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Beyond this, there be dragons!

Changes! Have you had any this year? I mean, besides more than you have ever faced? We have gone from a thriving economy with record low unemployment and normal health concerns to a global pandemic, total lockdown, the worst recession since the great depression, and now race riots in major cities!

All these changes on top of the normal shifts in life: marriages, births, graduations, kids leaving, elders needing care, illnesses, losing loved ones, and other relationship changes.

Meanwhile there are still changes feared from war, terrorism, crime, hunger, persecution, homelessness, addiction, shootings, political divisions, fatherlessness, sexual immorality, abortion, divorce, gangs, racism, corruption, lying, self-centeredness, and other sins!

As a pastor planning to retire tomorrow, June 14, besides an avalanche of Medicare and retirement decisions, I have had to learn to do online church, fellowship without hugs, and provide visitations while sheltering in place!

How do we handle change? One thing that accompanies change is stress. Even good changes, like marriage, birth, a new job, retirement, or Christmas, increase stress. Bad changes are especially stressful. And stress impacts health.

But by far the most common response to change is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of a virus. Fear of riots. Fear that we won’t be able to handle the changes or meet the challenges.

On ancient maps, when they got to the edge of the unknown they wrote: “Beyond This There Be Dragons.” Nobody knew what was there. Nobody had ever come back from there. It was natural to fear something awful – probably dragons!

A coming change brings fear. Fear can depress, even paralyze us. Fear can make us panic and avoid, deny or run away from the change we fear. But God’s word has the answer!

After listing many biblical heroes who found victory through faith, Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God’s throne” (RSV).

That is how we overcome the fear of change, and run the race of life God sets before us – by looking to Jesus! Even when all else is changing, the Bible says Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. When pastors retire, health codes constrain, jobs disappear, and protesters riot, Jesus remains the same, loving you with a perfect love that casts out fear! Scripture promises, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, ask God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!”

When I came to our church almost eighteen years ago, I said if I looked at them to be the perfect congregation, and they looked at me to be the perfect pastor, we would fail! But if we both looked to Jesus, we would succeed. Everything else changes – society, jobs, friends, family, pastors – but Jesus is the same forever! He will never let you go! Cling to Him! Let Him love you. And love Him so much that you love nothing else more.

Jesus Christ has conquered the only real dragon. Look to Jesus, and you will not be afraid of change.

The Rev. Charlie Winkelman, pastor, Jersey Shore Presbyterian Church, Jersey Shore

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