Sunday September 20th, 2020
There is a great deal of talk about fear these days. It makes sense. There are many things going on that could cause one to succumb to the possibility of disaster. Amidst such a culture of fearful discourse and the ever-present accusations of succumbing to such, which in itself could be the telltale sign of that very thing, you might expect to find the aroma of such in any and every place. Yet, week after week Katie and I are discovering a mysterious, holy, opposite of fear. Week after week we walk into the arms of love, which of course is the opposite of fear, in the form of a local church. I think we often mistakenly think of fear and love in terms of mere emotion. In fact, they are lifestyle terms, they are actions words, they are definitive terms. In his epic, Under the Yoke, Ivan Vazov aptly describes a life of fear: “Everyone thought only of himself. Fear hardens the heart and is the highest and most loathsome form of egoism.” (pg. 202) The self-centered, loathsome, lifestyle of thinking only of how to take of yourself is the logical destination of fear. On the other hand, the opposite of fear would be a lifestyle defined by a soft heart that thinks of others. For the Christian, this means have a soft heart centered on Christ, rather than self. The Epistle of John describes it in this way, “There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18-19)
When we arrived at Lebanon First Church of the Nazarene on Sunday morning we knew, immediately, that we were being welcomed into a community of love. We were greeted with smiling eyes (over masks) by all those we saw. Pastor Gary Wilson immediately came up to us with enthusiasm and, having helped us setup our table, ushered us to a fantastic Sunday School class. Sitting in that room studying scripture with people we had never met, and yet who opened up and invited our voices to join their own so freely, was a gift of love. We were blanketed with enthusiastic greetings and blessings as we made our way to the sanctuary following the Sunday School hour.
Here, in this sanctuary space, children of God from the age of 9 to 90 gathered with the bubbly joy, love, excitement, and passion of those too busy about worship and life together to waste time on fear. On the stage there was a large meter that showed how close the church is to meeting their World Evangelism Fund for the year. Now, I must take and moment for those who are not familiar with WEF. This is that incredible means by which all the local bodies of the Church of the Nazarene contribute, quite fearlessly, to the work of the mission of God all around the globe. Each local church pays a percentage of their budget towards the missionary endeavors of the Church of the Nazarene all over the world. Could there be a more loving activity for the people of God? If to be without fear is to think of Christ, of others, before pondering oneself, what more practical manifestation of fearless love could there be than to open up our treasures and pour them out for the sake of the Mission of God, knowing that we might never get credit, that we might never get to see or know all the ways it will bless our neighbors, and still being willing to invest in the missionary endeavors to our neighbors around the world with joy and determination. Lebanon First Church is beyond their goal! We had a wonderful service and when Pastor Gary Wilson handed me the check and showed it to Libby (the NMI president shown in the picture) she pumped her fist, hooted, and hopped. They had given beyond what they thought possible. But isn’t that the most incredible part of loving from the great well of Christ’s love? Isn’t it that ongoing surprise at the bottomless depths of Christ’s love and resources, which constantly surprises us, that is one of the greatest parts of the journey together?
Lunch followed the service and we were astounded as we sat down to beautiful placemats representing all the different countries that Lebanon First Church has been directly involved with in their missions giving, prayers, and support. Of course, there are many more, but they will need to add Bulgaria! Everything was done so intentionally, from thinking through how to be responsible with the health of others during this pandemic, to the Bulgarian flags on the cupcakes. It was a wonderful meal with wonderful people and we lingered over the table long after we intended, happy with the generosity and love in which we found ourselves. What is fear in the face of such love? What are uncertain disasters in the face of such confident love and missional character? This is what it means to stand as witnesses to the love of Christ that is transforming our world day by day. What a time to be alive and to belong to Christ and to His bride, the church!