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Kenneth Petersen

Kenneth Petersen

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 their editorial team 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 two memoir collaborations with notable athletes Tamika Catchings and Benjamin Watson.

Since 2020, Ken has pursued writing full-time and is now working on various fiction projects.

Articles by Kenneth Petersen

A Thousand Dots of Light

You wouldn’t think anyone would be excited about going to a place called Dismals Canyon to watch gnats. Yet this forest in northwestern Alabama attracts a number of tourists each year, many in May and June when the gnat larvae hatch and become glowworms. At night, these glowworms cast a brilliant blue luminescence, and thousands of them together create a breathtaking light.

In a way, the apostle Paul writes about believers in Christ as glowworms. He explains that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). But sometimes we wonder how “this little light of mine” can make a difference. Paul suggests it isn’t just a solo act. He calls us “children of light” (v. 8) and explains that we “share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12). Being light in the world is a collective effort, the work of the body of Christ, the work of the church. Paul reinforces this with the picture of us “glowworms” worshiping together, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19).

When we get discouraged, thinking our life testimony is just one little dot in a midnight culture of pitch black, we might take assurance from the Bible. We’re not alone. Together, as God guides us, we make a difference and glow a brilliant light. It seems that a whole congregation of glowworms might attract a whole lot of interest.

 

Unchanging God

An iconic photo shows the tread of a boot against a gray background. It’s astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s footprint, which he left on the moon in 1969. Scientists say that footprint is likely still there, unchanged after all these years. In fact, it may be there as long as the moon itself lasts. On the moon there is no wind or water to change the landscape. Nothing gets eroded. What happens on the lunar landscape stays on the lunar landscape.

It’s even more awesome to reflect on the constant presence of God Himself. James writes, “[God] does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The apostle puts this in the context of our own struggles: “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (v. 2 nlt). Why? Because we’re loved by a great and unchanging God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (v. 17).

In times of trouble, we need to remember God’s constant provision. Perhaps we might recall the words of the great hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: “There is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.” Yes, our God has left his permanent footprint on our world. He will always be there for us. Great is His faithfulness.

Places of the Heart

Here are some vacation tips: The next time you’re traveling through Middleton, Wisconsin, you might want to visit the National Mustard Museum. For those of us who feel that one mustard is plenty, this place amazes, featuring 6,090 different mustards from around the world. In Mclean, Texas, you might be surprised to run across the Barbed Wire Museum—or more surprised there is such a passion for, well . . . fencing.

It’s telling what kinds of things we choose to make important. One writer says you could do worse than spend an afternoon at the Banana Museum (though we beg to differ).

We laugh in fun, yet it’s sobering to admit we maintain our own museums—places of the heart where we celebrate certain idols of our own making. God instructs us, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and “you shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v. 5). But we do anyway, creating our own graven gods, perhaps of wealth or lust or success—or of some other fill-in-the-blank “treasure” we worship in secret.

It’s easy to read this passage and miss the point. Yes, God holds us accountable for the museums of sin we create. But he also speaks of “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him]” (v. 6). He knows how trivial our “museums” really are. He knows our true satisfaction lies only in our love for Him.

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.