1977 was a scary year. There were the infamous “Son of Sam” murders. The fuel shortage was on everyone’s mind. Inflation was up. Johnstown Pennsylvania had enough flooding to kill 75 people. Elvis Presley died in August. Hollywood found a supernatural hit with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Worst of all, there was a born-again Christian in the White House in the form of Jimmy Carter. That alone was enough to push us into the time of the end–at least according to the evangelist who came to my church.
I was thirteen, sitting in the back row of the church watching scary dragons and listening to my options between dying as a martyr or dying prematurely without my salvation intact. All I could do was pray, “Dear Jesus please don’t come until I have sex.” Seriously. There is no sex heaven according to the preacher. He said we should sell everything, move to the country and get ready for the horrible events which were about to happen. The room was dark so I was able to chew off all my finger nails without anyone noticing.
Within months my family moved to a non-accredited school where we kids did more child labor than studying. The teacher said it didn’t matter because Jesus would come before we grew up. We were also forced to sport the dreaded end-of-the-world dress code. Those who didn’t conform were accused of being in Babylon. I loathed wearing a dress over my pants while I worked in the garden. I took refuge in the opportunity to freeze in place whenever a car passed by–hoping to be mistaken for a scarecrow.
Our “school” taught external behavior with little opportunity to think about a heart change because the entire community was built on fear. We canned and dried fruit and worried that we would have enough food for the time of trouble. We discussed hiding in the mountains. We worried about nuclear war. We were afraid to get tattoos on our wrists and foreheads and wear the “Mark of the Beast.” As I memorized religious writings for the time of trouble, I wondered how many verses it would take to be ready.
We were told to be perfect like our Father in heaven and stop sinning. This prompted me to stop chewing my fingernails, give up bubblegum and quit reading the Sunday funnies. Despite how much I prepared, news headlines still caused me to lay awake at night with my heart in my throat worrying that Jesus would come and I would be labeled a goat.
Fear sells. And it sells more than insurance. It’s been selling religion for centuries–since the dark ages when the church burned people at the stake to get them to conform. Pressure doesn’t leave room for a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s why evangelistic meetings bring crowds into the church but six months later most of them have disappeared.
Scientists tells us that fear floods the amygdala (or what some jokingly call the “lizard brain”) causing us to engage a “fight or flight” response. Meanwhile the thinking center of our brain is put on hold while we are running for our lives. How much thinking can you do when you’re running for your life? It’s considered bad council to choose a car, house or spouse in such a state–much less build a relationship with God.
I have friends and siblings who tell me they get nauseated whenever they go near a Revelation meeting today. Some of them are agnostic or atheist because the picture of God they were shown as children only causes them to flee as far away from the church as possible.
Have you been following God because of fear? When people spend a lifetime being scared into following God, it’s almost impossible to trust God. Are we running to Jesus because we trust him or because we are afraid of the seven last plagues and Armageddon? If you are a parent, do you want your kids to love you out of fear? God doesn’t either.
There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
Because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
-1 John 4:18
The only thing that can take away fear is love. Jesus came to show us what love looks like. The people who knew him were not afraid of him. The same Jesus, who healed outcasts, forgave criminals and held little children can also calm the worst hurricane whether it is swirling around us or in our hearts. This same Jesus who is our Friend is coming back but he doesn’t want us to be worried, he even says–
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jesus is coming; don’t you want to be ready? This question has been repeated over and over throughout my lifetime. Sometimes it’s been said to manipulate me into doing what others wanted me to do. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of snake oil salesmen trying to sell me my salvation. I don’t want to be scared into trusting Jesus, I want to trust Jesus on His own merits–not because the stock market is crashing and violence is rampant, but because I have engaged the thinking center of my brain and made a logical decision to trust him because he is worthy.
God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid
But a spirit of power and love and self-control.
-2 Timothy 1:7
If you too, are tired of the fear game, then listen to Jesus–
Are you tired? Worn out?
Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me
And you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
- Matthew 11:28