The beginning of fall reminds me of New Year’s Day. It has the feel of new beginnings. New and existing programs start with their kick off events. Schools come back into session and our children begin a new academic year. And, the new sports season ramps up.

With the start of something new, the emotion of fear can raise its ugly head – the fear of the unknown. There may be fear of failure that may prevent us from trying something new. Sadly, fear can steal our hopes for experiencing life.

I am reminded of a story about a professional thief. His name stirred fear as the desert wind stirs tumbleweeds. He terrorized the Wells Fargo stagecoach line for 13 years. In journals from San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. During his reign of terror in the late 1800s, he was credited with robbing 29 different stagecoaches crews.

His weapon was his reputation. His ammunition was intimidation. A black hood hid his face. No victim ever saw him. No artist ever sketched his features. No sheriff could ever track his trail. He never fired a shot or took a hostage. He didn’t have to. His presence was enough to paralyze. They called him Black Bart.

Black Bart reminds me of another thief that’s been around for a while, one who is still riding the trails today. You know him, and like Black Bart, you’ve never seen his face. You can’t describe his voice. But when he is near, you know it. He is the thief who left your palms sweaty as you went for a job interview. He is this con man who convinced you to swap your integrity for popularity. It is this scoundrel, who whispered in your ear, “no one really cares about you” when you felt the need to reach out for support. He’s the Black Bart of the soul. He doesn’t want your valuables. What he wants is your peace of mind. What he is after is your joy and to rob you from experiencing something new. His name, you’ve probably guessed it, is fear.

Fear wants to take your courage and leave you trembling. His “mode of operation” is to taunt you with the mysterious and the unknown. It could be the fear of death, fear of failure, fear of rejection, and even the fear of living. Fear doesn’t want you to make the journey to the mountain. Fear figures if he can rattle you just enough, you will take your eyes off the lofty peaks of life, and settle for a dull, safe existence in the flatland.

I encourage you with the words don’t be afraid. This phrase occurs 88 times in the Bible and is mostly spoken by God to his people. This short phrase is a simple reminder that God stands with us as we face our fears.

What happened to Black Bart? When the hood came off, there was nothing to fear. The authorities finally tracked him down. They didn’t find a blood-thirsty bandit from Death Valley; they found a mild-mannered pharmacist from Decatur, Illinois. He was Charles E. Boles. The bandit who never fired a shot, because he never knew how to load his gun.

Do you have any false hoods of fear in your life? God says, “Don’t be afraid.” Take off their hoods; there is nothing to fear.

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