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Not Scared of You...As Much

9/28/2021 Fearing You Less and Loving You More. Your insights regarding ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ helped me to realize that the two cannot be separated. They intricately weave together to help us more fully experience God’s unconditional love, to honor the Imago Dei in each of us, and to help others experience God’s unconditional love. I cannot ‘love myself’ and not love my neighbor. If I truly love my neighbor, I will also grow in loving myself. Maybe they are two sides of one coin. Just because I struggle to love myself does not mean I have an excuse to not love you like Jesus commanded in John 13:34-35. Jesus said to love one another as he loved us. Scripture never says to learn how to love myself so I can love others. Loving my neighbor unselfishly also teaches me something about me and my motivations, blind spots, and fears. If I love you like Jesus loved me, if I love you like the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and if I love you like I believe you are the image of God, then from what fears will that love free me? If I am the Imago Dei, if you are the Imago Dei, then I should love you more and fear you less. But I have learned over the years to fear certain types or groups of people instead of loving them. How does that work with 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”? Why do I not feel free to love certain types or groups of people? Over the next 3 posts, I am going to share with you how I learned to fear 3 groups of people and how I am learning to fear them less and love them more today. I learned to fear people that worshipped a god other than Jesus Christ and the triune God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. I am not sure exactly why I feared them and their religions. Part of it focused on being fearful of Hell. I could get sidetracked with a long study on the ‘Hell’ of the Bible. What Scripture really says about Hell matters to this discussion. But what I was taught about Hell matters more. I learned to fear Hell. I learned to fear eternal fire and the torture that Satan would inflict on me there. I learned to fear the God who loves me if I sinned or did not serve him just right (even if I thought I did). I learned to fear God, fear Satan, fear Hell, and fear that I would miss Heaven. More fear. Less Love. Scripture focuses less on fear and more on love. The concept of death and the after life changes over time in Scripture. Scripture fails to present a unified picture and teaching on what happens after death and on Heaven and Hell. But certain New Testament scriptures were used to scare the ‘hell’ out of people or scare us out of Hell. Fear. Preachers used Matthew 7:21-23 to shake believer’s confidence in their salvation. Fear. John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” Does this scripture teach that unless someone knows, confesses, and follows Jesus, then they will go to Hell for eternity and suffer at the hands of Satan the entire time? To this day, that is how it is taught in most places. Fear. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This verse and the next 5 verses continue to be used to not talk about God’s love but about fearing a God who loves us if we do not ‘believe’ in Jesus. But what does it mean to ‘believe’? Christians do not all believe exactly the same way and never have. So who is right? More Fear. The incredible hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 encourages followers of Jesus to be like Christ Jesus who emptied himself and became one of us. But the last verses of that hymn say, ‘ that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) Then verse 12 tells us, “ work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” Preachers often focus on ‘fear and trembling’ in this incredible passage of scripture about God’s love for us and how we are to love one another to scare us out of Hell. But that passage does not teach fear of Hell. More fear. Okay. A little sidetracked. I ‘feared’ that. Maybe Jesus Christ is more than a truth to believe, a doctrine to memorize and defend, or a God to whom we pledge allegiance. Maybe the Jesus Christ in John 3:16-21, 13:34-35, 14:6, Romans 6:23, 8:1, Philippians 2:6-11, and 1 John 4 to list a few is more than a pledge. Maybe Jesus Christ lights the way to live in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, John 1. Maybe Jesus Christ is not a cookie cutter to become but the door or gate to living in God’s kingdom, John 10:7-10. Jesus instructed us to follow him (Matthew 4:19) and to love like him (John 13:34-35) not to believe the right doctrines. Less fear. Scripture consistently teaches us to love God and each other and that God loves each person. Scripture consistently teaches that God created all people in God’s image - the Imago Dei. Scripture does not teach a consistent doctrine about death, heaven, hell, judgment, and life after death. Scripture does not teach that if I believe the wrong thing about Jesus that I will end up in Hell. Scripture does teach that if I do not love my neighbor that I am not following Jesus. If my irreligious neighbor or my Buddhist neighbor or my Muslim neighbor or my Hindu neighbor (you get the point) carries the Imago Dei, then why would I fear that person? Jesus Christ did not. Jesus loved them. Then if I am following Jesus, I do not need to fear them but I can love them. I might even learn something about God’s love through them. ‘But they do not believe like you do,’ you might be saying! If Jesus is a way, a door, a light or a love then who says believing the right things is most important? Scripture says following Jesus Christ is the most important thing and Jesus said to love God and to love my neighbor - enemies, irreligious, other religious, Christian - as myself. Is it more important to love someone or to fear them until I make them believe the way that I do? God loved me first. Romans 5:1-11, 1 John 4. Jesus told his disciples to love that way. John 13:34-35. Fear less people that look at life differently. Love more the image of God in them.

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