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.

for those who often don’t feel all that well

ד Daleth

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

There’s not much room in Christian evangelical circles for people like me. A person who often feels “laid low in the dust.” And when people ask me how I am, it’s usually “pretty good.” Some people would call that down in the mouth, not rejoicing and living in the joy of the Lord as I should. That somehow my mind and faith isn’t right.

We come to God just as we are, and we don’t try to hide. We confess our sins, and pray God will keep us from deceitful ways, like justifying what we ought not to. We don’t let our inward struggle dictate what we do, of course only through God’s help.

I’m glad there are the psalms for people like me, which express the way I feel. “My soul is weary with sorrow…” But also with God’s help in the strength and provision given to us in answer to prayer, the prayer to live in God’s will with God’s answer forthcoming. For people like me, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

lying feelings lead, truth feelings follow

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Galatians 5:16

This is a difficult one, tricky. It seems like we humans are most often led by our feelings, and only live beyond them when we have to. Like left to ourselves, we might take a long, extended (and maybe even needed) vacation. But that’s not on our calendar, so off to work we go.

Feelings are an important part of who we are as humans. They’re not merely to be thrown on a scrapheap as simply not counting. Feelings can indicate problems we have, or what really are dangers. Fear can be good as well as bad, we call it a healthy fear.

But all too often we humans are led by our feelings. “If it feels good, do it,” is a sad slogan that is all too often our practice. We don’t feel like doing the hard necessary thing, what needs to be done, so we either put it off, or cancel it all together. Or we feel like doing something we know is not actually good for us, like eating one cookie after another until they are all gone. Or something worse.

Scripture indicates to us that God’s word to us is to lead us, with God’s promises following. So that means we have to place our faith in God’s word and act accordingly regardless of how we feel about it. We are led by God’s word, often in spite of our feelings. And so led by God.

But we’ll inevitably find at least in time that feelings confirming God’s word follow. What I mean here is that the confirmation will be that we have understood God’s word to us, and that God is blessing us in that understanding.

In the Galatians passage quoted above, we’re told not to walk by the flesh, but by the Spirit. The flesh here stands for what’s in opposition to God, and oftentimes is feeling oriented. We do in our sinful state what comes natural. And even as those who have been made new in Christ, we still have old habits that are not necessarily easy to break.

God calls us in Christ to walk by the Spirit. This will often, in fact I think most often, at least in my experience, will mean that we aren’t led by feelings. We instead are led by God’s word and by God’s Spirit. As we earnestly endeavor to be open to, and do that, then God will open that up for us. It may take some time, but if we persist, that experience will come. And the feelings will follow. And the fruit of the Spirit especially having to do with our relationships with each other, will follow.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:22-26

In and through Jesus.

 

the work of the Spirit: forbearance

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…

Galatians 5:22

In seeking to be led by the Spirit, rather than fall into the default of the flesh, Paul’s words are set in the context of Christian community. The words certainly apply beyond that, even how we seek to engage our enemies. But are directly applicable in relation to each other in Christ, responding to what’s difficult for us by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Traditionally the word in the NIV translated “forbearance” has been and continues to be translated “patience,” “longsuffering” in the KJV. One of my professors said it’s basically the idea of putting up with each other. Bill Mounce in his “gloss” of this word tells us:

patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action

Collins Dictionary describes how we use this word:

If you say that someone has shown forbearance, you admire them for behaving in a calm and sensible way about something that they have a right to be very upset or angry about.

We don’t want to be thinking negatively about others, finding fault and picking at it. We have our own faults and weaknesses for sure. But we often do rub each other the wrong way; it works both ways for sure. Sometimes through misunderstanding, but other times whether or not we should be, we’re frankly annoyed.

When we find ourselves there, we need to determine that we want to be led by the Spirit so that we can walk by the Spirit, rather than act or react in the flesh. That should be our goal. God will honor that commitment of faith by helping us. But there may be a point where other feelings and thoughts submerge us. We then need to prayerfully seek the Spirit’s leading and help, not responding by the flesh. Part of that is moving in directions we know are good and avoiding what we know is not.

When we do stumble along the way, we can confess the sin to God, and if need be to someone we might have offended, and go on. We also have to be careful not to consider something thought, said or done as necessarily sinful. God knows, and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Satan is always present to condemn us. It’s these low points that can strengthen us in our commitment to walk by the Spirit, rather than give in to the flesh.

This leads to the important point that we just can’t go on our feelings or give in to disparaging thoughts. We certainly can’t control our feelings, but we can choose to seek in all things to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.

So back to our main point: The fruit of the Spirit is forebearance. The Holy Spirit of God will help us in our thoughts toward people and things that we find disagreeable or even offensive. God understands our struggle with it; Jesus himself experienced that. The Spirit will help us in love to put up with each other well, as we receive their forebearing love in return. In and through Jesus.

the experience of God’s love in our hearts

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

I live in the default experience of feeling down. Some people, especially Christians, will fault me for that, or at least wonder, though many not. It’s not how you feel, but it’s about faith, and in a sense, what we do with our feelings. I wonder if it isn’t related to head injuries I’ve had. But it’s been a struggle for years.

There are ways I can get around it, or maybe past it for a time. But the best way by far seems to be when the Holy Spirit just takes over. All the negative feelings are gone, awash in the love of God through the Holy Spirit.

Note in the passage above that this love is in a process which in itself is not easy, and surely fraught with negative emotions. The peace with God spoken of here is not the peace of God experienced, but rather our standing before God through God’s justifying grace and our faith in Jesus. Suffering is part of it, and then the perseverance that follows it. And character, and then hope.

I wish I could live in that feeling and sense of well being and love all the time. It does make life so much easier. I have to remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan no less, which tormented him. But how God was in that for Paul’s good, and our blessing (2 Corinthians 12).

But that love of God is made known to us by the Spirit. Something we look forward to living in forever together with all of God’s children in and through Jesus.

feel the emotion

John 10 (and note John 9 preceding it) is an interesting example of a point made in one of John R. W. Stott’s excellent books, Christ the Controversialist. Jesus was up against it time and time again, against his Jewish opponents. Yet you can see throughout that Jesus is still humbly trying to make his appeal to them. But his words were loaded for them. Jesus noted his works which he attributed to the Father, pointing to the claim that he was in the Father and the Father in him.

John 8 is not children’s bedtime reading so to speak. Jesus is not the meek and mild fictional Jesus which is understood in society at large, and it seems even in many of our churches. Jesus doesn’t mince words, and the words said would never be put in Jesus’s mouth in popular portrayals of him. Like “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father, you want to do.”

But back to John 10. In our habit of marking down doctrine or precious promise passages, neither of which we should dismiss, we can easily miss context. What can help us is reading Scripture in real life, and realizing what we’re reading is couched in real life. Jesus’s opponents were emotional, but so was Jesus himself. Jesus’s following words were surely mixed with pathos in the form of grief in lament, along with perhaps something of a defensiveness, even as we was trying to defend the truth that he was from God.

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:25-30

 John’s entire gospel was written to underscore the truth of who Jesus is.

But watch for the real life emotion in passages. What can help us is the emotion we live with. And we need the Spirit and what the church has given us, as well. As we continue on in Scripture and in this life in and through Jesus.

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

not dividing the head and the heart

Michael Minkhoff’s post, How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings is well worth the read. Even if there is only some truth in what he’s saying, and I think there’s plenty, it is enough to help one understand why either emotions are suppressed resulting in a cold, hard hearted rationalism, or why they’re given full sway resulting in a disparaging of the intellect and good, clear, coherent thought. What is needed of course is everything which makes up our humanity made in the image of the one who is moved not only with truth but in an emotional sense, with pity, compassion, anger, etc., in love.

I come to this myself, hardly knowing what to make of it, except to acknowledge that I too am a victim of the lie that we simply need to put aside our emotions for a clear understanding. When actually we need to grow both in our “emotional quotient” as well as our “intelligent quotient.” How in real life mind and emotions, the heart and the head we’re never meant to be separated.

What is often left is an emotional immaturity which actually affects the mind for ill, since good thinking was never meant to be separated from feelings. We can’t do well in one without the other. We need the full healing of our total humanity in and through Christ, a life-long process until the redemption to come, when that work will be finished into something new and dynamic and growing. Something we may be able to find in ourselves now, only with some work and imagination, but which will then be obvious and flourishing in and through Jesus.

 

 

going on in the haze

Sometimes life is anything but comfortable. There can be certain factors at work in that both rather known and unknown. It is nice to have sunny blue skies and the air clear. It is good when the threatening weather comes and the storms pass through with no one hurt, perhaps only having to clean up some debris. There are times when life seems cast in a haze and there is little else we can do but go on.

We might ask ourselves if some of the thoughts we’ve entertained have contributed to this “air” pollution. Perhaps we didn’t dwell on them at all, but just the same, their impact was rather formative on us, on our psyche, so that much of the comfort and joy of life had seemed all but displaced. Perhaps it’s circumstances which are not comfortable in one way or another. Oh for the nice getaway when our focus can be elsewhere in rest and pure enjoyment.

Over and over, fortunately here and there – not all the time – I’ve had to go on in the haze. Not sure where I was going, what was going on, what might come out of it. But going on just the same in faith that God would see me through. Even learning to relax and rest in something other than ideal circumstances. Perhaps attuning one’s self to life as it really is and not as we wish it would be.

In the process circumstances may not change soon, but perhaps it is we who are changing, at least in learning how to go through them with our faith in God not only intact, but somehow strengthened. Perhaps in ways we couldn’t have conceived of beforehand as well as in ways we don’t notice ourselves, even if others might sense some difference in us.

Comforts such as peace and joy are wonderful to experience and we can cherish those moments and times. But by and large that doesn’t seem to be where life is lived. It is more on the edge which mostly seems simply uncomfortable. We need to get used to that and find our life all the more in God in and through Christ. As we look forward to the day when all the haze will forever be gone.

Dallas Willard on self-control

Self-control is the steady capacity to direct yourself to accomplish what you have chosen or decided to do and be, even though you “don’t feel like it.” Self-control means that you, with steady hand, do what you don’t want to do (or what you want not to) when that is needed and do not do what you want to do (what you “feel like” doing) when that is needed. In people without rock-solid character, feeling is a deadly enemy of self-control and will always subvert it. The mongoose of a disciplined will under God  and good is the only match for the cobra of feeling.

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ, 127.