Perfect Love

As I continue my lectio divina study of 1 John, in chapter 4 what strikes me is this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

I have to admit that I am a fearful person. I’m always good at catastrophizing — thinking that the worst possible outcome to any situation is what I’ll have to face. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sin — not just my own individual sins, but the sins of our society, and the sins of our ancestors. The older I get, the more I realize how bad we all are. Prejudice, genocide, slavery, war… all these things have happened in the past and are still going on. I’ve realized that at some point, we’ll all be judged by God, and it won’t be pleasant. We won’t be able to excuse ourselves by saying we didn’t know, didn’t personally participate, couldn’t help ourselves. This is a fearful thing.

However, a pastor friend told me to remember that although we will be judged, we won’t be condemned. Why? God’s perfect love has already provided the propitiation for every sin I can imagine. He sent His Son to take our punishment. This passage is not telling me that I must love perfectly (I can’t) but that when I understand God’s perfect love, I can stop being afraid. He has already covered all our sins, past, present and future. He has redeemed us.

That doesn’t mean we have a free pass, the right to ignore all sin and sin some more. In gratitude and repentance, we should say:

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” 1 John 4:11

Loving one another means speaking up when we see a wrong, trying to help, getting involved. “No one has ever seen God”1 John 4:12a — but they can see His love in us. Let people see God in your love. He loved you first.

For more about loving one another see these posts:

Little Children, Love One Another

Love One Another

By Our Love

Take Heart; it is I

In my prayerful reading of the book of Mark, it seems that Jesus is speaking directly to me over and over.  Most recently, in chapter 6, the disciples are terrified when they saw Him walking past them on the sea.  They thought it was a ghost!  Jesus immediately sets them straight — “Take heart;  it is I.”  Then He adds, “Do not be afraid.”

I realize how often I need to hear those words.  Christ is at work in the world, but I don’t always recognize Him.  I see chaos, problems, uncertainty, and like the disciples, I am frightened.  What I fail to remember is that Jesus is with me and He is in control. As Psalm 23 puts it:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4

And in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul says:

” If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

The King of the universe is on my side, not acting as a giant gum ball machine, to fulfill my every craving, but working everything (even the bad, scary things) out for my good. (Romans 8:28).  He will never abandon me, any more than a mother would abandon her nursing child (Isaiah 49:50). I don’t have to be anxious because He is our rock and our fortress (Psalm 18:2).

No matter what is going on, I can rest in His peace and His presence, as He tells me:

“Take heart;  it is I.”

For more on the gospel of Mark see:

Go Home

We Never Saw Anything Like This!

Pay Attention to What You Hear

 

 

Why Are You So Afraid?

The second phrase that stood out for me in chapter 4 of Mark was:

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4:40

This is what Jesus says to the disciples after he calms the storm that almost swamped their boat. They had seen Him heal, they had heard Him teach, and yet they still didn’t trust Him completely.  When things spun out of control, they forgot everything they knew about Jesus and gave into fear.

I often behave in the same way.  In fact, it might be more realistic to say I almost always behave in the same way.  On the same day I was reading this chaper in Mark, another book I was reading (Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review ) had suggested an exercise dealing with fear.  That was a moment close to Christ for me, a time when I realize He is speaking to me.  The idea was to list your fears.  Some of mine had to do with:

  • My health — I’m not afraid to die, but I am afraid to suffer before I die, to become incapacitated or be a burden to others
  • My finances — do I have enough savings to last through my life?
  • My husband–will he die before I do, and if so, will I become lonely and depressed?
  • My church — attendance and giving have been down since COVID restrictions were put in place.
  • My country — it seems we are going more and more in debt, and I don’t see how that can continue without our economy crashing.  Not to mention the animosity between groups with differing opinions.

Then the exercise asks you to remember times when you felt safe and unafraid;   instances when God has shown love and care for you.  The time of reflection ends with meditating on several verses.  The one that spoke to me was:

“In you, O Lord, I trust.  I let go of my fears.”  Psalm 31:14

I’m a fearful person, but I don’t have to give in to my fears.  God is near.  I can trust Him.

For more about fear see these posts:

Who Do You Fear?

Afraid of all the Things by Scarlet Hiltibidal–Book Review

Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren–Book Review

 

The Snare is Broken part 4

We’ve all no doubt heard Franklin Roosevelt’s famous statement that we have nothing to fear except fear itself.  Have you ever thought about what he meant by that in the midst of the worst financial crisis of the 20th century?  It’s worth pondering today.  Because what President Roosevelt meant was that people who cannot overcome their fears will be people who will not be able to prevail against those things which have made them afraid.  Sometimes fear paralyzes us and makes us unable to do anything at all.  Sometimes fear causes us to strike out rashly and leads to unnecessary problems.  Sometimes fear leads us to embrace that fowlers’ net which will entrap us forever.

We are now living in a frightened world, a world dealing with something it doesn’t know how to resolve.  What the world needs most right now, right today, right this minute–what a frightened world needs now is a fearless Church.  Scientists will probably develop a functioning vaccine or treatment for this virus.  But that is no longer the real issue.  The real issue is, how do we go forward, how do we live our lives?  Do we surrender our freedom in order to be safe, or do with go forward with the sense of assurance that Someone is in control of things–that God is in control of things?  If the Church has anything to teach this frightened world it is our sense of confidence that God is Sovereign, He is in control of the universe, including this virus.  Do we hide away, fearful of something we can’t control?  Or do we trust God, the God who has promised us eternal life in His glorious presence?

If the Church of Jesus Christ will not stand forth today, gathered under His holy banner, if we act as frightened about what is going on as everyone else does, we are failing in our great mission to make disciples of all nations.  This friends, is a time of testing for the Church.  Do we believe what we say we believe?  Do we live without fear?  Do we stand as followers of the Sovereign God who has promised good to us?

Going back to the image of the fowlers’ net–the birds will only be freed if they actually fly out of the net after the cords have been cut.  We too, people freed from all manner of evil by the blood of Christ, we too, must embrace our freedom.  As Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

In closing, I’ll quote Johan Arndt, a 17th century Lutheran pastor whose book, True Christianity is considered one of the great works of faith since the Reformation.

“One little word in the Scriptures can comfort us more than the devil and the whole world can distress us.”

For previous sections of this sermon see:

The Snare is Broken part 1

The Snare is Broken part 2

The Snare is Broken part 3

 

Spend Your Time on Today

This is not something I wrote, but something I was given on my original Via de Cristo retreat weekend and kept. It seems appropriate for our theme of “spending time.” The author is unknown:

There are two days in the week upon which and about which I never worry–two carefree days kept sacredly free from fear and apprehension.  One of these days is Yesterday.  Yesterday with its cares and frets and pains and aches, all its faults, its mistakes and blunders, has passed forever beyond my recall.  It was mine:  now it is God’s.

The other day that I do not worry about is Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its perils, its large promise and performance, its failures and mistakes, is as far beyond my mastery as its dead sister, Yesterday.  Tomorrow is God’s day:  it will be mine.

It isn’t the experience of Today that drives us mad.  It is the remorse of what happened Yesterday and fear of what Tomorrow might bring.  These are God’s Days–Leave them to Him.

Remembering the Wrong Things

Sometimes we remember the wrong things. The same destructive thoughts go round and round in our heads, driving out God’s peace and presence.  This is not God’s will for us.

When we can’t forget our own sins, and think we have done what can never be forgiven, we are forgetting God’s promise to remove those transgressions from us.  We need to remember His grace.

When we can’t forget the wrongs we have suffered in the past, we are forgetting God’s command to forgive others as He has forgiven us.  We need to remember His mercy.

When we can’t forget that thing we wanted so badly and never got, we are forgetting God’s provision.  We need to remember to give thanks to God for all that we have.

When we can’t forget our failures, we are forgetting God’s omnipotence and His plan.  We need to remember we can trust Him.

When we can’t forget our worries and fears, we are forgetting God’s love.  We need to remember to pour out all our concerns in prayer.

What do you need to stop remembering?

Let’s Get Personal

I believe that once we become a Christian, and start trying to follow God’s will, He will gradually change us into the person He created us to be (in Lutheran speak, that’s sanctification).  That doesn’t mean our whole personality will do an about face.  It doesn’t mean we’ll be transformed into saints.  It does mean we’ll be more like Jesus, and more gifted, more joyful, more full of life, more peaceful with ourselves and others.

In my own case, the biggest thing God frees me from (I say frees because it still has to happen daily) is fear.  If I were asked to choose one word to describe myself, especially years ago, it would be shy, maybe even timid.  Social situations were not pleasant, but stressful.  I was afraid people wouldn’t like me, that they would discover what a fraud I was, or that I would make a stupid mistake.  Of course, that kept me from trying all kinds of things or taking risks of any kind … who knew what might happen?  It’s not a great way to live.

Becoming a serious Christian helped me to move outside of my comfort zone.  I’m still a quiet introvert (nothing wrong with that, it’s how God made me!) but I have taught Sunday School (children and adults), led workshops and retreats, given talks to groups, organized committees and more. I can use the gifts God gave me in my own way.  I’m not tooting my own horn, just telling you what God can do, because I would NEVER, EVER have done those things without Him.

Am I still afraid?  All the time.  My husband says if there isn’t something to worry about, I’ll invent it.  However, I don’t have to let my anxiety control me. I can step out in faith and take a risk.  A friend of mine once said, “there’s no better place to try something new than at church.  If you fail, they’ll still love you.”  That’s what’s so freeing about being a Christian — you know that no matter what happens, you can never lose the love and Christ.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.”  1 Timothy 1:7

What has God freed you from?  We want to hear from you.