East Brainerd is a pretty quiet part of town. Concord sits squarely off of Interstate 75 in a prime location across from Baskin Robbins. The road is always bustling with traffic as some 40,000 cars pass by our church daily. There are lots of reasons to feel safe in East Brainerd. I work in a visible location. I have 24-hour access to local and international news, food, and shelter. When you open the local paper you rarely hear about sexual assaults, murders, robberies, etc, even though I am sure such incidents and lesser crimes happen on a much more regular basis than I am aware. Nonetheless, there are lots of reasons to feel safe here.

Today as I walked out to my car for lunch around 1:05 pm, I inserted the keys into my reliable Honda Accord, turned my head towards Baskin Robbins mustering every ounce of self-control I could muster in an effort to deny myself a banana split feast for lunch rather than a sandwich, and immediately heard 2 quick sounds. Pop! Pop!

Initially I wanted to believe I had just heard a car back-fire, but since I’ve spent a little bit of time around guns, I knew better. I quickly scanned the parking lots at the BP across the street and Baskin Robbins and saw a skinny black male wearing a white shirt and blue jean shorts lower his right arm, run to his car with the driver-side door standing ajar, hurl himself inside the driver’s seat and peel away into an adjacent neighborhood at a high rate of speed.

My first inclination was that the man had fired into one of two cars parked directly behind his silver Chevy Malibu. Interestingly, there was no sense of panic from the customers in the BP parking lot across the street. No one really even seemed that curious. Either they weren’t sure what they heard or they simply did not care. I got in my car and drove over to the Baskin Robbins. I know many of you would have been inclined to drive in the other direction, but I knew what I saw, and if someone was in one of those two cars they were likely badly injured.

As I pulled into the parking lot the owner of Baskin Robbins met me there. He was already on the phone. He had heard the gun shots and saw one bullet shatter the back window of a fleeing black Chevy Tahoe. Oddly enough, I never saw the Tahoe. There was a police officer less than a block away in front of our church directing traffic for a local election. I heard the sirens kick on, and as they did, I saw one of two bullet casings on the ground.

Two police officers pulled up and stopped in the street. One of the officers began to approach me and asked me what I saw. I began to speak but as I did the owner of the store said, “There’s the black Tahoe!” The truck was barreling down the street toward the main road. The two officers immediately drew their weapons, fingers on the triggers and began charging the on-rushing Tahoe. They were screaming, “Get out of the car! Stop the car now!” Of course, I’m thinking, “Dear God, there are going to be bullets whizzing either over or through my head in the next millisecond,” as I began to stumble backwards behind my car to safety.

The men in the Tahoe stopped their car, jumped out with hands in the air, explaining that they were the victims of the crime, not the perpetrators. Two males jumped out of the front seat and one male and female were in the rear. The male in the rear seat had been shot once in the back. The Tahoe had also fled through the neighborhood trying to get away from the shooter, and in the process, almost flipped in the front yard of one of the residents. One of the men jumped out of the car and asked a woman for help, but the woman refused to help them, so they were heading to the hospital.

The ambulance arrived and the man was taken to the hospital. He was alive when he left the scene, but at this point I don’t know his status. I sat there, filled out the narrative of what I saw take place and then stood there and prayed for all involved in this situation. I prayed that justice would be served to the shooter. I prayed that the shooter would be caught without further incident. I prayed for God’s mercy on the man shot. I prayed for grace and comfort to the family members of those involved.

Things like this don’t happen every day in East Brainerd. But when they do they remind us that safety and security aren’t real. They are imaginary worlds that we build in our minds. We finance these worlds with insurance policies and homes in gated communities. We convince ourselves that education will provide security for a bright future, exercise will keep our heart beating longer, and eating foods low in saturated fat will allow us to live long enough to see our grandchildren born. However, if the truth were told, we are only as safe as God keeps us. We are not in control of our destiny. God alone is sovereign. He also is wise and good. It may be prudent to purchase insurance, live in the suburbs rather than the ghetto, go to graduate school, exercise 5 days a week, and never take a family vacation in Afghanistan, but in reality, none of these really make us safe. Only God can do that.

This knowledge means there is a better, more God-focused, Gospel-trusting way to live. The wise way to live is as one who recognizes that his days are numbered (90:12). We should live with full knowledge that our lives are as a vapor. I’m certain that the young man who lay in a hospital bed this evening didn’t wake up thinking he would get shot today. But he did. Our earthly lives are but a mere breath in the expanse of eternity. And this means that the pursuit of our lives, the ambitions of our lives, the goal of our lives should be the Kingdom. This is all that matters. Seek first the Kingdom (Matt 6:33). When we do this, even if the flame of our lives is extinguished prematurely from the perspective of the world through some earthly tragedy, we will have discovered true life and light in the person of Jesus whose Kingdom has come and is coming.

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