But God

Compassion always matters: Principles of Healing by Elaine Elliott, Antigua, Guatemala

But God will judge the world May 19, 2022

1 Peter 2:11-25 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

A sweet, unexpected thing happened. I walked outside to get in my car and a stranger walking by spoke to me, saying, “I always like walking by your house because of your heart-shaped tree stump. It encourages me.” And her dog pulled her away.

The stump left from our beloved dead tree is heart-shaped? I hadn’t noticed.

My neighbor’s comment healed some of my sadness at having to cut down our aged beloved tree. Her “honorable behavior” blessed me. I don’t know exactly where she lives. I’m watching for her so I can meet her properly and thank her.

When I walked out this morning to take a photo of the stump, I noticed a thistle growing beside it. Thanks to all the rain we’ve had, weeds are flourishing. I decided the thistle illustrates the heart-weeding I need to do of the “worldly desires that wage war against our souls.” So for the moment, I left it in the ground, and in the photo, to remind me to do both kinds of weeding.

Thistle vs. heart-stump. “Worldly desires” vs. “honorable behavior” flowing from hearts filled with God’s love. Peter offers twelve indicators of honorable living. Look up the passage and count them!

I want to focus today on the last one, “you have turned to our Shepherd for healing of your wounds and for spiritual protection,” in verses 24 and 25. I’ll do this by sharing with you ten thoughtfully penned Principles of Healing recently sent to me by my sister-in-law Elaine Elliott. Check out Elaine’s Art and Scripture posts. You’ll love the way she illustrates Scripture with inspiring art from a wide variety of artists.

Elaine’s explanation is longer than what I usually post, but so worth your consideration. I’ve bolded the principles to help you return to them when you need them. I’ll post five today and five next time.

As one of Karis’ aunts, I watched her life (usually from afar) with wonder. The fact that she survived beyond her first month made her a miracle baby. The sacrificial care Debbie gave to her repeatedly prolonged her life. When the family moved to Brazil as Karis seemed completely healed and well, this marked another miracle.  When her health declined and eventually led to her transplants, we followed the ups and downs with prayers for her. When in a medically induced coma after the first transplant failed, I assumed this was the end of the story so was astonished when she traveled to Brazil before transplant #2.  Her example of patience with pain and determination to enjoy life despite her limits served as an inspiration.

For me, Karis’ life, and the book Karis: All I See Is Grace remains an inspiring story of healing despite the messy medical procedures, her suffering, and her ultimate death.  My own journey to understand healing explains why.

The following ten principles have emerged for me over the years. 

Principle 1: Accept and use wisely the advances in medical science

During my freshman year of college, I heard for the first time about the baptism of the Spirit as a post-new-birth experience which led to increased gifting and power.  I was immediately on-board and immersed myself in this exciting new way of being a Christian.  Of all the gifts, healing struck me as the most glamorous, and I read books by contemporary healers hoping to receive this gift.

My immediate thought as a healthy person was to pray that my eyes would heal, thereby removing the need for contact lenses or glasses.  When this did not come about after about three months of unnecessarily poor eyesight (while in college squinting at the blackboard!), it suddenly struck me that I was ignoring the obvious:  if God gave mankind wisdom to come up with something as ingenious as contact lenses, then I should accept that healing could come through medicine. 

This became an important principle for my understanding of how God works, teaching me we must simultaneously pray and trust God as we collaborate with medicine and doctors. We should not be like King Asa of whom it says he “developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (II Chronicles 16:12) Nor do we want to be like the woman Jesus healed who “had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” (Mark 5:26)

God has used scientific advances to transform treatment of leprosy, such a scourge throughout the Bible. Identified as caused by bacteria in 1873, the first disease so recognized, the accidental discovery of antibiotics in 1928 led to an effective drug in the 1940s and became multi-drug therapy by the 1980s. The disease has nearly been eliminated. I think of how important it was for Jesus to heal lepers with no cure available then or for nearly 20 more centuries. For new cases today healthcare workers diagnose the disease and prescribe some pills. This all can be celebrated as a gift from a wise God who shares his wisdom with curious people.

Using the wisdom regarding preventative illness correlates well with some of the sanitation, dietary, and admonitions to rest in the OT law.  We do well to eat well, exercise, rest, and reduce our stress—all things consonant with living in the Spirit.

Principle 2: Accept the possibility of death as God’s way of healing

I learned another principle when in my second year of college, we went to pray for a girl about eighteen years old whose family went to our church. The girl was so developmentally disabled she was confined to a crib, which I found horrifying. I prayed diligently for her healing. One afternoon I was so convinced she had been healed that it shocked me completely when my grandmother told me she had just died.

After the shock subsided, I suddenly realized, “She is completely healed in heaven!”  Ever since, I have held the strong belief that God, who has the power of life and death, knows when it is best for someone ill to be with him, relieved of their suffering. When things are uncertain, we know death can be an acceptable outcome.  As Paul says, “when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54,55) We may grieve, but we have hope.

Principle 3: Prayer close by and from a distance both matter

Often those praying for healing lay hands on someone or anoint with oil or remain present in prayer. But prayers from far away matter too. As the Roman officer who trusted Christ’s authority said, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) Our family experienced a profound healing of my sister Bev who had convulsions at the age of 18 while in Mexico. She went into a coma and the doctors predicted either death or brain damage. I learned about her situation while far away in Tucson but prayed for her as did many friends far and wide. She opened her eyes, but at first seemed like a small child. By the time I saw her several months later at Christmas time, she had partially recovered—perhaps to grade school level—but by the following fall went to the university with no ill effects and no one aware of her severe illness unless she told them. Though far away, I felt very present to her through prayer as did many others. It convinced me my prayers mattered.

Principle 4: We can have faith for others even when they lack faith

Another principle is that while it may be helpful for the sick person to have faith for themselves, it also works for us to have faith for others. It is unnecessary to guilt anyone about their illness or to demand they exercise faith. The disciples praying were the ones exhorted that their faith had been inadequate when they failed to heal the epileptic child. (Matthew 17:19,20) 

Someone I knew who struggled with alcoholism did not have much faith for change.  We who cared provided the faith that this challenge could be overcome and rejoiced when that happened.

Principle 5:  Exercise compassion rather than ascribing sin or judgment as the cause of illness.

We do not have a right to explain illness as God’s judgment for sin. When the disciples saw a blind man, they asked “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2,3) God’s power then proceeded to heal him.

Even if someone contributed to their own illness in some way, including sin, Jesus is present to heal, not to condemn. Jesus wasted no time castigating the paralyzed man brought by friends on a mat but pronounced forgiveness and told him to stand. We too can receive forgiveness and forgive others as we have been forgiven, a critical part of inner healing which leads to physical changes.

I remember a woman telling me “Depression is just sin.” But traumatic events that create depression often are not the fault of the one suffering. Seeing trauma and depression healed, I am convinced that loving presence helps transform painful experiences into something full of wisdom. Compassion always matters.

Hold on a little more

But Jesus is the cornerstone of his house

1 Peter 2:4-10 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. … And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. … You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

Genesis 18:18-19 All the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. (See Galatians 3:8-9, Acts 3:25.)

Genesis 22:18 [After saving Abraham’s son by supplying a substitute sacrifice, God said] Through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?

It’s fun to feel loyalty to a particular country or tradition. Our family will probably always root for Brazil in the World Cup. We’ve been there; we have the t-shirts. The Brazilian flag evokes for us layers of experience from living in Brazil for twenty years. Our children grew up there. Brazil is part of our hearts.

But we’ll get in trouble if we place Brazil in the center of our affections. That sacred space belongs only to God. And our heavenly Father has no favorites (not even Brazilians!). He cares equally for each of his children, as Peter already reminded us (1:17).

Now, in just a few words, Peter references the whole history of God with the Jewish people, descendants of Abraham whom he called his special possession (the Old Testament cites this name at least fifteen times), called for a special purpose: to bless all the nations of the world.

But Peter turns that history on its head by saying believers in Jesus are now God’s special possession, chosen with the same purpose as Abraham and his descendants: to bless the nations. Because God loves the world (John 3:16), Jesus became the once-for-all-time sacrifice for all people. Through Jesus, God revealed his goodness and his love, not for any one type of people but for everyone.

And Peter tells us Jesus is the cornerstone of a new temple, not the one in Jerusalem. And believers in Jesus are living stones, together being built into the place where God dwells by his Spirit. A cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones are set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

So, when people claim to be believers in Jesus yet elevate themselves over others, they are taking God’s name in vain. They have lost their connection to the cornerstone.

We must not dishonor the name and goodness of Christ by confusing earthly loyalties with the Gospel. Or think Jesus is all about us. He calls us to bless those different from us. And show them God’s goodness.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb … (Revelation 7:9).

Take a minute to savor the text of this song, as with me you examine your own heart, and pray today for the victims’ families in Buffalo, the ongoing tragedy of Ukraine, and people in your own city suffering violence of all kinds–some of it perpetrated, unconscionably, in the name of Jesus.

A call to holy living

But God’s word remains forever

1 Peter 1:13-2:3 So think clearly and exercise self-control … For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy” [Leviticus 19:2]. Remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. … Show sincere love to each other. … “The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever[Isaiah 40:8].  And that word is the Good News that was preached to you. So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

In the grocery store Tuesday with Caleb and Talita, I felt embarrassed when suddenly they broke away from me, chasing each other around the legs and grocery carts of other shoppers, yelling at the top of their lungs.

Why did I feel embarrassed? Because they represented me. Their behavior resulted in everyone nearby looking at me askance. They caused discomfort and could have caused harm to themselves and others. And they hindered my objective of getting out quickly so we would have more time to play, since we lost our place in line.

Thanks to Covid, Caleb and Talita have hardly ever been in grocery stores, I realized. They need to be taught proper behavior in that setting. I hadn’t explained to them what was appropriate. Once I did, they were contrite (at least, Caleb was).

Best of 26: a recent attempt to get all three of our cherubs sitting still, looking at the camera and smiling all at the same time!

We’re our Father’s “kids.” What we do and what comes out of our mouths reflects positively or badly on him just as surely as my beloved grandchildren’s behavior and speech impacted others at the store in their view of me. Fortunately, God does tell us what he expects of us.

True, holiness in speech and behavior—according to Peter, actions and words which show and promote love—is out of vogue in our society among adults who should know better. Damaging and deceitful actions and words are flung about publicly (and, I suspect, privately) as if adults believe they bear no responsibility for the harm they cause.

Peter says, NOOOO!!!! No more of this!! Don’t shame the name of God, claiming him as your Lord, yet “slipping back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (verse 14).

God has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him (verse 17) and love each other deeply, from the heart (verse 22).

Our Father paid an enormous price to save us from empty living: “And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (verse 19). When we hurt each other, we betray his sacrifice.

So how can we learn to speak and behave differently? Moses (1500 BC), Isaiah (700 BC), and Peter all remind us of the eternal, indestructible Word God has given to teach and guide us. Peter calls it spiritual milk, whose nourishment we babies need in order to thrive. “Cry out for it,” he tells us.

Shutterstock: LittleDogKorat

Lord, thank you that your word doesn’t pull any punches. Show me today my need to repent and be cleansed, so I can regard even my “enemies” with your kind of love. Make me hungry as a baby for your life-giving word, to strengthen me for holy, counter-cultural living and speaking that honors rather than shames you, and makes your heart happy.

Wonderful joy ahead?

But God gives us joy

1 Peter 1:6-12 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. … You love Jesus even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. … This Good News is so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus … Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

Trials are temporary. Joy is forever.

That’s great, Peter. But the trials I’m going through feel like forever. It would be easier (though NOT easy) to listen to this if you were someone who knows about trauma and doesn’t want to just stick bandaids over my wounds with some platitude of “one day by and by …” I’m in pain NOW.

Well, actually, Peter did know a bit about suffering. He wrote his letters from Rome, where Christians were being treated very badly because allegiance to Christ seemed antithetical to loyalty to Caesar. In fact, within a couple years of penning these words, both Peter and Paul were not just abused but killed because they refused to renounce their faith, Peter by crucifixion (upside-down, according to tradition), and Paul by beheading.

Well, OK, I’ll stick with you a little longer. But I don’t get the joy thing. At all. And trust? Don’t you know that’s the first thing to go for victims of abuse and trauma? If trust is what it takes, I’m outta here. I’ve been betrayed more times than you can imagine. I don’t trust anyone.

Which is worse, do you think, to be the victim of betrayal, or to realize you yourself have betrayed—dramatically, three times!—the person who means the most to you in the whole world? Just sayin’ … Have YOU ever betrayed anyone? Someone you actually love?

Hmm, well … Let’s not talk about that. Let’s go back to the time thing. “A little while”? What does that even mean? I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel pain, and confusion, and fear, and anger … Only good times go by in a flash. Hard times seem endless. I can’t even imagine there is wonderful joy ahead.

I hear you. Time is so tricky for us. I’ve heard people (like C.S. Lewis) say we weren’t made for time, and that’s why we don’t ever feel comfortable with it.

We’re like my four-year-old grandson Caleb, still confused by what “yesterday,” “last week,” “later,” “tomorrow,” and “next month” mean. My daughter Valerie, who works three nights a week as a critical care nurse in the ICU of Pittsburgh children’s hospital, has taught Caleb to count her work nights so he can know his mom won’t always be gone or sleeping. “Tonight is number three,” he’ll tell me on Tuesdays. “Then Mommy will be with us.”

But how long will my “little while” be? I wish I could know like Caleb that “today is # three of three, then Jesus will be with us.”

I think that’s why Peter emphasizes trust. We don’t know, and we can’t see, and trust seems like a terrible risk. But we can ask God for the courage to begin learning to trust Jesus, who is unique in that he never betrayed anyone. Not ever. As we begin trusting him, our hearts start opening to the unexpected and unexplainable joy he offers us by the Holy Spirit even through the most awful times. Not something we can ever fake or drum up. A gift.

The only way Peter’s words make sense is that they’re based on the foundation we considered on my first post about these letters, that we can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. He can cleanse us of the junk and pain and residue left in our souls by our experiences in the past. He can do this because he carried it all for us already, putting his own life on the line for us.

One of my heroes, Diane Langberg, says it like this:

Jesus was made the subject of shame as absolutely as was the custom in that day. Grace abandoned him. In other words, he descended into hell. The Creator is destroyed. Life becomes dead. Glory turns to shame, Beauty is obliterated. Living water thirsts. All Power becomes powerless. The great Clothier of everything is stripped naked. All-Honor is despised. Holiness becomes excrement. Love is forsaken. Heaven enters hell. These truths mean many wonderful, eternal things. They also mean that our God understands trauma. … And that sin can die in us so the life of God can be born in us.

I believe Diane is talking about both the sin committed against us and our own sin. The effects of both can be cleansed, washed away as we open our hearts to him.

And joy—the inexplicable joy Peter is talking about—is the result. Both now, in the middle of tough times, and forever.

All praise

But God names us his heirs

1 Peter 1:3-5 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

Psalm 16:5 Lord, you alone are my inheritance.

Sometimes I catch myself so looking forward to seeing Karis again and meeting our son Michael in Heaven that I have to ask myself, “Am I more excited about seeing Karis and Michael than you, Lord?”

He responds, “Don’t worry. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and! Forever!” I’m quite sure the glory of the Lord will be so overwhelming there will be no chance of lesser loves usurping his place.

Indeed, all praise belongs to him. Look at all Peter includes in these few lines as reasons for our praise. Great three-point sermon, Peter!

We have been born again. The Greek word is anagennao. It means a change from one state of being to another. It’s the word Jesus used in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 to describe spiritual rebirth. Peter uses it again twenty verses later: For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word (logos) of God (see John 1:1-5).

Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Bodily resurrection to life after having been dead (anastasis) is God’s promise to us as well. Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Bloom #6 of Dan and April’s wedding orchid’s rebirth delighted us on Karis’s birthday yesterday.

We live with great expectation. Indeed! Elpis means hope, looking forward to something with confident expectation. As each day speeds by and I see old age on the horizon (still very distant, of course), this is huge reason for praise. Our spiritual salvation—what we experience now—will one day express itself in new bodies that neither sicken nor sorrow nor age nor die.

We have a priceless inheritance. Here on earth, our bodies “keep the score” of the abuses and traumas we suffer. In Heaven, our new bodies will register the delight of unspoiled LIFE, beyond the reach of change and decay. Won’t it be fun to see the people who have gone before us as their true selves, healed from what they suffered—and inflicted on others—here on earth?!

It’s (almost) enough to be happy about growing older, if that’s what it takes to receive our inheritance.

All praise to God!

As I’ve written this post, a dear friend sits with a close friend of hers in the sacred transition space between earth and Heaven. I thought I would post again on Monday, but to honor this moment, I’ll go ahead to post it today.

And the first bloom on the other stem popped open today. I’ll dedicate this one to my friend who stands on holy ground this morning.

Grace under pressure

But God, Three in One, gives more and more

1 Peter 1:2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.

Peter wrote his two letters to people who were suffering. There’s no record that he ever traveled through the provinces where they lived, present-day Turkey. Maybe he felt a special bond with them because some were present at his very first sermon on Pentecost, as listed in Acts 2:9.

“More and more grace and peace” could be considered the theme of this letter. Reading further, we discover Peter is talking about inner grace and peace, as they walk through suffering that is more likely to get worse than better.  

Peter gives no promises that circumstances will get better for them; no bandaids as if their wounds are superficial. No pretending things are good when they aren’t. This is a gutsy, honest letter addressing life and death concerns. Today he might be writing to people in Ukraine, or Syria, or Ethiopia, or Venezuela.

Peter knows what he’s talking about. He writes this letter from Rome. Within a year or two, both Peter and Paul will be executed.

When I read this letter, I realize my own “suffering” is small. Yet Peter’s words to people in extreme circumstances resonate with me, too. In tough circumstances, I face the same choices they did. To trust, rather than despair. To live faithfully, rather than cave to pressure. To open my heart to joy when things seem hard. To do good, not harm, even to those who treat me unjustly.

In short, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Easy? No.

So, I’m taking to heart Peter’s encouragement as he sets the stage for his letter. Each member of the holy Trinity engages with us in a unique and significant way. We’re not alone in our challenges, not ever! The Father knows us (Greek prognosis) and has chosen us. The Spirit makes us holy (hagiasmos; a growth process resulting in godliness). Jesus cleanses us (rhantismos, sprinkling: a reference to the power of Christ’s sacrifice to sanctify us, as in Hebrews 9:13-14).

My spiritual director often reminds me that God knew what he had to work with when he chose me. He’s not surprised by my limitations or fragilities or sins. He provides what I need to deal with whatever comes my way; the question is whether I’ll receive it. Recognition of my weakness can either turn me toward self-focused despair, or God-focused hope and gratitude. My choice.

Today, Karis’s birthday, Peter reminds me of “her” verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9: The Lord said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

Thanks, Peter, Paul, and Karis!I’m walking through this day with my hands and heart open for more and more grace and peace.

Shutterstock: Yulia 0606

It’s a partnership!

But God is with us always

Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Matthew 28:20 Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

I intended to finish Matthew and Hebrews while it was still April, so I could start a new series on First and Second Peter in May, but I didn’t quite pull it off. This is a crazy weekend in Pittsburgh. Not only is it Commencement weekend at the University of Pittsburgh, but today is the annual Marathon, closing off hundreds of streets. And it’s raining all day, with severe thunderstorms likely. (Ah—I just heard the roll of thunder.) Due to inaccessibility, our church held services yesterday evening instead of today, though the youth group is standing in the rain handing out Gatorade to marathon runners.

We’ve been watching with delight the orchid we brought home from our son Dan and April’s wedding last September bloom again. The fourth one opened while we were gone, and the fifth one yesterday. Aren’t they gorgeous?

I’ve been receiving advice about how to care for this orchid. So far, though, all we’ve done is give it a half cup of water every week. And apparently it likes the window where it is placed. It’s a picture for me of partnership. Had we not watered it, the orchid would have died. But the orchid itself has done all the rest. If it’s like it was last fall, these blooms will last for weeks, reminding us daily of the beauty of Dan and April’s lives and their love for each other even though we can’t be with them physically right now.

What if we had thrown out our orchid during its period of dormancy, or stopped watering it when it wasn’t blooming? Aren’t we tempted to disparage ourselves or give up during those times when we don’t see the results of our work? Not so the Lord. He’s faithful to us always, quietly nurturing our souls so we’re ready for those times when we bloom externally. Note that Matthew begins and ends with the assurance that God is with us (“Immanuel, God with us,” Matthew 1:23; “I am with you always,” 28:20). And Hebrews concludes commenting on the eternal covenant he has with us, providing us with what we need to honor him (13:20).

As an introvert, I prefer the times of quiet, when I can do my work in solitude. “Aren’t you excited?!” people have said to me, referencing the three books in three different languages and countries all coming out at the same time. Maybe in a few weeks I will be, when all this extra activity calms down and I can go back into my “cave.” Right now, my extrovert energy feels quite depleted, so please pray for me tomorrow morning during the virtual launch of the Karis book in Brazil. You’re welcome to participate! 11:00 a.m. Eastern time (noon in Brazil), @editorabetania on Instagram.

Pray the book will encourage those who read it, and reward Editora Betânia for their investment. And thank God with me for this promise from Hebrews, that he will equip me for this as I seek to please and honor him.

Radical love

But Jesus’ message is different

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate each other to love and good works.

Shutterstock: askib

The contrast between the message the guards were ordered to spread by the Jewish leaders and the message Jesus told his disciples to teach could not be more different:

The premise of the Jewish leaders: If we lie convincingly enough, we can get away with murder. Jesus’ premise: God loves you so much I was willing to lay down my life for you.

The intent of the Jewish message: to save their own skin. Jesus’ intent: to save the world.

The authority on which the orders of the Jewish leaders were based: human distortion of biblical teaching (Matthew 23:23 “You ignore the more important aspects of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”). Jesus’ authority: given him by his Father, the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over heaven and earth.

The heart of the Jewish message: “Maintain the status quo with us in charge.” The heart of Jesus’ message: Love God and others (Matthew 22:37-39); lay down your own life to serve others (Matthew 20:28).

Radical love. Radical service.

What does that mean to you today? I’m on a retreat with a group of lovely and strong-minded people. Many opportunities to recognize ways I’m more like the Jewish leaders than like Jesus, and to realize how generous Jesus’ love is (even for me!). Opportunities to grow!

Confidence, not fear

But God is our helper

Matthew 28:11-15 As the women were on their way [to tell the disciples Jesus was alive!], some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened [the earthquake, the angel, the stone rolled away, Jesus gone from the tomb]. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews and they still tell it today.

Hebrews 11:26, 13:5-6 Moses thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. … Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you, I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear: What can mere people do to me?”  

Shutterstock: glenda

Truth standing up to power is so rare my heart thrills when I see it happen. Especially when the consequences of not going along with deception is as serious as it would have been for these guards.  Acts 12:19 indicates what the soldiers faced if they didn’t accept the bribe: execution. In our day, what’s at stake may be political death, loss of reputation and being shamed before a constituency, accusations of disloyalty, etc. We care so much about prestige, position, and prosperity in this world that we may be willing to sacrifice our integrity to preserve them.

I find Hebrews 13:6 (quoting Psalm 118:6) one of the most challenging verses in all of Scripture. For a long time, I’ve realized I am a coward. I don’t think I would be tempted by money. But if threatened by torture or death or by harm coming to my family, or even, I’m ashamed to say, by private or public contempt or defamation, I’m afraid I would respond more like the soldiers—or even like Peter, denying he knew the Lord—than like the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. I feel a chill in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. I have confessed to the Lord I do fear what “mere people” could do to me. Or to those I love.

My hope is that should the time come, the Lord, my helper (my ezer), will be right at my side, giving me his courage by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, I can cultivate and grow my love and loyalty to Jesus in first place in my life, above love for myself or even for my family. In small decisions along the way, strengthen my soul.

You too? We can pray for each other.

The grave could not keep him!

But Jesus rose from the dead

Matthew 28:5-6 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.”

Hebrews 1:4 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.

It’s time to celebrate LIFE!!!

It’s time to celebrate!!