Unafraid: FOMO, Finances, and the Flag

This is part of an ongoing series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, Unafraid, where I work from the book’s content toward a fuller teaching.

This week I’m looking at two chapters that I think are related – the fear of missing out (FOMO), and the fear of financial peril.  Coincidently, I see a connection between these two fears and our American Culture.  As we celebrate Independence Day for the 242nd time, we take pause to celebrate our country with parades and fireworks.  But I wonder if there is a higher calling for us to consider as we struggle with fears that might just be directed related to the time in which we live and the zip code we enjoy.

“Pete, you live a charmed life.”  My friend has mentioned that several times to me.  In so many ways, I cannot disagree.  My wife and I have a great relationship that has grown with us now for 26 years.  My kids doing well in college and their future appears bright.  I am fortunate to call CrossWalk Community Church my home, where I am really lucky to serv as pastor.  My friend doesn’t live near enough to me to see me daily, so how did he come to his conclusion?  Facebook.  Most of the personal stuff I post on FB is family related stuff – trips here and there, being together doing really fun stuff.  Hamilton notes that this has taken people’s fear of missing out on something better to a whole new level.  We see everybody else having a good time while we sit at home binging Netflix (which somebody posted about somewhere, making it look really cool and exciting – not like your loser experience!).  Because social media plays such an influential role in our culture, Hamilton makes sure to mention something pretty obvious: FB does not tell the whole story.  It tells only the side of the story that the person wants to share.  Like me, I choose to post memorable moments that are usually fun.  I do this as a means to share my life with a broad network of friends from all periods of my life, and because FB will automatically remind me of the memories every year on the same date, which warms my heart.  But I don’t post, generally, about boring days, or stressful days, or days that are not memorable.  If you struggle with FOMO, just know we’re all on the same journey of plan days with moments of fun.

In a separate, related chapter, Hamilton addressed the fear of financial peril.  Financial stress consistently ranks in the top tier of fears we struggle with.  The Great Recession lingers in our memories, when we watched our financial stability get rocked in one way or another.  Hamilton offers wise advice for this fear which is akin to weight loss – we already know about both strategies yet struggle to implement them.  We need to budget our money well, live within our means, save for the future and generously give to those in need.  Not new.  Still good.  Another, really important tip he offered which applies to FOMO as well is to practice gratitude.  Take time during your day to be grateful.  Pause at every meal to truly give thanks.  Begin and end each day with a review of what we have, giving thanks for it all.  This alone will radically reduce FOMO, and will also curb our spending.

These two fears are surely related to human nature.  Envy and greed are among the Seven Deadly Sins along with gluttony, wrath, pride, lust, and sloth, which simply affirms the fact that these have been with us a very long time.  The United States relies on Capitalism and Consumerism to keep everything moving forward.  Together, these two ideologies insure that FOMO and financial fear will play a significant role in our lives.  To be a good, contributing citizen in the United States in terms of the bottom line is to be a good consumer.  Remember when the US government literally gave every taxpayer money under President Georage W. Bush?  Do you remember his counsel as to what to do with the free cash?  “Buy something.”  Why?  Because that’s what our economy is built on.  Consumerism funds everything else.  So, how do we, as Jesus followers, live with integrity given this cultural mindset?

For help, let’s look at one of the Jewish tradition’s more storied prophets, Daniel.  His book in the Bible is twelve chapters long.  The first half is remembered historical narrative.  The second half is classic apocalyptic prophet writing, complete with seriously weird images which are foreign to our ears but made sense to theirs.  The first half of the book is where I think we find help for out time now.  After the Babylonian Empire overtook Israel, the best and brightest Jews were taken to Babylon to be trained for service in the Babylonian administration.  Daniel and three other young men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – their more familiar Babylonian names) were among those taken, and their stories are recorded in Daniel’s book.  Let me offer some lift outs from the major stories from those first six chapters.

Diet.  Shortly after their arrival in Babylon, the culturally diverse class of students were fed from the King’s menu – fine food and wine – no doubt to foster good will and future allegiance.  Daniel recognized that it was not very nutritious, and refused it, brokering a deal to feed the Jewish guys only vegetables and water for ten days and see which students looked better.  After the ten days, the Jewish guys were in better shape all the way around.  To not eat the food provided was an incredibly risky proposition that could have led to his death.  Yet he chose to take in what was healthy instead of what was popular.  How about you?  Do you take in what the consumer machine places before you, or do you choose to take in what is healthy (which is often not the same thing!)?  How about beyond food?  Knowing that Consumerism rules the day in every sector – including politics and the media – how are you taking in what the culture is trying to feed you?  I hope you are keeping your “diet” balanced in that regard, too.

Secret dream.  Babylon’s King, Nebuchadnezzar, had a bad dream that wouldn’t go away.  He wanted to know what it meant, but he didn’t trust his religious leaders much.  To prove their merit, he demanded that they first tell him his dream (without knowing it) before interpreting it.  They all balked, which made the king mad, leading him to call for their execution. Daniel heard that he had been sentenced and asked for time to pray and discern.  God gave Daniel the dream and its interpretation that very night.  How about you?  When faced with difficult decisions, do you take time to pray and discern, to be quiet in order to hear God speak?

Idol worship.  King Nebuchadnezzar built a massive gold statue – 90 feet high! – and commanded that everyone kneel before it in worship.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused as doing so would violate their Jewish faith in worship God alone.  The King was furious, and ordered them to be burn alive in a crematorium.  He even had the fire stoked well beyond it’s normal range.  The three were bound and thrown inside as the King watched.  Mysteriously, the three were joined inside the furnace by a fourth person, and none of them died.  The three walked out of the furnace entirely unscathed.  God had somehow spared them.  How about you?  In the face of the demands of consumerism, how do you deal with the pressure to buy, buy, buy when what you have is fine, fine, fine?  How do you deal with our political culture that demands binary allegiance when granting it surely results in contradicting the Way of Jesus?

Chopped-Down Tree Dream.  The King had another weird dream involving a beautiful tree being chopped down, leaving only a stump behind.  Daniel was the only one in the Kingdom who could interpret, and very carefully let the King know it was about the king’s future.  He would basically lose his mind for seven years, living wild with the animals.  Daniel offered the King an out – if he would turn from his selfish ways and look after others (especially the down-and-out), he may be spared.  The King didn’t take the option, and instead spent the next seven years struggling with some sort of mental illness that kept him living in the wild. How about you?  When faced with news that if you stay on your current course it will mean a very difficult future, do you stay on it (even if supported by the surrounding culture)?  For example, our culture encourages takin on great debt instead of saving.  Do you pull the trigger on living beyond your means in order to be a “good consumer”? 

The Writing on the Wall.  King Nebuchadnezzar died and succeeded by his son, Belshazzar.  King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for his top 1,000 friends.  Deciding to show off a bit, he opened his treasury and brought out gold and silver chalices that were stolen from Jerusalem’s Temple.  These chalices were dedicated solely for sacred use.  As the king and others drank from the chalices, a disembodied hand appeared and began writing on the wall: MENE, TEQEL, and PERES.  Nobody knew what it meant.  Everybody was freaked out.  Someone told the king that Daniel was famous for handling this kind of stuff and was brought in.  Daniel, again, was the only one who could interpret.  The writing on the wall meant that Belshazzar’s days were numbered, that he would be found severely wanting, and that his kingdom would fall.  That very night the words came true.  How about you?  How do you treat what is sacred and holy?  Where does the divine fit into your life?  How do you honor it and keep it set apart?

The Lion’s Den.  Darius the Mede succeeded Belshazzar as king.  He reorganized his government, placing key leaders in charge of other leaders under them.  Daniel was one of those, and he far exceeded the rest.  King Darius put him in charge of the entire kingdom.  This made the other leaders jealous and angry.  Daniel’s character was so good that they couldn’t find any dirt on him.  The only thing they had to work with was his strong faith.  So, they convinced Darius to send out an edict commanding all people in the kingdom to pray only to him for 30 days.  Daniel refused.  Darius didn’t want to harm Daniel, but his hands were tied.  Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den to die.  The next day, however, Daniel emerged unscathed.  How about you?  Is your allegiance so strong for God that you would rather die than bow the knee for an imposter?  How might this play out in your world?

Video Link: https://youtu.be/msm2DEyYCoE