Perfect Love 4.0

Well, this blog posting will wrap up this particular series. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I’ve really enjoyed pondering some of the practical applications of First John 4:18. You likely have it memorized by now: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

As promised, I want to introduce you to my friend Frozen. I’ve actually given him a name because he’s so central to the real-life experience of “grace” experienced by so many people. You know that Frozen is around whenever you feel like you don’t know what to do next. Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe you know it well.

Ever felt like a deer in the headlights? We all have, at one time or another.

When a deer perceives a physical threat from an oncoming vehicle, the deer’s instinct signals the deer to turn around and go back the way it came. Up to that point in time, the deer was experiencing safety and comfort. All was right with the world. Now that there’s been an activated alarm mechanism, though, it really doesn’t matter that the deer could easily make it to the other side of the road. On autopilot, the deer will turn around and re-cross the highway – even if it means going back into and through dangerous traffic. That’s why there are so many auto accidents involving deer here in Western Kentucky, where we have lots of beautiful deer. The deer simply can’t help it. Their reaction is absolutely automatic. On rare occasion, you will see a deer actually continue to cross the road. When that happens, however, you can rest assured that the deer did not feel threatened – and that its basic survival instinct was not activated.

Here’s my theory: you and I are a lot like deer. When “all is right with the world,” we can prance around with the best of them. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) But, when we feel threatened, we make lots of shortsighted and illogical decisions. Those ancient Israelites have nothing on us when it comes to failing in faith – just when we need it most! Sometimes, we’d rather wander around in the desert than do the hard work of forging forward in our fears. But – and here’s the part that we can’t forget from this series – what often looks like a faith failure is really a failure at LOVE.

Fear has to do with punishment. Hmmm.

In 1857, when missionary David Livingstone traveled home from Africa, he gave a strong challenge to his students at the University of Cambridge. Livingstone’s goal was to convince the young people that a life in service to others was perhaps life’s greatest blessing but in disguise. You see, when you and I think about forsaking all earthly comforts to serve strangers, we think about all that we would be giving up. But David Livingstone was making a colossal point: “Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?”

Our missionary forefather was describing “perfect” love, almost in a kind of sequence. 1. We love others and do good to (and for) them. 2. We experience the joy of knowing that our lives have value and purpose, in that we’re making a contribution to the world. 3. As we minister and serve, we enjoy peace of mind, in no small measure because we’ve chosen to devote ourselves to things of eternal consequence. 4. Because we see God’s love working in and through us, we gain confidence and hope in the glorious destiny which Christ has promised us, which awaits us, and which can’t ever be taken away from us!

Let me say it like this: when love is completed in action, fears subside. When I see that my love has been transformed from “talk” to “walk,” I have confidence to stand before the Lord – because I know that Christ must own me. On the day when I will need it most – the Day of Judgment – I know that Christ’s righteousness will be more than enough for my perfect pardon. So, the gospel becomes more and more real to me, as I learn to love other people more and more.

Livingstone’s point: love looks like a great sacrifice, but it’s in fact a great gain.

So, how do we conquer our fears by love? Let’s face it: we have lots of fears, everything from spiders to crowds to losing a job. During COVID-19, fear has become epidemic, but how do we kiss Frozen goodbye?

First of all: always remember the gospel! Jesus has taken care of eternity on my account, and He’s promised that my life – even here and now – is of far more value than birds and lilies. If you’re in Christ, the same goes for you.

Now, let me describe for you some “gospel-robbers” which I allow to creep into my soul from time to time. As you recognize any of them in your own life, I’m challenging you to forsake them by faith …

  1. I don’t have perfect understanding of a difficult situation in which I find myself, so I allow myself to become numb. Cars and planes crash in fog. Moving out of “foggy” spiritual conditions requires moving with faith in the best direction that I can discern from my finite perspective. That’s O.K. because God will shine light when I need it. He steers moving ships. Solicit the prayers of others … seek wise counsel … but keep moving!
  2. I really know what I need to do, but I can’t seem to do it because I’m going to disappoint somebody. Welcome to reality – we are going to disappoint somebody! People pleasing can get so unchecked that it becomes idolatrous and paralyzing. Love God more. (P.S. When it comes to people-pleasing, how’s that working out for you?)
  3. This is related to #2, but a subtle twist: I feel like I have to be in the middle of the road on every issue. I can’t take a stand, because it will be controversial. I can’t do the right thing, because nobody will understand. I can’t break the barriers of dysfunction in my home, or in my organization, because nobody’s ever done it that way before. Helpful reminder: people in the middle of the road get run over. If God has called you to stand up and be counted: don’t delay! Delayed obedience is disobedience.
  4. I want people to read my mind. (Did I actually just admit that?) Time’s too short for that, friends. Speak the truth IN LOVE, and watch what God will do! He is shaking it up right now – in nearly every area of our lives – and we can trust Him to bless even our smallest efforts at doing the right thing.
  5. I’ve forgotten to choose joy. Perhaps that gnawing depression is because I’ve forgotten to worship in the storm. God may be moving you to something different, or He may be keeping you right where you are – but changing your character. Only He knows! When it’s time, you’ll know what you need to know. But, for now, you can know that you need to worship!

All five of these can land you – like a panicked deer – right smack-dab in the middle of dangerous traffic. Fight each one, and know that I’m fighting with you – because we’re aiming for nothing less than perfect love!

Pastor Charles

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