January 10, 1999

READY FOR THE FUTURE

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Proverbs 22:3

Will you be ready for Y2K?  Have you thought about what might happen if a lot of computer chips malfunction on January 1 of the year 2000?  Are you making preparations just in case?

Some people don’t think any preparations are necessary.  They find it hard to believe that two missing digits in a computer code could be all that big a deal.  They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary to happen when the year 2000 arrives.  They figure Y2K is overhyped, and they’re not going to waste time or money or effort getting ready for nothing.

Others, though, are getting ready for upheaval and total chaos.  They’re taking a survivalist approach: building bunkers, buying giant propane tanks and generators, stashing away huge amounts of food, water, and other supplies.  Some are even buying guns and learning to use them so that they can defend themselves and keep strangers away if society breaks down completely.

What’s best, to ignore Y2K or to prepare for the absolute worst?  Or should we follow a path somewhere between those two extremes?  That probably makes the most sense.  [As I pointed out on last week’s program] there are strong indications that Y2K will cause at least some problems, so it’s unwise to ignore it entirely.  However, it’s not at all certain that the problems will be widespread or long-lasting (and even if there are some serious problems, it doesn’t mean society will collapse), so it’s unwise to take measures which are so expensive or disruptive that you turn your life upside down because of a something which may end up being far less serious than alarmists fear.

Let’s think about making some sensible preparations for Y2K.  One obvious area of preparation is what government agencies and private businesses are doing to make their computers systems compliant and ready for the year 2000.  Hopefully they’ll succeed in fixing the most critical systems and prevent serious problems from occurring in the first place.  In the meantime, though, what can we as individuals and families do to get ready just in case the people working on Y2K aren’t able to fix everything in time? Let’s consider three main areas: financial preparation, physical preparation, and spiritual preparation.

Financial Preparation

First, let’s think about financial preparation.  If an institution you deal with has a computer that gets fouled up by the Y2K problem, it could cause problems for you.  Your insurance company may accidentally cancel your policy or prevent you from filing a claim.  Your credit card company might bill you for the wrong amount.  Your bank might not record an electronic deposit of a check or might make an error on the amount of interest in one of your accounts.  Errors might show up in your pension plan.  Government computers may lose records of taxes you’ve paid or make errors in the amount of government checks which are owed to you.  A great many things related to finance depend on computers working properly and knowing the correct date.

Now, I’m told that financial institutions are among the leaders in Y2K readiness, so we shouldn’t assume everybody’s records are going to be fouled up.  Still, it’s wise to be prepared.  How?  Make sure you have printed copies of your bank statements, insurance policies, credit card statements, pension plan status, and so forth.  Ask the government for a printed copy of your total contributions to social security or social insurance.  That way, if a computer gets mixed up, you’ll have printed records as proof of your actual status.

Here’s another aspect of financial preparation:  Minimize your debt and save up some cash, just in case Y2K interrupts your income or makes it impossible to use your credit card or write checks or make withdrawals from a bank for a while.  Y2K may not affect you in any of these ways, but if there’s even a minor problem, you won’t be prepared if you’ve being living paycheck to paycheck and suddenly find yourself facing payments you can’t cover.  Aim to enter the year 2000 with all your bills paid, and with enough cash saved up to meet expenses for at least a month or two.  You may have to change some of your spending habits to meet this goal.  If you’re on a modest income, don’t try to do it all at once.  Each week use some of your income to pay off credit cards and reduce other consumer debt you might have, and each week set aside a little cash and add it to a “readiness fund” which you keep in a safe place, just in case Y2K prevents access to other funds for awhile.  If it turns out that Y2K doesn’t disrupt finances at all, this kind of preparation will still be good for you.  It won’t hurt to enter the new millennium debt-free, with cash on hand, with a file of accurate records, and with more financial self-discipline than when you started 1999.

Physical Preparation

Now that we’ve considered a few suggestions for financial preparation, let’s think about physical preparation.  Most of us depend on utility companies for electricity, gas, and water.  We depend on stores for food, clothing, and other items.  Would we be ready if Y2K disrupted any of these things for a while?

U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 problem, has predicted that blackouts will probably affect some regions and water systems will fail in some communities.  These problems may be fixed quickly, but then again, repairs could take awhile.  It’s even possible that serious power outages in some regions could cause the power in other regions to crash, since power grids are interconnected and can knock each other out like dominoes.  We shouldn’t exaggerate or assume in advance that the worst will happen and that vital systems will be out for long periods of time, but neither should we be too quick to assume there won’t be any problems at all.

If it was certain that utilities would be out for months, that stores would be unable to deliver goods for a very long time, and that society would become chaos, then it might make sense to build self-sufficient compounds as some survivalists are doing.  But it’s not at all certain that the problems will be catastrophic, so it’s hard to justify going to such expensive and disruptive extremes.  Most of us can’t afford to build another home in some wilderness location anyway, and we can’t justify radically disrupting our life and family because of problems which may not occur at all or which–if they do occur–may not last very long.  Most of us can survive a power outage for a few hours or a few days without relocating to a remote bunker.

Still, even if we don’t go to impossible extremes, we can make some simple physical preparations that would serve us well in case some disruptions affect where we live.  Would there be any harm in having some extra food on hand by the time next year rolls around?  You could stock up on a few months’ supply of dry goods and canned foods that aren’t perishable, don’t need to be refrigerated and don’t require much cooking.  You could also have a supply of vitamins to supplement your food supply, just in case your diet isn’t quite adequate.  That way, if Y2K causes problems in the food supply–if railroad and trucking networks have problems and can’t ship as much food, or if other countries that supply some of our foods get held up for awhile by computer problems–your supply of food will ensure that you’ll have enough to eat and perhaps to share with needy neighbors.  Also, if you have enough supplies that you don’t need to go to the store for a while, you’ll make it easier for the stores to meet the needs of people who didn’t prepare as you did.  And if nothing bad happens as a result of Y2K?  No problem–just be glad and eat the food.

You can make other physical preparations as well.  It’s easy enough to store extra drinking water in clean two-liter pop bottles or milk jugs.  It’s easy to find out how to sterilize and purify water.  If the water supply is cut off or the purification plant doesn’t provide safe drinking water for a few days or even longer, you’ll be able to get by until service is restored.

You can take similar precautions for light, electricity, and heat.  If you make sure you have some candles and flashlights and a good supply of batteries around, it won’t do any harm, and it might come in handy if you’re without light for awhile.  A battery-powered radio might be helpful in case the power goes out and you can’t hear from the outside world by TV or computer.  As for heat, what happens if you live in a northern climate and the utilities have Y2K problems in the dead of winter?  That’s likely to happen in at least some places, though nobody knows how widespread it would be or how long it might last.  We shouldn’t exaggerate the danger, but we also shouldn’t pretend it can’t happen.  If you have a wood stove or fireplace, you’ll have nothing to lose by having an ample supply of wood on hand heading into next January in case you can’t count on your furnace for awhile.  Some extra blankets and sleeping bags might also be useful.  If you have a camp stove or a gas grill, make sure you have your propane tank filled in case you need to cook without electricity.  If nothing happens, you can always use up the propane the following summer when you’re cooking outdoors.

The basic idea in all this is to make sure you’re not running low on anything by the time next December 31 rolls around.  If you own a vehicle, make sure the gas tank is full at the end of the year, just in case your local service stations have any problems.  Other basics include extra toilet paper, garbage bags, paper plates and cups, toothpaste, soap, and other sanitary items, medications, and so forth.  These suggestions aren’t fancy or complicated, and most of the items are things you’ll eventually use anyway.  If Y2K causes problems, you’ll be somewhat prepared.  And if Y2K turns out to be much ado about nothing, the worst result is that you won’t need to go the store very often as you start the new millennium.

Are you being paranoid if you make preparations?  Well, are you being paranoid if you wear a seatbelt when you drive?  Are you paranoid when you buy insurance?  No, you’re not paranoid; you just want be prepared to minimize the damage if something bad does happen.  So too, Y2K may not cause enormous problems or have much direct impact on you, but just in case, why not make a few simple preparations that may be good for you in anyway?

No doubt there are other financial and physical preparations to consider as the year 2000 approaches.  Do your own research; perhaps talk it over with family, friends, and neighbors about how you might be able to help each other; and then make whatever preparations seem wise for your situation.

Spiritual Preparation

Now let’s focus on one more area of preparation: spiritual preparation.  Y2K may confront us with financial and physical challenges, but perhaps the greatest challenge will be in the realm of the mind and spirit.  The biggest danger lies not in some computers or machines conking out or in some temporary disruptions of finance or utilities or stores.  The biggest danger in Y2K is in the human factor.  How will people react if there are significant problems?  Glitches in financial records can be fixed, but if people panic over Y2K problems, there could be bank runs or massive sell-offs leading to a stock market crash.  Problems in utility companies and food shipping can be repaired, but if people get selfish and vicious during a difficult time, there could be violence, rioting and looting.

Don’t think it can’t happen.  If people can riot over a jury verdict or a sports event, surely they’re capable of rioting if something more serious occurs that affects them personally.  If looters in the past have stolen or destroyed things during short-lived blackouts, what might happen if the power were out longer?

It’s this possibility of panic, crumbling financial markets, looting and lawlessness that sends survivalists running out to build bunkers and buy guns.  But such an alarmist attitude only adds to the problem.  If such fears become widespread, they tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How can we avoid panic?  Some people might want to just ignore Y2K, go on with business as usual, and assume everything will be okay.  But that approach will backfire if the problems turn out to be real, because we’ll be shocked and unprepared.  It’s far better to acknowledge in advance that we may face some difficulties and to be somewhat prepared financially, physically, and spiritually.  Then, instead of panicking and causing others to panic, we can be stable and help others remain stable.  If people are ready to deal with some difficulties and keep a clear mind and a calm spirit, then even if Y2K causes some serious technical problems, the worst scenarios envisioned by alarmists are not going to take place.

Now, you and I don’t control the attitude of our fellow citizens or the rest of the world.  The place to start is with our own attitudes and with our relationship to the One who does control everything: the Lord God Almighty.  All things–including Y2K–come to us not by chance but from the hand of God.  To be prepared spiritually for Y2K, we must have our souls anchored in the Lord.

Y2K and any events connected with it are ultimately in God’s hands, so part of our spiritual preparation is willingness to learn what the Lord might be teaching us through it.

We can learn a lesson in humility.  The possibility that a tiny two-digit glitch could paralyze the world’s infrastructure should remind us that all human efforts–even the lines of computer code written by our most brilliant minds–are fragile and capable of collapsing.  At times we think we’ve got our future mapped out and under control, but Y2K is one more lesson that nothing based on human effort or planning is certain.

Another lesson God could be teaching us in all this is that small actions can have big consequences.  When computer programmers a few decades ago decided to enter dates using two digits instead of four, it seemed like a handy shortcut.  But that little shortcut has already cost countries and companies around the world hundreds of billions to deal with dangers before the deadline.  That’s a picture of what sin is like.  If we don’t obey God exactly or think ahead, we figure it’s no big deal.  We think it’s just a small shortcut here, a minor glitch there.  But the consequences turn out to be more serious than we imagined.  The Bible says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).  Y2K can serve as a parable of how little sins cause big problems down the road.

Still another lesson we can learn from Y2K is a lesson in trust.  Y2K, like other problems we might face, shows whether we really trust in God or not.  Do we look to him as a heavenly Father through Jesus Christ who knows our every step and counts the very hairs on our head?  Or do we worry and panic and lose hope the moment it looks as though things may not go the way we had planned?  You and I are not spiritually prepared for Y2K, and we’re not spiritually prepared for much of anything, until we know that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

At this point, someone might think, “Well, if it’s all in God’s hands and he’s taking care of every detail anyway, why even think about preparation of any kind?”  But we must never use God’s power and plan as an excuse to do nothing.  The Lord won’t let us.  He tells us to trust him and he tells us not to worry, but he never says not to prepare.  Indeed, one important way the Lord watches over those who love him is that he helps them think ahead and get ready for what’s coming.  The Bible says, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3).  In another place the Bible says, “Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in summer” (Proverbs 30:25).  If even ants get ready for the future, shouldn’t people?     Faith prevents panic; it doesn’t prohibit preparation.

Whatever financial and physical preparation we do, spiritual preparation is most important.  Among other things, this means staying calm and faithful no matter what happens.  In the Bible a senior leader says to a young minister in tumultuous times, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship … discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).  Those words apply to every follower of Jesus at all times: keep your head in all situations, even in hardship, and do your duty.

The duty of every person is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.  If you haven’t been doing that, then you’ve got bigger problems than Y2K.  One of the great ironies of the whole Y2K discussion is that many people are more worried about a computer collapse than about society falling under God’s judgment for our disobedience and lack of love.   We’re more concerned with glitches in technology than with our meltdown in morality.  We take our computers more seriously than we take our Creator!

That must change before anything else.  We must fear and love God above all.  If we make any preparations related to Y2K, we shouldn’t be paranoid but God-glorifying, eager to serve him, come what may.  We shouldn’t be self-centered survivalists but cheerfully prepare with an attitude of love for others so that we won’t be a burden on them if times get tough and so that we can instead be show love and help others in need.  In everything we must act out of love for God and love for other people.

You and I need faith, hope and love in order to be ready for whatever the future brings, whether it’s Y2K or an event called J2C.  What is J2C?  Well, It’s far more serious than Y2K, and it’s far more sure to happen.  J2C isn’t getting as much hype in the media as Y2K, but it makes everything connected with Y2K seem small by comparison.

J2C is Jesus’ 2nd Coming.  It’s the day the Lord will return to earth in power and majesty.  According to the Bible, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus says he “will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43).

It’s far more important to be ready for J2C–Jesus’ 2nd coming–than Y2K.  With Y2K we know the exact date, but we’re not sure if much of anything will happen.  With J2C we don’t know the exact date, but we do know something stupendous will happen and our eternal destiny depends on being prepared.

Some people see the Y2K problem or the arrival of a new millennium as a clue to the timing of Jesus’ second coming.  But the Bible doesn’t talk about computers or about the year 2000, and we shouldn’t use these things in a useless effort to figure out the exact timing of Jesus’ return.

We should simply make sure we are ready at all times. How? By trusting God to forgive our sins for the sake of Jesus’ blood, by counting on Jesus’ resurrection to give us eternal life, and by living each day for Jesus, eager and ready for his return.  “Therefore keep watch,” says Jesus, “because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).  “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready” (Luke 12:38).

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.