November 5, 2020
Recently, a friend loaned me a book that I found very interesting, given the times we are living in. The title of the book is Fear Itself: The Causes and Consequences of Fear in America (March 2020). The book is the work of four authors, all college professors, and is based on a five-year study of the subject of fear and how it affects our daily lives.
The back of the book contains a brief summary:
From concerns about immigration and gun control to anxiety about terrorism and natural disasters, Americans are living in a culture of fear. Although fear is typically discussed in emotional or poetic terms—as the opposite of courage, or as an obstacle to be overcome—it has very real personal and social consequences, including heightened anxiety, increased prejudice, decreased trust in others, support for punitive social policies, and decreased civic engagement. And when people feel vulnerable, they become targets for politicians and marketers who manipulate imagined or exaggerated harms. To combat these negative consequences, we must first understand fear . . .
Fear Itself is a novel, wide-ranging examination of the social consequences of fear, ultimately suggesting that there is good reason to be afraid of fear itself.
From their surveys, the authors list the top 10 fears in America. Here are a few on that list: corrupt government officials, terrorist attacks, not having enough money for the future, pollution and a future world war. Their five-year study concluded before the arrival of COVID-19, so the coronavirus is not on the list of top fears in America. But I am sure if a survey were done today, it would most likely be at the top of the list.
The book makes a strong case for what happens when people become immobilized by fear—unable to act or, if they do act, to do so rationally. The book doesn’t question whether we should have fear when faced with the problems we see today. The book is more about how we react to fear than determining its validity. In its conclusion, the authors lay out some basic principles to help us deal with fear while not allowing it to control our lives.
I believe we would all agree that 2020 has raised the fear and anxiety levels to new heights. The steep rise in the number of infections from the virus, the worry about the safety of our friends and family, and the U.S. presidential election are enough to stop you in your tracks.
Here in the office, we recently made two very difficult decisions, not based on fear, but based on the need to minimize exposure to a virus that is spreading and predicted to be worse come December. We canceled the Winter Family Weekend and the Winter Camp for this year, both scheduled for December. After considering all the information available to us, including governmental restrictions in Kentucky and Wisconsin, it seemed the right course of action. But these decisions do not mean we will abandon these successful programs in the future. It is a true principle that if you aren’t making plans for the future, you are making plans for the future. “No plan” is actually a plan, simply not a very good one. Planning for the future is a very big part of what we do daily here in the office.
Over the next two months, we will be holding virtual meetings to plan for a full slate of youth camps in 2021. And with the Feast of 2020 behind us, we have already begun plans for next year’s Feast, signing contracts and solidifying arrangements. These two meetings will be followed in December by the annual Ministerial Board of Directors (MBOD) meeting to discuss our 2021 budget and strategic plan.
Even during the pandemic, we have never stopped working and planning. We are nearing completion of our new studio, which is one of the major 2020 projects that we have been working on for more than a year. Since dedicating the new office, almost two years ago, our goal has been to have a professional-quality studio for doing our video work. Little did we know how important the studio and our Foundation Institute classroom would be until we were faced with 14 consecutive weeks of webcast services earlier this year. We transmitted those webcasts initially from the studio and then from the classroom.
In the new studio we are planning a total of three sets that will each have multiuse capability. One will have a green screen, another will be used primarily for sermons and special presentations, and the third will be a permanent set for In Accord and additional special presentations. This third set will become the centerpiece of the studio. It was designed by employees of the Media department and built by a local member who recently moved to north Texas from California. It is quite large and had to be brought into the studio in pieces to be assembled. It is currently in place, waiting for a bank of monitors to be installed in the center portion. It is very modern-looking and should serve us extremely well. I don’t want to give too much away, since it is our plan to introduce it to everyone on a future In Accord.
In spite of all the challenges and cancellations this year, God has blessed us in so many ways. We should end the year with an increase in income over 2019 and a substantial savings in spending. One of our major expenditures on an annual basis is international travel, which has been put on hold since early March. My last international trip was March 13 of this year, when Sharron and I flew back from Guatemala. Beginning next month it will be possible to begin traveling again to some countries. Flights are now scheduled from the U.S. to major cities in Latin America on a daily basis. This makes international travel possible even before the end of the year, but our plan is to wait until next year before we begin traveling outside the U.S.
Another program that is at the forefront of our plans for next year is the International Leadership Program (ILP). Two years ago we began this new program for training men and women for leadership in areas outside the United States. We have now completed two phases of this program, and ILP3 is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2021. ILP3 will consist of 10 conferences around the world. It is our conviction that Church leadership development requires in-person contact. Classes online are valuable, but cannot replace the personal contact.
We are also planning to hold our next International Ministerial Conference in 2021. This is based on our original schedule of holding such a conference every other year. Our last conference, when we dedicated the new office building, was in May 2019. We are planning this next conference for August of 2021.
There are many scriptural references about the importance of planning. In Proverbs we are told, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, King James Version). Rather than being immobilized by fear, even in the face of real threats, the Bible instructs us to continue looking ahead to the future, focusing on the vision and making plans accordingly. If we are forced because of circumstances to change a plan, as we have done for much of this year, we can do so. After this past year, we will always be prepared for that possibility. But the real tragedy would be not having a plan to begin with. Even if you don’t have a plan, you do have a plan, but it isn’t a good one! Planning to do nothing isn’t a very good plan, especially for the work of God.
There is an interesting story about the disciples of Christ and their reactions after His death. On Passover day Jesus Christ was crucified, and three days and three nights after being put in the tomb, He was resurrected. In Matthew we are told that the 11 remaining disciples left Jerusalem for Galilee, where they were to meet the resurrected Christ (Matthew 28:10, 16).
While Scripture doesn’t state it clearly, the disciples must have had many doubts, a lot of anxiety and a high level of fear at that time. Jerusalem was a city in upheaval, and they were probably relieved to head for Galilee. Upon arrival, some returned to fishing (John 21:1-3), assuming their work was over. But, after meeting with Christ in Galilee, the disciples were instructed to return to Jerusalem for the continuation of the work. Just before ascending to heaven, Christ instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).
This is the same Holy Spirit of which Paul later wrote to Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). It is that same spirit that we have been given today, and we are to use it for that same purpose—to grow in grace and knowledge, to serve others and to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
As I write this letter from the office, America is in the midst of a most contentious presidential election with no real conclusion, at least not yet. There is a lot of fear about the future. As individuals, we have prayed and even fasted about the direction of our country and for its leadership (1 Timothy 2:1-2). But this isn’t just a problem in the United States. We are living in a world of great fear and anxiety—fear of governmental corruption, fear of abuse by world leaders, fear of the COVID-19 virus and fear of a worldwide economic depression. The economic downturn, which followed the lockdowns this spring and summer, and severe drought have already produced the greatest food shortages in decades, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The prediction by WHO is that this will lead to the deaths of millions of the world’s most vulnerable, the children and the poor.
Every day we are making plans for the future while constantly asking ourselves how we can do better. By knowing God is in charge and putting our faith and trust in Him, we don’t have to be immobilized by fear. We are living in uncertain times, but we cannot allow “fear itself” to take away the vision and prevent us from making plans. We have already proven that if circumstances warrant, we will change those plans, but not to plan would be a shame. Fear in such uncertain times is understandable, but inaction is not.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,