Updated: Oct 6, 2019
"Kimberlee, it looks like you're having trouble with the locks. Is there something we can do to assist you?"
I dialed my dad to find out why the property management company for a vacation house I had rented for my parents and kids was sending me this text.
"Hey, Dad! I got this weird text. What's going on?"
"Oh, that!" He brushed it off. "That's old news now!" He went on to explain how the night before, while Joel and I were settling into our first session at a ministerial retreat in another home in Sunriver, the four of them were sinking into the hot tub for a little relaxation after an active evening of climbing at the local athletic center. All was well and good until they decided they were ready to head back into the house, and my mom tried to enter the door out of which they had originally come...
It didn't turn.
What had been a fun evening turned a little panicky as they assessed the situation. They were wearing nothing but swimming attire, dripping wet, locked out of the house, barefoot, shared a long loop with only one other resident that night (who, thankfully, happened to live next door), were facing an outside temperature of about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and were enveloped in darkness. (If you know anything about Sunriver, Oregon, you know how dark it is there at night. The whole community exists in woodlands and abides by special lighting ordinances to help the local observatory achieve a particularly stunning starry effect at night.)
Traipsing through un-manicured, dry, high desert foliage in a totally unfamiliar yard without the aid of a flashlight or shoes, they made their way to the neighbor's house at 9:30 that night. Imagine the neighbor's surprise when he opened the door -- his wife hiding behind him -- to my dad, dripping everywhere, wearing nothing but wet swim trunks and asking for help...with my mom peering out from the bushes in the same condition, save for the fact that she was in a suit instead of trunks!
Thankfully, the kind neighbors helped them call my husband and I (though neither of us heard to answer)...then the property management company...who solicited the aid of maintenance... who, eventually, successfully unlocked the door to the house remotely. I have to admit...I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard as when my dad explained their adventure to me over the phone that afternoon!
He assured me that all four members in the party had now committed the home's access code to memory to ensure they would never be caught unprepared again.
Preparation. It's a big deal.
But that wasn't the end in a little lesson in preparation...
Come morning, my dad made his way to a local coffee shop to purchase a gift certificate for the kind neighbors. Shortly after returning, it was discovered that something had gone terribly awry at the other neighbor's home.
To be quite blunt, this happened.
Yeah. Not good.
My dad was the first to call 911. Thanks to the quick and skillful response of local fire crews, some of the structure and all of the rest of the neighborhood were saved while my mom, dad, and two boys stood across the street and watched in breathtaking astonishment. The fire roared. Windows blew out. And by the time it was all said and done, it was a charred mess. Surely, how sad it would be for the homeowners to receive the inevitable phone call...
This was a trip with Grandma and Grandpa my kids would never forget!
The next day, just as we were getting into our cars to drive home, the local fire chief pulled up to assess to remains of the house next door. What followed was a fascinating conversation which shall drive the message of the rest of this post...
"When is the last time you had a house fire like this in Sunriver?" we wanted to know.
Apparently, it's been several years, which is a very good thing. You see, the beautiful resort community of Sunriver, Oregon is uniquely susceptible to fires. As we talked with the fire chief, we all agreed on several factors:
1. It's a heavily wooded area. Like, the whole place is nestled into thick woods on purpose. It's makes for a wonderfully private retreat for practically every property, but it wouldn't take much for a wildfire to whip through and bring epic levels of destruction. To be sure, the neighbors on the other side who helped with the hot tub situation said it is their #1 concern living there year round.
2. It's remarkably vacant considering the number of structures in the area. He told us Sunriver has about 1,500 year-round residents, but the population can swell to 20,000 on the weekend. That's a lot of empty houses with no one to notice when a hot tub malfunctions like what happened next door to our place.
3. The roads out are not easy to navigate without GPS. They all wind about in seemingly non-sensical looping patterns. This was intentionally done to create the sense that everyone is tucked away in a natural environment, but would be horribly confusing if emergency evacuation were necessary.
4. By the end of August, the place is crisp! It's about 3,300 acres of dry tinder just waiting for a spark.
We have friends who know enough about fighting wildfires that they tell me they can't relax in Sunriver. I still can! (I love visiting Sunriver!) However, the fire chief confirmed everything we've ever thought about the risks.
He also said something that especially caught my attention...
"The risks are high, but we don't spend much time fighting fires. We spend at least 80% of our time on education," he explained. "See?" he pointed in the direction of the house we were staying in. "It's stuff like that we spend our time talking to people about."
That's when we noticed the pine branches draping over and touching the roof of our rental. Yikes! It wouldn't have taken much.
That comment kept playing in my mind.
"At least 80% of our time on education."
The correlation between time spent on education (preparedness) and the incredible rarity of fires in that particular community is not to be ignored. This is a point made all the more profound when one considers the exceptionally high risks inherent in the location.
We live in a world fraught with risks to our spiritual lives. As the book of James (in the Bible) points out, even something as small as the tongue can set us ablaze in all the wrong ways...
"Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:5-6)
Additionally, a very real enemy of our souls seeks to destroy us at every turn.
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)
If that weren't enough, even our own hearts can't be trusted to protect us.
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
I think many of the spiritual threats we face come in similar forms to the threats facing Sunriver.
IT'S A HEAVILY WOODED AREA
You know that saying, "can't see the forest for the trees?" When it comes to Truth in our culture, our world is so confused that the best it can do is shrug and mumble the same question Pontius Pilate queried 2,000 years ago:
"What is truth?" (John 18:38)
Thankfully, we can be prepared with the knowledge that Jesus Himself is the Truth (John 14:6). Without Jesus, we are blind to the Truth. I'm reminded of the blind man at Bethsaida...
"They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly." (Mark 8:22-25)
In a way, this man had trouble seeing "the forest for the trees," but Jesus helped him to see clearly. He can help us too!
IT'S REMARKABLY VACANT OUT THERE, spiritually, that is. Our world is lost! It is spiritually empty. Lifeless. Void. Meant to be filled and needing to be filled.
The more I know Christ, the more my eyes are opened to the vast spiritual barrenness of most of the world around me. I am daily overcome with a passionate longing for people to know Christ because He fills every empty space in every heart who will invite Him in. This is why He said,
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)
Armed with the Truth of God's Word, we can be prepared to provide this necessary answer to every empty, hungry soul. Jesus' betrayer turned feeder of His sheep said it best:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)
THE ROAD OUT IS NOT EASY TO NAVIGATE without the best map ever. We need God's Word committed to memory! When we talked with the fire chief yesterday, it became apparent that the local firefighters must have to be diligent to memorize how to get around the crazy roads in Sunriver. A firefighter friend told me this week it takes 30 minutes for a house to burn to the ground. That's all! When time is of the essence, it's a bad time to check a map.
The psalmist knew this kind of preparation matters for hearts too, writing...
"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)
"Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." (Psalm 119:105)
How tragic to be a vacationer in Sunriver, unfamiliar with the roads, and unable to effectively navigate all the loops and circles in case of emergency. One cannot see the highway from town -- not even a glimpse -- and the way out is not clearly marked.
How much more tragic still to be unable to escape the fiery judgement that will someday come upon the inhabitants of the earth who do not submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ! The time to prepare is now. Thankfully, the way to salvation is clearly marked! Jesus left the glory of heaven to walk this planet, showing us the way out of death and into life eternal with God.
"You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:4-6)
Eternity is coming, but it doesn't have to sneak up on us unprepared. We can be ready to escape otherwise inevitable fiery judgement because we've been given the map in advance. Know it. Commit it to memory. Be prepared.
FINALLY, THE WHOLE PLACE IS CRISP!
We are living in the last days. Not so sure? Take a gander through Matthew 24 and 2 Timothy 3. They give us signs of the end times like this:
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." (Matthew 24:7)
Sounds familiar? And this:
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:9-14)
It sounds like a page ripped right out of the newspaper. And this:
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected but they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone." (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
Judgement will come, and soon! The time is near; it will not be good for those who are unprepared. However, God, who is rich in mercy, will not leave His people without help. Listen to another promise for these crispy, dry tinder days...
"In the last days, God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18)
"And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21)
Hallelujah! He is so good! He knows what we're facing, and He lavishes His gift of salvation and Holy Spirit empowerment on us despite the peril.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME?
This is where the words of the Chief come back to mind.
"We spend at least 80% of our time on education."
Let me put it this way...
Discipleship. Know the Word and grow in it; pour yourself into Bible study and put yourself in a position to learn, learn, learn. God has so much wonderful Truth just waiting for you in His perfect, unchanging Word. Knowing how to live for Him and following through by living according to His precepts doesn't ensure protection from every "fire," but it sure prevents a lot of unnecessary catastrophes!
And...Evangelism! Educate others. Your neighbors need to know the risks. We'd hate for them to be caught unaware and have it be too late. Very frankly: people need Jesus, and you need to tell them! Spend your days doing this necessary work. Don't wait for them to figure it out on their own where a fiery eternity awaits.
"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The bulk of our time does not need to be spent focused on putting out fires. Sometimes we're called to fight (enter Ephesians 6), but I believe we ought to spend most of our time, resources, and energy on the two vital tasks of discipleship and evangelism which fall under the category of "education." Be prepared, just like a giant would.
To God be the glory!