I’ve had a number of conversations and thoughts about fear this week.
There are elections going on in different parts of the country, and some of the campaign ads seem to focus on fear – fear of the unknown, fear of other groups of people, fear of other candidates or parties.
I’ve also been looking at some of the information about the current situation in the United Methodist Church as a denomination, and the people and churches who are considering leaving the denomination to join a new group called the Global Methodist Church. Some people are saying fearful things about how one group will change after the split, or how the other group will operate differently after the split.
We have other social issues that seem to be driven by fear as well. Guns, drugs, inflation, abortion, teaching in schools. One side often stokes fears of the other side, and vice versa.
Then there is the fear that is more individual. Fear of cancer or unemployment. Fear of the difficult decisions needed when caring for loved ones who have dementia or terminal illnesses. Fear of covid or other infectious diseases.
Fear seems to be all around us.
Fear can be real.
Where does our faith connect with our fear?
1 John 4:18 - Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
I share this passage not to shame anyone by saying that if you are experiencing fear, then you don’t have a strong enough love for God to expel our fear. But I think we often forget that God knows about our fears, and God offers a perfect love that can overcome our fears. In the past, we called this a “blessed assurance” that Jesus was ours – that Jesus has victory over our fears.
For another take on fear, let’s turn to Exodus, and the time when the Hebrew people were in Egypt.
Exodus 1:17 - But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too.
Shiprah and Puah were Hebrew midwives who, by law, had to kill all the boy babies at birth so the Hebrews would stop growing in population while they were slaves in Egypt. They feared God more than Pharoah, so they figured out ways to let the boy babies live, including the child who became the great leader Moses.
Their “fear” of God was more along the lines of awe and reverence – they believed God’s power was greater than that of Pharoah’s, so they followed God’s plan and subverted Pharoah’s.
What about the fear we feel? Is it often more about being afraid, and our feelings, and less about authority and reverence? Do we believe God is above our fear – and above the details of the situations that we are fearful of – and are we willing to put our trust in God and limit our focus on the feeling of fear?
I wonder if our fear feeling drives some of decisions more than our trust in God’s authority and power.
If we do not trust in God’s salvation, do we fear that the choices of the people around us might affect our own salvation? Do we want to control other people’s choices because we fear losing our own salvation?
If they can’t choose salvation for us, then they also can’t choose damnation for us.
We each get the opportunity to turn toward God and receive God’s grace and salvation. We also get to reject God’s gift of saving grace. My choice does not affect my neighbor’s salvation, and their choice doesn’t affect mine.
Sin isn’t contagious. Sin might be tempting, but we can each make our own decisions.
Sometimes we are tempted to help God with judgment, and let people know they are going to hell for their choices. Perhaps this comes from our own fear of judgment and where we will end up in the after-life. We don’t need to control others in order to win our own salvation. Jesus took care of all that for us.
There are a couple of stories about Jesus and the disciples and storms on the water while they are in boats. Jesus calms them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!"
Take courage. Jesus is here.
We can be kind to the people around us who are experiencing fear.
We can take deep breaths and release our fear to Jesus.
We can take courage, and rest in the blessed assurance that God is with us, and God’s love is greater than our fear, that God’s perfect love expels our fears. We can reach out to those around us and be channels of God’s love and grace to those around us who do not yet have the blessed assurance of God’s saving grace.
What if we said a prayer for each group that has a fearful election ad running?
What if we said a prayer for each person who judges another out of fear and anxiety?
What if we give our fears to God in exchange for perfect love?
What would the next week of our lives look like if we were filled with these prayers?
Click below for a video version of this week's post.
I am thrilled to be settling in to a new community with new people and new opportunities. Psalm 105 reminds us to "sing to God; sing praises to the Lord; dwell on all his wondrous works!" As I am driving around my new community, I am indeed 'dwelling on God's wondrous works' as I take in the rivers and lakes and bays, the trees and fish and birds, and the smiling friendly faces of new friends.
Transitions can be difficult times. There is the joy of new discoveries, but also the anxiety of tripping over old traditions. This week I had a dream that all the music disappeared from my second worship service at Suamico - and I was delighted when the service was full of joyous singing and guitar and piano and organ!
I am looking forward to meeting so many new faces and sharing in our ministries together. Give me a call or text me at 608-799-4547 to set up a time to chat. I can't wait to meet you.
Pastor Anna-Lisa Hunter
July 18, 2022
It’s time to say, “Cheers!”
Kathi and I enjoyed taking our then two younger sons to wedding receptions. They were fascinated with the clinking of the glass ritual. They would snicker and giggle with red-faced embarrassment as a round of clinking started, and the groom passionately and effusively kissed the bride to the woos of the crowd. As we were leaving one
reception, our youngest said, “Dad, they kissed 17 times,” but who is counting.
But there is another ritual, the raising of a glass to toast or honor a person with hails of cheers. It’s a great moment of jubilation as the community acknowledges those who have been a blessing. Yes, it is time for me to say cheers. I always knew that my appointment at Suamico was from October to June. A new pastor has been appointed so I must gather my tools, robes, stoles and bible, and head back to retirement--poor me!
But first I want to raise my glass and say cheers to those who welcomed us to Suamico. Some have expressed appreciation that I took this appointment while in retirement, and we're thankful that I helped out. I appreciate the kindness shown us, the consideration given, and the blessings mutually shared. So much goodness, love and enjoyment have been transacted that I can only raise my glass and say cheers to you, the congregation.
Thank you to those who worshiped faithfully, with masks or without. Some distanced themselves in the pews but worship they did. Recognizing faces and putting names to those faces became a pastime; remember you have only my name to remember but I had all your names to recall. Your intentional efforts to be in worship regularly are a blessing to any pastor’s soul. But it was not that you were just pew-warmers; you also were singers, prayers, givers, and responders, which blesses God with our faithfulness. To you, one and all, I raise my glass and say cheers!
There are those involved in the life of the church serving in different ministry capacities on committees and teams, singing in choirs, making music for us, gathering our children in Faith Finders, attending to the building, selling the parsonage, serving at fellowship hour, shoveling snow, hosting Seasoned Seniors, and preparing and selling Booyah. Then there are those who are reaching out to care for the needy, sewing to meet their needs, or offering funds to make life a bit more comfortable for them. To you, I raise my glass and say cheers!
Suamico has a significant presence through technology. A lot of thought has gone into this ministry. Skills have been garnered. Resources have been raised. Camera and sound techs, as well as clickers, have been recruited, trained and scheduled. Look after them, and appreciate them for they, like all other servers have been a blessing. To you, I raise my glass and say cheers!
I celebrate you and thank you. Now ready yourselves for your new pastor; it should be a blessed season.
Graham N. West, pastor
Doug is coming today. He will stay about a week. His peeps are going on a trip. I erected a temporary gate so he doesn’t stray off the deck. He is so people-friendly that he would go with anyone who pets him. He loves it when you stroke his belly.
A mix between a border collie and a retriever, he is our grand-dog. He is not so much a herder, frankly, he couldn’t care about other dogs. Placid in personality, they bark at him, especially the smaller yappers, but he is unperturbed. A rabbit or squirrel may get him riled up as he wants to go after it.
The temporary gate is more a deterrent than anything else. I have erected it more than once. It’s a bit of a balancing act as it doesn’t cover the stairwell, and I have to bolster it with wooden blocks. Tighten the bolts on one side, the blocks fall off the other. Want to hear a pastor utter colorful language?
Doug likes to be in the cool of the deck. His long-haired black coat is often too warm for him, so lying on the deck is a comfortable compromise. Occasionally, he will lift his head, sniff the breeze, and settle in a comfortable position again.
What gates do you have that act as deterrents to you or to your faith? I often hear about gates that keep us fenced in: “I did that when my kids were younger; now they are grown.” “My age keeps me from getting up early for worship.” “Those younger parents should teach at Faith Finders; I’ve had my turn.” “I helped build this church and its faith community; others must step up.”
Sometimes the gates we erect are about bad feelings: “I miss the old sanctuary.” “I don’t like the new building.” “Live streaming causes copyright issues.” “Why can’t we sing our favorite hymns?” “So and so hurt my feelings: who does she think she is?” “I can’t understand the pastor.” “Must I sing so many verses of the hymn?” “I don’t want to do that!”
The pandemic sure erected gates and fences: wash your hands, keep your distance, or don’t cough openly. It kept us in a lockdown position; gradually these restrictions have been eased but some haven’t come back to worship. Others prefer the convenience of watching online where pajamas are the new norm. I don’t have to sing the hymns and prefer just to watch rather than worship.
The trouble with gates is that they imply fences, those barriers we erect to keep us safe, disengaged, and consoled.
I am waiting for the day when Doug realizes that the gate is just a deterrent, a pushover if he leans heavily on it. I am praying that whatever gate or fence you have erected, you will push over so you can be free. Climb the fence and roam free.
Spring blessings, Graham N. West, pastor
It is traditional to sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” (UMH 302) on Easter Sunday. In some congregations, it is accompanied by trumpets and fanfare. The joy of our Easter celebration should ring out and shake the heavens. But how can we rejoice this year when the Ukrainian people are suffering at the hand of Russian invaders? I feel more akin to singing “When we are called to sing your praise with hearts so filled with pain” (FWS 2216).
Who would have thought that our world would be in this predicament as an empire invades a neighbor? The unrelenting bombing has caused widespread destruction as buildings have been demolished and reduced to rubble and debris. It’s unimaginable to me that a building sheltering refugees, mothers and their children, could be targeted, not to mention local schools, hospitals, businesses and gathering places. Imagine turning to look over your shoulder at your home to see it as rubble and debris. What must this shelling do to the people? What trauma must it instill? What paralyzing fear must settle on the children?
How can we celebrate Easter with hearts so filled with pain?
Unsettling grief also stalked that first Easter as the womenfolk made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. It was only days before that they stood at the cross witnessing his tragic death, gruesomely, cruelly executed to crush the movement of God in our world. Now those women stand at the entrance of the empty tomb wondering what happened to their Lord and Savior.
So we stand with the people of Central Europe wondering whether God hears our cries, listens to our prayers, and pays attention to our pleadings.
Christians throughout the ages have found themselves in similar predicaments when persecution was unleashed, and cruelty meted out, as faithful followers confessed that God will save them, and even if God didn’t save them, they would not bow the knee to ungodly rulers. They stood firm in faith and pushed back against the rulers, authorities, the forces of darkness as they trusted themselves to God.
We stand with the people of Ukraine as we share their pain at such cruel suffering.
How shall we push back? Since the beginning, Christians have pushed back by offering praise to God. Singing our praise declares that our trust is in God, and our hope is in the victory that Christ enacted on the cross. Even though our hearts are filled with pain yet we will rejoice in the Lord.
So it will soon be Easter. Despite the sadness and the pain, we will sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” for indeed he is our assurance, our hope, and our victory. Whatever may happen in Ukraine, we declare to the principalities and powers that our God reigns, and we have every hope in what is yet to come. As Wesley said, the best is yet to be!
Easter blessings, Graham N. West, pastor
Avoid 10:30 am in Greenville - that’s when they head out.
Within a short distance behind us, is an Amazon Distribution Center, or Fulfillment Center. It is strategically located allowing its vans to head out daily on a network of highways that take them in every direction.
I have tried on various occasions to count the number of vans in the parking lot, or should I say lots as they have commandeered adjoining lots for parking. I have to count quickly as they are moving to load up and get going, say 150 vans, maybe 200.
The vans head out about 10:30 am, a long line like ants, first picking up their cargo for the day at the center, and then hitting the highways. When they return at the end of the day, mostly after dark, they first gas up at local service stations, then return to the center, and eventually to the parking lot, filling the spots to capacity.
I tell you this because that’s what the church is meant to be. Typically, we gather for worship on Sundays, then after the benediction, we scatter into the community, heading in various directions, wherever our daily activities take us.
It was always intended that our scattering was the way the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ would be shared in the communities where we live. Faithful followers of Christ would carry the message of God’s love to the localities where they lived, worked, served, socialized, and hung out.
If the gospel is good news, and the people of our communities are in need of God’s love, then we should share it with them. Tell them about God’s love and its impact on your life, about Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, redemption, and healing.
Just tell them! Invite them! Host them!
We all have family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, people who daily cross our path in need of the love and grace of Christ more desperately than we imagine. So why hold back? Is it awkwardness, embarrassment, or clumsiness with our words?
Here’s an approach that may be helpful: Identify someone you would like to share with, or invite to church. Pray to ask for God’s help in doing so. Look for an opportunity to share or invite that person. Tell your story in simple terms: what God has done in your life. Invite them to church. Bring them or meet them, and host them during their visit. Then thank God for using you to share Christ’s love.
If every worshiper invited just one person, we could double the size of our congregation.
Every blessing, Graham N. West, pastor