My safe place

We’ll be hearing about and getting ready for a hurricane to hit Florida for the next four or five days. It’s the kind of event that has many wondering how to be safe in the path of a storm.

Hit the road and get out of town? Shutter the windows and stay inside? Seek out a shelter made to withstand a storm like this?

We too often hear about mass shootings in public places, from movie theaters to outdoor concerts to schools and church gatherings. How can we be safe in a world where violence could walk in the door at any moment? Hire security? Keep the doors locked? Carry a weapon to protect yourself?

It’s dangerous to drive on an interstate highway. There are constant warnings about traveling abroad. Those who call or email may not be who they claim to be, trying to take advantage of us.

We will never find a truly safe place in this world. But we can find security in someone. Lest we forget that truth, the psalmist reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). He is our safe place.

It takes a little faith to grasp this truth, doesn’t it? My mind doesn’t think of God as a place. He’s more like a person. But those words remind me of Jesus’ teaching, “Abide in me” (John 15:6). He calls himself a place where we can hang out. Or how about Paul’s words from Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Of course, those words speak of faith. But they also create a faith I can picture, where some of those threats I mentioned can’t really hurt me. Physically, sure. Life has all kinds of aches and pains and eventually death. But in him, nothing can really rob me of life. So he is a very safe place.

I try to keep that in mind when people or the news try to make me install a security system or arm myself. I have nothing against any of those things. But ultimately, he is my safe place.

Catch and release

tv news van.JPG

My office assistant stuck her head in my door last Thursday to let me know that someone from a nearby by TV newsroom wanted to interview us on site for a story. Earlier in the week, we had invited a couple of deputies from our county sheriff’s department to stop by and just give us a few tips about how to keep our congregation safe when we gather for worship. We’re not a high risk target, but if we can reassure our folks that we’re safe, they can focus on worship rather than wondering about what might happen.

The next day, the sheriff’s department issued a press release, offering to come and talk to any congregation about security and safety. They mentioned our church by name, a reporter picked up on it, and called to come by and talk to me.

I knew the reporter, since she had both anchored and reported in our area for many years. We had a great conversation, a good interview, and her one-minute piece the evening news gave me my ten seconds of fame and had some nice shots of our campus.

The next day, another news channel contacted us and wanted to come by on Sunday to get a few pictures as we are honoring and thanking our veterans and also local heroes, the first responders of our sheriff and fire departments. I thought it was a great idea. We are very proud of our vets and local heroes, and am glad to give them recognition.

But then another phone call came from a reporter who wanted to come out the next day, having heard that we were having extra security at our church on Sunday morning. I was amazed at how quickly the story had morphed into a media event. I had to assure her that we weren’t doing anything extra or out of the ordinary. She replied, “But won’t the sheriff will be there?”

“Yes,” I replied, “he is going say a few words, along with the deputy fire marshal. But they are only there to thank and honor those who serve, not to provide any kind of extra security.”

She went on, “Are you having any kind of drills, any active shooter drills?”

“No, just a Sunday morning worship service.”

“Thank you, pastor.” And she hung up.

It’s fascinating how quickly we got drawn into a media frenzy, and how quickly we were tossed back, not big enough to keep. I know they’re jut doing their jobs. They need a story. They need ratings. They need a story people will watch. Yes, the mass killing in the church in Sutherland Springs, TX, is upsetting and a reality check. It could happen anywhere. But the story is already losing momentum replaced by other stories and scandals.

One of the deputies asked me, “What would you do? What would you do if someone walked in firing a weapon? Where would you go?” I only really have two choices: duck behind the altar or head out a side door. But as I thought about that, I don’t know that my first response would be to get me out of there. I would want to make sure everyone else was OK. My immediate concern would be them, not me. What else would a shepherd do?