). So this Christmas, whatever circumstances you may be facing, reach for that tap handle of believing that God is exactly who He has revealed Himself to be, and that all His promises are true for you. And abound in an enduring hope in He who “has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)!

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Monday, October 16, 2017

Who's Steering this Ship?

Do you ever wonder if you could do a better job of running this tumultuous world than God is doing? Or if that seems too vast, perhaps simply your own life? I definitely have moments when I struggle to believe that God is as concerned as I am about some of the more difficult details of my life.

Of course, in our more objective moments, we can easily recognize that these jobs are far too big for us, but I still can't help but wonder why God doesn't sometimes do what I personally think would be best. I can be tempted to believe that this world, or particular details of my life, are spinning out of control, as if God has been negligent in looking after them.

But then I remember how big God is; that His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

God is not oblivious to our circumstances, nor is He negligent in His Lordship. He is not ignoring us and nor are we hidden from Him. God Himself asks us, "'Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24a). Then God answers Himself with a rhetorical question: "'Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24b). In other words, we aren't hidden from God, and nor has He missed any of the latest news headlines, for God's presence fills the earth as well as the entire universe!

Not only that, but the Bible assures us that God has complete authority throughout the earth. Psalm 82:8 says "Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations." And Psalm 83:1-2, 17-18 appeals for God to act on that authority in response to His enemies, "O God, do not remain quiet; Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate you have exalted themselves... Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish, that they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth."

This tells us that God:
  • fills all the earth,
  • possesses all the earth, and 
  • is presiding as the Lord over all the earth.
And each of those great truths apply to every single happening and heartache in our lives, because we are residents of this earth that the Most High God rules over.

So in light of that, do I still feel tempted to think that this world – or any aspects of my life – are spinning out of control as if God has been negligent in looking after things? Do I still wonder if I could do a better job than Him?

John Newton, the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, once wrote, "If it were possible for me to alter any part of His plan, I could only spoil it." God knows what He's doing, and will ably steer us and this world into His will as His wise and sovereign plans unfold. And as He does so, He invites us to pray and obey rather than to complain and interfere.

Yes, God knows what He's doing, and quite honestly, we as stumbling sinners don't. So every day, I must choose to trust Him as I call out to Him to perform His perfect will in all the situations that trouble me in my life and in this complicated world. And every day, I must follow the leading of His Spirit in how I respond to those situations, because God knows exactly how every situation is meant to work out. As our "enemies make an uproar," that is the only way we will be able to respond with perfect peace.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A wedding message for my daughter and new son-in-law

Wow. Walking down that aisle was probably the longest 50 feet that I’ve ever walked. I don’t think I could ever express everything that I was thinking and feeling as we took those precious steps. In a way, I didn’t want it to end. And yet I’m quite pleased that it has ended right here at this altar, with you Ryan, waiting for her. And now, this one step you are taking is going to take you much further than any distance we can measure by metres or feet. You guys are going on an adventure!

As I’ve watched your relationship blossom, I think it’s fair to say that both of you seem to enjoy looking for adventure. How many times did you go hiking in the Whiteshell, or go out in all kinds of weather for walks around Winnipeg parks? There was that day Becky came home sopping wet because she said that the “puddle” she’d stepped into was deeper than she thought. And when I asked her specifically where they went, I said, Becky, that wasn’t a puddle – that was a “ditch!” But it was also an adventure!

And now the adventure continues as you take this step today. And mark my words: It’s a dangerous business taking this step. You step down this aisle, “and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to!” You have chosen a beautiful Scripture passage to be read on this wonderful occasion, and one that fits the theme of adventure.

So let’s read 1 John 4:7-12. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (ESV)

The love that is spoken of in this passage is an adventurous love. It’s a love that embarks, a love that sacrifices, a love that excites, and a love that travels great distances to achieve lofty goals! It’s a love full of challenges and rewards. Some might think it sounds a fitting passage for a wedding because of all the talk of love:  the word love is used 13x in those six verses. But God and His Son, Jesus, are also mentioned 13x in those six verses. So as an accountant Ryan, you’d be interested in knowing that those 2 words account for 21% of the 123 words in those six verses!

But do you see the adventure in the God and in the love this passage speaks of? – This God of whom it is said: “God is love”? Do you see the excitement of it all? The God who sent His Son Jesus from heaven to visit this world to proclaim and demonstrate a message – the message that God is setting up His Kingdom in the hearts and lives of people like you and me so that He can show us what it truly means to live! And that same Jesus showed the world God’s amazing love as He gave His very life to pay the penalty for every act of rebellion humanity has ever expressed against God! And then, while the world waited in astonishment, God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him heaven’s throne! That is the adventure this passage speaks of when it speaks of this love from God.

And may I suggest that the step you are now taking is a part of that adventure? You see, the adventurous “love” this passage speaks of is what the Bible calls a “covenant” love – meaning a love that God solemnly commits to, guaranteeing promises that He includes in the covenant relationship that He initiates and invites us into with Him. And marriage – which has always been God’s idea – is meant to be an illustration, or a picture, or even a demonstration – of God’s covenant love for us!

You see, the love expressed in your marriage is also meant to be a love that embarks, a love that sacrifices, a love that excites, and a love that travels great distances to achieve lofty goals! A love full of challenges and rewards. In other words, a love that follows the example of God’s love for us.

There are people who wonder, “What does God’s love look like?” Well, we’re told what it looks like in what I just read: “This is love… that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…” But the passage also says: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” In other words, our love for one another allows people to see God’s love expressed in us by how we love each other. The Bible is not speaking here of some ordinary love – but about Almighty God’s covenant love being expressed through us! 1 John 4 is speaking of a powerful love that can only be found in God! And when we truly experience that everlasting covenant love, it not only motivates us to love others, but it enables us to do so in the toughest of times when our natural and limited ability to love fails.

This is vital for a marriage. I promise you: There will be tough times when your natural ability to love each other as husband and wife is not sufficient and will not last unless you have the love of God at work in your heart! Only then will your love for each other also become a love that embarks, and sacrifices, and travels great distances to achieve lofty goals.

You might be wondering: What “great distance” am I talking about? Or how do we need to “embark” in order to love each other? The great distance Jesus traveled was from heaven to earth, but the great distance that we need to travel is the distance between our focus on self and our focus others. The distance this requires us to travel in our hearts is proportional to just how selfish we are capable of being. As you learn to share life together as a couple, there will be times when you want your way and not his or her way. And you will want to insist on doing things YOUR way! At these moments, the distance between you will have the potential to increase until there are many emotional miles between you. Loving one another will feel like a long way to travel – and perhaps a great sacrifice. But if you remember the love of God that your marriage is meant to illustrate, you’ll choose to embark from that selfish self, and in one simple act of repentance, travel those many emotional miles because you’re committed to loving each other the way Jesus loves you.

But that can be very difficult in the moment, and so you will truly need God’s help as you embark on this adventure called marriage. You will need God’s love in you in order to be a loving husband and wife. You will need His love at work in you in order to selflessly love each other on the days when the other doesn’t seem so lovable. And don’t be fooled into thinking that your love for each other as husband and wife is a 50/50 kind of thing, as if you’re each supposed to meet each other in the middle. That’s not the example God set for us through His love. God did not ask us to meet Him in the middle. He left all the glories of heaven to come all the way to us to show His love to us. Loving one another is not a 50/50 proposition – nor is it a 60/40 proposition, or 70/30, or 80/20… You can see where I'm going with this... It’s 100/0.

That’s how this adventure you’re embarking on involves sacrifice: You must give all of yourself to love the other, dying to self in order to prefer the other person. If you’re on an exciting adventure, do you hold back and pursue it half-heartedly? NO! You give it all you’ve got! You jump off that cliff with both feet and make the most of that time! Well, that’s how I want you to think of this marriage and of loving one another – you’re all in, ready to make sacrifices, and to go the distance, embarking on an adventure like nothing you’ve ever done before!

But to do this, you’ll need to continually depend on God for the love you will need to survive the dangerous business of stepping down this aisle! So make Jesus the Lord of the adventure you begin with each other today, and Jesus will help you to love each other the way He loves you.

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God, Are You Still Listening?

...Hope For Imperfect Prayers
Does God really listen to our prayers? Does he really hear us when we cry out to him?
Sometimes we pray for a long time about big things, like a health issue or a prodigal child or a difficult work situation, and things don’t get better. We wonder if God’s been paying attention.
I prayed for my wife regarding a life-threatening disease for 27 long years. We prayed and prayed, but her condition only worsened. Why aren’t you answering, God? How could it be true that you have “heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Psalm 116:1)? It doesn’t feel like you have “attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
Perhaps my faith wasn’t strong enough. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Such questions assaulted me like a tribunal of vicious accusers. They wore me down, leaving me doubting and discouraged.

Persist in Prayer

“How many of us can say we’ve prayed single-mindedly for something huge we were looking to God for?”
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I continued to look to God’s word for encouragement. There was certainly no shortage of it. For example, Jesus told the people “a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). This was the story of the persistent widow who only received an answer because she kept coming and asking — she refused to give up. Jesus then asked, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:7).
Is that the sort of persistence in prayer that’s required? Many of us who have prayed for years for the same thing have sometimes lost heart amid the ups and downs of waiting for God. And then we’ve wondered how God could possibly answer our inconsistent prayers. This is how the accuser can use God’s word to discourage us.

Faith in Prayer

Jesus is also clear that faith in prayer is vital. He’s bold in his promises about what will happen when we pray in faith. Jesus said,
“If you have faith and do not doubt . . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21–22)
How many of us can say we’ve prayed that single-mindedly — without doubting — for something huge we were looking to God for? If we had, this passage tells us that we’d have seen the answer and been left rejoicing rather than discouraged due to our doubts and double-mindedness (James 1:6–8). Many of us likely feel like we’re lacking that kind of faith.

Never Good Enough

So what do we do when important passages like these leave us struggling with self-recrimination rather than encouraged amid lengthy battles in prayer? Will God only answer our prayers when we measure up to such impossible standards like praying day and night or having faith to move mountains? Such teachings might leave us thinking that we’re just not good enough.
But perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to realize. Perhaps the liberation we long for from that tribunal of accusers is that very admission: We are not good enough! Our prayers aren’t good enough. And there is nothing in our life with God for which we are good enough!

Boast in Your Weakness

Yes, God certainly looks for faith. Yes, we must persist. Yes, earnestly seek God to believe and endure. But even as we do, we recognize that we’ll always be deficient in faith and deficient in persistence on this side of heaven. Yet, this should not hinder us from embracing the reality that when “this poor man cried . . . the Lord heard him” (Psalm 34:6).
“Because Jesus has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.”
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We need God’s help to endure in faithful prayer when things are not going well. The most confident and steadfast saints put no trust in the level of faith they attain, but only trust that Jesus himself is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). They know that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Prayerful saints trust Jesus to be our “advocate with the Father,” who covers our sinful inconsistency and unbelief with the very blood he shed for us (1 John 2:1–2).

Jesus Fills What We Lack

This gives us boldness as we persist in crying out to God, even though we know that our prayers are never good enough. God more than makes up for our inadequacies when our trust rests first in the person of Jesus, rather than first in our own disposition in prayer. Yes, the disposition matters. But the decisive factor is God’s riches of mercy and grace to meet us in our need.
And speaking of God’s mercy, God certainly did answer all those prayers for my wife, when in his perfect timing, she finally received a kidney transplant in 2015. We are daily grateful for God’s gift of life to us!
We aren’t good enough, but Jesus is. And because he has earned his Father’s ear, we can rest assured that God hears our every prayer.

© 2017 by Ken Peters