Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Boy who is the Word of God (A Poem about a Painting)

Boy Jesus in the Temple by Heinrich Hofmann (Luke 2:41-51)

This past November, I posted five poems that sought to articulate the facial expressions and body language of the five men surrounding Jesus in the above painting. Only recently did I feel that I had something I could write with my focus on the young Son of God named Jesus in the center of that painting. 


Even now at this tender age,
He knows His Father's voice,
And says He needs to be
About His Father's business.
But does He truly understand,
The assignment He's been given?
Does this gentle, earnest boy,
Who is so eager
And so passionate
In His reflections on His Father,
Know that the business of His Father
Will one day cost His very life?
Can He see the distant cross
From this first of
Many Temple scenes,
Or hear the accusations
Of men who now
Stare at Him in awe?
What Scriptures have they opened
To inquire of this boy who is
The Word made flesh?
Are they reading of the Lamb,
Silent before its shearers,
Or of a people lost in darkness
Who see a radiant light?
That Light is shining bright this day,
As this boy who is the Lamb,

Who has spoken from the start,
Begins to speak 
at last, 
For all on earth to hear.

You can also hear the thoughts of the other characters in the painting at "Who is this Boy who Speaks such Things?"

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Friday, February 10, 2017

My times are truly in His hand

Every time I read Psalm 31, a phrase in the middle grabs my attention and adjusts my oh-so-easily distracted perspective: "My times are in your hand" (Psalm 31:15a). That changes everything. In fact, it's a life-changer.

One reason that phrase gets my attention is because reading Psalm 31 in its entirety can feel like driving by an accident scene in which a great rescue is going on. David writes of his affliction and his distress (v. 7); he writes of grief and of sorrow and sighing, and of wasting away (vv. 9-10); he feels he's become a reproach and an object of dread, "forgotten like one who is dead" and "like a broken vessel" (vv. 11-12); there's terror and scheming, and "they plot to take my life" (v. 13). That's quite the gruesome car wreck.

But that is when the Great Rescue is mentioned. The Emergency Response Force has arrived! David suddenly shifts his focus and writes, "BUT I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!" (vv. 14-16).

What a declaration! In the midst of such horrible circumstances, David resolutely declares his trust in God! He's not going to let that accident scene suggest that his God can't be trusted. In fact, he's going to shout the truth in the midst of the confusion: "I trust in you!" – "You are my God!" Derek Kidner points out that the "I" and the "you" in those Hebrew phrases are emphatic, stressing the decisiveness and boldness of those statements. Whatever is going on around him and even inside him, David insists on declaring that God is still his God and that he will trust Him, confident in His never-ending, saving, steadfast love. But the phrase, "my God" is more than a mere theological acknowledgment – it is a personalized expression of closeness and relationship: He's my God. David is saying that "My God is with me, even in the midst of these difficult circumstances!"

But how can David be so amazingly certain of such truths in such incredibly tough times? It's because David understands one further important truth: his times are in God's hand. That changes everything. And it's true for every one of us. It means that the God of steadfast love is not only with us when things get tough, but is in complete control of every situation we face.

Think of it: my times – in God's hand. What a combination! "My times" means my circumstances, my challenges, my troubles, my victories, my day, my life. "God's hand" means God's power, God's strength, God's control, God's authority. Put those together and it means that no matter what happens to me as a child of God, I can be sure that my day is in God's control, and that my life is under God's authority. Nothing will happen to me that hasn't passed by His throne to receive His permission, and nothing will happen unless He has a sovereign purpose to work it for good in my life! My times are truly in His hand.

Let that turn your head when you hear it. But turn your head to look up at Jesus rather than down at this broken world we live in, and thank God, acknowledging that He has you in the palm of His hand. For David goes on to then adoringly write, "Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!" (Psalm 31:19).

© 2017 by Ken Peters

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Memories of a Desert-Loving Canadian

Thirty long years ago today, I entered the desert of northern Sudan to live in a faraway, unforgettable village of mud huts, roaring camels and beautiful people. My role was community development, but my dream was to simply meet with God in the desert. 

Perhaps I'm too much of a dreamer, but I had long felt a tug to desert places. Call me monkish, or blame Lawrence of Arabia; all I know is, I was attracted to the desert. Its emptiness attracted me, the scale of it awed me, its extremes excited me. 

Years ago, while traveling in the same deserts of northern Sudan, Wilfred Thesiger wrote, "Hour after hour, day after day, we moved forward and nothing changed; the desert met the empty sky always the same distance ahead of us. Time and space were one. Round us was a silence in which only the winds played, and a cleanness which was infinitely remote from the world of men."

I found Geoffrey Moorehouse even more inspiring as he wrote in The Fearful Void about his travels in the western Sahara: "...we were confronted with a passage across what looked like an eternal plain. Its dimensions were only emphasized by the presencie, low on distant horizons, of isolated peaks and tabletops of rock... their greatest effect was to provide such scale to the entire panorama as to reduce two men and four camels to their proper proportions in this towering and and barren universe. We were insects creeping forward to a rim of the world that might never be reached, across pure and unbounded space in which we had no hope at all of encountering anything else that lived and could offer comfort by its presence. It was appalling; but at the same time, it was exciting, with a spellbinding quality that penetrated even the dulling of the senses that it imposed... 

" its utmost desolation, I began at last to understand its attraction. It was the awful scale of the thing, the suggestion of virginity, the fusion of pure elements from the heavens above and the earth beneath which were untrammelled and untouched by anything contrived by man."

So there I was thirty years ago, a 23 year old kid with a head full of romantic notions about what turned out to be the hardest year of my life up to that point, cheerfully hopping in a Land Rover and being driven into an 11-month crucible of fire for my yet half-grown character. Ah, but what better way is there to be refined than in a furnace of desert heat while being mocked by petulant camels and enveloped in mountainous sandstorms? 

My journal entry from all those years ago as we left Khartoum and eventually approached the village of Hamrat reflects my fascination: "The ride is across desert where no roads exist; just the paths of previous lorries that travel the region with supplies. At one point in Khartoum, the pavement abruptly ends, and the bumps of the 'paved' roads become the bigger bumps of dirt and sand... Soon we were out of [town], save the few odd homes seen in the middle of nowhere as we drove through the desert. Nothing for hundreds and thousands of square miles, and you suddenly see a home built of dried wood standing all alone. We saw some camels, and a few herd of cattle in the beginning too, but most sights became pretty rare after about 20 minutes. There was sand, shrubs, scrawny trees and sky..."

The next day, after a chilly desert night, I wrote, "as we drove up a dune or hill (or both), apparently off course with no path to follow, we saw appear in the view from the top of it, a town in the distance below! Hamrat el Wuz."

Google Earth allows us a glance-from-above, gradually zooming in on my desert home for 11 months in 1987 – a year I will never forget, among a people I will always cherish, and during which, I truly met with God in the desert...

© 2017 by Ken Peters