I had just been called as pastor of Finchville Baptist Church in Finchville, Kentucky. Finchville was 30 minutes outside of Louisville, a crossroads with a few houses, a store, a post office and a church. Plus, a parsonage.
To those of you unfamiliar with the idea of a parsonage, it is sometimes called a pastorium (a place where crazy pastors live) or a manse (a fancy Presbyterian name). The idea behind it was good. The church would provide the pastor a place to live so he could be close to his flock. The downside, however, was the pastor had to get church approval to paint a wall in his house. If there was a problem with the plumbing, he couldn't call the plumber himself; he had to call the chairman of the building and grounds committee, who inevitably would call his brother-in-law's cousin, who once watched a plumber fix something.
When I was called as pastor of that church, I was still single. I scrapped together some money to buy furniture: a mattress, a love seat and a couch. Who needs a kitchen table when you are dining alone? I borrowed some furniture from a friend going overseas for two years to occupy space until finances permitted more. I moved in the first weekend of October.
That first night lying in my new bed, amid the chirping of the crickets, I heard an odd whirring noise. Faint at first, it seemed to grow louder. The noise continued for about two minutes, then there was a loud "click."
I couldn't figure out what it was. The noise seemed to be inside the house, but I wasn't sure. Then the whirring noise started up again. Maybe it was my imagination, but it sounded even louder this time, like it was growing closer.
I don't know why my mind retrieved stories of alien beings landing on earth. I remembered stories people told about strange sounds, unidentified flying objects, of bright lights around their homes, of strange beings from outer space trying to get them. Didn't most of those stories happen in rural settings? Weren't there several stories of close encounters of the third kind happening in Kentucky?
I went down the check list: Rural Kentucky - check. Strange sounds - check. No bright lights - yet. Suddenly my bedroom was filled with bright light. The aliens were landing! They were coming to take me! Who knows what unspeakable horrors they were about to inflict upon my person! Should I run? Should I hide? Should I share the plan of salvation with them?
It took a minute for my brain to connect the bright lights with the sound of a diesel engine and crunching gravel. A semi had made a wrong turn and was turning around in the parking lot of the church next door. I thanked God the aliens were not landing.
The truck rumbled off. The whirring noise resumed. It seemed to be coming from the basement. Maybe the aliens used the semi as cover to drop off a scouting party. Maybe they were checking to see if I would be a tender meal. I wanted to shout, "I'm filled with gristle! You don't want me! I'm too fatty and will make your cholesterol level jump!"
"Take it like a man," I thought. If I had to go, I would go down fighting. I got out of bed and found my racquetball racquet. I slowly opened the basement door and began to creep down the stairs. Halfway down, I heard the whirring noise begin again. Then I remembered every horror movie has a scene where the unsuspecting victim creeps down the basement stairs. I decided to go off script and scamper down the stairs. I ran across the cold concrete toward the basement corner where the whirring noise was coming from. Surprise, I decided, was my best friend. I rounded the corner and lashed out with my racquetball racquet and began to beat the alien to death.
There were no screams from the dehumidifier that had been clicking off and on. Some thoughtful member of the building and grounds committee had placed it there to keep the humidity out of the basement - and probably to test the new pastor's nerves.
It's funny where your fears will take you. Reality is never quite as bad as your fears lead you to believe. Contrary to most movies and books, it's not a good idea to face your fears alone. You need a friend to help you stay in touch with reality.
Sometimes, you need to be with a friend you know can handle any danger that comes your way. That's exactly the message when David says, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." When you walk with Jesus, no matter what sounds you hear in the deep darkness, Jesus says, "I got you. I'm bigger than whatever your fear can imagine. I will knock all threatening evil out of your life."
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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