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Waking Up To An Incoming Ballistic Missile Alert

by | Jan 18, 2018

I had just woken up when the following alert came across my phone: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

It’s amazing what mental gymnastics one goes through when a message like this comes through. I processed the information at the speed of a sloth climbing a tree trunk. I just couldn’t quite get my head around what I was reading. My friends and I decided to head to the hotel lobby to find out what exactly the protocol is when a ballistic missile is about to blow the island you’re vacationing on off the planet. I hadn’t thought this through when packing for Maui.

The scene in the hotel lobby was something of a slow motion panic. Families were huddled together, guests were asking the hotel staff questions, crowds were hovered around the televisions at the bar, scraping for any bits of information. Everyone was on their phones. One woman passed me while FaceTiming with a loved one, cupping her hand over her mouth in disbelief.

I asked the first hotel employee I saw, “So, I’m thinking you’ve probably had something like this happen before, right?”

“Never,” she said. Not an ounce of reassuring comfort escaped her expression. “All I know is that if a missile’s been launched, we have 26 minutes to intercept it,” she said. “We’re telling people to go back to their rooms and close the shades.”

I decided in that moment that if a missile was really headed our way, I’d rather be looking out over the Pacific ocean than cooped up in my hotel room, curtains drawn. Three of us walked outside under the pristine blue sky and met our friend who’d run out to get us coffee before the threat. (Because, priorities.)

I learned several things in the ensuing moments leading up to the overwhelmingly good news that this was a false alarm—an alert that came exactly 38 minutes after the first devastating notice to take shelter.

If A Ballistic Missile Is Headed Your Way…

1. You Find Out Where Your Hope Really Is

The very first thing I did when I read the alert was to scan the internet. I wanted more information… Were other news outlets reporting this? Did anyone know if we could intercept this missile? How long until something like this would reach us? It wasn’t but a few seconds down this trail when it occurred to me, stop gathering information and START PRAYING! (I simply have to be the Lord’s most frustrating Christian alive.)

My first call was to my pastor who prayed over us from the snowy hills of Tennessee. Then my friends and I huddled together and called out to the Lord. In the middle of all the what-ifs, what felt remarkably solid was Jesus. Not that He would necessarily spare us, but my overall belief in Him, His goodness, His supremacy, and my eternal salvation through Him was sure. I can’t say that each of these thoughts was this clear or coherent, but when it came right down to it I had no doubt that all of these were true and Jesus was my only hope. There was absolutely no one else to turn to.

In the middle of all the what-ifs, what felt remarkably solid was Jesus.Click To Tweet

2. It Doesn’t Matter How Much Money You Have

As concerned couples were abandoning the immaculately kept golf course and pristine tennis courts, trying to make any kind of sense of things, no one had an advantage. No one had enough money to buy his or her way out of this. We were all in the same boat or, more accurately, on the same island at a most unfortunate time. A missile is not a respecter of wealth, education or social status. There was no upper or lower hand.

This was a significant reminder for me because it’s so easy to buy into the lie that if I have this amount of money, or that measure of success, or these certain resources, I’ll have everything I want and simultaneously be spared from what I don’t want. When I stood outside that hotel lobby I could see more clearly why Jesus taught us, not to put our hope in money! As the blood drained from people’s faces—some who had everything a person could want in life—Jesus’ piercing question sharpened to an even finer point, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”

I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few days—for whom and what am I truly living. My increasing desire is to live for what Jesus says matters. In the end, nothing else will.

My increasing desire is to live for what Jesus says matters. In the end, nothing else will.Click To Tweet

3. You Realize How Short The Time Is

One of the most sobering lines of the emergency alert was “THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. It’s like the old adage, “Life is not a dress rehearsal”—we’re living the real thing, right now. There are no second lives to do this one over. However many years we have we’re to steward the grace of Jesus “making the most of every opportunity,” as Paul put it in Ephesians. We’re to ask God to “teach us to number our days” as the Psalmist says in Psalm 90, so we can live every day fully for Christ and His purposes.

I can’t say that my life flashed before my eyes or that I thought death was absolutely imminent. But I did ponder, what if this is the way it ends for me? There’s so much more I want to do. I thought about how much I still want to teach the Bible and minister to people, the missions I want to keep doing in the Amazon and Moldova, the influence I want to have on my nieces and nephews, more time with my parents and family and friends. I realized how short the time really is, even if a missile didn’t end up hitting and I were to get another 50 years. The book of James still calls this a vapor. It made me more intentionally ask myself, what am I doing with the amazing gift and grace of another day?

4. It’s Nice To Have A Clear Conscience

In that very short window of time one of the most surprising things I was thankful for was a clear conscience. I would have never thought this to be one of the big takeaways, but it was a significant realization for me. In that moment, I was so grateful there wasn’t anything I was covering up, running from, or regretting that the Lord and I hadn’t already dealt with. I can’t say that this has always been the case with me. There have been seasons in my life where if I’d found out that a ballistic missile was aimed my direction I would have thought, yep, that feels about right.

A clear conscience is not the same as perfection. I certainly don’t always get it right (not even close), but there was something peaceful and freeing about knowing that I wasn’t living in blatant sin. That I’m following the Lord with open-handed obedience. People have asked me over the years how I live in obedience to Jesus, sexually and otherwise. The first answer I give is that I’ve come to discover—sometimes the hard way—that absolutely no pleasure is worth sacrificing the peace I have with Jesus. When the threat of a missile came my way, the peace of a clear conscience was a surprising gift.

I've come to discover that absolutely no pleasure is worth sacrificing the peace I have with Jesus.Click To Tweet

5. It’s Good To Know Where You Stand With Jesus

Besides the words “BALLISTIC” AND “MISSILE”, I was most haunted by the word “INCOMING”. Because an outgoing missile is not a problem—it’s the incoming ones you have to worry about. And yet when I think about what Jesus tells me I have to worry about most, He turns this upside down. He says that it’s not what comes into a person that’s the problem, rather it’s what comes out of a person’s heart.

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person… Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander. These are the things that defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a person.” (CSB Mt 15:11, 17-19)

In other words, however bad all the INCOMING stuff is, it’s the outgoing stuff of our hearts that’s our far greatest problem. Both the Old and New Testaments refer to it as sin. The law exposes it. Religion tries to fix it but can’t. We try to polish it with good deeds, or escape it with pleasure or wealth or success, or decide we don’t believe in something so drab and dour and out of touch as sin. But we simply know it’s there, whatever we may try to do with it.

The stunning, absolutely exhilarating truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to save us from our guilt, our shame, our sin. To purify our hearts so that when the day of reckoning comes for each of us, we won’t have to fear the incoming arrows of the enemy nor the outgoing sin of our hearts. The only thing God will see in us is the righteousness of Jesus. This is what is referred to in Scripture as the incredibly good news of the Gospel.

In the face of what ended up being a false alarm, this Gospel rang ever true.

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