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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)


In my post last week, I discussed Jesus’ use of hyperbole. This was a literary device that Jesus used on more than one occasion, and one that was fairly common among the Hebrews of the time. Sometimes, today’s readers interpret Jesus’ words according to our own culture rather than His, and we either take His words literally, or we try to explain them in ways that are more palatable to us. One case of hyperbole that I have often heard explained in a way that attempts to soften it, is the case of the camel going through the eye of a needle. (Luke 18:25) Obviously, if we take that literally, it would be impossible, so Jesus must have meant something else, right?

There are two common explanations for the camel/needle expression. One is that is was a scribal error. The word for camel in the original language was very close to the word for rope. Maybe Jesus really said rope, but the scribes got it wrong. That’s very unlikely, because archaeological evidence shows a very high rate of accuracy in subsequent copies of Biblical texts. But even if it were the case, have you ever tried to get a rope through the eye of a needle? I don’t think that would be any more possible.

The second, and probably more common, explanation is that the “eye of the needle” was the name of a narrow gate leading into Jerusalem—one that was only large enough for a pedestrian to go through. Camels, wagons and the like would have to go through the larger gate. There is no evidence that at the time when Jesus said these words, any gates had been referred to in that way. This is evidently a later explanation which means it wouldn’t be impossible, just very difficult, for the rich man to get into heaven. After all, we want to give him a fighting chance, don’t we?

If you look at the context in which Jesus made this shocking statement—and it would have been shocking to his listeners who were convinced that material wealth was a blessing from God—you will see why He said it. He had just had a conversation with a rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-24) who seemed to think that he was blameless and sin-free. He told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments since childhood. The very fact that he had asked about eternal life indicated that he was a Pharisee, and therefore would have been very intent on following the rules. But the Pharisees always seemed to miss the point, and so did this young man. Through the conversation, Jesus pointed out that he was not keeping the commandments as well as he thought he was. The ones that Jesus mentioned were all commandments that refer to our relationship with others, ones that could be summed up as “love your neighbour”. But this rich young man was not willing to give up his wealth to help the poor, and he was not willing to give it up to follow Jesus either, thereby also breaking the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3) You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24) Again, we have to make a choice.

It is just as difficult for a poor man to enter the Kingdom of God if he tries to do it in his own strength or by his own means. The difference is that the poor don’t have quite so much to lose by giving up everything for Jesus, so they are more likely to be willing. A rich man has something else to depend on, a competing offer that he may find more appealing. In either case, it is only by the grace of God that we can be granted eternal life. (Ephesians 2:8-9) In the very next chapter of Luke, wealthy Zacchaeus chose Jesus over his riches. He promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he had cheated four times what he had taken. Jesus rewarded him with eternal salvation. (Luke 19:8-10) What is impossible for us, is possible for God. (Luke 18:27) That was the whole point of the camel and the needle. It was impossible. Except for God.
One more thought on the needle. In the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, the Greek word that is translated needle represents a sewing needle. Doctor Luke uses a physician’s term that represents the needle that is used for stitching up wounds.

Have you ever heard the expression that the best way to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans? I have found in my life that many of the plans I have made have not really worked out as I thought they would. I’m not the only one.

The Apostle Paul had intended to persecute Christians, but his goal changed on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22:6-10) That was a sudden change of plan. Joseph’s brothers had intended to get rid of him by selling him to the Ishmaelites. They wanted to eliminate the competition for their father’s affection and having to listen to Joseph’s dream interpretations which I’m sure they found to be rather arrogant. (Genesis 37:5, Genesis 37:26-28) This change of plan took a little longer. It was many years later that the brothers became afraid of and then grateful to Joseph for saving their lives. The brothers had meant only harm for Joseph, but God had a plan to use their actions for good. (Genesis 45:5-8, Genesis 50:20)

I’ve known people who debate whether we truly have free will or whether our actions are predestined by an all-powerful, all-knowing God. I believe that we do have free will, but God also has a will, and He is sovereign; His plan will be accomplished. God gives us the opportunity to be a part of it, but we can choose whether we want to cooperate or not.

Proverbs 16:9 tells us that a person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps. We have the privilege and the responsibility to make our own decisions, but God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us, (Jeremiah 29:11) and in time He will work circumstances out the way He chooses. If our plans are aligned with His, we might not be frustrated by unexpected changes quite as often. If we commit our ways to Him, seek His will through prayer and Bible study, our plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

Do you ever feel like nobody likes you? Or maybe you just feel like SOMEbody doesn’t like you? The fact is that we can’t all be liked by everyone all the time. I’ve told many young people that no matter who they are, some people will like them and some people won’t, so they might as well be themselves and know that their friendships are genuine. We all get to choose who we want to be friends with and who we want to be loyal to. Sometimes being friends with one group will mean that you can't be friends with another.

Jesus told the disciples something similar in John 15:18-19. He said that the world (meaning those who don’t belong to Christ) will hate them, because it hated Him first. The disciples should not be surprised that if they stood up for something that was contrary to what the people of the world believed, there would be hatred and persecution. Neither should we. If you profess to be a Christian, some people will hate you before they even get to know you. They may treat you badly or speak unfairly against you simply because you belong to Christ. In North America persecution is mild compared to what it is in some parts of the globe, but you still don’t have to look far to see it—people hurling insults, bullying, unfair stories in the press, acts of violence and vandalism.

We need to make a careful distinction though. Not all people who claim to be Christians behave in a way that resembles Christ. They judge and criticize and give their share of insults. Sometimes their behaviour is rude and obnoxious. Thus an unfavourable reaction might be more accurately labelled a result of provocation rather than persecution. This kind of behaviour is certainly not what Christ stood for. In II Corinthians 6:3, Paul instructs the people to be above reproach—to not do anything that can be criticized or cause offense. Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the passage just before this, Jesus commands His disciples to love. (John 15:12, John 15:17, John 15:10, Luke 6:27) This isn’t just a friendly suggestion; it’s a commandment. This is what it takes to be like Christ. Love even those who hate you.


Recently we have been talking about having discernment, being led by the Holy Spirit, and the results of following our own sinful desires. Now let’s look at what happens when you allow the Holy Spirit to be the influence over your decisions and actions. It is outlined in Galatians 5:22-23.

Take note that this passage says that “the fruit of the Spirit is”. There are two important points here. First, the term fruit is singular. All of these characteristics are one fruit; they are all given in equal abundance when we allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us. Secondly, it is not the fruit of our works or striving; it is the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot achieve these things on our own. When I was younger, I used to think that I had to work at exhibiting these qualities in my life. I would try to be loving and joyful and all of the other things listed here, and thereby gain more of the Holy Spirit, which I thought was a noble goal. The problem was that I had it all backward. What a relief to find out that it wasn’t up to me to become good and kind and gentle. Especially gentle.

We become these things by having more of the Holy Spirit. That part is up to us. We need to choose, and it is a daily, perhaps hourly, choice to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is done through reading and studying the Bible and through prayer. This is how we get to know God better, and the better we know Him, and the more we allow Him to lead our lives, the more the Holy Spirit will work through us. The word fruit is an apt description. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. (John 15:5) We are not the source of all that goodness, but it is our choice to remain in the vine and allow the fruit to be produced through us.

Over the next three weeks I will look at each of the nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit.

I was astounded, appalled and saddened by the events that took place after the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Let me clarify that my title in no way suggests that one team was good and the other evil, but rather that there were two battles that night—one on the ice and the other in the streets. People overturned cars and set them on fire, including two police cars. They smashed store windows and looted the shops. There was violent behaviour that included stabbings, beatings and throwing things (including fists and insults) at police officers and others. Media personnel were asked to get off the streets for their own safety. The police read the Riot Act to the crowd, but it was ignored. Even clouds of pepper spray and tear gas only moved them slightly. It was a scene of chaos and anarchy.

I want to emphasize that this activity in no way represents the majority of the people who live in the beautiful coastal city of Vancouver, and even on that night, there were people who put themselves in danger to do the right thing. Shop owners and private citizens did what they could to protect property. Others tried to break up fights or urged people to move along. Some were beaten for their efforts. The next day, many more volunteered to help clean up the mess that was left behind.

In Titus 3:1-2, Paul urges Titus to remind the people of Crete to be subject to authority, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, not to slander, but to be peaceable, gentle and courteous to all. Don’t you think that the world would be a nicer place to live if everyone followed that advice? Unfortunately, there is a difference between the people Titus was leading and the people who were causing so much destruction in Vancouver on Wednesday night. The Cretans had become followers of Jesus and wanted to do the right thing. Paul through Titus was teaching them how to leave their old ways behind, which they were able to do through the grace of Christ. (Titus 3:4-6)

The people who started the riot in Vancouver, many of them high school students, had absolutely no respect for authority, and had no desire to do the right thing. Evidence shows that the riot was planned—it would take place whether the home team won or lost—and that most of the troublemakers did not even go to the game. Statements on social media accounts and the fact that they brought Molotov cocktails with them show pre-meditation. What then can we do to prevent this kind of behaviour? First, we must realize that but for the grace of God, we might be in the same sorry state as the vandals. Second, we should pray, for the people of Vancouver, for the perpetrators of the crimes, and that justice would be done. Third, we need to be light in the world. The more of us who stand up against evil, the harder it will be for the evil to overpower us. Joyce Meyer has said, “When the light is turned on, the darkness has to go. … Godliness has to be chosen, but ungodliness will just run rampant if people are not actively making right choices. … Do not wait for somebody else to be the first one to make a right choice. Don’t you dare say, ‘Well, why should I be the only one?’ Why shouldn’t you be the one that leads a revolution of righteousness? Why shouldn’t you be the one to stand up and start doing what’s right and making right choices? You might be surprised what a leader you are.”

Where is your heart? What do you rely upon to feel fulfilled, successful? For some it is their high-powered job, their talented or academically gifted children or their luxury home. Many feel successful as long as they are doing better than their neighbours. What is it that is the most important thing in your life?

Mark 10:17-27 tells the story of the rich young ruler. This wealthy young man enthusiastically approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. I expect that he was used to getting whatever he wanted, because he had seemingly endless financial resources. Jews at that time believed that monetary wealth was an indication of God’s blessing. This is not what Jesus said. Jesus recounted several of the ten commandments, which the young man declared that he had always wholeheartedly obeyed. He apparently missed the first commandment though (Exodus 20:3), because he chose to keep his money and to rely on that instead of God. How much he must have loved his money! Remember that his conversation with Jesus started with his asking how he could have eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer, and yet he chose to give it up in order to keep his money.

You will notice that as the young man walked away, Jesus did not run after him. Even though Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus felt love for him, Jesus let him make his own choice. We can all make our own choice about what or whom we will rely upon.

It is also interesting to note that Jesus did not tell all wealthy people that they must give away their wealth in order to be saved. It is not the having of wealth that is the problem, and it is not the giving away of it that results in salvation. The issue is who we give our allegiance to, and whom we rely upon in our time of need. It is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25) not because God’s grace is not available to them, but because they have so much more to give up. We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor earn our way by giving to the poor. We cannot save ourselves; we can only accept God’s gift of salvation which we are offered because Christ was willing to give up everything for us.

Now that I’ve committed to studying the messages that God sends to us, the next question is where to start.  The first thing that came into my mind was, “In the beginning…”.  I know of two verses in the Bible that start that way:  Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1.  I will look at Genesis today and John in the next post.

As I see it, Genesis 1 is the whole basis for faith.  If we don’t believe that God created the universe, and us, there would be no reason to believe anything else in the Bible, or that we have any relationship to God, let alone that we could have a relationship with Him. Conversely, if we do believe that God is the creator of the universe, it allows us to believe that He is all-powerful, and therefore we can have confidence in what follows in the rest of the Bible.

Interestingly, the account of creation assumes the existence of God; it doesn’t try to prove it.  It is more concerned with telling us who created the earth and everything in it than with how it was done, or how long it took.  There is no exhaustive explanation of creation, so whatever you believe requires faith.  Not understanding how it happened actually makes it easier for me to believe that a higher power was involved.

The reassuring fact here is that we didn’t happen by accident.  God chose to create us, and He chooses to have a relationship with us.  From the very beginning God has been involved with His creation.  He interacted with Adam and Eve, and He gave them freedom.  They had the choice to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.  He interacts with us today, and gives us the same freedom.  We can choose to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.