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In December 2009, a friend of mine, a 39 year old wife and mother of six, had a routine medical exam. Not long after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She died on this date two years ago. On that same day a teenage girl also died of a cancer that she had been battling much longer. Two days ago a dear friend’s mother also died of cancer. She was 66. Other friends and family members of various ages have also died of this savage disease, but for some reason, it hits home a little harder on February 10. And cancer is just one of the many trials we face in this world. It’s so frustrating! It seems so unfair!

There is no doubt that we should expect trouble in this world, (John 16:33) but we can also be assured that God still cares for us through the hard times. We do not face these hardships because God has stopped caring for us, but because we live in an imperfect world. God, however, is not imperfect, and He has compassion on those who humbly seek Him. Psalm 34:18 assures us that He is close to the brokenhearted and will deliver those who are discouraged. Sometimes the deliverance takes longer than we want it to, and it doesn’t necessarily come in the way we expect. Psalm 34 is David’s testimony of how the Lord delivered him, and his assurance that God will do the same for future generations as well.

The King James Version translates the last part of Psalm 34:18 as those who have a contrite spirit. It makes sense that being humble would be a requirement for God’s deliverance. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Psalm 51:17 tells us that the sacrifice that God desires is a humble spirit; a humble and repentant heart He will not reject. If we come to God humbly, and lay our burdens at His feet, (Psalm 34:15, Matthew 11:28) He will be gracious to us, bring us through the discouragement and heal our broken hearts.

In my last post, I brought up the question of whether the laws that were given in the Old Testament still apply to us. If some of the laws on food restriction don’t apply, do any of the others? In a sense, no. But, you might argue, does that mean that it’s okay to lie and murder and steal, since we don’t have to obey those laws anymore? Of course not! Just because we are no longer under the old covenant, doesn’t mean there is no covenant at all. To begin with, we are told in Romans 13:1-7 that we must obey whatever authorities are in place; they have been appointed by God.

Then in Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle Paul boils it down for us. In Romans 13:7, he had just instructed his readers to pay their debts, and to give to others what is due them. Now in Romans 13:8, he tells us that once we have paid our debts, we should owe nothing to anyone, except for love. Love is an obligation that though we pay it, it will never cease to be an obligation. We must love, not because we have some highly emotional feeling that attracts us to someone else, and therefore we want to show our affection. The love being discussed in this passage is agape love, the unconditional love that Christ has for us and that He commands us to have for one another. We are to have concern for every other person on this earth because that is what Christ requires of us. We will certainly need the power of the Holy Spirit within us to accomplish this.

Perhaps the Pharisees liked to have rules because it gave them structure and boundaries. Perhaps they found following the rules easier than loving others. They thought that Jesus was flouting their law, their authority and their tradition, but Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.” (Matthew 5:17) He also said that the greatest commandments were to love God, and to love others. (Matthew 22:36-40, John 13:34) We are now under a new covenant with God, based not on law but on His grace. If we follow the guidelines of that covenant—loving each other—we won’t have to worry about breaking Old Testament laws.

I believe that the grace of God is much more amazing than we as humans can comprehend, and yet it is available to each one of us. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the dire situation that the human race was left in because of Adam’s sin. Then verse 4 starts with “But God”. It begins the explanation we find in Ephesians 2:4-7 of God’s mercy and grace. Mercy means that we are not given the punishment that we deserve. Grace means that we are given the salvation that we don’t deserve. Both are given to us because of Christ, a fact that is repeated three times in these four verses, and they are gifts that are available to anyone, even the thief who was minutes from death on the cross beside Jesus. Because of Christ we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. We have been raised up in Him, and when this life is over we will be with Him in the heavenly realms. Spiritually, we are already there. This was made possible only because He loved us enough to die as a sacrifice in our place. Can you even begin to imagine this?!

I am also encouraged by Ephesians 2:7 which tells us that the surpassing wealth of His grace will be demonstrated to us in the coming ages. It is only going to get better and better. We will continue to know God more and more, but what I find most uplifting is that we are not expected to know it all right now. God’s love and grace is beyond what we can fathom, but there is a lot that He has already made known to us as well. He has given us the gift of the scriptures, His Holy Word, so that we might learn more about Him and His great love at our own pace. No pressure. It’s a gift.

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I believe that the grace of God is much more amazing than we as humans can comprehend, and yet it is available to each one of us. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the dire situation that the human race was left in because of Adam’s sin. Then verse 4 starts with “But God”. It begins the explanation we find in Ephesians 2:4-7 of God’s mercy and grace. Mercy means that we are not given the punishment that we deserve. Grace means that we are given the salvation that we don’t deserve. Both are given to us because of Christ, a fact that is repeated three times in these four verses, and they are gifts that are available to anyone, even the thief who was minutes from death on the cross beside Jesus. Because of Christ we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. We have been raised up in Him, and when this life is over we will be with Him in the heavenly realms. Spiritually, we are already there. This was made possible only because He loved us enough to die as a sacrifice in our place. Can you even begin to imagine this?!

I am also encouraged by Ephesians 2:7 which tells us that the surpassing wealth of His grace will be demonstrated to us in the coming ages. It is only going to get better and better. We will continue to know God more and more, but what I find most uplifting is that we are not expected to know it all right now. God’s love and grace is beyond what we can fathom, but there is a lot that He has already made known to us as well. He has given us the gift of the scriptures, His Holy Word, so that we might learn more about Him and His great love at our own pace. No pressure. It’s a gift.

In Romans 5:1-11 Paul discusses the benefits of being justified by faith. Years ago, I memorized Romans 5:1-2 in the New International Version: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

First of all, we are justified by faith. I once heard someone define the term justified as “just [as] if I’d” never sinned. Through faith, and only by faith, we are worthy to share in the benefits that Paul describes here. They are gifts given through the grace of God to those who believe. The NET Bible translates “justified” as “declared righteous”. We don’t start out righteous, but we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we can be accepted by God. All we have to do is have faith, believe. (Romans 4:3-5)

The term peace here does not simply mean a contented feeling, but a state of peace. It is not the peace of God, but peace with God. We are not on opposing sides. We can join God’s team, and the only way to get on the team is if we are justified by faith. And this is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus acts as a mediator for us to reconcile us to God. As soon as we make the decision, we are at peace with God. So, our faith plus Jesus gets us access to God’s grace. We no longer have to worry about God’s wrath because He is surrounding us with His grace, His undeserved favour. It was grace that allowed us to be justified by faith in the first place.

This all brings us to the hope of the glory of God. Hope, as it is used in the New Testament, is not defined as wishful thinking but as expectation. We expect to see the glory of God; we are looking forward to seeing the glory of God—to see God as He truly is. We know that we will see God clearly in eternity, but we can also see glimpses of God’s glory now if we keep our spiritual eyes open. (Titus 2:11-13, I Corinthians 13:12)

Sometimes we can get discouraged by all the things that we have to face in life, and maybe we sometimes think that God is punishing us. He’s not. It’s true that we may have to face the consequences of our unwise choices, but this is not punishment, because, if we are justified by faith, we are no longer under God’s wrath. If we dwell on the promises of these two verses, perhaps our hope will be renewed. What we are going through today is small in the light of eternity. Even still, God is on our side.

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Sometimes we do things we regret. That was certainly the case for David before he wrote Psalm 86. In II Samuel 11 we read about David’s regrets…mistakes…sins—adultery, deception and conspiracy to murder. That’s a lot to feel bad about. So, when in Psalm 86:11 David prays that the Lord would teach him how to live, it is an earnest prayer. He wants to be wholeheartedly committed to God. The King James Version uses the term “unite my heart”. In the New International Version, David prays for an “undivided heart”. He realizes that if his heart isn’t entirely focused on God, he will go down the wrong path, but he also sees that he needs God’s help to do it. He knows that what is impossible for humans is possible for God. (Luke 18:27)

His vow, in Psalm 86:12, to praise God forevermore, is also sincere. His reason is shown in Psalm 86:13. David knows that what he has done is deserving of death, but God in His great mercy has forgiven him. God is deserving of our praise simply because He is God, but His love and mercy toward David provided so much more motivation. David vowed not only to praise God, but to do it with enthusiasm, and to do it forever.

It is likely that most of the people reading this have not sinned to the same degree that David did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah. But even the most noble among us are dependent on God’s grace to save us. We cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:4-9) God wants us all to be completely devoted to Him. He wants us to ask for His help to live the way we should. He is ready and willing to give it, along with His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. He has provided His Word so that we can learn more about His ways, but it takes commitment. We need to choose each day to put Him first, to praise Him and to give Him the glory.

We are only two days away from the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, known simply as 9/11. On that date, 2, 977 people died, beginning with the 87 people who were on board Flight 11 out of Boston, the first plane to hit the towers. One person who did not die that day was Steve Scheibner, the pilot originally scheduled to take that flight.

On September 10, 2011, the American Airlines computer showed one flight for the next day as unassigned—Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. It listed only one pilot who was available to take that flight—Steve Scheibner. The procedure was that any available pilot could ask to take the flight, but there was only a 30 minute window of time, starting at 3:00 p.m. on September 10, when the request could be made. The most senior pilot would be given the flight. A telephone call would come from American Airlines to confirm, and once that happened, the pilot would not be changed. Steve Scheibner was penciled in to take that flight, but during the 30 minute window, Tom McGuinness called to ask if he could take it. Since he had seniority, the flight was given to Tom.

Tom McGuinness did not know that he would be giving his life for Steve Scheibner that day. When Christ gave his life for us, He knew, and He gave it willingly. Matthew 8:17 quotes Isaiah 53:5 when it says that He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases. This does not mean that we will not face illness, or that we will be healed from all of our illnesses here on earth, but it does mean that we will be healed of all our illnesses at the Second Coming of Christ. I Corinthians 15:26 tells us that death will be the last enemy to be eliminated. Revelation 21:4 tells us that when Christ returns, death and mourning and pain will no longer exist. Hallelujah! I’m looking forward to that day.

Because of Tom McGuinness, Steve Scheibner’s physical life was saved. Because of Christ, we can be saved for eternal life. You, however, have to make the choice to believe and accept the gift. (Acts 10:43, John 1:12, John 3:18, John 20:31)

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

Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if we all followed the two commandments found in Matthew 22:37-40? If everyone’s goal was to please God, and to help each other, the conflict in this world would be erased. You can be sure that Satan is doing everything within his power to keep that from happening. We are in a battle between the ways of Satan and the ways of God. No matter whose side we choose, there will be a constant struggle until Jesus returns.

Galatians 5:19-21 outlines some of the results of following our own sinful desires. Paul gives examples of sexual sins, religious sins, societal sins, and those stemming from a lack of self-control. He finishes his list by letting us know that it is not exhaustive; it includes other actions that put ourselves ahead of God and others. He warns us that by engaging in such activities we risk being consumed by one another, (Galatians 5:15) and that if this is the kind of behaviour we choose, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21) That is not to say, that if we choose to follow God, and to be led by the Holy Spirit, we will never sin, but we must not cater to our sinful nature nor let it dominate our life.

How do we prevent our sinful desires from winning out over the ways of love and freedom in God? We ask the Holy Spirit to help us. We choose every day to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. We cannot do this on our own, and God will not do it without our consent. We are not puppets. God could have taken all these desires away from us when we made the decision to follow Him. Why didn’t He? I believe it is because He always wants to allow us to have free choice, but also that He wants us to realize how much we need Him. We need to realize that we can’t make it on our own. He wants us to acknowledge Him, to remain in communion with Him, and to rely on Him to help us through every situation we face. The good news is that if we choose God’s way, the Spirit will be a continual help to us, and we will be on the winning side.

In conversations that I’ve had with atheists, they have claimed that there is no God, and then seconds later talked about their perception of God. For example: God does not exist; if He does, why does He allow bad things to happen? People who believe in God believe in fairy tales. Why would He allow us to make our own choices? Romans 1:18-20 addresses both sides of this issue. In this post I will examine God’s wrath, and in the next, the proof of His existence.

Sometimes God shows His judgement in historic events like the flood (Genesis 7) or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:15-26), but sometimes His wrath is shown by letting us face the consequences for our own choices. We have the option of looking to Him for guidance, for asking Him to direct our paths, (Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 26:7, Psalm 37:23) but we often wait until after we are in trouble and then plead for His help.

God is holy, completely unique in His perfection, and because He is holy, He cannot tolerate sin. Therefore He pours out His wrath and judgement against this world’s sinfulness. God’s wrath is not like human anger; He does not have an emotional outburst of fury, but a controlled reaction to that which is against His nature and against His will (ungodliness) and also to offenses against his people (unrighteousness). There are those who think that it is unfair of God to hold us to His standard, rather than lowering His expectations to our level of sinfulness. After all, we are imperfect beings; how can He expect us to be perfect? Yet, if He changed to make Himself more like us, He would not be holy, He would not be worthy of our worship, and He would not be God. If God did not get angry at sin, Jesus would not have needed to go to the cross, and we would not be in need of God’s great love and mercy.

Some people prefer to focus on God’s grace and love rather than on His wrath, and I can’t say that I blame them. He loves us more than we will ever be able to fathom, and because of His love we do not have to face destruction. Lamentations 3:22, in the New International Version says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.” But the wrath of God is real. The gift of salvation that has been made possible by Christ’s sacrifice is what will protect us from God’s wrath. Those who choose not to accept it, will ultimately have to pay the consequences.