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Perfect Love: The Antidote to the Poison of Fear

It never ceases to amaze me the things God uses to speak needed truths to my heart when I’m walking sthrough an emotionally difficult season. This morning, God used a book I’m currently reading, one that I’ve been interested in reading for a while but picked up at precisely the time I was needing its message.

I Still Believe: Discovering hope and healing in the midst of life’s deepest valleys, is an auto-biography of Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp’s journey through the fire and anguish of the loss of his first wife Melissa to cancer, just a few months after their joyous wedding and honeymoon. It is a testimony of how to turn earthly sorrow into heavenly hope. I Still Believe is the source of an upcoming Christian film by the same title, currently in pre-production by the same production team that did the film I Can Only Imagine, with a planned theater release in March 2020.

This morning, as I was laying in bed reading a chapter in this book before getting up to begin my day, the Lord clearly spoke to my heart. The chapter I was reading is near the end of the book, around six years after Melissa’s death. Jeremy has remarried, to his current wife Adrienne, and they have two precious and dearly loved daughters, Isabella Rose and Arianne Mae.

In this chapter, Jeremy shares a personal battle with fear he walked through with the birth of his children. He wondered, “Would God possibly think of taking one of them home?” He continues, “These thoughts and emotions became so pervasive that I would hold my daughters extra close and pray extra hard for their protection.”

Jeremy took these fears to God and he says God spoke a gentle but firm word to his heart, one that was not what he was expecting to hear. “Do you not understand how much I love you, Jeremy? I love you perfectly, so much more than you could ever love your children.”

When I read these words that God spoke basically the same message to my heart. As most of you know, my husband and I lost our special needs son David last November. When I read this chapter, my eyes were opened to the source of the fear I’ve been dealing with in my current health-related problems. Like Jeremy, I needed a reminder of God’s provision for overcoming fear – His perfect love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) says, “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.” This morning, I added 1 John 4:18 to a list of Bible verses I’ve been memorizing and reviewing daily during this season of dealing with physical pain, unsteady emotion, and probable surgery ahead, a list I put on my Bible Memory App and entitled “Promises to Hold Onto.”

Like Jeremy, I’ve been struggling with fear, as I wait for an appointment next Tuesday with a new orthopedic surgeon to come up with a treatment plan for my left knee. I’m likely facing a major surgery, which is complicated by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in that knee. And this morning the Lord showed me my fears concerning what lies ahead were rooted in the pain of losing our son David and in the need to truly understand God’s perfect love.

Christian Author Jerry Bridges said God’s love is “an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.”

The perfect love of God toward us as His blood-bought children, everyone who has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the full payment for our sin and received Him as our Savior and Lord, is a love that is complete and committed. It is a love that is sacrificial and steadfast. Though our feelings may come and go, God’s love for us is constant and unchanging. Though we are imperfect, God loves us perfectly. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Nothing in all creation—present or future – can come between us and God’s love!

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for God’s perfect love that drives out fear. If you are personally walking through one of life’s deep valleys, I encourage you to join me in memorizing this verse and in seeking for a new depth of understanding of God’s love for you and me.

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God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

Thanking God in the Midst of Uncertainty

Last Friday, I had an unusually healthy day. I woke up feeling well rested and with very little pain. After spending some time reading my Bible, my husband and I left for what I expected to be a routine doctor’s appointment.

At my last appointment a month earlier, my doctor had stopped both of my high blood pressure meds, after losing a few pounds had put my blood pressure in the ideal range. Today’s appointment was to see how I was doing after a month off these meds and to go over the results of a full body bone scan she had ordered when recent blood work had shown some abnormalities which she thought were related to my bone health. I received a great report in both of these areas. My blood pressure was still in the ideal range and the bone scan ruled out the bone problems she was most concerned about.

After she went over the positive results, my doctor asked and I answered a long list of questions concerning my health. Yes, I had been purposely trying to lose weight. No, I wasn’t having any digestion problems. No, I wasn’t having a problem with bloating or abdominal pain. No unusual weakness or fatigue.

In essence, my doctor was trying to rule out all the things that could have caused the abnormality in my blood work, which she now told me was even worse with the last lab results. She ordered new blood work and talked about some possibilities of what might be going on. Basically, she had ruled out just about everything that would explain the worsening results except for major problems with my liver or pancreas, mentioning cancer as one of the very real possibilities.

I came home that day suddenly facing a future filled with unknowns. Now that I have the results of last Friday’s blood work, which didn’t show any improvement, I know the next steps, a CT-scan of my liver and pancreas and a bone density test, both scheduled for next Friday. I’m taking the steps medically that seem wise at this point. But I’m placing even greater attention on taking what I’m facing to God’s throne of grace, asking for His mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

This past week, I’ve been doing lots of praying, asking God to help me see this situation from His perspective. And God reminded me that this situation was out of my control – but it wasn’t beyond His control. Nothing could touch my life without His allowing it, and anything He allows is for my good and His glory. I heard, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Me.”

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Last week, my blog post was on giving God thanks in everything we face, and I’ve been trying to take my own advice this week. How do you give thanks for a new health crisis? For a season filled with unknowns? It all comes down to truly knowing the God we serve. As Kay Arthur said, “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.

One of my favorite ways to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty is by writing Scripture-based prayers of gratefulness to God for who He is. The following passage was in my scheduled Bible reading for Wednesday, May 16 (the day I was writing the first part of this article, for a Thankful Thursday post with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness), and it was a perfect Scripture to turn into a prayer of gratefulness.

Thank You, Lord, that You are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalms 86:5-7 ESV)

This morning, as I began my regular quiet time by reading today’s devotional in Praying God’s Word Day By Day, by Beth Moore, the two-fold message I’ve been reflecting on all week was again repeated: This situation is under God’s control, and my focus right now needs to be on God’s character, especially on His steadfast love for me.  Beth’s Scripture prayer based on Psalms 116:15 was,

“Lord, sometimes my only answer will be that You are sovereign… One day I will have all the answers. But until then, I must trust that You have power and dominion over all things and that You know best. Help me to believe this even when I don’t feel it.”

And the other half of her message, based on Psalms 119:76-77, 81 was,

“May Your unfailing love be my comfort, according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word.”

Reading this led me to a shift in my Bible study plan for the day, as I did a topical study on God’s steadfast love. Here are a few of the verses that encouraged me this morning (all verses in ESV):

  • Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” 3‭‭Psalms‬ ‭6:4‬
  • But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭25:10‬ ‭
  • Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭33:18‬ ‭
  • But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalms‬ ‭59:16-17‬ ‭‬‬

And as the last verse above encouraged me to do, I closed my quiet time by singing aloud of God’s steadfast love, using several songs including this one.

True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week 4 Summary

February, a month when my thoughts have been focused on love with both this True Love Bible Reading Challenge and the Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study of Wendy Blight’s book I Am Loved, is drawing to a close. But first, seven more passages to reflect upon God’s love for us and our appropriate response to that love.

Day 22 – Philippians. 2:1-11

Reflecting upon the love of God has brought encouragement, comfort and joy to our lives during this month. Today’s passage focuses on the ultimate picture of God’s love for us, as seen by Jesus’ willingness to empty Himself, take on the form of a servant, and become obedient to the point of death on a cross. God’s call to us in response is to have the same mind as Christ had, in humility loving others as He loves us.

Day 23 – Colossians 3:8-15

Acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the first step in the process of our lives being transformed into the image of Christ. With the Holy Spirit within to empower us, we are then equipped for the disciplines of putting off the old self of our former manner of life, renewing our minds through the Word of God, and putting on the new self made in the image of God. We must put off (or put away) the practices that are rooted in sin, as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to them. But to put off without putting on leaves a void. Replacement is a necessary part of transformation. Put off. Put on. Both are essential for us to be changed into the likeness of Christ. And the most important thing for us to put on is love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Day 24 – John 14:21-27

Loving God is closely linked with obedience to His Word. In these verses, Jesus made this truth clear to His disciples. And He also reminded them that the words they heard Him speak are not just His words, they were also the words of the Father who sent Jesus. Just as Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19), this passage tells us He only said what He heard the Father saying. Therefore there is no separating God’s Words – which we often think of as the Old Testament Scriptures – and the Words of Jesus which we read in the New Testament. If we truly love Jesus, our desire will be to obey all of God’s Word, both the Old and New Testament. But we also need to balance this truth with the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness, with the fact that our obedience during our days on earth will never be perfect. As Beth Moore says, “Obedient lives are not perfect lives. Obedience does not mean sinlessness but confession and repentance when we sin.”

Day 25 – John 15:9-13

How does Jesus love us? The same way the Father has loved Him. The Father’s love for Jesus is deep, tender, sacrificial, eternal and unchanging. Jesus’ love for us is a clear reflection, a mirror image, of the Father’s love for His own perfect Son. What an amazing thought! The Father loves the Son so much that He “has given all things into his hand” (John‬ ‭3:35‬).‬‬ The Father loves the Son so much that He “shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:20). The Father’s love for Jesus is perfect love. And this is the same way Jesus loves us.

And the response Jesus asks of us? We are to abide in His love, having an intimate, close relationship, not just a superficial acquaintance. When we do this, two things happen. We find delight in keeping His commandments and His joy fills our lives. And as we are filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, we love others in the same way He has loved us, even to the point of laying down our lives for them.

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Day 26 – John 15:14-21

In this next section of John 15, Jesus says to those who abide in His love, as seen by laying down their own will and walking in obedience to God’s will and ways, “You are my friends.” What is the difference between a servant and a friend? A servant doesn’t know his master’s business. He simply does what he is told. But to His friends, Jesus says, “everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” One of the ways the Father loves the Son that I listed above is by showing Jesus all He is doing. And if we are His friends, Jesus passes this information on to us.

So how do we know if we are living as a friend of Jesus? If we belong to Jesus, if we are His friends, there will be lasting spiritual fruit in our lives. And the primary fruit will be our love for one another. Plus an added benefit of this lifestyle: answered prayer.

Day 27 – 1 John 3:1-5

Sometimes I think we miss the fullness of all Jesus accomplished on the cross. Derek Prince has identified ten things from Scripture that Jesus achieved by His suffering and death on the cross. Today I’m just going to share three of those.

  • Jesus was punished that we might be forgiven.
  • He tasted death for us that we might share His life.
  • He endured rejection (because of our sins being laid upon Him) that we might have His acceptance with the Father.

When we think of Jesus’ death on the cross, we usually focus on Him paying the penalty for our sin that we might be forgiven. That is a major truth, one I am eternally thankful for. But I’m equally grateful that His death made the way for me to share His life. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, I am a new creation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Now I am one of God’s beloved children, fully accepted into the family of God. And that is good news today and for eternity.

Day 28 – 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Love is Who God is! God is the heart of true love. The characteristics of love are the characteristics of God. By knowing the heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the Son, we learn what love is all about. The characteristics of love are also the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us expressed to others. As this “Love Month” of February comes to an end, this is my take-away from this month’s study of LOVE. It’s what I want to remember when circumstances feel overwhelming, when I’m tempted to lose heart. God is Love, and because this is true I have hope for the future!

True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week Three Summary

Day 15: 1 Peter 1:3-8

After walking with Jesus for over forty-five years, I can honestly say my life has been very much like what is described in this passage. “For a little while” in light of eternity (though it definitely doesn’t feel like “a little while” when we’re in the midst of such a time), I “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (verse 6). These trials have proved my faith, refined it by fire (verse 7). But verse 8 is equally true. I can also honestly say each time I have come through a difficult season, as my knowledge of my Lord has grown, my love for Him has also grown.

Day 16: Ephesians 3:14-21

These words of the apostle Paul, originally his petition for the Ephesian church, make a beautiful prayer for us to pray for our loved ones – and even for ourselves. Lord, fill me will power through Your Spirit in my inner being. Help me to be rooted and grounded in Your love. And give me the power to grasp the vastness of Your love, Jesus, to know how wide and long, high and deep this love You have for me really is. Help me to know this unknowable love more each day.

Day 17: Galatians 5:1-6

How do freedom in Christ, faith and love fit together in the Christian life? Jesus Christ made a way for us to walk in freedom, but that requires that we not allow ourselves to come back under a list of laws we must keep in order to be justified, declared righteous. Freedom is the result of placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in that alone with nothing added. The early Galatian believers were saying Jesus’ sacrifice plus circumcision was enough, but Paul’s message in this passage was faith is enough. And in verse 6 he added an observable evidence that we are truly walking in faith: love. Love is the expression of our faith, love for God and love for others.

Day 18: Galatians 5:22-26

Sometimes we read familiar Scriptures half-heartedly, thinking we already know those verses. But this morning as I read this well known passage, my eyes were opened to a new truth. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t automatically grow in our lives because we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior. Spiritual fruit grows in those who have chosen to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, those who have put off the things that belong to the flesh and are seeking to keep in step with the Spirit. It’s growth requires our cooperation.

Day 19: 1 Peter 4:1-8

Suffering is a part of life on this earth. As believers in Christ, we are not exempted from difficulty, but we are called to live differently in the midst of it. Instead of living to fulfill our own desires, we are called to live for the will of God, recognizing we will stand before Jesus’ throne and give account to Him for how we have lives. We are to be alert and of sober mind, devoting ourselves to prayer. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our sins have been covered, and in response we are called to love those around us deeply, following Jesus example and covering their sins.

Day 20: 1 Peter 3:8-12

At some time in our lives, all of us will receive evil or insult from another person. When this happens, we are faced with a choice. Will we repay evil with evil, insult with insult, or will we repay evil with blessing? Peter encourages us in these verses to turn from evil and do good, even to those who have hurt us.

Day 21: Ephesians 4:10-16

God doesn’t want His children to stay immature and childish – yes, child-like in our faith, but not childish and easily swayed by the lies of the enemy. He has placed us in the body of Christ with other believers, so that we may be built up and grow to maturity. This happens as we learn the truth through the study of God’s Word, apply it in our own lives, and share it with others. But there is an important key in these verses about how we are to share truth with others. Well known Bible teacher and author Warren W. Wiersbe said, “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Lord, teach us to share truth balanced with love with one another.

True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week Two Summary

During this second week of February that ends with the day set aside to celebrate love, let’s remember the source of true love. God’s love for and through us is the True Love that has the power to change lives.

Day 8: Zephaniah 3:17-20

Life on earth is filled with battles, but these verses from the prophet Zephaniah remind us that God doesn’t leave us on our own to win the war. He Himself is the Mighty Warrior who saves us because He takes great delight in us.

Day 9: John 13:34-35

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? There’s one way to know for sure. Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Love is shown in many ways. But one way of allowing God’s love to flow through us to those around us is by praying for one another. Interceding for others, lifting their needs up to our heavenly Father, is a concrete demonstration of our love.

Day 10: Psalm 136:1-13

One characteristic of God’s love, whether we are the receivers or the conduit through which it flows to others, is that it keeps on going and never quits. It is everlasting, perpetual, and there is always more left over.

Day 11: Psalm 136:14-26

When we recognize the depth of God’s love for us, it will do two things in our lives. Our hearts will be filled to overflowing with praise to this One whose love for us is beyond our comprehension. And that love, too great for us to contain it, will flow out of us to those around us.

Day 12: Deuteronomy 10:12-15

This passage, addressed to the Jewish people but equally applicable to those Gentiles who are now “ingrafted branches” (Romans 11:17) through our relationship with Jesus Christ, gives five things that the Lord our God asks of us as His people. We are to fear or revere Him, honoring Him as our Lord to Whom we will one day give account for how we have lived. We are to walk in obedience to him, serve Him with all our heart and soul, and observe His commands which have been given for our own good. And we are to love Him with all our heart and soul, which gives us the proper motivation to do the other four things.

Day 13: Psalm 5:7-12

Father, this morning I’m grateful for the privilege of coming into Your presence. I rejoice in You. Lead me today, my Lord, in Your righteousness. Make Your way straight before me. I love You and take refuge in You.

‭‭Day 14: Psalm 25:1-10

Lord, I’m so grateful that You don’t leave me on my own to figure life out. By Your Spirit, You guide me in Your truth and teach me how to walk. All Your ways toward me are loving and faithful. You are good and upright, a God of mercy and love.