Friday, September 11, 2020

The Heart of the Matter

I think the Apostle Paul would’ve enjoyed making use of bullet points if he’d had a computer to write his epistles.

 

There’s an amazing little quick-hits list of instructions tucked away in Romans 12 that bullet points would’ve been perfect for. It says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:11-12).

 

Wow! That little list covers a lot! But when you look a little closer, what do you see?

 

I see: Heart, heart, action, heart, heart, action.

 

And if I wanted to expand on that, I could write:

  • Look to your heart,
  • Look to your heart,
  • Check your actions.
  • Look to your heart,
  • Look to your heart,
  • Check your actions.

That’s an illustration of how a life of following Jesus is meant to be more than simply working hard at activities that can actually be done by our own strength and initiative. Because even though it’s possible to mechanically plod on and on in those deeds of serving and prayer without even looking to God for strength, following Jesus includes attitudes of the heart that I doubt we can persist in for even one day without his help.

 

Zeal, fervency, joy, patience. It should get our attention that God’s Word calls for straight-forward obedience in these sometimes elusive heart-postures. I believe such clear commands regarding such subjective matters are meant to motivate us to spend time with Jesus. It’s only by doing so that those very qualities of Jesus will grow in our heart so that our serving and praying will then be expressions of devotion rather than mechanical plodding.

 

After all, Paul’s desire wasn’t that his readers devote their lives to seeking the various items in a list. He wanted them to devote themselves to seeking the Person of Jesus, who wants to be all of those things in our hearts.

 

Only then will our hearts become the seedbed of the God-inspired deeds that are meant to bloom and flourish in the lives of every follower of Jesus!


© 2020 Ken Peters

Monday, August 10, 2020

Look Up

It was a big crowd. All totalled — men, women, and children — it was likely at least 10,000 people. Matthew said it was 5,000 men, plus women and children (Matthew 14:21). And they were hungry.

As Jesus spoke with His disciples about what to do about that, the sound of those thousands of people talking together about all the miracles they’d just witnessed probably created quite the hum of background noise. 


Matthew simply wrote that Jesus “healed their sick” (14:14), so you can imagine that previously lame people were likely leaping for joy, and people previously deaf and mute were probably jabbering away, and people previously blind were exclaiming at all they could now see! I expect that there was laughter and cheers to be heard while Jesus quizzed the disciples on what their meal plan was. 


Two phrases from this story catch my eye due to the contrast they create. First we hear the disciples saying, “We have only…” (14:17), and then we see Jesus as “He looked up” (14:19). “We” contrasted with “He.” “We” focusing on the “only,” and “He” focusing on looking “up.” “We” with our minds on the things of this world, with all its limitations and disappointments and futility — despite all the wondrous miracles Jesus does right before our eyes. And “He” with His attention on His Father in heaven, with all His limitless love and promises and blessings — as all the miracles He’d just performed revealed. 


Today, we can focus on the “only” — “I have only” — or we can look “up” — up at our Father who loves us, wants to do us good and grant us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” that is available in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3).


I’m going to look up. 


© 2020 Ken Peters

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Call before the Calm



We all know what it’s like to feel exhausted. But have we ever been so weary that we’re able to sleep through a storm while in an open boat with drenching waves sweeping over it?

That’s how tired Jesus was as he wearily climbed into a boat with his disciples and told them to sail to the other side of the lake. Though he had the power to heal, his body also felt fatigue. The Son of God fully experienced our frailty as a man. 

I can just see him crawling to the back of the boat where there was a ragged fishy-smelling cushion of sorts, and curling up with it in the space he could find amidst the folded nets and coiled ropes. He may have been asleep before the sails were even raised. 

We don’t know how long it was before the storm hit, but we know it was fierce. Mark tells us that “waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling” (Mk. 4:37). Matthew tells us that the boat was “being swamped by the waves” (Mt. 8:24). And Luke tells us that they “were in danger” (Lk. 8:23)!

As the winds began to roar, the waves would’ve grown until the boat was being tossed upon them and drenched under them. There would’ve been shouting from the disciples as they hurriedly lowered the sails, and started to bail. And through it all, Jesus slept. 

None of the commotion woke Jesus. I can just see the disciples scrambling and jostling to stay afloat, wiping the sea spray of the pounding waves from their faces, and occasionally stealing glances at Jesus, wondering how he could sleep through it all. Perhaps Peter shouted to Andrew or to John, “Should we wake him?”

As they shook him awake, they shouted above the tumult, “Master, don’t you care? We’re perishing here in this terrible storm!” Picture Jesus struggling to focus on their faces as he stirred from a deep sleep, his face wet with spray, and then looked around at the storm that was assaulting them, then back into their eyes with greater clarity in his gaze. 

Of the three accounts of this story, I like Matthew’s best due to one small way in which he specifies the sequence of events. In all three accounts, Jesus questions the disciples’ lack of faith, but it’s only in Matthew’s account that we’re told that Jesus asks them this amidst the tumult, before calming the storm (Mt. 8:26). 

I love imagining Jesus sitting there, shouting to be heard above such a fearsome storm — “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” — while waves crashed into the reeling vessel, and as some of the disciples still bailed with all their might. I can picture Jesus’ wet hair whipping in the wind, his eyes squinting in the lashing spray as he looked into the eyes of his disciples’ tired and fearful faces. Then he called on them to believe while the winds wailed.

Their fearful response was obvious, but Jesus didn’t respond to their fear by refusing to help them. As they tried to deal with the storm by their own desperate devices, he didn’t tell them that if they don’t have faith, they’ll see no miracles. Jesus is not a punitive Saviour. 

Matthew wrote, “Then he rose” (Mt. 8:26), and majestically turned from the doubtful disciples to the defiant winds and raging waves and said, “‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk. 4:39). 

The bailing suddenly stopped as flabbergasted disciples stared out at the suddenly placid sea. There was no more shouting as the wind no longer roared in their ears. The winds had obeyed him. The undercurrents of the sea obeyed him. “Who is this?” the disciples asked one another in hushed tones. “Even winds and sea obey him!” (Mt. 8:27). 

Fast-forward to the boats of our lives today, and Jesus still calls his followers to trust him amidst the troubles of this world. And I’m so relieved that he doesn’t wait for us to be pure in faith before acting on our behalf. As winds lash at my face, I can be sure that Jesus is with me and has all authority to calm the storms in my life even as he calls me to believe him while I’m still in the midst of the storms.

© 2020 Ken Peters

Monday, July 20, 2020

We are in Good Hands

How would you want to hide from danger? What if I told you that you could be just as safe behind a delicate feather as inside a strong stone tower?

That’s the contrast King David provided when he wrote Psalm 61. He was crying out to God when he wrote, “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (v.4). 

What great assurance that provides when we see how powerfully strong God is compared to any enemy who seeks to assail us. We can take refuge behind the strong stone walls of our God. 

But then David wrote, “Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings” (v.5). Wings? What will that protect me from?

Plenty, when you understand that God’s protection is personal. A strong tower may make us feel safe, but feathers across our cheek will ensure we feel loved. It’s vital that we see God’s protection as an expression of His affection for us. 

God wants us to remember that His protection in our lives is more than simply brute force — it’s also tender care. The tower that surrounds me is also the gentle wing that covers me. We are safe because we are loved.

© 2020 Ken Peters

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Comfort of His Presence

As the sun descended on that long-anticipated day, the room gradually dimmed as twelve men huddled close to Jesus, hanging on his every word. The trembling shadows in that candlelit upper room must have befitted the somber faces staring intently at their Master. What compassion Jesus must have felt as he caught their gazes, one by one, seeing their fear, their confusion, their sadness. 

He deeply understood the troubles they would soon face in this world. But he also knew that he would soon overcome this broken world that vainly sought to oppose him. And he also knew that they would have a Helper unlike any they had ever known. So as he spoke, he intentionally looked into their eyes with an expression of heartfelt comfort. 

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1). He wanted them to believe that the One with whom they had walked so closely for those three brief miracle-filled, awe-infused, horizon-widening years would not abandon them now. And though he had to speak of leaving, he promised that “I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3).

What a wonder. That the Son of God would receive the likes of them — or of us — despite all our flaws and fears, to himself. To hear him say, with unfeigned affection, I will “receive you,” means that he wants to embrace us, accept us, gather us up “that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3) — forever!

The disciples responded with confused questions, not understanding that Jesus had no intention of enforcing his will in an earthly kingdom that would usurp all who opposed him in the here and now. But with the advantages of my post-Pentecost perspective, Jesus’ promise of heavenly fellowship with him creates great expectations in me. Spending eternity with Jesus — I can’t imagine anything better. 

But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with merely pointing to future fellowship with him as he sought to comfort his disciples in this troubled world. Jesus anticipated his own burial, resurrection and ascension when he then said, “A little while longer and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:19-20).

So yes, Jesus wanted his disciples to be comforted by his promise that one day and forever, “where I am, there you may be also” (14:3). But he also reassuringly promised that he wanted to walk in close fellowship with them in this world — “you in me, and I in you” (14:20) — as he also spoke of a “Helper” (14:16), “he who dwells with you and will be in you” (14:17)!

So imagine Jesus at a table with us now, in 2020, looking intently at each of us, catching our gaze, seeing the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the frustration, the angst of living in a world wrestling with a pandemic. 

I can hear him saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me.” And he would want us to be comforted as he said, “Believe that I will not only one day joyfully receive you to be with me forever, but also believe that because I am now with my Father, I have sent my Spirit to abide with you and to help you, so that through him you can truly and continually be in me, and I in you — together in loving friendship — right now, today and every day.

© 2020 Ken Peters

Friday, June 12, 2020

What does church look like as things start to reopen?

The following was published on the faith page of the Winnipeg Free Press on June 10, 2020.

I keep getting asked: "When do you think we’ll be able to have church services again?" And I keep wondering how we got to this point of thinking that church services on Sunday mornings are what it means to be a church.

As a pastor, I think that way myself. I’ve put enormous amounts of time and energy into providing well-organized Sunday services. I’ve thought of the people who attend on Sundays as being who we are as a church: it’s who I can see, and it’s how they see me.

And there’s merit to that. A local church is defined by its unique values and emphases, and the people who feel united in those distinctives want to be together and grow together. I agree with the importance of that. There’s great value in the love and joy and synergy that’s expressed when a local church gathers together as a community, and I love those gatherings.

But that’s not the only way for the church to express community, and maybe not even the best way.

As the Manitoba government has introduced the next phase in what we want to be a safe reopening of our city and province, we’ve been told that it’s permissible for groups of up to 25 people to meet indoors, safely socially distanced.

This announcement was made shortly before I found myself reading in my Bible that in the early days of the Church, and amidst great opposition, "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah." (Acts 5:42)

We might consider the reference to "the temple" as the equivalent of "having church services," but it wouldn’t have been what we do on Sunday mornings.

Back then, the temple was a focal point for Jewish religious practices, and Christians would have likely been there to tell others about Jesus rather than to have what we’d consider a tidy Christian worship service. Their unhindered Christian worship was far more likely to happen in their houses, in smaller clusters where a true sense of community and fellowship would be felt, and that’s one place you’d have found them "day after day," teaching about Jesus.

So what about 2020 in Winnipeg? If we still can’t safely meet in our church buildings because having six feet of distance between you and anyone around you means that each person needs 36 square feet of personal space, then what’s to be done?

Why don’t we take a page out of the book of Acts, and choose to never stop teaching Jesus in our homes?

That can mean establishing what’s been known as a family altar — a family time of looking at a story or a lesson in the Bible together and praying together about how to put it into practice. It could be part of children’s bedtime or after a meal. Married couples or roommates could take time to pray together on a regular basis.

The key is being intentional about scheduling something regularly so that Christ will continue to be honoured in our homes and families.

Teaching about Jesus "from house to house" can also mean that churches meet regularly in houses or back yards rather than in buildings, as long as there is adequate space for safe social-distancing. Small groups like these can be ideal places for relationship-building, for sharing prayer requests, for practising spiritual gifts and for looking in God’s Word together.

Why should we consider such examples as lesser expressions of what it means to be a church? If families and small groups are committed to the unique values and emphases of the local church that they’re a part of, and to the online teaching their church is presently offering, it seems to me that such gatherings are a wonderful expression of the Church representing Jesus in Winnipeg!

I don’t honestly know when we’ll be able to have large church services again, but as long as we have houses, we never need to stop "teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus." And as our provincial leaders seek to gradually reopen the province safely, let’s get back "to church" by establishing family altars and by gathering with friends in our homes (according to Manitoba health guidelines).

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