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Do you read the tabloid headlines while you’re standing in the check-out line? They entice us to buy their publications by telling us about all the ways in which celebrities have messed up. Sometimes it’s as minor a thing as going out in public without make-up, but that’s generally only on a slow news day. More often it’s about more foolish things that they have done, or perhaps even a crime that they’ve committed. Many of us have probably done similar things; they just don’t make the papers. How can we keep from stumbling and instead do the right thing?

In Jude’s letter to Christians, Jude recalls how Enoch prophesied judgement against the ungodly. (Jude 1:14-16) Then, Jude 1:17 starts with a “but”, indicating an opposite alternative, and goes on to tell us (Jude 1:17-23) that God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, is the one who is able to keep us from stumbling. Jude’s final blessing (Jude 1:24-25) attributes all the glory, majesty, power and authority to God and indicates that He is the one who will enable us to stand and rejoice, and to be an acceptable offering to Him. In Old Testament times, only animals that were without blemish were an acceptable sacrifice. In order for us to be an acceptable gift to God, we, too, must be without blemish.

So what do we need to do to have this privilege, this good standing? First, we need to realize that it is a gift from God—He is the one who is able to make it happen (Jude 1:24); so we need to put our trust in Him. Second, we need to do our part, which is to stay strong in our faith. Jude says to recall what the apostles said. (Jude 1:17) At the time of Jude, what the apostles said, and the letters they had written were as close as they had to a New Testament. Now, of course, we have the benefit of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, which includes the words of the apostles, all neatly bound in one book or on our computer screen. It is so much more accessible to us than it has been to any generation before. It is the Word of God; one of the best things we can do is to read it and study it. Third, we need to pray. Jude says to pray in the Holy Spirit. It is because of the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us that we can come to God in prayer. Fourth, we need to be merciful to those who are seeking the truth, but resist the evil of those who reject God and are controlled by their own selfish desires.

By staying in close communication with God, by reading His Word, and trusting Him, we will be able to avoid stumbling. We will be able to defend our faith and help others. (Jude 1:17-23) In the end, because of God’s mercy, we will be able to stand before Him, an acceptable offering, rejoicing in His presence. May He alone be praised. (Jude 1:24-25)

When I finished my post on Friday, (May 6, 2011) I had intended to share it with the Chretien family on their Facebook page (Missing – Al and Rita Chretien) with the hope that it might bring them some comfort. They had been waiting a long time without answers, and even the notes of encouragement were becoming few and far between. But when I went to their page, I saw that Rita had been found! Alive! What joy I felt, I do not have adequate words to express.

Today’s post is in honour of Rita Chretien, her strength and her faith. My regular readers will know that I’ve been following the story of Al and Rita Chretien since they failed to return home as scheduled from a business trip to Las Vegas. From the evening of the day that they left their home in British Columbia, Canada, March 19, 2011, until the afternoon of May 6, 2011, Rita was stranded on a remote logging road in Northeastern Nevada. For the first three days, until he left on foot to get help, her husband Albert was there with her. Forty-nine days stranded in the wilderness, 46 without any human interaction. There is no cell phone service for miles, and no one used the road. There was no access to food, save what little bit of snack food they had in the van, and little access to water.

Fortunately, Rita was in good health when she started this stationary odyssey. But what would you do, what would you think, how would you feel if you were in this situation? I know that as I prayed for them, not knowing where they were or if they were still alive, I pleaded with God, “How long oh Lord, how long?” as the psalmist David did in Psalm 13 (February, 11, 2011). While I was praying from Psalm 13, Rita was evidently drawing strength from Psalm 86. She could have prayed David’s very words, except that the arrogant men of Psalm 86:14 could have been replaced by the harsh wilderness and the seemingly impossible situation that she was in.

I expect that when she reached Psalm 86:8, Rita too praised God and worshiped Him for His power and majesty. She would have seen evidence of it all around her, and the very fact that she was still alive several weeks into this ordeal was proof of the power and love of God. Rita certainly depended on the promises of God, which according to Ann Thomas, author of the blog, the writing heart, “are realized by those who choose to believe”. The psalms are full of David’s words pleading for help, for protection from his enemies, for deliverance, but they end with David giving praise to God. David always comes back to trusting in God because of who God is, and because he knows that God will be faithful.

Many may ask why, if Rita was such a devoted child of God, why would God allow this to happen to her. I don’t have all the answers, because God is God, and I am not. However, we might gain some clues from two men who endured great suffering in the Bible. Job was a great man of God, who lost everything he owned, including his children and his health, because Satan wanted to prove that Job’s faith was based on his wealth and privilege. God allowed Satan to take everything but his life from him. (Job 2:6) Job had questions, you can be sure, and he in no way pretended that he was happy with his situation, but he never stopped trusting in God. (Job 13:15) The Apostle Paul had plenty of trials of his own (II Corinthians 11:24-27), but from prison he wrote to the people of Philippi that his situation had actually turned out to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12) More and more people were finding out about the saving love of God because of Paul, and I believe the same will be said of Rita.

At the time of this posting, Al Chretien is still missing. Please continue to pray for him and for the people who are searching for him. One more lesson we can learn is to never give up. (Philippians 3:12-14) As Rita’s son Raymond Chretien said at a press conference from his mother’s hospital, “Never give up. Never lose your faith. Miracles happen. Never underestimate that.”
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Update:
On September 29, 2012, Albert Chretien's body was found by elk hunters, 11 kilometres from where the van had been stranded. He had been going in the right direction to find help, but the terrain was steep and wooded, and the snow was up to ten feet deep at the time. His body was found intact with identification still in his pocket.

Have you ever noticed that things don’t always go according to plan? Well, that may be true for our plans anyway. We all suffer or go through trials for one reason or another. It is the nature of our humanity. I Peter 1:7 tells us that there is value in our suffering, more than we could probably imagine. Suffering produces endurance, endurance, character and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

Where is your focus? Do you dwell on the problems of the past, lament your current struggles or look with hope to the future. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul encourages us to press on towards our goal, the prize, which is the heavenly calling of God. Our time of struggle is temporary in light of eternity. The living hope in I Peter 1:3 does not represent wishful thinking but a confident expectation of future blessings. I Peter 1:3-9 outlines them for us.

First of all, we have been redeemed because of Christ’s death on the cross, but we have assurance of everlasting life because of Christ’s resurrection. Because He was raised to life, we know that we can be too. Secondly, we have an inheritance reserved for us, that is protected by God, and we are protected for it; we cannot lose it. Thirdly, we will be purified like gold through our suffering. When gold is put into the fire the impurities are burned away, and the gold can be reshaped in a purer state. All of these blessings are because of God’s great mercy; we have done nothing to deserve them. However, we are called upon to have faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for, what we have the confidence to expect, even though we cannot see it. (Hebrews 11:1) Jesus said that those who believed He was raised from the dead without seeing Him would be blessed. (John 20:29) You will be praised and honoured for your faith when Jesus comes again. (I Peter 1:7)

Even though you can’t see Jesus in the flesh, you can know Him, and knowing Him will bring you indescribable joy, no matter how bad the circumstances seem to be that you are in right now. If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, just speak to Him—you don’t have to talk out loud; He knows your thoughts—and ask Him to make Himself real to you. Tell Him that you want to know if He really exists, and if He really wants to have a relationship with you. Then be open for the answer.

God loves for His people to celebrate. Now, I know there are people who think that God is a big ogre in the sky getting ready to push the “Smite” button the minute we do something we shouldn’t, but that is simply not the case. Don’t get me wrong; God hates sin, but He loves us. He wants us to be filled with joy, and to celebrate together. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29, the people were commanded to take a tenth of their produce each year and use it to have a big party, to share it and be blessed by God in all the work that they did.

In Nehemiah 8:1-10 the people of Israel had recently returned to their own land after seventy years of exile in Babylon. They had rebuilt the temple, and just days before the one described here they had finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. On this day they gathered to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, a day of sabbath rest and holy assembly. In those days, the people didn’t have their own copies of the Word of God at home; they only had access to it at the temple. So on this day of holy assembly, the people asked Ezra to bring out the law of Moses, their Bible, to read to them. The people who were gathered there had come from all the cities of Israel, and they included men, women and children who were old enough to understand. They stood for possibly six hours listening to the priests read and explain the words of God to them, and they were eager to hear it. If you’ve gone to church on a Sunday morning, you’ve probably noticed people sitting in padded seats becoming restless if the service goes one minute longer than expected. That was not the attitude of the Israelites on this occasion. They had been living under the rule of the Babylonians in a foreign land for seventy years, and now they were back home. They wanted to know the law that God had handed down to Moses and their ancestors.

The reading of the Word of God at this assembly was the beginning of a spiritual revival for the Israelites. They took the message that they were hearing so seriously that they began to weep. (Nehemiah 8:9) But Nehemiah reminded them that this was the Feast of Trumpets, a day for celebration. He told them to go and eat choice food, drink sweet drinks and to share with anyone who had nothing. No one was to be left out of this celebration. No one was to grieve. This was a day to focus on God, and to be filled with joy.

What do you really believe about God? How does your belief affect your life? Do you believe that God is truly good? That He has a plan for your life? A purpose for your pain? I know that I have trouble with that when I am in the midst of the pain, but I propose that it is essential to finding joy, and perhaps to surviving the tragedies in our lives.

The Psalmist David was a good example of someone whose faith did not change with his circumstances. Psalm 16:11 is the last verse of Psalm 16, and concludes this prophetic psalm with hope and joy. Throughout it David acknowledges that God is his only source of well-being, the only One he can fully trust. He vows to not give in to the ways of the people around him who are not trusting in the Lord, but will make his decisions based on God's faithfulness and what pleases Him. He knows that God will provide the stability and prosperity he needs, and he will give praises to God for his guidance. Interestingly in Psalm 16:7 David explains that this guidance from God comes through his own reflection and learning. David has the assurance that His trust in the Lord will protect him, will keep him happy and safe. This is his reason for rejoicing. It certainly wasn’t because the circumstances he was in were easy or safe. He was very likely running for his life at this point. Some scholars believe that this type of psalm, a mikhtam, was used in the context of prayer motivated by danger. Certainly David had his fair share of trials in life, enough that we can be sure that his rejoicing was based on his trust in God and not on his circumstances. Psalm 16:10 shows us that David knew that even death could not separate him from God. (Romans 8:38-39) This brings us to the conclusion in Psalm 16:11 that God would for David, as He will for us, lead us in the path of life, so that we too can experience joy in His presence.

We can have the same assurance that David had, and that the Lord Jesus had. There is a parallel between what David says in this psalm and the experience of Christ in His death and resurrection. (Acts 2:31-33) Jesus was the first to travel the path from death to life, but He has promised every believer that because He lives, we too will live. (John 14:19)

So how does this affect your life? Jan Winebrenner, author of “Life in the Midst of Mess” discusses our options: “Will we seek God and take our refuge in Him when our path is littered with broken dreams? Or will we turn elsewhere? We have only these two options when catastrophe strikes. If we choose God, then catastrophe becomes for us a special grace-gift, ushering us into the place where we can experience God in ways we never before imagined. We find ourselves poised on the brink of life’s greatest discovery: that God is the ultimate presence in the universe, and that knowing Him, interacting with Him, by faith, is more satisfying, more exhilarating than anything the human heart ever hoped for or imagined.” Like David we can experience the sheer delight that God provides--always, despite our circumstances.

Paul starts this section of the chapter (Philippians 4:10-14) with a familiar theme: joy! He tells the Philippians that he has great joy in the Lord because they have again showed their concern for him. He is thankful for what they have done to provide for his needs, but his joy does not come from their provision. He is grateful for their gift, but he wants to be clear that he is not asking for more. He has learned to be content in any circumstance, whether he has little and is hungry or he has food in abundance.

The Greek word that is translated as ‘learned’ has the connotation of a long, hard lesson. It wasn’t just a matter of hearing someone say that Christ’s grace is sufficient, (II Corinthians 12:9) as many of us have. I have often heard that verse used as a platitude when someone is facing a trial, but Paul learned this from experience. You may remember from the post on April 20, 2011 that Paul had had more than his fair share of trials, and yet he had learned the secret of contentment. We all should be so fortunate. Sometimes I think that we don’t appreciate the suffering that we have to endure. I know I often wish that things were easier, but perhaps we (I) should look at what we can gain from our suffering rather than work so hard to avoid it. Job learned that lesson in the Old Testament. He had lost everything, even his wife’s support, but Job continued to bless the Lord despite his circumstances. (Job 1:21) Likewise, Paul rejoiced despite his circumstances because he knew that he was in the will of God. Whatever came his way, he knew that he would be able to get through it because God was on his side.

Philippians 4:13 is another verse that is used frequently to encourage people. It is usually quoted by itself without the verses around it for context. Yes, it’s true that with Christ’s strength we can do anything, but the context tells us that this is Paul’s secret of contentment. As long as he is in the will of God, God will provide the strength that he needs to face any situation. Nevertheless, the Philippians were right to support him in whatever way they could. Sometimes the way God provides His strength is through his people, by allowing us to be His hands and feet. It is not that God could not do it without us, but He is allowing us to have a part in the blessing of helping others. We, too, could be the reason for another’s joy.

On Friday (April 22, 2011) we looked at the simple solution to living a stress-free life. I say simple because there are not many steps to follow, and none of them are complicated to understand, but I, as much as anyone else, know that it is not easy. It is a challenge for humans to stop focusing on themselves and start focusing on God. That is in fact what we need to do.

Philippians 4:8-9 gives us further direction on how to do it. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of the power of positive thinking. Psychologists and business experts alike promote the concept for personal and economic success, but the idea isn’t new. Paul suggested it thousands of years ago. It is a well established fact that if you dwell on negative things—your problems, weaknesses or shortcomings—things will only go from bad to worse. I’ve proved it myself. When I was a student, I used to have terrible exam anxiety; I always feared that I wouldn’t do well enough, that I wasn’t good enough. Finally I tried positive thinking: I can do this. I know the material. I am prepared. I can’t say that I ever became fond of doing exams, but I can say that I did better when I went in with a positive attitude.

Paul’s advice is to think about the positive--the good, noble, pure and lovely. It is very similar to his advice in Philippians 4:6-7. There he said that when you feel anxious, you should change direction by praying and thanking God. Now he expands on that, and says when you find yourself thinking negatively, you should stop yourself and start thinking about the excellent and praiseworthy things. You can control your thoughts. You first need to recognize when they need changing and then make a conscious effort to do so. Think about Jesus and all that He has done for you. Think about the wonders of creation that tell of the power of God. Read the book of Philippians. Realize from Philippians 1:6 that God is in the process of perfecting us. He has a purpose for us, and our trials have a purpose. (Philippians 1:12) Paul in all his distresses was able to keep his eye on the goal, and he encourages us to do the same. (Philippians 3:13-14) Above all, remember the hope of eternity (Philippians 3:20-21), and that our struggles here are temporary.

Paul again accompanies his instructions with a promise. If we follow his advice and example, change our outlook and attitude, and then let our actions match our thoughts, the God of peace will be with us.

Stress. There are so many circumstances in life to cause us worry or anxiety, from everyday annoyances, like getting the kids to school on time or not burning dinner, to huge tragedies. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan come to mind. So does the Chretien family. (Missing – Al and Rita Chretien) Is there really a way to be stress-free? The Apostle Paul tells us how.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul echoes Jesus' words (Matthew 6:25-34) when he tells us not to be anxious about anything. Nothing. But then he tells us what to do instead: In every situation, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. One simple sentence is the cure to all our anxiety; let’s look at it closely.

(a) In every situation. Every situation. That means the small, everyday annoyances as well as the devastating tragedies; God cares about every single detail of your life. (Luke 12:6-7) There is nothing too big or too small to bring to God, for He desires that we trust Him and rely on Him for everything. Nothing will catch Him by surprise, and He invites us to come to him boldly with any request we have. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

(b) Through prayer and petition. Some versions translate this as “by prayer and supplication”. What are the differences between these three terms? I believe that prayer is a more general term and encompasses all of our conversations with God. As followers of Jesus, we should have an attitude of prayer, or some would say live in an atmosphere of prayer, such that we feel God’s presence with us constantly and we are always in communion with Him. When we petition or supplicate, we are asking more earnestly for our needs to be met. Supplication gives more of a sense of pleading, but both terms include the idea of humility. When we are told not to be anxious, it is not that God expects us to stop caring about the situations in our lives. What He wants is for us to bring our cares to Him, and especially to lay at His feet the responsibility of all those things that are out of our control.

(c) With thanksgiving. I think when we have a lot going on that concerns us, we sometimes forget to be thankful. We focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. God has given us so many blessings, and many of them we take for granted. In I Timothy 6:8, Paul said that he would be content just to have food and shelter. I’m sure that if you are reading this on a computer, you have so much more than that. We need to take time to thank God for our blessings, but we also need to thank Him for all the things we see as hardship as well. Ann Voskamp, author of one thousand gifts, has said, “If I can take everything in my life and see it as grace, a good gift from God’s hand, and give thanks for it, there is joy in this. That joy really is a function of gratitude. And gratitude is a function of perspective. Can I see the things to be grateful for? If I can see the things to be grateful for, I can find joy.”

So, can we be stress-free? Yes. In fact we are commanded to be stress-free, but it is a command with a promise. If we will take all of our cares to God, and if we will be thankful, we will have peace that is beyond our comprehension, peace that comes from knowing that God loves us and has all things in His control. A peace unlike any earthly peace. (John 14:27) This peace will protect our hearts and minds the same way that a sentinel stands on guard to protect the garrison—a way that will keep us free from anxiety.

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This year, where I live in Canada, we have been longing for Spring, but it is seems so slow in arriving. Everyone around me is tired of the cold, the snow and the grey days. We long for sunshine and warm temperatures. It is interesting how the weather and other circumstances in our life can affect our moods. That wasn’t the case for the Apostle Paul; if anyone had reason to be discouraged, he did. Among other things he was beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. (II Corinthians 11:24-33) He endured hardship after hardship; yet he continued to rejoice, and to exhort others to rejoice also.

Philippians 4:4 is not the first time in this letter that Paul encourages the people of Philippi, and by extension us, to rejoice. (Philippians 3:1) The entire emphasis of this letter is joy. For Paul, joy was not the result of circumstances, but found in his relationship with the Lord. Paul was also able to see the blessings that surrounded him. Not only had he been brought through all the trials mentioned above, but in Philippians 4:3 he recalled the names of his fellow workers and that their names were written in the book of life. He focused on the great rewards of their service, not on the hardships they would encounter along the way. Although he knew first-hand what kind of hardships there could be, and that they would encounter more of them, he continued to remind the Philippians to rejoice. It was not a natural reaction to circumstances, but a discipline, an intentional act of devotion to God. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a sign of true faith. If we really believe that we have given control of our lives over to a sovereign God, and we believe that He only wants what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Luke 11:9-13), that His grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9) and that there is a purpose for our trials (James 1:2-4), we will be able to have joy even in the most trying of circumstances.

I have heard people say on numerous occasions that the best way to cheer up your spirit is to read the book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, every day for a month. So I challenge you, for the month of May, in an attempt to bring the encouragement for which you would usually depend on Spring, to read Philippians once a day. Sign up to “attend” our Facebook event for a daily, gentle reminder. In the next several posts, to prepare for our month of rejoicing, I will focus on some of the other memos from God found in Philippians 4.