Fear factor

Published 11:35 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fans of “reality TV” may remember the series that NBC aired from 2001 to 2006 called “Fear Factor.” The challenge of the show was for the contestants to be able to face up to their fears of heights, insects, spiders, gross foods or any of a number of other challenges in order to win the prize and hear the cherished accolade: “Evidently, fear is NOT a factor for you.”

In truth, fear is a factor for all of us. We all have things we are afraid of, whether they are insects and spiders, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of losing what we have or many others. Unlike the show “Fear Factor,” however, we do not get to pick if and when we confront our fears. Instead, our fears show up in our lives unannounced and unwelcome and we have to decide how we are going to respond to them.

Simply feeling fear does not mean that we have to give in to our fear and follow where fear leads us. In fact, some of the most important decisions I have made in life have required pushing through fear in order to make the decision I knew to be right. In this way, the show does reflect life: the goal is not so much whether you feel “afraid,” it is how you act in the face of those fears. On “Fear Factor,” they were happy for you to be terrified of the spiders that were about to crawl all over your body. The person who was most scared could still win the game because it was the ability to push through your fear to win the challenge that mattered, not the fear itself.

Fear is a major part of much of what goes on in our country. You can find entire books and many articles written on the “politics of fear” and how politicians use fear to sway the people in this country to support their positions. Fear has (and continues to) play a major role in interracial tensions that have shaken our entire country and especially places like Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and New York City. You can almost feel the fear in the room in some church conversations as people look at the trends in this country around declining church attendance, “membership,” and church influence on society at large. Fear is a very real part of life today.

Fear was also a big part of life in the time and place where Jesus lived. In Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire was the power in charge. The Romans had conquered Israel and anyone who stood against them was publicly executed in a way designed to inspire fear in the population: crucifixion. Crucifixion allowed the Romans to publicly display the deaths of their enemies (crossroads were common places for crucifixions) with the goal of making everyone so afraid of the Romans that they would not oppose them. Roman and Greek pagan religion was also championed by the conquering army, and pagan shrines and temples were built in many places around Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, good Jews would have thought “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” (or whatever the first-century version sounded like).

Jesus had a different perspective. Instead of fear, Jesus had a deep trust in the power of God to make right what was wrong and build the church to share the light of God with the world. Jesus even took his disciples to first-century versions of “Sin City.” In those places he does not bemoan the situation and ask, “What has the world come to?” Instead he invites the disciples to look to him and trust God. Listen to this conversation that Jesus had in the Roman town of Caesarea Philippi, which was famous for its pagan shrines (including one centered on a deep pool of water thought to be the way the god Hades entered the world. That shrine was called the “gates of the underworld”)

15 Jesus said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you.

18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.”

— Matthew 16:15-18

Jesus did not let fear control him, and he did want it to control his followers. He put his trust in God knowing that the gates of hell cannot stand against the power of God. So, for those who fear for the future of the church, hear the word of the Lord: “The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it!” Our faith is not rooted in fear, but in trust of God and in the hope that we have because Jesus has conquered death. So, may you live today as someone who pushes through fear in order to live fully!

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are working to develop the kind of faith that looks to Jesus to find hope rather than allowing fear to guide us. If you are interested in finding hope to overcome fear, we would love to have you join us for worship, a picnic, swimming, boating and more this Sunday at 11 a.m. at Airfield Conference Center, 15189 Airfield Road, Wakefield. The youth will even be putting together health kits to be part of the long-term response to the earthquake in Nepal.

Wherever you are this Sunday, may you find hope to overcome your fear!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.