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Stranger Danger?

A 16-year-old boy, living outside Kansas City, was sent by his mother to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house. He had the wrong address… went to the wrong house… rang the wrong doorbell… and was shot through the door for his mistake.

A 20-year-old cheerleader was dropped off in a parking lot after practice. She opened what she thought was her car, planning to drive herself home. When she realized that she had the wrong car, she returned to her friends. Her mistake in that strip mall parking lot near Austin, TX was met with a hail of bullets. Two of the girls were hit, one critically.

A 12-year-old boy was rummaging in a neighbor’s yard in a small Alabama town. That moment of mischief cost him his life when his neighbor shot him.

A group of neighbors in the small town of Gastonia, NC gathered to talk while their children played basketball. A 6-year-old girl went to retrieve the basketball that had rolled onto the neighbor’s lawn. The owner of the home opened fire, grazing the child in the cheek. Her parents ran to help, only to be shot- the father critically wounded.

A 14-year-old boy, living in suburban Detroit, missed the bus to school. He tried to walk the bus route but got lost in a neighborhood along the way. When he knocked on the door of a home to ask for directions, the neighbor picked up a gun. The teen ran, evading gunfire.

A group of young adults were looking for a friend’s home in upstate New York. They drove onto a driveway, realized they had the wrong home, and started to pull away, when the homeowner began to shoot at their car from his porch. A 20-year-old passenger in the car was struck and killed.

Six tragedies in six days… lives forever changed. Honest mistakes… simple acts… wrong car… wrong driveway… wrong doorbell… when did being in the wrong place at the wrong time become such a fateful mistake? From upstate New York to rural Alabama, from city to suburb to small town… violence has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American life. What has happened to the integrity of our American society? We could talk about guns and “stand your ground” laws. We could discuss the impact of racism on our view of each other. We could complain about the rise of anger and hate in community discourse that too often plays out in acts of violence. We could point the finger at our politicians who have long used crime as a wedge issue to gain our vote. We could blame the news media for bombarding us with images of danger and violence- a 24-hour cycle of fear and hate that we voluntarily watch. But at the heart of our broken communities is fear.

I remember when I taught our children about “stranger danger.” What a sad but necessary lesson to teach. In that moment, I told my children not to talk to a stranger unless a trusted adult was around… not to trust a stranger… not to accept an invitation or gift from a stranger. I never wanted my sweet, naïve children to be drawn in by a stranger’s invitation to “see my new puppy.” To protect my children from a dangerous world, I gave them a certain measure of fear. When my daughter opted to go to college in a city, I did my best to put more fear into her heart and mind so that she would stay vigilant. Fear is an unpleasant emotion that reminds us that there are dangers in this world. Fear can heighten our awareness to help keep us from those dangers. But fear can also be debilitating. Fear can prejudice how we see people and shape how we respond to them. Too often fear is used to manipulate our allegiances and shade our world view.

Yet, God’s Word calls us to be fear-less. When the disciples were afraid that the storm would sink their boat, Jesus said, “Take courage. I AM. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50) When the cross was looming with danger just around the corner, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.” (John 14:27) When the people of Israel faced the ‘giants’ in the Promised Land, God said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, for the LORD goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) The Psalmist declares in Psalm 46,
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. For the Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Most of us know by heart the promise of Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Paul writes to Timothy as they serve under Roman persecution: “God gives us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (II Timothy 1:7) I could go on quoting… there are so many verses where God is calling His people to be different than the world around us.

How do we answer God’s call to be fear-less in a fear-full world?

I love the story of three strangers who go to visit Abraham and Sarah. They are welcomed into their home and offered a meal. During the visit, Abraham and Sarah learn that these strangers are messengers from God bringing the promise of a child. The writer of Hebrews teaches, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unaware.” (13:2) Jesus teaches us to feed the stranger and offer her a cup of water, to clothe the stranger and visit him in prison… Each time we care for the stranger, we are caring for Jesus Himself. Our culture teaches us to fear the other, but Jesus calls us to love even our enemies. This call to love does not ask us to be foolish about our personal safety, but it does call us to see in every face a child of God. May we silence the fear mongers in our lives and listen more closely to the Lord of Life!

With you learning to be a fear-less child of God,
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