In Memorium

Earlier this week the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church met here in Huntsville.  I attended every year from 1983 to 2011, the year I retired.  Since then, I have only sporadically attended and only for a brief time.  One meeting I try not to miss is the Memorial Service, where the pastors and spouses who have died in the past year are honored.  In the early days, most of the names meant nothing to me.  They were only names on paper.  They were not real persons to me.

But over the years, the names became more and more familiar.  These were people I had known and worked with and prayed with.  These were people I had sat around tables with and eaten and laughed and sometimes cried with.  The service became more meaningful to me.  I watched sadly as many of the conference attendees used the time to get a head start in the lunch line.

Recent changes have made the service more meaningful and the attendance has improved.  This is good.  Here are people who have given their lives in service to Christ and the church.  As the Rev. Sherry Harris, this year’s preacher, noted, they sometimes sacrificed family time, or vacation time, or personal time to meet the needs of their flock. They willingly upheld the responsibility they had undertaken.  For their sacrifice, is it too much to ask us to take an hour to remember them?

I hope not.  I hope that services that honor pastors and pastoral families who have served the Lord in relative obscurity become important to us.  Political and business leaders have overflow crowds in their honor.  But should not the person who gives years of dedicated service to small or medium-sized congregations be equally remembered?

Over the years of my ministry, I have officiated at more funerals than I can remember.  What I do remember is that when a young person dies, great crowds attend.  It is so unusual.  When a middle age person dies, it is also rather well attended.  But when an older person passes, it is sometimes hard to find people who are not relatives in the service.

From time to time, there is a wonderful exception to this rule.  I remember one in which a 90+-year-old man was being remembered and the church could not hold the crowd.  They were not his contemporaries, as few of them were still alive.  They were friends he had made over the years from the community and younger people he had worked with in other situations.  It was a sad, but yet joyous event.

Heroes are not always recognized in their lifetime.  Sometimes they are recognized by the number of people whose lives they have touched.  Sometimes the significance of a pastor’s ministry is not measured by their salary or their numbers of congregants, or the prestige of their church.  Sometimes the significance of a pastor lies in the people whose lives were touched by their ministry.

I still treasure the words of a ninth grader as I left a church after being its youth pastor for a year.  “If you had not come here when you did, I don’t think I would still be part of this church.”  I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me.”

Amen.

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How to Make your Preacher’s Day (2017)

Many of you may remember that I wrote this last year.  But it brought tears to my eyes as I reread it, and it may do the same for you.  So as summer comes and reruns are common on TV, here is a rerun blog.  And if you have forgotten it, it will be like reading it for the first time.

A new family had begun to attend the church I pastored in a small town about 15 miles from the city.  They had been active at a larger church in the city but now were looking for a church closer to home.  When I went to visit them things seemed to be going well.  They liked the church.  They liked the preacher.  But then the wife began this fateful sentence.  “You know our older son in college was helped so much by being in the youth group at our old church that we decided whatever church we went to needed to have a ministry for our younger son as a priority.”

“Here it comes,” I thought.  I had been through this scenario before.  We like your church.  We like the preacher.  We just need this and you don’t offer it.  A few years before, I had been the pastor of church in the city that was located in a lower middle class neighborhood.  It had been on the forefront of the early growth of the community a few decades before, but now growth was happening in other areas.  The neighborhood was changing its complexion and economic status.  Many young couples were able to buy their first home in the neighborhood because it was cheaper to do so.  But by the time the children reached school age, the family would start to look for a new home in better school zone.

Consequently, our nursery/pre-school Sunday school class was one of the larger classes, but the kids left before they moved into other grades.  The family would say, “Oh, this is our church.  We’ll continue to come back here on Sundays.”  But after a few weeks of passing other, larger churches on the way, their visits would start to become less and less frequent.  Finally they would stop altogether.  If I called them, they would say,  “We are now going to XYZ church.  They just have more to offer our kids!”

So I was totally prepared for that same scenario to play out with this family.  But the next sentence took me by surprise.  I was not expecting it.

The wife continued, “So my husband and I have been praying about it, and we feel like, if it is important to us, then maybe God is telling us we need to be the ones to start this new ministry.  Would it be okay if we start trying to have a group for kids in 5th and 6th grade (their son’s age) on Sunday afternoons, once a month, and maybe we could expand it to twice a month and weekly if it grows.”

When I could find the words, I readily agreed.  That had never happened before.  They were willing, and ready to start a children’s program in the church.  I walked out of that encounter in a sense of awe and wonder.  I had become so used to people talking about what they wanted to GET from the church, that I was floored when someone actually wanted to GIVE to the church.

They started with 5 or 6 kids monthly and it grew.  Within a year it was twice that size and meeting weekly.  And new kids were coming in and then their families also started coming to the church.

That was a Pentecost moment.  This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, when we recall how the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples and the power of God overwhelmed them and the building could not contain the glory.  That day, thousands came to know Christ.

Well, it may not have been quite as dramatic, but the Holy Spirit was definitely at work in that situation and the church grew because these two were willing to be used by God.

Want to shock your preacher?  Why don’t you come to him or her this Sunday and say,  “The Lord has laid this need on our hearts.  So we want to volunteer to make it happen in our church.  Would that be okay?”

Don’t be too surprised if the preacher has tears in his or her eyes and a lump in the throat and is unable to do much more than nod approval.  You might even need to be ready to catch them if they start to faint

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Harvey Smendelvitch and Eric Zorchbottom

For those of you who only know me as an adult, it may come as a surprise that early in my life I saw my self as “class clown”.  I thought I was hilarious, although that opinion may have only been mine.  When I was in college, a friend of mine, Dave Pelto, and I developed on a two person comedy act.

Dave was the real source of the comedy and the two characters, Harvey Smendelvich and Eric Zorchbottom, were based on real people Dave knew in Kalamazoo, Michigan, although the names may have been the only point of contact with reality.  When we would assume the Harvey (Dave) and Eric (me) characters, we were able to become much more outgoing than we otherwise would have been.  One of our acts was the Harvey and Eric Escort Service. When there was something special going on in the field house on campus, we would set up our escort service along the main path from the girls’ dorms to the field house door.  Whenever one or more unescorted young women would approach the gym, we would introduce ourselves and offer our arms to escort them the rest of the way to the door. Then we would bow and hurry back to catch the next unsuspecting girls.

Somewhere along the way, we must have impressed Wyn Hirschy with our comedic talents.  It turned out she was directing a talent show in the spring and she asked us to be the hosts/emcees.  This was during the height of the “Laugh In” television show’s popularity and we tailored our routine along the lines of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. We came on between acts and would do silly stuff and then introduce the next act.  We thought we were hilarious, but I am not sure anyone else was as impressed.  This was the biggest event Eric and Harvey ever did and also the last.  We were never asked to resurrect the act again.

Many years later, I made a concerted effort to add humor to my preaching and I looked for jokes to use in my sermons.  I was pretty funny again–at least I got polite laughter.  One night we were taking a girl from the youth group home and she had a friend with her.  Right after we got in the car, she said from the back seat, “Say something funny.”  Do you know how hard it is to be funny on command?  My mind went blank.  I think that was the end of my attempts to be humorous.  Occasionally, when something fit in with the sermon, I would use a sprinkle of humor, but I left my comedic days behind long ago.

But what does humor have to do with God?  Someone has said that God must have a sense of humor:  just look at what He created.  Many things cause us amusement, from humans to animals to all creation.  Many people say what they are looking for in a significant other is “sense of humor.”  And even though I have never dated a girl because she was funny, I have been repelled by people who have no sense of humor.

So enjoy the moments of life, whether they are funny or tragic or simply enjoyable.  And be thankful for the things that cause you to laugh, or just to smile.

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One God or Many?

This week I have been reading about Paul’s speech to the Athenians on Mars Hill.  I have been trying to imagine what it looked like in the first century.  Here was Paul, one man from Asia Minor, a Jew who studied classical education and Jewish theological studies, but as he stood in front of the crowd of Greek philosophers he must have seemed like a hick from the sticks.  Behind him at the top of the Acropolis was the glorious Parthenon, practically new.  Greece was no longer the center of the political world, but it remained the center of culture.  The temples and statues were in top form.  Everything looked impressive.  What good things could this unknown travelling teacher add to what they already knew?

And so, Paul’s impact was limited.

But two thousand years later, how things have changed!  Some of you have been there on tours, while I have not.  But I know the Parthenon still stands above the old center of Athens, however now it is crumbling.  Time, the elements, and modern pollution, have taken their toll.  We can still see the remains, but it is a sad shadow of what it once was.

Now the message Paul proclaimed from the Areopagus is proclaimed throughout the globe.  There are believers in every country on the face of the earth.  The situation in the Middle East these days is severely limiting Christians in several countries and many are fleeing their homes.  But still there are churches, either open or hidden, in every land.  The gospel Paul proclaimed in Greek is now repeated in nearly every language spoken on earth.

The ancient Athenians may have laughed at this uncultured foreigner and thought his message was lunacy, but now that message is proclaimed openly in those very streets and Greece is known as a Christian country.  Descendants of those same philosophers are now leaders in the Greek Orthodox Church.

“How silly,” they may have thought, “to believe in one Creator.”  How much more sophisticated to cling to the faith of the great Greek thinkers.  But now polytheism is seen as primitive, while monotheism is seen as more educated. There are some, including some of my friends and family, who think humankind has one more step to go to cut ties with all theism.  But to me a Creator is more logical than “it just happened”.

At this time, the faith that Paul proclaimed from Mars Hill has become the preeminent faith in world.  The polytheism that was in the ascendancy is now relegated to historical records.  What things look like to the human eye may not be reality.  Reality may lie in the low and hidden places.  And for a faith that was birthed in a cattle stall, that is best place to start.

After Athens, Paul went to Corinth and began a new way of proclaiming his message.  Instead of trusting his human wisdom and debating skills, he determined to follow a different course.  “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5)  And that made all the difference.

In the early 19th Century, John Bowring wrote the words that would become a great hymn of the church.  “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.”

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The Day I Almost Burned My Grandmother’s House Down

During my first years in high school, my grandmother (my father’s mother and the only grandparent that was alive during most of my early life) lived in a small apartment in the upstairs back of a large house that was divided into several apartments.  The landlady (as I recall, her name was Mrs. Chaffee) hired my brother and me to rake leaves in the spring.  The leaves had fallen in the autumn and stayed on grass through the winter snow.  So now that the snow had melted, the leaves needed to be raked up so that the grass underneath could flourish.

There was a bare area behind the house, next to a garage, which was used as a garden patch.  She told me to rake the leaves into the bare area and burn them.  All went well during the raking and the pile in the back grew and grew.  The leaves were dry and ready to burn.  So when the pile had grown to a small hill, it was time to light the fire.

I had been burning trash and leaves for years and thought nothing of it.  So I lit a corner of the pile.  I think there must have been a slight breeze that day and the fire grew rapidly into a conflagration.  What I had not counted on was how quickly they would burn.  All of a sudden, I realized the fire was spreading in all directions.  I had not put sufficient bare ground around the base of the leaf pile and the grass was beginning to burn.

I panicked!  I started running around the fire stomping and hitting the burning grass with the rake.  Fortunately, I was able to put out the hot spots and contain the fire to a small area.  But I came within seconds of having the fire burn out of control.  I was scared to death, and thankful when I was able to contain the blaze.

Soon the leaves turned to ash and the bonfire began to die down.  No one knew how close to disaster the situation had been.  I really earned the $10 I got for two days work.

That experience taught me several things.  One was that God sometimes takes care of foolish teenagers.  I had no thought about the possibilities for what could go wrong before I set the leaves on fire.  But I learned in a hurry as the fire came close to getting out of control.

I also learned that it is important to know all the conditions that may affect a fire before striking the match.  And I learned that is best to have a wide area between the leaf pile and the dry grass of the lawn.

Sometimes we jump into dangerous situations without thinking about the ramifications.  Now that is admirable when it results in saving someone or something.  But in most situations, it is important to figure out what could go wrong as well as what could go right.  And if we are tempted to do something foolish, it is good to take a few moments and think about it.

I also believe in prayer, although sometimes I forget ask God’s direction and more often ask for God’s rescue or forgiveness.  No matter what the situation, there is usually time to pause and ask for wisdom.  It is when we miss that step that we tend to get into trouble.

Fortunately, I did not come very close to burning down my grandmother’s house, but would you have read this if I gave it the title “Burning Leaves”?  However, I am very grateful that the title is not something even worse, like the day I burned down my grandmother’s house and killed several elderly residents.  There is an old saying the God watches over fools and drunks.  I don’t know about the latter, but I am here to tell you He sometimes does watch over fools.

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“Mistakes in the Bible”

In my second year of seminary, I became the youth pastor at Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, about fifty miles from the Twin Cities.  It was a good church and I enjoyed working with the kids that year.  The pastor of the church, Rev. Sundberg, was not the most exciting preacher, however.  I was there for both Sunday morning and evening services, as well as Wednesday night.  The pastor and his wife were nice people and they opened their home to us on Sundays as I stayed all day in the community.  We usually ate supper with them before the evening service.

He was very conservative, theologically, which was fine with me.  So it came as a shock one Sunday morning when he announced that his sermon that evening was going to be on “Mistakes in the Bible.”  I was attending a seminary where they believed and taught the inerrancy of scripture, that the Bible was without error in the original manu-scripts.  Any errors that appeared were due to human mistakes in transcribing and translating the words.

But I also was reading about apparent inconsistencies in the Bible.  Sometimes the different gospels did not line up exactly the same.  Sometimes Paul’s testimony was different from the description Luke gave in the Acts of the Apostles.  So how do we deal with those issues.

I thought Pastor Sundberg was going to be very brave and address a difficult subject.  But when he began the sermon, right away he did away with that notion.  He said that he believed every word of the Bible was true and without error.  What he wanted to talk about was the mistakes people had made in the Bible.

I felt like I had been tricked.  Here I was ready for some controversial sermon, and all I got was more of the traditional material.  I don’t really remember much else he said that night.  I was disappointed.

I hope my title did not lure you in with the same kind of bait and switch.  But when we look at the heroes and the villains of the Bible, what we see is nevertheless quite bold.  The heroes are portrayed with all their human, not so heroic, characteristics showing.  The writers do not attempt to show a whitewashed picture of our spiritual forbears.

That, in itself, is unlike many other religions.  David, “the man after God’s own heart”, is an adulterer, murderer, and polygamist.  Yet, in spite of his “mistakes”, he becomes a role model.  His writings show some of his struggles. Sometimes he experiences a close fellowship with his Creator and sometimes he feels abandoned by God.

Just like us.  Others have their negatives as well.  Jesus’ disciples include a traitor, a doubter, and a denier.  Yet these are the people we look up to. (Well, maybe not Judas.)  But the one thread that winds itself throughout the Bible is that no one is perfect, but all are loved.  No one makes no mistakes, but that does not prevent them from becoming spiritual leaders.  These imperfect men and women are human, not stained glass caricatures.  What makes them special is that they were forgiven and restored through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that gives us hope.  We may mess up like Peter.  We may fail like Solomon.  But we can still be useful to God. We have not stopped living.  We can overcome our failures and become a powerful witness to the grace of God.

So don’t give up.  Just give God control.  The fall is not fatal.  More lies ahead.  We can do more than we ever imagined, once we let go and let God do it through us.

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“The Step Skipper”

Many of you remember the old Seinfeld program.  It is probably still available in reruns somewhere on the dial.  That show did a lot to add words and phrases to the English language.  I remember my grandson, Michael, saying, “No soup for you.”  It came from the “soup Nazi” episode.  I had not seen the program and so I was confused by the reference until I finally saw it.

Then there is the male brassiere called the “mansiere” or the “bro” and the new winter holiday “Festivus” with the bare Festivus pole instead of a tree.

Many times Jerry’s friend, George Costanza, would be the source of some of the best humor.  He was the substitute “everyman” who said what a lot of people thought but were not free to say.  I still remember one episode where they learned an old high school classmate was going through AA.  George was excited because this guy had bullied him and he just knew that when the guy got to the step where you are supposed to apologize to those you have hurt, he would come to George to ask forgiveness for his treatment of him.

But this never happens.  So George accuses him of being a “step skipper”.  When he finally confronts the ex-classmate, the man is confused.  He does not remember treating George badly at all.  Yet George has been living with the hurt and resentment for years.

It is humorous but also familiar.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to hold on to hurts and perceived slights long after the event.  The problem is, it does not affect the person you hold a grudge against.  It only hurts you.  It keeps you captive, unable to let go and move on.

One of my Facebook friends is someone who made my high school miserable for me.  I have held on to that resentment for years and it has taken some time to realize that he is a different person now than 50+ years ago.  We are now in a more adult friendship.

One of my favorite stories from the Far East features two Buddhist monks, probably in Japan.  They have a vow of silence and walk along a road in without speaking.  Eventually they come to a rushing stream full of water.  There is no bridge, so they must wade across.  There is also a young woman in a beautiful silk dress who cannot cross without damaging her gown.  So one of the priest picks her up and wades across the stream holding her high above the water. On the other side he puts her on the dry ground and the two monks continue their walk in silence.

When they reach their destination, they are allowed to converse for a few minutes each night.  One monk confronts his companion.  “How could you touch a woman?  You know that is expressly forbidden to us.”

The one who carried the young lady replied, “I left her back on the side of stream.  You, however, have been carrying her in your mind ever since.”

Dwelling on things that upset us may be more destructive than the original event.  Remember, Jesus taught us in the model prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Many of us say those words weekly, if not more often.  But how are we at living them?

Forgiving others may be beneficial to them, but it is even more beneficial to us.  When we fail to forgive, it hurts us more than anyone else.  Nursing the grudge causes us to remain stuck, unable to move on.  But when we forgive, we are able to continue to grow and mature.

What will you do?

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The Parable of the Lost Cell Phone

A few days ago, I misplaced my cell phone.  I was very upset.  For the first 50 years of my life, I did not own or care about having a phone that could go wherever I went (and for most of that time it was not even an option).  Now, the thought of going anywhere without my phone is inconceivable.  If I happen to leave home without it, I go into a panic.  (Well, not actually, but you get the point.)

So when I discovered I did not have it in my pocket, I rushed home to see where it was.  After a quick check of the rooms we usually inhabit (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, bonus room), I did not find it sitting out in plain view.  So I went to the usual method for finding a lost cell phone.  I took the home phone and called the cell number.  I thought I heard a faint ringing, but could not pinpoint where it was.  I checked the attached garage where my car was parked (sometimes they fall between the seats).  But no phone.  Then I checked the other car that I had parked out in the driveway.  Still nothing.  In fact, I was not even hearing the soft ringing any more.

Frustrated, I walked through the rest of the house looking at the furniture and tables.  I knew I had it when I went on my walk at 6:00, but sometime between then and 9:30, it disappeared.  Then I remembered that Deborah was getting ready for work in the master bath, so I had gone into the guest bathroom.  There on the counter beside the sink was my lost cell phone.

I breathed a sigh of relief and the panic subsided.

That brought to mind three of Jesus’ most well-known parables in Luke 15:  the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost boy (or prodigal son).  In each of these parables, Jesus tells about something or someone who has gotten lost, each by means of a different method.  The coin was lost by the widow in the story, it did not (as my mother used to say) sprout legs and walk away.  The sheep was lost inadvertently.  It just wandered away, probably seeking greener grass over the hill.  The boy deliberately lost himself.  He did walk away.  The similarity in all three parables was that there was someone who went looking for the lost one.  The widow searched high and low until she found the coin.  The shepherd left the rest of the flock and went back out in the dark of night to find the missing sheep.  And the father, though he did not go after the son, waited every day, scanning the horizon, for the son’s return.

Each of these stories is meant to let us know how precious we are to our Heavenly Father.

Now contrast that with how upset we sometimes get about losing, even temporarily, some inanimate object.  Yet how unconcerned we sometimes are about human beings who are equally lost.  “It’s none of my business.”  “There is someone else whose job it is to help them.”  “They deserve what they get.”

Sometimes we are more concerned about ourselves, our pets and our property than we are about people who are made in the image of God.  How messed up is that?  This week, look carefully around you.  You may be the one to find a missing Child of God.

How much more important is that than finding a missing cell phone?

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Easter, 2017

A family lost their beloved black cat, Zorro, just before Easter and buried him in the back yard.  On Easter Sunday, when they returned from church, there was a black cat sitting on the ground in the exact spot where they had buried their pet.  The two little girls, with Easter on their minds, burst out, “Zorro arose! Zorro arose!”

This actually happened to the family of a Winnebago High School football coach.  Of course, Mrs. Coombs had to explain that it probably was one of Zorro’s sons, since he had been quite a cat about town.  But the family got a laugh out of the story, and it showed the kids really listened to the sermon that day.

To some, belief in the resurrection of Jesus is just as childish.  They look at Easter and see a myth or folk tale, not reality.  But the Bible claims it really happened.

Over the years, scholars and skeptics have sought to explain it away.  There is the wrong tomb theory in which the disciples were so upset that they went to the wrong tomb, which was unused and thereby empty.  Another early explanation was the stolen body story, which Roman and Jewish authorities spread.

There is the mass hallucination theory in which all those who saw the resurrected Jesus were really hallucinating, although there has never been a recorded event in which multiple people saw the same hallucination, that is still easier to believe for some than someone rising from the grave.

Then there is the swoon theory.  In that explanation, Jesus faints on the cross, but is not dead.  In the coolness of the cave, he comes to, emerges, and appears to the disciples as risen from death.

Another theory is the spiritual, rather than physical resurrection.  As the disciples sat around talking about what it was like to be in the presence of Jesus, it was as though he was still with them in some way.  He was not actually there, but his spirit was so strong that it was almost like he was there.

All of these fall short of the description given in Scripture.  The truth is, if any of these were actually true, someone would have exposed the hoax.  And if the disciples did not truly see the risen Christ, they would not have been willing to face torture, imprisonment and actual death in defense of this story.

So enjoy the Easter bunnies and colored eggs.  Enjoy the candy and the new clothes and the family celebrations.  But those are only side issues.  The real reason we celebrate Easter is because Jesus demonstrated that the power of God is greater than the power of evil.  The power of life is greater than the power of death.  The power of redemption is greater than the power of revenge.  Easter takes a symbol of death (the cross) and transforms it into a symbol of salvation.  That is the true message of Easter.  Without that message, Easter is a fraud.  With that message, Easter is a victory.

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What Are You Afraid Of?

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”  Psalm 56:3

What are you afraid of?  We have a medium-sized dog, Churchill, who is almost seven years old and 40+ pounds. Lately, he has developed a fear of thunder and lightning.  When he was younger, storms did not faze him.  In fact, when it would thunder, he would bark back, like he was telling the thunder to be quiet.  But recently, he has become more fearful of the storms.

Deborah thinks it is a phase he is going through.  I hope it passes soon.  It is not so bad in the evening when we are awake.  When the distant sound of thunder starts first appears, he starts to get a little antsy.  He won’t lie quietly next to my chair.  As it gets louder, he gets more agitated.  Finally, this non-lap dog wants to climb into my lap.  My petting him and speaking gently to him won’t do the trick.  He has to lie in my lap!  I can feel him quiver and shake.  I know this is a real fear, not just an excuse to climb up where he is not allowed under normal circumstances.

But the worst thing is when the storms come at 1 or 2 in the morning.  Then he comes to my side of the bed and starts pawing me.  He wants me to keep my hand on him and if I stop, he scratches at my arm until I start again.  He also wants to climb in the bed with me, but I push him back.  This goes on for the length of the storm.  During the last one, he gave up on me and went around to Deborah’s side of the bed and pestered her.

Finally, when the storm passes, he curls up in his own bed and goes to sleep.  But our night has been interrupted for hours.  It makes for a groggy day ahead.

This week in my devotional reading, I have been reading the 56th Psalm.  Near the beginning is the verse at the top of the page.  Then near the end the psalmist returns to the theme of fear and faith and says, “In God I trust, I will not be afraid.  What can mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:11)

We live in an uncertain world and there are multitudes of things to be afraid of.  Violent people seem to be all around.  Violent weather seems to be increasing.  And violence between nations threatens the peace and stability of the planet.  Only a fool would not be afraid.

Or someone who trusts the God of love and compassion to protect us.  One of my favorite verses says, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear….  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Have you ever noticed how often the phrase “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid” appears in the Bible?  It seems to be a standard greeting for angels, and Jesus uses it a lot also.  We live in a world where fear seems to be more common than peace and safety.   (Look at Syria or North Korea.)  But Jesus’ word to his followers is, “I have overcome the world.”

We are heading toward Holy Week and thinking about some horrible things that Christ went through at the hands of his creation.  But don’t be afraid.  God is still at work.  Victory over fear is coming.  Hallelujah.

 

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