Faithfulness in the midst of fear

President Franklin D. Roosevelt made famous the statement, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These words were spoken during the height of the Great Depression and were a reminder that it was fear that was stoking the fire of the economic turmoil.
 
I wonder if FDR would have survived the political fallout today of suffering from polio. He was 39 years old when he contracted the
disease and the paralysis in his legs would have sidelined many folks today, some because of public opinion, others because of fear. Roosevelt overcame his fears, resumed his political career and achieved the highest office in the land.
 
Fear is also one of the greatest enemies of the faith. It paralyzes us from taking important steps of obedience. It hinders preachers from proclaiming the fullness of the Gospel. It overshadows our personal decisions in wanting to follow God’s plan for our life. For some, the fear of our economic security might paralyze us from pursuing the ministry or from investing financially in the kingdom of God. If we are afraid of rejection, we may be paralyzed from sharing the Gospel. The prescription to fear is faith expressed in acts of obedience. It is when we take steps of faith that we realize the Lord is powerful and faithful.
 
The Bible is filled with stories of people who fear. Fear drove the Israelites toward disobedience on the eve of their entering the Promised Land (Joshua 11-12). They believed that their future was in their own strengths and feared that God would not be with them, even after all of their needs were met by God’s mercy. Fear overwhelmed King Saul when he refused to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice before battle and ultimately cost him his crown (1 Samuel 13). Fear overcame Peter when he was asked if he knew Jesus (Luke 22) which led him to fulfill Jesus’ foretelling that Peter would deny him three times.
 
In Charles Shulz’s comic strip, Peanuts, Charlie Brown is tricked by his friend Lucy every time he tries to kick a football that she is holding for him. Each time, as Charlie Brown runs to kick it, Lucy pulls it away at the last moment. Charlie Brown wavers despite Lucy’s assurance that this time she will really, really hold the ball. Unfortunately, he never learns. We all have experiences with other people who have made empty promises and we end up falling down while they seem to never care. Those who have experienced this sort of abuse can grow to distrust everyone instead of just the Lucys in our life. Sadly, many take this same distrust to their relationship with God. What is the solution? It is easy to answer but can be difficult to act on. By God’s very nature, as a truthful, faithful and sovereign God, God can always be trusted. We simply need to be obedient.
 
During the temptations, Jesus told Satan to get behind him; that is, to go away. We would do well to simply tell fear to go away. Discouragement, go away. Weariness, go away. God is faithful. God will lead you to and through every situation in life. Ensure that you are pursuing God’s will. Pray deeply, search the Scriptures, seek counsel from godly friends and church leaders. Then, act in faithful obedience. God is always faithful.

Utopia

“I would not insult any one’s intelligence by trying to prove that things are not right in the world in which we live. When we look about us and see conditions as they are in our modern life, society corrupt, standard of home demolished, school in many cases hotbeds of infidelity and immorality, and even the church too many times in a cold, godless, backslidden condition, I need no argument to make me believe that the hearts of men [sic] are wrong today.” This line comes from a sermon written by the influential Disciples of Christ preacher, R.E. Snodgrass. It was written in the late 1800s.

Another great Disciples of Christ preacher, Isaac Errett, who would go on to serve as the editor of the influential Christian Standard magazine, was ordained in 1840 and joined the Church Triumphant in 1888, one year after First Christian Church in Ashland was founded. It was during those closing years of the 19th century that many preachers and writers wondered if the vision of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone would prove elusive. Camp-bell and Stone dreamed of a church where denominational distinctions and doctrinal wrangling would fall away and a church unified on the Great Confession — that Jesus is the Christ, Lord, and Savior of the world — would prevail as the foundational call of Christ’s people. Errett, in reflecting on this angst, described the problem as centered in the expectation of a Christian Utopia. The designation “Utopia” took hold in human discourse as early as 1516 when Thomas More published his famous work of fiction by the same name. Although More’s story is both satirical and anything by utopian by modern standards, the word became synonymous with a perfect community without any argument or discord.

Every politician and religious leader since have promised utopia if he or she is elected or given absolute authority. Errett concedes that a form of utopia is possible, but it isn’t by the definition of those who were his contemporaries. For him, utopia was when “master and slave gave each other the hand of fellowship, and the humbled rich and the exalted poor stood on a common level; the prince and the beggar clasped hands as partners, and all stood pledged to the high purpose of love — even to the extent of laying down their lives for each other.” How was this possible? Through Jesus Christ. In the midst of a world of division and hatred, it is the follower of Jesus Christ upon whose shoulders the burden of true utopia is pressed.

Snodgrass and Errett were products of their time. Though they were contemporaries and, by all accounts, friendly colleagues, their sermons were grappling with the same problems with which we continue to struggle. No, not issues of morality nor the “war on the family.” The issue is both specific and broad. The problem is simply the human condition. It is easier to point to the sins of others and those sins with which we may not struggle as the source of societal strife. For the young, it may be the greed of corporations. For corporations, it may be the oppressive regulations of government. For the government, it may be the lack of generosity from the tax payer. For the libertine, it is judgmental attitudes of the Stoics. For the Stoics, it is the lack of self-control of the epicurean.

The unimaginable truth is that even when we have been made “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), the frailty of the human heart looks to blame everyone and everything but ourselves. It is easier to jump on the bandwagon and criticize the mega church who refuses to open its doors to the victims of Harvey than it is to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves, “What have I done to alleviate the suffering?” It is far easier to sign on to a Nashville Declaration against “them” or a Denver Declaration against those that signed the Nashville Declaration than it is to ask ourselves, “Have I been an agent of reconciliation to my neighbor?” We are so concerned at blaming someone else for our society having fallen short of our utopian dreams that we fail to see that we too are held captive to the human condition of greed, arrogance, spite, and avarice. Yes, Brother Snodgrass, there are problems and I am too often both complicit and complacent. Yes, Brother Errett, Jesus is the answer. Not what I believe about Jesus. Just Jesus. He is my hope.