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Feb. 2, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Here’s a verse I’ve been praying through this past week. It’s from 2 Timothy 1:7, and I invite you to read it. Slowly, closely, and prayerfully:

God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

That word fear may be an apt description for both your current condition and the situation we live in today. There is fear about the polarized, deeply divided state of our nation. There is fear that we are so entrenched in binary partisan categories that we will never be able to find common ground. Regardless of one’s partisan leanings, there is fear on both sides. There is fear of the rise of white supremacy, the loss of civil liberties and rights of women and minorities, and a callous response to refugees and immigrants. There is fear for the safety and security of our country, the threat of foreign-born terror, protection of the unborn, the growing budget deficit, and the persecution of Christians abroad. Those fears cover the gamut of the political spectrum and you may identify with more than one of them yourself.

But this passage from Paul to his young protégé is unmistakably clear:

Fear is not from God.

At any point in the Bible, there is no evidence that God invoked or used fear to accomplish God’s purposes in God’s people. Fear is not a tool in God’s arsenal. Yes, there are many passages like Proverbs 9:10, which says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But that kind of fear means awe and reverence, not fright.

There is a reason why the command “Do not be afraid” is one of the most common in the entire Bible. There are more than forty verses that instruct us to take courage in the face of anxiety. You may wish to read through them as a spiritual discipline whenever you feel that kind of fear.

More importantly, consider the second half of Paul’s message to Timothy. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but has instead given us a potent, three-fold antidote to counter anything we are afraid of:

Power. Love. A Sound Mind.

For centuries, ancient philosophers believed that a person was governed by three dominant centers: The gut, which is the source of our physical power and our actions; the heart, which is the source of our emotions and our capacity to relate to others; and the mind, which is the source of our intellect and will. Remember Dorothy’s three friends who accompanied her to Oz: One sought courage (from the gut), another sought love (from the heart), and the last one sought intelligence (from the brain/mind). Paul reminded Timothy that in Christ we can address our fears through holy behavior (Power), divine motivation (Love), and godly wisdom (Mind).

So, whenever you feel afraid, either from reading news headlines or by simply trying to make it through the day, claim those three gifts from God.

Power: We need not be paralyzed into inaction, sitting passively in surrender to conditions that seem beyond our control. God calls us to use our talents and passions to address the world’s deepest needs, both to take a stand and to take a step, by the power of God.

Love: But action alone can be potentially harmful if it is not done in love. Not merely human sentimental love, but a love that is both for God and from God in the way that it loves others. That alone must be our chief motivation, beyond all other allegiances and devotions, either internal or institutional. God’s love calls for nothing less than the full reconciliation of all broken relationships and systems, and that can only be achieved through powerful actions that are shaped by love.

Sound mind: The King James translation calls it a sound mind, self-discipline in the New Revised Standard version, and self-control in the Common English Bible. Both power and love must also be governed by a will that is shaped by selflessness and self-giving. We must rise above primary loyalties to partisan pressures and cultural definitions. A sound mind seeks the common good, far beyond old, tired, binary categories of winning and losing.

I have determined this passage to be my constituting prayer to God over these first several months of President Trump’s administration. It will be my prayer for him, his advisers, and for any one of us, on any side of the aisle, who feels fear for any reason.

My prayer is that everyone, from our politicians to the wider public, might be governed by power, love, and a sound mind. That these three qualities might be so fully expressed in the way we order our lives and relate to others that steadily, eventually, those fears about our future will be transformed into kingdom realities. And that this church, whose mission is to Make God’s Love Real (Power) in a warm-hearted (Love) and open-minded (Sound Mind) way, will go into the world with this message from God: “Do not be afraid.”

Please join me in that prayer.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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