O greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong! Daniel 10:19 NKJV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27
We were at the Church Leadership conference in Chicago several years ago: we six staff members from the church I served at the time. It was a great conference, the highlight of which was the message delivered by John Ortberg. John is a pastor, a quietly-spoken conference speaker, and author of several books. The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, are two of my favorites.
His message that day was quiet, not rhetorically-driven, almost underspoken but powerful. He had arranged that we each were given a 3X5 index card. He instructed us to write these words: “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” They come from Isaiah 43:4. And as soon as I saw the words above from Daniel, I remembered that message and that 3X5 card. I carried it around for a long time. It was a reminder of Ortberg’s message to us: God’s love is for you. It’s real. It’s powerful. It’s unchanging. It is most important of all things.
She came out of the church and shook the pastor’s hand. He was the strongest, most energetic 77-year-old man I have ever known. He was tanned with sun reflected from the snowy mountains he and his wife still skied. He was focused and intense. He was not only the District President of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, he was my vicarage supervisor.
This young woman – about my age – took his hand that day after worship, looked into his dark eyes, and said, “Thank you so much for that message. It was truly what I needed to hear.” The message? “Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” Based on John 6:37, Pastor Nierman talked about whoever we are, whatever we have done, when we come to Jesus he receives us graciously and in love. He will not turn us away. Powerful. Intense. Gracious. Filled with the love of God.
One day in chapel at the seminary I attended a professor delivered a sermon, “Based,” he said, “on Second Isaiah.” He was making a theological point, launching a theological missile across the chapel at a colleague who held a much higher view of the Bible (as do I). The next day the professor at whom he had launched the doctrinal dart, launched a counter attack, his own ecclesiastical mortar round, preaching he said, “On the second half of the scroll of Isaiah.”
Then came the third day. The seminary professor whom I most admired – a true mand of God, humble, gifted, gracious, sincere, but no “easy-A” type (though I aced all his classes, because I really studied!) – provided the balm of Gilead for us all. His message: Every Christian Counts. He poured oil on the troubled waters of the divided faculty, and helped us all to recognize that God loves us all, and we are to have that same heart for one another. Speaking the truth in love.
There are others who have expressed that same kind of love to me. Bruce, my counselor. Murlyn, a wise and older colleague. Robert, my campus pastor. Gary, a friend who reached out to me and asked if we could be friends. Jerry, my high school buddy who got me to agree to study to become a pastor. And, of course, Diane, my wife. Their love for me is a reflection of God’s love. It is precious and pure. We cannot flourish without God’s love.
We are precious in God’s sight. He loves us. This is the balm of Gilead we all need to receive, and rest in God’s pure and precious goodness and love. John says, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). God’s love is perfect. Whatever fear you face, embrace God’s love. Receive Jesus’ peace. Find courage to go on, knowing that God loves you.