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In my post of June 19, 2014, I began to look at I Peter 3:15, for insight into how to respond to the persecution we receive because of our faith. Depending where we are in the world, and who is doing the persecuting, the challenges we face because of our faith can vary widely, but our response should always be the same. In my last post, I discussed the first and most important part of that response which is to turn to God. No matter what we face, we should always turn to God first for the answers.

The second half of I Peter 3:15, along with I Peter 3:16 give us the second part of our action plan. I’m afraid that many of us don’t do this part very well either, and I pray that as you read this you will really consider how to implement it in your own situations. The instruction in the rest of the passage is to always be ready to explain why we believe as we do, and to do it with courtesy and respect so that there is no basis for any accusations against us.

Let’s break it down piece by piece.

Always be ready to give an answer:
Be prepared. Think about it now, so that when you are asked, you have the words to express what you really want to express. Why do you believe as you do? Anticipate the questions that someone might ask, and have your answer ready.

To anyone who asks:
Do you understand the implication of this phrase? We should be living in a way that makes others realize that we are different, and makes them wonder why. When they wonder, eventually, when they feel comfortable in their relationship with us, they will ask. Why do you do this? Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you get angry? Why don’t you get revenge? The things that you do or don’t do that are different from the way the world does them, that’s what you need to prepare your answers about.

About the hope you possess:
Ultimately, the reason for your specific actions and reactions is the hope that you have in God, the confident expectation we have that God will fulfill His promises to us. We need to be ready to explain Christianity in general, but specifically the assurance we have that Christ is able and willing to return and to provide us with eternal life.

Yet do it with courtesy and respect:
It is not our job to bully the bullies. We should not yell and scream nor be rude, sarcastic or offensive. We certainly shouldn’t be physically attacking anyone. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people. (Romans 12:18) It is not our job to change their minds about God, only to give an answer for why we believe. It is the Holy Spirit who will change their hearts when the time is right. Look at what happened to Saul, the persecutor, in Acts 9:1-9. God has the power to redeem.

Keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you:
In Romans 12:17, just before the verse about doing everything you can to live at peace with everyone, Paul tells us not to repay evil for evil. No matter what someone else does, it is your responsibility to make sure that your actions are right. In the end we will all have to answer to God. We want to be righteous as we stand before Him on the day of judgement. (II Peter 2:9)

I do not want to discourage you from taking up the fight against injustice or the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, I want to encourage you to do so. But please, be careful of your words and your actions. Rely on Christ, put Him first in your life, and always strive to please Him. The best way to do that is to love Him and to love others. (Matthew 22:37-39)

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In my post of May 28, 2014, I discussed I Peter 3:13-14, with the conclusion that we should not be afraid of those who would persecute us. I had said that persecution could take varied forms, from verbal to physical to deadly. Those are difficult things not to be afraid of. How can we do it? If we continue reading through I Peter 3:15, we will find the answer.

I Peter 3:15 starts with the instruction to set apart Christ as Lord. If we give Christ control of our hearts and lives, and we fear—reverence—Him, if we know that He has ultimate control over what happens in the world, if we know that nothing that happens to us is unknown to Him, then we will be much less likely to fear what man—humans—can do to us. If, however, we are more concerned about what people think, what they can and might do, if we don’t believe that God can keep us from ultimate harm, then we are likely to spend our lives living in fear.

As humans, it is only natural for fear to rise within us in certain circumstances, and sometimes fear is a very good thing; it keeps us from putting ourselves into unnecessary danger. But what is our first reaction when we feel fear? Do we become anxious, worrying about every negative possibility that may or may not ever occur? Or do we turn immediately to God to ask for help, protection, mercy, a way out? What Peter is saying here is very similar to the promise given by the Lord to Solomon in II Chronicles 7:14. If God’s people will be humble and turn to Him, something that the Israelites had real difficulty with, He would hear and answer their prayers, forgive them and heal their land. If we would humble ourselves and turn to God, something that we have real difficulty with, He will answer our prayers too. The answers might not always come in ways we expect, but we can be confident knowing that God cares for us, knows what we are going through, and wants only the best for us.

In my next post, I will look at the rest of the instructions in I Peter 3:15-16.

Today's post was written by and used with permission from Rusty Wright.
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OK, how would you feel if you thought you heard God telling you he was going to destroy every living thing on earth with a great flood?

Except he wanted you to build a boat to survive the tumult with a few relatives and a slew of creatures.

Would you jump at the challenge? Run and hide? Ask – as Bill Cosby did in his classic comedy routine portraying Noah – “Right! Who is this really?”

Perhaps you’ll sense how the biblical Noah felt. Paramount Pictures and director/co-writer Darren Aronofsky bring Noah to the big screen in North America and worldwide throughout late March and April. The cast includes Russell Crowe in the title role, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins.

With breathtaking cinematography, this film imagines some intense struggles for Noah and his family. We see sorrow for lost masses, interpersonal conflicts, and practical realities of living on a creature-packed craft.

Taking Liberties

Paramount says Noah’s story “inspired” the film, but that “artistic license has been taken.” Too much license, feel some. I’m reminded of TV’s iconic psychiatrist Frasier Crane, concerned that an employee was “taking far too much liberty with the liberty-taking!” Readers of the biblical Noah story won’t find there, for instance, the film’s multi-armed fallen angels, its pronounced environmentalist message, or hordes of people fighting to board the ark.

The biblical account is short – mostly Genesis 6-9 – with little detail about ark life. So, yes, the filmmakers took liberties – many. Aronofsky recently told The Atlantic he views the story “as poetry and myth and legend” that helps us understand the world and ourselves.

But the essential framework of the biblical flood story – human evil, divine judgment, hope and salvation – remains in Noah. Consider these facets of that story and their modern implications.

Human Evil; Divine Judgment

Genesis says humanity was a mess: “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. … It broke his heart.”

Human corruption prompted him to “destroy every living thing.” But “Noah was a righteous man … [who] walked in close fellowship with God.” God told him to build a large boat, specifying precise dimensions and design.

Filmmakers took pains to follow biblical specs for their ark. The production designer had many ideas for the ark’s appearance, but Aronofsky, who is Jewish, insisted, “No, the measurements are right there.”

Salvation, Hope, Promise

Noah built his ark and took aboard his wife, their three sons with their wives, plus pairs of animals, birds and crawling creatures. Elaborate computer-generated imagery portrays the animals for film.

Rain poured, underground water erupted, and floodwaters covered the earth. Every human, bird and land animal not in the ark perished. The waters receded, the earth dried, and the ark inhabitants disembarked. God promised never again to destroy the earth by flood, offering the rainbow as a pledge reminder.

Faith; Future

If you attend the film, I suggest reading the biblical account first, then again after the screening. Noah’s story has much for a 21st–Century audience, including two nuggets about faith and the future.

The New Testament lauds Noah for his faith. He was not perfect. “Wickedness is…in all of us,” he tells his wife in the film. His own drunkenness – depicted in the film – led to embarrassment and family conflict. But his faith in God mattered. I came to faith as a skeptical university student. It has made all the difference in my life.

Concerning the future, Jesus indicated his second coming would be “like it was in Noah’s day” with people carrying on their routines and unaware of impending peril. “You also must be ready all the time,” he continued, “for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

I want to be ready.
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Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
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This movie is rated PG-13 (USA) for "violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content"

What is your greatest affliction? Most of us could probably think of several things to choose from: a physical ailment–either illness or injury, a desperate financial situation, joblessness, a difficult family member, co-worker, or neighbour. Even a friend who requires too much of our time can be a burden. Certainly we all have one challenge or another that we wouldn’t be sad to say good-bye to.

I think the Apostle Paul believed that his greatest affliction was pride, despite the fact that he faced constant opposition from people around him, beatings, shipwreck and even a stoning. (II Corinthians 11:24-25) And besides being struck blind on the road to Damascus, (Acts 22:6-11) the dangers he faced in his travels, hunger, sleepless nights, jail time, and the hard work he did just to survive. (II Corinthians 11:26-27)

In II Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul tells us about the thorn in his flesh, the trouble that bothered him enough that he repeatedly asked the Lord to remove it from him. Twice in the original language of II Corinthians 12:7, Paul states that the reason for the thorn was so that he would not become arrogant. It was there to keep his pride in check. We don’t know specifically what this thorn in the flesh was, only that it was troublesome enough that this man who had already endured so much, asked God three times to relieve him of the affliction.

There are people who believe that if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for, that He will never say no. I think Paul would have a different opinion, because God did not take away Paul’s thorn. Instead, He gave him something better: grace. God said, “My grace is enough for you.” Paul knew that to have God’s grace, the power of Christ working in him, was much more valuable than relief from his affliction. I think that Paul’s thorn was never specified, because God gives His grace to us too. Whatever we have to go through, God’s grace is enough. The more trials we have, the more grace we have available to us. Sometimes in the midst of trouble we don’t always see it that way, but God’s promises never change. If God’s grace was enough for Paul, it will be enough for us too.

At the beginning of this new year, I am thinking about hope. As I have said before, Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, but a confident expectation that God will fulfill His promises to us. If we look carefully enough, we can find stories of hope all around us. The television programs 100 Huntley Street and Full Circle specialize in sharing stories of hope. If you were to ask your friends, most of them could share personal stories of hope—stories of redemption, of gain from loss, of family members going down a path that would lead to destruction, one that they couldn’t see the way back from, but they did—somehow, miraculously—find their way back. No one, let me repeat that, NO ONE is without hope. What is impossible for humans is possible with God. (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, Luke 18:27)

In Romans 8:24-25, the Apostle Paul states that it is in hope that we were saved. Let’s be clear about this. We are saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) We must believe that what God has said, even though we do not completely see or understand it, is true, and we wait in hope until the fulfillment of all that He has promised. Matthew Henry has said, “Faith is the mother of hope.”

In the meantime, we live in an imperfect world. We are surrounded by pain, sadness, frustration, injustice and suffering, and it’s hard. Our hope is not yet complete. We do not see the end results yet; if we did, there would be nothing left to hope for. Earlier, (Romans 5:1-5) Paul states that our suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which in turn produces hope. All of the things we have gone through in the past have strengthened us, along with God’s grace, to go through the things we are now facing. And we can rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

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Have you ever been stranded on a lake? My husband and I were staying at a cottage beside a fairly large lake in Northern Ontario one weekend. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we took out the little motorboat for a tour around the lake. While we were out on the water, a pretty brisk wind came up; it was strong enough that we could not steer the boat back to the bay where our cottage was. We didn’t have any control over the direction of the boat at all. That experience helps me to imagine what the disciples must have felt like out on the water in Matthew 14:22-24.

Just before this passage, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Afterward, He sent His disciples ahead of him while he dispersed the crowds, and Jesus went up the mountain by Himself to pray. The disciples got into the boat, and by evening the wind had kicked up, and they were far out into the lake. Matthew 14:25 starts off with the phrase, “As the night was ending”. Many translations mention that it was the fourth watch of the night, which means that it was between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. So the disciples had been fighting the wind all night long, after a pretty busy day. Since the wind was against them, they would have been rowing. (Matthew 14:24) I’m sure I would have been physically and emotionally exhausted by this point, and they probably were too.

Then Jesus came walking up to them on the water. That might have been a little bit surprising to them, don’t you think? It’s an unusual situation, they are tired, and they are scared by what they see. The only logical explanation they can come up with is that it is a ghost or an apparition. Jesus spoke to them immediately to calm their fears. They knew by His voice who it was. So, Peter, who was known to be a little bit impulsive, says, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) This construction in the original language is known as a first class conditional sentence. That means that although it is translated with the word “if”, Peter had no doubt that it was the Lord. Jesus then tells Peter to come to Him on the water, and Peter gets out of the boat. As long as Peter is focused on Jesus, he doesn’t have any trouble walking on the stormy sea. (Matthew 14:29) But when he changes his focus from his miracle-working Lord to the circumstances around him, he begins to sink. He cries, “Lord save me”, (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus immediately does. But as He does, He says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Many people consider Christ’s words to be a rebuke, but I don’t believe that He was being harsh with Peter. After all, Peter had enough faith to actually get out of the boat. He was way ahead of all the others on board that night. But it wasn’t enough faith to keep him from sinking. Realistically, Peter was probably a good swimmer since he was a fisherman and spent his time on the water. But he let fear and doubt overcome his own abilities and his faith in God. As long as he was focused on Jesus, he had no fear of his surroundings. Our faith isn’t always strong either, but we can learn a lesson from Peter. Focus on Christ’s power and not the difficult circumstances that you are in. Call on Jesus to save you and to calm the storms in your life as He did for Peter. (Matthew 14:32) Faith can overcome your fears.

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Some people like surprises; I’m not one of them. I prefer to know, or at least have a good idea, how things are going to work out, and when. Perhaps that is what makes me a planner and a list maker—a person who likes to be prepared. Of course, knowing what’s going to happen, or at least thinking I do, doesn’t happen very often, because none of us can truly know the future. But it doesn’t make me want to know any less. Unfortunately, because of our limited perspective on things, we often limit our faith too. Because we don’t know how a particular thing can be accomplished, we doubt God’s ability to do it.

Zechariah was a perfect example of this. (Luke 1:5-20) He and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous in the sight of God (Luke 1:6), but they were also childless, and getting on in years. To be more precise, Luke 1:7 tells us that they were both very old. Since children were seen as a blessing from the Lord, and it was a disgrace to be barren, there is little doubt that they would have been praying fervently for a child. Why then should Zechariah be surprised when an angel of the Lord appeared and told him that his prayers had been heard and his wife would bear a son?

In Zechariah’s defense, he did have reason to be surprised. First of all, it was a once in a lifetime event for Zechariah to be chosen to burn incense in the holy place. (Luke 1:9) It’s like winning a door prize when hundreds of people are at an event; you don’t really expect to. Secondly, the privilege of burning incense didn’t mean that you would have an angel appear to chat with you. Yes, angels had appeared to others before, but even these devoted priests had not heard from God in 400 years. We now call this the intertestamental period—the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament—but Zechariah didn’t have our hindsight. And then, thirdly, this angel tells Zechariah that his wife will have a son. Zechariah could not, from his limited perspective, understand how this could be possible. Given some time, and a calmer situation, he might have thought back to the birth of Isaac, (Genesis 17:15-19) but he didn’t. So he questioned the angel, (Luke 1:18) and doubted God. As a result, Zechariah was unable to speak until after his son was born. (Luke 1:20)

You can be sure that God’s plans are not thwarted by our doubt or inability, even unwillingness, to participate. But think about what Zechariah missed out on because he doubted God. For at least nine months (we’re not sure how long--Luke 1:24) Zechariah was unable to clearly articulate this great event that he had experienced. In his day, oral communication was the primary means of sharing information. Yes, he could make signs, (Luke 1:22) but he didn’t have a blog or Facebook to share his thoughts in writing. He was effectively stopped from sharing in God’s miracle until after it had taken place. Let’s not suffer the same fate. Let’s trust God to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, (Ephesians 3:20) and share the joy when He does the impossible.

I love to go to Christian conferences, partly because I love to learn and to see things from fresh perspectives, but I also love to meet new people who are already sisters and brothers in Christ. Even if our opinions on some matters differ, we are all on pretty much the same wavelength. Our beliefs are similar enough that even though we may have never met before, we are like family. Being with them gives me encouragement in my faith, knowing I am not alone. That is not true for us in every environment we enter, and it was not at all the reality for Jesus’ disciples. There were such a small number of people who were followers of Christ while He walked the earth, and so many more who followed the religious leaders of the day or who were heathens, that the disciples faced a lot of doubt, criticism and persecution.

Before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He prayed for His disciples. Jesus knew that because His disciples had believed in Him, the world would hate them. So Jesus prayed that the Heavenly Father would protect them. John 17:15 tells us that Jesus did not ask God to protect them by taking them out of the world, but that He would protect them while they stayed in the world. That did not mean that the disciples would not face physical harm or discomfort. We know that they did, but Jesus' prayer was that their souls would be protected from Satan for eternity. Jesus had a purpose for His disciples to be in the world and not isolated from it. He wanted them to represent Him and His Word to those around them. He wanted them to spread His love, joy, grace and truth to others. That purpose and Jesus’ prayer still apply to us today. John 17:20 includes us if we believe in Him.

I think sometimes we expect that if we follow Christ our lives should be comfortable and full of blessings, and so we are always disappointed or frustrated when the opposite happens. We should not expect life to be easy, but we can expect God to give us the strength we need to face it. Are you being criticized by others for your beliefs? Do those people represent Jesus or the world? If they represent the world, do not try to win their approval. Instead, represent Jesus in a way that will glorify God, and trust Him to protect you from the evil one.

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Many years ago, when I was teaching high school, one of the songs that my students listened to was called Simple Song, by Hokus Pick Manouver. The recurrent words are: The sky is blue. The grass is green. Simple truth is plainly seen. Don’t get mixed up in between; simple truth is plainly seen. Last week, I said that we have to have faith to believe in God, but this is not a blind faith. Hokus Pick put into a simple, some would even say silly, song, the insight that the Apostle Paul shared in Romans 1:19-20. The proof of God’s existence is all around us.

Think about what is in the world—the creatures of the sea that I mentioned last week, plants and animals of all kinds, not to mention humans. Creation is so intricate, it only makes sense that it has a powerful creator. There is so much order in the natural universe, that logic tells us that it couldn’t be the result of an accident. Personally, I don’t have enough faith to believe that! But it isn’t just the evidence of creation that points us to God. He created us with an innate knowledge of His presence; He formed us to know and worship Him. He also gave us free will. So if we choose to, we can ignore all that is within us and around us that points to Him, and we can go the other direction. We can find other things to worship. And we have. Throughout history humans have worshipped the created instead of the creator. Imagine how that makes God feel!

Even if we are willing though, we cannot know everything there is to know about God. There is enough evidence in creation to know He exists, but there is not enough to know His unending love and the sacrifice of His Son. That is why He has given us His Word, and why He asks those who believe and have personal relationships with Him to share His love with others. We can know God exists by the evidence around us, and we can know what He reveals to us in His Word, and through our communication with Him, but there will still be some things that only God will know. But because of what He has revealed to us, we know that we can trust Him. That’s the kind of faith we have.

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Have you ever been scuba diving? I haven’t, and although I know I would find it fascinating, I’m not likely to ever do it. I’m not much of a swimmer, so I don’t think I would ever make it through the necessary training. But I do have friends who scuba dive, and what’s more they take underwater photographs. It is incredible some of the creatures that live far, far under the surface of the water. If you only ever stayed on dry land, you may never see them, and therefore you may never believe that they actually exist. Some people say that seeing is believing, but when it comes to knowing God, believing is seeing. It is only after we believe God is real that He allows us to understand a bit of who He is. We will not understand fully before we see Him face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Therefore we are called to live by faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is being sure that we can have a confident expectation that God will fulfill His promises to us, and knowing that there are things that we can neither see nor understand. Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Hall of Faith, because the rest of the chapter is a list of faithful men and women from the Old Testament. Think, for example, how Noah must have felt. (Hebrews 11:7) We are not sure exactly how old Noah was when God told him to build an ark, but he was 500 years old in Genesis 5:32. He was 600 when the flood covered the earth. (Genesis 7:6) My guess is that it took quite a bit of time to build the ark to God’s specifications and then to gather all the animals to fill it. It is also possible that he was ridiculed by those around him, or at least misunderstood. In any case, it would have taken great faith to believe that enough rain would come to destroy the whole earth, and here’s the thing: Noah didn’t have a lot of good examples to follow. Noah and his family were singled out from the entire living population as the only ones worth saving. How did Noah learn to have such faith? Surely he understood things that could not be seen.

Today, we are fortunate to have examples of faithfulness written down for us in the Word of God, and if we are willing, we can also see some of the results of that faithfulness. Abraham for example didn’t have the opportunity to see the end result of his obedience to God, (Genesis 11:8-13) but we can. We can also hear lots of stories of present day believers who have witnessed God’s mercy and blessings because they chose to be faithful. 100 Huntley Street, among others, is dedicated to telling these kinds of stories. The task for us is to open our hearts and listen, to believe that there may be more to this world than we can see and understand.