Fear of the Future
January 9, 2000
Well, we have made it into a new millennium without too many bumps and bruises, haven’t we? I think it is safe to say that Y2K can be labeled the year of fear because never have so many made so much about the calendar rolling over. All of this hype and hoopla caused a lot of us to freak out. Some thought terrorists would strike, the stock market would crash, and the power would go out. That made a bunch of us go out and buy bottled water and batteries and generators. It caused some to dig shelters and even take money out of banks. Everyone was hunkered down and the genre of the day was, are you Y2K OK? Are you Y2K compliant? The whole process revolved around fear, which is pretty apropos considering this series is entitled “Know Fear – Facing Life’s Phobias.”
Speaking of fear, several days ago, I ran across something on the Internet called Dracon’s Phobia List. If any of these phobias resonate with you, just respond by lifting your hand. If you have acrophobia, you have the fear of heights. Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. Areophobia, the fear of flying. I hope none of our pilots raised their hands. Claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces. Dentophobia, the fear of dentists. Glossophobia, the fear of speaking in public. Hamartophobia, the fear of sinning. Someone on the front row raised his or her hand. Liaphobia is….I made that one up. Pentheraphobia is the fear of your mother-in-law. Ecclisophobia is the fear of church, especially when the Cowboys kicked off at 11:35. Ternophobia is the fear of being tickled by feathers.
Suriphobia is the fear of mice. I have a close friend of mine who is 6’3” and weighs 235, and he is deathly afraid of these furry creatures. Venustraphobia is the fear of beautiful women. I love this one; it is for those here who love fashion—xanthophobia, the fear of the color yellow. Some of the guys have this one—anuptaphobia, the fear of staying single. Or should I say some of the girls? I don’t know. Blennophobia, the fear of slime. Well, I have got that one. I am not really keen on slime. Gamophobia, the fear of marriage. Luposlipaphobia—you won’t believe this one. Luposlipaphobia is the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a freshly waxed floor. Friends, I did not make these up. They are for your viewing pleasure on the world wide web. But I have got to save my favorite for last. Homilophobia, the fear of sermons. Hopefully you don’t have that because we are going to talk over the next several weeks about the many sides of fear.
Fear is a fascinating subject because there is a negative side to fear. Fear can paralyze and tyrannize our lives. It can keep us from being all that God wants us to be. But also there is a positive side to fear. Fear can also stimulate and motivate us to greatness. This series will surprise and shock many people here because a lot of you don’t feel like you deal with fear. You say to yourself, “Well, I’m autonomous. I am self-sufficient. I’m a self-made person. I don’t deal with fear.” Your fears will surface like submarines, so don’t be shocked and surprised. If you say you don’t have fear, chances are you are walking with a deep level of fear that you are not understanding and processing and dealing with.
I have sort of framed the fears into six specific categories. Today we are talking about the fear of the future. The reason I chose the future in this first installment is because all the other fears, the fear of commitment, the fear of failure, the fear of loneliness, the fear of God, and the fear of death all have a futuristic aspect to them. The many sides, the faces, of fear.
The Bible, God’s word, is not silent on the subject of fear. 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear….” See the word “fear?” It comes from the Greek term “phobas,” which means “cowardice, timidity.” It means “running scared,” and this is the only place in the New Testament where phobas is used. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but (say it with me) of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” God knew that we would deal with and process a lot of fear. That’s why the phrase “fear not” is mentioned over 189 times in the Bible. The spirit of God does not produce negative fear. The spirit of God produces love and power and a sound mind. In your translation it might say self-discipline. So today I want to make some general comments about the future.
Before I do, I want to make a very sobering statement. Many of you who are hearing my voice right now have every reason to fear the future. I will say it one more time. Pockets of people represented in this place, at this 11:15 am service, have every good reason to fear tomorrow, to fear next year, to fear the future. Why? You know if you continue with your low-grade level of commitment in your marriage that it is just a matter of time before the attorneys are called in to pick up the pieces. Then you are involved in another marriage and another and another, still going over the same issues, still facing the same fears and the same problems. Some of you know if you continue with your level of commitment in your friendships or maybe a business partnership, that the future doesn’t look so bright for you.
Some of you have every good reason to fear failure because you are still remaining in your cocoon of comfort, not taking risks, not stepping out, not facing your fears, just playing it safe. And you know if you continue to do so in the new millennium that your life will be riddled with regret. Maybe some of you are fearful of being alone. As you look on the Doppler radar screen of your relational world, it doesn’t look that good. You want to have the wedding ring and the white picket fence with the beautiful little house and the 2.3 children, but it is not looking that way. And you are getting older and you are thinking about living alone and you are fearful about being all by yourself in the world in which we live. You fear being alone. Or maybe you fear being alone relationally. Maybe you don’t have anyone who really understands you or who knows you or whom you think loves you.
Maybe you fear God. Maybe you know that your lifestyle is not really square with scripture. Maybe you know that your vocabulary, your thought life, the places you frequent don’t really reflect a personal relationship with the Lord. And you sort of know down deep that one day the accounts will be settled and your balance sheet is not going to look that good.
That causes a lot of people to fear the appointment that none of us can put off—death. The stats on death are still hovering around 100%, friends. We are all going to die and the Bible says when we breathe our last breath on this planet and breathe a new breath in eternity, we will be launched into one of two places, either into heaven with the Lord or into a Christless eternity, separate from God. But what we do on this side, on this planet, has a lot to do with where we will spend eternity. And it has to do with a decision that we all face right here, either accepting and receiving what God did for us through Christ or not. So fear is real. Fear is out there and a lot of people have every good reason to fear the future.
Well, having said that, let me give you several suggestions as we think about the future, as we think about facing fear. The first suggestion is that I want you to go retro. When fear seems to overshadow you, overtake you, go retro. It seems like everything these days is going retro. Shoes are going retro. Clothes are going retro. Food is going retro. Cars are going retro. We borrow stuff from the past and bring it up in the present. Going retro can be bad. If we remember the bad stuff from the past, the evil stuff from the past, the mistakes from the past, it can freeze us up in the present. It can really mess us up.
My favorite television show is The Crocodile Hunter. Several nights ago I was channel surfing, looking at The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, and I couldn’t find Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. But I did come across this strange television show.
(Video: “The Dog Hunter,” on the side screens shows Ed Young at his home with his animals, two bull mastiffs, one dachshund, and one cat. He demonstrates what happens when he feeds the two bull mastiffs, Brute and Apollo.)
I am not sure what channel that show actually comes on, but you might want to do some channel surfing and find out. The Dog Hunter. Anyway, I feed Brute and Apollo every day. Brute is the younger dog; he weighs 150 pounds, solid muscle. He begins to eat his food. I feed Apollo around the corner. Apollo is the smaller of the two; he weighs about 145, is the dominant dog, the older dog. Apollo will gobble down his food and run and knock Brute away and eat Brute’s food. Brute is big enough to stand his ground. He is strong enough. Yet it is the memory of when he was the pup, it is the fear of being dominated by Apollo long ago that keeps him from being nourished in the present.
Going retro can be bad. Brute does it, so do you. Sometimes I do. We look back, we go retro on the past and say to ourselves, “Oh, I remember that comment that someone made about my personality, about my look. I remember what I did in that relationship. I remember how I messed up, how I committed a moral turnover. Surely, God can’t feed me in the present. Surely, God can’t use me. The fear of the future. Going retro can be bad.
Going retro also can be good. It could be strong. When we go retro and look back on the past and remember the good things, remember what God has done, remember how He has helped us, assisted us, picked us up when we are feeling low. That’s a good thing. And that can cause us to stand and get nourished in the present.
Remember the children of Israel? Miraculously God delivered them from hundreds of years of slavery. He committed act after act after act. And the Hebrews found themselves pressed up against a wall of water by the pursuing army. Now one would think that the Israelites would go retro in a positive sense and remember all those supernatural acts that God had done for them. But don’t hold your breath. The Israelites went retro in a negative light and they began to whine.
Fear, negative fear, leads to whining. “Oh, Moses, why did you bring us here? We were better off in slavery, Moses, better off the way we used to be. We should have never followed you, the visionary person.” They began to moan and enter that whole zone. Well, Moses stepped in and said these words in Exodus 14:13, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
When you feel fear overshadowing you, incarcerating you, freezing you up, stand still. The Bible says be still and know God. We can hear from God. One of the ways we hear from God is through God’s word. And God will remind us, too, of those experiences in the past where He cared for us and that will give us the drive and the octane to get nourished in the present.
Do you feel like you are being pursued by your Egyptian army? Do you feel like your back is against a body of water? Are you whining? Are you moaning? Are you saying, “Oh, no, I fear the future. Oh, no, I remember the past. Oh, no, I remember when I messed up.” Go retro in a positive sense. Be still and listen to the voice of God. It will help you face the fear of the future. Go retro, first suggestion.
Second suggestion. Don’t deify fear. Don’t deify fear. Oftentimes we make more out of fear than it really is. When I think about the deification of fear I think about Nehemiah. Nehemiah, this Jewish man, was born into Persian captivity and he was elevated to the second most important position in the kingdom, that of a wine taster. Wine tasters back then wielded a lot of power. They were some serious people walking around. The wine tasters would taste the king’s wine and eat his food before the king ate and drank. And if the king watched the wine taster keel over, he wouldn’t eat and he wouldn’t drink.
Also the wine taster was the king’s confidant. One day Nehemiah was praying. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. If you want to read a great book on prayer, read Nehemiah. Nehemiah prayed long prayers. He prayed mid-length prayers. He prayed those microwave prayers, you know: time cook, 20, start; beep, beep…. He prayed. He began to pray and God began to press upon his spirit to go and ask permission from King Artaxerxes, the king he worked for, to leave his position, to travel 800 miles, and rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s home. That was a scary thing back then. If you made a request of the king and he didn’t like it, heads would roll, literally.
I love what Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 2:2: “…I was very much afraid.” Don’t you love that vulnerability, that authenticity? He admitted it. He admitted his fear. God oftentimes will use fear in your life and mine to drive us to Him. Admit it. He admitted it and then after that he committed it to God in prayer. He talked to God about it. “God give me the strength. God empower me.” Finally Nehemiah faced his fear, because he admitted it and committed it to God in prayer and he walked into the king’s palatial office. He broke through fear and fear began to fade and he made the request of King Artaxerxes. And let me tell you what God did. God granted Nehemiah, through Artaxerxes, the privilege to go back and rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem, and King Artaxerxes picked up the tab. He sprung for the whole deal. Is that amazing or what? Don’t deify fear. Nehemiah didn’t bow down to it. He admitted it and committed it.
Talk to God about it. Say, “God I am fearful. God, use me. I want to take a step, God.” Who is your King Artaxerxes? Who do you need to ask for the order? Do you need to close some deal in your life?
When I think about fear, I think about my childhood. My younger brother and I had our bedrooms upstairs. I have always been bigger than my brother. At that stage of my life I was a head taller and weighed 30 pounds more. But I would never go upstairs at night unless Ben went up there first. I never would because I was fearful. I was scared of the little man. I thought a little man lived upstairs in the attic. I thought he lived in the bathroom. I thought he was under the bed.
One night my parents said, “OK, boy, it is time to go to bed.” I stood there. Mom and Dad said, “Ed, go upstairs. Go to bed.” “Mom and Dad, I am waiting for Ben.” “Why?” “I am scared of the little man.” “The little what?” “The little man.” Then I explained to them my fears. They took a flashlight, took me upstairs, and turned on all the lights. We went in the attic and looked around all the boxes, looked under the bed, in the bathroom. “Ed, there is not a little man up here.” And the lights and my parents doing this really allowed the fear of the little man to fade.
Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Who is your little man? “The Lord is the stronghold of my life…” Who is your little man? “…of whom shall I be afraid?” When you admit your fear, commit your fear to God and face your fear, your fear will fade just like the little man. Go retro. Don’t deify fear; don’t make it more than it is.
Here is another suggestion. Now before I give this to you I want to ask you a question. How many of you have been assaulted by the flu in the last couple of months? That flu is some bad stuff. Several weeks ago I was up here speaking and I felt the flu coming on, that feeling, you know. I said to myself, “Well I hope I make it.” But I was sick for two days. Our family got sick and all that. The front page of USA Today, “Flu’s Blues: ‘I thought it was just a cold, a patient said.’ So goes the lament of the army of the ailing.”
And here is what Dr. Mark Smith, head of the Washington DC’s Hospital’s emergency department, where patient after patient was being wheeled in, said, and I quote, “People are sicker this year than last. We have seen more patients and the patients are sicker than in previous years. My impression is that this is a more severe strain.” I don’t know a lot about medicine, but I do know this: one of the ways to stay away from sickness is to wash your hands regularly. It is amazing how many germs are spread just by shaking hands.
But there is an even more severe strain of sickness in the house right now at Fellowship Church. It deals with fear—scenario sickness. The third suggestion, stay away from scenario sickness. It is highly contagious. It will mess you up. It will keep you from being all that God wants you to be. And I will tell you how you stay away it. You have got to wash.
Psalm 51:2, “Wash away all my iniquity”—make that your prayer—“and cleanse me from my sin.” See the word “iniquity.” It is another word for sin, falling short. Scenario sickness is a sin before God. Scenario sickness is running all the scenarios over and over on the compact disc of your mind. “What might happen? What could happen? What if? Oh, no, tomorrow, the future….” People who have this sickness all hang together. They are like the Israelites and they enter the moan zone and they whine and they are fearful and they are paralyzed and they are tyrannized. Their commitment doesn’t matter much. They are all lonely. They are afraid of stepping out. They are afraid of even God and death. They are just stricken with fear.
We need to mimic Miriam, the oldest sister of Moses. She helped her Mom rig up this cool, floating bassinet. Why? Because Pharaoh was killing all of the Hebrew babies due to the fact that he was afraid that when they grew up and matured they would take over the whole land. So Miriam and her mom placed Moses in this floating bassinet and kind of pushed him along the muddy waters of the Nile. The Bible says that Miriam stood in the distance and watched. The timing was perfect because she knew Pharaoh’s daughter was coming to bathe around this time. She saw Pharaoh’s daughter pick baby Moses out of the Nile. Then she walked right up to her. “Oh, have I got a deal for you. You need a nurse for the baby. You need some help.” And Pharaoh’s daughter, who had a lot of money, paid Miriam and Moses’ mom to take care of Moses. Thus the family was reunited.
Miriam did not have scenario sickness. What if Miriam had played all the scenarios over and over and over on the compact disc of her consciousness? “Oh, what if…” “What if I say that to Pharaoh’s daughter…” “What if she….” “Oh, no, I am so fearful.” She just boldly went in there and did it. That is one of the ways that we face the fear of the future.
Jesus nutshelled it, He summarized it in one sentence. Matthew 6:34, “Therefore…”—and every time you hear the word “therefore,” and especially when Jesus said it, always ask yourself what it is there for. It means He is going to say something strong—“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.” I will say it once again, friends. The concept of worry and being anxious is a sin before God. And this word here literally means to be pulled in different directions. That is worry. Do you feel like you are being pulled in different directions? “…Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
We are incredible spin-doctors over worry. We don’t call it worry anymore. We say, “I am burdened.” For tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day, our Lord said, has enough trouble of its own. Many of us are so worried about tomorrow that it messes us up for today. And because we are messed up today, we are no good for tomorrow. Do a quick relational inventory. Are you rubbing shoulders with people who have that scenario sickness? Are you? If you are, do some washing. Kind of break away and say, “God, I want to meet a Moses in the year 2000. I want to meet a Nehemiah. I want to meet a Miriam. I want some people to surround me, to befriend me, to help me so I can face these fears, specifically the fear of the future.
Go retro in a positive sense. Don’t deify fear. Don’t catch the scenario sickness. Three general suggestions about today’s subject matter. But I am going to tell you something. One of the reasons, in fact, I would say the biggest reason, that most of us fear the future is summarized in one word—commitment. We fear the future because we fear commitment. Don’t fear; don’t ever fear the future.