Have no fear.
I love you perfectly,
And perfect love drives out fear.
I’ll take your burden,
You take my grace.
In my embrace.
~ Audio Adrenaline
I became a Christian at the age of 15. Though nowadays I have a different perspective on following Christ, one that tends not to focus on a specific time and date of conversion but rather the continual progressive journey of faith and following, I can not deny that my introduction to a life of faith including an invitation, an aisle, and a signed and dated commitment card. I even have a letter confirming when I again walked the aisle in response to my call to Christian Service (a.k.a., ministry… if you’re male). For about nine years, I attended the same church (though sporadically while away at college) and listened to many sermons and Bible study lessons.
When I think back hard over all that I learned during those nine years, two main lessons stand out.
This strikes me as funny, seeing as I obviously learned a lot over those years, and grew deeper in faith. But try as I may to remember the things that really stuck out to me, and really stuck to me, I continually come back to the same two lessons.
Not surprisingly, they both came during mission trips.
The summer after my junior year in High School, our youth group traveled to Houston to work in a family homeless shelter. Our first day, we went out to the playground to get to know the children who were living there. As soon as we stepped out of the door, we spotted an obviously distraught child standing alone by a column, arms crossed and head lowered. The other children ran up to us and invited us to push them on the swings, watch them traverse the monkey bars, or join them for a round of tether ball. In the midst of their hospitality, they offered a warning regarding the child braced against the column: “Don’t touch him… he’s got the ringworm!”
Immediately, my youth minister looked us in the eyes, and presented us with a decision. We could ignore the child, thus preventing any possibility of acquiring a fungus ourselves. Or, we could choose to befriend the child, invite him to play, take the chance that we may become the untouchable ones with “the ringworm,” and insure that this child knows he is loved with a love that comes from the Father.
We chose the latter.
No one ended up with “the ringworm.”
A child experienced love.
The summer between my senior year and leaving for college, our youth group again hit the road, this time for Mexico. Amidst a community of shanty homes patched together from building scraps, we operated out of a one room church building with bare floor and minimal furnishings. Half of our team built what would be a clinic next door, while the other half provided activities for the children.
We all practiced not drinking water until evening when we returned to the bunk house, because simply walking past the outhouse made us nauseated from the smell. Yet the children would go in two by two, one waiting within the confines of the putrid shed for the other to trade them places. Family yards were barricaded by discarded bed springs, fastened together as makeshift fencing. Children walked barefoot along paths littered with broken glass. Our crowded bunkhouse was luxury compared to the everyday dwellings of this community.
On our last day, several women in the community came together and brought a meal to the church building to share with us as an offering of thankfulness. We had been careful during our visit to consume only pre-packaged food and drinks, or food we had brought with us. But here before us was a feast: fresh guacamole, grilled meat (likely lamb or goat), homemade tortillas, flavorful beans, carefully chopped vegetables. These families, who had so little, were presenting us a banquet.
Much like before, my youth minister looked us in the eyes. Slightly different than the previous summer, he informed us that he would not be partaking in the meal out of concern for his stomach. However, acknowledging our ability to discern for ourselves the right course of action, he made clear that we were free to choose to take part in the meal. No one would be condemned for participating; no one would be condemned for abstaining.
It didn’t take much consideration before we began filling our plates from the bountiful offering, thanking our hosts for the graciousness.
And it was good.
And we experienced love.
What I learned through those two experiences was that there is no fear in love… either the giving or receiving. And the Spirit works in the midst of the loving.
1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.