Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading List 2020

The year 2020 will obviously be known for many things – a pandemic, wearing masks, and social distancing to name a few  but as far as my own reading habits went, the year 2020 could be known as the year for biographies, auto-biographies, and memoirs. Seven of the 27 books I read in 2020 fit those categories (25%), plus two other books that recounted personal stories about travel expeditions. It wasn't intentional, but it certainly did result in my appreciation for that genre growing.

My full 2020 reading list appears below, but as usual, I'll also include my reading lists from past years (just for the record): 201920182017, 2016201520142011 and 2010 (this blog was totally dormant for 2012 and 2013).

Apart from the books listed here, I consistently 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 the most important book to be continually reading.

Here are the books I've read in 2020...

  1. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan. It’s difficult to describe this auto-biography, given the awful scale of the adversity John Bunyan faced, both in the inner turmoil of his personal faith battles (which were extreme, to say the least), as well as in the fierce opposition he faced as a non-conformist preacher in the 17th century. He persevered, and left this world a legacy that has blessed more people than we can know. And though his personal struggles may seem preposterous, it’s his perseverance through both the inner and the outer struggles he describes that I found so impacting. Again and again, he turns to God’s Word for relief and release, resulting in a spiritual depth that he was irrepressibly eager to share with others until the day he died. I actually wanted to like this book less due to how long John Bunyan’s struggles persisted, but I found his tenacity so attractive that I couldn’t help but admire him and the story he had to tell.
  2. The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus' 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn S. Sunshine. The truth is, most of this book left me wanting to give it 5 stars. I found the overall message and challenge of the book to be inspiring and provoking. It left me wanting to *give it a try* in terms of the methods that the authors described. There’s much in this book that feels both relevant and important, and I’m going to discuss its contents with others until I can confirm what the Lord wants me to implement from it. My only hesitancy regarding its message is how far the authors go in redefining what churches and church growth should look like in the context of the global north based on what’s happening in the radically different contexts in the global south. I’ll need to think on that a bit more! I don’t think I’m quite as convinced as they are that the methods of this book can’t be implemented within the context of existing churches in the global north.
  3. Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears. There are few individual battles in the annals of the wars of this world that I care to read a 500+ page book on, but Gettysburg is one of them. And Stephen Sears does a masterful job of compellingly telling the tale based on extremely thorough and well footnoted research. I’ve previously read a great deal about the American Civil War, but still felt that this book clarified a great many interesting details for me regarding this historically momentous battle.
  4. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. There were more than a few times when I was *wowed* by what I found in this book — insights that gave me a whole new perspective on particular passages in the Bible. In fact, this book is packed with details that beg for further study (little wonder, since it’s based on a book by Beale of much greater depth called “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”). And yet, despite the fact that the authors would’ve had to be very selective in what they chose from that longer work, I noticed a fair bit of repetition in this brief 166-page book. And then what they selected from the longer work left me sometimes feeling like they were racing through a barebones list of the essential details in which every sentence was critical, and with much of the scholastic background material removed (or alluded to in substantial endnotes). It left me weary at times, though I suspect I’d have been more wearied by the significantly greater detail that Beale goes into in his longer book. I think this condensed version will be sufficient for me.
  5. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller. I’m not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t what I expected. Essentially, this is about how expository sermons can be clearly evangelistic while also edifying the saints. A tall order, but Keller painstakingly emphasizes that the only way to do this is to connect the truths of any scriptural passages to the unspoken messages we pick up from the world in which we live, and then bring every sermon back to focus on Christ rather than resorting to moralism. I found his emphasis on Christ and the gospel truly stirring, but didn’t find it easy to see how I would be able to address the various cultural narratives he then described in such detail — almost too much detail. But then he brought it all back to focus on Christ as he appealed for sermons preached from hearts of Holy Spirit-inspired worship. A very rich read.
  6. Sand Dance: By Camel Across Arabia's Great Southern Desert by Bruce Kirkby. I feared I’d be disappointed by this book, knowing how improbable it would be for three upstart Canadians to reproduce what Wilfred Thesiger achieved in his heroic crossings of Arabia’s Empty Quarter in the 1940s before the oil industry changed the region forever. I feared the regular visits of Land Rovers and the apparent reluctance of the Bedu guides in this 1990s adventure would spoil the story, making it all seem farcical. I was wrong. I loved this book. I was mesmerized by the descriptive passages, and drawn into the tensions with the Bedu guides (which thankfully resolved), and identified so much with the pathos of the journey’s end that I cried as Kirby concluded. Perhaps it’s because it was so obvious from the start that no one could reproduce what Thesiger did 70 years ago, but more likely because it reminded me of my own good-byes after living in the desert of northern Sudan for a year of my life in 1987. Living in a desert has a way of making a permanent impression on a person. I’m grateful Kirby and his friends made this journey, and so glad he wrote this extraordinary account.
  7. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I never imagined myself reading a book on this subject, and yet the more I read, the more I realized how valuable a book on this subject is for anyone who wants to be better equipped to show true care to anyone facing end of life challenges. And while I can understand why Dr. Gawande would subtitle his book, “Medicine and What Matters in the End,” I’d suggest that an alternative subtitle could be, “The Shortfalls of Medicine When it Comes to the End.” Dr. Gawande describes and illustrates those shortfalls with great humility, sensitivity and compassion. I found this book quite moving, and full of helpful insights on a subject that’s relevant to us all, but that we don’t relish thinking about too much.
  8. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński. Kapuściński begins with one of the more transfixing opening paragraphs I’ve encountered in a long time, and then goes on to provide one compelling portrait after another of the extraordinary beauty and pain of post-colonial Africa. Some chapters felt riveting to me, and many touched my heart, though some felt tantalizingly incomplete. But all of them felt written by a man with a keen eye for detail, and who truly immersed himself in the cultures he encountered, and who felt genuine appreciation of the people that he met. The feeling that too many chapters felt like partial tales that left me hanging was my only disappointment. But perhaps that was the author’s point, as so much appeared to be unresolved in the dizzying diversity of the African nations he wrote about as they struggled to establish their identities in the turbulent era he described.
  9. God's Lavish Grace by Terry Virgo. Perhaps Terry Virgo had a different audience in mind than me. I read this because I wanted to grow in my understanding and appreciation of God’s infinite grace, but I couldn’t help but think that this book was was aimed at newer Christians. It was an okay book that did in fact speak to Christians who were tired or discouraged, and did have some helpful insights, but it just too often felt like the author was skimming the surface of this topic rather than plumbing its depths.
  10. Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices From Africa and Asia by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Despite not knowing this book existed until just months ago, my reading of this book feels long overdue. I’ve long had a passion for global missions, but I can’t deny that I’ve long viewed it almost exclusively from a Western perspective. So it felt both refreshing and encouraging to read about such a culturally diverse collection of heroes of the faith from so many nations of the world. I can’t say I felt equally enthusiastic about every character described in this book, but I’m still grateful for how every story expanded my awareness of how God has advanced his kingdom in this world. The stories were all well told, and for the many characters in this book who I can applaud enthusiastically, their tenacity in the faith and their zeal for Jesus is an inspiration, and well worth remembering.
  11. God's Strategy in Human History: Volume 1 – God's Path to Victory by Roger Forster and Paul Marston. This book was both helpful and sometimes frustrating for me to read. I found it helpful in how the authors unpacked some valuable doctrines that I was eager for more input on — such as election and predestination — and I'm grateful for the careful thought they gave to themes that I’ve previously had only very narrow exposure to. But unfortunately, I didn’t always find it easy to grasp the flow of thought throughout the book, and also struggled at times with what felt to me like variations in what they were saying regarding some of their finer points. I was also uncomfortable with what felt like a rather blunt and sweeping dogmatism on themes that I don't think the Bible is altogether clear about, and this was sometimes expressed in a somewhat testy tone toward those who differed with the authors’ opinions. I certainly found it educational, but also found it a bit of a mixed bag.
  12. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation by Carl Bangs. I find it hard to imagine how this book could have been better. I thoroughly enjoyed delving into a time period from so long ago, and Carl Bangs does a brilliant job of describing the religious and political contexts of the times, basing many of his descriptions on obscure town and university records from nearly 400 years ago. Bangs achieves a very helpful balance in this biography between historical details and theological details, as well as sensitively including personal details about a man who experienced such tragedy, and so much opposition from many ungracious enemies. This biography is educational as well as enjoyable, and I so appreciated being able to learn about Arminian doctrine from the words of Arminius himself.
  13. How the World Began by Helmut Thielicke. The fact is, I simply like Helmut Thielicke’s books. This is a collection of sermons he preached on the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Foundational stuff, to be sure. But what made the material so rich for me was how it felt like Thielicke was able to put Genesis 1-11 in the now, and to so masterfully include me as a reader (listener) in his sermons by the examples he’d use — and not usually in flattering ways. But I also enjoyed how he would insert questions or perceived objections into his sermons that I could identify with, and then he’d deal with those objections like a man solving an ancient riddle. I can’t say that I always agreed with every line or every thought he wrote, but what does that matter when so much of what he shared felt so compelling and so encouraging.
  14. With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates. I’ve long wanted to read a Lincoln biography, but with so many in print, how does one choose? Well, having previously read a shorter book about Lincoln by Stephen Oates, I felt safe choosing this one. But I was also attracted to the title of this book. I appreciate the phrase Oates chose for the title to sum up the life of Abraham Lincoln. The political world seemed as ruthless and as spiteful then as it seems now, but Lincoln was a different sort of politician. He was once marketed in a campaign as “Honest Abe,” but it seems to me he could’ve also been known as “a man in whom there is no guile.” He was such a good-hearted man, and though Oates makes it clear he had flaws, it was Lincoln’s willingness to look past the flaws of both friends and foes alike, and see good in them, that most impressed me about him. In fact, by the end of the book, I felt befriended by him myself, leaving me wiping tears away at the book’s conclusion. This was a highly readable book and a very rewarding account of the life of a man who is worth remembering.
  15. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine. I have long found The Book of Ecclesiastes to be extremely confusing. I’ve needed someone’s help to make sense of it, and Zack Eswine’s book was very helpful. I actually had a sense that I was meant to read this book. I was struggling with some particular realities of living in this broken world, and I knew that there had to be a better way for me to respond to specific disappointments than the creeping disillusionment in my heart. Zack Eswine explained how Ecclesiastes teaches that we’re meant to live in the tension of both delightful and disquieting times in this world under the sun. And instead of trying to escape the tension, we’re to live in the grace God provides for it knowing that God is governing both the delightful and the disquieting times. That frees me to truly enjoy the delights, and to trust God in the disquiets. “With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken.” Not every chapter was a huge help to me, but many of the chapters truly hit the bull’s-eye I needed.
  16. Intimate Moments with the Savior: Learning to Love by Ken Gire. This is a book to be savoured. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than one chapter in a day with so many beautiful insights to be reflected on... pondered... prayed about... absorbed... savoured. I simply love Ken Gire’s writing style. It’s almost poetic in the allusions and parallelisms he finds. It’s also like he’s painting a picture as much as telling a story as he invites the reader into different scenes from the Gospels (each chapter including a full scripture passage, a meditation, and a prayer). I expect I’ll refer back to this book again from time to time. It felt nourishing, and digging into the selected passages truly made me feel closer to Jesus.
  17. Spent Matches: Igniting the Signal Fire for the Spiritually Dissatisfied by Roy Moran. I have some thinking to do. And some praying. Roy Moran wants to provoke some paradigm shifts in his readers, and given the fact that true paradigm shifts should inevitably make people uncomfortable, I think Roy Moran has done a good job with this book. Because after finishing this book, I felt very uncomfortable — but in a way that wants to continue the conversation, and go back over what I underlined, and talk with God and others about what I read. I feel provoked in an area in which I need to be provoked because I haven’t been as fruitful as I want to be. Roy Moran presents in this book an understanding of the Great Commission that challenges our knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Jesus called us to teach people to obey his commands, not to simply know them, and so if we’re not making disciples who also obediently make disciples, then we’re not achieving what Jesus called us to achieve. So Roy Moran offers a paradigm-rattling obedience-based discipleship model that is highly repeatable in its simplicity, allowing any disciple of Jesus to make disciple-making disciples, but that doesn’t check all my boxes for what I think “church” is meant to look like! This book is both persuasive and compelling enough to make it difficult for me to ignore its premise amidst my difficulties with some of its implications. I have some thinking to do.
  18. Thin Air by Greg Child. This may be the most insightfully reflective, emotionally expressive, and creatively descriptive book on mountain climbing that I’ve ever read (and I’ve read many). It’s extremely well written, is full of creative turns of phrase, and includes many engaging descriptions of fascinating people and places and situations. I got choked up at times, sometimes laughed out loud, and at other times, simply couldn’t put this book down. But I still found myself too often frustrated due to not being able to fully visualize Greg Child’s descriptions of his climbs. He used far too much insider language without explanation regarding the geographic features of mountains and regarding climbing gear and techniques. If I hadn’t previously read so many other mountain climbing books, I’d have felt even more confused. This book deserved a glossary since Greg Child clearly didn’t want to upset the pace of the book with technical explanations. And his pacing in his storytelling is quite good — except for the times when I kept wishing that I knew what he was talking about.
  19. Kept by the Power of God by I. Howard Marshall. First of all, I’m simply grateful that this book exists. I wanted to read a book from a non-Calvinist perspective on Christian assurance, and I.Howard Marshall has provided this rarity. And what I found so persuasive about this book is that it’s more an exegetical study than a topical study. Marshall painstakingly walks us through passage after passage of the New Testament, showing that our “assurance of final salvation does not rest primarily upon the evidences of election but rather on [our] Saviour.” In other words, salvation rests in our Saviour rather than a system. That is a huge comfort to me, and why I wanted to read a book like this. It gives me the language and the background that I wanted in order to speak more Biblically about the assurance that is ours in Jesus!
  20. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. This book is a piece of history written from the heart. Karen Blixen’s insightful storytelling likely feels that way because she obviously truly loved the faraway place and peoples she was describing. That’s primarily what kept me reading, for even though Karen Blixen was most certainly a product of the colonial times in which she lived, she displayed true affection for the local people she dwelt among. But I simply found the book to be too much and too disjointed. At times her insights felt forced, and at other times her observations seemed over-generalized. And in the end, what should have felt like a heart-rending departure from Africa ended up simply feeling like too long a good-bye.
  21. Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know by John Campbell. Simply put, this is a detailed book-length fact sheet. The intention of the authors was not to write something gripping, but to provide something introductory and informative, and they have done a very good job of that. This book is well-documented, and though it will inevitably contain biases, it has the ring of factual objectivity to it. The writers clearly appreciate Nigeria, but they don’t get caught up with expressing affection for Nigeria. And they clearly have hope for Nigeria, but they don’t shy away from describing what hinders hope for Nigeria. I read this to gain a general understanding about Nigeria, and I found it very well written, well presented, and very helpful.
  22. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I cut my teeth reading Tozer as a new Christian forty years ago, and yet I hadn’t read a book by him since. It’s been too long! But I recently felt God prompt me to read this book, and I’m so glad I did. Tozer deals with vital foundational truths in this book that address our whole approach to God. And yet this entire book feels more like the earnest prayer of a man after God than just his opinions on Christian living; more like a call or a cry than a theological explanation. Tozer appeals to our hearts as much as to our minds. It’s a cry to clean house and make room for intentional time with God, and I trust there will be lasting changes in my life as a result of reading this.
  23. Behind the Ranges: Fraser of Lisuland by Geraldine Guinness Taylor. What came first to mind as I completed reading this biography of James Fraser was that he seemed both incredibly inspiring as well as tremendously unintimidating. What I mean is that though Fraser was both highly motivated and sacrificing in his pursuit of God and His purposes, he was also very kind-hearted and relational in how he pursued those purposes. But it was his revelation regarding the supreme importance of prayer that I found most inspiring and instructive. I’ve already begun pursuing some of Fraser’s approaches to prayer, and I hope that the encouragement of this story touches my prayer life in many more ways.
  24. The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development by J. Robert Clinton. I found this book a challenge to appreciate. It almost felt like a science textbook. The stages of leadership development that the author presented felt way too tightly defined in way too much detail to feel applicable to leaders everywhere. People’s personal experiences just don’t always follow the rigid patterns he describes. And I was continually distracted by the jargon the author used as he talked about stages and phases, patterns and processes, clusters and continuums, and more galore. There are some excellent principles and insights in this book that I’m sure I’ll refer back to in the future — and chapter seven on “Life Maturing Processes” was a huge help — but it all just seemed too much to wade through to find what felt valuable.
  25. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin. I’m sure this book has more to teach me than what I absorbed in my halting, brain-stretching first reading of it. I kept thinking, I’m going to have to go back and re-read what I’ve underlined to really appreciate the flow of Newbigin’s thoughts. And I hope I do that one day, because I’ve never read anything quite so probing regarding the cultural implications of Christian mission and evangelism. I struggled to align myself with everything Newbigin expressed, but the value of this book is that it forced me to think outside the well-established theological lines I’m accustomed to staying within, and that, I believe, is a good thing.
  26. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by Timothy J. Keller. I often long for a deeper personal understanding of the grace of God — and have also sometimes felt more than a bit like Jonah — so the sub-title of this book attracted me. Again and again, Keller challenged my puny view of God’s grace, but then reminded me that the path to a fuller experience of God’s grace must include challenges to the parts of me that resist his grace. For example, “If Jonah was to begin finally to ascend, both in the water and in faith, he had to be brought to the very end of himself. The way up was, first of all, down. The usual place to learn the greatest secrets of God's grace is at the bottom." And “We learn from Jonah that understanding God's grace — and being changed by it — always requires a long journey with successive stages. It can't happen in a single cathartic or catastrophic experience (like being swallowed by a fish!)." There’s so much more I could quote. I only wish Keller had formatted the book so that it didn’t feel quite so much like two books stuck together, resulting in a bit of repetition.
  27. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund. This is, without a doubt, the best book I have read in... I don’t know how long. I didn’t just read it — I prayed through it. During my regular devotional times with the Lord, I took time to pray into statements in the book that I had underlined as I gave thanks for encouraging truths, and repented of my unbelief regarding things that just seemed too good to be true. This book struck so many chords in my heart that I felt it was written just for me, and yet I’ve already bought a couple more copies for friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I have. To see the heart of Jesus unveiled as Dane Ortlund probed the truths of Matthew 11:29 seemed to continually stop me in my tracks, sometimes feeling stunned, and frequently feeling overwhelmed by God’s love and kindness toward me despite my sins and struggles.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Funeral message for Eunice Berkvens

Earlier this evening, I had the privilege of officiating at Eunice Bervens funeral before a few select family members due to Covid restrictions. I know that many of her friends from Gateway Church would have loved to have been there, and so I'm sharing the funeral message that I felt God gave me to celebrate the life of this precious daughter of God...

I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to share something at Eunice’s funeral service today. Thank you Brett for the invitation to share this time with you as a family. I feel honoured to be here.

I can’t actually remember the first time I met Eunice, but as a pastor at the church she attended for at least ten years, I was able to get to know Eunice over the years. I know you as a family obviously know her far better than me, but in the time I knew her, I grew very fond of Eunice. There were many people at Gateway Church who loved Eunice. If it weren’t for the Covid-restrictions on the number of people who could be here, I know that many from Gateway would have wanted to attend today.

We all knew that Eunice wasn’t perfect – some Sundays when she came to church, she could be in a very grumpy mood, and didn’t try to hide it. But most Sundays, we knew Eunice to be a very sweet and soft-hearted lady.

I’ll never forget how she used to go up to people she knew, and open her arms up as if to invite a hug, and say with a happy grin, “I love you!” and then given them a big hug! I was on the receiving end of many of those hugs. But Eunice didn’t just come for the hugs – she came to church to worship Jesus – who she loved most of all! At Gateway, our worship times go for about 20-25 minutes of singing, and Eunice loved those times! She would sing with her arms stretched as high as she could reach, her hands open to heaven, and her eyes clenched shut as she sang. The way she worshiped as we sang songs to Jesus made it obvious that Eunice truly loved Jesus.

But as I said, not every Sunday was like that – sometimes Eunice came to church looking like she’d had a very hard week. I don’t actually know a great deal about what happened in Eunice’s life between Sundays, but it was clear from my occasional conversations with her that her life had been hard, and still was hard. Sometimes she just looked tired, or hurting, or upset, or sad. But she still came to church, because she really loved Jesus. And Jesus also really loves Eunice.

With that in mind, I’d like to read a very short story in the Bible that feels appropriate for this occasion. It’s a short story about a woman who also probably sometimes came to the “church” of those days feeling tired, or hurting, or upset, or sad. But she still kept coming. Let me read it to you. 

"One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, 'Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!' Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!" (Luke 13:10-13)

Can you picture that woman, doubled over, unable to stand, and probably found it difficult to walk? But there she was in God’s house. It would’ve probably been easy for her to think, “Why should I go to church? What’s God done for me lately? Look at me – doubled-over, unable to stand – and God has ignored me for 18 long years!” But she must not have thought that, because after 18 years, there she was in church on the Sabbath Day. And after 18 long years, Jesus met her there and healed her.

Now I need to say that God’s timing of when and how he helps us with the troubles we face is a mystery, and He expects us to trust Him when He takes longer than we’d like. And Eunice expressed her trust in God by continuing to come to church for many years, even in the midst of her troubles. And she expressed her love for God by enthusiastically worshiping Him for many years, despite the feelings she struggled with.

Did Jesus eventually show up and heal her of kidney failure, like he healed the woman in this story? No, but it was Jesus who eventually showed up and called Eunice home! You see, I hope you can be encouraged today that Eunice herself is still alive with Jesus in heaven. Her body has failed, but Eunice’s spirit is alive and she is in a place of great peace and joy!

Do you want to know how the Bible describes where Eunice will now be forever?

“Then I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

And the truth is, the soul in each one of us will need a home after life on this earth is over, and every one of us can spend eternity with Jesus in the place I just read about. But the only way to be admitted there is to accept who Jesus is, what Jesus did for us when He lived on this earth, and to give our lives to Jesus.

As to who Jesus is, He is God’s Son, and has been for eternity past! As to what Jesus did for us, He came to earth as a man (while still remaining God’s Son), lived a perfect life, and then died to pay the penalty for humanity’s rebellion against God. Our rebellion is expressed by how we try to live life without God. And those who rebel against God deserve to die and spend eternity separated from God. But God is also a Father – a Perfect Father – and doesn’t want to be separated from us for eternity. So God’s Perfect Son was willing to die to pay the penalty we deserve so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him! That means that even though we feel very undeserving of such a gift, it’s possible because it’s not based on anything we’ve done, but on what Jesus has done for us so that we can be forgiven!

Eunice believed this, and even though we all know Eunice wasn’t perfect, I can say with confidence that she is forgiven – and has been welcomed into eternal life with Jesus. And you can be too. It can all start with a simple prayer that expresses our acceptance of who Jesus is, and of what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross for us, and our desire to give our lives to live for Jesus (however imperfectly).

Eunice prayed such a prayer, and as we remember and honour Eunice’s life here today, I invite you to pray such a prayer with me in your heart as I pray it now…

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Promises for the flawed and the fearful

I can hear the raw emotion in Peter’s voice as he asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Peter and the other 11 men Jesus had chosen had been with him for three life-changing, eye-opening, jaw-dropping years. Peter himself had walked on water with Jesus, seen Jesus transfigured, and seen Jesus do so many mighty miracles that those three amazing years must have felt like ten! And now Jesus was suddenly saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Can you see the desperate look in Peter’s eyes as he asked, “Lord, where are you going?” “Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward.’” (John 13:36)

But Peter wasn’t satisfied with that. As the other disciples looked on, all appearing equally desperate and confused, I expect the emotion in Peter’s voice intensified as he asked, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake!” There was passion in Peter’s claim. He was basically saying, “Lord, don’t leave! I’ll be a hero for you! I’ll go the distance. I’ll give you my all.”

But Jesus knew Peter. And Jesus knew what would soon happen. “Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for my sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times.’”

Boom. Cue the suspenseful music. Zoom in on Peter’s widened eyes. See the shock on Peter’s face as the other disciples all exchanged fearful glances in the dim light of the upper room. But amidst it all, Jesus was calm. Peaceful. There was no anger in his voice. Not even disapproval. Just certainty, and love. For after all, it had already been written that “having loved his own who were in the world, he [Jesus] loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

But Jesus didn’t love his disciples because he thought they were all heroes who were ready to die with him. And nor did he love them because they were models of amazing maturity. No, quite the contrary – he loved them enough to die for them because he knew they could never measure up to God’s high holy standards. And he loved them because His Father had chosen them, and this ragtag bunch had become his friends (John 17:6; 15:15). That’s why Jesus could be so calm as he pointed out Peter’s imminent betrayal.

Sin isn’t a show-stopper for Jesus. Jesus’ total awareness of Peter’s inevitable failings didn’t stop Jesus from telling him that “you shall follow me afterward.” And nor do our failures stop Jesus from saying the same to you and me. Rather than responding in anger or disapproval, Jesus reminds us that that is why he died – so we could be forgiven.

Jesus’s very next words to his stunned disciples were, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1). He said those reassuring words to flawed and confused disciples who would soon all abandon him in fear. But Jesus still affectionately promised to “come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3-4). Words of comfort for the obviously undeserving in tremendously difficult days. Sound familiar?

This touching exchange between Jesus and his disciples makes it abundantly clear that Jesus isn’t threatened by our failings. He calls us despite being certain we will fail him. And as we come to him, confessing our faults and sharing our hearts, we can be sure Jesus will turn to us and say, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

© 2020 Ken Peters

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Being a Good Neighbour Amid a Pandemic

The following was published on the Faith page of the Winnipeg Free Press on September 14, 2020.

A few years before I came on staff at Gateway Church in 1992, our congregation had bought land and built a new church building on the edge of East Elmwood. We were the new neighbours. The newcomers to the area.

As we grew, we began to look for ways to be neighbourly. We started a weekly food and clothing bank. We launched two neighbourhood drop-in centres, one for pre-teens and one for teens. We offered floor hockey nights in our building. We hosted holiday feasts and carnivals for the people of East Elmwood. They were all ways we could be good neighbours.

This idea of being neighbourly is something that all humanity recognizes as appropriate human behaviour. I believe that’s because God is a loving God, and when he created the world, he chose to create humanity in his image, the result being that having love for others is an intrinsic part of who we are as people.

In fact, being a good neighbour is something that is at the core of Christianity. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment in the Bible was, he couldn’t resist listing two commands in his answer: Love God and love your neighbour — “There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

Jesus went on to explain in his famous story of the good Samaritan that to be a good neighbour meant going out of your way to make life-affecting sacrifices for others.

Fast-forward to 2020, and suddenly we have new ways to love our neighbours. This past spring, when the Manitoba government asked churches to reduce their meeting sizes, churches complied in the spirit of being a good neighbour.

After all these years of seeking to love our neighbours in East Elmwood, we couldn’t imagine carelessly carrying on our big Sunday meetings at the risk of community spread to a neighbourhood God had called us to love sacrificially. We couldn’t imagine intentionally adding to the healthcare burden for community hospitals and care homes just because of our inflexibility in how we offered our worship services.

It was because we felt called by God to love our neighbours in the midst of these new and unusual circumstances that we — as well as many other churches — turned to offering live-streamed services.

And this is why we feel it’s loving to ask people to wear masks while also being appropriately socially-distanced as we go back to in-person services this fall. In the same way we teach our children to cover their mouths when they cough so they won’t spread germs, we want to love our neighbours by donning our masks in public gatherings.

There are many uncertainties as schools are back in session, and as businesses seek to do business, and as churches are again gathering in both large and small groups. But there’s one thing we can do — and which we feel called by God to do — and that’s to love our neighbours in the way we navigate through these very unusual times.

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


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