love

The Remedy for Fear

If there is one thing that should strike fear in a heart it is the certainty of divine judgment and the potential of eternal punishment. In a sane person every other fear bows to this great terror. Accountability in the face of omniscience and holiness is a sobering reality.

The gospel of God is tremendous news as it drives to the heart of this deep concern. Judgment day is ripped out of the future and brought into the present when Christ goes to the cross in our stead. The cross is the courtroom. The verdict is condemnation for Jesus and righteousness for us. This is the gospel. He was our substitute. Judgement has happened.

Love motivated this saving work. It is God’s love that dispels all fear and replaces it with joyful confidence. Hear what John says about the matter in his first letter.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 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. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).

Fear is the prey of love. There is no peaceful co-existence between the two. Love attacks, fear runs. How mighty is the love of God! It assaults our fear and instills us with confidence for the day we fear most.

The love of God ensures that punishment is not in our future. His love is a static reality, it is fixed and unmoving. The cross stands as the objective reminder of God’s enduring love. Our grasp of that love, however, is often unstable and moving.

This is why John articulates the need to be “perfected” in our grasp of God’s love for us. The idea of perfection here is development, maturity or completion. As we grow into our grasp of God’s love in Christ our confidence also increases.

We must always distinguish between objective reality and our subjective experience. There is no condemnation present or future for those in Christ, judgement day has happened. That is a fixed reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I waiver in my faith. I doubt God’s promises. I question God’s love. My obedience is flawed. I do not always feel confident about judgement day. These are all part of my subjective experiences of faith. I waiver and how I feel about the gospel and judgement day moves. This does not change the settled reality, it simply speaks to my interaction with it.

The goal: move the subjective experience closer and closer to the objective reality. Confidence in coming day of judgement is an indicator that the objective and subjective are converging.

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Humor and Self-Forgetfulness

Karl Rahner has an interesting perspective on humor. He suggests that genuine humor is the expression of genuine love for another while forgetting about oneself. This is what he says about this idea.

“Not everybody, however, has a genuine sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. Only the person who has also a gift for affection can have a true sense of humor. A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us.”

The Power of Vulnerability

Vulnerability…even the word seems weak. Researcher Brene Brown has devoted her life’s work to changing our perspective on vulnerability. She argues that the most powerful, meaningful, and valuable things in life are connected to vulnerability. She defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. By her definition life is fundamentally vulnerable. All of our relationships are vulnerable. All of our big life choices, changes and dreams are vulnerable.

She is right, weakness is actually denying our vulnerability. Weakness is pretending your bullet proof and untouched by your fragility. She states that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” I think she is on to something. C.S. Lewis captured this theme years ago when he made this important observation about love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The best things in life contain the risk of pain…it is courageous to know this and pursue these things anyway.

Vocation and Neighbor

In the last post, we sought to define the doctrine of vocation. We saw that the language of vocation/calling was a technical term during the Reformation era for clergy. Luther took this language and applied it to every station in life thus destroying the distinction between sacred and secular, holy and mundane.

Vocation teaches that God transforms every arena where we live, move, and have our existence. Our stations in life are important. God works through them for the good of his creatures. In this post, we will look at how vocation is intended to serve others and then flesh out some implications of the doctrine. Gustaf Wingren does a good job articulating the “otherness” that should characterize vocation.

“In his vocation man does works which effect the well-being of others; for so God has made all offices. Through this work in man’s offices, God’s creative work goes forward, and that creative work is love, a profusion of good gifts. With persons as his ‘hands’ or ‘coworkers,’ God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man’s life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc., etc.).

Through the preacher’s vocation, God gives the forgiveness of sins. Thus love comes from God, flowing down to human beings on earth through all vocations, through both spiritual and earthly governments…So vocation belongs to this world, not to heaven; it is directed toward one’s neighbor, not toward God. This is an important preliminary characteristic. In his vocation one is not reaching up to God, but rather bends oneself toward the world. When one does that, God’s creative work is carried on. God’s work of love takes form on earth.”

Vocation has been termed a “mask of God,” meaning it is a place where God is at work in tangible ways though we don’t see him or connect that work to him. Wingren says, “God does not come to man in thoughts and feelings which well up in him when he isolates himself from the world, but rather in what happens to man in the external and tangible events which take place about him.”

God hides himself in the farmer and provides us food through him. He hides himself in the judge through whom he executes justice through. He is behind the doctor who provides healing. He is working through the carpenter to build and provide shelter. He is disguised in the pregnant mother bringing new life into the world.

God is working for the good of the world in and through people. Common grace makes this true for all people. Specific grace makes it uniquely true for the one who responds to the call of salvation. As Robert Kolb says, “For Luther the situations and responsibilities which structure human life are part of the doctrine of creation. God places all people, not just Christians, in these situations; He assigns all people these responsibilities. Only those who trust in Him, however, recognize His hand in the construction of their situations. Only those who recognize His lordship perceive that their responsibilities are personal assignments from God.” Thus eyes are opened and every arena is now full of meaning, opportunity, and purpose for the Christian. Every station is transformed. Luther captures this idea with his usual winsomeness.

“If you are a craftsman you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor.  Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them.  You will not be able to look anywhere where it does not strike your eyes.  None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell you this incessantly, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools, and other implements in your house and estate; they shout this to your face, ‘My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.’”

I love the breadth of this perspective. Every skill and tool that God gives us is to be pressed into the service of our neighbor.  The posture of vocation is outward looking. It calls us to use what we are and have for the good of others.