By Linda Rex
June 21, 2020, PROPER 7—Lately it seems that much of our media is focused on finding things for us to be afraid of. Social media has been especially bad, with a proliferation of information, false and true, regarding possible apocalyptic outcomes of the pandemic, politics, and natural occurrences.
It is unfortunate that we as human beings are enchanted by the spectacular, the exciting and the fascinating. This is what sells and so this is what is focused on by our media. What is everyday and ordinary, however marvelous and beautiful, is often pushed aside by that which is sensational or dramatic. The overwhelming value of a human life becomes small change in exchange for the appeal to our human senses.
What Jesus asks us to do when we encounter him is to follow. To follow Jesus seems like a simple process—just go do what you think Jesus would do. But there is more to it than that—Jesus comes to dwell in human hearts by the Holy Spirit. The human body is the temple of God the Spirit, and the Lord the Spirit often asks us to do things much differently than how we think Jesus would do them.
For example, we may believe that if we are going to follow Jesus, we have to make sure everyone in our church is a good person (and we define that). When a man who is smelly and disheveled enters our church doors, we may ask him to leave and find a different place to meet. Surely we must keep the sanctuary pure for the Lord, right? Wrong.
This is far from how Jesus works. As we trust in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell, to rest and abide within our hearts, God enters into a place which is like a rundown shack on an isolated mountainside with trash all over inside and out. What was designed in the beginning to be a showpiece had become a dump, but in Christ we become a dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As Christ by the Spirit goes to work, transforming our hearts by faith, the old rundown shack begins to change. We discover as time goes by that we never were the rundown shack in God’s mind—he always knew the truth about us. He always knew the tremendous potential of what he created when he made us.
But the coming of the Spirit to dwell within isn’t all God is doing. When we encounter Jesus and place our faith in him, he tells us to follow him. Following Jesus means leaving behind all that was and moving toward all that God has in mind for us. Jesus becomes the defining factor in our lives, not our own decisions and preferences. As Jesus laid down his life, we learn to lay down our own for others, trusting him to make things right when they don’t seem to be working out the way we expect.
Jesus pointed out to his disciples, as they were asked to follow him, that when we start on this road of obedience, that not everyone in our lives will agree with us or honor our efforts to follow the Lord. In fact, those we are closest to may become, in essence, our enemies—turning against us and rejecting us. We must not think this is solely due to us—it is often their own wrestling with the claims of Christ that brings about this crisis, this anxious desire to resist any semblance of godliness, truth, or righteousness. Because they reject Jesus Christ, they reject his followers, no matter who they are.
But Jesus says to us, three times in fact in this passage: Do not fear. Don’t fear what anyone might say or do. Just follow me, he says. In spite of the risk, the danger, the opposition—follow me.
The reason we don’t need to fear is because of who we are. We are God’s beloved in Christ the Beloved One. When Abba looks at us, he sees the ones who are his very own—the ones whom he cares deeply for and watches over and protects. If God cares about whether or not a little bird falls to the grown and dies, how much more does he care about his very own adopted children?
Even if we are brought to the place where our very life is threatened, we have no reason to fear. Because in Christ, we have hope beyond this life. No one can take us from the Father’s hand, as he holds us near his heart. This should give us great boldness in the midst of all our struggles, persecutions, and difficulties.
But Jesus does say, follow me. He does ask us to give up all we value in this life, trusting that he has our real life in his hands—a life so much more wonderful than this one. There is a showplace with a glorious view he is working on, but we need to be willing to give up our rundown shack and let him do the work he needs to do to renovate it. If we hang on to our rundown shack and resist the Spirit’s work, refusing to participate in what God is doing in our lives, we may find ourselves standing in the midst of a pile of rubble rather than in a comfortable home for our soul.
There is only one thing that we should ever fear and that is that we might miss out on the love and grace of our Lord because we refuse to follow him. Instead, let’s allow God’s perfect love to cast out all our fear and let us follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Let us surrender to the inner workings of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus as he does reconstruction surgery in our hearts. And as we do so, we will find our real life, a life both now and for all eternity, held in the midst of the love and life of our Father, his Son and Spirit.
Dear God, thank you for making us your very own, for watching over us and loving us so completely. Turn our hearts and minds toward you, and enable us to know that you do indeed hold us in the palm of your hand. Enable us to respond to the work you are wanting to do in our hearts and lives. Jesus, give us the courage to follow you wherever you may lead us, no matter how difficult and dangerous it may be. In your name we pray. Amen.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. … And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:24-31, 38-39 NASB
By Linda Rex
It occurred to me more than once during this election season the messages I was hearing from the two primary parties were designed to create fear in the people hearing and seeing them. The idea, it seemed, was to motivate people to vote for a particular candidate because there was real and present danger in electing the other candidate to office. Both candidates were accused of horrific evils and horrendous motivations, and no doubt there was reason to believe these accusations had real basis in fact.
My purpose here isn’t to defend or criticize either position, but to bring up the topic of using fear as a motivator to get people to do what you want them to do. The honest truth if it must be told is for many centuries Christian preachers and teachers have used fear as a motivator to get people to choose Christ as their Savior. It seems there is a real belief the only way to get people to make a good choice is by terrifying them into doing it.
This seems to permeate our human way of doing things. For example, when I went into a medical clinic one day, I found myself staring at a revolting illustration of a lung filled with cancer which had in bold captions a reminder smoking is hazardous to my health. Nice to know, I suppose, only I don’t smoke. At Halloween time at the chiropractor’s office, I found myself face to face with a skeleton with a heading telling me this is how I will end up if I don’t eat right and keep my spine straight. Perhaps it might be a helpful encouragement to the correct person to do the right thing, but for me, it was not helpful at all.
Growing up in a religion which taught me I had to get everything exactly right or God would be mad at me, I developed an aversion to fear-based motivators. This includes even those intended to be helpful to me.
This is why it was such a relief to me when I discovered the real God was totally different from the God I was taught to believe in as a child. When the reality about who God really was leapt off the pages of the Bible through Jesus into my heart, I was stunned. I still struggle to believe this is really true—God knew me and loved me before time began, and has always intended for me to be included in his life and love. This amazing God has such an amazing love for you and for me, we do not have to perform correctly in order to be loved and accepted. No, God’s very nature is outgoing, unconditional love and acceptance!
It is not fear which God has used to change me and to change my life. It is love—a love which passed through the gates of suffering and death into resurrection and now lives in you and me by the Holy Spirit. This love of God was willing to set aside all the privileges of divinity to participate in my/our brokenness and to heal it from the inside out—Jesus did this moment by moment as he lived and walked in our human flesh, becoming sin for us so we might become the righteousness of God.
It is instructive Jesus often told his disciples at critical moments, “Do not be afraid.” Fear is our immediate reaction to anything we are uncomfortable, or uncertain about. It is a completely human response to the unknown.
Peter did a good job of walking on the water up until the time he allowed fear to supplant his trust in the Savior and turn it into doubt. With Jesus present and enabling him to do what he could not otherwise do, Peter had no reason to be afraid. Yet his focus turned to the uncertain circumstances in which he found himself—“seeing the wind, he became frightened.” There was absolutely no reason for him to fear, but his natural human response to the chaotic wind and waves was fear.
Peter’s next response though in that moment of fear was a good one—“Lord, save me!” This is the best response we can give to anything we face which frightens us or makes us feel uncertain and afraid. We can be assured Jesus is present in the midst of all our fearful circumstances and is ready to lift us to safety as we call upon him. (Matthew 14:22-33)
But I don’t see Jesus using fear as a motivator to get people to follow him. I see him speaking the truth in love, yes, but also listening to people’s stories, healing them, and joining them in their everyday life. I see him telling people the truth about his relationship with his heavenly Father—a relationship of oneness and love which motivated God to send his Son for the benefit of a broken humanity which was in need.
The thing is, using fear a motivator gives a person an illusion of control over another person. Love, however, always gives the other person the freedom to choose their response. Love then, is a lot more uncertain with regards to the response. There is a whole lot less control, and a whole lot more uncertainty, which means the person trying to motivate someone cannot ensure the outcome will be what they want.
Domestic abuse can be the result of wanting to control the response of another human being. Since giving another person the freedom to choose whether or not to love in return means rejection or abandonment is a distinct possibility, a person may seek to control the outcome through the creation of fear or the use of violence.
Understanding our human tendency to want to always control the outcome makes even more amazing what God did in creating and loving human beings who are free to reject him and turn away from him. God does not demand our allegiance or obedience—he invites it, through his love and faithfulness, and in taking on our human flesh and making our suffering and brokenness his own so we would be free of it. God motivates our loving and obedient response through his covenant love and grace, his compassion and all the divine attributes of his Being.
This is why Paul could say, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). It is this love of the Father expressed to you and me and all humanity in and through his Son and by his Spirit, which motivates us to live our lives as grateful, loving, obedient children. It is not fear which motivates us—for such motivation can be and often is destructive, transient and debilitating. Love is what God uses as his primary motivator, and it is high time we began to use it as well in every area of life—family, community, politics, work and play. For this is the only motivator which will last on in God’s kingdom life on into eternity.
Abba, thank you for your faithful love, for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Thank you for not using fear to motivate us, but for showering on us love and grace instead. Fill our hearts with such love and grace as well, so we will quit trying to control others and motivate others by using fear. Thank you for making all this possible in and through your Son Jesus, in Whose Name we pray. Amen.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:13–15 NIV