5. Fear vs. Faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Our ancestral brains were programmed to prefer the status quo over change in our
lives. Even if our lives are currently frustrating or annoying, at least they are
predictable, which our brains prefer over being unknown and unpredictable.

The inability to know with a degree of certainty what the future will bring will lead
us to assume the worst. In our imaginations, we create worst case scenarios and
consider them a threat we should avoid. For many, we fear a future that is different
than today.

So what is our natural reaction to addressing this fear of the unknown future? We
decide to create a plan.

As far as we know now, we humans are the only animals on earth that can create a
plan for the future. We work hard to envision a series of steps that we believe will
minimize future threats and maximize success. We believe that plans will protect us
from future harm. I’m reminded of a widely shared quote and book title that reads,

“We plan, God laughs.”

We might be able to plan things that have been done many times in the past, such as
a wedding or a road trip. But we cannot make plans when the situation is uncertain
or unknown, such as a changed future.

Life happens and plans change – frequently. Because we can’t control life events and other people, our carefully-crafted plans often fail. Just look at how many plans
were disrupted by the coronavirus.

Faith

In Hebrews, we learn that faith is being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

It is believing in something, even though we can’t see it with our physical senses. Without faith, we could not believe in God, because we cannot see God. But through faith, we can be certain that God exists and certain that God will keep His/Her promises.

So people of faith should not fear the future, which we cannot see either. If we believe that a changed future will be better than our status quo, people of faith will march boldly into the unknown future.

I would also argue that people of faith do not need a plan for the future. When we
follow a plan, we are focusing only on what we short-sighted humans believe the
future will bring.

We miss seeing a significant number of opportunities that are in the world when we
are focused only on the elements of our plan. If we plan to take a superhighway to
our destination, we will miss the natural beauty and local color that can be found on
back roads.

People of faith recognize that the journey to a better life, the journey to our future,
should be an open-minded “faith journey.”

We can still envision a preferred future and make decisions along the way that help
us reach that preferred future. But our hearts and minds recognize that the path
will be defined by our discoveries and serendipity, not our plan.

Is the life you are living today a result of a plan that you created in your teenage years?

The journey to a “better” life can be an exciting adventure for people of faith.
Confident that God will provide for our needs, we can focus on meeting the needs of others.

Doug Bate
Service Central

4. The Challenge of Change

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Allowing God’s love to flow from us into the lives of others is a noble goal for our
service opportunities. For that to happen, we should look for ways to influence a
meaningful and positive change in their lives.

Sometimes that change is a physical one, such as providing needed food, shelter, or
financial assistance. Other times, the change is intangible, providing comfort,
confidence, or a new way of looking at the world.

While this may sound simple,
getting others to change can be a significant challenge.

There is a significant amount of research being done now in the area of neuroscience, the study of the brain and how it functions.

Brain scientists are learning that the gray matter sitting between our ears does not like change.

The brains of our ancestors developed to insure that the human species would
survive. Their brains were attracted to anything that helped insure that survival –
food, shelter, and sexual partners.

At the same time, their brains were built to avoid anything that threatened human
survival – predators, enemies, and dangerous situations.

Early brains learned from good and bad experiences in order to be able to make
decisions that would lead to human survival. Whatever was previously-experienced
by our ancestors and known to be safe was always the preferred option.

Anything that was unknown and not easily predictable was considered to be a
potential threat to them. Our early ancestors would usually select the known option
over the unknown option.

That’s the brain that most of us inherited. We like things that are known and
predictable more than things that are novel and may be filled with potential
unknown problems.

This can explain why people might remain in an unhealthy relationship or job
situation, for example, rather than move on to a better one. While the former may
be bad, the latter could be worse.

Change can be scary for people, even when it can be very positive.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France, 19 th century novelist

Through all of our past decisions, we have created the lives we live today.

For most of us, our daily lives are predictable, habitual, and meet most of our needs.
Even if they are not exactly the way we would want them to be, our lives have
become our comfort zone.

Any disruption or potential change to our comfort zone can set off a major alarm in
our ancestral brain to fight the change, keep the status quo. A new and
unpredictable future may be filled with mastodons and saber-toothed tigers that
could threaten our survival.

So how do we introduce positive change in our lives and the lives of those we serve,
when our inherited brains are not comfortable with change?

Doug Bate
Service Central

3. Unlimited Opportunities to Serve

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25:35

You have experienced God’s love in your life. Now you are willing to share that feeling of gratitude and abundance with others, so they can feel God’s love also.

So how do you help others to feel God’s love in their lives?

In my experience, TELLING people about God’s love is not enough to allow them to FEEL God’s love.

If you encounter a hungry person, telling them about God’s love will not help them feel God’s love, because they are still hungry. Their lives are still facing an important problem.

When you feed them or help change their lives in some positive way, they are more likely to feel God’s love flow into their hearts.

South Church Vision

If we want to pursue our South Church vision to “boldly embody God’s love” and help it flow throughout our communities and the world, we must focus on how we can create a positive change in the lives of others.

Led by Linda Zimmerman and Emily Strong, Neighbors in Need and Giving Garden are two service opportunities closely linked to South Church that are helping transform people’s lives by providing nutritious meals for those in need.

But the opportunities to help enhance the lives of others can go well beyond just good nutrition; they are limitless.

Our fellow humans are facing homelessness, financial concerns, addictions, loneliness, joblessness, and a host of other security and anxiety issues. These problems can block the flow of God’s love into their lives.

Can you help remove any of these blockages so that God’s love can flow again?

Perhaps you have lived through a serious health problem in your life. You no doubt learned something about that challenge that can be of great value to others who are going through it now. Sharing and caring might be how you can serve.

Perhaps your career gave you skills in the financial area, which would be valuable for those feeling the crush of credit problems. Teaching or advising might be how you serve.

Perhaps you find satisfaction in spending time with the elderly to hear their stories and run their errands. Compassion might be how you serve.

Perhaps you are able to project a future of the world, the environment, or our communities that require action, preparation, or development today. Advocacy might be how you serve.

Perhaps you recognize that childhood development is critical in building healthy and stable adult lives. Nurturing might be how you serve.

And it is not just individuals in need of service. Organizations face problems and challenges that prevent them from carrying out their missions.

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are about 1.5 million not-for-profit organizations in the United States. Do you have a way to serve any of them?

The needs of the world are limitless. Therefore, the need for service is limitless.

Life is a field of unlimited possibilities.”

Deepak Chopra

The scope of your service does not matter. If you can help improve the life of that elderly neighbor down the street, you will be letting God’s love flow into that life.

If you prefer to start an organization that provides relief to millions of people around the world, you are letting God’s love flow into those lives.

Finding the right “fit” between your skills/talents and the needs of the world will be the focus of Service Central and topic of future blog posts.

What do you think is the right service option for you?

Doug Bate
Service Central

2. Letting God’s Love Flow

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:5

We know that God is Love and God’s love is unconditional, limitless, energizing, and transformative.

The world needs God’s love.

This should not be news to most of us, as we have heard this before, in Sunday School and Sunday sermons. We intellectually understand and acknowledge it.

But there is a difference between accepting God’s love in our heads and feeling God’s love in our hearts.

The 18th century Congregationalist preacher, Jonathan Edwards, once said, “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”

Similarly, in his letter to the Romans, Paul explained that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” That says to me that

God’s love is to be felt and experienced,
not just intellectually acknowledged.

Have you felt or experienced God’s love in your heart? If so, when was that?
What caused it?

Many of us have felt God’s love in the difficult times of our lives, when a burden has been lifted or a problem solved. Others have experienced God’s love in good times, when opportunities arise or dreams are pursued.

And still others are able, through prayer and meditation, to call upon God’s love at any time.

We probably also experience God’s love differently. For me, the feeling is like water being released from a dam that makes the river flow again at full volume. It is a wonderful experience, filled with emotion and gratitude.

When God’s love fills our hearts, we feel blessed. Any thoughts we may have had of scarcity in our lives is now filled with abundance.

Those feelings of abundance and gratitude from God’s love make us want to share what we have with others. The author, Robert Louis Stevenson, captured this sentiment when he wrote:

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.

Gratitude for our abundance will drive many of us to want to serve others, to share what we have with those who don’t have it.

By sharing what we have and what we know, maybe we can release the flow of God’s love in the hearts of others.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone took responsibility for both feeling God’s love in their hearts and causing it to flow in the hearts of others?


Doug Bate
Service Central

1. God is Love

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 them.

1 John 4:16

Based on the inspiring work done by our ONCET committee over the past two years, South Church has embraced a new vision for our future:

“To boldly embody God’s love and compassion.”

A quick trip to the dictionary tells us that to “embody” something is to give it a tangible form, a visible expression of something that is often invisible or spiritual.

Therefore, the challenge in front of all of us at South Church, both individually and collectively, is how we might create and communicate to the world expressions of God’s love.

So how do we do that? What should be our focus of embodying God’s love and compassion?

We hear in the teachings of Jesus the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This suggests that we can embody God’s love by serving the needs of our neighbors.

We at Service Central want to help facilitate the creation of ways that we can help serve the needs of our neighbors, which we define as our fellow human beings.

In order to do that, let’s take a closer look at God’s love.

God Is a Force — of Love

I can remember attending a church youth group event growing up that changed my perception of God. As a young child, I learned of God as our “father” in heaven, which made me think of God as a rational, logical-thinking human, who happened to be invisible to me.

The youth group leader took a different approach, defining God as a “force” in the natural world, not unlike the wind or electricity. We cannot see the force but the force can have an important impact on the physical world we live in.

When I now read in I John that God is love, I am able to think of God as the force of love in the world. And if we live in that force, we are living according to God’s plan when God made the world.

As a force in the world, God’s love is:

Unconditional – It is not doled out by a rational-thinking human based on our behavior, but an always-available force for anyone at any time.

Limitless – Because it is not a physical property, there can be no limit to how much love there is in us and in the world. We will never experience shortages of love.

Energizing – When we feel love in our lives, we feel an energy and a vitality that accompanies it. Love can inspire us and motivate us to actions and behaviors that we may not have considered possible.

TransformativeLove can change lives. A look at the ministry of Jesus shows so many lives that were positively transformed based on the God’s love embodied in Jesus.

God’s love is powerful. It can change the world when we find ways to embody that love and serve the world. Let’s get working on our new South Church vision.

Where can God’s love make a difference in our community and our world?


Doug Bate
Service Central