Monday, January 23, 2017

Familiarity Breeds Confidence

It's amazing how people will twist a situation around in order to maintain control. In Acts 3-4, Peter and John heal a man who had been lame from birth, and was over 40 years old. Think about that: To have become a community fixture, carried by kindhearted people each day to the Temple gates in order to beg for enough help so that you could merely exist. Undoubtedly, his hopes and dreams, if they ever existed, had long been abandoned. When the people saw him running, jumping, and shouting praises to God as he accompanied Peter and John that day, they couldn't help but celebrate with him. After all, they'd walked by him thousands of times on his mat, and undoubtedly knew who he was. How could you do anything other than celebrate with him?

Incredibly, the Sadducees and Jewish leaders managed to find a way to be unhappy about this. If only they didn't talk about Jesus being raised from the dead or attribute this miracle to the authority of Jesus' name. You see, Jesus' resurrection is the starting point of God's work in this world to put everything the way that it ought to be. Christians believe and stake our lives on the hope that if we endure wrongs and injustices in this life, God is going to restore even more to us in the day we meet him face to face. But this is not good news to those who maintain their position by taking advantage of people. Your money, your title, and even the buildings that bear your name don't get the final word on your legacy. God does. It might just be the person you sent packing--because you could--sits at the seat of honor at God's banquet, while your name might not even be on the guest list. Resurrection means that things will end up the way they ought to be, and that's a threat when you've been crooked.

So they pulled the ultimate intimidation tactic. They gathered everyone in town who was of any importance among the Jewish people, they formed a big circle, they put Peter and John in the middle and began shooting them with questions. They weren't asking about what had happened--it was indisputable; they were asking, "Who gave YOU the right to do this?! In whose name? By whose authority? I know we didn't authorize this."

Peter's response was incredibly sharp and incredibly bold. It was in the name of Jesus of Nazareth that this good deed was accomplished. And if you don't like it, since you think you are in charge, why don't you tell us: Is it better to obey God or to obey people? We know what we've seen and heard.

It became clear in this moment what a difference it makes to know the Lord. Any one of those Jewish leaders would have absolutely crumbled and cowered, had they been in Peter and John's shoes. They created the most intimidating scenario they could invent, but these ignorant redneck fishermen weren't even thinking of budging.

I think a lot of people think that Christian boldness is something that kind of pops up in an extreme circumstance. Like a deus ex machina in a classical play, they are hoping that God suddenly springs up and gives them a brilliant response to stump their opponents and that their courage will appear from nowhere. And if God wants to do that and give them that, God is certainly capable. But take a closer look at what helped Peter and John to be bold, clear, and confident in their response.

Amazed that people so common could be so bold, the Jewish leaders "recognized that they had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13) Peter and John stood firm when told to quit preaching, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20)

They had been companions of Jesus during the years of his ministry. They had listened to him in the forty days after his resurrection before he ascended. In talking about Jesus, they weren't talking about an abstract idea they had read about in a book somewhere; they were talking about someone who had been a significant part of their existence for several years. Though the situation would have been intimidating for anyone, they were totally confident in their ability to speak about Jesus, because they knew him well enough to talk about him instinctively.

I don't know about you, but I don't begin every morning with a fresh study of apologetics, convincing myself that I exist, that God probably exists, and that Jesus was a historical person, crucified under Pilate's authority, and raised from the dead. There are phases where we look at hard evidences, and these might help us come to initial faith. But at this point in my life, I have plenty of my own reasons for believing in God and feeling increasingly confident that Jesus is who he always claimed to be. These reasons include the stories of Scripture, but they also include my story, and the stories of people I know. I've watched people whose lives have been totally redeemed from a useless existence after they came to Christ. I've seen prayers answered in amazing and sometimes spontaneous ways. I've had blessings and surprises that have given me great confidence that God wants me to be doing what I'm doing in my life.

Just like Peter and John, our confidence in God comes from walking with God. You can talk much more easily about someone you know well. You're much more ready to lay your life down for someone who is your friend.

My challenge to you would be to make your walk with God more personal and more intentional, and see if God doesn't give you even more reasons to believe. The more God is a part of your story, the more you'll have to talk about. Make your prayers more specific, and be more vulnerable with God about what you're really thinking; not just what you'd want to appear to think. Take a weekend trip to a quiet place, and challenge yourself to spend at least half of a day in prayer and Scriptural meditation, asking God to show you what he wants you to do. Carve out time to test the teachings of Jesus to find out if they're really true. When you go out of your way to show love to your enemies and to pray for those who mistreat you, what effects does this have on your heart? When you ask, seek, and knock to find out how God will use you to strengthen his kingdom, what do you find out? When you consistently humble yourself, do you find that God manages to lift you up?

If you are easily shaken and lacking confidence, I invite you to take God's hand and walk with him more closely. I'm convinced that those who know God closely have an easier time being like him, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. I absolutely believe we have those moments where God gives us the extra boost we are needing, but I believe that real, consistent confidence in God comes from knowing him. Familiarity with God breeds confidence in God.

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