Loving Without Fear

The air conditioning in my new apartment was shutting down each time the temperatures outside went above ninety degrees. For four months, my landlord and the men who installed the unit tried in vain to fix the problem. They replaced parts, put in a new transformer, and tried everything they knew to try with no success. They asked me to send a text the next time the system shut down, so they could see what was going on when it wasn’t working. We were all getting frustrated, and I was giving up on a quick fix of any kind.

The system shut down again last week, so I sent a text and hoped for the best. The solution turned out to be a simple one that left all of us relieved and smiling. The door on the electrical box has a safety feature that shuts the power off if it’s opened while the breaker to the unit is on. The extreme heat was causing the cover on the door to expand and bow out. That created a tiny crack between the door and the box that shut down the system until the attic cooled down in the evening. The guys sealed the door shut with tape, and the system has worked perfectly ever since.

No one understands the danger of opening a door that should not be opened better than an electrician because their lives depend upon it. God used the repair to teach a powerful lesson. Opening a door that is best left shut can create havoc in my heart, as well. I’ve opened doors I should not have opened, and my heart has suffered as a result.

God provides safeguards that keep my heart from being hurt. I can override those safeguards and warnings, or I can seal off my heart the way those men sealed off the door in my air conditioning system. God and I both know that isn’t the best solution. It’s best to be mindful and heed the warning signs if I want to avoid being hurt. Like an electrician’s life, my heart’s safety is at stake if I don’t.

God will not seal the door to my heart, and He doesn’t want me to seal it either. There are no easy solutions when it comes to love, and no one understands that better than God. His lessons leave me feeling disconnected at times, but I know disconnection and differentiation go hand in hand. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Like flying from one trapeze to the next, faith will carry me if I forget about fear and remember God’s love is there to catch me when I fall. That allows me to love without fear, and God knows that’s the only way to love.

1 John 4:18 says it much better than I can.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Photo Credit: US Hawks
Photo Credit: US Hawks

Victims and Villains

2 Samuel 11:1-15 is in the lectionary this week. The story of David and Bathsheba has been twisted and turned over the centuries, and I’ve struggled with it myself. Many see Bathsheba as a villainess who lured King David into a compromising situation. My early experiences with the church and my father’s opinion of women caused me to see David as an innocent victim seduced by a woman. My father had a famous saying he loved to repeat, “Water is the second most destructive force on earth.”

That begged the question, “What’s the first?”

He would smile and say, “Women!!”

My opinion of myself, and of women in general, was forged by my father’s opinions. I saw myself through his eyes for decades, but I’ve since learned to look through the lenses of my Father’s eyes to see the real me. Friends who see me as He does help with that process.

Six years ago, I was sitting in a Wednesday evening church service broken and confused. When I realized the topic for the evening’s Bible study was David and Bathsheba, my heart sank. I braced myself to hear the familiar tale of David’s demise caused by a wanton woman, but what I heard was something completely unexpected. There was something different about this message. I heard love in the story, and I didn’t hear the usual blame and judgment.

I listened intently as the familiar story was told honestly without vilifying or victimizing Bathsheba or David. I never realized Bathsheba was going through a purification ritual required of all women when their monthly menstrual cycle ended. Perhaps that aspect of the story was left out because it was deemed too sensitive for Sunday school or perhaps it didn’t fit the more convenient version. 2 Samuel 11:2-5 explains:

One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. (This occurred during the time of “purification” following her period.) Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant. (The Message)

I remember feeling my heart relax as I listened to the story unfold. Some folks were not comfortable with this new version. An angry woman to my left barked, “She liked the attention!!”

A lady on my right saw David as the villain and said, “He was the king! She couldn’t say no!!”

I sat still in the middle and listened. God used that moment to remind me that His Word must pass through the filter of my heart. What I hear depends upon how much fear is in my filter. How close am I to the subject at hand? What’s going on in my own life that relates to the verses before me? How open am I to hear the truth? The scriptures came to life in a beautiful way that evening as I forgot about my fears for a moment and listened with an open heart.

I’ve set myself up as a victim many times during my journey because it’s a comfortable position that causes others to sympathize with and protect me. Attention is addictive, and being a victim is the surest way to get a fix.That isn’t what God wants for me. Hearing the story of David and Bathsheba in a new light made me see my own story in a new light. Only God knows what happened on that rooftop, and only God knows what is going on in my own heart. There is great tragedy in the story of David and Bathsheba, but there is also hope. God chose their son Solomon to do great things, and Christ’s own lineage traces back to David and Bathsheba. God will, indeed, use all things for my good if I yield to Him.

I imagine folks will always vilify Bathsheba. I recently heard a woman speaker make fun of a girl named Bathsheba during her message. She made the remark, “Who would name their daughter Bathsheba!!??”I sighed and thought it was no wonder women are seen as they are when even women perpetuate myths that cement negative thoughts and lay a false foundation beneath God’s precious Word. It is frustrating and heart-breaking to hear.

There have been many attempts to capture Bathsheba’s image over the years. Most show her as a seductive nude reclining on a bed. I prefer this one from the History Channel because it shows the restoration God made possible. Bathsheba was the love of David’s life, and their son went on to be a great king. David, Bathsheba, and Solomon were not perfect, but they loved God. Instead of making villains or victims out of them to suit our own hearts, I think it’s best to see the story as an example of God’s ability to restore in any circumstance. I think that’s the point of the story.

Photo Credit: The History Channel
Photo Credit: The History Channel

Life or Death?

Choices can be confusing, so I like it when they are simplified for me. I want to choose without being overwhelmed. God’s lessons this week have been crystal clear. He offers two choices, and I can have one or the other.  I can have the life He wants for me or not. It’s completely up to me. Love and fear will not abide in the same place. Anger and peace cannot coexist. Unforgiveness and grace do not mix. Insecurity hates trust, and comparisons kill gratitude. I cannot have control and surrender at the same time. Living in the flesh prevents me from living in His Spirit. The choices are simple, but I have the tendency to hesitate and complicate things. When I stop and think, I get into trouble. When I trust and love, the right decision is much easier.

My small group is reading “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Eunice. God is using the book to help me see clearly that my issues are, as Nicole says, “joy stealing and love sucking.” I love that phrase because it creates a vivid image of what fear, anger, unforgiveness, insecurity, comparison, and control do to my ability to love as God desires.

Letting go of control allows me to surrender.

Gratitude puts comparison in its place.

Insecurity falls away when I remember God is trustworthy.

God’s infinite grace reminds me of His forgiveness and opens the door for my own.

The peace that passes understanding comes when I let go of my death grip on anger.

Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.

Spirit reminds flesh of its temporary nature, and resurrection living becomes possible.

Life or death? God leaves the choice up to me.

Fleeing Fear

1 John 4:18-19 reminds me that fear and love cannot exist in the same place. Christ came to cast out fear, and He did just that when He rose from the grave.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” NASB

The beautiful lesson this week was that I must choose whether love or fear will rule my heart. Fear wins by default if I refuse to choose, and I lose the love, joy, and peace God so wants for me. Love causes fear to flee from me, and that changes everything. Fear is at the heart of all that keeps me from loving and being loved as God desires. Insecurity is a particular type of fear that forces me to miss out on life. It’s insidious nature causes me to second guess myself and worry about how others will see me.

Love frees my heart and lets me see and love myself, flaws and all. Security isn’t having it all together or having it all; it’s accepting what is and not letting what isn’t keep me from living the abundant life God has in mind for me. My need for approval has been debilitating because I’ve focused far too much of my energy on getting attention and approval from others. God is always paying attention, and He approves of His creation. He doesn’t expect anything but love from me, and that comes out of my imperfection.

Flaws are part of who I am. God made me flawed so I could understand my need for Him. The desire for perfection was the downfall of Satan, and my pursuit of it will cause a similar downfall in me. I see myself as not needing God or too flawed to deserve His love. He loves me as I am and uses my flaws as tools for teaching and growing me into His disciple. Only one of God’s children was perfect, and I am perfected by Christ’s precious and perfect love. Being perfected is not the same as being perfect. Christ satisfied all the requirements for my salvation when He expressed love in a way that makes no sense to the world. I don’t have to be perfect because Christ is perfect for me.

God’s love is perfect, and it casts out fear. Walter Brueggemann says in his commentary on Genesis 2:4b-3:24, “Perfect love casts out fear. But the man and the woman in our narrative learned another thing. Perfect fear casts out love and leaves only desire (cf. Gen. 3:10) Paul also held the vertical and horizontal together: In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself,…and he gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)” That helped me to see fear and love in a new light and understand the story of the fall in a way I never have before.

Fear flees from love. God’s love embraces my flaws. An amazing lesson if I ever had one!! Thanks be to God for His Son’s precious love.