Fear Is Not An Option
We were on the Carnival Glory cruise ship and knew our captain was trying to outrun the hurricane. One of the passengers -- worried, anxious -- asked me if I thought if we would be safe, or if the hurricane would catch us. I am not sure why people, when they find out I am a minister, assume I know so much about weather and other shards of the mundane. I keep trying to tell them "I don't know! I'm in sales, not management" but it doesn't always take. This time I merely said, "I refuse to be harmed by something named Dennis."
If the hurricane had been named "Thor: eater of souls" or "The Dark Abyss", then maybe I would have shown a bit more concern. But "Dennis"?
Why are so many of us so afraid so much of the time? I finally might have a clue. I don't watch daytime TV and when I watch morning news it is generally the Fox News Channel or one of the other "all news all the time" channels so it was instructive when our ship's TV only piped in the morning shows of NBC, ABC, and, periodically, CBS. I flipped from one to the other in amazement. It was nothing but a fear-fest every morning. Are your kids safe? Is the water supply safe? Are terrorists in the neighborhood? Is your car crashworthy? Is your husband cheating on you? Will gas prices continue to rise? Even the news about politics or Natalee Holloway was always framed with dire sounding music and questions that made it seem our safety, our lifestyles, and our families could be in danger.
And how about all those evening news plugs? "Your family may be in danger from a common household item! News at eleven." Wait a minute: if my family is in danger from something in the house, tell me now. If you make me wait until eleven, the danger can't be very great, can it? When was the last time they said, "A deadly Black Mamba snake is in your house. We'll tell you exactly where in five hours!" (or after this important message from Anti-Venom 'R Us)
We do this in church, too. How many sermons are fear-inducing? How many times do we try to scare our people straight? "Jesus could come back at any minute!" Yes... but isn't that a good thing? I can remember preachers telling us that Jesus could come back before the end of the sermon and my little seven year old brain thinking, "Sure, the odds of that keep getting better since the sermon keeps going on so long!" What they really meant was that Jesus could come back before we sang the invitation song and gave people a chance to do formal, public repentance or baptism. They had a point: everyone needs Jesus to get to heaven. Nobody goes without Him; that isn't even open to debate! But the constant barraging of scare tactics only worked for awhile. It drove some to apoplexy and others to apathy; that's what constant fear mongering does. That is why some churches are losing members. It isn't because people don't want to hear the truth. It is because they want to hear the WHOLE truth. The major networks are losing audience, but the total viewership of TV is up. People are just abandoning the fear mongerers for people who will tell them the other bits of the news.
I don't want us to go the other way and say "peace, peace" when there is no peace, but let's remember one salient point: the command Jesus gave more than all other commands combined (check it out. I did) was "Fear not." Stay by Jesus and there is no reason to fear.
It was October 1993 and I and my two small children were in the car headed to a resort where I was doing a devotional for the West Virginia football team before their championship game against Miami. It was dark and rainy as we approached the Cheat Lake bridge. At the worst possible moment the semi-truck beside us swung into our lane and rammed us into the bridge at 60mph. We spun and hit several times, the third time so hard that my seat belt broke and my knees made new holes in the dash. I can remember that it hurt, but my clearest recollection is how calm I felt as I said aloud (my kids told me they heard me), without fear, "Oh. I guess I'm done." I wasn't aware of how big an impression that made on them until years later. Daddy wasn't afraid of dying. He was ready.
It was September 11th, 2001. I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC where some of my neighbors thought my son and I were gun nuts, perhaps even members of some right wing militia. They were aggressive pacifists who considered us cave dwelling, knuckle dragging, Wal-Mart shopping, Republican voting, evolutionary throwbacks. And then the towers were knocked down by islamofascists. Some of their husbands were trapped on business trips out of state and could not get back. There was fear in the air. They came to our house and asked if their families could stay with us. We said, "sure" and brought them in. One of them asked, "What do we do now? What happens next?" My response was, "I don't know what's going to happen. I'm not in charge of that. What I can say is that fear is not an option. We do not need to be afraid of evil people. Let them be afraid of us."
My Lord will save us. We have no need of fear. I have no time for the morning fear-parade on TV. I will not try to scare people into heaven. I will let them know the certain terror of dying without Jesus, but only to contrast it with the blessed, wonderful knowledge that Jesus WANTS to save us and has gone through SO much to make it so. We can live in peace. We can be peaceful, laugh (even in church!), and radiate joy, for we are an obedient people and our Lord told us - time and again -- "Fear not."
You have permission to live in joy. Fear is not an option. Rejoice always.