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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.

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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 listen to people give their testimonies and to hear how their lives have significantly changed because they have given their hearts to Jesus. Some of them recount pretty dramatic transformations—conversion from a life of crime, freedom from drug or alcohol abuse or other harmful ways of living. For some, they found freedom from their old desires the instant they accepted Jesus. Sometimes people have changed their entire focus in life, from being high finance, career-oriented business people to becoming missionaries for the poorest of the poor in Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa.

II Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation—the old has gone; the new has come. Of course, such remarkable changes as the examples listed above are not always evident in every person who becomes a follower of Christ. For one thing, they may not have found themselves in such a dramatic position to begin with. Some of us work at putting our old habits behind us every single day. And very often we feel like we have failed because we keep fighting the same battle over and over again. Contrary to what some people imagine, life doesn’t become sweet and easy just because you decide to follow Jesus. As a matter of fact, sometimes it gets a lot harder because Satan gets a little upset when we change sides. So we will always have the battles to face. (John 16:33) The good news is that God isn’t surprised at our imperfections. He already knows all about them, and He doesn’t condemn us. (Romans 8:1) Jesus took all the punishment for all of those imperfections when He sacrificed Himself on the cross. Our penalty has been paid, and God loves us like He loves His own Son. There is absolutely nothing that we can do that can separate us from His love, (Romans 8:38-39) even if we make the same mistakes over and over again.

Becoming a new creation does not necessarily mean an instantaneous transformation from our personalities and habits. It means that we see Jesus, ourselves and other people differently, (II Corinthians 5:16), and because of this we strive to be the people that God wants us to be. (Ephesians 5:1) Our choices are based on different priorities, and we keep doing our best to make the right choices even if it is a challenge. It might take a lot of time and a lot of hard work, but there will come a day when the battles are over, and the creation that God envisioned us to be is complete. The effort will be worth it.

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For the last couple of days I have been considering what verse I should write about this week. Usually I come across a verse while reading, checking Facebook or listening to a sermon or television program, and I think, “That is the one.” This week there seemed to be a few, but on a similar theme. The book I just finished reading for book club focused on Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.” One of the verses quoted on an archived episode of Full Circle that I watched this week was Isaiah 64:4. “God intervenes for those who wait for Him.” Then this morning I read today’s verse on YouVersion, Psalm 42:11 “Wait for God. For I will again give thanks to my God for His saving intervention.”

The writer of Psalm 42 is depressed and far from home, (Psalm 42:6) he is being taunted by his enemies, (Psalm 42:10) and he is feeling overwhelmed. (Psalm 42:7) He is longing for relief. (Psalm 42:1) We can’t be sure of the exact circumstances he was facing, but we do know that he felt that he was facing it alone. At that time, the temple was the place that was set apart for worship and to hear from God. The writer not only missed the fellowship of being in God’s house, (Psalm 42:2, Psalm 42:4) but he also had to endure the voice of his enemy suggesting that God had forsaken him. (Psalm 42:3) And I think he wondered if God had. (Psalm 42:9)

We might not find ourselves in the same situation as the Psalmist does here, but we have certainly felt the same emotions. We may be saddened by our circumstances, lonely, irritated by malicious co-workers or neighbours, or burdened by the number of things we have to do. The good news is that we don’t have to get to the temple to be close to God. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and because of the Holy Spirit, we can communicate with God wherever we are. A look through God’s Word assures us that we have not been forsaken. (Psalm 37:28, Romans 8:38-39, John 3:16) Whatever you are going through, don’t give up hope. Wait on God’s saving intervention.

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You may have noticed that things don’t always turn out the way you hope they will. And they almost always take longer than you want them to. In this world of instant everything, many of us have lost our ability to wait patiently. And yet, there are times when we must wait, whether we like it or not. As I told you last week, I have been ill recently, and because of a condition that may or may not be related, and that did not resolve itself within six weeks, my doctor sent me for a medical test. I waited a month for that appointment, and the results were inconclusive. So I was sent for a different medical test. Again inconclusive. A third test has been scheduled for next Tuesday. It has now been almost three months without answers, and frankly without any information about what the problem might be. I am still waiting.

Now if I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I don’t always have the best of attitudes in situations like this. I worry, and I often complain. Unfortunately, that only proves that I’m not as good as I would like to be at trusting God with the outcome. What should I do instead? As hard as it is sometimes, I should be praising God. King David had a lot of trials and struggles in his life too, so much more serious than mine, and he concluded that he should praise God continually. Early in Psalm 86, David was pleading with God for mercy, but in Psalm 86:12 he declared that he would give God praise with his whole heart and would honour His name continually. With his whole heart meant that David would be sincere in his praise; he wouldn’t just go through the motions. He could do that, because he had established a relationship with God, and knew that He was trustworthy. God had shown David His mercy many times before. David knew that he could trust God with his life and with the outcome to the situations he found himself in. Continually is pretty self-explanatory. At all times. In every situation. Since not all situations are good ones, David would honour God even when things weren’t going the way he wanted them to.

Moira Brown has said that, “Praise is the elevator that lifts us out of the pit of despair.” If we can praise God even in the tough times, we will be able to focus more on the goodness and faithfulness of God, the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever, (Hebrews 13:8) rather than dwelling on the challenges in our circumstances. I’m still working on it. How about you?

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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.

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We have some good friends who are going through a very hard time right now. Their eight month old daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma—cancer—just a few days ago. They have taken her to a children’s hospital about two and a half hours away from home to be tested and treated. They also have two young sons and a business to run at home, so this is practically challenging as well as physically and emotionally challenging.
Sometimes when horrible things happen, our first reaction is to ask why? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? I don’t have an answer for that, but I can tell you what I learned from Job.

Job was a man that the Bible described as pure and upright. (Job 1:1) He revered God, and kept himself from evil. The kind of man that brings glory to God, and just the kind of man that Satan hates. In Satan’s view, Job only loved and worshipped God because doing so made him wealthy and protected. (Job 1:9-11) So God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had, but Satan was not given permission to harm Job himself. (Job 1:12) Satan took complete advantage of this opportunity, and destroyed everything that Job owned—all of his livestock and his children—all gone within minutes. Job grieved, but he did not curse God. He knew that everything he ever had was a gift from God. (Job1:20-22)

You can be sure that Satan wasn’t willing to give up that easily. He went back to God and said that the only reason Job was still pure and upright is because Job himself was not harmed. So God gave permission to Satan to do what he wanted to Job, but he must spare Job’s life. (Job 2:6) Satan brought terrible affliction on Job, such that his wife thought him a fool, and told him to curse God and die. (Job 2:9) Job would not. He was willing to accept the bad with the good. (Job 2:10)

Throughout the book of Job, Job’s friends came and gave him advice about why this had happened to him and what he should do about it, but take note, our friends are not always right. Much time passes, in which Job and his friends try to make sense of it all, but without success. In Job 38, God begins to speak to Job. He asks where Job was when the world was made and who was in command of creation. (Job 38:4-13) God’s discourse continues and points out that essentially God is God and we are not. We are in no position to question Him on His reasons for what we are going through, because His ways are beyond our understanding. (Isaiah 55:9)

Our trials may or may not be for the purpose of testing us in the way Job was tested. Perhaps, instead, they are to remind us to trust God and to look to Him for strength. (Philippians 4:13) Perhaps they are to prepare us to be a guide to someone who will walk the journey behind us. Perhaps they will allow us to comfort others who are going through the same thing. (II Corinthians 1:4) Be sure of this though: Satan is the author of all that is evil in the world, not God. God gives him some leeway, but God has the final say, and He loves us and wants only the best for us. (John 3:16, Matthew 7:11) If we put our hope and trust in God, He will give us the strength we need to get through it, no matter what the circumstance.

Please take a moment to pray for this dear family.

Just a week ago, we were sharing New Year’s blessings with all our friends and family.  I was wishing them happiness, peace, prosperity and good health.  “May this be your best year ever,” I would say.  “I wish you all the best.”  I was optimistic for good things to happen, but the truth of the matter is that nothing much changes just because we turn over a new page on the calendar.  We still face the same rebellious children, the health scares, the unhappy marriages, the financial difficulties, the unexpected tragedies.  It’s just that now we are facing them when we had our expectations set for something so much higher, just because the year got a new number.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being optimistic, but saying “Happy New Year” doesn’t take all our troubles away.

Many years ago, when I was in my first year of university, I learned a new song, well new to me anyway.  One of the verses said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”  This comes from the King James Version of Isaiah 26:3 which in its entirety says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.”  In more contemporary English that might be, “You will give perfect peace to those who stay focused on you because they trust in you.”  What a great promise that is!

This verse doesn’t mean that we will be exempt from all trials or heartaches, for we know that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33)  The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to have trouble, (II Corinthians 11:23-27) but based on Isaiah 26:3, he wrote the very practical advice found in Philippians 4:6-7.  Pray and give thanks.  We will face situations that seem unbearable to us, but if we focus on God, bring all our cares to Him in prayer and thank Him for His many blessings to us, He will grant us a peace that defies explanation, peace that is not like the world gives (John 14:27), peace that will protect our hearts and minds.