Love and Fear

“There is only one metric for discipleship, only one call: to go beyond being polite, subdued, civil and nice to practicing real, even dangerous, love.” – Pastor Don Johnson, in this morning’s sermon, “Sifted,”
based on 1 John 4:7-21

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Twenty-nine times in fourteen verses — that’s how often the apostle John uses the worn-out, overused, mostly ignored word, “love,” in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

Twenty-nine times.

I think this guy believes what he says, you know?

And I think he has the street cred to back up his instructions, his analysis, his hopes, his commands.

You remember John, don’t you? The ‘beloved’ disciple, one of three pulled out for special events, the one to whom Jesus gave responsibility for his mother while he was dying on that cross, the one who stayed around through the whole awful crucifixion scene and then showed up early at the empty tomb and immediately believed? 

Yes, I think this man’s words can be trusted. I think John knows whereof he speaks. 

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So from our perch in the balcony this morning (it’s where the scooter fits best), I sat and pondered this tableau of sifting things — fish net, colander, strainer. And as we moved through the sermon, I could see — again! — that the one thing Jesus uses to sift the wheat from the chaff in our souls is love. 

Nothing else works, you see. Only love can separate us from all those things that get in the way of deep and true relationships, that keep us from living out the peace and justice that God asks of us, that infiltrate our spirits and keep us suspicious, reactive, judgmental and jealous. Only love.

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We’ve heard that word so often that most of the time, we don’t even think about what it might mean when we see it, hear it, think it.

What does it truly mean to love? To choose love, to practice love, to live in love? Where does it come from? How do we grow it in ourselves?

It is, after all, the one thing that Jesus commands us to do, right? Love God, love one another.

And John picks up the song right where Jesus left off. Pastor Don outlined for us the powerful truths that are buried in this long list of ‘love’ words in 1 John 4 and the ones that stood out to me are these: 

Love comes from God because God is love.

God is therefore the source of love, we are the reflectors of it.

God chooses to use us as instruments of God’s love in our interactions with one another.

Our love for one another is the primary — perhaps even the only — way in which those who do not yet know God can see God at work in the world.

The clearest demonstration of love ever let loose in this world is Jesus.

When love takes over, fear flees.

Loving God and loving others are non-negotiables.

Even though I wasn’t feeling particularly well this morning, I knew I needed to hear this sermon, to ponder it and pray through it and learn from it. For lots of reasons, but primarily because of my own ongoing battle with anxiety and worry. That particular journey is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kinda trip in my life, and I needed to think again on these words: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

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When you think about it, fear is at the bottom of a whole lot of ugly, scary things in this world. Every bomb dropped, warrior wounded, child enslaved, bit of food hoarded — all of it comes back to being afraid of something. Afraid there won’t be enough, afraid we’ll lose face, afraid we won’t get all our wants/needs met, afraid of the nameless/faceless ‘enemy,’ wherever and whoever they are.

I’ve been afraid a lot lately — afraid I’ll never walk right again, afraid I’ll be dependent on others forever, afraid I’ll be . . . what? Defective? Hobbled? Less than?

And yet, I don’t believe that about friends of mine who deal with disabilities of one kind or another. I see them for who they are, I value their insights and their gifts. So what am I truly afraid of?

Maybe that I’ll be less than what I’ve been before. Maybe that I’ll fail to measure up to some invisible, impossible standard of perfection that hangs over my head. Maybe that no one will love me if I’m not ‘together.’ Maybe that I do not and will not love myself if I’m not ‘performing’ the way I think I should. Maybe that God won’t love me if I’m not working hard.

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.

I am still doing battle with that ancient enemy, that old heresy, the one that goes like this:

Salvation is to be earned.
Worth is to be proven.
What I do for God and for others is what will force God to love me and will make me more acceptable to myself, too.

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And that is crazy-making thinking, you know? Scroll back up to the list I wrote out from chapter 4. John spells it out, plain as day. LOVE COMES FIRST, God loves us, we respond in love, God’s love flows through us to others, and the pattern is repeated.

Only, we’re really, really lousy at this thing. Just reading through the comments section at some of the more public blogging sites proves that. We can’t even be civil, much less move beyond civility to love. We so often let fear win, don’t we? Way too often.

So tonight, at this end of the day, I want to start again. Again. I want to ask for the blessing and I want to be open enough to receive it. I want to hold my hands and my heart open and let the love of God flow into and through me. I want to live in love, not in fear.

In LOVE, not in fear.

How about you?

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Comments

  1. “I want to hold my hands and my heart open and let the love of God flow into and through me. I want to live in love, not in fear.”

    My heart leaps at his thought. I. too, want to live in love… not fear.

  2. Thanks Diana,
    really a blessing to read and be moved more towards Him and his love and away from me and all my ____
    bless you!
    Susan

  3. Hello Diana, I’ve been absent from your corner of the world (travels and visitors) and it’s good to come today and read these words.

    Open hands, open heart. The way forward.

    Bless you and your recuperation. Many good things are ahead of you for sure. (((hugs)))

  4. Such timely words as I struggle with my own fears! Thank you for this.

  5. Beautiful words here, Diana. I’m a firm believer in processing the messages we hear on Sunday and I love how you’ve fleshed yours out for us here. I’m quite sure that there is nothing here that you didn’t already know and preach in your own messages many times, but oh how the “cares of the world” can wear us down and make us temporarily forget what we know. That’s why we need the Body of Christ to do just what you wrote about in Deeper Story – to carry us on a mat to Jesus – whether’s it’s accomplished in a sermon, blog post, or over a cup of tea. I do love you, my dear friend.

    • I try to keep processing all day, off and on. Some Sundays that works better than others! And yes, you’re right. I’ve preached this, written it, believed it, tried to live it. But there are seasons when I must begin doing it again. And I’m in the middle of one right now – and so grateful for all who carry me on that mat these days. Thank you for your prayers and your love.

  6. Sandy Hay says:

    You’re writing more again 🙂 And thank you Diana for putting words to text what so many of us struggle with but are afraid (that fear word) to verbalize. Sometimes I think that is half our battle. We let our fears run around in our minds and drive us crazy. Writing it down, pushing the send button, exhaling, and letting God have it. That helps you. That helps us .

    • It doesn’t cure that fear-cycle once and for all, but it surely does help to reframe things if we write it down and talk about it. Thanks for reading and affirming, Sandy.

  7. Fear that, “Maybe that I’ll be less than what I’ve been before.”

    I’m thinking you’ll be more than because of all of this. And that you’re doing more right now by doing less. I know I’m more by knowing you and by simmering in your words and thoughts.

  8. Love is what it’s all about, in the here and now, and in the end. Before I read your post, Diana, I’d just completed another chapter in my new book series. The gist? How to love as Jesus does. In light of that, your words took on a deeper and richer meaning for me. Thank you!
    Blessings!

  9. That quote you begin with is amazing, I think I need it tattooed on me “polite, subdued, civil and nice” phew. I’ve been meaning to write about fear, I’m beginning to think fear has no actual power of its own, only what we give it (like a shadow is only cool because of the absence of the sun). God has been reminding me that I don’t have to keep rooting out all the evil and fear in my life, only to keep opening to love and waiting in faith as love has its way in me. I so enjoy when you share something from your church that touches you and I love hearing your preaching voice ringing through here. You’re blessed to have a home church that feeds you.

    • Yup, that quote made me want to stand up and cheer! I love what you say about fear having no power of its own – it sure feels like it does, though. I like this idea very much. “keep opening to love” — the key to so much. I love my church and am so grateful that we’re welcome there, even in retirement. Worship is a highlight of my week, that’s for sure.

  10. “Nothing else works, you see”
    nothing else indeed!
    love before all
    around all
    above all
    just as He Is

  11. I’ve been babysitting our 17 month-old granddaughter, Monday-Friday, for several weeks. By comparison to some strong-willed, always-on-the-go toddlers, she’s quite easy going. But of course, she’s still very needy of care, feeding. help, companionship, and more. Yet we love her immeasurably in spite of her neediness. I must remind myself of the fierce love we humans have for our young offspring. It is not earned; it needs no proof. Even more our perfect Heavenly Father love us without measure. And like a small child, I want to crawl up in His lap and just enjoy his calming presence. With you, Diana, I want His love to flow in me and through me. And surely God smiles.

  12. I love this. There is so much insight here, how fear is at the bottom of so much that goes wrong between people. I can sure spin some ugly stories around my fear, that are pretty much made up. Right now I’m trying help my mare, Morgen, work through her fears, when I drive her. I’m glad I found this as I may link back to it, if I write down the essay that is percolating right now.

    So nice to see your picture and lovely site too. What a kind face you have. Blessings and all good things.

    • Thanks so much, Katie, for reading and for commenting, and for leaving such kind and encouraging words. Blessings as you work with your mare.