Have no fear!

inspirational-message-websiteBy Eric Shinn, pastor,

First United Church, Little Falls 

1 John 4:18 (NIV) “18 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.”

I recently took a class on encountering a religious world at my old seminary in the Twin Cities. I had some reservations about taking the course because I believed that I knew what I needed to know about the world but I ended up learning many valuable lessons.

Whether we like it or not, our communities are becoming more diverse. No longer do we have to go too far to see, hear, smell and feel the vastness of the varied cultures including faith traditions. Here in Little Falls, we have several Chinese restaurants, Hispanic or Mexican restaurants, modified versions of Italian and American restaurants. If you look a little harder, you will even get a chance to eat the mythological lutefisk. I have seen it before but never had a chance to smell it, savor it and overcome my fears of it. Not growing up Swedish or Norwegian, I do not know why people have such intense feelings for the Lutefisk. I suppose the same intensity can be said for “kimchee,” which is a spicy pickled cabbage.

For German folks, it would be like sauerkraut with a spicy attitude.

At the end of my dinner at Bethel Lutheran, I realized that there was not much to fear regarding the translucent cod. Truth be told, I tasted mostly butter and decided that I would be back to “enjoy it” next time.

In many ways, encountering people of other faith traditions is like trying new foods. We have heard of it, maybe even seen it but do not know much about it. I learned about the Sikh community and how they value service, compassion and devotion to God. I also got to meet a member of the Bahai who believe in God and the call for all followers to live beautiful, moral and righteous lives. We also learned more about Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

If I was not a follower of Christ, I could certainly see how some of the other faith traditions might be attractive and inviting.

The main reason why I love the “Christian” flavor is because of God’s grace. And if other people love their faith-traditions, then my job is not to show them where they are wrong and how I am right. I believe that God has given me the opportunity to show God’s grace and love to them as best as I can. And if my life can point to the love of God in Jesus Christ, then great. I do not want to live with fear of the unknown and also with assumptions.

Let’s be honest and at least admit that we do not know much about our own faith. How then can we presume to know what their faith says? I often wondered what their assumptions are as well. As we make an effort to build bridges, be honest, and be open with each other, I believe that we can create more opportunities to live faithfully and with peace. Not knowing and assuming only creates more fear. And as Scripture tells us in 1 John 4:18 (NIV) “18 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.”

The challenge for us Christians is to step outside of comfort zones and places of security and encounter the world and people of different faith traditions without fear. When we are able to walk with God, surprising and amazing things can happen.

Some things to consider as you take the journey of faith.

What am I fearful of? Where does that come from? What are my assumptions?

My fear of the lutefisk is no more now that I have tasted it. I cannot say that I like it but at least there is no fear of it. Getting to know people of other faith traditions will also help us to break down our fears and assumptions. You may not agree with what they believe and what they like to eat but my hope is that you will no longer live in fear or darkness.

God bless you on this endeavor.