Diligent Preparation

March 12, 2015

Last night was a harrowing experience to say the least, as my oldest son, Noah, had a terrible reaction to a macaroon that sent him into anaphylactic shock.  As we approached the Emergency Room window, Noah vomited all over the entry mat, then twice in the hallway as they were rushing us to a room.

They treated him with oxygen and albuterol and gave him an injection of epinephrine to counteract the potentially life-threatening allergic shock he was in.

We spent about 4 hours in the Emergency Room as Noah broke out in gnarly hives about an hour later and was itching so hard that he started bleeding in numerous places.  I had to hold his arms down as he cried in pain and discomfort.  Fortunately, the antihistamine did its work shortly thereafter, and he was back to normal.

The lesson that Tracey and I took away from this frightening night was that we have to be completely prepared if and when this happens again.  This means that we are buying six more EPI-Pens to have in the cars, in Tracey’s purse, at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, etc.  We are going to be watching training videos on treatment and appropriate protocols if this were to happen again.  Of course, as we have been breathing sighs of relief, we are just so thankful to the Lord that he is OK.

Diligent preparation.  That’s what this is about for us on the day after.  But the diligent preparation has to take place on the day before, not the day after!

Isn’t that the way it is with our spiritual lives as well?  There will be so, so many people standing before God in eternity with the thought– “Oh, if only I had taken this more seriously!” or “I just wish I had prepared for this day better, but I just didn’t think about it.”  or “This just never was a strong concern for me.  I always figured that it would work out ok.”

Well, what if the reality is you are expected to be diligently prepared?

That’s the lesson that Noah’s experience has brought home for us.

As we were leaving the Emergency Room, we noticed that the vomit still left a mark on the welcome mat, and I joked to Noah that he had really “made his mark” on Cottage Hospital.

The truth was, last night made its mark on me.

A few nights ago, Tracey and I experienced a demonic presence in our bedroom. 

Now reading that statement could invoke a whole spectrum of reactions — from skepticism to intrigue, from labeling as “one of those Christians” to heads nodding in agreement (“Yup, I know about those”), to immediate dismissal of the rest of this story to an eagerness to read on.  I hope you will be among that latter group because what helped us through this episode could WILL help you as well. 

The visitation of this evil presence was not a first-time event.  In fact, over the last few months, it had happened quite a few times.  The scenario played out while I was in deep slumber and would carry on a conversation with Tracey who is a light sleeper.  Tracey would rouse me after being disturbed and recognizing something was clearly amiss.  “You were talking about this person and doing this horrible thing”.  I would respond, “I was dreaming about attending a monster truck rally (or something like that).  The person you named wasn’t a person in my dream at all.” 

Each time she would wake me, we often both sensed there was some evil presence actually IN the room.  Being as tired as I was, I usually did not engage in a spiritual battle with the dark force.  I would say a short prayer and we would go back to sleep.  That was usually not effective, and the conversation would begin again.  Sometimes, Tracey would move out to the couch.

This week, when it happened again, we both said, “Enough is enough!”

A close pastor friend encouraged me to re-examine the art work in my house and in my bedroom and take an inventory for anything that could have demonic residue or be in any way, “dedicated to an idol”.  We did that.  We also anointed the bed and door frames afresh with anointing oil, claiming this house for Christ, truth, and the fruits of salvation.

Finally, my pastor friend felt he had a word from the Lord from Ephesians 5.  We read it in our bedroom the other night and had the best night of sleep we could remember.  Here is what Ephesians 5:1-21 says…

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

In particular, verses 13 and 14 stood out to us…they read, “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.”  On the night we read this and prayed, we also recounted any and all known sins…including those imaginations and thoughts which had occurred.  By bringing EVERYTHING out into the open and into the light before God, it was as if our darkness was redeemed and made to be “Light”. 

Psalm 96:1-6 has been an appropriate word of thanks and praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Amen.

Comedians like to start with the same line over and over again and put different spins on the punch line.  For instance, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” or “Knock-Knock” or “a guy walks into a bar…”.  We have learned from experience what will come, knowing that it has to be a lot funnier than “to get to the other side”.  Each new joke-teller has to at least do better than that.

It turns out that preachers and pastors have their own set of opening lines they use when getting together with one another.  Some of the favorites are, “So, how big is your church?”  “When did you become a Christian?” and “Where did you go to seminary?”  To that list I want to add another.  “I was sitting next to this guy on the airplane…”  What follows is typically an amazing, astonishing, and tear-inducing tale of how (with just the right blend of courage, wit, Scripture quoting, and Holy-Spirit anointing) the preacher was able to engage that fellow passenger in conversation, save his soul with a powerful presentation of the Gospel, and seal his eternal destiny.

Other preachers hear these tales and testimonies and feel simultaneously guilty over their uneventful recent plane flight and awestruck at the courage and skill of these preachers.

“Knock-Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“The best preacher in the room!!!”

But I am finding more and more than my best gift as a preacher might not be my speech at all.  It might just be a set of listening ears.

Here’s my plain plane story.

A fellow sits down next to me with earrings and tattoos and spiky hair and we make small talk and then find something to laugh at in the captain’s intercom address to the passengers.  Our captain wouldn’t stop talking!  It was as if he was going to give us a comprehensive description of the entire mechanical system of our 737 jet.  We learned more about wind tunnels and the air conditioning unit and the time spent by each crew of mechanics and, while it may have been kind of interesting in its own way, the captain was talking SO LOUDLY into his mic that we were kind of going crazy.

Anyway, my new friend was, not surprisingly, an artist.  He was in charge of setting up the Mini Cooper showrooms all across the country.  He had both mechanical skill and artistic acumen and was able to exercise them both in his job…which he loved.  After sharing some photos of our kids from our phones, another LOUD announcement came across the intercom that we would be having turbulence due to a storm, but we would miss the bulk of it and have a smooth landing.  The captain made a comment about how he was praying that storm would clear out and it did (Thanks, Captain, you just gave me an opportunity!)

You see, up to this point, I had not shared my name or my vocation, but then saw an opportunity to say, “Well, I am a pastor and talk to God for a living, but my prayers regarding the weather don’t typically seem to make much of a difference.” (Easter Sunday, 2013, at Refugio Beach the one clear exception!!)

A few minutes later as we were descending into Charlotte, NC, I was able to encourage my new friend about God.  It turns out his wife’s two sisters were committed Christians, although he and his wife did not go to church.  He went as a kid, but hadn’t as an adult because he felt that Christian people were too pushy.

“I get that.  I have been part of churches that did that kind of thing, and I know it can be a turn-off.  But most of those people’s intention is good, despite imperfect execution.  But, most important of all, Jesus is always good.  He is graceful and kind and instructs us in the best ways to live life.  And you know how we are about to land and those people on the runway will be there with their glowing sticks waving our plane into the terminal?  Well, maybe God just put me here to wave a glow-stick toward Jesus.  He changed my life.”

“Cool, man. Cool. It was good to meet you.”

Gay, but not Happy

July 3, 2013

Landmark decisions by the Supreme Court, concerning gay rights, were made this last week, and it appears the momentum gained by this social movement over the last decade is truly unstoppable.  The first decision by the Court was the striking down 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  The second was striking down the major portions of California’s Proposition 8 which declared marriage to be strictly between a man and a woman.  Interestingly, the argument which overturned DOMA was that individual states had the right to determine marriage parameters/definitions themselves.  Then, in the next breath, California’s decision to define marriage between a man and a woman was deemed illegal.  Hmmmm. 

Perhaps in anticipation of the week’s pending decisions, the SB Independent ran a series of short articles and testimonials titled “Gay in Santa Barbara” as its cover story.  It pictured several couples kissing and described in various ways how wonderfully tolerant Santa Barbara was of their sexuality.  There were also references to on-going challenges among the homosexual community, such as social pressures against public displays of homosexual affection, but they were minor footnotes.

After reading the articles, I was surprised at my reaction.  I actually began to weep.  Throughout the day I have been pondering why I reacted so strongly.  It didn’t seem to make sense to me.  Being a conservative evangelical Christian, am I not supposed to get angry, picket somewhere, and introduce some kind of legislation to fight back?!  Well, I didn’t and don’t have any desire to at all.

As a pastor, I have the role of trying to help people become holy.  I see this as more important and primary a task than getting anybody “saved”.  Now, please don’t understand.  I hope everybody gets saved…meaning, they enter into the life of the Kingdom of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.  And I want to do my part to help in that as best I can.  That’s terrifically important and wonderful in every way.  But it is the first job of a pastor to ‘shepherd’ people in the way of Jesus Christ.  This includes knowing him more intimately, resourcing His life, words, ways in all circumstances, and being transformed into His likeness through the Holy Spirit.  It’s about people becoming like Jesus.

So when I finished reading all of these stories I think I felt deep down something like a pediatrician must feel when she has set a broken bone incorrectly into its cast and one day takes it off to a horrifying discovery.  The bone has been set wrong!  What was designed to bring healing and wholeness has resulted in disfigurement.

The homosexual agenda is, I’m afraid, like that.  It is setting untold thousands in the wrong direction.  Wholeness, happiness, and holiness come through an ordered, obedient, self-denying, sacrificial lifestyle patterned after the life of Jesus Christ.  It’s the life the godly, celibate Catholic priest spoke of when he confessed to a group of condescending married evangelical pastors who did not think his lifestyle was Biblically sanctioned or warranted.  “You think my lifestyle choice misdirected, but we priests see the sacrifice of our sexuality as a small, even a miniscule way of honoring the sacrifice Christ made.  It is not a burden.  It is an honor.”