From the Pastor’s Desk
Dear Church Family and Friends,
Grace and Peace to you in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ! I thank God for our recent rains, for the “cooler” weather (“less hot” it would be more accurate to say), and for you. Thank you for being the Spirit of Christ to each other, to our community, and to me and my family. I profoundly appreciate your love and kindness. It is not taken for granted.
In my article last week I urged you to be very careful about what you read online concerning the divisiveness in the United Methodist denomination because there is an abundance of misinformation, and some of it seems to be deliberately misleading or outright false in order to create a climate of fear and anxiety. Which got me to thinking about fear in general, and how often that comes up in the Bible. Have you ever noticed how many “fear not(s)” are in Scripture? Fear not, says the angel to Zachariah and to Mary. Fear not says the angel to the shepherds in the fields. (Luke Ch. 1 & 2). And why? Because apparently they were terrifying. Despite our love of putting cute angels on greeting cards and coffee mugs, if a bonified angel in all his or her glory showed up in your bedroom in the middle of the night, no doubt you would be “sore afraid.”
And it’s just not angel encounters. Abraham and Sarah fear that God won’t come through on His promise of heirs, and so they take matters into their own hands, which proves to have tragic consequences. Jacob is afraid of his brother and runs away, Saul is afraid Samuel won’t show up in time, Joseph’s brothers are afraid Joseph, now powerful, will use his power to exact revenge on them. The disciples run away, afraid they will be next to be executed after Jesus. I could go on and on. The fact is that people in the Bible often struggle with fear, worry, and anxiety. (A notable exception is Daniel. For fun, look up on youtube the bluegrass song “Daniel Prayed” by Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs) As do we. We can so easily get caught up in fear, worry, and anxiety over so many things, and particularly over the perceived possibility that the things we love and/or need the most will be taken away from us.
In Andy Stanley’s book, “Not In It To Win It,” he expresses his frustration with other Christian leaders who try to motivate their followers through intentional fear-mongering. And why, he says? Because fear-mongering works. Making people afraid is a very effective tool in getting the power and/or results you want. Fear works, fear sells. Fear helps you raise money, get elected, etc. etc. It works, but it does not represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of love yourself, love God, love your neighbor, love even your enemies.
The main issue before the United Methodist denomination is different, and now divisive understandings of human sexuality. It is not a new issue. Our denomination has been debating this since the early 1970’s. The only thing that has changed is the recent idea that we have to hurry up and decide which “right” side to be on.
I myself have struggled many times over the years with trying to understand this issue in a way that respects the authority of Scripture but also the Gospel of grace for all. And so I respect those who take both scripture and grace seriously, and are trying their best to come to an understanding with integrity and kindness.
But the fear-mongering? Like Andy Stanley, I agree that this is not the spirit of Christ. The idea that suddenly we have to circle the wagons and hunker down, or all is lost is not the spirit of Christ.
Over and over, Jesus encourages his followers to not be afraid, to not worry. Why? Because He is with us. Whether in the wilderness or the promised land, whether in good times or in the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us. In the maternity ward or in the cemetery. He is with us. He loves us, He knows what we need, and the future of the Church is in His hands. Christians, it has often been said, should be the most courageous people in the room.
And so friends, let us not be afraid. Let us be easy with one another, respect one another, love one another, be courageous for one another, be grace for one another. We will work through these challenges, but not as divided camps. Instead, as those united in Christ, and being Christ-like with each other. Keep it in your prayers, my friends. And if you see an angel, try not to run away.
Grace and Peace,
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9