Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You Afraid?


Are you afraid?   

    Every day we open the newspaper or we turn on the radio or the television and we hear bad news.  Our economy is not in great shape.  Our government is spending more than it can afford.  Unemployment is at near historic levels and showing no sign of getting better soon.  We hear reports of doom and gloom almost constantly. 

How has this constant barrage of bad news affected you?

    As I have been reading reports from churches and other charities across the country the reports seem to share a common thread.  Fear.  After listening to the constant cries of disaster and doom people begin to grow afraid for their future.  When people are afraid, they begin to act in ways that reflect their fear.  When we are afraid, we become far more conservative financially, our worries for the future cause us to spend less, pay down credit cards and even save a little more in the bank.  When we are afraid, sometimes without even being consciously aware of it, we pull back and prepare for a rainy day; we are, as a society, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  This mentality is widespread.  The stock markets react violently to even the tiniest piece of bad news and only hesitantly move forward when there is good news.  Retail sales and other measures of consumer spending are not especially good at least partially because people are not confident of how things will be next month, or next year.  People are afraid.

The funny thing is that most of us have no real reason to be afraid.  

    Most of us have the same jobs that we had last year and the year before that.  Many of us have continued to get the same sorts of raises that we have always gotten.  Except for what we seem to be spending on gasoline, our expenses are not significantly changed from what we have been accustomed to for a long time.  Obviously there are exceptions.  One of my brothers has been out of work for more than two years and he is not alone.  Many folks are hurting.  The rest of us however, are living pretty much the same lives that we were living before the recession began several years ago.  For us, our fear has little or no basis in reality.  We are afraid, only because the evening news seems to tell us that we should be and something about that is not right.  

Why should we act as if we are afraid if we have no real reason to actually be afraid?

    As Christians we have another, even better, reason to resist this kind of fear.  Our fear seems to come from our worries about what the President or the Congress will or will not do.  Our fear seems to come from our worries about the economy and other things far outside out control or understanding.  Instead of allowing these worrisome times to make us afraid, we should remember who is in control.  Psalm 20:7 reminds us that “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  And if we even momentarily considered putting our trust in our bank accounts or in our government, Job is there to remind us that “What they trust in is fragile what they rely on is a spider’s web.  They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold.”  Nahum 1:7 tells us that “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”  Just because we are people of faith, does not mean that we are immune to fear, but the when fear springs up inside of us we remember this: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4)

    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to put our trust in him and not in the fluctuations of economies and governments that we cannot control.  All of these things are under his command and it is our job to trust in him.  Daniel was literally thrown to the lions but we should remember that “when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:23) 

    We hear bad news every day and honestly, I have begun to listen to the news less often because of it.  I am not hiding from the truth, but I don’t need to be constantly beaten with it either.  I hope that you will remember that we have no need to fear.  Whenever we are tempted to be afraid, we need to ask ourselves a single important question…

Who do you trust?


Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001 - 10 years later

Help us overcome, Lord, this evil which has descended
Help us understand, Lord, why so many lives too soon have ended

Help us heal, Lord, as we recover from the pain
Help us cope, Lord, show us sunshine after the rain

We put our trust in you, Lord, as you watch us from on high
Help us grieve, Lord, and hold us while we cry


Written by Jim Lane
Fair Oaks, CA , September 2001

This morning in church we remembered.  Many in our congregation could remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked and the same applies to the days that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Ronald Reagan was shot, and Challenger exploded.  Likewise we remember where we were ten years ago today during the events of September 11, 2001.  Although  we will likely never forget, I pray that God will continue to bring healing to all those who were wounded both physically, mentally and spiritually.  Similarly, I pray that we will learn the right lessons of September 11th.  There are many messages but I pray that we hear the messages taught to us in scripture, messages of love, forgiveness, healing and hope and not the messages that we sometimes hear that play to our baser instincts to hate, destroy and seek revenge and retribution.

This morning's worship service began by reading together from the Psalms and remembering that we find strength in God's tower and not in towers of our own making.  The opening prayer was the one I have included above.  It was written by a fellow rocketry hobbyist and an online friend, Jim Lane in 2001 after the events of September 11th.  It sums up many of the feelings that we had then and feelings that have resurfaced this week as we remember.  I include it here with his kind permission.  Thank you Jim.

My message this morning was a story of remembrance but also a reminder that the thing that makes followers of Jesus Christ different is our calling to love and forgive our enemies.  This is not an easy thing, in fact, it may well be one of the hardest things that we can do but Jesus tells us that our own forgiveness depends upon it.

Sunday's message, September 11, 2011 - a service of remembrance and reminder.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Divine Appointments


    This week I had a full schedule on my calendar but three times I have been reminded that my time is not my own and that we all need to be available for sudden shifts that God places in our path.  In contrast to the everyday scheduling that we do for ourselves, we sometimes call these shifts “divine appointments.”  

    Tuesday I had planned to spend the morning working in our church office and I did.  Our morning was unremarkable.  In the afternoon, after I had attended our local Rotary Club meeting I had made two appointments with shut-ins from our congregation and I planned to visit the hospital in my capacity as the hospital chaplain (several of us take turns volunteering at Barnesville Hospital and Tuesday is my day).  I got caught finishing a project in the office and I started later than I had intended but in my mind I still thought that I could accomplish all of my visitation before returning home for dinner.

    Whenever the weather is good I try to walk for as much as I can and so, since my first visit with Roy and June was only a few blocks away I set out on foot.  While I had made an appointment with June the previous week, I briefly wondered if I should call just in case something had changed, bust again, since it was only a few blocks, I shrugged off my doubts and set out anyway.  When I arrived at my destination I knocked on the door and was met by Roy and June’s daughter.  She thanked me for coming but told me that June had not slept well the night before and was now asleep in the afternoon.  She thanked me again and asked if I could come back next week.  I assured her that it was no problem and, since the weather was lovely, set out immediately for the hospital.

I was hardly across the street before I discovered that God had other plans.

     As soon as I had crossed the street, I encountered two older gentlemen, one wearing an Air Force baseball cap and the other an Army cap.  As we passed one another they asked if I wasn’t a pastor.  I wasn’t terribly surprised since, living in a small town, I am often recognized by people that I don’t know.  When I said that I was, they asked which church I belonged to and I told them.  Our conversation lasted far longer than I would have expected.  We talked about church and the military.  They told me of their military service and I told them about mine.  They told me of their other relatives who had served and so did I.  Although I have been out of the Army Reserve for nearly twenty years, my service offered a place for us to connect as we spoke on the sidewalk.  I learned that one of these men had recently had some difficulty and these two men, brothers, were moving in together not far, they hoped, from our church.  Both men said that they had been away from the church for a long time and had felt a need to return.  Before we went our separate ways, both men said that I should expect to see them in church within the next few weeks.

    My hospital rounds were, for the most part, uneventful and I then proceeded to my appointment to visit with Irene.   When I arrived at Irene’s house I she did not answer the door.  This is not unusual as she cannot always hear the doorbell and so I knocked again, and even shouted but I could not attract her attention.  Since I was unable to visit I left a note and a copy of last week’s sermon and headed for home.  Within minutes of my arrival the doorbell rang and I found at our door another member of our church.  She had been scheduled for surgery in Pittsburgh the next day and I had planned to visit her there.  Instead, she told me that they had scheduled her for a very early time slot and because of the early hour and because of our distance from Pittsburgh they were leaving almost immediately and would stay in a hotel overnight.  Since they live close to us, I walked home with her, visited for a short while and prayed with both she and her husband before they left.  

    Had Irene answered her door, I would not have been home and would surely have missed this important appointment.  Had June slept through the night I would surely have missed meeting and visiting with the brothers who were feeling a call to return to church.

    Yesterday, a couple who had been living together called our church office in the morning and asked if I could marry them in the afternoon.  This doesn’t often happen (okay, it’s never happened to me before) but my schedule was free (except for my plans to write a sermon for Sunday) and since they only desired to be married in my office, there was no need to clean the sanctuary or disturb the custodian.  As it turned out, this couple had been living together for a number of years and had decided that now seemed to be a good time to get married.

  Every day we schedule the ordinary. 

             Once in a while, God reminds us that our time does not belong to us.  

    Once in a while our carefully crafted schedule is disrupted so that we can be present in times and in places that God has scheduled.  We must watch and be ready for a few “divine appointments” instead or being frustrated at the perceived disruption.  

  If we are ready, our disruption will be transformed into blessing.

    I pray that each of you will be open to these sorts of disruptions so that you too can be blessed by catching a glimpse of God’s bigger picture.

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