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Pastor Glenn McDonald: What We Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Does the picture look like the image of a cold-blooded killer?


A number of South Koreans have their suspicions. 


“Fan death” – the widely-held misconception that running an electric fan in a closed environment can harm or even asphyxiate human beings who are sleeping there – is a fascinating urban myth that has long been associated with Korean culture. 


It has nothing to do with ethnicity. Nor is it somehow representative of South Korea, one of the world’s most advanced nations.


But anxiety-generating ideas, once planted, can grow into superstitions that are hard to overturn, even with rigorous efforts.


It’s hard to know how “fan death” got started. 


Sociologists suggest that during the 1920s and 30s, when the use of electric fans became widespread in Korea, there was an initial fear of harm from the turning blades. Or it may be that local leaders were afraid of too much demand on the power grid.


The notion somehow took root that an electric fan, blowing on a person in an unventilated room, might cause hypothermia.


Others proclaimed that fans mercilessly chop oxygen atoms into little pieces, leading to carbon dioxide poisoning and death.


It’s never been explained, of course, how a fan’s blades can target only oxygen atoms for destruction, leaving larger CO2 molecules unscathed.  


As one might suspect, there isn’t a shred of credible scientific evidence that electric fans pose a threat to human existence. But many citizens prefer not to take chances. Korean markets stock fans with built-in timers – automatic shut-off switches than assure sleepers they won’t be subject to a full night of a fan’s deadly breezes.


A proactive media could surely help combat such superstition. 


But news sources routinely run accounts of alleged fan death, including this report from the July 4, 2011, edition of The Korean Herald: “A man reportedly died on Monday morning after sleeping with an electric fan running. The 59-year-old victim, only known by his surname Min, was found dead with the fan fixed directly at him.”


That sounds like something from the script of a horror movie. 


Then there’s the Korea Consumer Protection Board, which in 2006 warned that “asphyxiation from electric fans” is among the nation’s five most common summer accidents and injuries. Such governmental pronouncements reinforce the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, fan death is not an urban myth after all.


So often what we think we know proves to be our greatest foe.


In the words of humorist Mark Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


Which brings us to what can only be described as Spiritual Conspiracy Theories – widespread ideas that have no basis in fact, but can sabotage our life with God.


Have you come to believe that things always go wrong for you? That you’re by nature an unlucky person? That you’re destined to be disappointed by life? That sounds an awful lot like fan death. Even though it’s impossible to build a case that your suspicions are valid, they’re notoriously hard to abandon.


Have you concluded that, because of the life you have lived, you are unworthy of God’s love? That no person could ever learn who you really are and still want you as a friend?


The only way to eradicate such thinking is with healthy doses of truth.


Science may be the best antidote for urban legends, but immersing ourselves in the truths of Scripture is the surest way to renew our minds.


We can never recall often enough that if we have trusted our lives to Christ, Romans 8 says that we are forgiven and free from condemnation (vs. 1,2); that all things in our lives are working together for good (v. 28); and that we cannot be separated from God’s love (vs.37-39). 


God says in Philippians that he is going to finish what he has started in our lives (1:6).  We are not worthless, inadequate, helpless, or hopeless, since Scripture makes it clear that we are God’s temple (I Corinthians 3:16); that we are God’s co-workers in the kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:17-21); and that we may approach God with absolute confidence (Ephesians 3:12).


Does all of that apply to you? It has nothing to do with how you feel right now. It has everything to do with what God says about you right now.

Jesus provided this powerful word of assurance: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).


Free to love, free to forgive, and free to accept the love and forgiveness that flow from God himself.


And furthermore free to turn on that electric fan in your room tonight with a happy and trusting heart.

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