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Long-time readers of this blog will know that Rusty Wright has contributed many articles to it over the years. Some have been co-written by his wife Meg Korpi. I was very sad to learn that Meg has passed away after suffering with cancer for the last few years. Today's post is a tribute to her, written by Rusty, and shared with permission.
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Meg Korpi 1953-2016 Wonderful wife, committed partner, faithful friend
Meg Korpi 1953-2016 Wonderful wife, committed partner, faithful friend

Recently, when my wife, Meg Korpi, was dying of cancer, a longtime friend offered some advice I'm really glad I heeded.

"Hutch" Hutchins told me I should write a tribute, expressing what she's meant to me and how much I love her. I should frame it, give it to her, and read it to her personally.

Meg was on home hospice care after a three-and-a-half-year struggle with ovarian cancer. I was her primary caregiver – a demanding, 24/7 responsibility – and was reeling with exhaustion. But his advice clicked. I read the tribute to her on May 21, our 16th anniversary.

It had a very positive effect…calming, soothing. She seemed at peace, contented, with brightened spirits. It was one of her last lucid days before dying a month later.

Tribute to a rare jewel

Meg was a rare jewel. In her wedding vows, she had said she wanted me to feel like "the most blessed man alive to be married to" her. I did. In this tribute, I told her that in her, God gave me:

• A gorgeous bundle of fun, adventure, character, and faith

• A godly woman who walks closely with Him

• A faithful friend – my very best friend – and companion

• A keen mind to help me think through life's sometimes perplexing issues

• A wise counselor with sound advice at crucial junctures

• A determined spirit to prompt me to reconsider my course when needed

• A sweet lover (Whew!)

• A fun woman, whose sense of humor brings delight. I love to laugh with you!

Thank you so, so much for loving me unconditionally; for honoring and respecting me; for caring and encouraging; for listening to my heart; for sharing my joys and hurts; for looking out for my interests; for being there through good times and bad; for facing life with me as long as we both shall live.

I love you very much, and am eternally grateful to be your husband.

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Lots of laughter

We loved to laugh. As world travelers, sometimes we laughed about language translation complexities.

60 Minutes television veteran Mike Wallace, speaking through an interpreter, once asked former Russian president Boris Yeltsin if he weren't being a bit "thin skinned" in his sensitivity to media criticism. The interpreter goofed, telling Yeltsin that Wallace had said, "You are a thick-skinned hippopotamus."

Shortly after we married, a speaker at a Miami meeting I attended told of efforts to translate a biblical love poem into the language of a Kenyan tribe. The phrase, "Your beauty is like that of the lily," did not connect with the rural East Africans, for whom lilies were mere cattle fodder. Their culture highly esteemed the cow, not the flower. On the advice of tribesmen, the translators rendered the romantic phrase: "You are a black cow in a herd of spotted cattle."

The speaker relating this tale suggested I use that compliment on my new bride, without explanation. Since Meg was returning to California from Philadelphia that evening, I left the cryptic greeting on our home answering machine. A few hours later, my Miami phone rang. Her first words: "And you are a thick-skinned hippopotamus!"

Most important lesson

At her memorial celebration, I presented all this, then briefly noted a conviction we shared deeply, the most important thing I’ve ever learned. I'm indebted in many ways to my Jewish friends and their heritage for it.

One ancient Hebrew book describes Job, who, despite his slew of troubles, affirmed, "I know that my Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25) That gave him hope.

A skeptic in my youth, I didn't believe my Redeemer lived. I thought it was a fairy tale. Then, my first year at Duke, I heard a lecture about Jesus' Resurrection evidences, given by Bob Prall, who later became my mentor. Jesus was executed and declared dead, wrapped like a mummy, placed in a tomb. A huge stone covered the tomb's entrance, which Roman soldiers guarded. Most of his disciples fled in fear.

Sunday morning, the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, but the grave clothes were still in place. Jesus appeared alive. Frightened disciples became martyrs because they believed he had risen.

Attempts to explain this away didn't work for me. The guard was too powerful, the stone too heavy, the disciples too timid. I realized it was true. Jesus had successfully predicted his own Resurrection. If I could trust him in areas like this where I could test him, I had grounds for trusting him in areas where I couldn't test him, such as eternal life and how to obtain it. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die." (John 11:25)

Comforting? True?

Is it comforting to me that I'll see Meg again and spend eternity with God? Absolutely. But it's only comforting because I believe the evidence indicates it's also true. If it weren't true, it wouldn't be comforting.

I realize this is a controversial subject, and you may not agree. If you've not examined the Resurrection evidences, may Meg and I gently and politely encourage you to take a look? Lots of good books and websites present them. Our own site – which Meg designed and built – also presents them. RustyWright.com

We know our Redeemer lives. We hope you can as well.

And…I love you, Sweetheart.

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You can visit Lasting Memories for more on this remarkable woman, including a lovely 5½ - minute memorial presentation of Meg's life (images and music; put together by several family members).

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Liberties

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

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

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

Human Evil; Divine Judgment

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

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

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

Salvation, Hope, Promise

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

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

Faith; Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul spends much of Ephesians telling us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. In Ephesians 4, he calls us to unity and holiness, and to the understanding that even though we are all different and have different purposes, we are all part of one body under Christ. Ephesians 5 continues the theme of holiness and living as children of light. In the last verses of Ephesians 5 (Ephesians 5:22-33) and the first verses of Ephesians 6, (Ephesians 6:1-9) Paul gives us advice for our family relationships, and for our work relationships. He also tells us what our attitude towards our jobs should be, including if we are the employer and not just the employee. But Paul knows that it is not as easy as all that! Paul understands very clearly that we are in a constant spiritual battle. Since creation, God has provided us with a choice, to choose Him or the world, and He has been very gentlemanly about letting us make that choice.(Revelation 3:20) Satan, on the other hand, is working very hard at winning us over to his side, and he will use any means available. (II Corinthians 11:14, I Peter 5:8) We need to realize that our struggles on this earth are not with things, or circumstances or with each other. They are all part of a battle in the spiritual realm. (Ephesians 6:12)

The good news is that we don’t have to fight this battle alone. Hallelujah! We can rely on the strength of God’s power and His armour. (Ephesians 6:10-18) Just as a Roman soldier was clothed in a suit of armour, we can be clothed with God’s spiritual armour. If we put on the full armour of God we will be able to stand against our enemy’s schemes and attacks, and to be left standing when all is said and done. What does God’s armour consist of?

1. The Belt of Truth: A Roman soldier used a belt to hold his garments together and to attach his armour. It made it easier for him to be able to move without tripping over his tunic. Wearing the belt of truth represents not only knowing and believing God’s truth, but also living a truthful life, thus allowing us easier movement without tripping over our words. Knowing and practicing the truth will give us protection against the father of lies. (John 8:44)

2. The Breastplate of Righteousness: We were declared righteous when we accepted Christ’s sacrifice as the substitution for our sins, (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:10) but again, Paul is referring here to the practical, daily actions of believers. We need to act in a way that no one can make an accusation against us, a way that protects our hearts.

3. Preparation That Comes From the Good News of Peace: You can be ready for whatever comes your way if you place your trust in the all-powerful God of peace. The Greek word translated as preparation here indicates to be on a firm footing. It refers to the stability that you get from the gospel of peace that allows you to stand steadfast in the face of battle.

4. The Shield of Faith: Roman soldiers had large shields that would interlock together so that they could advance with a wall of protection before them. They were coated in leather that was soaked in water so that flaming arrows would be extinguished. Satan is certainly attacking us with fiery arrows, and it is our faith that will protect us from them. Since we cannot know when or how these fiery arrows will come, constant faith is absolutely essential.

5. The Helmet of Salvation: The helmet of salvation is a gift from God that protects our heads and our minds. God does not require our faith to be blind. We are encouraged to question and to understand. We need to protect our minds from Satan’s schemes, by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:18)

6. The Sword of the Spirit: The sword used by Roman soldiers was double-edged so that it could cut in both directions and sharp enough to pierce armour. But the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, and able to judge the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) It is by being very familiar with the Word of God that we will be able to discern what is right and defend ourselves from Satan’s attacks. Satan also knows the Word of God, and he uses it to his advantage–not fully and out of context. (Matthew 4:5-7) If we are to defend ourselves as Jesus did, we must know the Word of God as Jesus did.

Add to all of these prayer for all the saints. If we are praying for each other, we will be alert to the needs and struggles of our fellow warriors. This is not a battle that we can fight ourselves. Remember that Paul’s words here come at the end of a passage about unity, and being one body. Working together as one body, with God’s strength, we can win the battle in the spiritual realm.

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

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

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

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I like Doctor Luke. He was not only educated, but rather academic in personality. I can relate to that. He was not an eyewitness to the birth or ministry of Jesus, but he wanted to understand and report his findings to others, so he did a research project. That’s what I do here, on a smaller scale, every week. Critics may say that because Luke didn’t know Jesus, his report is not reliable. However, he spoke with the people who did know Him after all of the events of Jesus’ life on Earth took place, so he had a different perspective on the whole matter. And he was evidently meticulous and methodical in his work. He wanted to pass on to Theophilus, and to anyone else who would read his document, a detailed and chronologically organized report, so that he and they may know that the things they had been taught were true. (Luke 1:1-4)

This chronology begins, not with Jesus, but with Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), the couple who would become the parents of John the Baptizer.

One day, Zechariah, a priest, was chosen by lot to burn incense in the holy place inside the temple. This was not a place with public access. Only priests who were chosen, and when they were chosen, could enter. Because of the number of priests and the schedule that was followed for serving in the temple, it was unlikely that a priest would have this privilege more than once in a lifetime. Theoretically, if it is a lottery, anyone has the chance to win, but if you believe that God is in control of the universe, you know that He makes the choice. (Proverbs 16:33) This day He chose Zechariah because He had a message for him. God sent His angel Gabriel to give him the news that Elizabeth would have a son. Zechariah had trouble believing this because physically they were well past the point of childbearing. Zechariah should have known better because, after all, he would have been well acquainted with how God had provided a child for Sarah, (Genesis 11:30, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21, Genesis 21:2) Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) Rachel (Genesis 29:31, Genesis 30:22) Manoah’s wife--the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2-3) and Hannah--the mother of Samuel. (I Samuel 1:2, I Samuel 1:20) Don’t be too hard on Zechariah though. Can you imagine how his mind must have been swimming with all that had happened that day? Nevertheless, Gabriel took away Zechariah’s ability to speak. This served not only as a punishment for his lack of faith, but also as the sign he had asked for in Luke 1:18. Surely it would remind him that God was all-powerful.

Zechariah, like Elizabeth, would have felt the disgrace of childlessness. It would have been a well-known fact to the people around him. So when he didn’t come out of the temple in a reasonable amount of time, there was quite possibly speculation that God had struck him down for his sin. Perhaps this is why Luke takes pains to assure us that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God. (Luke 1:6) But the people weren’t aware of all that at the time. They only knew that Zechariah was a long time coming back. What were they to do? Having permission to enter the inner sanctum of the temple was not a common thing. They couldn’t just go in and check on him. I can just imagine what the chatter was like after they finished their prayers and they were still waiting. When he did emerge, though, and couldn’t speak, the people started to realize that something pretty spectacular must have happened. I wonder how much they understood from the signs that Zechariah gave them.

I wonder too, if Elizabeth had trouble figuring it all out after Zechariah came home. Luke doesn’t tell us about their interaction, but we do know that Zechariah couldn’t speak until eight days after the baby was born (Luke 1:59-64), and we know that it was “after some time” (Luke 1:24) that Elizabeth became pregnant. Was that enough time for the people to have moved past this unusual episode on to something else? Was it enough time for Zechariah and Elizabeth to begin to doubt again? We don’t know for sure. Once Elizabeth did conceive, she kept herself in seclusion for five months. I know women today who have had trouble conceiving, and even if they haven’t, they often wait three months before sharing the news. Perhaps, Elizabeth wanted to keep it quiet until she was sure. Perhaps she just wanted to be careful. We don’t have all the details, but of this we can be certain: God had not forgotten His promises to the people of Israel (Malachi 3:1, Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:13-16), and He had the power to fulfill them. He still does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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