Tag Archives: fear

The Main Difference Between Fear and Love

A few months ago, a friend who was going through some tough times said to me “It is all about control.” This sparked something in me, and over the last few months I have gradually been opened up to an understanding of the main way to tell when we are acting from fear or love. this understanding for me was all about the direction of the control I was trying to exert.  When I was acting fearfully I attempted to control others for my protection or benefit. This showed up in attitudes, judgments and shaming language designed to breed compliance. When I was acting from love I was trying to control myself for other’s protection and benefit. This showed up in attitudes, compassion, and grace-filled language designed to breed peace.

This opening has been very helpful for me as I look at the various debates raging through the atmosphere. When people are trying to exert control over others I see a reflection of the times I have operated from fear, and can bring love to bear and wait for the fear to subside. When people are trying to exert control over themselves I see the reflections of times I have operated from love, and can love by coming alongside and offering support. This, for me, is now the most important determining factor of whether I am operating from a healthy place, asking myself the question: Who am I trying to control?

When my fear rises and I try to control others I know that my witness to the light of God is dimmed, so, it is back to working on the self, to control me so that I can get out of the way of the radiant light that illumines all darkness, especially mine.

Prayer, Fear, and Forgiveness

(Click here to listen.)

As we look at and hear the daily news reports of escalating violence, disease, famine, and global climate alteration it can be very easy to allow fear and despair to overtake us. The world we live in can be harsh, and humanity is the scariest element. We do so much damage to each other and the world around us that giving up on people can seem to be the best strategy for maintaining our sanity. Often our prayers become pleas for protection and expressions of fear, but we serve God. We serve the God whose messengers always have to begin their message with the words “Do not be afraid.” The fear of the Lord may be the beginning of knowledge, but it is not the end of knowledge. The fear of the Lord is not being afraid of something that can harm us, but is instead the reverential awe of being in the presence of the love that brought the universe into existence. I am not saying that we should not fear God, but that we should not be afraid of the God who so loved the world that he gave up everything, even the life of that part of the Godhead we refer to as Jesus, so that we might not perish but have everlasting life. We serve the Jesus who was introduced to this world with an angel chorus whose opening words were “Do not be afraid.” We serve the Jesus that taught us that unlike others in this world, our prayer was to be different. Our prayer is to help us surrender to God’s agenda, to express our trust in his care, to lead us in forgiveness, and to protect us from the attitudes of domination and control so rampant in the world around us. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gives us teaching and a prayer that leads us in these things.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.11 Give us today our daily bread.12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:5-15

Jesus is continuing his discussion of acts of public piety and how they are abused by changing the focus from attempting to control others through giving to attempts to control others through prayer. Now Jesus had a lot to say about public prayer, but the core underlying his critique is that the Jews had forgotten the true purpose of prayer: To converse with God and to place our inmost being in his hands. The hypocrites that Jesus decries are people who are masking gossip and sermonizing in prayer. They are trying to control others’ behavior or attitudes towards the one praying, and this is decidedly unhelpful. Jesus reminds us to keep things simple and direct, that the less we pray in public and the more we pray in private the better our communication with God is. He reminds us that we don’t need extravagance or eloquence, a simple expression of trust in God will suffice. Of course he is also reminding us that the only one whom our prayers are to be directed at is God.

This leads us to Jesus comparison with the Gentile prayers. In ancient times the Greeks and Romans used prayers to try to control their gods. They had long formulaic prayers designed to force a god to act on behalf of a supplicant. They figured that if they pestered a god with all the right words and phrases the god would eventually grant the petitioner their desire. We see a similar pattern in the modern prosperity gospel movement in which if you pray the right prayers in the right ways then God will do what you ask of him. In this type of prayer God is relegated to the status of cosmic vending machine in which you drop your money in the slot, press the right prayer button and out pops what you asked for. Jesus reminds us that the God who knitted us together in our mother’s womb might just have an inkling of what is on our minds before we open our mouths, and that there might just be a very good reason why God isn’t about to get on board with our purposes and desires that we tend to ask for in theologically prettied up language. God sees to the heart, knows our heart, and knows what will cause us to best reflect the image of God.

In order to get us into a better frame of mind which is better aligned with God’s purposes and God’s desires Jesus gives his disciples a prayer. This prayer is one that most of us who have been around the church for a while can recite by heart, but I have to ask myself how seriously I pray it. Our Daddy, the word “Abba” that we translate as father is not a formal address, but is the familiar address of child to parent. Our Daddy whose very presence is that state of joy we call heaven, may we honor your name above all others. The presence of God is so holy that nothing unloving can withstand it. Is that not our hearts desire, to have every unloving thing removed from us so that we might experience the fullness of God’s presence? Is the cry of our hearts that God’s rule come and be as visible on this earth as it is in his unfiltered presence? There is absolutely no need to be afraid in God’s presence if we truly see him as the “Abba” who loves us. When we allow that perfect love of God to drive out the fears in our hearts, even that fear of letting him down, we can truly begin to pray for the active presence of God’s will and the rule of his love to be made manifest in this world.

The simple beauty of this prayer is that it puts God first. How God’s heart must melt for us when we come to him and tell him “Daddy, I love you more than anything else. I know you have so much love that I want to see it fill the world.” When we pray as Jesus teaches us we place ourselves into the hands of the most secure love we can ever experience, and if we remember that as we pray, we will seek to see those loving priorities enacted in the world around us. In this prayer we are laying everything on the altar before God and saying I only want your rule and your will, so I surrender to you my desire for control and my will so that only what is of you will be displayed in my life. This is a prayer of the deepest trust friends, and we must pray it from the depths of our souls.

The next piece is rather interesting in its use of the plural. Jesus is reminding us that we are part of an interconnected system and that in our prayers for sustenance our focus cannot be solely on ourselves. God give all of us what we need to sustain us through this day. This is one that convicted me as I prepared for this sermon. How often do my prayers center on getting what is needed for me and my family, and how often am I praying for everyone else to get what they need. I fall short because I listen to those “Me first” messages that our culture bombards us with. Jesus is helping me correct that and pray “give us.” We forget that there is enough in God to sustain all of us and we get caught up in a false sense of scarcity. When we pray “Give US this day” we place our hearts and lives at the center of God’s generous heart.

Speaking of the center of God’s generous heart we now get to the part about forgiveness. Forgive us the debt we owe you as we forgive those who owe us. Man is that ever tough. Is that something I really want to pray, or do I really want to collect on what is owed to me. To be honest this cannot be prayed outside of connection with God. We do not have it within us to forgive others, but this prayer that Jesus gives us as a template for our understanding of prayer leaves no wiggle room. God help me to forgive so that I may be part of your plan of forgiveness for the world. There is no human being on earth that God does not desire to extend his forgiveness to, and often in order for others to believe this forgiveness is possible, they need to experience it from us. I have to ask myself who it is that I really don’t want to extend forgiveness to and then I remember a testimony that I read. It is from Corrie Ten Boom’s book Tramp for the Lord and it tells of confronting a long standing grudge. The title of the chapter is The Blacks and Whites of Forgiveness Corrie tells the story of her struggle to forgive some Christians friends that had wronged her andhow even ten years later couldn’t let it go. Finally, she was speaking with a friend who was familiar with the situation who asked if she had forgiven them. She said she had, and the friend asked if they had received her forgiveness to which she replied that they see nothing to forgive, but she had these letters that contained in black and white everything they did.

“Corrie!” My friend slipped his arm through mine and gently closed the drawer. “Aren’t you the one whose sins are at the bottom of the sea? Yet are the sins of your friends etched in black and white?” For an astonishing moment I could not find my voice. “Lord Jesus,” I whispered at last, “who takes all my sins away, forgive me for preserving all these years the evidence against others! Give me grace to burn all the blacks and whites as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Your Glory.” (Ten Boom 1974, 275)

It is so tempting to hold on to grudges, to take what we need without considering the needs of others and to put our will and our desires for control over God’s. When we fall into this temptation we open ourselves up to an unhealthy fear that tells us others are out to get us, that if we don’t grab for what we can we will have nothing, and that God desires punishment over forgiveness. Jesus closes his instruction on prayer with a cry to God to lead us away from temptations and be delivered from those sly voices that find echoes within our hearts to amplify our fears. Delivery from evil and in some translations the evil one is one of God’s purposes and Jesus gives us the gateway to it. If we want to see God’s forgiveness we must bear God’s forgiveness and remember the words of Paul from Romans 5

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11

Jesus is teaching us how to pray and be a credible witness to reconciliation with God. While we are on this earth we have work to do and Jesus acknowledges here just how impossible it is to accomplish that work on our own. So let us remember to pray the simplest prayer of surrender to the love of our God who desires to forgive. Allow his perfect love to cast out the fears dumped on us in the news, the fears of loss and the fears of losing control. In his hands things will always turn out better for us than in ours.

After praying together the words on the screen together we will begin our open worship with five minutes of silence. For more information on this time please check the blue pamphlet in the seat back holders in front of you. After five minutes someone will stand with the microphone and if you feel a leading to share, please rise and wait for the microphone to be brought to you. Let us pray. “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” Matthew 6:9b-13 Amen

Works Cited

Ten Boom, Corrie. Tramp for the Lord. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1974.

 

 

He Is Risen! Now What?

(Note: This week we had a little difficulty with our sound system and I had to re-record the first paragraph of the sermon. Click here to listen.)

All of the men who followed Jesus had tried their best to crawl into the deepest holes they could find in Jerusalem and see if they could pull the hole in after them. They had seen and heard of the brutal death that Jesus suffered, and they knew that one wrong move could put them in a similar situation. They were afraid and who could blame them? Would any of us do any different if we were in that situation? Try to put yourself in these disciples’ shoes for a minute. A week ago, Jesus entered the city to the “Hosannas” of the multitude, and over the course of the week those shouts changed to those of “Crucify Him!” The mob had been stirred up and the Romans were on alert. The entire city was just coming off the rest day of Passover and everybody was waiting to see if new violence would erupt, most likely directed at those who had openly followed Jesus. I wonder how many of us might have decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stayed hidden, I probably would have. But there were these women who followed Jesus, probably just as scared as the men, but they knew there was a job that had to be done. The body had to be prepared. On Saturday after the sun went down they went out and bought the spices they would need for the next morning. One thing to note is that the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, so they had an hour or so to get what they needed. They woke up early the next morning and crept out to the tomb afraid of what they would find when they got there. When they got to the tomb it was open. Think about what might have been going through their heads when they saw the huge stone rolled out from in front of the tomb. Those poor women, already in a great deal of fear encountered the unexpected. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb anymore. The scriptures don’t tell us how long it took them to build up the courage to look inside. When they did look inside, all they saw was a young man in a white robe sitting up at the end of the stone Jesus body had been laid on. There was probably blood still on the stone, and the women, in their fear assumed the worst, that the body must have been stolen. On our end of history, we know what happened here, but those women had just suffered through two horrendous days, the loss of hope that came with seeing Jesus brutally killed, and now this. The “young man” in the tomb probably didn’t need a lot of insight or people skills to see the panic that was setting in and tried, unsuccessfully, to reassure the women. Having already confessed that I probably wouldn’t have been there, if I was, I think this would have been the last straw for me as well. Those women fled in terror and amazement, not daring to believe what was said to them, maybe not even having those words register in their minds until after the panic had faded.

The oldest manuscripts we have end the gospel of Mark at the end of verse 8, the rest was added in after other accounts had been written, and I think take something away from the purpose of the Gospel. As you read through Mark, there is a breathless excitement that runs through the whole book. Mark is filled with action, urgency and immediacy and keeps on going in this breathless style that tells of what Jesus did, and what he was thinking, and what his reactions were, and how he just kept plowing forward to this climactic conclusion of the death and resurrection, leaving the listeners wanting to find out what happened next. Listen again to the ending of the gospel.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8

 

There is a question here, underlying this text that we need to consider: what are we going to do with this message now that we have received it? This ending gives us an invitation and some instruction on how to proceed. The first words out of the young man’s mouth are “Do not be afraid/ alarmed.” In this narrative, it is pretty obvious that it must have taken a while for that to sink in. I think that we also can learn from this advice. We have a lot of fear broadcast into our lives. The news is on 24/7 with all kinds of stories on what is killing, or is going to eventually kill, you, the world is falling apart and you need to protect yourselves and your families. (This report brought to you by Bob’s Bunkers, providers of quality hidey holes. Survive climate change, asteroids, the Russian…ahem Muslim invasion, the breakdown of law and order, or the apocalypse of your choice in comfort and security.) Fear sells, and boy do advertisers, politicians, and news anchors know it. We are bombarded by messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid, and coincidently to buy a product, vote for a politician, or listen to the next piece of news in order to get a fleeting illusion of security or protection. When we believe those lies, the way we interact with the world comes to resemble that of the women and disciples, hiding behind the walls of our churches and homes and having less and less direct interaction with others. Believing these lies is a symptom of an incomplete faith, and the Young man in the tomb tells us what the cause is: We are looking for a dead, crucified Jesus in the tomb and not finding him. When we make decisions and live from a place of fear, we are forgetting about the resurrection. In terror and amazement we run away from the empty tomb.

The good news is that Jesus was completely aware of this and is right here with a message that He is going ahead of us and we will see him. The living Christ is here and the living Christ is with us, we only need to silence ourselves, turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, and the tablets, put down the newspapers and the magazines, pick up a bible, start praying and listen. When we focus instead on the good news of hope, on His kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right, we live in the victory of the resurrection. We then live in a world in which peace becomes not only possible, but the only possible choice. Through the presence of the resurrected Christ, another world is breaking into this one, and though there is still fear and everything is not as God intended it, we are given the ability to live into the values of that other world. We become witnesses to the existence and desirability of God’s way through word and deed, because we walk in the presence of Christ. This gospel ends with an invitation, and I want to extend that same invitation to you. Christ is right here with us, waiting for each of us to accept the peace that comes from following Him. Each of us has some way in which we fail, in which we allow the fears of life to sneak in and dictate some piece of our values, to treat some other group or person as someone less than a beloved bearer of the image of God, even to see ourselves as people less than beloved children of God. Now is the time for us to turn away from that which holds us back and prevents us from fully taking hold of the promised life of wholeness and well-being. Through the resurrection we have a Christ who is present to teach us himself if we would only listen.

As we enter into our time of open worship let me encourage you to listen with an attitude of humble obedience. In that attitude we enter into communion with God and each other, and I pray that each person in this room would be filled with the presence of God, that each of you would hear God’s voice speaking in the silence of your soul, and that you would obey that voice. He is risen! He is here! Let us listen together and place our lives in God’s hands as Jesus did before us.