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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Nothing to Fear

It’s safe to say that many people find TV commercials annoying.


But they’re also amazing. In the space of 30-60 seconds, a commercial has to deliver – clearly and memorably – two potentially life-altering messages. First, you are not happy.  Second, happiness is just one purchase away.


A truly compelling ad might lead you to think, “Yesterday, I didn’t even know this existed.  Today, I can’t live without it.” 


It goes without saying that some of the brightest, most creative minds in our culture are working on those half-minute ads. And they are committed to snaring your attention with whatever it takes – a catchy slogan, a jingle you can’t stop humming in the shower, an enthusiastic celebrity, or a talking gecko. 


One of most effective tools in the marketer’s bag of tricks is something that began to appear in printed advertisements and billboards about a hundred years ago.


We’re talking about fear.   


As social historian Bill Bryson details in his book Made in America, one of the first captains of industry to recognize the power of consumer anxiety was King Gillette, the inventor of the safety razor. Gillette, whose image boldly peered out from his own ads, declared, “When you use my razor you are exempt from the dangers that men often encounter who allow their faces to come into contact with brush, soap, and barbershop accessories used on other people.”


For the first time, men began to contemplate the possibility that barbershops might be cesspools of disease.


Gillette razors (then and now) weren’t cheap. In 1920 they retailed for $5.00, which was half a week’s salary for most workers. But millions were sold. Gillette made a fortune.


Fear-based advertising soon became the rage. Bryson reports that magazine ads asked, “Will your hair stand close inspection?” And, “When your guests are gone, are you sorry you ever invited them?” (that is, because of your grave lack of social polish). 


Bryson writes, “One ad pictured a former golf champion, ‘now only a wistful onlooker,’ whose career had gone sour because he had neglected his teeth. Scott Tissues mounted a campaign showing a forlorn-looking businessman sitting on a park bench beneath the bold caption, ‘A Serious Business Handicap – These Troubles That Come from Harsh Toilet Tissue.’”


American consumers began to worry about bad breath, iron-poor blood, and “body odor,” a term invented in 1933 by the makers of Lifebuoy Soap. 


Anxiety quickly found its way into TV commercials, such as those famous Wisk ads in which a tortured housewife, despite her best efforts, can’t seem to get her husband’s shirts clean. She hears the mocking chorus, “Ring around the collar!” No homemaker should feel such shame. It’s worth noting that another possible solution to this problem might have been for her husband to wash his dirty neck. 


Human beings tend to be racked by fears. 

Most of these fears have little to do with physical survival, but arise from the perception that we are not truly happy, not complete, and desperately need just one more thing to feel secure.

We fear rejection and abandonment if we dare to send our kids back to school and they’re not wearing the latest Target outfits. We anguish whether we’ll ever have enough money to retire, so we had better call that Fidelity toll free number on the TV screen to talk to a financial counselor. We fear that we’re missing out on the vacations our friends are enjoying, so we should seriously contemplate a Carnival Cruise. 


We dread that someone will see right through our happy act and realize we're actually deeply sad. We fear what tomorrow might bring. Political ads are so fear-based that we can forgiven for thinking that there may not even be a tomorrow, courtesy of either the Left or the Right. 


Fear has been described as the “common cold of the soul.” It makes us feel miserable. It makes us wonder whether God cares. And it’s highly contagious.   


The Bible isn’t neutral about any of this. 


What command appears more frequently than any other on the pages of Scripture?  “Don’t be afraid.” And what’s the number one promise? “I will be with you.” As we’re reminded every December, we – like Mary in the privacy of her home and the shepherds out in the fields at night – are assured by God’s angels that we don’t need to fear. God has sent Immanuel, God With Us. The Bible’s number one command and number one promise are tightly bound together every Christmas. 


In I John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” God’s perfect love – his unconditional gift of grace – drives out whatever makes us afraid.


Notice that John doesn’t say, “Perfect love negotiates with fear, or escorts fear to the door so maybe one day it will leave.” No. God’s love drives out the great enemy of our souls.


Jesus reminds us that no matter what we happen to see or hear during the next 24 hours of TV commercials, we have nothing to fear. 


That’s because if we have him, we already have everything we need.

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