Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

Four years ago I really pissed Satan off. I had sinned, as happens on a regular basis, and he was using my failing against me. ((You might be wondering, “Were you having a conversation with Satan? o.O ” and the answer is yes. Before I was Christian, I spoke with Satan often, though I didn’t know it was Satan at the time for what it’s worth. Satan had first led me to believe he was an angel (and female), and then deceived me into thinking he was the Goddess as Wiccans understand deity. For several years after I became Christian, he would still rear up occasionally to torment me, though that hasn’t happened in some time.)) “See what a failure you are? God will never accept you, and neither will your friends. You’ll always be alone. You’ll always be worthless. You’ll never be able to overcome.”

Angry, I fired back at him. “Try all you want, but nothing you say matters. You’ve already lost, and now you’re just scrambling to take others down with you. You’re a pitiful, inexcusable worm that doesn’t deserve even the memory of the light.” Or something to that effect. I was definitely not the loving Christian God calls me to be. ((I truly believe that Christians are supposed to treat everyone with love, and I’ve come to pity Satan much like Frodo comes to pity Gollum. That doesn’t mean I really treat him with love, but I recognize that I ought to.))

“You’ll regret this night,” Satan replied, and was gone. A bit shaken, but mostly smug, I went to bed.

A few hours later I woke to the sound and feeling of earth-shaking thunder, and not thirty seconds later the tornado sirens went off. I was terrified, more frightened than I had been since I was a child, partly because I had just moved to a new second-story apartment and partly because I knew this was my fault. I had pissed the prince of this world off and he had pulled up a terrible, tornadic storm.

Freaking out, I paced back and forth in my apartment and then asked God what to do.

“Walk with me.”

I froze, mind spinning in circles like a tiny dog chasing its tail, and then jerkily pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, a windbreaker, and my cowboy boots before going out into the torrent. I felt like my life was completely in Jesus’ hands, and that in addition to the devil, God wasn’t too pleased with me either. His anger was palpable, and I walked in fear of my life.

But I didn’t walk alone. Jesus was with me, and I began to pray powerfully and out loud against the storm. I was buffeted by winds and incredibly sharp hail, soaked completely, and rushing on adrenaline for three hours before the storm really abated. It had passed, and I felt like I had taken an important step in my relationship with God.

1. I had learned fear and respect

Don’t whack a wasps’ nest for no damned reason. ((This is an important example for me because wasps are one of the few things on this earth that terrify me. I hate wasps.)) Demonic forces are our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we should challenge or threaten them without forethought. Rather, we must “put on the full armour of God,” a phrase that is talked about so much that it seems to have lost all meaning for most people. They hear, “This is a life and death struggle,” and they nod and smile and say, “Yuss, yuss, we don’t want none of the devil in our lives.”

Most Americans don’t know what it is to be on the edge of death. Most haven’t even been really threatened, and a lot haven’t known anyone who violently died. If they did, in most cases it was a sudden accident like a car crash, not murder. People fear some things, but they don’t fear Satan. At best, they think God will protect them 100%. ((I think we often assume God cares about our bodily comfort more than our eternal souls.)) At worst, they simply don’t believe he exists.

God tells us it’s OK to fear, and even that it’s a good thing. Be humble about challenging the demonic, because you are weak. You have no power. You’re nothing compared to them. Be afraid for your loved ones, and of the suffering that may (and probably will) occur because you challenge the rule of those who set themselves up as rulers.

God will work through you and help you fight, but it’s God’s power. Satan and those with him are fallen angels, but they’re still angels. It’s important to not forget.

God will honour this humility, and he will take care of you. Be not proud. ((As a side/end note: The only protection against the fear of your life about to be taken is to have already given it up.))

2. I learned to trust in God

God said walk, and I did. It was scary, but he was with me. I once thought I could fight Satan with my own power, and I learned that my power was nothing compared to the devil. God is sovereign, and if he wills it, I will prevail.

If he doesn’t, I will fall. That’s fine too.

In a sense, it’s the only option available to me. In another, it’s wonderfully full of love. God has never let me down. He’s always right there, holding my hand or walking in step. When I shouted at the storm, his stern countenance was visible from the corner of my eye. His feet pounded the sidewalk beside my own.

When I lay in the dark, sick and alone and afraid, he didn’t leave me.

I’m afraid God will leave me. He never has. I won’t take that for granted.

3. I learned how to fight

God gives us power, an authority I don’t really understand, but I know two things about it.

  1. It involves being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. It involves direct command, rather than a requesting prayer.

Learning how to really open myself to the Holy Spirit is one of the more complex things, but it seems to come easier when threatened. Someday I’ll have to puzzle this out so I can write more about it.

Authoritative prayer is a bit easier to describe though, and it involves praying in the power of God rather than praying out of supplication. By way of example, compare the following two prayers:

Supplicative Prayer

Dear God, we ask that you stop this storm. Protect the people in this city and place your hand over it. Stop the tornadoes and the lightning, and drive fear from the hearts of the people. Jesus, don’t let us fall to this threat. Oh God, be with us.

Authoritative Prayer

I pray against the wind and the lightning, that it will not bow this city. We will not succumb to the fear you would instill in us, Satan; you cannot take our faith, you cannot separate us from God. I pray against the tornadoes and the hail, that they will not damage property and be a burden to the faithful. In the power of the almighty Christ, I pray against you, and I will not be shaken.

I’m trying to remember roughly what went down four years ago, so this is far less powerful than it was then, but hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusion

If you’re going to engage in spiritual warfare, you need to know what you’re up against. If you’re not afraid, then you are ignorant.

Someone could make all kinds of statements like, “Well, if you really had faith, you wouldn’t be afraid.” I’m tempted to even pursue the Buddhist line of reasoning that if we just released all worldly attachment, we wouldn’t fear and would be stronger.

But God designed us to love others and to form relationships, so we sort of have it wired into us to care about the well being of others. In this war, I’m not so much afraid for myself as I am for my wife and family, or for my friends. Everyone’s in this whether they know it or not. This deal isn’t just for those who actively engage–every human soul was part of this battle from the moment Adam and Eve picked the fruit.

Fear shouldn’t consume us. God is our strength, and his strength is great. But we shouldn’t be stupid either. Know what you’re up against and recognize what the stakes are. Recognize the fear, and never let go of your faith.

Fight well.

Twitter for Community News

Twitter is one of those all-or-nothing phenomena that come around once in a while, so I won’t assume that you necessarily know all about it. Though a lot of people have been talking about Twitter, there is still a sizable portion of the population who have no interaction with social networking or media, let alone this particular site, so let me briefly summarize its services.

Introduction to Twitter (skip if you feel so compelled)

Twitter is a one-to-many messaging service confined to 140 characters, the same length as text messages sent from cell phones. People can follow you without your approval (unlike Facebook and Myspace, which require you to accept their “friendship”), which is part of what makes Twitter so good for marketing and communication. It’s easy to connect and requires little maintenance, and when you post a message, it shows up on the page of all your followers.

By the way, I specifically use the word “follow” because that is what Twitter uses. On launch, I have heard that it originally used “friends,” but later changed that because, honestly, who are they kidding? We’re not friends on Twitter, we just follow each other’s updates.

Twitter Search for News

I’ve employed Twitter Search a couple of times in the past to find out what was going on with a particular event, and the instant feedback it provides from other people is really… interesting. I can’t go so far as to say that it is always helpful, though.

Sometimes it is helpful, like last week when I was getting storm updates on the six tornados that were in our area. I didn’t have a TV available, and Twitter is way more responsive and fast than the news websites. In fact, if you can find a local reporter (as I did), you can get updates straight from the source as they roll in. I have also used Twitter to find out about Google outages, mail interruptions, and other major issues.

There are two negative aspects to this, though.

Fact-checking

When you are seeing news updates as they happen, you’re really getting information that hasn’t been verified or clarified. A good example of this from last week was the Twitter message, “OTC closed for the day” from @donwyatt. A few minutes later, he posted a clarification that it wasn’t their main campus, but a different one. I saw this throughout the day where something dramatic would be posted, and then later clarified because things weren’t quite as they seemed. “Roof collapsed, students trapped inside,” is technically accurate, but portrays the situation as somewhat different than it might actually be. ((The roof did collapse, for instance, and I think three students suffered minor injuries, but the rest were fine.))

Moreover, it’s hard to believe everything you see. I wanted up-to-the-second facts about the tornados, but I had trouble trusting everything I was reading on Twitter. Most of these people weren’t professionals, and even for the ones who were, they were just repeating what other people were calling in to the news room. What good is the news if it’s not trustworthy?

Limited scope

I don’t consider my town “small,” per se. I’ve been in small towns, and Springfield with its population of around 170,000 isn’t them. That being said, throughout the storm yesterday, I could only find about 5 people writing online about the storm, and one was a weather service bot. What’s more, if the issue at hand isn’t a major one that affects a lot of people, you won’t find anything. Combining a relatively minor event (say, a single car accident) with a small population of updaters and you’re unlikely to see anything on Twitter.

The problem with relying on Twitter for news is that Twitter users are a very, very small portion of the population. What’s more, they represent a different demographic than most people. Those who use Twitter extensively are still early adopters, in my opinion. This isn’t a service that has gone mainstream the way Facebook or Myspace has. It is being used by a lot of companies, a lot of news agencies, and a lot of writers and nerds, but I’m pretty sure my nieces and their friends aren’t on Twitter.

This means that you’re only going to get a certain take on events, a certain perspective, and you are most certainly not going to hear everythin. Due to not having many people posting, not that much can be covered. A news agency receiving calls and then posting them is one thing, and that’s helpful, but it’s still just a small cross-section of the community.

Full of potential

All that being said, it really made me wonder what else we could be using Twitter for. I really wished my neighbours used it and we had an agreed-upon hash tag ((A hash tag is attached to Twitter messages about a particular topic. You make these up as you go. The idea is that this creates a unique tag for which people can search to make filtering Twitter and finding updates on a specific topic easier. The hash tag for Springfield is #SGF, the same as our airport.)) so I could find out what was happening at home while I was stuck at work. The potential for community connections and up-to-the-second information sharing is huge.

Neighbourhood watches, announcing events, traffic issues, etc… there’s so much this could be used for, and that’s because it is such a simple service. It is simple enough to be applied in a wide variety of areas, but that’s only if you can get a lot of people to sign on and work together. If not everyone is using the Springfield hash tag, I have no way of finding their messages about Springfield. Similarly, if none of my neighbours use Twitter, I can’t search from work to see what’s happening in my home community.

In Conclusion

I hope it catches on more, but in the end, I use Twitter because I enjoy it and find it helpful. I’m not ready to become an evangelist for the service, and I’m certainly not going to go door-to-door trying to get people to sign up.

And while I will keep using it for news, I also recognize that I need to go back the next day and find out what actually happened. Short messages like those employed by Twitter are often referred to as “alerts,” and that’s just what they are. They let me know something is going on, and maybe a bit about it, but that’s never the whole story. It’s helpful, but only as a pointer. We still need to follow that lead and find the truth.

Browsing in the Basement

There’s a tornado warning in Springfield, so we’re down in the basement. This is my first tornado here [Missouri State University – Cheek Hall – Computer Services] with the MacBook, and it makes the whole experience a lot more pleasant. Instead of sitting down here just cooling my heels, I can obsessively refresh Twitter, check the weather, and bring up videos on YouTube.

In addition, it’s the first serious storm since we moved into our home, so April’s in the basement with the kittens. That makes me feel way better than I have in previous storms because I know that she’s safe. Unfortunately, I also know that the storm is dropping 3+ inches of rain, and our basement has a small leak in one corner.

At any rate, the tornado warning is in place until 9 this morning, and we’ve been down here since 8:10 a.m. or so. Without coffee. There are worse things, but not many.

I’ll update this post later with more updates, like when we get out of the basement. The latest I’ve heard is quarter-size hail, lots of rain, and 60-70 MPH winds. There’s a tornado in Republic (about 30 minutes drive from here) and it’s headed towards Springfield, was supposed to be here about 10 minutes ago.

If God wills, I’ll update again shortly.

Update:: Of course, by virtue of Murphy’s Law, as soon as I published this the warning was cleared and we were allowed to go back upstairs. I don’t trust it though. Springfield tends to blow the sirens at the slightest provocation, so I grabbed coffee as quick as I could and got things done so I’m ready to go back to the basement if need be.

Cell reception is terrible, so I could barely get a hold of April. Things appear to be fine at the house.

Update 2:: Yep, back down in the basement at 8:48. Wind’s blowing so hard that we can’t hear the sirens.

Update 3:: 8:56 a.m. and we’re back upstairs, and supposedly it’s done now. Whee.

Update 4:: 9:01 a.m., back in the basement. Tornado on I-44 at the 83 mile marker, wherever that is. Lots of damage in Republic. April called and said something got torn off the neighbour’s house, maybe the rear siding. It’s in their back yard now. Hope it’s not our siding…

Update 5:: 9:09 a.m. Pat, the building coordinator, tells us that Springfield is just recycling the sirens and the threat is pretty much gone. He’ll come by and tell us if we need to go back to the basement again. Back upstairs for now.

Update 6:: 11:50 a.m. and I hadn’t really planned on updating this further. The storm has passed and now we’re just surveying the damage, so I didn’t think there was any need for me to go on. However, they just taped off the front entry way to Cheek Hall on the Missouri State University campus, where I work, because a tree “shifted” during the storm and they fear it might fall over.

Our Help Desk Call Center is right next to that tree, so we’ve taken what precautions we can to keep people safe. The tree looks solid to us–no damage visible on the ground, so the roots haven’t pulled up or anything and the trunk appears un-cracked–but we’re going to take as few chances as possible.

April sent me some pictures of our neighbour’s back lawn and our front porch. It looks like the neighbours lost some siding, which really sucks. On the bright side, they rent, so the landlord has to deal with it, but they just moved in a couple of weeks ago.

img_5978 img_5984 img_5985

Update 7:: It’s 1:50 p.m., two hours later, and the tree out front of Cheek Hall is still standing strong. I had a very pleasant walk outside during my lunch break with the sun shining and the birds singing–it is amazing to me how easily nature rebounds from these things that frighten humans so much.

I’m anxious to go home in three short hours. I’ll try and take some pictures around the neighbourhood and the park and post them.

Update 8:: I went across the atrium to visit Brenda and noticed they were cutting a tree down. Apparently, they were referring to a different tree than we thought–the one we thought they were saying had “shifted” is just fine, but one just a bit further east is now being excised. I’m really hopeful they’ll plant new trees there to replace it.

Too bad I don’t have a camera here.

Twitter

About 8:11 a.m. | Tornado spotted in Republic. Missouri State University is in basements and such. Tornado estimated to be in #SGF by 8:25 a.m.

About 8:15 a.m. | April and the kittens are in the basement at home, which makes me feel a lot better. As for me, I’m 15 feet underground; can’t hear sirens.

About 9:10 a.m. | Apparently, the least safe place to be in a storm is Fairgrove Elementary. http://tinyurl.com/ou8k59 #sgf

About 9:13 a.m. | According to our building coordinator, #SGF is just recycling the sirens. We’ve been allowed back upstairs indefinitely; ignoring sirens.

About 9:30 a.m. | Fair amount of limbs down on the Missouri State campus :- Always makes me sad. Not going outside to inspect the damage yet, though. #SGF

About 10:30 a.m. | RT @donwyatt #sgf Storm was serious. Pls use caution when you inspect damage. Downed power lines can’t always be seen.

About 11:32 a.m. | RT @donwyatt: #SGF Wal-mart on N Kansas/I-44 has closed. No power. Lots of debris in parking lot. http://bit.ly/Lbkkf

About 10:45 a.m. | Did a power outage at Drury knock out their web servers? Can’t get to their website right now to confirm class cancellation. #SGF

About 10:50 a.m. | Internet appears to be down at Drury University #SGF . People on campus can’t connect out, and I can’t connect in.

About 10:55 a.m. | RT @ChrisBrewerNL: Photo of damage from Fair Grove school: http://twitpic.com/4s7yp #SGF

About 11:26 a.m. | RT @donwyatt: #SGF Glendale HS update – SW corner roof of N wing damaged. No injuries. No damage inside bldg. http://bit.ly/Ipvet

About 11:37 a.m. | RT @AshleyReynolds: My grandparent’s farm was hit by a tornado this a.m. broken bones and barns down. I ask for your thoughts and prayers.

About 11:41 a.m. | Front entry of Cheek Hall closed b/c a tree “shifted” and they fear it might fall. Looks fine to us, but we’re taking precautions. #sgf #msu

About 1:47 p.m. | The birds are singing and the sun’s out. Almost couldn’t tell we had a storm this morning, except for all the downed limbs. #SGF

About 2:06 p.m. | Correction: Tree is totally being cut down. We thought it was a diff. tree that had shifted. Hope they plant new trees there. #SGF #MSU

For continued updates on this subject, I suggest searching Twitter for SGF. I’ve been following it all morning to keep up with what’s going on and it has been an excellent resource. For direct news, @donwyatt has been very informative and on top of things.