The Ripples of Fear

When a big rock drops into the pond, it makes a lot of ripples.

Yesterday a very big rock dropped into the small pond that 23,000 or so of my friends and I call home. The ripples started big like shock waves with “active shooter” and “multiple fatalities” and the terrifying “suspect still at large.”

The ripples of fear radiated.

There were frantic calls and texts to account for loved ones and friends as the worst of our imaginations ran wild. So many thought instantly of their children and were quickly assured that the local schools were all locked down in wise precaution.

The ripples radiated on and on.

As the initial waves passed and more information became available, the waves began to settle. But fear often leaves a nasty hangover.

In small town Oklahoma, we expect stories like the one unfolding here today to be set in big cities out west or back east. But too many times over the last dozen years we’ve had to swallow the words, “That could never happen here.”

It did happen here. The reports confirmed a “double murder-suicide.”

I didn’t know these people. I know they were hurting, broken people because, in one way or another, we’re all hurting, broken people. And on this day one man’s hurt and brokenness boiled over into this tragic event.

But the ripples of fear keep rolling.

If it could happen in the parking lot where all of us have to go from time to time, it could happen to us or happen in front of us or we could get caught in the mess.

The truth is that it’s not any more likely to happen tomorrow than it was yesterday. But today we were faced with the cold reality that these kinds of things can happen here to our neighbors, our friends… us.

But there are some breakers to the ripples. There are those who refuse to let the ripples of fear roll over them.

There are the law enforcement and emergency responders who have sworn to rush in when fear says to rush out. They break the ripples by the bravery.

There are the educators that calmly engage their lockdown procedures to ensure the safety of our kids. They break the ripples by their calm preparedness.

There are the men and women—just everyday folks—who recognize this horrific event as the exception and not the rule in our mostly very peaceful home. They break the ripples by choking down the “what-ifs” and going on to do their jobs or buy their groceries or whatever they know needs to be done. They break the ripples by their steadfastness.

There are the people of deep faith who are convinced at the depth of their soul that there is a God and he is good and that these things do not disprove his existence but underscore our desperate need for his grace. They break the ripples by calling out to the God they know is listening—independently, collectively, earnestly asking for peace and calm and hope. They break the ripples by their faith.

There are so many things that jar us out of our comfortable delusions that we are safely insulated from these heart-shattering experiences. Since the day that Abel was murdered by his brother in a jealous rage, domestic violence has been an all-too-common part of human society. Those rocks of offense will continue to trigger these ripples through communities just like ours all around the world.

But what will we do with it? Will we determine to be breakers that face the ripples without being deterred in our bravery, our preparedness, our steadfastness, or our faith? Yes, let’s do that.

But what if we try to do more? What if we pay enough attention to our friends and neighbors and coworkers to recognize that the small stone they’ve been carrying suddenly seems to be getting a lot bigger? What if we strive to become the kind of neighbors that can be trusted to listen with compassion and help without condescension?

What if we do what we can to make mental health help available to everyone that needs it and crush the stigma that surrounds it? What if we were to live out that whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business to the point that we could come along and help someone put down their rock before they throw it in the pond?

There will always be ripples of fear in one form or another. What can we do to help break them? 

Remember… “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18)

The Mess of Death (Finally)

There are several places in the Scriptures in which there were people raised from the dead. It was, by no means, a normality or commonplace. But it wasn’t something that had never happened before.

But, in each one of those cases, someone else had come along and caused them to be raised. And, in each of those cases, those individuals returned to the grave sometime later. Even Lazarus, the one Jesus called back from the tomb four days after his death, eventually returned.

But Jesus…

Join me in looking at the events of John chapter 20 as we see how Jesus stepped into the mess of death and brought resurrection.

[This video has some technical issues for which we do apologize. But it’s what we have of an important message.]

You see, Jesus went on through the grave and conquered it. And, because of this, death, for every person who puts their trust in Jesus, is temporary.

Death is an inevitable reality in this world… for now.

Do you know Jesus? If you do, death is just a temporary bump on the way to a vastly more wondrous road.

A Promise of Better Things

It’s hard to see through painful things.

When we realize that someone dear to us is about to be taken away from us, it’s like our tears distort our vision of the circumstances. We only see the hurt that’s right in front of us and not the comfort, peace, or joy on the other side.

In this extended account of Jesus’ teaching in John 14-16, Jesus is trying to prepare his followers for His pending departure. And the biggest preparation He made was to promise them something better.

Jesus begins this lesson by explaining some things:

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. (John 16.4b-6)

They really didn’t need to know these things while He was sticking around, but, now that He is about to return to the Father, they seem more upset that He is leaving than curious as to where He is going. He knows their hearts are heavy.

But look at the important words He speaks next:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16.7)

Do you see it? Jesus is trying to get them to see beyond their feelings of loss. He points to the better things to come. So… what is that?

It’s the Holy Spirit that will come and live within each of their hearts in a very powerful way. But the promise cannot be fulfilled until Jesus has gone away.

But still… He assures them it will be better than what they know.

Jesus loves these people that have walked with Him so very many miles. He Has seen them struggle for understanding and wrestle with some very hard truths. He has seen their eyes filled with wonder as they reached back into the basket again and again until all of these thousands of people were completely satisfied with their meal. They had helped pull the grave clothes from Lazarus and tasted the wine at the wedding.

But he assures them of more.

He is leaving, but He will leave with them a promise of better things.

I don’t know what the pain in your life may be today. Maybe it’s the painful reality of a loved one soon departing. Maybe it’s the inevitable end of something you’ve fought so very hard to retain. Maybe it’s just the crashing in upon you by the reality that those sweet moments you have shared simply cannot last forever in this life.

But for you—if indeed you are a follower of Jesus—there is always this great promise of better things yet to come.

It doesn’t make the hurt go away. But it does remind us that the hurt is, even at its very worst… temporary.