“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16 NIV)

One Saturday when I was in high school, a friend of mine and I decided to spend the afternoon fishing.  We grabbed our fishing poles rigged with Zebco 33 reels, checked my tackle box, dug some worms, and headed to the Pecan Bayou.

The brim happened to be biting that day, and we both caught all we wanted in short order.  Turns out, however, the fish were not the only things biting that day.

Sometime during that night, I woke up with intense itching all over the lower parts of my body.  Covering my legs and abdomen were large red bumps that itched like crazy.  They were kind of like mosquito bites, but they itched much, much worse.  These bumps were even in places that it wouldn’t do to talk about. 

The next morning, I showed some of the bumps to my mother.  “You’ve got chiggers!” she explained. 

Now, my mother had a home remedy for everything.  She said, “You need to take a bath in alum water and then put a dab of turpentine on each bite.  That will get rid of them.”

We had to go to the drug store to get the alum, and I couldn’t wait to get home to “doctor” those bites.  As soon as we arrived, I ran myself a bath, dumped in the whole jar of alum, and washed thoroughly.  After drying, I grabbed the turpentine and dabbed generous amounts on each bite.

My mother failed to tell me, however, not to put the turpentine in … well … certain places.  In less than five minutes, I was on fire!  Especially in those certain places.

I spent the rest of the day with my feet propped on the window seal in front of our swamp cooler.  For those of you who are not familiar with that appliance, it was a type of “air conditioner” properly called an “evaporative cooler.”  It worked quite well for cooling our house during the dry West Texas summers.

As I said, I propped my feet on each side of the window seal.  I then threw a blanket over my knees so that the cold air from the swamp cooler could blow underneath the blanket and onto those unmentionable places that were burning like the dickens.

Because of the impropriety of his words, I cannot repeat what my younger brother said.  Let me simply say he laughed and made fun of me.  And, of all the indignities, my mother and father also laughed at me as well.  Or I should say they “guffawed.”  That hurt.  But not as bad as the turpentine. 

I wouldn’t say the turpentine “hurt,” though.  That would be too much of an understatement.  It burned like FIRE!

That got me to thinking about Brother Bedford.  Brother Bedford was an evangelist that preached revivals a number of times at the country churches we attended.  My brother and I loved to hear him because he was so, well, entertaining.  In fact, I have witnessed him flat out tear up a pulpit.  Literally.  Pulled the top right off it.

Brother Bedford was definitely a hellfire and brimstone type of preacher. And he certainly could make it graphic too.  But not as graphic as Brother Mercer, another evangelist who graced us with a series of revivals as well.  Now, Brother Mercer didn’t tear up the pulpit, but he would lie down in the in the middle of the aisle and writhe as if in great anguish and pain in order to demonstrate the tormenting nature of the fires of Hell.  I even remember a time he chewed his tongue until it bled.

Brother Mercer used to say, “They say I shouldn’t use scare tactics in my sermons.  But if I can scare someone out of Hell and into Heaven, that is worth it.”  Both Brother Mercer and Brother Bedford sure could scare you by making the fires of Hell seem quite tormenting indeed. 

But not as tormenting as the fire between my legs during that chigger infested, turpentine blazing afternoon.  Now, that put the fear of hellfire and brimstone into me good!

When I was in college, a friend of mine wrote a song that had this line in it:  “And I didn’t get saved on the lay-away-plan just to keep me out of the fire …”

I believe Brother Bedford and Brother Mercer didn’t have things quite right.  Fear need not be the reason to have faith.  The best basis for believing is the love of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16 NIV)

 (The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at alhenager@gmail.com.)