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Kenneth Petersen

Kenneth Petersen

A graduate of Wheaton College, Ken Petersen is a veteran of Christian publishing, starting his career with Tyndale House Publishers as editor, eventually becoming managing editor and executive director. In 2007, Ken moved to WaterBrook, the Random House evangelical imprint, and headed up the editorial team there for eight years. In 2015, Ken became publisher and VP at Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ken is also an author, having written more than a dozen books, including devotional works and memoir collaborations with notable athletes, Tamika Catchings and Benjamin Watson.

In December 2020, Ken decided to pursue writing full-time and is now working on his first novel.

Articles by Kenneth Petersen

Grandmother Research

Researchers at Emory University used MRI scans to study the brains of grandmothers. They measured empathetic responses to images that included their own grandchild, their own adult child, and one anonymous child. The study showed that grandmothers have a higher empathy toward their own grandchild than even their adult child. This is attributed to what they call the “cute factor”—their own grandchild being more “adorable” than the adult.

Before we say “Well, duh!” we might consider the words of James Rilling, who conducted the study: “If their grandchild is smiling, [the grandmother is] feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”

One prophet paints an “MRI image” of God’s feelings as he looks upon his people: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will . . . rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Some translate this to say, “You will make His heart full of joy, and He will sing loudly.” Like an empathetic grandmother, God feels our pain: “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9), and He feels our joy, “The Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:4).

When we feel discouraged, it’s good to remember that God has real feelings for us. He’s not a cold, far away God, but One who loves and delights in us. It’s time to draw close to Him, feel His smile—and listen to His singing.

God Speaking to Us

I received a phone call from an unknown number. Often, I let those calls go to voicemail, but this time I picked up. The random caller asked politely if I had just a minute for him to share a short Bible passage. He quoted Revelation 21:3–5 about how God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” He talked about Jesus, how he was our assurance and hope. I told him I already know Jesus as my personal Savior. But the caller wasn’t aiming to “witness” to me. Instead, he simply asked if he could pray with me. And he did, asking God to give me encouragement and strength.

That call reverberated in my heart. I was reminded of another “call” in Scripture—God called out to the young boy Samuel in the middle of the night (1 Samuel 3:4–5). Three times Samuel heard the voice, thinking it was the elderly priest, Eli. The final time, following Eli’s instruction, Samuel realized that God was calling him: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10). Likewise, through our days and nights, God may be speaking to us. We need to “pick up,” which might mean spending more time in his presence and listening for his voice.

I then thought of “the call” in another way. What if we sometimes are the caller, the messenger of God’s words to someone else? We might sometimes feel, because of our circumstances, we have no way of helping others. But as God guides us, how hard is it for us to phone a friend and ask, “Would it be okay if I just prayed with you today?”

Scripture Training

In the late 1800s, people in different places developed the same vision at the same time. The first was in Montreal, Canada, in 1877. In 1898, a similar concept was launched in New York City. By 1922 some 5,000 of these programs were active in North America each summer.

This is the early history of Vacation Bible School, which still continues today. The passion that fueled those Christian VBS pioneers was a desire for young people to know the Bible.

Paul had a similar passion for his young protégé, Timothy, writing that “Scripture is God-breathed” and equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). But this wasn’t just the benign suggestion that “it’s good to read your Bible.” Paul’s admonition follows the dire warning that “there will be terrible times in the last days” (v. 1), with false teachers “never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). It’s essential we protect ourselves with Scripture, for it immerses us in the ways and knowledge of our Savior, making us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 15).

Studying the Bible isn’t just for kids; it’s for adults too. And it isn’t just for summer; it’s for every day. Paul wrote to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures (v.15), but it’s never too late to begin. Whatever stage of life we’re in, the wisdom of the Bible connects us to Jesus. This is God’s VBS lesson to us all.

Seeing Jesus

At four months old, Leo had never seen his parents. He’d been born with a rare condition that left his vision blurred. For him, it was like living in dense fog. But then eye doctors fit him with a special set of glasses.

Leo’s father posted the video of Mom placing the new glasses over his eyes for the first time. We watch as Leo’s eyes slowly focus. A smile spreads wide across his face as he truly sees his mom for the first time. Priceless. In that moment, little Leo could see again.

John reports a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. Philip asked Him, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8). Even after all this time together, Jesus’ disciples couldn’t recognize who was right in front of them. He replied, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” (v. 10). Earlier Jesus had said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (v. 6). This is the sixth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements. He’s telling us to look through these “I am” lenses and see who He truly is—God Himself.

We are a lot like the disciples. In difficult times we struggle and develop blurred vision. We fail to focus on what God has done and can do. When little Leo put on the special glasses, he could see his parents clearly. Perhaps we need to put on our God-glasses so we can clearly see who Jesus really is.

Who Are You, Lord?

At age sixteen, Luis Rodriguez had already been in jail for selling crack. But now, arrested for attempted murder, he was in prison once again—looking at a life sentence. But God spoke into his guilty circumstances. Behind bars, young Luis remembered his early years when his mother had faithfully taken him to church. He now felt God tugging at his heart. Luis, moved by Him, repented of his sins and came to Jesus.

In his early years, the apostle Paul’s “street name” was Saul. He was guilty of aggravated assault on believers in Jesus and had murder in his heart (Acts 9:1). There’s evidence he was a kind of gang leader, and part of the mob at the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58). But God spoke into Saul’s guilty circumstances—literally. On the street leading into Damascus, Saul was blinded by a light, and Jesus spoke to him, “Why do you persecute me?” (v. 9:4). Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (v. 5), and that was the beginning of his new life. He came to Jesus.

Luis Rodriguez served time but eventually was granted parole. Since then, he’s served God, devoting his life to prison ministry in the US and Central America.

God specializes in redeeming the worst of us. He tugs at our hearts and speaks into our guilt-drenched lives. Maybe it’s time we repented of our sins. Maybe it’s time to come to Jesus.

The Meaning of Life

A short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells of a Roman soldier, Marcus Rufus, who drinks from a “secret river that purifies men of death.” In time, though, Marcus realizes immortality wasn’t what it was cracked up to be: life without limits was life without significance. In fact, it’s death itself that gives meaning to life. Marcus finds an antidote—a spring of clear water. After drinking from it, he scratches his hand on a thorn, and a drop of blood forms, signifying his restored mortality.

Like Marcus, we too sometimes despair over the decline of life and the prospect of death (Psalm 88:3). We agree that death gives significance to life. But this is where the stories diverge. Unlike Marcus, we know it’s in Christ’s death that we find the true meaning of our lives. With the shedding of His blood on the cross, Christ conquered death, swallowing it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54). For us, the antidote is in the “living water of Jesus Christ (John 4:13). Because we drink that, all the rules of life, death, and life immortal have changed (1 Corinthians 15:52).

It’s true, we won’t escape physical death, but that isn’t the point. Jesus upends all our despair about life and death (Hebrews 2:11–15). In Christ, we’re reassured with the hope of heaven—not just a future of endless existence but of meaningful joy in eternal life with Him.

The Love of God

In 1917, Frederick Lehman, a California businessman beset by financial setbacks, wrote the lyrics to the hymn, “The Love of God.” His inspiration led him quickly to pen the first two stanzas, but he got stuck on the third. He recalled a poem that had been discovered years earlier, written on the walls of a prison. No one knows the prisoner who scratched it there into the stone, but it expressed a deep awareness of God’s love. The poem happened to be in the same meter as Lehman’s hymn. He made it his third stanza.  

There are times when we face difficult setbacks as did Lehman and the unknown poet in the prison cell. In times of despair, we do well to echo the psalmist David’s words and “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings” (Psalm 57:1). It’s okay to “cry out to God” with our troubles, to speak to Him of our current ordeal and the fears we have when “in the midst of lions” (v. 4). We’re soon reminded of the reality of God’s provision in times past, and join David who says, “I will sing and make music. . . . I will awaken the dawn” (vv. 7–8).

“The love of God is greater far,” this hymn proclaims, adding “it goes beyond the highest star.” It’s precisely in our time of greatest need when we’re to embrace how great God’s love really is—indeed “reaching to the heavens” (v. 10).

Life Expectancy

In 1990, French researchers had a computer problem: a data error when processing the age of Jeanne Calment. She was 115 years old, an age outside the parameters of the software program. The programmers had assumed no one could possibly live that long! In fact, Jeanne lived until the age of 122.

The psalmist writes “our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” (Psalm 90:10), a figurative way of saying whatever age we live to, even to the age of Jeanne Calment, our lives on earth are indeed limited. Our lifetimes are in the sovereign hands of a loving God (v. 5). In the spiritual realm, however, we’re reminded of what “God time” really is: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (v. 4).

And in the person of Jesus Christ “life expectancy” has been given a whole new meaning: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). “Has” is in the present tense: right now, in our current physical moment of trouble and tears, our future is blessed, and our lifespan is limitless.

In this we rejoice and with the psalmist pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).

Seeds of Time

In 1879, people watching William Beal would likely think he was loony. They’d see him filling bottles with seeds, then burying them in deep soil. What they didn’t know was that Beal was conducting an experiment that would span centuries. Every twenty years a bottle would be dug up, its seeds would be planted, and researchers could see which seeds would germinate.

Jesus talked a lot about seed-planting, often likening the sowing of seed to the spreading of “the word” (Mark 4:15). He taught that some seeds are snatched by Satan, others have no foundation and don’t take root, and yet others are hampered by the life around them and are choked out (vv. 15–18). As we spread the Good News, it’s not up to us which seeds will survive. Our job is simply to sow the gospel—that is, tell others about Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (16:15 esv).

In the year 2021, another of Beal’s bottles was dug up by researchers. Beal’s seeds from 1879 were planted—and some sprouted, having survived more than 140 years. As God works through to share our faith with others, we never know if our testimony will take root, or when. But we’re to be encouraged that our sowing of the Good News might, even after many years, be engaged by someone who will “accept it, and produce a crop” (4:20).