As I listened to the news this morning, I noticed a common theme running through several of the stories: fear. The Greek parliament will vote this evening on whether or not to adopt new terms for a financial bailout. Nobody likes the deal, but they’re driven by fear of what the future might hold otherwise (and the reality of terrible conditions currently). The International Monetary Fund is fearful that the Greek bailout won’t be enough, and they’re afraid that without a more dramatic rescue plan from Europe involving a much longer repayment period, Greece will never be able to get out from under its current debt burden. Other news includes the announcement of a deal between six world powers and Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear activities and lift international sanctions. President Obama now has sixty days to convince a skeptical Congress to approve the deal or at least take no action. Politicians across the spectrum fear that an unchecked Iran will use this as an opportunity for further aggressive expansion. Leaders in Israel, including most especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, live in existential fear that Iran will succeed in its stated goal of wiping Israel off the map. Fear drives much of the discourse between nations today, and it causes elected leaders to act with suspicion toward one another. Fearful mistrust colors their actions, and so they hedge bets, make half-hearted promises that have clear escape clauses, and protect their own survival above all else.
Compare this to what happened last night at my church’s Board meeting. For months we’ve been discussing what to do with an unexpected blessing. Ten years ago a nearby church closed its doors and made a gift of $200,000 to our statewide Conference, with the intent that it be used to start a church in a nearby growing suburb. Since that did not happen in ten years, the fallback provision kicks in later this year: disburse the money equally between each of the 130+ member churches of the Minnesota Conference. Our congregation stands to gain over $1600. However, the Board of Directors for the MN Conference (on which I also sit) has asked each church to voluntarily give the money back to the Conference to be used in a designated fund for new and revitalizing church ministries throughout the state.
As I said, we’ve been discussing this question for several months. It’s presented some of the most challenging conversation I’ve witnessed in my years as pastor. On one hand, all of us can see the manifest needs in our own church: property issues that badly need to be addressed, historic fundraisers that are no longer earning the income they used to, and an overall annual budget deficit of nearly $10,000. We’re all feeling pressure, and fear that our 127-year-old congregation won’t be able to continue effectively adapting for the 21st century. At the same time, we have a faithful covenant with the other churches of the Conference, believe in the power of the “extended family” to bring about durable change across the state, and continue to benefit from our ties. We also say that we trust God to carry the church through the best and worst of times, pointing to all the ways this has been true in our history. Our debate has surfaced important core convictions among our leaders, and called us to weigh carefully our allegiances.
At the Board meeting last night, we could no longer delay taking action. Members called for vote by a secret ballot—the first time I’ve seen this in my nearly 6 years as their pastor—and agonized before writing down their choices. Our administrative assistant tallied the ballots and reported them back. In a time of valid self-concern, we nevertheless voted to give more than $1600 to church revitalization and new church start efforts across the state. After the vote result was announced, we held hands in a moment of silence, praying “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” I have never been in a church meeting that felt and acted so much like Church.
Christians believe that God’s abundance is more reliable than the fear of the world. Our trust in God led us to believe that the obstacles we see and fear are nevertheless surmountable when we put our faith in God. Rather than hoarding what we have (and in my opinion squandering a blessing we did not earn), we trusted God enough to do as the young boy did in John 6:1-13. We offered the five loaves and two fish of our own survival with trust in Christ, who made it possible for thousands upon thousands to be fed. Plenty of work remains in the church, but trusting in divine abundance will get us farther than following our fears.
Finally, examples like this are what Christians have to offer the world. This perspective of faith over fear is how we show Christ to the world. Global leaders may not be able to decide all international issues according to a trust in divine abundance, but Christians in our daily and church lives can continue to choose faith in God’s abundance rather than the fearful scarcity that seems to drive today’s headlines.