What Exactly is “Perfect Love”?

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Fear is the one thing every human being on the planet shares. We’ve all felt it. We all know that dark, encroaching panic that claws at our hearts. peyman-naderi-379104

For years I’ve heard the same pat answer, the same verse over and over until I can quote it verbatim. 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.” 1 John 4:18.

Okay, so to get rid of fear, I need perfect love. Got it. But then I’m faced with a scary diagnosis, the bills that keep piling up, rebellious loved ones, and the coffee pot that no longer functions. Suddenly I realize…I have no idea what ‘perfect love’ means.

Oh, I know the Greek word for “drives” or “casts” (as in perfect loves “drives” out fear) has to do with a violent displacement. It means love grabs fear by the throat and throws it through the window. Descriptive. But what exactly is ‘perfect love’? For the sake my sanity and my peace of mind, I must know. 

After a teary therapy appointment for my son, God revealed the beauty of this phrase to me in a very tender way.

We had just left my son’s elementary school after a difficult discussion. His therapists knew something was going on with my joyful little firecracker, but were unable to pinpoint the source of his issues.

“It might be time to test for autism.”

I agreed but as we pulled out of the parking lot, I was overcome with an onslaught of “what ifs”. What would happen to my curious little boy? What kind of life would he have? Would he be bullied for being different? On and on the thoughts tumbled until the icy tentacles squeezing my heart grabbed me by the throat.

“Mommy, sing to Jesus!”

I blinked away the tears blurring my eyes. Peering into the rearview mirror, I watched Nate’s sunny smile and heard his sweet voice as he sang.

“Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine. Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine…” 

I sucked in a breath. Here I was, worrying over things I had no control over and the source of my angst was lifting up praises to Jesus. I pushed down the stinging tears and smiled. “Good idea, buddy. Let’s praise Jesus.”

We sang song after song on the car ride home. With each melody, my fear evaporated. Why? Because fear dissolves in the presence of praise.

The source of our praise, the One we worship is Jesus Christ. Fear cannot exist in His presence. It scatters like darkness shattered by light. Revelation twisted my heart with a surge of joy.

What does the Bible tells us about Jesus? It says repeatedly that He is love. Perfect love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Suddenly, I understood.

Perfect love is Jesus, God wrapped in human flesh. Perfect Love goes to any length to save and any height to reach. Perfect Love calls the prisoner His brother, redeems him and sets him free. Perfect Love is complete, all consuming, with no traces of doubt in the power of the Holy One. Perfect Love sets a glittering crown on the head of the orphan and calls her “Beloved Daughter”.

I get it now.

I’ll keep my eyes fixed and my heart melded to Jesus. Fear has no chance against such a Love.

My debut novel Engraved on the Heart is available for pre-order now! Check it out! https://www.amazon.com/Engraved-Heart-Tara-Johnson/dp/1496428315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522944239&sr=8-1&keywords=engraved+on+the+heart+by+tara+johnsonengraved on the heart cover photo

 

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False Evidence Appearing Real: When the Lawnmower Stole My Mother

My super hero son didn’t understand.

Mowing the grass

I climbed on the lawn tractor to chop down the rapidly growing grass surrounding our home. Nate watched. He blinked. Frowned. I thought he didn’t like the noise the large piece of machinery churned up. Oh, but his frown sprouted from so much more.

Over the clatter of the tractor, I heard high-pitched squeals of laughter. My two girls were doubled over with giggles. What was so funny? I glanced behind me to see my three year old son running towards the moving tractor as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him. His face was puckered into a scowl. He held a broom in his hand and was charging towards the metal monster, a look of death and determination in his eyes.

Think Braveheart, if you will. braveheart

The little stinker was preparing to attack the mower with a broom. I had to gas it all over the yard to escape his blood-thirsty tirade. It suddenly hit me what the problem was…he thought the big metal monster was trying to take away his mom.

I burst out laughing until rocks started raining down on me. My little hero was chunking stones as fast as he could, desperate to defend his poor mother.

Needless to say, that was the most adventurous mowing experience to date.

It must have been confusing to see a noisy, thundering metal monster whisk his mother away. Even more baffling was the way the vibrating beast kept circling the yard, refusing to spit his mommy out. So little Nate had done what any valiant soldier would do—attack.superhero nate

I thought the whole thing was pretty cute until those rocks started pelting me.

It’s endearing to watch a scenario like this play out from an adult’s viewpoint. Not so much from a child’s perspective. Nate reacted on a gut level out of fear. The assumption he made was the same one each of us make, often on a daily basis. We lash out with knee-jerk reactions based on partial information and false assumptions.

Put another way…we live and make our choices based on false evidence that appears real.

fear false evidence appearing real

Poor fellow. From his knowledge of the world and his childish experience, the tractor was loud, noisy and scary. Even worse, this metal beast stole his mommy away. Surely she was in danger. Surely something terrible was going to happen. Anything that loud must be dangerous.

But he was wrong.

He didn’t know what I knew. What he saw as a disaster, I knew was a necessity. What he thought was dangerous was actually much safer than letting the grass grow and snakes infest the yard. I could see the big picture. He only understood a tiny portion of it.

When our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, when are shaking in fear, when we let our emotions spiral into negativity and ‘what ifs’, we need to remember that we only see a tiny splinter of God’s plan. He is writing our stories. We shouldn’t assume we know the ending based on the problems of page one.

My crime-fighting son nearly hurt himself running at the mower with that broom. If I hadn’t zoomed out of his reach, he would have thrust his weapon into that running mower, and, well…I shudder to think of the outcome. When we live in fear, when we make knee jerk reactions based on partial information, over-active imaginations or our ricocheting emotions, we end up doing a lot of damage. To ourselves, to others and especially to our walk with God. The peace of God cannot dwell with negativity or fear. The two are polar opposites.
pug in blanket

Fear is normal. It’s real, but don’t wallow in it. Don’t allow your thoughts to set up residence inside its cold grip. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than false evidence that appears real.

Sometimes, it even resembles a metal mowing monster.

Do you struggle with fear? What do you fear the most? Have you developed techniques to fight those metal mowing monsters away? I would love to hear!

Math, Tears and the Whys of Life

And the tears came.

Poor daughter of mine. Today’s math work was dividing decimals. Something she’s done a hundred times before. Certainly a task much easier than some of her more recent math assignments—solving long lines of x and y problems, multiplied by square roots and divided by more of the same. math

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

“It just doesn’t make sense to me.” Sniffle.

“What doesn’t make sense to you? How to move the decimals?”

“No.”

“Then why doesn’t it make sense?”

“It just doesn’t.”

As she wiped away her warm tears, smearing them across her blotchy cheeks, I sighed and gave her ‘the look’. You know what I mean. The calm, albeit censuring, pointed look that told her she needed to chill.

“Telling me ‘it just doesn’t make sense’ doesn’t help me. I want to help you and I can’t do that unless you explain what specifically you don’t understand.”

She threw up her hands, her voice shrill and quavering with emotion. “I have no idea why I need to learn this!”

Ah. There it was.

It’s not surprising from a girl who declares math to be ‘mental abuse to humans’. math mental abuseStill, I scratched my head. Her math assignment today wasn’t even all that difficult. Why the angst?

Suddenly it hit me. The suffering she was enduring seemed far worse because she didn’t understand ‘why’ she must endure it.

Painful stuff seems much more painful when you don’t know the purpose behind the suffering.

It’s kind of like going to a consultation with your surgeon. He explains the procedure to its most microscopic detail. He explains the whys, whereofs and runs every possible scenario by you so you’ll be prepared. He explains how it will make you feel when you awake. What you can expect. He gets you mentally ready for the change.

Does knowing what’s going to happen change your ability to control what transpires while you’re snoozing on the clouds of anesthesia? anesthesiaNo, of course not. But having someone explain to you why and how things are going to happen relieves the nervousness. It gives you a sense of control—even if you’re knocked out in a drooling stupor.

Here’s what is interesting: it’s the same with God. You may not understand the hard time you’re walking through right now. It might seem confusing, or even cruel. But, provided it’s not the natural consequences from living outside His will, God tells you exactly why those tough times come.

Don’t believe me? Look up Romans 5:3-5.

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

1 Peter 1:6,7

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

There can be no growth without a little suffering. Like a butterfly who can’t break free and fly without pushing through the pain of ripping open a stubborn cocoon, or muscles that must endure heavy weight in order to be molded into something bigger and stronger. No pain, no gain.

workout

Getting back to Bethany, she finally relaxed when I explained that she might never need to use x/y graphs, algebra 2 or even dividing decimals. Then again, she might. The point is to be prepared and ready. We can kick and bellow our way through math, our health, our circumstances or any other struggle we encounter but it’s not the path of wisdom. It’s like telling God, “I don’t need to learn this. This isn’t in my agenda and I know more about my future than you do.” Foolishness.

Leaning in to the uncomfortable, the challenging things, even the confusing things is yielding to God and His refining touch. Trust Him. He loves you and knows every detailed nuance of your future.

Even if it seems like ‘mental abuse to humans’ at the time.

Apple Versus Apples: An Open Letter To Myself

by Tara Johnson

Recently, my oldest daughter was waxing poetic about the difference between our wants and needs and she prompted an interesting discussion. Bethany, in all her child-like wisdom said, “Mom, did you know our wants are not our needs?”

“Yes, I seem to remember hearing something about that.” I smiled and tugged her blonde hair with affection. “So what does God give us that we really need?”

“Jesus, shelter, food, water, clothes and shoes.”

My youngest daughter piped in. “And a mailbox.”

Turning to her little sister with a flicker of annoyance born of sisterly irritation, Bethany asked Callie, “Why a mailbox?”

Callie shrugged. “For Netflix.”

netflix

Her remark made me laugh yet caused a moment of reflection. There are a lot of things we say we need. But how many of us are just saturated with want?

I need a raise. I need a break. I need faster internet. I need a new phone. I need a weekend of R & R. I need my kids to behave. I need more ‘me’ time. I need a bigger house. I need more storage room…

I fear too often, my own list of complaints resembles Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob. “Gimme, gimme, gimme. I need! I need!” give me, i need

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrCEhRNgGHY

The difference between our corner of the world and other cultures became glaringly obvious when I was speaking at a women’s retreat in Belize. We were talking about idols in our lives and I had just remarked that one indicator of an idol we’ve erected in our hearts can be revealed by the one thing we think we couldn’t live without. So I asked, “What is the one thing you think you couldn’t live without?”

Blank stares.

I coaxed, “Come one. Don’t be shy.”

One woman meekly raised her hand. “Water?”

Her answer took me off guard. “Well, yes. Water is not an idol, of course. It’s a need. What else?”

More blank stares.

“Food?”

The women slowly began chattering about the things they couldn’t live without. Food, water, clothes. Preferably a roof over head. That was it.

The contrast between our cultures slapped me in the face. I chuckled. “You know what? You guys are exactly right. Those are our needs. Those things and Jesus. I guess when I asked that question, I was thinking about the idols many of us worship where I live.”

One woman up front leaned forward. “Like what?”

Grinning, I answered. “One time I posed this question for a ladies group and a woman told me she literally could not live without her cell phone and texting.”

The Belizean woman snorted in derision. “What? You people be crazy!”

Agreed.

When we’re too busy to attend church because we’re gone every weekend doing sports or getting our much need R & R at the lake, we’ve bowed down to the idol of entertainment. When we give away precious time with our children because we’re working late to afford that sleek new vehicle that we just had to have, we’ve fallen at the feet of the idol Possessions. When we sacrifice our sleep because we’re too busy scrolling through social media, updating our pictures or checking to see how many follows or likes we’ve gained, we’ve worshiped the god of self.

need vs want

Am I saying it’s wrong to take a vacation or crave some down time? Absolutely not. Our bodies have emotional and physical needs as well. The problem comes from an out-of-balance life that focuses most of its attention on physical desires and entertainment and starves out the spiritual man. An out-of-balance life has a nasty way of tipping over at some point.

Quite honestly, sometimes we are so focused on what we want, we end up missing the things we need. But here’s the amazing thing: when we focus on attending to our spiritual needs, a vibrant, obedient relationship with Christ, the other needs, the emotional and physical things tend to be filled as well. He takes care of all of it.

Forget the techie gear or our ever-expanding wish lists. What we actually need is a heart focused on Christ. We need to not just make him number one but our everything. We need a heart surrendered to obey Him, even if that hard thing He’s asking us to do isn’t on our wish list. We need to nurture our time with Him.

Food, water and shelter are good too.

Oh, and Netflix.

Have you struggled with this issue? What’s the one thing you’ve always thought you couldn’t live without? More importantly, do you consider Netflix necessary for survival? 😉