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The solution to fear

Fear is everywhere.

Fear of the coronavirus.

of getting sick.

of another wave of the deadly virus.

of dying.

of being alone.

of being forgotten.

of rejection.

of being bullied.

of violence.

of riots.

of looting.

of losing a business.

of losing personal rights.

Stories about these fears have dominated the news outlets. Let’s face it. Fear and anxiety “sell” in such a way that, at first glance, headlines can accumulate reads, likes, and shares because of their scary language.

Often, the scary sounding headline is enough to get a click, but the story itself will include fearful and anxiety-provoking language to keep us engaged. Do we need to remain vigilant about the possibility of danger through disease, violence, or rioting?

Of course. It’s not hard to do a little research. We have Google. Look at the evidence. Take some time to breathe and process what there’s to see. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen heartbreaking acts of violence that have made many of us anxious and fearful for our nation. Fear can manifest itself in many forms.

Imagine being arrested just for simply being a Christian! That was the charge the Roman emperor made against the early church leader John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century when Rome was persecuting the Church. If Chrysostom did not renounce Christ, then the emperor would have this Christian leader banished from the kingdom. Chrysostom responded to the threat by saying that the emperor could not do so, “because the whole world is my Father’s kingdom.”

“Then,” replied the emperor, “I will take away your life.”

To which Chrysostom said, “You cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”

Next threatened with the loss of his treasure, this saint replied, “You cannot, for my treasure is in heaven where my heart is.”

The emperor made one last effort: “Then I will drive you away from here and you shall have no friend left.”

But again, Chrysostom responded, “You cannot, for I have one Friend from whom you can never separate me. I defy you for you can do me no harm.” You can do me no harm! Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Do not fear! Chrysostom lived the life that Jesus expected of him and you and I can too. A life without fear. Remember that…

It’s awful to live in fear. Some people live in fear all their lives. Stan Mooneyham told of visiting a primitive tribe in the jungles of Papua New Guinea who never had contact with the outside world until the mid-1970s. For centuries, they had lived in jungle isolation by the law of revenge. Every slight or every wrong required retribution, usually a killing. If a man suspected another of stealing from his taro patch, he would hide beside a trail and kill the thief. This in turn required a revenge murder, which prompted further escalation in a never-ending cycle. The tribe had become so fragmented through fear of each other they were reduced to living in small, isolated family units. Life was constant terror and hardship.

One day they encountered a Christian from another tribe who told them there was a new way to live — a way which he called “beles,” or “easy in the belly.” That’s an interesting way to put it. Living with no fear is living “easy in the belly.” This tribe that had been living by the law of revenge asked for a missionary to come and teach them about living belesi. And when Mooneyham visited their small community on the banks of the April River, Fritz Urschitz, a missionary from Austria had been living among them for a couple of years. Gradually, they were emerging from their darkness, coming into the light, learning to live by the law of gentleness and love instead of the law of revenge.

What a terrible way to live–in constant fear of your own neighbors, never knowing when a minor slight might launch a desire for the severest form of revenge. And yet many people in our world live like that-in constant fear.

What a terrible thing — living in fear, living in insecurity, living with constant anxiety. I wonder how many people in our own country live every day in real fear. I wonder how many children live in fear of cruel bullies. I wonder how many wives live in real fear of abusive husbands. Drs. Burka and Yuen in their book Procrastination: Why You DO It, What to Do about It, suggest there are four types of fear, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being controlled, and fear of intimacy. Do you see anything interesting about these four so-called fears? They are not tangible at all. Nobody is going to kill you if you fail — or if you succeed, or if you give in to the need all of us have for intimacy. Some of the fears that haunt us are totally irrational.

You know, of course, that the number one fear that people list in surveys is the fear of speaking in front of an audience. It even beats out death in most surveys. How absurd. In the absence of real fear, we create fears in our own minds. And that is sad.

Fear can be a real paralyzer. Fear can keep us from being all that God created us to be. Jesus says that the ideal antidote for fear is faith in God.

Why do we fear failure? Or rejection? Or intimacy? Isn’t it because there is a great insecurity within our souls? How much could you and I accomplish if we could be relieved of all our fears and anxieties?

If we honestly believed that God was with us? If we knew that what we do really matters and that you and I would be accepted regardless of the outcome?

It’s awful to live in constant fear. But the solution to fear is found in God’s love.

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Charles Eldredge is a pastor at Maitland Church of the Brethren in Lewistown.

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