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Christians suffer all around the world for no reason other than their Christian beliefs. Even in countries where religious freedom is a part of the law, as in Canada and the United States, Christians can be bullied, tormented and even killed by those who have differing opinions. There are some people who believe that if you don’t believe the same way they do, you don’t have the right to work, speak or even live. It’s not always that way, but there are many cases in which it is. To be honest, Christians haven’t always been the most gracious towards others with differing beliefs either, and some could really benefit by following Jesus’ example a little more closely. Ideally, differing beliefs should be the basis for reasoned debate rather than violence, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. (Genesis 6:11-12)

That is why I don’t believe that Peter, in I Peter 3:13, thought that followers of Christ would remain unharmed simply by always doing what is good. Peter had already seen suffering among Christ’s followers, and of course he had witnessed the torture and crucifixion of Christ Himself. I believe what is meant by Peter’s words in this verse is that what happens on this Earth is not the last word. I Peter 3:14 supports that by saying that if you do in fact suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Jesus said something very similar during His sermon from the mountain: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:10) Paul also knew this to be true. Paul started out as one of the most successful persecutors of Christians; his name was Saul then. (Acts 8:1-2) But after Jesus revealed Himself to Saul, (Acts 9:1-9) and changed his name to Paul, Paul suffered much for the sake of Christ. (Acts 9:16, II Corinthians 11:24-27) And yet, Paul was the one who said that nothing, nothing, could separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)

Jesus Himself promised us that in this life we would face suffering (John 16:33), but He also told us to have courage because He has already conquered the world. He has already been declared the winner. Anything we encounter on this Earth is just temporary, and it cannot harm our eternal souls. Knowing that fact should help us to follow the advice in the second half of I Peter 3:14, the same advice that was given to Judah in Isaiah 8:12 from which Peter is quoting: Do not be afraid, and do not be shaken.

There is a prayer I have been praying for many years, decades even, and it hasn't been answered yet. Well, it hasn't been answered with a yes anyway. Now I was brought up to be unselfish, to not keep asking for what I want, to take no for an answer. But because of the story of the persistent widow, (Luke 18:1-8) I feel I should keep asking.

Over the years I've tried to reconcile that parable with my upbringing. Whereas it is not okay to ask your parents for the same thing over and over again, it is okay to ask God. Not only is it okay, but He invites it; He recommends it. And frankly, this is the kind of prayer that He wants to say yes to, but He has also granted the members of the human race the right to make their own decisions.

So I've been wondering lately: what value is there in my continuing to pray? God already knows my request. He knows the desires of my heart. Will my prayers change anything? The story of the persistent widow tells me they will. But maybe the subject of my prayers is not the only thing that will change.

Yesterday I read Proverbs 17:3. Perhaps, God is working on changing me through this process too. This proverb talks about refining precious metals by heating them up and removing the impurities. God purifies us through the tests we endure. Similarly, James 1:2-4 says that we become perfect by going through trials. It’s not instantaneous. It takes time, and I’m guessing that, at least where people are concerned, some impurities take more time than others. Sometimes we have to work through anger, resentment, unforgiveness. The harder we hold on to something, the longer it will take. Sometimes we have to realize that God may be doing something that we don’t understand. Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t for the best.

Thinking through this brought to mind the words of a worship song by Brian Doerksen: "Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy." It’s possible you have sung that song yourself. I hope you meant it, because it is inviting God to bring the heat of trials into your life. We will be better for them in the end, but it could be a little uncomfortable along the way. Be encouraged though; God does this because He loves us, and because He wants what is best for us. (Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:6)

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Why do bad things happen to good people? If you haven’t asked that question before yourself, you have very likely heard it asked by someone else. We have all known people who have gone through incomprehensible tragedy, and we have wondered why. Some will even ask what the person did to incur God’s wrath? What sin in their life is unconfessed? Why is God trying to get their attention? If you are one of the friends who has tried to help a loved one by gently trying to discover which sins are the root cause of their misfortune, please stop. Jesus very clearly told His disciples that a man’s affliction was not a result of his sin or his parents’ sin. (John 9:1-3) That is so much more true since Christ paid the price for all of our sins on the cross. (John 3:17)

So, punishment for sin is not the answer, but hardships do still serve a purpose. First of all, this life is temporary. If life were easy, we would either be content to stay here for the rest of time, or we would have no incentive to focus on what matters for eternity. God wants us to realize that the important things are not the temporal, worldly things that we spend so much time and energy on. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to help us see what matters. Suffering also leads us to depend on God instead of our own strength and resources. We are humbled when we realize that we can’t manage everything on our own. When we are humble we can be pleasing and useful to God. (Psalm 51:17) God can work through us, and we can bring glory to Him.

An additional purpose for our suffering is outlined by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 1:3-4. Our trials give us the experiences we need in order to know how to comfort others who will go through similar struggles. Biblical comfort is not sympathy, but strength, not a way out of the problem, but a way through it. Our trials help us to understand what others are going through. I know of many people who have gone through unimaginable tragedy, but because of it have started organizations to help others who find themselves in similar situations. Many have testified that they have found their life purpose through the tragedy they endured.

Paul understood suffering, both external and internal. (II Corinthians 4:8, Romans 8:35, Philippians 1:17, II Corinthians 7:5) He faced many hardships, (II Corinthians 11:23-27), more than most of his listeners (or readers) ever would. But he did not view these circumstances as being outside of his faith in Christ. He did not wonder if his faith wasn’t strong enough. He had had a personal encounter with Christ, and he knew that these sufferings were a part of his mission, his purpose. (Acts 26:14-18) He also knew that no matter what hardships or afflictions he had to face, God would provide more than enough grace, and comfort (strength) to get through them. (II Corinthians 1:5, II Corinthians 12:9) And God would use them for His good purposes. (Romans 8:28)

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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I have to admit that I have a tendency to focus on the destination rather than the journey. I’ve often said that I would enjoy my vacations more if I didn’t have to spend time getting there. Every time I hear some profound quotation about enjoying the journey, I think, I really should learn how to do that! The problem with my way of doing things is that I always seem to be looking forward to a future event, rather than fully enjoying the present.

When I was a very young girl in Sunday School, I had to memorize Psalm 23, though at the time it was referred to as The Twenty-Third Psalm. I memorized it in the King James Version, and I still think of it that way. Like most verses I memorized in the KJV, it always seems a little odd to read them in a different version. But I think it’s a very good practice to look at scripture in different versions, especially if you are familiar with it, because new wording may make you look at the passage a little differently. Such is the case for me with Psalm 23.

It started with thinking about Bella, a friend’s 9 month old daughter with stage 3 cancer—thoracic neuroblastoma. The Lord gave me a vision of my friend and her baby walking through a dark valley, and the assurance that they would reach the other side. But the only way out of the valley was to walk through it; there was no way around.

We all have different circumstances in our lives that could be regarded as our dark valley. Injuries, job loss, family breakdown, house fires, natural disasters… the list of tragedies we might face in our lifetime could go on and on. And in many cases there is nothing we can do to avoid them. So how do we make it through? We let the Lord be our shepherd and lead us. Now I see Psalm 23 as a journey. I am walking through the valley, but with my shepherd beside me, I will lack nothing. I will be protected and have no reason to fear. One day I will be victorious, and, like the psalmist, instead of being pursued by my enemies, I will be pursued by God’s goodness and faithfulness. And you can be sure that I will enjoy my final destination.

Today's post was written by Ron Edmondson. The myth he addresses is prevalent, but the truth is more encouraging.
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I occasionally like to correct a myth I have heard all my life. How many times has someone said to you, “God will never put more trials on you than you can bear”? I challenge you to show me that in the Bible. The problem I have with this myth is that it keeps so many believers wondering why they can’t handle their problems, falsely believing they should be able to, because someone once told them the lie that God would not put more on them than they could.

Yes, we do have the promise that we will not be “tempted beyond what you can bear” (I Corinthians 10:13), but we need to understand what that verse is saying. It says that God will not allow Satan to bring temptation, or enticement to sin, into our life that is too much for us to say no to it. When we are tempted to sin, God will make a way for us to resist it. That is because He wants us to live holy, just as Christ who calls us is holy.

Consistently, throughout the Bible, I read where at times God allowed more trials, more pressure, than His children could bear. Elijah, the powerful prophet of God who held back the rain had a time when the trial must have been bigger than his ability to handle it. Consider this verse: “The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” (I Kings 19:7) Once when Paul wrote to the people at Corinth (II Corinthians 1:8), he told them that he and his followers faced trials “far beyond our ability to endure”. David, the great war hero and man after God’s own heart, told the Lord that “troubles without number surround me” and “I cannot see”. He couldn’t see clearly, because he was overwhelmed with the storms of life! Another time David said “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” (Oh how I identify with David there!) Jehoshaphat prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” II Chronicles 20:12) It sounds like he was facing more than he could handle on his own.

Are there times when God allows more troubles in your life than you can bear? Absolutely! Positively! If you can accept my testimony as an example, let me tell you that sometimes life throws more at me than I can handle, at least more than I can handle alone. The reason God allows you and I to experience times when we are consumed by trials, when they are bigger than our own strength can handle, is so that we have nowhere else to turn, except towards Him. We are faced with one solution, that we realize Christ is our only hope!

After Paul wrote that his trial was bigger than his ability to endure, he offers an explanation. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (II Corinthians 1:9) He recognized that this overwhelming time of trouble, that he couldn’t handle alone, had caused him to focus more on the power of God, and allow God to work His perfect will.

Are you being challenged beyond your ability to endure? Don’t believe that you can do it alone! You can’t! Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing!” (John 15:5) Did you get that point? Nothing! Don’t try anything today without relying on the power of God! He knows you're weak, but He is available to help, if you will call upon Him! When we are at our weakest, He is strong!

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I’m a bit of an idealist, so I don’t like it when things go wrong, especially when bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.  It’s one thing to deal with the consequences when you’ve made a mistake, but if you didn’t do anything wrong, it just seems so unfair.  Either way though, it is good to be able to call on God to rescue you.

Do you ever wonder if God really hears you when you pray?  Sometimes we feel like the pain, frustration and struggles will go on forever.  He says that He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), but do you ever want to negotiate with Him?  Tell Him your side of the story?  Give Him your ideas for the plan?  I think that the Psalmist David must have felt that way when he wrote Psalm 13.  In the first two verses he asked “How long?” four times.  He felt ignored, anxious and threatened by his enemy.  We don’t know for sure, but he may have been running for his life at this point.  David didn’t end his psalm the same way he started it though.  He moved from complaint (Psalm 13:1-2) to prayer (Psalm 13:3-4) to praise (Psalm 13:5-6).

Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thankful hearts to present all of our requests to God.  This is what David did.  He asked the Lord to answer him, to revive him, and to save him, not only so that he would be saved, but so would the reputation of God’s name.

What caused David to turn from despair to praise?  Hope in God’s unfailing love and mercy.  David had faith that God was still God and would keep His covenant with him.  We must do the same when we face trials that have gone on so long that we think they will go on forever.  When we have lost our joy and our hope, we must cling to our faith.  We must remember that God is God and more importantly that we are not.  Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we must believe that He does.  We know that He understands every trial that we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16), that He will not give us more trials than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and that He longs to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).  Think back on how God has brought you through trials before.  He will again.

I have come to realize that a major theme in James 1 is humility. James 1:12 tells us that we will be rewarded if we endure the testing that we face. What must we do to endure testing? We need to let go of our pride and our feelings of entitlement. How do you react when you face trials? I have to admit that I usually try to avoid them. I think it is quite common for people to pity themselves and want to escape the unpleasant circumstances that they are in. But the Bible tells us that we face testing to humble us, to strengthen us and to bring good to us. (Deuteronomy 8:16, James 1:2-4) A wise pastor once suggested that instead of lamenting our trials that we ask God what He wants us to learn from them. Candy Hemphill Christmas, founder of The Bridge Ministry has said that she has learned something about God—“that if you ask Him a question, He will answer. Now, you’re going to have to get ready for the answer, but He will answer. It might not be what you want to hear, but He will answer.” Are we willing to submit to God’s answer, to His plan? That takes humility.

I think it is natural for people to think that trials are a punishment from God. Job’s friends did, and so did Job’s wife. Job, on the other hand, asked why we should expect good things from God and not accept the bad. (Job 2:7-10). When God answered Job, (Job 40:1-14) He reminded him that there is a God, and Job isn’t Him. Neither are we. We need to trust God and His love for us. We need to trust what He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, that His plan for our future is a good one. The trials that we face along the way are stepping stones to that good future. God is more interested in our character than He is in our accomplishments or wealth, and He can bring good from everything that happens to us. (Romans 8:28)

I wonder what would happen if we thanked God for our trials and looked for the lessons in them rather than complaining about our lot in life. Let’s try to focus on making the best of the present instead of wishing for something better in the future. Let’s see how we can help other people instead of throwing ourselves a pity party. Let’s trust God to bring good out of every circumstance in our lives.

Do you ever feel like you have insurmountable challenges to face? Do you wonder how you will ever make it through? I am sure we have all faced times like this. The people of Israel certainly did.

In Deuteronomy 7:17-19, God, through Moses, was telling Israel that they must go into the Promised Land and defeat its current inhabitants who were more numerous and more powerful than they were. How would they do it? Don’t we always want to know how something will work out? I know I do. I’m sure that the Israelites didn’t see how it would be possible, because they were trying to foresee the results based on their own strength and abilities. We often do the same thing. We not only want to know how, but how will I? God knows we think this way, and that the Israelites did too. Before they had a chance to protest and question, Moses answered them. He told them not to be afraid and to remember all that God had done to bring them out of Egypt. They didn’t know how that was going to happen either, but God did it in spectacular and miraculous ways. Ephesians 3:20-21 tells us that God can do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and that all the glory belongs to Him. As Alex Kendrick, the character Coach Grant Taylor in the movie Facing the Giants, said, “Your job is to do the best you can and leave the results up to God.”

It’s important to note that, even though God said He would defeat Israel’s enemies, He also said that He would not do it all at once. (Deuteronomy 7:22) That is true of the problems we face as well. When the Israelites entered the land, there was more area than the people could fill. An area that was not populated by people would soon be populated by wild beasts, so the people were driven out gradually as the Israelites could fill the land. In our context, a problem that is solved instantly by God, may prevent us from learning, or growing or becoming stronger. God uses all of the situations we face to teach us to trust Him and to rely on Him. Again I quote Coach Grant Taylor: “God can do whatever He wants to do, however He wants to do it, and He chooses to work in our lives ‘cause He loves us, ‘cause He’s good. I hope today is a milestone for what He can do for the rest of your life if you trust Him.”

The next time you are faced with a problem that you think is bigger than you are, remember what God has already done in your life. Remember how He has kept His promises, how He has protected you and fought for you. Remember that He loves you (John 3:16) and wants only the best for you. (Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 7:11) Then face the problem together.

In Canada, it is the last day of summer, the day before school starts. To mark the occasion today's post celebrates summer and perseverance. It is a review of the movie Soul Surfer by Meg Korpi and Rusty Wright.

Kauai, 2003. A 14-foot tiger shark bursts through the waves and tears off 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s left arm. She loses 60 percent of her blood, and faces the end of her pro surfing dreams. Three months later, the unstoppable teen is surfing competitively again.

If you’re looking for inspiration to thrive in tough times or to appreciate life more fully, Soul Surfer—the movie based on Hamilton’s brush with death and remarkable comeback—will knock your socks off. The Sony Pictures release, starring AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood opened across North America in April, and was available on DVD August 2, 2011.

Fantastic Surfing, Tough Competition, Heart-stopping Tragedy, Strong Character

The film’s breathtaking surfing footage and heart-pounding athletic competition will appeal to sports enthusiasts. But Bethany’s true story of gut-wrenching tragedy, driven character, and hard-won victory is what makes Soul Surfer worth seeing.

Pre-attack, Bethany (Robb) is a lighthearted kid, as well as a skilled surfer. (At 13, she ranked #2 among females 18-and-under in the USA.) After the attack, Bethany emerges as poised and determined, with a well-grounded spirit. Where does a 13-year-old gain the inner strength to remain surprisingly positive while adapting to a missing limb and rebuilding athletic prowess?

Why This? Why Me?

After the attack, Bethany struggles with the mundane (ever try slicing a tomato with one hand?), the profound (how could this be God’s plan?), and the weighty (“will a boy ever like me with only one arm?”). In addition, as a champion surfer driven by love of the sport, Bethany confronts the likely loss of her career: How could she possibly paddle a surfboard, one-armed, through breaking surf, much less re-conquer championship surfing maneuvers?

“I don’t need easy; I just need possible”

But a love of God also drives Bethany. In a story line that some may see as contrived, but which reflects actual events, her youth group leader, Sarah Hill (Underwood), encourages her with the biblical assurance: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘…plans for good and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As Bethany learns to rely on this truth, it compels here. With dogged determination, she decides to tackle surfing again. She seeks help from her father (Quaid).

“It’s not going to be easy,” he cautions.

“I don’t need easy,” replies Bethany. “I just need possible.”

Inspiring Role Model

At the film’s NYC premiere, director Sean McNamara offered insight into Bethany’s remarkable fortitude. “Her faith was amazing. I watched her overcome adversity and [attribute it to her] faith in Jesus Christ … I’d been through years of Catholic school, but it’s different when you actually see someone walk the walk and talk the talk.”

This film will not necessarily please moviegoers who expect dark drama and gore from a shark-attack movie. Skeptics will likely scoff at the portrayal of Bethany’s resilience and positive attitude. In fact, the filmmakers toned down the real Bethany’s indomitable spirit for fear audiences wouldn’t find her believable. “They kept wanting [her character] to act sad in the hospital,” Bethany’s brother Noah told us, “but she wasn’t like that. She was upbeat.”

Good teen role models are hard to come by. Thirteen-year–olds who inspire adults to greater courage are virtually unheard of. If one is open-minded enough to accept the fact that admirable and wise-beyond-their-years teens do exist, one could learn a lot from Bethany’s example.

Soul Surfer is thought-provoking PG entertainment. The Hamilton family’s faith is portrayed as integral to the characters, not preachy. The shark-attack scene is tame enough for the squeamish. We found the movie hard to leave in the theater, and carried it in our heads for days, reflecting on the individuals’ character, wisdom and choices.

Some of the real Bethany’s insights are so profound and selfless that they’re indeed hard for the rest of us to comprehend. She once said,

“If I can help other people find hope in God, then that is worth losing my arm for.”

Amazing. Grace.

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Meg Korpi studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.

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