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.

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not letting the pressing duties of life get to us

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14

Life is pressure, period. Work is never entirely predictable, and even when it is, that predictability might have us living on the edge at times. And if you “own” a home, in some ways the home owns you as well, because if there isn’t one thing, there’s another to look after to maintain it. On top of this, there are always possible things to worry about on the side. Like is one’s car safe enough? Or where is the money (and/or time) going to come from for the next need. For those who have plenty of money in store, there are always potential problems, as well. In this world, there’s no short supply of that.

First of all we might say, yes, we need to do the best we can to do what we can, and certainly take care of what absolutely has to get done (like a house roof, which for me of course, means hiring a company to do it). But we as Christians do all of this as those on mission in Jesus for the gospel. That is our chief concern, indeed the passion that drives us, the very life we have in Jesus, which we would like in love to share with others.

Jesus imparted words of strength and comfort to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (see John 13-17 for that entire time in John’s gospel account). And even though they were Jesus’s appointed messengers and representatives of the gospel, we as Jesus’s followers can receive those same words for ourselves, since we too, even though not set apart in the same way, still are present as receivers and sharers of the gospel.

Jesus gives us his peace, and at the same time tells us not to let our hearts be troubled nor afraid. Even if we’re caught up in fear, we can let go of it by the Lord’s strength in the peace which he gives, and live in that peace once more, trusting in him to help us through whatever situation we might be in, as well as life in general. Including trusting even when things don’t go well.

Something I am learning, and want to hold on to in and through Jesus.

a breakthrough into trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

If you know me well, then you would know I’ve had a struggle most all of my Christian life over trusting in God completely. Actually I would have not thought so during most of that time. I would have rationalized, or misunderstood my struggle as doing what I have to do to be responsible to fulfill my duty. Of course I’m not talking about perfect trust, which surely won’t be arrived at in this life. But a substantial trust, by which one really does cast one’s cares and life, and indeed all of life with the cares and concerns over others on the Lord.

For me it was over a matter that in no way I could fix, and seemed a point of danger. Either I could continue my own way and do what would be difficult to do, and in the end probably not foolproof (what is in this life?), or I could do what makes no sense to me.

The real tipping point for me was the experience of a debilitating fear which all but crushed me. Actually I had learned over the years, over the decades even, to go on with that, even though it most certainly hampered me. And a number of times in answer to prayer it was overcome through the Lord’s grace. But that is where I essentially lived.

A key verse in all of this for me is found in 1 John 4:

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.

This is a beautiful passage, and should be seen in context along with other passages in scripture which make it clear that being God’s children and living in fear are not compatible. Of course I don’t mean the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge: a right appreciation for who God is in his otherness. But that’s never separated from the love God is, either, though that love is not accepted by us in our sin.

But for years and years I struggled off and on, and to some degree mostly on over this sense of dread. I knew in my head one thing, but my heart failed to follow. So during short experiences when my heart did know something of that rest, it was exhilarating, and indeed intoxicating. But then would come the inevitable descent back into “reality,” and the ongoing struggle of all of that.

Am I home free now on this issue? No. I don’t think so. Ask me a year from now, if I’m still around and the Lord tarries. A time ago I seemed to enter into this breakthrough, but then fell back through some voice in my head which seemed to be my own mind. In carefully evaluating it, it was accusatory in nature, a sure sign that it was not from God. I descended into something which seemed all the worse.

Finally in desperation I was crying out to God. And a thought came to me: What if I simply trust God by letting God lead me. And such leading would be in a peace, a sense of what I should and should not do. As I recall I went to bed with that thought on my mind, woke up and yesterday morning wrote this post, went to work, and gradually seemed to enter into this rest. And by God’s grace I’ve remained in that place of imperfectly fully trusting in God, and not in myself. By the way, the Proverbs 3:5-6 passage quoted above came to me with a renewed emphasis a couple years or so back, as if God wanted to impress me with the importance of that passage for me. I included what follows because to so trust God even helps me physically, certainly impacting the emotions for good.

Does that mean I’m on top of the world now, and not down? No, no way. I’ve already experienced being down over an issue in the world and most importantly in the church. And I’ll be down at times over my own problems, as well. And does this mean that it’s now automatic, that I will continue on in this new way? No, absolutely not. I must continue to trust with the new challenges that come, big and small. And learn to walk in this way more and more. With others in and through Jesus.

 

what are you looking at?

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.

Matthew 14; NLT

Years ago we had a youth group outing at a camp which included walking on a ropes course. The first year I got up there and barely made it from one tree to another, we were at least 18 feet high, I think higher, of course secured well with a wire overhead. I suppose I’m one of the “what if” people, so I was more than happy to get to the other side and get down. I did fall down on that one rope, and of course experienced the safety of the straps on me attached to the heavy wire over me. By the way, I had looked down to the ground during that short time, and given my fear of heights, I had been terrified, gripped with enough fear, that I was finished.

The next year, I had determined ahead of time that I would not look down to the ground. And I actually walked the entire ropes course without falling, though I think a good test would have come if I would have fallen. I did not look down, by the way. Maybe if I would have gone a following year, I would have advanced by being able to look down, though I’m not sure about that. I doubt though that I would have made it another time without falling.

This reminds me of faith, and of where we have our sights fixed. Is it on the Lord, and God’s promises in him, or is it on our circumstances? For Peter, at first, with his eyes on Jesus, he was actually walking on the water just like the Master. But when Peter took his eyes off the Lord, he was in trouble. With a stronger faith, surely the waves being whipped up by the wind wouldn’t have troubled him. But faith comes from God’s word, remember, Jesus told Peter to come, and from our focus on that, specifically on the gospel, and on Christ himself.

There are plenty of things in this world which can bring us down. No end to that. Perhaps some things are especially precarious for us, depending on what they are and our own disposition. For everyone, we need the faith of a child to keep looking to our Father, to God, and to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We have to keep our attention and thoughts centered on him. As long as we do so, faith can become established and settled, and can grow. But when we look at the problem, we can become unsettled, and begin to struggle in our faith.

To Peter’s credit, as he began to sink after looking at the wind on the waves, he did cry out to the Lord to save him.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

That is my goal. Not to ignore the problems, but in all of that, to look to the Lord. To do what on my own I could never do. The main point here being, looking to Jesus. And keeping our eyes on him. May God help us to do that, so that we can overcome whatever it is that is bringing us down. And grow in our faith. In and through 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.

learning to trust in God in real life

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3

Some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry than others. I am, and my wife is not. She is just the opposite, which is nice, but also poses its challenges. There is good in being aware of dangers, and real problems, which might not be readily apparent, and trying to fix or deal with them, as best one can. But in my case, I find that a lot of my fears can be a direct challenge to faith. In other words, do I work at trusting in the Lord, or do I remain paralyzed in fear?

The psalmist was facing real dangers. They were bad things which indeed could happen. But it seems that the psalmist also came to rest in God, and God’s will, and within that, God’s protection, so that he could rest easily at night, confident that his life was in God’s hands.

For myself, I find that some good sleep can make a world of difference. I wake up refreshed, and feeling much better, what fears I had having dissipated. While the counsel we once received, to never act on our fears, or while we’re afraid, is sound advice we do well to keep, there may be some things we can do toward alleviating the problem, leaving the outcome to God.

But above all, we must trust in God, learn to trust in him. So that our hearts can be more and more at rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

against paralyzing fear

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter 5

The most often repeated command in scripture is to not be afraid. I often carry with me nagging fears about this or that, but ordinarily relatively benign. Like the need to replace a non-functioning turn signal, or check to make sure the roof is not leaking. Even those can have a cumulative, wearing effect on us, so they do need to be addressed, even if the solution is simply to let it go as not worth the trouble. The big problem comes when fear wins over faith, when the fear we’re experiencing all but knocks out our faith.

In the passage above, a lion can gain advantage over its intended prey by paralyzing it with fear. Just a long enough hesitation can be all that the lion needs to pounce on it for the kill. Paralyzing fear is a sure sign that it’s not a legitimate fear, but one to be rejected. And that involves nothing less than spiritual warfare, even as we see from the text above (and see Ephesians 6:10-20). After working through that, we might be able to find some legitimate underlying fear, which we can take care of.

Faith in God certainly doesn’t preclude responsibility on our part. A good example of that is when the devil tempted Jesus with the words that he should simply throw himself off of the top of the temple, depending in faith on God’s promise that the angels would be there to protect the righteous when they fall. Jesus countered that text taken out of context by the devil with the scripture: “You shall not test the Lord your God” (Matthew 4). Which means expecting God to deliver what God has never promised. In faith we depend on God without reservation. While in prayer, we do what we’re supposed to do, or what might solve a problem, and settle a legitimate fear.

In all of this, no matter what we face we must have faith in God. That God will fulfill his promises, and ultimately take care of everything. And in that process, help us make decisions, and ultimately grow in wisdom and in the likeness of his Son. Individually, but also together, in and through Jesus.