No Fear in Love

Apr 29 2018

NO FEAR IN LOVE

Most of us fear something. What is it that you fear most? Is it heights, falling, spiders, darkness, being abandoned, death? How do we, as human beings, deal with that fear? Do we tell ourselves that we will just avoid talking about it? Do we just plain avoid it? Do we even share our fears with anyone? The plain truth is that when we fear something, the first step we take is to try to avoid it, like the person in this story:

“Suppose that what you fear could be trapped and held in Paris. Then you would have the courage to go anywhere else in the world. All the directions of the compass would be open to you, except the one leading to Paris. Still, you wouldn’t dare put your toes smack dab on the city limit line. You wouldn’t even stand on a mountainside miles away, to watch the Paris lights come up at night. Just to be on the safe side, you decide to stay completely out of France. But even then, danger seems too close and you feel the timid part of you covering the rest of the globe again. It is then you need the kind of friend who learns your secret, and says, “See Paris first.” (M.T. Cooper – Preachers Illustration Service #2044)

But if the situation comes up and we have to face it, we exhibit emotional and physical symptoms. We want to run – the fight or flight complex. We freeze. We get hysterical. We deny. Our hearts beat so fast we think they will leap out of our bodies. And if we still have to face our fear, we find out that whatever we feared is not as bad as we imagined it to be. Because truth be told, most of our fears are blown way out of proportion by our imaginations. Just like the quote from a little boy recounted by humorist Erma Bombeck:

“My name is Donald, and I don’t know anything. I have new underwear, but I didn’t sleep last night because I’m worried. I have a loose tooth.

What if a bell rings and a man yells, ‘Where do you belong?’ and I don’t know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are up too high for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out in school when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?” (Preachers Illustration Service - #2448)

We imagine our worst fears and then imagine what will happen if we have to face them. For any of us who have ever faced a very real fear, we find out that our original perception of the fear was far worse that the actual outcome when we finally had to come face to face with the situation, person or object of our fear. Yet we sabotage ourselves all the time. We are afraid of flying, so we won’t visit relatives or friends that we have not seen for a long time. We are in an abusive relationship, but the fear of facing the unknown is worse than the familiar known.

Where is God in all of this fear? Do we fear God also so we will not turn to God? Do we actually fear what God will think of us? Many people do. For those of us who were brought up in a conservative denomination, we were taught to fear that God would judge us if we did something wrong, so out of fear, NOT RESPECT, we obeyed. We obeyed our parents, our teachers, anyone in authority, because we just knew that God would not like it very much if we disobeyed. And the images that were conjured up of God judging us when we died and then the possibility of ending up in hell were just too much to take.

I’m going to divert us for while to the story of Peter walking on the water. When he stepped out of that boat and walked towards Jesus, he didn’t initially have a problem. Even though he knew he was not supposed to be able to walk on water, Peter just climbed out and started walking. When did he start sinking? When he took his eyes off of Jesus, started to doubt and was afraid. If we have not developed a faith in God that allows us to live our lives without fear, perhaps we need to put our eyes of faith squarely back on God.

I have seen governments, parents, teachers, pastors – all of them – use fear to control people. I have seen children shake and cry; I have heard people talk about the protective arm of the government; I have seen pastors threaten people with hell and scare them into altar calls. And I have come to the conclusion that if fear is the only way to get people to believe and trust in God, not only is the church doomed, but our world isn’t going to be able to live in harmony for many decades to come.

How did we come to this reliance on fear when it was Jesus who taught love for God and for one another? As the church gained more and more temporal power; as the creeds were written to promote like-mindedness; as the church demanded certain beliefs and behaviors from its members to keep them under control, the use of fear increased and love and grace faded into the background.

Some of you may remember seeing tent revivals on TV or reading about them. What do you think brought people to the altar call? The sermons were hell fire and brimstone and literally scared the hell out of the people.

Look at the stories in the Old Testament. God punished Adam and Eve for making bad decisions and banished them from the garden. The Egyptians didn’t treat God’s people fairly, so God drowned them in the Red Sea, after killing all of their first-born males. And we think – look what God did to them! I don’t want to be on God’s bad side!

As long as fear rules our relationship with God, it will have a tremendous impact on every relationship in our lives. As long as fear rules any of our relationships, we will not be able to truly and completely love another human being. If we do not believe that we are worthy of God’s love, how can we believe that we are worthy of the love of another person? If we do not believe that we are worthy of God’s love, how can we love ourselves? That is the legacy that the doctrinally elite churches have given us. And it is not a legacy that will lead us into a future filled with love and grace.

We have a decision to make – whether we will live out our lives in fear because of what we think God will do to us or whether we will live out our lives in love relying on the unconditional love of God that was shown to us through the life of Jesus.

God is never far from us if we believe Jesus when he said to us, “The kingdom of God is within you.”

There is a spark of God within each of us. We call it the Holy Spirit. And whether we can describe it physically or not, people over the ages have felt its influence on their lives. We have prayer which even the medical profession has indicated can be a conduit to healing. While the human mind wants to fear, God calls us to a life lived knowing that God is always with us.

Allowing fear to control our lives will cause us to pull inward, to fear the reactions and feelings of others that our imaginations lead us to believe, to stifle our lives because we are afraid. Love opens us up. It allows us to make decisions that are born out of a genuine respect for ourselves and others, but also a reliance on the truth that what someone else thinks isn’t always what needs to affect us. God calls us out of lives of fear to a realization that loving ourselves, others and God will bring harmony and peace. But the choice of how we will live our lives is still one that is ours to make. Choose fear or love. They simply do not coexist when it comes to a relationship with God. Amen.