Mission Work

There are many things about this church family that makes me proud to be the pastor here at Downtown Mitchel First UMC, but one of the main reasons is how we do missions.  The mission emphasis that our church has and that our church members carry out is really quite significant for our community.  

 Of course, Love Feast is one of the main mission focuses we have, which also entails the backpack/school supply give-away in the fall.  As I type these words, a blood drive is taking place here at our church.  That’s another way we are in mission.  There’s our support of the Mitchell Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, etc.  Yesterday evening a number of our High School Youth Group delivered flowers and Mother’s Day Cards to some of the women of our church who are shut-ins at home or are in one of the care facilities in our community, because they wanted these individuals to know we remember them and that we care. 

 A percentage of our offerings go to various mission projects our Church’s Missions Team has identified for us.  There’s the “Kits,” a team in our church assembles these faithfully.  The prayer shawls, and quilting ministry.  There’s the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men who quietly do mission work that most of us never hear about.  If we identified the number of organizations, the hours our church family dedicates to various causes, and dollars given in support of these ministries and programs, it would truly be amazing. 

 So, the question becomes, “Why?”  Why do we do all this mission work?  There are a number of valid answers to that question; we want to make a difference in our community, we want to help people, our faith calls us to serve.  These are all possible answers.  But another answer might be, because it is “life giving” for those involved in the work. 

 Recently in my personal quiet time, I read a passage from the Book of Psalms.  It was Psalms 52 to be exact.  In this Psalm the writer is showing the difference between the life of one who follows the path of godliness and the one who follows the path of evil.  Part of the imagery in the Psalm says the person who follows the evil path will be uprooted.  Another passage says, “God will break you down.”  The visual image is that the person who focuses on evil in this world will cut off and eventually wither away. 

 After our recent late spring snow storm, I’ve been amazed at the number of limbs that were broken off trees.  In fact, I’ve seen an entire tree toppled by the wind and the snow.  It is slowly dying.  That’s the image the Psalmist wants us to have – those who chose to live apart from God will slowly die off and fade away.  But then the writer also goes on to say that he is a “green olive tree” in the house of God.  In other words, he’s saying he finds “life” and “bears fruit” because of the steadfast connection to God. 

 Missions is not the only way to stay connected to God, but it is a great way to live the values of God.  It is a great way to be the hands and feet of God.  It is a great way to know that one is making a difference in the world for at least one other person.  If you see someone with a bit of a bounce in their step and a gleam of life in their eyes, chances are they are involved in mission work in some way.  Are you feeling disconnected, cut off from people or from God?  It isn’t a magic answer…but you might give some type of mission work a try.  You too can be like a “green olive tree in the house of God.”  You too can find life!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

The Cross

On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.”   Those are the opening words of a rather well-known hymn, a hymn that is popular this time of year.  Today is Good Friday, so there is much focus on the cross – the Roman instrument of execution.

 Now I understand what the hymn is communicating in that first line.  The writer is saying that Jesus death took place a long way from where we live here in America, where the writer penned these words, “On a hill far away…” Jerusalem is literally a long way from here.  Yet the truth is, crucifixion was intended to be an up-close-and-personal means of execution. 

 Rome was truly “large and in charge” in the region where Jesus lived.  They were able to maintain their power and control by intimidation and by sheer force.  Thus, crucifixion was not only a form of punishment, it was also a means of communicating a clear message to the people of the region.  For this reason, crucifixions took place in public places.  One preacher I was listening to recently made the comment that just as billboards, in our society, are put up in the places where they know there is high traffic numbers, the same was true with where crucifixions were carried out under Rome.  They wanted as many people as possible to see it, young and old alike, because part of the message was, “If you cause trouble for Rome, this could be you!” 

 Often it is portrayed that the bystanders present for Jesus crucifixion were kept at a distance.  But the reality is that friends and family of the one being punished were often allowed to get close, possibly even close enough to touch the person…without interfering with the dying process.  Of course, this was intended to maximize the emotional pain for friends and family; being so close and yet unable to do anything to stop or change what was happening.  Yes, crucifixion was truly a horrendous practice, which is why we like to keep Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, at a distance. (On a hill far away…) 

 

However, part of the reason we recognize Good Friday on our journey of Lent, is because this day is an important part of the story.  It’s an important part of recognizing God’s desire to connect with humanity.  It is an important part of realizing the extent to which Jesus was willing to demonstrate God’s love for all people.  This day has an important part to play in our understanding of what it can mean to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”

 We may sing “On a hill far away…” but my hope for myself, and for all of us, is that today especially, this “hill” will be close, very close.  I pray that it will be close enough to break through the hardness of my heart, that it will pierce the unloving attitudes that sometimes pop up within me, and that it will allow me to once again hear Jesus utter the word “FINISHED!” and then realize there is nothing I can do to earn God’s forgiveness.  “On a hill, close at hand…is a cross…”

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

 Join us here at Downtown Mitchell First UMC for our Good Friday and Easter Services

Good Friday – April 19 – 7:00 pm – Good Friday service in the sanctuary

Easter Sunday – April 21 – 7:00 am – Easter Sunrise Service

                                            7:30 am – Easter Breakfast

                                            8:30 & 11:00 am – Easter Worship Celebration

A Day of Rest

Winter storm Wesley…  He has delivered quite a blow to South Dakota, one that we’re going to be feeling for a while.  As I write this article on Friday morning, we are snowed in here at home.  I’ve already seen two 4-wheel drive pickups get stuck on the streets by my home.  Thanks to my trusty snowblower, my driveway is clear, but there’s no guarantees beyond that! 

 I’m sure this storm will be talked about for years to come.  The damage and affects of the storm are still being assessed.  Of course, many of the school kids are happy.  They get a couple days out of school.  I remember feeling that way when a blizzard gave us a “snow day.”  However, when these days have to be made up by the end of the year…well, that won’t be such a point of celebration.  I know of a few adults who were celebrating the fact that they too got an unexpected gift…a day off of work because they couldn’t get out.  Woo Hoo!!! YA for unexpected gifts like that!!!

 We do tend to pack so much into our days and weeks.  Work, activities, appointments, tasks, etc.  We all tend to be constantly on the go.  I know I tend to be that way, and my personal and work calendar reflects this reality for me.  It is sort of nice when the gift of having a day where one must stay home, comes along.  It really is a gift.  It is something most of us need. 

 But you know, the reality is we have been given this gift of Time-Off.  It’s just that we ignore, or don’t use the gift.  What I mean is if you read the creation story in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God displays for us and then tells us that 6 days we can work, etc.  But the 7th day is to be a Sabbath, a day of rest.  God knew from the beginning the importance of having a break, having a time of rest in our lives, and having a time to reconnect with God.  So, God built “rest” into the rhythm of our week, that’s how valuable it is.  But the truth is, we humans have pretty much chosen to ignore the “gift” that God said we needed and provided for us.  I have heard people proudly say, “I’m on the go 24/7!”  But that isn’t as it is supposed to be.

 Maybe we Methodists should say that winter storm “Wesley” is a gift from our founder, John Wesley.  Wesley was a hard working / driven man.  But he also recognized the need for rest too.  So, maybe “Wesley” is simply reminding us…we need to pause…we need to slow down…we need to rest.  Rest really is a part of God’s plan for our lives.  Rest really is supposed to be a part of the rhythm of our week.  Rest really is a gift from God. 

 I realize that a blizzard brings a different kind of work to many of us.  I’ll be out shoveling and blowing snow once the snow plow makes its way down Sawgrass Avenue.  And yes, computers make it more difficult to have a snow day…because we can work from home (like what I’m doing right now).  But still, may we allow Wesley, the storm, to remind us of the importance of the gift that God gave us “In the beginning”…REST.

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

 Join us Sunday for our Palm Sunday celebration.  Worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  The children will sing at both services.  Also join us for all our Holy Week activities.  Wednesday’s Downtown meal/worship/studies, beginning at 5:15, Maundy Thursday Service, Thursday at 7:00 pm; Good Friday Service, Friday at 7:00 pm; Easter Sunrise at 7:00 am, Easter Brunch at 7:30, Easter Worship at 8:30 and 11:00 am.  Hope to see you there.

Always Going the Same Way

  As I write this reflection, I’m in Kansas City attending a 2-day training workshop at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.  This morning, as I was on the way to the church, from my hotel, I had my first learning moment, even though the workshop hadn’t even begun. 

 I’ve been to COR (Church of the Resurrection) a number of times for leadership and training events, so I have my usual hotel that I like to stay in.  Just to make sure I remembered what roads I was supposed to go on, I turned on the navigation feature in my smart phone and told Siri to get me to COR. 

 So, I’m making my way in the rush hour traffic, heading to the church.  Siri was taking me the way I remembered, so I felt like I really didn’t need the navigation help.  Suddenly, Siri told me to turn left in a quarter of a mile.  “Wait a minute,” I thought, “I usually don’t turn there.”  I was in the left lane anyway, so I was looking up ahead to see if I was forgetting a turn.  “Turn left in 500 ft.”  Siri said.  This can’t be right, I thought.  But I got in the left turn lane.

 The light was red, and as I sat there, I found myself thinking. “This can’t be right…I know this isn’t right.  I usually don’t turn here.  Where is Siri taking me?  Did a new destination get plugged into the system?”  There was a small break in the westbound traffic and I briefly thought about quickly jumping back into that lane of traffic in order to go the “usual” way to my intended destination.  Just then the turn arrow lit up, and I decided to go that way and see where it took me.  I was convinced I was on a road to the wrong destination because this wasn’t the way I had gone before. 

 Once on the “new” road, Siri said that I would turn right in 2 ½ miles onto Roe Avenue.  Hey, Church of the Resurrection is on Roe Avenue. I just might actually make it!  And you know what…traffic was actually really light on this “new” route.  That’s when I realized Siri knew something I didn’t, that there was significant rush hour congestion on the route I usually take to COR, but this new way (which actually wasn’t available a few years ago) now offered a new route with a LOT less traffic.  Hmmmm…I just might have to go that way again tomorrow!!! 😊

 As I reflected on this experience several lessons came to mind.  1.  My “usual” way is not always the best way.  2.  Sometimes I need to trust “someone” with a better perspective on things.  3.  Just because I haven’t gone a certain way (or done something that way) in the past doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best way to arrive at a desired destination now.  4.  New information, though unexpected, can be helpful on the journey.  5. Taking a new path can be really uncomfortable to begin with, but it just might lead to something positive and even beneficial in the long-run.   I’m sure there are other lessons, but these are the immediate ones that come to mind.  E-mail me your similar experiences and your take-aways / lessons learned. 

 Sharing the journey with you…as together we grow in Christ!

Pastor Keith

 

Do You Need an Automatic Update?

Most of us have probably heard the saying, “Technology is great…when it works right.”  What that means is that when it’s functioning properly, technology (computers, smart phones, etc.) is a great tool.  But when it isn’t functioning properly, technology can become the biggest aggravation imaginable.  For this reason, many computers and computer software companies utilize something called “automatic updates” to keep their equipment and programs running smoothly and correctly. 

 How “updating” is supposed to work is that the user sets the time that is convenient or acceptable for the update to take place.  However, my experience is that isn’t always the case.  It might be that the computer is turned off or isn’t connected to the internet when the update is to happen.  There can be many different reasons, but the transfer of new information, the update, doesn’t take place when scheduled.  Thus, the next time the computer is turned on or is connected to the internet, the update automatically begins, sometimes at a not-so-convenient time, thus causing frustration because the equipment isn’t usable until the update process is complete.

 The other issue I’ve discovered with an “update” is that at times it will change how things appear on the screen or it will change how something functions.  Again, frustration abounds as the “user” must re-learn how things work and how to do what they need to do.  On one hand, automatic updates are great.  On the other hand, automatic updates can be a real pain in the neck. 

 Sometimes I wish our faith came with automatic updates.  You know, when new information is available from God, or when new knowledge gives new insights about how to live out faith, I wish it would just automatically download within us…and the update would take place, no fuss, no muss.  Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the way things work in our journey of faith.  No, usually there’s a fair amount of praying and struggling, wondering and wrestling that goes on within a person as “updates” are made in our hearts and souls. 

 In my personal quiet-time I’m reading from the Old Testament prophets.  They were bringing a faith “update” from God.  But the people of God weren’t interested in an update on living God’s way.  They just wanted to keep on living with the unhelpful and even unfaithful behaviors and patterns that were actually taking them further away from God.  Yet God was pleading for the people to realize there was a better way. 

 In some ways you could say Lent is a time of focusing on updates for our faith.  Lent is an intentional time of listening for God’s voice and Spirit speaking to us and nudging us onward on this journey.  It’s a time of asking deep questions and seeking to grow in our understanding of who God is and how God desires us to live our faith.  A question I often ask during Lent is, “Am I following Jesus more closely this year than I was last year?”  or “Am I reflecting more of Jesus in my life this year than last year?”  Sometimes it’s hard to answer that question, but then when I think about my faith journey of five years ago, I can see the growth more clearly. 

 Today, as we continue through Lent and reflect on our faith journey, there won’t be any automatic updates that come our way, but by spending intentional time with God in Bible Reading, Prayer, and other spiritual disciplines, it is likely that God will speak to each of us with the wisdom and insight that will help us walk more closely with God.  The journey isn’t always easy, but it always leads us towards God. 

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Turn Back to God

Have you ever wondered what God wants from you??  I have.  I’ve asked myself that question a time or two… or three or four or five…or 10!!!!  Yes, there’s been many times I’ve found my soul asking that deep question, “God, what do you want from me?”  Often when a person asks that type of question there’s a yearning within the soul, a sense of lostness or emptiness, and a desire for a simple answer that will help life and faith make sense once again.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

 Recently in my personal reflection and quiet time with God I came across a passage in the Bible in which God tells a group of lost people just what he wants from them.  The back story is that God’s people, the nation of Israel, has drifted away from their relationship with God.  The people have started worshipping and offering sacrifices to false gods, often referred to as local or regional gods.  God sends several prophets to bring a message of repentance to the people, encouraging them, pleading with them to turn back to the true God that has been with them and cared for them throughout their history. 

 Hosea is another one of God’s messengers sent to the people to warn them and to bring them back into connection with God.  Hosea tells of God’s judgment that is soon to come if they don’t change their ways and change their focus.  At one point, in chapter 6, Hosea tells the people exactly what God wants from them.  Hosea speaks for God saying, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (NRSV)  Or another translation of the Bible words it this way, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”  (NLT)

 In other words, God is saying forget about all the complicated offerings, sacrifices, and rituals that are spelled out earlier in the Old Testament.  Those methods served their purpose for a time as the Hebrew people were being reconnected with God after having been slaves and living in a foreign land under foreign influence for 400 years.  But now what God wants…love expressed in our lives and an intentional desire to know God not just with our heads, but also with our hearts and our actions.  That’s it…that’s what God wants from the people that honor and worship God. 

 Centuries later, Jesus, the Son of God said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”  Jesus was indeed giving a “new commandment” to the disciples and all his followers (including us).  Yet as I’ve reflected on these two passages, it strikes me that Jesus is also bringing clarity to what God has been wanting from people all along.   Our walk of faith is not about ritual…it’s about God’s love expressed in our lives.  It isn’t about busyness…it’s about seeking to truly know and understand God’s ways more every day.

 So, the next time you sense the question rising up from deep within your soul, “God, what do you want from me?”  There’s a number of different verses in the Bible that can help, but I believe a good starting point is Hosea 6:6 and John 13:34-35.  A reoccurring theme of what God longs for from us can be summed up in one simple, yet complex, word…LOVE!  Let’s go out into our community and world and live it out the best we can!

 

Special General Conference Thoughts

Friends, in visiting with some of you about General Conference and the greater United Methodist Church, I am hearing good questions being asked about our denomination.  In my years of ministry, I have learned that when a few are asking question, it might mean there are others asking the same kinds of questions.  So, today for my reflection I’m going to share information about our denomination and General Conference that some are asking.

 First of all, we (The United Methodist Church) are a global church.  John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism was an Anglican Priest in England.  He did travel to our continent / nation once, but didn’t have a particularly positive experience, so he returned to England.  However, the faith movement that John Wesley started has truly encircled the globe in that the UMC is present and at work in more than 136 countries around the world.  Currently, the most explosive growth in the UMC is taking place in the continent of Africa.

 The UMC has a constitution and in many ways is structured similar to our own government.  The Book of Discipline is the “rule book” for our denomination and can only be changed by action of the General Conference.  General Conference is the gathering of lay and clergy delegates from all around the world that meets every four years to care for the “business” of the global church, as well as set the direction and focus of the denomination.  This global gathering is when amendments and updates are made to the Book of Discipline.  A side-note about General Conference is that the Bishops of our denomination are not allowed voice or vote at General Conference.  Their official role is to “chair” or lead the sessions. 

 This most recent General Conference was a “Called Special Session” to deal with the issue of homosexuality, an issue that has been growing in intensity since first being introduced into the Book of Discipline in 1972.  The Traditionalist Plan that was adopted at the recent General Conference, had several amendments attached to it.  As I understand it, the Traditionalist Plan, including the amendments, has been referred to the Judicial Council of the UMC (the Church’s Supreme Court) to rule on the constitutionality of the plan and amendments.  I believe the Judicial Council will meet in April.  Currently nothing has changed in the Book of Discipline.  The Traditionalist Plan is not set to be enacted until January of 2020. 

 In our church, Downtown Mitchell First UMC, there are people in our church family that agree with the Traditionalist Plan and there are those that disagree with the Traditionalist Plan.  The same can be said of most social issues of our day.  The beauty of our church is that long ago it was determined that our church would be a place where we want everyone to feel welcome and know they are loved by God.  This message has not changed.

 I would ask for patience as it is determined what exactly the Traditionalist Plan will mean for our denomination and our church.  Again, at this point nothing has changed and nothing new has been enacted.  But more than patience, I would ask you to continue to pray for our church (as we do ministry), our Bishops (as they provide leadership), and our denomination (as we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ). 

 We have just begun the season of Lent.  This is a season of prayer, reflection, and self-denial.  May we truly be open to the whispers of the Spirit as we all look to the future of where God leads us.  Yes, in some ways it feels like we’re in a wilderness trying to find our way.  However, the story of God tells us that when there’s wandering in the wilderness…there’s a promised land on the other side.  May it be so for us!

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

P.S. If you’d like to visit with me more about this, please call me and let’s set up a time.  I’d be glad to visit.

What's Really Important

Sharing the Love of Jesus with the next generation from the heart of downtown!

 It’s always interesting to note the events that helps put life in proper perspective for me.  It seems that every so often I need a “reality check” of what is and isn’t really important in life.  I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but every so often I find myself wrapped up in some issue in life that is sucking the energy right out of me.  But then something else comes along that feels like a slap in the face that gets my attention back on what really matters in life. 

 I remember years ago in a previous church, I was really struggling emotionally and spiritually with something.  It had me focused so clearly on the issue at hand.  About the same time our church hosted a missionary family that was back in America (they served overseas in a third world nation) for some time of relaxation and reconnecting with family. 

 The missionary family had a daughter the same age as our daughter, who was 6-7 at the time.  These two girls hit it off.  Early on Melissa, our daughter, was showing her new friend her room and our house.  At some point in the tour the young missionary family girl stopped at looked around and said, “Is this all yours?” meaning all the stuff in the house.  With the innocence and honesty of a child, our daughter answered, “Yes, it’s all ours.”  Talk about a humbling moment!  Those words were like a slap in the face that woke me up and helped me let go of whatever petty issue it was I was struggling with, and to realize how blessed and fortunate I really was. 

 Just this past week I had another such “wake up moment” in life.  I don’t know how many of you were tuned in to General Conference 2019.  I didn’t watch much of it, but I was concerned about the matters at hand and what the outcome could do to our denomination.  I was praying…I was stewing about it…I was focused more on it that I realized.  I was even playing the “what if” game in my mind, running through scenario after scenario of what might happen to my beloved United Methodist Church.

 Then I got a phone call Tuesday morning.  There’s been a car accident.  A young church member has been killed.  Suddenly the noise of General Conference became just that, background noise.  Standing and crying with shocked and grieving parents and family helped put my ministry focus back where it needed to be, back on what is really important. 

 Yes, I was surprised and saddened by the outcome of General Conference.  No, we don’t yet know what all the outcome is going to be from the GC2019  decision.  But what I do know is that I have been reminded of what is truly important in life and ministry, and what I am called to do…which is not dependent on any General Conference action.  This calling is totally dependent on me following Jesus.  I have been called to “love one another”!  I have been called to be “light” in the darkness!  I have been called to “bring Good News” to a hurting world.  That is why I do what I do.  Really, that’s what we’re all called to do…as Jesus followers.

Bishop Ough was right.  For over a year he’s been saying, “The day after General Conference the sun will come up and the church will still have a mission to carry out.”  He’s right!  No matter your feeling on General Conference, we still have a mission.  Let’s do it!

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

"A Real Person"

One of the biggest aggravations of our day, at least for me, is what is referred to as the “robo” calls.  You know, these are the calls that are some sort of scam or sales pitch.  “You have been approved for a lower credit card rate…”  Well, that’s interesting, Nancy and I don’t use credit cards much, and when we do, we pay off the amount right away.  “This is your final notice; your car warranty is about to expire.”  Great!!!!  I’m glad it is my final notice.  That means you won’t be calling anymore, right?!  And by the way, I haven’t owned the car you mentioned for about 5 years now.  “We have been trying to locate you.  You must call the following number to stop legal action from being taken against you.”  I’m so sorry you’ve had trouble locating me.  But I’ve been living at this same address for over 2 ½ years now.

 Most of these “sales” calls are computer generated, meaning it’s a recorded message that prompts you to push buttons to either talk to a live person or to purchase the product they are sure that you need.  Some of the calls I get are a computer-generated voice, and poor quality at that.  Anyway, I’m guessing many of you get the same kind of calls.  I just find them to be so frustrating because they are such a waste of my time.

 Recently, I answered the phone at the church with my usual greeting, “Downtown Mitchell, First United Methodist Church.  This is Pastor Keith.”  There was a bit of a pause, so I was expecting a sales pitch to begin momentarily after the customary, “Hello sir, how are you today.”  But instead what I got was, “Hello, you are a real person!”  I chuckled out loud and responded with, “Yes, I am a real person.”  The individual on the other end went on to say that she had spoken to so many answering machines, that’s what she had expected with this call as well.  Actually, she wasn’t selling anything, she was seeking.  She was seeking a real person to talk to, she was wanting an actual person to pour her brokenness and hurt out to, she was seeking some sort of person-to-person contact.  I’m glad I was the “real person” that she was able to connect with that day.

 I believe human touch or contact is becoming more and more important in our world.  In our culture of e-mails, video meetings, messages that disappear after so many minutes or seconds, swiping this way or that, in a world in which we spend so much time looking at our hand (or really, what’s in our hand), I believe the connection with a real-live human being is essential and is something so many people are longing for.

 If you read the stories of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bible, in many of them you will find Jesus is touching, looking at, asking questions of, speaking directly to, noticing, sensing, reaching out to, stopping by, caring for, etc. people.  These are all intentional actions designed to help foster a connection with another human being.  This is why Jesus was so well liked…he was a real-live human being with others and he let people know he had time for them.

 Today as we each journey through our day completing our to-do lists, etc., may we take the time to connect with at least a couple people we meet.  Maybe it’s through a personal greeting, a smile, a gentle touch, really noticing the person, whatever it is, today, let someone know that they matter…and that you’re a real-live human being.  This is truly a part of the CARE aspect of our church that we each seek to live out.  I believe this is part of what makes a church effective in its ministries – personal connection.   You know, maybe I’ll even try talking, engaging with, or praying with one of the real-live robo callers I get today. 

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Remembering Bible Presentation

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.”              Psalm 111:10

 Do you remember a time when you were fearful of “The fear of the Lord”?  You had heard so many stories of God “smiting” people in the Old Testament because of the error of their ways, and you were sure you were next because of something you said, thought, or did.  I have that moment forever etched into my memory.

 It’s fitting that as I write this, Bible Presentation Sunday is a couple days away.  This is when the 2nd graders of our church will receive their Bibles.  It’s fitting because my story centers around Bible Sunday too.  If I remember right, we received our Bibles when we were third graders.  As you’d expect, I was so excited to get my Bible.  Craig, the only other third grader, and I stood in the front of our little country church and were given our Bibles.  I knew this was a special book, a holy book.  I was told this was God’s Word and that I needed to treat it carefully and respectfully. 

 I remember the excitement and awe of the moment as I was handed my very first Bible.  I went back to the pew where mom, dad, and my sisters were sitting, I opened it up for a quick peek, but I knew I couldn’t delve into the Bible until later when I was home.  So, once back home and after dinner was over, I ran up to my room and started paging through my Bible.  I discovered there were pictures in it!  I started quickly paging through the Bible to find the pictures, and that’s when it happened.

 I was turning pages quickly and carelessly, and all the sudden one of the pages tore.  This wasn’t just a little tear at the top, this was a tear down through the middle of the page almost all the way to the bottom.  OH MY GOODNESS…what was I going to do?  How do you fix this? I was convinced that I was going to be “smitten” by God because of how I had carelessly handled / treated God’s Word. That fear stayed with me for some time too. God was going to “get” me sooner or later. 

  Fortunately, I did survive that event and have come to learn that the “fear” that I was feeling in that situation wasn’t the type of “the fear of the Lord” that the Psalms was speaking of or looking for.  Oh, I did learn from that moment in my life, but I’ve also come to realize that God is more interested in how we handle the words and the message of the Bible in our hearts and lives, than in just how we physically handle the book. 

 The real fear of the Lord Psalm 111 speaks of, is a sense of great awe and respect for the holiness, the majesty, the greatness of God.  It’s a realization that God’s incredible power and love is real and impacts our lives yet today.  The fear of the Lord is more about tearing our hearts in humbleness and service than it is in fearfulness from tearing pages. 

 Today, my challenge to myself and each of us is to intentionally look for moments in which you sense the awe, the greatness of God.  Step into the awe…rest in the awe…because truly, that is the beginning of wisdom.

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith