beyond fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:16b-18

I remember years, now decades ago when I think the Dean of Men where I went to school opened his Bible as we sat in his office, turning to this passage. And with an emphasis on perfect love casting out fear, and spoke some on that. I can remember his tone of voice, and etched concern on his face, even if I can’t remember much if anything at all of what he precisely said. But I returned in my thoughts to that from time to time.

And now, relatively late in life, I do so again. Yes, I’ve believed this is truth, that it applies to me, but I often still struggle in regard to it. I think I understand much of the answer in my mind, but I’m afraid it hasn’t made much inroad into my heart. But even with that, I still have made sure progress in holding on longer what I believe in my head, so that I’ve experienced more of God’s breakthroughs of peace amidst the storm.

One way of approaching this which might be helpful is to seek to land and stand on truth. If we believe that the God who is love has made that love known through the sacrificial death of Christ, then we need to stand by faith on that truth, whatever emotions to the contrary we might be experiencing, including crippling fear. Our judgment has been taken care of through Christ, who took that judgment on himself at the cross.

The faith which is involved is not only about grasping and holding on to something: God’s word to us in Christ. But it’s also about letting go of what has bound and crippled, or at least to some extent has hampered us over the years.

Come what may, whatever we face, we need to stand firmly in this one place, that of God’s love for us in Christ. When we do so, we’re standing in the one true perfect love. And by and by we’ll begin to know something of the experience of that, something in itself that never depends on our own feelings, but where God wants us to learn to live. Away from any feeling of panic or dread. In the reality of God’s love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

God’s salvation door is wide open

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b

There’s no question that it’s a difficult time to live, especially in some parts of the world.  Of course all of that is relative, depending on what you mean. But no matter which way you turn, there are tremendous difficulties and challenges. In many places it’s dangerous to be a Christian, but it’s interesting how in some of those very places the church is growing faster than in “the free world.” And there are the cultural sea changes, with the strong reactions against them. Terrorists groups in the name of religion, the steady spread and increase of Islam. Other world religions continuing their traditions.

And there’s the awful bloodletting that continues on earth. Abortion being one prime example. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, and all the more so in the hands of brutal dictatorships. And we can go on and on with the problems. God’s judgment in letting humans reap what they sow is indeed present. And yet Jesus came with a different message, a message for all. The good news in him is that all can be saved simply by believing in him and so receiving the gift of eternal life. Through his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our new life in him.

Paul’s words above, of course God’s written word, is in harmony with John’s words in his gospel account:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

And Jesus says the same close to the time of his crucifixion and death:

…I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

John 12:47b

While there’s plenty else going on in the world, and God is active, this seems to be the main point of the present: God’s salvation in Jesus is now offered, free to all.

And this is said by Peter to be precisely the reason the end is not yet coming, at least in part:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:3-13

God’s salvation door is now open wide. Hopefully through our prayers, and others seeing God’s salvation beginning in us, they too might walk through and join us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

law or grace?

No matter how you shake it, and it’s not an easy passage to interpret or understand, Romans 7 makes it clear that there’s a strong human tendency to buck law, especially when it’s in your face, or one’s well aware of it. Law in Scripture is given for the good of people to show them how they ought to live in a flourishing free way, but it also serves to show people their sin and therefore their need of God’s grace. Grace here I refer to as both forgiveness and new life as in ability to keep the law. And by keeping the law, I’m referring to keeping the requirements of the law not by law keeping, but by a life which in a way is above the law in that it transcends mere law keeping, the life naturally doing what God requires.

One of the most memorable portions of Philip Yancey’s classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace is the story about the man who sought to escape the evil of western society to what he saw as a society in which law and therefore righteousness could flourish. The only problem was that he got entangled and overcome by his own sin in stark, dark and troubling ways. His Christianity fell by the wayside because it was not formed by grace, but simply informed by law.

Law is important in its place, and in societies good laws are needed, for example against the taking of life, or practices which might endanger life such as driving when intoxicated. Law as mentioned in Scripture serves to convict one of sin, though the Spirit is needed to make that conviction more than condemnation and instead a life changing repentance.

I remember Christian schools that made a lot out of rules to the point of more or less micromanaging the students’ lives with the presupposition that such would keep them out of harm’s ways, curb their sinful tendencies, and even form them into godly people. The only problem is that it is grace which changes us, not law. Though it should be noted that God’s grace changes us through the law. God’s grace does the changing apart from law, but uses the law to help us see our guilt, need, and utter helplessness.

Grace and law in Scripture are not easy subjects. But having lived through some sad scenarios in the Christian world, I would say that one has to be aware of the place of both. And how our lives are truly transformed only by grace, God’s gift to us of forgiveness and new life. And how this is both in terms of a point of conversion and ongoing conversion in a process by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

grace instead of law: “I want to” compared to “I have to”

The law is not a necessary evil in scripture. The evil lies in us (Romans 7). The law tells us what we ought and ought not to do. The law is from God and is good.

What we need is grace, which amounts to God’s undeserved favor given to us in and through Christ. It is a gift that we receive, pure and simple. Through Christ’s death for us on the cross, we are forgiven of our sins when we repent and believe as in entrusting ourselves into God’s hands, and committing our lives to him.

Law necessarily condemns, but in grace there is never any condemnation. Christ has taken all the condemnation on himself at the cross. The Spirit is given to us, and we have the assurance that we are once for all time forgiven. But that doesn’t mean that the law no longer applies to us.

By grace through the Spirit we actually fulfill the requirement of the law, which in shorthand amounts to love, but not without details spelled out in scripture. For example, we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves when we commit adultery, or either do, or fail to do a number of things.

If we’re living under God’s grace, then we’re made both willing and able. And we in Christ are under grace, not under law (Romans 6). Law comes to us in a coercive way: we have to or else. Grace comes on us in a compelling way: we want to, period. Yes, out of love in love. And it’s a want to placed in us by God. As those who are forgiven and given new life in Jesus. To follow on and be victorious. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

Peter’s denial

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Mark 14:27-29

During what we call Holy Week, not long before Jesus’s crucifixion, we find one of the disciples, Judas, betraying his Lord and friend, and another who was more or less the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denying him even with curses. I think sometimes we just push Judas to the side as a reprobate, without understanding Jesus’s love for him, and disappointment in what he did. On the other hand, I think we also tend to minimize what Peter did in denying the Lord, chalking it up to just the weakness of the flesh. While that is indeed the case, and Peter failed to lead the way in praying in the garden of Gethsemane as the Lord told them to (Mark 14:32-42), what Peter did was indeed serious, a grievous sin in openly denying his Lord. Of course after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, he would boldly proclaim his Lord in the face of strong opposition, even death. But in the story surrounding Holy Week, we’re certainly not there yet.

This was both a painful, yet important event for Peter’s sanctification in learning, awareness, and growth, just as it is for ours, as we look back on it, and probably experience something of the same in our own lives. Note how Peter probably saw himself, or was at least open to the thought that he was a cut above all the rest of the disciples. Pride. And of course we read in scripture that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Certainly this is an apt word for each one of us. Any of us are as capable of falling as anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). The moment we think we’ve arrived is the moment we’re in danger.

What was the difference between Judas and Peter? That’s a big subject, probably much to say from scripture and theology in trying to come up with some sort of answer for that. Simply here, after Peter’s failure, he had the grace of tears (Mark 14:66-72). But Judas seemed to be choked with self-condemnation, and the blame along with the destruction that can go with it. So that instead of a broken and contrite heart that could have led to repentance (Psalm 51), Judas succumbed to the enemy’s voice in rejecting the salvation that is always available in Jesus. Instead he heaped the blame on himself, taking matters in his own hands by tragically ending his life (Matthew 27:1-10).

We have all failed sometime along the way. We have either betrayed our Lord, denied him, or probably somehow both, at one point or another, perhaps a number of times. And maybe not overtly, but in more subtle, deceptive ways, so that we were failing to follow. Weeping while having a broken spirit, and contrite heart is good (again, note Psalm 51). Self-condemnation is not good. Only God is the judge, and God extends salvation to all who are under his just and righteous judgment. Of course on the terms that they would repent, just as Peter did. That possibility is open to us all.

And so, the great salvation of our Lord. Even to us deniers, who in our weakness and sin fail to follow at times. So that we might better understand, appreciate and experience what our Lord did for us on that cross.

fear or love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

The older I get, the more I realize just how important it is to understand the experience of living in God’s grace/favor in terms of love. So that if we fear, somehow we are falling short of what we have in Christ: namely God’s love.

God’s love is not merely theoretical, or something we know in our heads. It is indeed something we’re to enjoy in our hearts. Bringing us peace, not fear.

So in a sense we should always be running away from fear toward love.

I am coming to judge more and more God’s direction in terms of whether or not I have God’s peace about something, which comes out of his love. A note: This is from John and in John’s gospel account of Jesus’s Upper Room discourse on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus ties peace and love together, that in him his disciples are to have peace, so that they’re not to let their hearts be troubled. That they’re live in his love, just as he lives in the Father’s love (John 13-17).

If I am quite troubled, or fearful about something, that’s a good indication that God is not in it. I’m not referring to a healthy fear, which is something entirely different. For example a fear that I will hurt someone in some way. But rather a debilitating fear in which one’s existence in some way or another feels threatened. In God’s love in Jesus there is always peace, even the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). And that includes God’s convicting work of our sin, as well. It is never condemning in Jesus, the point of the 1 John passage quoted above. The devil’s argument to us is that God is out to get us in condemning us, rather than the truth that God is out to love us in and through Jesus. And as Jesus said, that he had not come to condemn even the world, but to save the world.

It’s either one or the other. Of course that doesn’t mean we have God’s peace apart from God’s love. God’s love certainly involves living in Jesus, which means living in God’s will. We don’t just do whatever, and think that we’re living in God’s love. God’s love for us in Jesus is always present, but we have to return home, and live in that love, not in the pigsty and deception of the world (and the flesh and the devil). We learn to live in the Father’s embrace, as imperfect as we are, even when we might be a mess, and struggling with a sin issue. Always and forever it is God’s love in Jesus which makes the difference for us, a love which we share with all others. The love of God in Jesus.

no condemnation, or corresponding fear for those in Christ Jesus

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

I believe strongly that it not only doesn’t hurt to go back to some level one gospel truths. All biblical truth in a way, is gospel truth, since in one way or another it’s related to the gospel. But when you start looking at such truth in scripture, you do best to read all of it in context. This is like music albums, when certain symphony or classical pieces are on the recording. Those are nice to have, perhaps especially for those who don’t have an appreciation of classical music. Maybe akin to precious promise books, which have certain verses and passages from scripture. I have two such albums I especially like, one supposedly for morning, and another for going to sleep at night. We all return to certain verses or passages again and again. But it’s best to along with that, look and listen to the entire thing, if we want to gain a keen eye and ear, so that we can better process and appreciate every part. Such is the case with one of the great passages of scripture, itself like a mountain, or beautiful place, Romans 8.

Let me preface these thoughts then to point out that to gain the best appreciation of Romans 8, we need to consider all of this great book. And then to understand the book of Romans best, we do well to be working through the entire Bible. All of that is a project which takes time, to be sure. But even if we haven’t done much there, it’s so good to look at one short passage, maybe even a verse, and then look at a paragraph out from that in whatever translation of scripture you use. And from there a whole section, since most translations nowadays incorporate headings.

The beginning of the Romans 8 masterpiece states that those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation from God based on the cross of Christ; his death taking care of the sinfulness of our flesh, our sin– the work of the Spirit in our life, corresponding to that. We can think we know these things already, but it’s important to keep meditating on them, and actually life itself along with our own propensities will make it essential for us to do so, if we want to keep growing, and going on with the Lord.

The end of this important section of this great peak in scripture is related to the beginning. Since there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there’s no fear of that, either, because such are indeed God’s children, the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit of that reality, as we live in dependence on that Spirit, and do not live according to the flesh, which means the myriad of ways people live apart from the Spirit in the way of this world.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:12-17

Again, to really appreciate this fully, we need to read it more fully in its context. But suffice it to say here that we are simply different people in Christ, because God is our Father, and the Spirit helps us to live out that reality. And front and center here, condemnation and the fear is therefore never to be accepted by us.

Romans 8 stands on its own as a tremendous piece that we need to get into our eyes and ears, into our hearts, and into our bones. Into the very warp and woof of our lives. All of this in and through Jesus.

loving rebuke

I often think  that only God can deliver the correction we occasionally (at least) need. After all, it is God who is love. We are not, but are a mixed bag of good and bad, and left to ourselves, we’re at the center of our existence, or something less than the actual God is, often some combination of that.

And yet Jesus tells us that if our brother or sister sins against us to rebuke them. We have to watch out, because they may not be sinning against us. Only God knows the heart. It is hard to receive and probably even harder to give any kind of rebuke. We need to be on each other’s side, and any possible correcting words may put a wedge between us. That said, somehow by grace, we ought to be open to this practice, as long as it’s not commonplace, I say. Dallas Willard doubted that such can be done today, since people always take it personally and feel condemned. I wonder what it is in our age which makes this so, but it does seem to be the case in my own experience.

Probably giving a rebuke is not without sin when we do so out of our own personal pain, or aggrievement. Certainly prayer ought to accompany it, and preferably much prayer. And if much prayer, than it would seem wise only to offer a word of loving correction after one has at least slept on it. In other words, don’t rush in to correct.

If we do offer that word soon after the incident, we need to be concerned lest the relationship is hurt. We want a growing relationship through God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s grace in and through Jesus is the sphere in which we live. So we should be open to offer a word of apology and the asking for forgiveness for giving the rebuke in the first place. But probably we shouldn’t be hasty in doing that, either, unless we were clearly out of bounds in our attitide and action. While we likely were not without sin in offering the rebuke, there is also likely some truth in what we offered. If we ask for forgiveness out of our own feeling of fear and condemnation, that in itself isn’t right, either. We need to have enough clarity in the light and love of the Spirit to be able to proceed that direction. It may be wisdom to simply pray. Love does cover over a multitude of sins, so it may end up being something apt to address later, or completely let go. Yet in never mentioning it, it still remains. Maybe that in and of itself is an impetus to continue to pray, which may be needed.

Friendship nowadays seems to be about buddy, buddy times, in which there is no accountability. Maybe a better way to apply any needed rebuke is by example in love, and letting go of the perceived wrong done against us. After all, that is to be our heart attitude. And too often rebukes are done harshly. It might be best to approach someone with questions, and listen, trying to put the best construction on their answer. That could leave the window open to help them understand how their actions or words might have come across to us, or someone else.

We certainly do need to trust God in all of this. What wisdom might any reader like to offer on this? 

as is

When we buy used cars, they are normally sold “as is,” meaning you are stuck with your purchase. And when we look at our lives and circumstances, there is no turning back the clock and doing this or that, or something else differently.  So that wishing, wishing, and wishing some more that we wouldn’t have made that either “fatal,” or stupid mistake does no good for us at all. In fact, it probably does harm.

It’s not like we’re not going to have any regrets. I can only shake my head when I hear people say they have no regrets (especially older people), even if there might be an odd case in which that may make more sense than not. It’s what we do with our failures, sins, and follies that’s important. Harboring them, so that they continue to batter and put us in a numbing fear, along with a sense of condemnation and anxiety, not to mention even a pressure that seems more and more physical, downright oppression, that’s not going to do us or anyone else any good whatsoever.

What we need to do is take our problem to the Cross, if we’re in a church in the Great Tradition, to our priest, or to a pastor. So that we can confess whatever sin needs confession, which in this case might be the sin of holding on to something which has been forgiven already. And we need to accept the reality as it is, but beside another and greater reality, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In spite of what faults Martin Luther had, he was a great Church Father, and he and his following are especially adept at taking us to the Cross to see that our only hope and salvation is always and forever in the crucified, resurrected Lord. That by his wounds, we are indeed healed. It may take us some time and serious effort, but it will be well worth every bit we put into it.

We come to the Cross, just as we are, as is, not dressing up anything. God’s Answer comes from that Cross, not just knowledge, indeed some of it will remain mystery to us. But because of the power of that Cross to bring forgiveness of our sins, and new life.

At every turn and juncture in this world, and in this life there is the potential for a predicament we’re not capable in and of ourselves to get out of. We do what we can to do what is right by this world in this life. But the remedy is in God’s free and full salvation in Jesus at the Cross, by his death. We want to hurry on to his resurrection, by which all that his death achieves is made real in the new day, the new creation. But we do well to simply remain there at the Cross in our meditation and prayer. Maybe using a stations of the cross to help us do that, asking God to help us receive from that saving act, all that we need, and what will help us through whatever it is that remains present. The full salvation in Jesus reaching us where we are. A practice that needs to become for us a habit of life.