Saturday, May 9, 2020

Superabundant-Exceedingly-Beyond-Measure


I cringe at the thought of guided group tours. I also clutch my wallet tightly. I just don't like the idea of paying someone to stuff me in a bus or a boat and ferry me around telling me what to look at. And yet somehow, I was persuaded to take my family on the Maid of the Mist boat tour of Niagara Falls.

The kids were young then. The age when they were still unabashedly wide-eyed when anticipating something exciting. Before boarding, everyone was given bright blue hooded ponchos to put on. The kids thought this was marvelous, laughing at their parents in these funny get-ups. Soon we were aboard, standing amongst a crowd in the spacious bow of the Maid of the Mist, the kids all aquiver in their ponchos on a boat about to set sail.

As we set out into the choppy waters of the Niagara River, the Horseshoe Falls were well out of sight around the bend. The tour guide was sharing all kinds of details over the loudspeaker, but I can’t recall a word he said. That is, until — and it seemed amazingly well choreographed — just as he completed a sentence that dramatically ended with the words: “...Niagara Falls!”, the boat completed a turn, and whammo! — we were faced with the thunderous, towering, poncho-drenching monstrosity of Niagara Falls!


It was truly awe-inspiring. All our senses were suddenly assaulted by the roar of the plummeting waters of Horseshoe Falls, our faces drenched with the spray that filled the air, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water crashing into the waters all around us every second.

Now I don’t use the word “abound” too often (pretty much never, actually), but Niagara Falls truly abounds in water. To abound means "to be present in great quantity... to be copiously supplied." Copious means "taking place on a large scale." And yet, in all its violent overflow of 2,844 tons of water per second, or over 680,000 gallons per second, Niagara still only “abounds” on an earthly scale.

That’s why when Paul prays, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12), it gets my attention! That's referring to a lotta love, because now we’re talking about God's scale.

It's clear from Paul's prayer that it's only God who can supply us with such abundant love. God pours it out to us using gigantic heavenly portions so that we can excessively overflow with love for those around us. The Greek word here suggests a superabundance that is exceedingly beyond measure. God loves us on such a scale so that we can then abound in love for others – much like the way the waters of Niagara Falls saturated all of us who approached it.

God can lead us in how this will look. A member of the small group I attend gave up an item in his shopping cart because a stranger he met in the store couldn't find any more of those items in stock. Another member of our church has gone shopping for his neighbour down the street because their health has left them too compromised to leave their house. I brought a pie home from a local bakery for the people next door to us. The possibilities are as endless as God's love. But be assured: the Lord is able to "make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all."

I'm so grateful for God's love! And I'm also grateful that it's because of his infinite love that we as his children can “abound” in superabundant love for those around us! In this season of COVID-19 and of social distancing, may his superabundant love be superobvious to all we meet. 


© 2020 Ken Peters

Monday, May 4, 2020

Jesus wants to Change our Focus


Jesus was on his way home, and choosing to take the quick route, was passing through the region of Samaria. This was the land of the Samaritans, a people despised by Jews, half-breeds due to the Jewish people intermingling with Gentiles long ago when Israel’s northern kingdom was conquered. We’re told Jesus was weary. Imagine that. The Son of God, weary from a journey, feeling thirsty as he rested by a well, unsheltered from the glaring sun. (John 4:3-6)

As he waited there alone, I can see his gentle eyes watching a woman as she slowly approached from the city nearby. It was noon, the hottest time of the day, and perhaps this woman came to the well at this time because she preferred to be alone. Perhaps the struggles of her life had caused her to withdraw from the more social times of day when the well was a busy place, a happy place, a talkative place. And yet here was this stranger, this man resting by the well when she came to draw water. What was he doing here? She likely felt awkward as he watched her self-consciously approach and as she let down her waterpot. I can see him kindly watching her face as she studiously tried to avoid glancing at his. After all, she wanted to be alone. (John 4:7-8)

Then breaking the silence, he spoke, asking for a drink from her Samaritan waterpot. She knew from his clothes, and from his accent, that he was a Jew. And she being both a Samaritan and a woman, knew that this was an inappropriate situation. Why was he addressing her? And why would he be prepared to drink from her container? So she attempted a protest, suggesting how uncomfortable she felt: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:7-9)

Jesus’ answer couldn’t have been what she expected. It felt a deflection. In fact, it felt like an offer of some kind. He said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Suddenly it sounded like he didn’t want a drink at all, but wanted to give her a drink! Perplexed amidst the awkwardness of the situation, she asked him where he planned to get this “living water.” Was he suggesting that he knew of a water source better than this well that dated all the way back to Jacob? (John 4:10-12)

Jesus didn’t back down. In fact, I can see him leaning forward eagerly, a slight smile on his face, as he told this lonely woman that the water he had to offer would quench her thirst forever, and lead to “everlasting life”! But she missed his point, immediately latching onto the thought of never having to come to this well again; never having to avoid the cheerful, carefree women who came here in the cooler times of day; never having to be seen coming here alone, after they had left, the merciless sun beating down on her rejected, unworthy frame. “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw!” (John 4:13-15)

It was then that Jesus truly shocked her. He sat back and gently said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” I doubt she would have been able to hide the expression of alarm on her face as she quickly looked back down at the well, desperately wondering why he asked her that. I suspect there was then a long pause, with the hot wind blowing across her brow, before she quietly confessed, “I have no husband.” (John 4:16-17)

Jesus must have felt something quite tender toward her as he witnessed this awkward response, and softly yet knowingly replied, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly." He knew all along. This would've been another shock to her. And yet, perhaps Jesus exposed those awkward truths just to heighten this woman's sense of desperation. (John 4:17-18) 

But this would not have been an easy moment for this broken woman. Jesus had just exposed her sin and triggered her shame. I can easily imagine another long pause here as this woman wondered who this strange man was. First of all he speaks to me while we’re out here all alone by the well, asking me for water – then he offers me water from I don’t know where that can quench my thirst forever – and then he tells me all the things I ever did!

Suddenly she looks back up at Jesus as she blurts out, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet!” Now she feels frightened, for the prophets of old never treated sin lightly, and this man knows all about her sinful past! So as she fiddled with the rope of her waterpot, once again studiously avoiding Jesus’ gaze, I wonder if she suddenly brought up a religious subject just to shift the subject from herself. Or perhaps the reason she asked about how her people worship at a nearby mountain was to make herself appear less unworthy. Whatever her reasons, Jesus wasn't bothered, and by the end of the conversation, he had said something that we’re told he tried to keep a secret in just about every other place he ever went! Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He" – the Messiah. (John 4:19-20, 26) 

What a moment! What a dramatic declaration. Jesus, who later said that his Father had sent him to the Jews first, chose to reveal his true identity for the very first time to a woman of the despised Samaritans! But this was not just an Samaritan woman. This was a sinful Samaritan woman who was living with a man in an immoral relationship! But this was not just a sinful woman – she was also a rejected woman who had been divorced by five previous husbands, discarded by them, unloved, unwanted. And Jesus lovingly revealed to her that he was the Messiah, the Saviour of the world! (John 4:42)

What an encouragement it is when we take our eyes off of ourselves and fix our gaze on Jesus! This woman surely felt shame, but Jesus still invited her near by declaring to her who he is. The issue wasn't how worthy she was to know him – none of us will ever be good enough to know God. The point of the good news of Jesus is that it is Jesus who is good enough to be a righteous substitute for us before God, and to show us our worth by taking the penalty of our sin upon himself so that we can be forgiven.

This is why Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, "Forget yourself, forget all about yourself. Of course you are not good enough, you never will be good enough. The Christian way of salvation tells you this, that it does not matter what you have been, it does not matter what you have done... this is the test, that you acknowledge readily and say clearly that you look to Christ and to Christ alone and to nothing and no one else, that you stop looking at particular sins and particular people." That was Jesus' message to the Samaritan woman he so lovingly revealed himself to, and it's Jesus' message to you and me today: I am he – and I want to be a fountain of living water in you, "springing up into everlasting life!" (John 4:10, 14)

© 2020 by Ken Peters

Friday, May 1, 2020

One-anothering one another during COVID-19

I had just finished a very encouraging conversation. It was in mid-March, and a friend in my congregation was going through a difficult time. We got together for an evening to talk. It was quite late when I got home, but that felt irrelevant. What felt far more important was that we’d been able to personally connect with each other about such heartfelt issues.
The next morning — bam! The unheard-of occurred. Social-distancing measures went into effect in Manitoba. Our senior pastor quickly initiated an online meeting to discuss how we would respond as a church staff in light of these new measures.
There was no argument that the measures were valuable and necessary. We wanted to do our part to minimize the impact of this terrible virus on our health-care workers and our city. But how would pastors who felt called to care for others do so when we were being asked to distance ourselves from everyone?
It didn’t help that on that very day my friend, the one I met earlier, contacted me asking: "When can we connect again?" When, indeed? I didn’t know.
We live in an age that seems to have endless ways to connect with each other. Facebook alone claims to have 2.5 billion users. It’s reported by Zephoria Digital Marketing that five new Facebook profiles are created every second, and that every 60 seconds 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
And there are literally dozens and dozens of other social-media websites available for people to interact online.
We as pastors were quickly introduced to tools that many others had been using for a long time: Zoom, Hangouts and other video-conferencing apps. I even "got together" that first day with someone using one of those options.
It was helpful to chat with people on video screens, but it was also obviously very new and not altogether comfortable for many. It was then I discovered an old friend: the telephone. I began calling people — many people! In the past month, I’ve connected with many dozens of people in our church and I’ve been surprised how meaningful many of those calls have been.
Some have gotten choked up — one person began crying, and many were truly encouraged that someone called to see how they were doing. Some had just had a very hard day or were facing imminent challenges; they appreciated having someone to talk to about it.
It became obvious that even in isolation, I could connect with people regarding heartfelt issues, just as I had done in person with my friend on that evening before this pandemic reached us.
And that’s why I began encouraging people to do it, too. Connecting isn’t something only pastors are meant to do. The Bible contains many of what are known as "one another" verses. They say things like, "love one another," "care for one another," "comfort one another," "encourage one another" and "bear one another’s burdens." All followers of Jesus can do these things!
I like to call it one-anothering one another, and it’s something sorely needed in these days of isolation due to COVID-19. All it takes is picking up a phone and calling whoever comes to mind. Ask how they’re doing, especially those who are health-care workers, a staff person at a grocery store or someone else considered an essential service.
If we all do this, I believe our city will begin to feel a little less lonely and little more encouraged. All it takes is being intentional about connecting with our fellow quarantiners with a simple telephone — and one-anothering one another.

© 2020 by Ken Peters

Friday, March 27, 2020

God’s Dwelling Place in a Pandemic

It doesn’t feel a stretch to think of living in a growing pandemic as being like entering a wilderness – it’s full of unknowns, there’s a harshness about it, it’s a place of isolation. And it can also involve loss. I don’t mean loss of life, though that’s a reality, but I mean a loss of what’s familiar or comfortable, kind of like when the Israelites left the steady diet of Egypt (even if it was a slave’s diet) to follow Moses into a wilderness. A pandemic can also involve the loss of familiar things that we, too, may have been slaves to – entertainment, sports, even financial pursuits.

I think that’s why it felt like God got my attention as I read about him giving Moses instructions regarding a Tent of Meeting in the wilderness – a place for God to dwell with his people in an unfamiliar place. At the end of Exodus 29, the Lord says, “And I shall abide in the midst of the Israelites and I shall be God to them. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt [why?…] for me to abide in their midst. I am the Lord their God.” He brought them into the wilderness so that, with all the trappings of slavery left behind, he could dwell unhindered with his people.

That’s who Yahweh, the Lord, is: a relational, covenant-keeping God who draws near to his people. He rescues us to abide with us – and us with him. And even though we’re prone to sin much like Israel was, God still longs for relationship with us – to abide in our midst. And instead of a Tent of Meeting, we are his dwelling place now. For those who know Jesus, he abides in our hearts. He's with us. And he genuinely wants to be. That’s why he saved us. Because he loves us. That’s why Jesus willingly took the punishment for our sin upon himself so that we could be forgiven – only then could the Lord be the God who draws near to dwell with us – even in a pandemic.

© 2020 by Ken Peters