Pastor’s Devotion #109

“Three Simple Words”

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Be not afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 2:30

Recently, Google has encouraged the use of three simple words to help employees avoid burnout. What might those words be? “No Meetings Week”. With those working from home, suffering through endless zoom and virtual meetings, the message, “No Meetings Week” is a welcomed moment to celebrate.

With the news of a pandemic’s third wave, a pulling back from any forward steps toward normalcy, and a preparation for what could seem like a hollow holiday season, perhaps we are need of three other simple words from Scripture.

I stumbled upon these words, once again, as I pulled papers out of my Bible, trying to preserve them from Sunday morning’s sprinkle. A weathered piece of paper fell out, waiting to be re-discovered. The three words were the title of a devotion that I wrote exactly 23 years ago, for the December newsletter. It was a devotion that I wrote after my daughter’s birth. This year, 2020, my daughter celebrated her “Golden” birthday. I didn’t know what a golden birthday was until Jeriah explained it. It’s the birthday  when your age crosses with your birth date. Jeriah was born on October 23rd, and this year she turned 23 – a la – a Golden Birthday! (My golden birthday occurred when I was six, the year I got shingles, not a year worth remembering in my opinion.)

23 years have passed since I penned the following perspective. Since then, there have been highs and lows, tears and laughter, adventures and sorrows. These three words still stand, ready to lift up, re-assure, and restore our focus. Messengers were sent by God, with the intent to restore and reorient thoughts to God with these words. We are to know that He is present through thick and thin, challenge and defeat, surprise and triumph. You’ve heard the words before. Perhaps working to survive endless adjustments and uncertainties, you need to be reminded again: “Be Not Afraid!” Pause here – Take a moment and reflect upon the places where fear has crept into your heart and mind. It is critical that we recognize those things that create fear within us – so that we can direct them to the Lord. God is greater than all that we fear. More than that – God is with us! GOD IS WITH YOU! He will always be with you! One word, “Emmanuel”, which we speak often at Christmas, holds the meaning in, with and under the word: “God With Us” – Yes, in these trying times – God is with us. Three words in One, like the Trinity – eternally true. No matter your experience this holiday season. No matter your experience next year and beyond, Almighty God wants us reassured, “Be Not Afraid”.

Written November, 1997

 “Be Not Afraid”

I felt a wave of fear wash over me as I watched the fetal monitor do a dance hour after hour. The contractions wouldn’t stop. Our tiny baby seemed determined to rush into the world eight weeks early. We were told survival was fairly certain, but then again, who really knows. What about complications and unforeseen circumstances? Fear hovered close by.

A few days later, with contractions under control, we made our way home. Now, new worries surfaced. When labor begins, would we have time enough to get to the hospital? Would the delivery be as sudden and as painful as Isaiah’s birth? October 22nd arrived. I received a page at 9:35 p.m. “Honey”, my wife said, “You better get home.” I raced home. We arrived at the hospital safely at 11:00 p.m. Yet again, more anxiety. Was the baby transverse? Dawn’s water broke at 1:30 a.m. The midwife declared the good news, “The head is down!”. The epidural was administered. The rest is history. A perfect delivery. A perfect baby girl. Jeriah Aryn Bankson was brought into this world on October 23rd at 9:36 a.m.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder, “What was I so worried about?” Then again, it’s interesting what happens as I look forward. Not that I am consumed with fear but what does the future hold? Could it be SIDS, sexual abuse, learning disabilities? Who will she date? When should she date? Will she be safe away at college? Who will she marry? Will her kids be born healthy? Does it ever end? If one is not careful, the answer is, no, it never stops. There will ALWAYS potentially be seemingly something worthy of worry.

But during this Christmas Season, there is a simple statement we need to hear and hold on to. This saying is not just for December but for each of our undetermined days. It is the message of angels! “Be Not Afraid!” This familiar phrase forever connects us to shepherds and angels on Christmas night. Shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly they are enthroned by a heavenly host declaring the glorious news that a Savior is born. We hear the message but we need to tune our ear to the preface. Three words which are easily overlooked but set the stage for the celebration. How can the celebration commence if fear fills the air? It is impossible. Fear has no place in God’s plan of action. As one scours the Scriptures, it is interesting to note that these three little words are littered throughout the herald’s message. The first words spoken to Zachariah and Mary by a holy messenger brings the assuring word, “Be Not Afraid.” In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, these three words are used with regularity. God speaks directly to Abraham, Isaac, Moses and others using the same words. And men of faith also speak these words of encouragement; Joseph to his brothers, Joshua to the people of Israel, Elijah to a widow, David to his son, Solomon, and many more. Finally, in Revelation, when John comes face to face with Almighty God, the first words spoken to him are, “Be Not Afraid – I am the First and the Last.”

What does this all mean? The message is clear! God’s desire is to remove ALL fear (anxiety) from every aspect of our life. God wants us to be filled with the gifts of his Spirit – joy, peace, patience, love, self- control. Fear has NO existence in the presence of God (except the “fear” which calls us to revere him and stand in awe)   

As Christmas approaches and we await the coming of the Messiah, let us take hold of and claim these three little words spoken by the Holy Ones. Regardless of our circumstances, past, present, and future,   we need not fear, God has made a way for us – we will overcome!

Let us celebrate the joy that is for all people – In the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!

Love in Christ, Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s December Newsletter Blog

“The Glow Room”

I ripped and tore the sheetrock from the main wall in my living room last weekend. This was a project that I had studied, pondered and procrastinated for the last five years, but never actually pulled the trigger.
Suddenly as I pulled off a large chunk of drywall, a darkened space opened up. In the middle of the 23 foot wall, up about 6 feet, I saw behind open studs, a black framed, finished space. The space was 6 feet long, 8 feet high, and 2 feet wide. It seemed like a secret space.
 
What was it for? Why was this space buried behind drywall and paneling in the main room? A strange place to be sure. Was it originally built into the house back in the 1970’s or was it added later? There was no insulation between the studs that opened into the main room. A camouflaged door was created for access through the attic. Power was available and a large aluminum shade lamp with clamps rested on the floor.
What could this be? 
 
The following days, I discussed the space with friends. I took pictures and sent them to family. I even talked it over with the heat pump estimators who came to give bids on a new heating system for my house. Some people suggested that the open framing in the wall might have been intended for windows. After short discussions, everyone simply shrugged their shoulders and didn’t have any real ideas.
 
Finally, the third “bid” man arrived. (it’s always the third one right?) We first talked about the business of heating then I quickly turned his attention to “the space”. He looked, scratched his head and we climbed up into the attic. Suddenly he said, “I’ve seen this before. I’ve entered other people’s attic spaces where the owners are not even aware that there is a “space” finished in their attic with power and lights – fully enclosed.”
 
Then he declared, “It’s a GROW ROOM!” “Are you kidding me?” I said. He replied, “I’d bet money that it’s a grow room.” HUH!!  A secret place, laid dormant for decades, a dark space ready with power, and light, all ready for growth.
 
Why am I writing about this at Christmas? Let’s just say I felt inspired!
 
Over the decades, one could argue that Christmas has become a crazy time, moving at a frantic pace, over indulging on stuff that we don’t really need, while running on empty and finishing the race exhausted.  Have we forgotten about the “secret place”?
 
Maybe this year – we re-capture “the secret place”. Maybe this year we re-discover the secret place of Bethlehem, where Jesus entered the darkened world. The secret place that laid dormant for a thousand years; King David’s hometown.
 
This secret place that has, hidden in its name, a special meaning, ‘beth’…meaning ‘house’, and ‘lechem’…meaning ‘bread’. Bethlehem is God’s house of bread, the place that would provide the birthplace of the “bread of life” from which all the world might be nourished. Maybe we re-focus upon the dark, black space in which the shepherds lived – keeping watch over their flocks by night. And maybe we re-experience the power and light of the glorious angels declaring the great good news about a Savior’s birth.
 
Jesus was born in a dark, black, secret place, inhabited by animals and laid to rest on a bed of straw. God chose this humble, holy place for his Son, the light of glory to be born. And he chose this darkened world, in which he tore open the heavens and ripped open the skies that the King of glory would grow and generate power that would ultimately overcome sin, death and the Evil one.
 
Perhaps you find yourself in a darkened place this holiday season. Perhaps you feel hidden from the world and no one sees. Remember that God has chosen to do his greatest work in the midst of secret, hidden, darkened places.

The Lord sees you.

GOD IS WITH YOU!  

  In fact, that’s what this secret season is all about. EMMANUEL – meaning, ‘GOD IS WITH US’!  And God IS with us!!  Not only that, there is power with us, (the Holy Spirit)! And there is a lamp with us, (God’s Word). And there is the light, Jesus Christ himself is with us!
 
We live in a grow room. It can be very dark. But may it become a “GLOW” room. May the light of Christ grow and glow in our hearts this Christmas Season. And we re-ceive God’s Great Good News,
 
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that is for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
 
Merry Christmas!   Pastor Mark