Fear Not

Last week, my friend and I were walking our dogs on a beautiful day on my beautiful street bordered by beautiful canals when a bicyclist passed us from behind. Our chatter continued, mostly along the lines of the warmth of the sun, the promise of spring, and when the ospreys might return to their Colington nests. The bicyclist returned, facing us this time, and I noticed that his neon green teeshirt bore an important message:

Fear Not.

“Fear not” is a phrase found often in the Bible, spoken by God to the people of Israel in times of great distress, and by Jesus to his followers as they encountered opposition, storms, and confusion. “Fear not” are the words often spoken by angels and messengers to the people they startled and terrified when they appeared.

Fear not. What does that say to you today?

As the war in Europe enters a second week, it is a message I wish we could send to the bold people of Ukraine. The images coming out of that region are horrific. Over one million men, woman, and children are now war refugees. Countless lives have been lost, there is massive destruction of property, and Putin’s evil agenda seems to have no stopping point. When will it end? How will it end?

Into this moment, Psalm 27 appears. It is a long one. As you read it, offer God your fears. Offer God your worries. Offer God your troubles. And pray for the people in Ukraine and Russia who are caught in this madness.

Psalm 27 (Common English Bible)

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
        Should I fear anyone?
    The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
        Should I be frightened of anything?

When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—
    it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
    who stumble and fall!

If an army camps against me,
        my heart won’t be afraid.
    If war comes up against me,
        I will continue to trust in this:
    I have asked one thing from the Lord—

    it’s all I seek:
        to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
        seeing the Lord’s beauty
        and constantly adoring his temple.

Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
    during troubling times;
    he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
        he will set me up high, safe on a rock.

Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
    and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
        sacrifices with shouts of joy!
    I will sing and praise the Lord.

Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—
    have mercy on me and answer me!
Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.
    Lord, I do seek your face!

Please don’t hide it from me!
    Don’t push your servant aside angrily—
        you have been my help!
    God who saves me,
        don’t neglect me!
        Don’t leave me all alone!

10 Even if my father and mother left me all alone,
    the Lord would take me in.
11 Lord, teach me your way;
    because of my opponents, lead me on a good path.
12 Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,
    because false witnesses and violent accusers
    have taken their stand against me.
13 But I have sure faith
    that I will experience the Lord’s goodness
    in the land of the living!

Our hope is in you, and you alone, Lord.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

14 Hope in the Lord!
    Be strong! Let your heart take courage!
        Hope in the Lord!

New Day by Michelle Robertson

Peaches’ Bone

We have a staff dog named Peaches at my church. She is a little mixed breed who is always happy to see us as we come through the door. (Except for one staff member, who keeps threatening to send her to the pound. We think he’s joking, but Peaches isn’t taking any chances.) She barks until she ascertains that you belong there; then she offers her small, warm tummy for free rubs.

Peaches attends staff meetings, and it’s good to have her there if the conversation gets tense, WHICH OF COURSE IT NEVER DOES BECAUSE WE ARE A CHURCH STAFF. (OK, well hardly ever.) She goes around the room as we talk, and helps herself to a piece of the couch that seems the friendliest. Soon enough, the staff member seated there will find themselves with lap full of Peaches. There is nothing better in a meeting than the warmth of a happy little dog.

Peaches has taken to hiding her bone in the chair in my office. My office is located in the back of the building, farthest from the busy front area. I discovered her hiding place one Sunday when I was meeting with a prospective church member. I was focused on greeting him, and when I sat down, I did not expect a sharp poke in my lower back. It was a Princess and the Pea moment. As I dug through the back of the cushion, I discovered Peaches’ bone. Now I look before I sit. I’m not sure who Peaches is hiding her bones from, as nobody on the staff really wants one. But Peaches understands the value of a good hiding place.

Psalm 27

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

It is good to know that on the day of trouble, God is our hiding place. He will keep us safe from harm in his dwelling. He will set us upon a high rock where we can spot trouble coming from a long way off.

Worship happens in the house of the Lord in places commonly referred to as sanctuaries. For one hour a week, God offers a place of refuge and respite from the trouble that the world gives. We have a brief sabbath from the normal routine when we get to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and hopefully think of nothing else.

As important as that one hour is, God’s dwelling is everywhere, and the shelter of his sacred tent is available at any moment of any troubled day. HE is our hiding place. When we open scripture or go to him in prayer, we enter into his temple, where peace and safety abide.

What is troubling you today? What do you wish to hide from so that you might catch your breath and regenerate? When hard times come, it is good to know where to turn. God is your rock, your salvation, and your 24/7 sanctuary. Flee to him in your time of trouble. His door is always open.

Peaches and Her Hiding Place by Amy Berge

When the Sound Returns

Winds and storms in the Outer Banks are notorious for causing flooding. As my hairdresser explained while holding up a comb, “the Outer Banks are as thin as this comb, with the huge ocean on one side and the huge sound on the other…it is literally THIS thin!” she exclaimed. Indeed, there are parts of Highway 12 south on Hatteras Island where you could throw a football with your feet in the water of one and hit the water in the other. At high tide. If your name is Trace McSorley.

The dynamics of this ribbon of land between two massive bodies of water are especially heightened during hurricanes, Nor’easters, and large storms. The winds are capable of literally pushing the water out of the sound to the point where you can walk across its muddy bottom. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds are 2,900 square miles of water fed by ten major rivers and numerous creeks. They are large enough that in certain locations, you can stand at one of the few points on the East Coast where you have unobstructed views of the sun setting into water with no land in sight. In fact, the Spanish explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano mistook the Pamlico Sound for the Pacific Ocean when he arrived here. It’s that big.

So the conundrum of the winds pushing all the water out during a storm is this: When it returns, it can come back with such force that it will create massive sound-side floods and high water that can cause more damage than the storm itself.

This is the way we live. This has been part of the cost of the beauty of our location for centuries. We know how it works, and we wait, often for days. I read a meme on Face Book recently that said, “Waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.” It is the not-knowingness of the situation that will slap wear you out.

I think this echoes what many people experience in other ways. A test result is suspicious, so further testing must be done. Wait. A spouse has been unfaithful and the couple doesn’t know if divorce will be the answer. Wait. A terminal diagnosis has been given, with a two-to-four year life sentence. Wait. A young woman receives an engagement ring and begins to plan her wedding and dreams of her married life. Wait. Another finds out she is pregnant. Wait. A military family sends their service member off for months to an unknown destination. Wait.

Psalm 27 (NRSV)

13 I remain confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord;

    be strong and take heart

    and wait for the Lord.

David’s assurance that he would see goodness in the land of the living is a pretty bold statement, considering the fighting going on all around him and the fervor with which his enemies were pursuing him. Just a few sentences earlier, he describes his situation this way:

2 When the wicked advance against me

    to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes

    who will stumble and fall.

3  Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

    even then I will be confident.

I would say he was under a fair amount of stress, wouldn’t you? Yet he counsels us to wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart, and WAIT. How can David be so sure? Because David was a man after God’s own heart. He knew the Lord, loved the Lord, danced for the Lord, and had a lot of experience in waiting and being delivered.

So while you wait, do not fear. In this in-between time of not-knowingness, don’t let your heart be troubled, and neither let it be afraid. God is mightier than the besieging army, faster than your foes, and stronger than the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds combined. When the Sound returns, you will see the goodness of the Lord.

The Pamlico Sound bottom, waiting for the water’s return. Photo by Tim Fitch.