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