Are you worried that the world is headed towards some awful disaster? The tone of much of the political rhetoric continues to throw out frightening “what-if’s” that lead a lot of us in this direction. Our country hasn’t faced a president refusing to accept the results of an election. In particular, a president supported by a few members of Congress, a handful of journalists, and groups of armed protestors.
It was a long time ago, but I remember as a child participating in drills in the unlikely event that the U.S. should come under nuclear attack. This makes the speech given by airline attendants about seat cushions and water landings seem less threatening by comparison.
Dystopia, the opposite of utopia, is a word that tries to capture this sense of the world coming to a terrible end. The term “dystopia” comes from ancient Greek. When we have these terrifying feelings, we share in a feeling also held by our ancestors who lived thousands of years before us.
Yet the world is still spinning — perhaps out of control, or at least our control. And the odds are the world will continue to turn, at least for the next hundred years or so. And the world will spin even if democracy, as we know it, is replaced by an authoritarian form of government. Which isn’t very likely despite temper tantrums and conspiracy theories.
Granted, there is a lot to be alarmed about—big problems like racial injustice, pandemics, global warming, wild-fires, and destructive weather patterns. Several alarms are going off all at once. And each alarm, if we decide we’re going to do something about it, spells change with a capital “C.” in other words, the kind of change that most of us fear.
So most of us shut-out the noise when it comes to challenging problems. After all, we have enough worries and fears. Even if somehow we manage to reverse global warming, vaccinations become readily available, racial injustice somehow gets resolved, and power transfers smoothly to a new administration.
Even when all of these big problems get solved without our help or our worry. Which they won’t, by the way, without all of us participating. But let’s say they do get solved. We’re still left with our personal fears.
For example, how about the fear that we’re missing out on something that we really shouldn’t miss? Every Facebook post. Every Instagram picture, every share of a friend’s escape for a dream vacation, or even a new truck, leaves us feeling just a little bit envious.
And we no more than catch the latest commercials pitching those things we just shouldn’t have to live without, and we open a bill that exceeds the money we have to pay it.
Do any of these fears describe you? During these months of isolation and worry about the coronavirus, politics, and social unrest, are you finding yourself vacillating between your personal worries and your fear that the world is about to crash?
You know we actually have quite a bit of control over some of these fears. None of us have the power, on our own, to reverse decisions to sell oil drilling rights in pristine, Alaskan land preserves. But we can choose to ignore the commercial showing the coolest tailgate on a pickup you ever saw.
We can choose to show gratitude that we woke up this morning, almost in our right mind, and we have enough sense to know that there are actually things worth worrying about. We can set aside a little money for the future. We can also choose to set aside a little bit of whatever money we do have as an offering to God for all that we do have going for us. And we can have hope.
In the book, Unafraid, Adam Hamilton writes, “This hope is not meant to lead us to apathy or indifference about the very real problems facing our world. The Bible calls human beings to work to address the world’s problems. But we do so as people who have hope that regardless of what happens, ultimately, God will prevail.” 1
Jesus had a way of breaking down the complexities of life into simple ideas that any of us can follow. But, there are times when I find His advice to be too simple. At times, I want to make His instructions more complex. This allows me to rationalize what I want to do instead of taking His advice and living worry-free. I’ve grown attached to my worries, and I’m quite fond of my ideas. I still want that bigger truck and with that really cool tailgate.
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “Jesus, it’s easy for you to say — you didn’t drive a truck? You walked everywhere — you didn’t have a mortgage or even pay rent. Have you seen the new commercial for that dishwasher with separate top and bottom drawers? A dozen or so monthly payments, and it can be mine.” How great could life be if I had these things? But would any of these prevent the world from crashing?
Honestly, I’m blessed that somewhere along this line of thinking, I feel a nudge to step back and wonder, “How much is enough?” Research suggests that the answer to this question eludes all of us. And those of us who have more want even more. Possession is addictive.
You cannot serve both God and money.
The simplicity of Jesus’ teachings has a lot of competition from commercials. With every connection I make with companies that demand my email address, my information is added to a dozen more lists. And these lists are managed by marketing companies paid to make sure that I see their ads several times a day. And sometimes, it feels like a request to be removed is accepted as validation that I’m actually reading my emails. Which moves me to their more frequent email list rather than remove me from the list I’m on.
The writer, known as Matthew, shares a story about Jesus, giving what must have been a full-day seminar on better living through doing what God says to do. At one point, Jesus said, “You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
Makes sense. Most of us have tried this. Sooner or later, we realize that unless we are really clear on our values, we quickly find ourselves making decisions or going along with the findings of others. This leaves us feeling empty and frankly a bit betrayed. Betrayed by our own failure.
Jesus wanted to get to the heart of the master for you and me. Like I said, Jesus had a way of simplifying that which we purposely make complex. Jesus goes on to say, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). But what does it mean to “serve” money?
Here’s one take on this question. Jesus also says, “This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t life worth more than food? And isn’t the body worth more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). Well? Of course, life is more than these, but we need to eat. And without clothes, we get arrested, and our sanity is questioned.
Pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18
Apparently, Jesus knew what most of us learn the hard way. More is never enough. The problem isn’t whether we need food and clothing. The problem arises when we can’t get enough—even the basics like food and clothing. Jesus is getting at the heart of the matter. That is, where is our heart in this matter? Which “masters” do we choose to serve?
Adam Hamilton’s book offers a reference guide for dealing with fear:
F — Face your fears with faith;
E — Examine the facts that are the source of your fears;
A — Act on ways that can alleviate or at least reduce your fears; and,
R — Release your fears to God after you’ve done what you can do. 1
The bottom line is that we can let go of our need to control and trust that God is still in charge. And that God cares about our well-being even more than we do, or at least more than we show that we care.
There was a time when I paid lip service to Paul’s guidance to the church in Thessalonica to “pray at all times.”
The steps offered by Pastor Adam are daunting on our own. This is where the idea of incarnation comes to our rescue. While Incarnation s the subject of our December series, God’s persistent presence in our lives makes all of the difference. When fear has us hiding under the table, it is both comforting and wise to call on God. After all, God promises to be nearby.
This month’s series is called Naked and unafraid. If you’re fearful about the present or the future, this series is for you. You can read about our series in our newsletter or online. I pray that you will join us online or in person over the next four Sundays. Make it a habit.
After Thanksgiving, our theme moves to God living among us. Our next series, Incarnation, explores the importance of God among us in the aftermath of an intense election. The Christmas season is guaranteed to be different this year. God’s presence is our greatest hope for the future.
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1 Adam Hamilton. Unafraid: Living with Courage and hope in Uncertain Times. © 2018. New York: Penguin Random House.