What the Bible Says About Ghosts

I’ve not posted anything this week because I’ve been busy researching the topic of this post for a message that I delivered to my students last night. With Halloween here, I’ve been talking to the youth about the existence of the supernatural, and specifically the evil forces within the supernatural realm. I mean, the month sort of sets itself up for the topic, right?

What has been hard is the research. Despite the fact that Christianity does believe in the existence of a personal devil, the Bible itself doesn’t lay out who the Devil is in the way a novel might; instead you have to sift through different and difficult passages, many of which are not labeled “About The Devil”. You have to do some digging, and you have to rely on not only the traditions of the faith, but on the scholarship of those who’ve gone before you.

However, this isn’t to say that the Bible is all coded up when it comes to Satan. Not at all. In fact the clearest passages on the existence of the Devil are found when Satan was given permission to torment/tempt two of God’s favorite people: Job and Jesus Christ.

As I said to the kids, you may think that Satan is a metaphor, you may believe that it’s merely a tool the church has used to keep people in line for 2,000 years, but the historicity of Jesus Christ is not in doubt. He existed. And according to the Bible, He encountered the Devil in person.

In other words, if you believe Jesus is real, you have to believe that Satan is too.

What does this have to do with ghosts, haunts, spooks, specters and things that go bump in the night? Everything. Supernatural phenomena have to be caused by something supernatural, and what’s more supernatural than the Devil?

Anyway, the embedded video at the top is my presentation on one of the most fascinating and illuminating chapters in the Bible – at least, illuminating on the subject of the paranormal, that is. In 1 Samuel 28, the deposed king Saul seeks out a medium to channel the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel.

I’ll let the video speak for itself, but let me say this: the Bible does reveal that ghosts are real, and can be channeled. But it also says that humans should never consult those to have that ability. Instead, we should seek the counsel of God.

Here’s the PDF notes (The Bible and Ghosts) that go along with the video, so if you’d like to follow along, or maybe use this for your own small group discussion, feel free.

Also, if you’ve got a question after watching this – or if you just think I’m way off base – feel free to comment below. I’ll answer anything thrown my way.

When The Yellow Brick Road Runs Out

This is Pop Harold, my grandfather.

You spend most of your life not noticing it, but there are moments that burst into being to remind you that your life is made up of people. Not moments. Not memories. People.

Your parents. Your spouse. Your kids.

The people that help you define who you are.

They are the ones who shape your habits or sharpen your edges. They are the ones who call you out when you lie, lift you up when you succeed, and lay beside you when you need the comfort of a loving arm wrapped around your shoulder. We rub against them, dance with them, move ourselves in and out of their lives as seamlessly as a spider spins a web, yet too often we don’t think about them at all. We take them for granted.

That is, until we fear we are about to lose them.

After years of battling cancer in his bladder and prostate, my grandfather – a big, barrel-chested man with an equally large laugh – has become so feeble that even a cold can lay him low. God bless the doctors, who have done everything they can; they have reached a nadir of sorts – they don’t know what else to do, but can’t not do anything. They took an oath, and we’ve become accustomed to their being able to pull one more rabbit from their medical bags. So it’s back to the hospital for another round of tests and observations and medicines and whatever else they can think of.

And if you’ve ever had a loved one who’s chronically ill, you know how draining it can be. If you don’t know, I pray you never do. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, particularly when you’ve reached the stage where my grandfather is at: a hostage in your own body.

But that’s where we find ourselves as a family: on the edge of the unknown. My father is on his way to the hospital right now with my grandfather, and once again we’re wondering whether or not Pop will come back to us or go on to rest. We’ve all begun preparing ourselves for the day when our lives will lose someone who has help define it. It’s like the Statue of Liberty suddenly shedding it’s copper jacket. We know that the edifice can somehow remain, but the glory of it, the beauty of it, is diminished.

It’s in times like this that grief, a cheating son-of-a-gun, tries to get an advance hold on you. You begin to peruse regrets like an expert shopper, fingering each one that comes to mind,  looking for the one that’s just right, that fits like a glove and wraps you in the warm sensation of shame and tears. I don’t know what that exact right regret will be for anyone else in my family, but I know what it will be for me.

Years and years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, Pop called and asked me to go fishing with him at a relative’s house. He said he had the rods and reels, the bait and tackle, even a cooler full of Co-Coler (his way of saying Coca-Cola); all I had to do was agree to meet him there.

I can remember it clearly – there was a sing-song in his voice, a lilt that sounded like freedom, and for whatever stupid reason I said “No.” To this day, I can’t remember why I said it. I just know that it rolled off my lips so effortlessly and with such speed that it had to be a heart-punch to my grandfather. No hesitation? No stammering? No trying to think of a response?

None of that. Just a clear, cold, immature “No” from someone who probably felt too busy at the time.

He didn’t betray any hurt. “Ok,” he said. “We’ll try it another day.”

We never have. I got married and life got busier and now here I sit on a freaking Friday afternoon telling myself that he’s going to be fine, all the while still running my fingers over that mink of regret, wondering when I’ll be able to finally pull it on and own my shame.

Am I being overly dramatic? Probably. But this is part of the process of losing someone, part of realizing that the path doesn’t always lead to Oz and a Wizard who can fix your problems. Growing up means learning that the yellow brick road runs out.

So what do we do? We should be hoarding moments like Ebenezer Scrooge hoarded pre-visitation gold, but we continue to tell ourselves that the people who make up our lives will be there tomorrow because they’ve always been there tomorrow. We’ll convince ourselves we have enough time to make that phone call later, or to drop in and make a visit sometime next week, because we’ve always been able to live at our leisure. That’s the illusion of time as a line – we can’t see the end, but we always assume it’s farther away.

I’m just waiting to get a phone call that tells me I have tomorrow to go by and visit (which you always do after a scare; you immediately go by and visit and promise to do better, but you never really do because you’ve always got tomorrow). I’m praying to God I don’t get a call that tells me tomorrow will not come for me and Pop.

Basically, I’m straining my eyes to see if the yellow brick road will take me just a little bit further. Here’s to hoping.

My Wife, The Mama Bear

Rachel, the Mama Bear. I would advise against messing with her...

Most people wouldn’t think that tough comes in a package that looks like a Victoria’s Secret model but is sweeter than honey, but that’s okay – I know better. Not only does tough have a womanly figure, tough also has a great sense of humor, a keen sense of discernment, and some of the most beautiful eyes you’ve ever seen.

And by some quirk in the universe, she married me.

Yesterday reminded me of just how tough my wife, Rachel, really is. Not only did she haul both of our kids down to the pool by herself (a feat of epic proportions when you factor in the number of pool toys we have to take to keep Jonathan amused) but while they were at the pool, four teenaged boys started making trouble.

Rachel put a stop to it.

When she tells the story, her personality comes out: details, timing, not one thing said or recalled incorrectly. She tells it very much like the teacher she is, and it sounds fairly straight-forward: some teenaged boys were attempting to trespass at our neighborhood pool, she called them on it, they cursed at her, she called the cops, the boys ran. Simple, neat, end of story.

It’s a terse account of what, in my mind, was a situation filled with potential disaster. In fact, she takes what is a great story and turns it into a book report.

So I’m going to tell it.

First of all, some context. Our pool is a half-sized Olympic pool surrounded by a chain-link fence with two deadbolted gates. To get in, you have to have a HOA-issued key. If you don’t have one, the rules of the pool are explicit: you cannot come in. We’ve had several issues with vandals trying to circumvent the rules by doing such things as cutting holes in the chain-link or breaking the locks. So our neighborhood has a heightened sense of paranoia about the pool. We even have signs posted around to encourage members who spot trouble to call our HOA president so he can call the cops.

Secondly, Rachel was there with our kids, but there were also two teenaged girls laying out by the pool in their bikinis.

Now, if you have never been around teenaged boys then you don’t know that they tend to run on two types of fuel: testosterone and stupidity, both of which the teenaged male produces in copious quantities. Put teenaged boys around three attractive ladies in bikinis, and they’ll produce testosterone and stupidity like the government produces false promises.

In other words, this was a situation primed for something bad to happen.

If there had been only one teenaged boy, this is no problem; teen boys are easily confused and can be rendered quite harmless by an attractive woman. Three women in bikinis would pretty much render him incapacitated. But this wasn’t just one boy, which brings me to my next point.

Teenaged boys in a pack take on a pack mentality, which is dominated by the pack leader. In Rachel’s case, the pack leader was a boy with a muscular build and an utter disregard for the clearly posted rules of our pool. It was the pack leader who began the whole confrontation by leaping upon the fence and trying to climb over it. Rachel yelled him down off the fence, and his buddies gathered around to see what he would do.

Muscles stood there.

My wife, undaunted, pressed him for information. “You can’t come into the pool unless you are a member of the pool. Are you a member?”

Another boy raised his hand. “I am.”

“Okay. Where’s your pool key?”

He grunted. “I don’t have it.”

“Okay,” my wife said, “why don’t you go home and get it, and then come back. It can’t be too far to your house.”

“Someone forgot to give me the pool key,” the boy lied.

Rachel’s warning bells went off. “Who forgot to give it to you?”

“Uh, someone,” The Liar said.

“Someone who?” she persisted.

At this Muscles, The Liar and the other two boys walked away from the pool fence and back into the shade of our pool pavilion. Rachel could hear them barking at each other, their tempers flaring, but she walked away and back to where the kids were eating snacks.

And that’s when Muscles lost his freaking mind.

With his back to the fence, he screamed out, “BITCH!”

Here’s where my wife telling this story has it’s benefits. It’s at this point where she makes a face that can only be described as her version of the female, “Oh, hell no” face, which is a mixture of severe perturbation and outright masochistic violence.

If you’re in a committed relationship and ever forgot an important event or deadline, you know this face.

Anyway, after the boy curses, Rachel immediately grabs her cell phone – and here’s where the toughness kicks into overdrive – marches over to the fence nearest where the boys are sitting and dials the HOA president. They overhear her side of the conversation with our HOA pres:

“Hello, Dennis? Hi, this is Rachel Brooks…(she gives him our address)…yeah, that’s me…well, I’m down by the pool, and there are some boys causing a problem…well, first of all, I don’t think their members to the pool because they don’t have a pool key and were trying to jump the fence…uh-huh…well, I hollered at them and kept them from jumping the fence, and to their credit they climbed down…yeah, but then they sat down under the pavilion and started talking, and one of them screamed out a curse word at me…I’m here with my kids, and there are two teenage girls down here too, so what do we need to do…okay, so you’re going to CALL THE COPS…okay, I’ll wait right here…thanks, Dennis.”

The boys immediately get up and split into two groups: the weaker pair, the ones who’ve said nothing and were probably halfway between panicked and pissed at the other two, get up and walk away as quickly as possible. They did not pass “GO”, they just bolted the scene.

But Muscles and The Liar do not leave in a hurry. Instead, as my wife goes back to put her cell phone away, the duo takes a slow stroll around the fence towards Rachel. This idiot pair tries to menace my wife by walking towards her in a semi-threatening manner. They don’t come all the way to where she’s at, though – they turn and walk towards the woods, but they make sure to keep eye contact with Rachel for a long time. Finally, they disappear between the woods and some houses on the other side of the neighborhood.

When the cops finally show up, Rachel tells them what happened, and in her words, “they didn’t seem overly concerned.” But the show of force had been made, and if those boys were anywhere near the vicinity of that pool, they know that my wife meant business.

And that’s what makes me proudest. My wife, for the sake of her children, went Mama Bear on some punks and the punks backed down. Rachel roared and came away the victor. Could this situation have gone badly? Sure – with some kids these days, provocation like that only fuels their rage and leads to sometimes violent ends. In fact, I’m cognizant that my stereotyping of teenaged boys is rather dated, and built upon what the world was like when I was a teenager. Boys today don’t have nearly the same inhibitions I had as a kid.

And I’ve seen enough of the local, state and national news to know that teenagers can be some of the most cold-blooded and quick-tempered killers around.

But yesterday, thank God, that wasn’t the case.

My wife will probably read this and cringe. “You’re embellishing!” she’ll say. “It wasn’t that bad.” And perhaps my imagination does create mountains out of molehills from time to time. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that my wife is one bad mother. Three kids, a radical surgery, and a showdown with some teenaged punks is a pretty impressive resume of resilience and toughness. And she’s showing my daughter that women don’t have to be cowed by the stupidity of aggressive men, that women have power too, and don’t have to put up with boys’ crap. It’s a beautiful thing to be around.

I’m just glad she’s on my side.

But I’m going to take the trash out just to be safe…

The Most Horrible Sound In The World

There’s nothing that simultaneously frightens and nauseates a parent all at once quite like the following:

The Night Terrors: hearing "Mommy?" followed by a splash...

It’s just past midnight, and you, having fitfully fought your way into a decent sleep, suddenly become aware of a long, low moan coming from your child’s bedroom. Surrounded by darkness, you sit up; your slow-waking brain struggles to place the sound amid the other nocturnal noises. Then, you hear it again: a low moan, this time followed by a pitiful cry of “Mommy…” You pause, wondering if it’s just a nightmare, wondering if your daughter will just roll over and go back to sleep.

But you hear that moan once more, along with another cry for mommy…followed by a wet gag and a splash.

You burst from the bed, race down the hallway (invariably stubbing your toe on a wayward toy), and open the door to your child’s room to discover a technicolor horror show all over the sheets and floor. The poor child, half sitting, half laying down, has her head stretched out over the floor, a dangling string of gastric explosion attached to her lips. You rush to the bed, ignoring the stomach-churning squish beneath your feet, and usher your little one into the bathroom where a soul-sucking dry heave wracks her body like an electric shock.

Your heart races: what is this? Is it a 24-hour bug? Did she somehow sustain a concussion during the night? Did she possibly get up and eat some of those leftovers that have a three-week growth of green fuzz? You’re analyzing a thousand scenarios, each one more dire than the previous, while your little princess is calling Ralph in front of you.

You feel your own stomach begin to sour and bubble, the faint acrid scent of bile slowly winding its way into your nostrils. You think back to college, when you had to do this for your roommate, or worse, your roommate’s date, and you wonder how you maintained your composure.

You look down at your daughter, now smiling wanly, her face white and sweaty. She wipes her chin and says, “I feel better now.”

Relieved, you help her back to her room while your spouse changes her bedsheets. After making sure that everything is cleaned, re-cleaned, and then tri-cleaned with an extra crop dusting of Lysol spray, you tuck your little one back into bed and rationalize that it was just a one-time thing brought on by a bad combination of greasy food and jumpy castles. You lay your head back down on your pillow, exhausted yet wired at the same time, and after a few minutes of restlessness you drift off to sleep once again.

And again you’re awakened by your poor little girl’s phlegmatic hacking as it echoes down the hallway and drills its way into the center of your brain. You are up at once (again) and will remain so for the rest of the night, until the sun breaks the sky in the east and you and your daughter both pass out on the couch during Curious George.

Yes, if you’re a parent of a four or five year-old, you’ve experienced this routine at least once. It is truly one of the worst feelings in the world, that midnight distress cry from your child, the one that can signal either a bad dream, a nasty virus, or your daughter’s sudden need to look you in the face and say, “Hi!” It encompasses all that we fear and dread about parenthood – the sudden reminder that for all of our efforts, we are still not in control; that the tiny person we worry over and pray over and struggle with and love and yet still need our space from is an independent being, separate from us and therefore not subject to our complete protection.

For any parent who has a child that is chronically ill, these midnight anxiety-fests are doubly difficult: not only might your child be sick, but they might be really sick and in need of a medical response that may not get to them in time. In those moments, you feel such a bizarre completeness of the human condition: frailty and strength, anger and compassion, cowardice and determination. You get all of these sensations all at once, like the most intense somatic experience ever devised for human beings, and it’s a wonder that you can even make a conscious choice, let alone not spontaneously combust.

Yet, for all of that, you not only survive, you make good decisions, life and death decisions, all in the split-second it takes to see your child unwell and looking to you for help. You find, in these powerless moments, that you are stronger than you ever imagined and capable of helping this child grow into an amazing adult.

The most horrible sound in the world is also the clarion call to some of our best moments as parents. It’s no coincidence that light shines brightest in dark – it’s only then that we can truly understand the power of the light.

And when our little one wakes up a few hours later, rested, stomach no longer spasmodic, and she turns her green eyes to you and says, in a whisper like butterfly wings, “Thank you, mommy. I love you” you feel the rush of a thousand lightning bolts go through your heart, and you remember:

This is what I was born to do.

Guest Post: Cancer, Childbirth And One Tough Mother…

Given my wife's family's recent history, you know this ribbon means a lot to me.

There are some stories that just deserve to be told over and over again. My wife’s family has had some real battles with cancer over the last three years, with my wife opting to have a preventative double mastectomy to hopefully eliminate her chances for breast cancer. So when you hear a story of someone overcoming the Big C, it tends to stick with you. With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I knew of one story that I definitely wanted told one more time.

Dawn Hood and I were both hired to work at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries at around the same time. I didn’t get to know her very well though until, after about a year of working at RZIM, we both applied for the same position within the ministry. Long story short, Dawn was the better person for the job, but through the process of applying and interviewing, we got to know one another a little bit. Then, when I moved departments in 2009, I ended up just down the hall from her.

It was then that I really got to know Dawn. She is a true Southerner – sweet, gentile, polite, with enough of a touch of redneck to make fun to be around. What drew Dawn and I into many discussions was our love of writing; Dawn happens to have penned one of the most remarkable memoirs I’ve ever read, and she gave me the privilege of helping her work on the draft.

And if you doubt that her story could be all that impressive, ask yourself this: could you give birth to a baby while battling cancer and chemo treatments?

Me neither. That’s why I’ve invited Dawn to share a truncated version of that story with the blog today.

I hope you enjoy reading Dawn’s post, and that, if you do, you’ll visit her blog as a regular reader. The URL is easy to remember: http://dawn-hood.blogspot.com. I promise you’ll be glad you did. You can also read more about Dawn at Northside Hospital’s webpage, where Dawn’s story is not only a featured article, it was also part of an Atlanta-wide awareness campaign, and was turned into billboards and a radio commercial featuring Dawn.

Cancer, chemo, live birth...yeah, you don't EVER want to mess with this woman. She would destroy you.

Kissing 40 On The Mouth

In my 20s and 30s, I pledged to turn 40 kicking and screaming.  I jokingly made my list of three wishes: to be the bald chick on Star Trek (she was so cool), get a “boob job” (I was never what one would call ‘perky’), and have a tattoo (to satisfy my inner rebel).

In September 2001, my husband worked for a company in a sales position, specifically on a large account that after closing was going to provide a hefty commission check.  Our family had outgrown our house and his commission was going to be the icing on the cake for some new furniture and other goodies to make a new place our new home.

Tuesday morning after Labor Day he went to the office only to be told that his position had been terminated – for no specific reason.  And with that, he lost the job, the account, and the commission.  Our house plans came to a screeching halt.

Then, to our horror, we witnessed the events of September 11th along with the rest of the country and most of the world.  As if all that was not enough, we learned two weeks later that I was pregnant with our third child.  Oops.  A few weeks shy of 39, we had the all-American one boy and one girl.  I worked only part-time, and the idea of starting over with pre-school and little league or dance recitals didn’t sound very appealing.

In October we scheduled a visit to my OB-GYN for my first pregnancy check-up.  The instant my midwife touched my right breast her facial expression changed.  She went from, “wonder what I’ll have for lunch today” to “uh-oh, that’s not right.”  My radar went on high alert.

She told us a few minutes later in her office, “Everything looks to be in good order except I felt something in your right breast and I want you to have it checked.  I’m sure it’s nothing, but since you’re pregnant, I’d like to be sure.”  We left her office with the names and phone numbers of two breast surgeons she wanted us to talk to for further testing.

After meeting with one of the breast surgeons, I went to the hospital’s Breast Center for a core needle biopsy.  After administering local anesthetic, the doctor took four tissue samples from my right breast and sent us home.  Walking across the parking lot with an ice pack across my chest, I was certain we would get an “all clear” sometime in the next few days.

November 12th.  11:45 a.m.  The phone call. You know, the phone call.  My doctor said very simply, “All four tissue samples were malignant.  You have cancer and should see your doctor as soon as possible.  I’m sorry”.  I hung up the phone in disbelief.  The rest of that day was a blur of phone calls, questions, setting appointments, and chocolate chip cookies.

We learned that my tumor was feeding on estrogen, which my body was producing en masse because of the pregnancy.  It was like having cancer on steroids.  First surgery: lumpectomy went smoothly and our surgeon was optimistic that he had obtained clean margins.  He did not.  More surgery.  Our surgeon was confident this time that we would get a good report. We did not.  The day after Christmas we received the news that I would have to undergo a mastectomy.  And I really began to wonder where this was all going to end.  Hanging up the phone, I walked out of our bedroom, looked at my husband and said quietly, “This sucks”.

In an effort to keep our mental faculties in order, my husband and I had developed quite a sense of humor with regard to what we were facing.  We jokingly invited a few friends over for a final viewing of my breast the night before surgery.  One of my husband’s buddies actually said he was coming.  January 8th, 2002, my right breast was removed.

Over the next three months of February, March, and April, I had four chemotherapy ‘cocktails’ of Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  My hair started falling out exactly 14 days after the first treatment.  When I was ready, my husband lovingly and carefully shaved my head.  I looked surprisingly like the bald chick on Star Trek – except for the dark circles under my eyes – and the hollow cheeks – and the swollen belly.

I learned a lot during those months.  I learned that I could clear the aisle at a store in about three seconds flat.  I learned that we have nose hair and eyelashes for a reason – and I missed mine.  I learned that the soft, warm hands of my two children could make my cold, bald head feel warm as toast.  I learned what it means to feel ferociously protective of an unborn child.  And I learned that good friends and loyal family should never be taken for granted.

After my final treatment in April, we began looking forward to the birth of our child, another boy.  The doctors had been evasive about side effects he might have suffered because my case was rare and there were not many reliable medical studies to reference.  I had trouble gaining weight; our goal at that point was to get the baby to five pounds before he was born and avoid a stay in the NICU.

On May 7, 2002, at 4:02 p.m., our little bundle entered the world with just one push from Mommy.  His beautiful, perfect little head was about the size of a peach.  We were ecstatic when he weighed in at a whopping five pounds, eleven ounces.  For the first time since I had learned I was pregnant, I leaned over the bed and threw up in a trash can.

Six days later I began radiation.  My final treatment, and quite a celebration, came on July 3rd.  It was truly Independence Day for us.

Four months passed and my Mom hosted a surprise birthday party for me – my 40th.  I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a birthday more.  Surrounded by people whose love and prayers had sustained us in those dark, uncertain months, it was truly one of the best days of my life.  My son, who will celebrate his 9th birthday on Saturday, is a daily reminder that God is still in the business of miracles. Along with excellent checkups, I’m now sporting a full head of hair.  My ‘boob job’ is now complete and I have my tattoo: a butterfly designed out of a breast cancer ribbon, resting gracefully atop my reconstructed breast.