March 18, 2009

Global Flu

2009 1508 page23 capLOBAL FLU. THAT’S HOW THE GUY SEATED IN THE ROW BEHIND ME ON THE plane the other day described the economic meltdown that is impacting the economy of every country around the world. He was speaking to his seatmates as to his take on what we’re all up against. A woman sitting in the same row chimed in that prior to getting on the plane she was dumbstruck at the number of people around her in the airport talking about how they had just lost their jobs.

In January alone, the United States registered more than a half million people whose jobs were wiped out in a New York minute. President Barack Obama, in his first primetime press conference, implored Congress to pass the stimulus bill, even as he was readying the country for the next phase of the banking and mortgage industry bailouts.
Given all that is happening, to speak of an economic depression is no longer a far-fetched notion. People are scared, as their own personal economic standing grows more precarious. Even some believers are becoming jittery about their financial future.
So when such words as “do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6), “do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34), and “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matt. 6:32) are dropped in the midst of such uncertainty, what happens?
2009 1508 page23Somewhere in all of this I contend (not surprisingly) that God is behind the scene working a wider plan. I see at least two distinct ways that plan is being worked:
First, I sense God is calling believers to “nail down” in their own hearts as to who really has final say over the economy, their personal finances, their jobs—their everything. It’s one thing to stand in church and sing “Trust and Obey,” then head home where the mortgage is paid for the month, plenty of food is on the table for Sabbath dinner, and you have a sense of well-being based squarely on the fact that your personal economy 
is fine.
It’s quite another matter when on Friday prior to sunset you’re told you are part of your company’s downsizing plan and you’re in the first wave of layoffs. Then, like so many others, you’re only one paycheck away from disaster. That great hymn of trust takes on an entirely different meaning when you sing it in church the next day.
The Scriptures become near and dear to you at those times. And that’s not to say that everything in you doesn’t want to scream out in abject fear, but you settled your mind early 
on that notwithstanding your present circumstances, you believe that “perfect love drives out fear” 
(1 John 4:18). And the fear that’s trying to steal your peace doesn’t come from God, and He’s clearly not the author of it.
When Jesus says that God takes care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and therefore He’s more than capable of taking care of you and your family, you actually embrace that Word.
I call it the Word advantage. That is, you don’t stand on the word of the latest economic forecast; you stand, instead, on the Word of God—a Word that will not fail, and indeed, cannot fail.
The second way I see God’s plan being worked out in the midst of this “global flu” is the power of our witness in modeling before our work colleagues and neighbors a steadiness and a peace that say “in God we trust.” When they reflect anxiousness, you reflect peace. Believe me: the moment will come when they will inquire as to the difference in your response. And when it comes, God is glorified as you share in whom you believe. It’s all in the plan.
In this economic climate when desperate people resort to not only taking their own lives but killing their entire families to escape the misery of the moment, we have an opportunity to step in with the only antidote for “global flu”: the God of peace who inoculates hearts from fear and panic.
What a God-designed moment—on both fronts! 
Fredrick A. Russell is president of the Allegheny West Conference, with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.