Perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18)

David Anderson

In an earlier post, I talked about being careful about forwarding emails. Many forwarded emails I find objectionable have to do with false and/or misleading “facts” and hate-filled rhetoric. Then there is also fear-mongering.

Is Christmas a time to think about fear? This year, I see a connection more clearly than I ever have.

In the past few months, some things have happened that have us all a little more fearful. Just the mention of ISIS is enough to make me look around and make sure I’m aware of my surroundings. Fear is good for survival if it makes you a little more alert, a little more watchful, a little more sensitive to immediate danger. But when fear runs out of control, it turns to panic.

Any good soldier knows you never want to panic, especially when danger is right around the corner. Panic makes you make bad decisions. Panic sees threat where there is none. Panic magnifies a minor threat to the point that it is all you see. Imagine someone who was so afraid of fire they wouldn’t even drive a car. Drive a car? Are you crazy? That engine runs on fire!

Just like wild dogs, politicians smell fear.

They know to exploit it. If they get us scared enough, they can say and do anything, and we will go along. When we are already afraid, all they have to do is magnify it through propaganda. We cannot, we must not, go along with them. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1.7).

About 1900 years ago, a group of churches in what is now Turkey were under intense persecution because of what they believed. They were bribed to give names. If that didn’t work, they were tortured. If that didn’t work, they were killed by crucifixion, by fire, by wild animals, or any other method a depraved Emperor or governor might imagine. There was reason to live in fear.

In the midst of that, God said to them,

There is no fear in love, but 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
(1Jo 4:18-19 NRS).

Jesus Christ was born because God first loved us. Throughout the Bible, God keeps saying, Fear not, because God is love.

Christmas day is over, but the Christmas season continues now through January 6, the Day of the Kings. Keep listening to the angels singing, Peace on earth! Goodwill to men and women!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Go deeper

33 verses about fear

References

Casting Crowns. I heard the bells on Christmas day.

http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/debbie-mcdaniel/33-verses-to-remind-us–we-do-not-have-to-fear.html

O Little Town of Bethlehem.

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Compassion and caution

David Anderson

If you read my last post, you might be thinking some of these refugees might really be terrorists, the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. And I would say we all should know the vast majority of these people are legitimately in dire straits. We’ve seen the images of the children washed up dead on the shores. How desperate do you have to be to undertake a journey you and your children might not survive? They are running from ISIS. They are victims of terrorism themselves. Still, I am as concerned as any American about keeping terrorists out. So I understand we need more than just, “Love each other, and it will all work out.”

Current policy inadequate

We talk to them. If any part of their story can’t be verified, we don’t let them in. That’s the current policy. A Republican state house representative I happened to meet at a cocktail party said we “dodged a bullet” on the refugee issue when the governor said we won’t accept Syrian refugees. “We don’t know who these people are,” he said. “They live in the stone age. How are we going to verify they are who they say they are?”

I’m not sure “stone age” is accurate. But he actually showed why this policy is inadequate for meeting this need. When people are running for their lives or coming from refugee camps, do they think about collecting their documents? How are we going to be able to confirm every detail they tell about the circumstances that led them here?

Wolves among the sheep?

That’s the worry that’s making people push back against doing more to help. I wish I could dismiss it as right-wing paranoia, but a report on CNN said that one of the attackers in Paris did in fact enter the country by posing as a refugee. So it appears ISIS has figured how to infiltrate groups of refugees. What can we do then with so many people in need, the vast majority of whom are refugees but may have a few terrorists sprinkled in? For what it’s worth, I have an idea….

Vet them, and monitor them

Vet them as much as we can, with the understanding because of circumstances, verifying each and every detail may not be possible.  If I were as desperate as the Syrian refugees, I would not mind it at all if that’s what it takes for you to let me into your country. Go ahead, put an ankle bracelet monitor on me, put a tap on all my phones and computers, put a GPS chip under my skin, assign me a probation officer  – whatever it takes for you to feel safe enough to let me in. If I go back to my country, I’m dead. Just give me a place where I can live like a human being. That’s all I want.

Recruiting Opportunity

In my last post, I appealed to Deuteronomy 10:19 – You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. That may make me sound altruistic and naïve. Full disclosure, I have selfish motives as well for letting in more refugees.

I’ve said for years if we are going to defeat terrorists who call themselves Muslim, we need friends in the Muslim world. If we rescue them when they have nowhere else to turn, how likely are they to be recruited by people who call us the Great Satan? “The Great Satan” saved my life and my family’s lives, Dumbass!

Those who we let in and are found to be trustworthy through vetting and monitoring, why not recruit some of them to help gather intelligence on ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any other Muslim extremist group that threatens us? They already look like they belong there. They speak the language – and without an American accent. Perfect spy material.

But what do I know? I’m just a Bible scholar.

 

Strangers in the Land

David Anderson

Most of us have read or heard the story of the Pharisee who asked Jesus what the most important commandment in scripture is. He responded that the greatest command was two-fold: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And also, love your neighbor as yourself. How important are they?

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:40 KJV)

The neighbor, though, is not the only person we are commanded to love.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19 NRS)

Would it surprise you to know that the command to love your neighbor appears only once in the Old Testament, but the command to love the stranger appears 34 times? Is that because it is 34 times as important to love the stranger as it is to love the neighbor? Is it because we should love the stranger 34 times as much as the neighbor? I don’t think so. I think the constant repetition of this command indicates how much harder it is to love the stranger – different race, different nationality, different language, different ethnicity, different culture, different religion – than people we know and who are like us.

Coupled with the command is the reason: because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. The reason is expanded in this command regarding the offering of first-fruits to the LORD.

4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my [father]; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

 8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 26:4-10 NRS)

So every time they brought first-fruit offerings, they reminded themselves,

  1. Their ancestors wandered with no land to call their own
  2. They settled in a foreign nation and prospered there, despite being aliens
  3. The Egyptians treated them harshly and oppressed them
  4. They cried out to the LORD, and the LORD heard them
  5. God delivered them out of bondage in Egypt and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey
  6. Now that they are settled and established in the land, they offer to God the first-fruits of what the land produced for them.

The Syrian refugee crisis is on a scale we have seldom seen in human history. The command of the LORD is clear: Love the stranger, for you were once strangers in a foreign land. Isn’t that the American experience as well? Unless you’re Native American, your ancestors came here as strangers. Why is it so hard now to obey God’s commandment?

There has been so much fear of immigrants in the last several years, mainly since 9-11. If those immigrants are Muslim, forget it. We don’t want them. Fear of the stranger coupled with fear of terrorism. While that is understandable, I don’t think it excuses us from taking in refugees.

Look at the scriptures above again. The Israelites recited these words repeatedly. They made sure to pass them on to each generation, so they would remember it. We were oppressed in Egypt. The LORD delivered us out of bondage and brought us into this blessed land. Notice, in each generation, they don’t say, “Our ancestors were oppressed…” They say, “We were oppressed…and the LORD delivered us.”

Hear the word of the LORD. Love the stranger and welcome him or her. You were strangers once in this land. I am the LORD who blessed you and gave you a home here. Don’t EVER forget that.