IN GOD WE TRUST. ALL OTHERS PAY CASH.
The hand-lettered sign pasted to the gasoline pump outside the Wyoming convenience store had its intended effect. I put my credit card away, searched my wallet in vain for adequate cash, and then drove 50 more miles to the next lonely, windswept exit. They didn’t need my business, and I didn’t need their attitude.
This small vignette of market wariness probably emerged from real-world losses. Others pumping gas may have driven away without paying; and the store owner was well within his rights to complain about the service fees credit card companies charge vendors. But his response—categorical, distrusting everyone—revealed more about him than it did about those who may have picked his pocket.
It is in the nature of fear to extrapolate from one or two incidents premises that are both unwise and untrue:
“All motorists are likely to steal gas.” “People driving the interstate in Wyoming think they can get away with anything.” “New Yorkers are always unfriendly.” “Church members in ________ aren’t really committed to the fundamentals of Adventism.” These and numerous other examples of dangerous “categorical” thinking illustrate how easily we slip into the isolating wariness that views even fellow travelers and fellow believers as persons ready to deceive us or eager to dissuade us. When we give in to the persistent clamoring of our fears, the first casualty is the trust without which our culture—and specifically, this faith movement—cannot and will not thrive.
The Lord who frequently admonished His disciples not to be afraid is also calling them today not to be afraid of each other.
We too easily forget that there are entire industries built to capitalize on our fear. We hear of a home break-in in a neighboring town, and we hurry to Home Depot or Lowes to purchase extra deadbolts or doorbell cameras. We build high fences along our property lines to keep “their” children out of our yard, and to pretend we need not embrace the changes in our neighborhood. We subtly remind those eager newcomers who join our congregations that Pentecost was a long time ago, and that they shouldn’t expect renewal or change in a church as “settled” as ours.
And yes, there are ministries—actually, many of them—who make their name and raise their money by insinuating or actually claiming that the “organized church” is going off the rails, that you can’t trust anything that comes from the conference office or the world headquarters. In its more outlandish forms, this fear-based manipulation of believers drives dark conspiracies about Jesuits secretly running the General Conference: more common is the ominous suggestion that your tithe dollars are being wasted by an organization far from you—that you should make your pledges to a ministry led by people you “know” better. And yes, cash is welcome.
A culture of distrust is the outcome we may expect from allowing those with dark agendas access to our pulpits and our media. While they hawk their “midnight oil
”—“Buy from me: mine is more pure, from olives pressed in Bethlehem”—those waiting for the coming of Jesus fall into an exhausted, fitful sleep that makes them even less aware how late the hour really is, how near we are to the Bridegroom’s coming.
Trust is the only currency that works in both this world and the next—our trust that the Spirit is living in those who choose to follow Jesus, and our trust that Jesus is still working in and through His end-time church—“the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard.”1 The Lord, who frequently admonished His disciples not to be afraid, is also calling them today not to be afraid of each other.
Extend the hand of welcome. Affirm the integrity of those who give themselves to Jesus. Trust that Jesus is still leading His last-day church, even with its failings; sometimes through its failings.
“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1 John 2:10, NKJV2).