Fear: The Ruination of the American Church


fearIf someone were to ask me what emotion best characterizes the American Church in 2011, I’d have to say fear. Everywhere I look, some self-styled church leader is playing the fear card. Christian bloggers blog about issues that instill fear. Average Christians in the pews lament the continued American downslide and point trembling fingers willy-nilly at whomever/whatever they believe the cause to be. Christian survivalists are building their stashes to weather the coming apocalypse. I can’t tell you how many believers lately have told me they are considering, for the first time, buying a gun.

Talk to any of these folks and they’ll all tell you they are simply proving themselves ready. This is a commonly cited parable:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.'”
—Matthew 25:1-13

The wise ones in the above parable are wise because they are ready for the bridegroom. But what does that readiness look like?

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
—Matthew 24:44-46

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
—Titus 3:1-2

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
—Luke 9:1-6

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ”
—Matthew 5:38-48

Does being ready consist of stuffing a basement full of freeze-dried food to ride out Armageddon? Buying guns to protect that food and oneself? Can anyone find that in the Bible? I sure can’t.

Or does being ready mean fulfilling the Great Commission, doing the work Christ called us to, and living at peace with all men? When the Bridegroom returns, which servant will hear the “Well done,” the one tending to the homeless or the one tending to his Mossberg to protect his home?

Here’s a question we must all ask ourselves:

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
—Hebrews 13:6

It seems that for many of us, the answer to the question is “Mess with my lifestyle and take away my stuff.”

This explains the fear:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
—1 John 4:18

Fear has to do with punishment. Fearful Christians, sadly, reflect the idea that they are being punished when their stuff is taken away or messed with. None of that fearful thinking reflects a born again experience of Christ, though.

Here’s the truth:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
—1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
—Galatians 6:14

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
—Colossians 3:1-3

The fact is, if you have been truly born again, you died. Dead people, by all legal terms, own nothing. In Christ, you don’t even own yourself. Everything that you were and are now is Christ’s.

You can’t harm a dead person. A dead person doesn’t care about earth-bound people messing with his lifestyle. A dead person doesn’t care if you take away his stuff. A dead person doesn’t care about dying; he’s already dead.

Fearful Christians are that way because they haven’t died to self. They have no sense of the world to come, which is why they want to hold onto THIS world so badly.

Fearful Christians think that by their own efforts they will stave off whatever is to come. The Bible says differently:

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
—Revelation 13:10

Do we understand this? I don’t think we do. Instead, we bunker down and kick against the goads, desperate to save ourselves.

Christian, learn to die. In place of embracing fear, learn to love God. There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out all fear.

Love casts out the fear of THOSE PEOPLE and their GODLESS AGENDA.

Love casts out the fear that THEY WILL TAKE AWAY OUR STUFF.

Love casts out the fear that THEY MAY EVEN KILL US.

Love of God takes away that desperate voice that so clings to what is passing and replaces it with love, which endures through all eternity.

Christian, your life is to run counter to the lives of those who hope in this world alone. Your is not to horde but to give freely. Yours is not to worry but to remain steadfast. Yours is not to plan your own means of escape, but to give direction for escaping the wrath to come to those who do not know the Way. Those who seek to save their own lives will lose them. Do not be deceived and fall into that enormous trap, as so many others will.

A life of fear can never reveal the life of Christ.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
—1 Peter 3:13-16

When Believers Stumble: Worry


WorryNormally, I post about four times a week. I write on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, posting just after midnight so that the posts run Monday through Thursday.

I was shy a post last week because I ran up against my own failure. I stopped to write on Worry about a half dozen times, but every time I crashed into writer’s block—not a typical problem for me.

Over this weekend, I confronted my blockage and realized what had monkey-wrenched my gears. The reason I suddenly found myself at a loss for words is that worry is the single biggest sin in my own life.

I didn’t start out being a worrier. I don’t believe that any Christian who struggles with worry does. You can’t get sidetracked unless you’re already on the journey.

No one thought of me as a worrier, quite the opposite; I was the quintessential optimist. Still, I had my share of setbacks as I entered my twenties.

One of my friends took special note of the particularly harsh events that followed me around for a few years. Going for a drive together one night, he confessed to me that the reason he wasn’t a Christian was me. I was shocked. Hadn’t I been a good witness? Where had I gone wrong? He told me that it had nothing to do with how I lived out the Faith. My friend explained that he could not understand how God could treat one of His followers—me—so badly. If that is how God worked, he didn’t want any part of that God. Of course, I tried to sway him, but he didn’t want to hear it.

I shook off the funk of that night, but something had been planted in me that took root. I started noting how I fell into worst case scenarios quite often. Didn’t know why. That’s not the way that I prayed.

So I started worrying. I started thinking about the worst thing that could happen. I worried when I considered decisions. I learned to ignore shock when the worst possible thing actually came to pass. I didn’t become a pessimist as much as a disillusioned optimist.

But I’m a Christian, right?

We all know Abraham as one of the patriarchs of the Faith. Abraham was a worrier, though. Like most worriers, he envisioned the worst possible outcome. Think about this: Abraham worried that as he traveled, foreign kings would think his wife was such a hottie that he’d be killed and his wife wife-napped. So he hatched a plan to pass her off as his sister. Strangely enough, his worst case scenario came to pass. Twice!

Elijah fled into the desert, fearing that Jezebel would hunt him down and have his head. God fed him by ravens, yet Elijah still wallowed in his worry.

The Bible doesn’t have nearly as many verses on worry and anxiety as some other issues believers face. Jesus’ well-known words on worry, lilies, and sparrows is one of the most direct passages. Most of us know Philippians 4:6-7 by heart.

But as someone who struggles with worry, I’ve wondered why so many other Christians are tripped up by this problem.

Christianity is a faith that has strong roots in the past and a vision always looking to the future. Both the past and future play into worry. We can worry that choices we made in the past will somehow culminate in heartbreak later in the future. Worry, by its nature, fears what might be coming around the bend. Worriers prepare with hopes to prevent the future they don’t wish to see. Worriers, therefore, are people who can never live in the present.

Because there is such a strong emphasis in Christianity on eternal reward, Christians who struggle with worry are always fighting to ensure they are laying up treasure in heaven, fretting when that goal isn’t being met. And for Christians who worry, self-examination is never the issue. They are always keenly aware of each and every sin, every lack, every area that needs growth. Sometimes it seems overwhelming

Was what I did enough? Why did that happen? I did as God said to, but I failed. Why? The Bible says this, but the experience was just the opposite. I must have done something wrong since the Scriptures are always right.

Do any of those sound familiar?

At the heart of worry is fear. At the heart of that fear is loss.

You’d expect churches to deal with loss better than any other group, but in America that is often not the case. I think the Church does well with death in most cases, but other kinds of loss are bobbled. I know from personal experience that job loss is not handled well. Downward mobility is also problematic for some churches. I’ve known widows and widowers who received plenty of comfort within weeks of losing a spouse, but a year later their support had vanished. And for every heartwarming story of church support for those who have lost their health, there are others that border on horrifying.

So some Christians who face those issues worry.

For me, all I want is to be in God’s will because I know that being in His will means that I am living life to the fullest this side of heaven. I want with all my heart to go the Scriptures and find the answers for each situation I find myself in day by day.

What makes this harder is when the message of American Christianity intersects with that desire and crushes it.

As most of you know, I’m a stay-at-home dad. I do have a writing business, but my wife works outside of the home. Life is tough in Ohio right now. Our unemployment rate (from what I read a couple days ago in the local paper) is running 7% above the rest of the country. That means that a little more than one out of ten people in this state are unemployed. Many people we know are struggling and all the couples we know who were vehement about not falling into a dual-breadwinner household are finding that reality and theory aren’t intersecting any longer.

From where I sit, parts of the Godblogosphere and many portions of American Christianity have tried, convicted and sentenced to hell folks like us. There are a lot of Christian voices out there, many of them quite wise, but when they come down on your own little noggin, it’s hard to avoid worry for those of us who want to be doing the right thing. I don’t know how many times I’ve just wanted to burn my computer and forget blogging or reading blogs because yet another person I respected told me I was as bad as an unbeliever because I wasn’t the primary breadwinner.

Pick any aspect of Christianity and there’s a person laboring under a millstone of worry because they aren’t stacking up to the “accepted standard.”

I started out this post by saying that worrying is a sin. It’s rooted in fear and lack of trust; there’s no excuse for it.

But to all those Christians who don’t struggle with worry, I ask that instead of making it harder for worriers to triumph over worry, come alongside them. I know that I try very hard not to create burdens for people who come to Cerulean Sanctum. Millstones are plentiful in the American Church, unfortunately, and when we’re not placing them on each other, we’re often failing to help others remove the stone necklaces the world adds.

Some days are better than others for me. I pray that every day I shake off more worry. I know I’m not alone. As much as we talk about trusting God, there are more people like me in American churches than I could count in my lifetime.

We say that faith is like jumping off a cliff, but we don’t have a good answer for folks who wind up like Wile E. Coyote, nothing more than a poof of sand and a crater at the bottom of the canyon. If we did a better job backing up people, perhaps we’d have a lot fewer worriers in the Church.