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.

But God shares our sorrow

Acts 7:59-8:2 As the Jewish leaders stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that he died. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day … Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning. But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

Romans 8:17, 26 If we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share his suffering … But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

Covid is battering our friends across South America. Daily, it seems, we hear of another heart-rending situation involving people we know and love. So while we delight in the re-opening of our lives here in the U.S., thanks to life-saving vaccines, we’re reminded constantly that this pandemic is not over. Nor will be in the foreseeable future.

A pandemic is one thing. Suffering people deliberately inflict on each other, as Saul did to the early church, is even more painful, especially if God’s holy name is used to justify wounding and destruction. Sadly, this is nothing new. I’m grappling with bitter historical realities in my research for Treasure Hunt 1904.

But God had a plan for Saul, and we’ll get to that in the next chapter of Acts. The time came when Saul, known later as Paul, wrote, “In my insolence, I persecuted God’s people. But God had mercy on me. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was!” (1 Timothy 1:13). God offers mercy and hope of transformation to anyone willing to hear his voice of compassion. Even the perpetrators. Inexplicably, he loves our broken world.

Paul continues telling Timothy that despite human arrogance, “He alone is God” (verse 17). God’s not rattled by my sense that the world (and even the church) has gone crazy. He’s still on his throne–remember Stephen’s vision? He has a plan.

So I offer to you, Lord, my sorrow and grief, my anger at what I see as manipulative and unjust, my worry about what’s happening in the U.S. and the world, my frustration with my own limited vision and frail faith.

And now maybe I can go back to sleep.

Deer again ate my pansies–though not down to the dirt this time.