Focus on the Family

Thriving in Chaotic Times

by Ed Chinn

In his book, The Millennium Matrix (Jossey-Bass, 2004), futurist Rex Miller suggests that most of us – individuals, families, churches and businesses – are moving into the turbulent and chaotic waters of the North Atlantic.

But, we're doing so in vessels designed for the balmy Caribbean.

So, are you one of the people, dozing on the deck of a schooner, dressed for mild and warm Bahamian breezes? The rhythms of Jamaica pulse through your iPod wires into your ear canals. The worries and intrusions of real life are so far away.

But, later…a slight chill touches your skin. The canvas sails begin popping loudly; the wind is rising. And the graceful sailing craft seems to be bouncing on a hard surface. As you roll over and slowly open your eyes, you see angry white caps sharply defined against a gray gun barrel-steel sky.

Apparently, we are not in the Caribbean anymore.

Our Times Are in His Hands

Obviously, we all prefer the tranquility and prosperity of "good times." Your investment portfolio is rising, your home value is soaring, you pay cash for most things, dine in the best restaurants and drive a new car.

Life is good.

But, God orders and administrates life on this planet with a full and varied palette of times and seasons. The winter blizzards do something which the warm summer wind cannot. Earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes contribute unique and essential factors to life. And the economies of earth pass through normal and crucial cycles.

In his famous sermon on Mars Hill, the apostle Paul told his audience that God, "made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation…" (Acts 17:26 NASB)

Yet, we are all tempted to believe that deadly tsunamis, bone-chilling temperatures or collapsing stock markets mean things are out of control. That is simply not true.

Rather, those dynamics and events are evidence that One is in control.

That's why David wrote, "I trust in You, O Lord…my times are in Your hand." (Psalm 31: 14-15 NKJV)

The real question is "Do we trust God?" Since He has established the boundaries and times and seasons of life, do we trust His ability to administrate life on His own planet? Do we trust Him to bring the appropriate season to our life?

Is Chaos Beautiful?

In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon famously observed, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted…He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Some Bible translations change "beautiful" to "appropriate." Everything is appropriate in its own time.

So, do we live in a beautiful time? Is it possible that home foreclosures, job losses, bankruptcies, and stock market crashes are "appropriate" for certain seasons?

Is the North Atlantic in January any less a part of God's creation than the Caribbean in August? Does God see one as "good" and the other as "bad?" Could it possibly be true that both seas are beautiful and appropriate? Do both contribute to the ecology of God's earth?

God is very comfortable in what we define as "chaos." When most of us use that term we are simply describing what we cannot control.

Do we see the beauty of all His creative design and power? Or, do we tend to view the majesty of God's creation from the bunker of our own creature comforts? You know; rain on our wedding day is bad. A decline in property value means that God must be either weak or distracted. A weather-grounded flight that prevents us from getting to a Las Vegas weekend is a terrible crisis.

Be Not Troubled

I once knew a man who took long walks every day. When asked about inclement weather, he replied, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only improper clothing."

Adaptability is the real issue. How do we adapt to – and navigate through – the conditions which God alone created and controls?

Can we thrive in His chaos?

Jesus' disciples once asked Him about troubling and turbulent times. In His reply, He spoke of global chaos – wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. But, he also said, "See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass…" Matthew 24: 6 – 7 NKJV.

Since Jesus said that these things "must" come, then surely He doesn't intend to change them. However chaotic they may seem to us, they are essential to His administration of life on earth.

So, the application of convulsive phenomena – meteorological, geologic, political, economic – is His business.

Remaining untroubled is the only part which He gave to us!

In this Thriving in Chaos series, we will examine many features of the current economic and political crises and how we can navigate through – and remain untroubled in the midst of – uncertainty.

We will look at numerous methods and attitudes which are essential to navigating through storms, while keeping the storm out of our own boat.

Each article will carry my email address: I invite you to write any questions. I'll do my best to answer them as we sail – together – through the stormy seas.

Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.

Navigating Life's Storms

In fact, the Bible tells many stories of people caught in storms – political, financial, military and meteorological – who were directed into specific actions that saved their own and many other lives.

by Ed Chinn

Historically, "news" has been new information considered to have sufficient importance to justify an announcement to the citizens. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that a news program should only happen when a newsworthy event happens.

It could also be argued that the program should only last as long as necessary to tell what happened.

But, when a news program is designed, scheduled, formatted and funded, it takes on a life of its own. It must fill up its packaged, scripted and dollar-driven slot. Advertisers are not interested in supporting an occasional program of uncertain length.

Yes, of course, angles and agenda take over. Humans, with their own bag of biases, must decide what information meets the standard of "sufficient importance." That leads to the invention of news.

For example, in his Washington Post column,1 Eugene Robinson chronicled how the disappearances or deaths of young, pretty white women – like Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, Chandra Levy, the "runaway bride," etc. – drive many news programs.

Perhaps it is coincidental that young white women are an advertiser-favored demographic.

And, the stories are deeply tragic. We all hurt for the loves ones who wait or grieve. Nevertheless, the fact that we know these stories in such depth is an extreme distortion of the justification for news. How do any of those stories constitute information "of sufficient importance to justify an announcement to citizens?"

Do you believe in "The Bermuda Triangle?"

Several years ago, a PBS program offered a plausible and persuasive resolution of the Bermuda Triangle mystery: It doesn't exist.

Sure, weird things happen in that theoretical triangle between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico. Planes and ships have certainly disappeared in very mysterious circumstances.

But, such things happen in all waters. In fact, as the program illustrated, imposing the same "triangle" all over the oceans of the world reveals about the same number of strange things everywhere.

Lloyds of London, the US Coast Guard and other maritime data sources do not see any unique patterns at all in the Bermuda Triangle.

So, why do we believe it?

Because, over the past 50 years, writers and filmmakers have woven the facts about the triangle into very compelling narratives; proving that if you arrange any set of facts into certain patterns, story lines will always emerge.

Once people accept that story line, every new incident helps to build it stronger. So, now, when any plane or yacht goes down in (or remotely near) that area, people jerk into a confirmation of the myth.

Perhaps we should be more skeptical of the news and myths that permeate our daily lives.

Who is helping you navigate the storm?

The Bible tells the story of a horrific storm of events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Babies were slaughtered all across the land as Herod sought to eradicate any challengers to his reign.

The storm had unique fury for four men. Three of them traveled a great distance in order to worship Jesus as the new king of the Jews. Furthermore, after a meeting with King Herod, they left with a specific command from him.

The fourth man was Joseph, the presumed father of Jesus.

Caught in that very treacherous storm, the voice of God warned all four of the men of the dire consequences and directed them into a plan of action.

In fact, the Bible tells many stories of people caught in storms – political, financial, military and meteorological – who were directed into specific actions that saved their own and many other lives.

Is it possible that we would all "hear" the voice of God more quickly and clearly if we didn't make Him compete with Katie Couric or Bill O'Reilly?

Let me ask that a different way.

What if a stranger sat down at your table in Starbucks and began giving you advice about an important financial matter? Would it be appropriate to ask about his personal success, morality, family relationships and other measurements of life?

Your intelligence and prudence would require some kind of personal relationship and foundation of trust before receiving advice from a stranger.

Yet, we are quick to invite unknown people and agencies into our living rooms to plant advice, philosophical positions and worldviews in our minds.

Faith in the midst of storms

Those voices often undermine our ability to navigate storms. Why? Because they sow seeds of doubt.

Pessimism is one of the most dominant and pounding attitudes of news agencies and reporters. That attitude goes to the traditional motives for news: it is almost always "bad." Crises, tragedies or urgencies represent the conventional criteria for information "of sufficient importance to justify an announcement to citizens."

That inherent bias tilts the entire organization toward an expectation of bad stuff coming down. It is not reasonable to expect a news gathering operation to announce hope or persuade people to have confidence.

Nor is it reasonable to consider them as reliable navigation aides.

But, there is a Voice we can trust to lead us through the storm.

God has always preserved – even prospered – His people in the midst of adversity. The 91st Psalm is a great anthem of protection in the midst of death and destruction. Thousands and ten thousands may fall around, but "the plague will not come near your tent" (Psalms 91: 10).

In the previous article, I wrote, "God is very comfortable in what we define as ‘chaos.'" Obviously, He is very comfortable in storms. After all, storms are a very natural part of His creation. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms and other weather phenomena all perform essential services.

Jesus actually spoke to storms. And, they obeyed Him.

Would you rather listen to a financial reporter on CNBC or The Voice of the One Who created and directs – and walks through – storms?

Do you need continuous doses of doubt and despair as you navigate the storm?

Or, would your posture and efforts in the midst of a storm be more victorious if you are directed by the One who creates and manages storms?

Contact Ed Chinn at

1Eugene Robinson, "(White) Women We Love, June 10, 2005, The Washington Post.

Preparing Your 'Life' Boat

Once upon a time, people measured their lives in relationship to God, family and other human beings. Today, many of us use things to calculate the value and significance of life.

by Ed Chinn

I love stories about the sea.

From the great novels like Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea to non-fiction works like The Perfect Storm, well-written and vivid tales of the sea seem to bring us close to the vast majesty and mystery of God's creation.

Part of that mystery lies in considering the great storms which have always churned through the oceans. Nothing carries such awesome and fearful displays of power like a great hurricane or typhoon.

Storms are God's business; they are just part of the "toolbox" which He uses to accomplish His work on the planet.

Boats are our business. They give us a measure of safety and passage through the great waters.

However, as referenced earlier in this series, sometimes we sail into the danger of the North Sea in boats designed for calm waters and balmy temperatures.

Retrofitting Your Boat

Most economists and other serious and mature experts believe we are well into in a new and long era of economic and socio-political turbulence.

Therefore, many individuals, families, and institutions are facing the crucial need to retrofit their boats for stormier waters.

So, let me suggest some specific "modifications" to our existing boats.

Escape from Consumerism

Just as God uses natural storms in the renewal of earth, perhaps He also uses economic storms to renew our relationship to objects.

Once upon a time, people measured their lives in relationship to God, family and other human beings. Today, many of us use things to calculate the value and significance of life.

Eighteen years ago, Pastor Craig Barnes wrote,

"…we were never created to be whole…What we were created to enjoy is fellowship with God, who alone is whole and complete.

"Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God wants to give us wholeness. What God wants to give us is Himself." 1

Many people – even Christians – seek completion in consumerism. They see houses, cars, vacation cruises and the latest electronic toys as the way to fill up the "heart holes." The myth of "wholeness" described by Barnes is the birthing room for consumerism.

One of the primary markings of consumerism is impulse buying. For some, that means writing a check for a new car when they only meant to visit the showroom. For others, impulse buying is grabbing up that hardly-used treadmill at the garage sale.

Yes, I know that people need cars and exercise. But both of these purchases can be attempts to fill up the bottomless pit in the heart with stuff. That is why it is generally a good idea to wait a week to prayerfully consider purchasing any item which we "just cannot live without."

I personally believe the economic storm is going to help many escape the clutches of consumerism and return to a proper relationship to God, people, and things.

End the Slavery of Debt

Consumerism often leads people into debt. The average household credit card debt in America has tripled in the past 18 years.

Impatience and self-indulgence can lead us to buy on credit rather than resisting the impulse or even waiting until we have all the cash we need for a purchase.

That often leads us into enslavement (like sexually-transmitted-diseases, drunk driving related accidents and prison).

Debt is slavery (Proverbs 22:7).

Think of it as standing on the deck of a vessel sailing through a turbulent sea. You are chained to a new SUV which is continually rolling back and forth from starboard to port.

Surviving the storm may require you to slip out of the chain.

Downsize houses and cars, sell assets, get a temporary second job – do whatever you must to escape the slavery to a weight which enslaves and could kill, you. Yes, bankruptcy should always be a last resort. But, bankruptcy is better than remaining enslaved.

The crucial objective is to become free.

Find Joy in the Simple and Ordinary

Is it possible that consumerism has also made us captive to unrealistic expectations of living a continuously-extraordinary life?

Writer and teacher Denis Haack has asked (and answered) that question. He bluntly says, "It is pride that makes us go a-whoring after the spectacular and the extraordinary."2

He wisely observes that the "extraordinary" miracles in Jesus' life and ministry restored people to the blessedness of the ordinary.

For example, in raising Jairus' daughter from death, Jesus didn't tell her parents to prepare her for a life of raising others from the dead or other "ministry." He just told them to "give her something to eat."

Haack reminds us, "Few things are as everyday as preparing and serving food, and Christ's command put the family back together in the ordinary and routine that the Creator had ordained fro them from before the foundation of the world." 3

My wife Joanne and I try to live slowly and simply. Over the years, we've learned to just stop when life gets too fast and complicated.

Complexity and speed are usually signs that God has withdrawn for a reason or season and that we're starting to rely on our strength.

In those times, stop! Let the beauty and joy of simplicity return. I love Eugene Peterson's translation of Psalm 46:10 – "Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything."4

If we can rediscover the joy of the simple and ordinary, we will find ourselves better prepared for the stormy waters.

Be Generous

Generosity is the nature of God. He always gives; He does not hoard. God is a river, not a pond.

Conversely, our fears of insufficiency or lust for things converge to produce a hoarding nature.

But, when we give generously, we step beyond what the Apostle Paul called our "sinful nature" and into the Lord's giving nature.

I guess you could say that the best way to retrofit our boats for turbulent waters is to reduce our reliance on, and preference for, human creativity and strength.

Return to the One Who totally unthreatened by – and, in fact, walks on – the water.

Contact Ed Chinn at

1M. Craig Barnes, Yearning (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1991) p. 18.
2Denis Haack, "A Stick Becomes the Staff of God," p. 1.
3Ibid., p. 3.
4Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2002). P. 970.

Fear Not

His words remind us (again) that, by His death, He rescued us from the fear of our death. Therefore we are released from having to “cower through life, scared to death of death.”

by Ed Chinn

With her parents' blessings, Jennifer left the comfort of her Colorado home and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment.

As with so many new ventures, things did not go as expected. Real success and security remained just out of reach. So, she took other jobs and tenaciously continued to chase her dream.

Of course, her parents helped her. But, like any responsible person, she just came to a point of feeling like she could not ask again.

Then, she finally ran out of money. Totally. She told me, "I literally had no money in my account and no gas in my car to make it to my shift at work."

Reluctantly, she called her Mom.

But, with that call, she learned that her grandmother (after a disturbing dream about Jennifer's wellbeing) had arranged for money be sent to Jennifer's account.

So, while she was "running on empty" and facing fear and despair, Jennifer's account already contained a large amount of money! The Lord's provision was as near as any ATM.

What do you fear?

Jennifer's story is only one of innumerable examples of how perceptions are often wildly different from reality. Just because we see, hear, feel, think, and fear certain things does not mean that they are real.

So often, vivid and terrorizing perceptions only exist within the nine inches between our ears.

Obviously, God created fear. It is hardwired into every creature. Fear plays a vital role in human life. It is an instinct, warning us of impending danger.

How often have you heard about, or experienced, that heightened sensory alert – "every hair on end" – watching a child run out into traffic? Have you ever felt a cold chill just before the rattlesnake struck at your feet?

That kind of fear is God's gift for the survival of the species. It produces life-saving, sometimes heroic, actions.

The fear of the Lord is not only a biblical attitude, but is essential to effectively navigating through life and its various challenges.

But, another kind of fear hits us like an assault or an invasion. It does not originate in our instincts, but rather in our mind and emotions…. I know I have cancer. What if I loose my job? Will we end up living on the street? Is my child on drugs? How will I survive if he leaves me for that woman?

Those fears usually have no basis in reality at all. They are figments of imagination and usually produce only apprehension and immobility.

I think the best way to overcome that unhealthy invasion of fear is to, first, realize it is rooted in a fear of death.

The Bible says that Jesus took on the form of flesh and blood in order to defeat the One – the devil – who wields the fear of death. In other words, through his snarling death threats, Satan terrorizes those who live in a mortal body.

So, Jesus took on that very same physical form in order to demonstrate what victory looks like. And, in so doing, He "freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Heb 2:15 NIV).

Consider how The Message translates Hebrews 2:14 & 15:

"Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it's logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil's hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death."1

That is why Jesus could say, "Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27 NASB).

His words remind us (again) that, by His death, He rescued us from the fear of our death. Therefore we are released from having to "cower through life, scared to death of death."

Gospel singer, Jake Hess, used to sing a song called "Death Ain't No Big Deal." That southern gospel tune was, in fact, good theology. When you step into Jesus' victory, you become more relaxed about death. To die is to win.

Are you afraid of the times?

In 1985, a very wise and respected minister told me that, as we got closer to the year 2000, we would see great uproar and controversy and anxiety. I will never forget him saying, "Those millennium numbers, the zeroes, seem to release every human fear."

He also talked about what happened as the world approached the first millennium. All the economies in Europe were in serious trouble, the known world was convulsed with religious turmoil, and the planet endured various wars. In fact, a great fear of the end of the world and the last judgment flourished in many nations. Sound familiar?

Have you ever wondered why the Bible repeatedly reminds us that the times and seasons are not our business? David understood that and wrote, "My times are in Your hand" (Psalm 31:15).

Later, when Jesus spoke of global chaos – wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences, He said, "See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass…" Matthew 24: 6 – 7 NKJV.

So, wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences "must come." They are essential seasons and rhythms for His administration of life on earth. It is immature to take them personally.

In fact, we do well to remember that throughout history whenever people or movements or ideologies tried to do more than "be not troubled" – when they tried to figure out the times – they missed the times and the peace which He brings.

Jennifer learned a great lesson about the Lord's administration of life. He alone is the Maestro! Administrating the times is His business.

While we get caught up in speculation about loss, shame, death, He has already made provision.

And, when bad times do come – when we do experience loss, shame, and even death – they are different than they appeared in our imaginations.

They are not the roaring terrorist of our deepest fears, but simply tools in the hand of the Master Craftsman of our times and lives.

He does all things well.

Contact Ed Chinn at

1Eugene H. Peterson, The Message,(Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2002) p. 2183.

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