Day 57 – Day 63 Monday, 10 July through Saturday, 15 July, 2006

Dr. Ronald Paquette’s stature as a research oncologist, professor, and physician looms much larger than his slight, hurried presence in the stairways and hallways of the UCLA medical center, where he is usually little more than a smiling blur as he runs through his domain, making hurried contact with patients whose futures, together with his decisions, are profoundly entwined. His previous meetings with Aaron were quick, intermittent, and pretty much observational, as Aaron’s awareness was mostly absent and his immediate needs were being met by those whose goal was to restore that which the enemy destroyed. Dr. Paquette’s goal is to destroy the enemy.

At his first scheduled meeting with Aaron on Wednesday morning, he looks at Aaron and decides he needs more time to robustify before starting the next round of poisons, “consolidation”. For 4 days (unlike the previous 7), beginning on July 24th, poisons will again flood his body in relentless pursuit of the hidden enemy.

Aaron continues to improve unabated. He has gained a couple pounds and does not have quite the Auschwitz look. Exhaustion is continuous, nausea comes in intermittent waves. He has his first burger on Wednesday. The resulting nausea tempers enjoyment.

A fundraiser for Aaron (even good medical insurance leaves much undone) is scheduled for next Saturday at Lake Casitas in the beautiful and of late rather toasty Ojai Valley. It is sponsored in part by Aaron’s employer, New Leads, by the Ojai Valley Wesleyan Chuch where Aaron moonlights as youth pastor, and by the Ojai Valley Baptist church.

A troubled world would do well to peek in on Ojai, where community is more than a concept. A unity that flows from diversity among Ojai’s “competing” churches testifies that at least some things in this world are as they ought to be.

Day 64 – Day 69 Sunday, 16 July through Friday, 21 July, 2006

The weather this week in Ojai was served hot, with a generous side of swelter. The normal caveat to Ojai’s hot summer days “…it’s a dry heat” was absent from this week’s temperature menu. But triple digit days and Mississippi nights did not deter Aaron from visiting Ojai. This is summer camp week, a big week for the youth at OVWC. Last year, Aaron, Natalie, Michaela, and Christopher accompanied the gang to camp and returned hoarse, muddy, exhausted and looking forward to doing it again this year. But that was when the world was different, when plans were made, when the future maintained the illusion of predictability.

Aaron shared at Sunday morning service a bit of his hospital sojourn from his [highly altered] perspective. Beginning the third day after the ambulance trip to UCLA, the events lodged in Aaron’s memory bear no semblance to those in the records kept by the staff at UCLA and which might generally be confirmed by any even marginally sane witness. Aaron’s remembered events do not begin to intersect with reality until several days after leaving the ICU.

But while the events of Aaron’s alternate reality involve such bizarre thrills as being chopped in two, turned into a mosquito, and living in the cafeteria, recalled events do not constitute our most important memories. For the important ones, Aaron’s memory severed him well (perhaps the hallucinations actually did serve him well, if not accurately).

The copious and powerful narcotics could blunt his pain and alter his reality, but there was no alternate reality that was not painful, filled with suffering, and relentlessly miserable. Aaron remembers suffering; the memory of continuous misery is clear and doubtless.

Yet for all the affliction, there is also a memory of that which the enemy’s most miserable and twisted nightmare could not extinguish; there is the memory of hope. Never was there a moment when Aaron was not hopeful. That the light of hope should burst from the dark of misery and triumph over the darkness is the stuff of legend, fable, and Divine grace.

Monday morning, Tommy and lovely bride Vanessa, on staff at “competitor” church CLC and filling in for Aaron and Natalie as OVWC youth pastor (While the title is singular, it is only singular in the context of two becoming one.) pro tem pile into the caravan with the kids and head for camp. Aaron tried to make it to the staging area at OVWC to bid adieu, but his body wouldn’t cooperate.

His body being more cooperative later in the week, he did make it on Friday evening to greet them on their 4 hour late return, they having crawled from San Diego through Los Angeles in the Friday afternoon “Getaway”.

Day 70 – Day 71 Saturday, 22 July through Sunday, 23 July, 2006

The breeze off Lake Casitas transformed Saturday’s swelter from unbearable to just plain hot and at times almost pleasant. Hundreds braved the heat for lemonade, tri-tip, lemonade, raffles, lemonade, music, lemonade, auction, lemonade, body art, lemonade, jewelry making, lemonade, sharing, lemonade, lemonade, lemonade, ice tea, water and sno-cones.

Events are curious affairs. They are ephemeral societies that form, evolve, engage, and evaporate. Whether the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom a hundred years later, Christopher’s butterfly party last year, or the fundraiser for Aaron on Saturday, the event is a fleeting moment birthed of protracted preparation.

The effortless ease with the temporary encampment of awnings, amplifiers, stage, firepits, galley, jolly jump, chairs, tables, booths, latrines, activities, and ice chests, grew on the grassy shores of Lake Casitas testified to the considerable planning and preparation that grew Pastor Lyn’s germ of an idea into the event for Aaron that it became. Churches, businesses, organizations and individuals in Ojai (and beyond…word leaked out) contributed time, materials, and money to make this event one that will live in memory well beyond its fleeting moment in history.

The music and speaking on the stage had difficulty competing with the food and fellowship being consumed by company in the shade. There were two exceptions, which hushed all present: The announcement of raffle winners, and Aaron, as he without assistance took the stage and stood to give thanks and to testify…..”For me, to live is Christ…”

Requesting Prayer for our Friend, Eric

We just spoke with Eric’s mom in the hall and she said that the doctors tell her Eric may not make it through the week. Some of you may remember that Eric spent a few weeks in ICU with Aaron. Eric has AML (like Aaron) but also has aplastic anemia. It seems to be the aplastic anemia that is the big problem for Eric. Anyways, we would greatly appreciate it if you would join us in praying for this family that we have been through so much with. It is awesome to see how Eric’s mom is trusting God. She has a faith in God that is absolutely amazing. Her most common phrase is “God has the last word on everything.”

Aaron will be finishing his last dose of chemo tomorrow morning. We hear that we will then be discharged to the Tiverton for about 3 days and then sent back to the hospital while Aaron is neutropinic (no white cells) for a couple of weeks. Please, also pray for protection for Aaron while he has no immune system. He had a pretty crummy day today–he felt nauseous and restless.

Many thanks to all of you who demonstrated so much love toward us through the fundraiser. Many of you put so much effort and work into making such a beautiful thing possible. It was such a blessing to be able to attend. We have been so blessed by God! Words fail to express how much gratitude we have in our hearts.

This trial that we are going through certainly has not been fun but it is so amazing to see how much good has resulted from it. It is certainly true that God can turn a curse into a blessing! Aaron and I know very well that we are serving God right now, just in a different way and in a different place.

Thank you for continuing to keep us in your prayers. We know that the joy, peace, hope and strength that we have is from God in answer to your prayers. God’s richest blessings to all of you!

Christian Civil Disobedience and Being the Church

During the covid-19 pandemic, businesses and organizations were ordered to cease indoor operations which included religious organizations. Specifically, churches had to stop conducting their usual indoor, in-person services. Some churches, such as Calvary Chapel Godspeak in Newbury Park, decided to disobey this order citing such reasons as defending religious freedom and a determination to obey God as Christ’s church. Churches and Christians rallied around Godspeak’s stance. For example, in response to Ventura County suing Godspeak (for continuing indoor operations), Pastor Lance E. Ralston of Calvary Chapel Oxnard said, “Pray for Pastor Rob McCoy and Calvary Chapel Godspeak in Newbury Park. They are being sued by the VC Board of Supervisors for being a church, BEING A CHURCH.” [caps are Ralston’s]

Three important topics involved here are Christian civil disobedience, obedience in gathering together, and the identity of the Church.

Christian Civil Disobedience

The government’s authority is ordained by God and its primary charge includes protecting its people from harming each other (which would be wrongdoing; Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). The government is required by God to intervene in its citizens’ lives to prevent them from harming each other. And Christians are called to obey the governing authorities and human institutions. With one exception.

In Acts 5 we see Peter’s famous and rousing declaration: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29, ESV) We are called to obey God above human authority. In Acts 5, the human authorities said to the apostles: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name [Jesus’s].” In other words, they ordered the believers to not make disciples. This was in direct conflict with Jesus’s parting charge to make disciples. It was not possible for the apostles to obey the human authorities and obey God at the same time. This is key: there was no way in which the apostles could obey the human authorities and stay in obedience to God. They had no other option except civil disobedience. When human authorities demand disobedience to God, we must obey God and thereby disobey human authorities. Christians are tempted in many ways to disobey human authorities when it is not necessary which, therefore, is disobedience to God. Concerns regarding government overreach and gradualism often tempt Christians to disobey God’s call to obey the authorities.

Government overreach. In fulfilling its requirement to intervene in its citizens’ lives, it is right for government to be balanced. Government intervention should be appropriate to the level of harm being done. Christians may believe the level of governmental intervention is unwarranted and it is good to stand against authoritative overreach. (I suggest this is an essential role for Christians.) However, overreach alone does not warrant Christian civil disobedience. Christians may disagree with the government on many issues—laws may even cause financial and social misery for Christians—but it is only when disobedience to God is demanded that Christians should disobey the authorities.

Gradualism. Christians may be concerned the government is slowly eradicating religious freedoms which may eventually lead to explicit prohibitions against professing Christ as Lord and Savior (personally, I have this concern). While it is very good to advocate for robust religious freedoms, a lessening of rights and privileges does not warrant civil disobedience. The Christian call to civil disobedience is when obeying humans is directly conflicting with obeying God—not before. We are not called to civil disobedience in anticipation of possible, future conflicts of obedience—even if that conflict is imminent. Therefore, it is important to have a clear and correct understanding of God’s commands so that when—and only when—human obedience demands disobedience to God, we will obey God and not human authorities.

Being the Church

Obedience in Gathering Together

The specific area of obedience that is in question here is that of Christians meeting together for fellowship and to worship God—aka a typical church service. The governmental order to cease indoor operations effectively prohibited churches from having their regular worship services. Meeting together is essential to the Christian life. In Acts, we clearly see the example of Christians meeting together and Hebrews 10:25 tells us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Therefore, the question is: does a prohibition of organizational, large, indoor services conflict with the Christian call to meet together? Can we obey the human authorities and stay in obedience to God? Three topics help determine what exactly constitutes obedience in meeting together—in other words, what exactly it takes to be obedient to the call to meet together. 1) How must we gather; 2) how many believers do we need; and 3) what must occur during our gathering in order to qualify as meeting together?

How must we gather to be in obedience? Under the New Covenant (after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection), are we commanded to conduct indoor services? Do we have to be inside a specific room? Do we need to be inside a special building? Do we have to be inside at all? No, we are not commanded to conduct indoor services, nor do we need a specially designated place. Does it have to be on Sunday morning or another ‘special’ time? Must we be in-person? Or can we gather over the phone or over a video call? The bottom line is that obedience does not require a specific time, nor place, nor method for gathering. Believers can gather anywhere and anytime and by any means, including over a telephone or video call.

How many believers do we need in order to obediently meet together?
Do we need 1000 people? Do we need 500 people? Do we need 50 people? Do we need 10 people? If we have a gathering of 5 believers, does that count as “meeting together?” I think it does. In fact, I would say it only takes 2-3 Christians to constitute a gathering of believers. It is also helpful to consider how this redefines what constitutes a “large” gathering. If it only takes 2-3 believers to make up a gathering, I suggest a large gathering may be anything over, say, 12 believers. (12 is somewhat arbitrary—maybe a large gathering is over 24; the point is it does not take very many believers to make up a “large” gathering.)

What must occur during the gathering for it to qualify as “meeting together?” Does obedience require 40 minutes of worship music led by a 5-person band? Must we have singing at all? Would we be disobeying God if we had a believer’s meeting without a song? Does obedience require a 20-minute oration from a leader? How long must the meeting last? 4 hours? 15 minutes? Does communion have to happen every time two or three believers are together? Must there be specific form and length of prayer? What must occur in a meeting is not as clear as “how must we gather” and “how many believers.” Meetings should include activities “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13, NIV84) Meeting together should include activities like teaching, prayer, and singing (or other forms of explicit worship) but we cannot be legalistic about requiring those things in particular ways and particular amounts. Three believers coming together for 10 minutes of prayer may very well constitute an instance of obediently meeting together.

Identity of the Church

Pastor Ralston’s statement touches upon the identity of the Church. Ralston emphatically states that Calvary Chapel Godspeak is being sued for, “BEING THE CHURCH.” [caps are Ralston’s] The lawsuit is regarding continuing indoor operations—in this case, conducting large, indoor, in-person church services. Thus, Ralston is equating “being the church” with large, indoor, in-person church services. In other words, the implication is that large, indoor, in-person church services are essential to the Church’s identity.

This is problematic because the Bible defines the church as so very much more than a large number of believers having a service inside a building. The church is primarily defined by its relationship with Christ. We are His body, His bride, His temple. We are His very own possession—who, by His blood, live that we may love and magnify Him who brings us into His own glory. We are commanded to love others and charged with making disciples.

By saying the restrictions on large, physical, indoor gatherings are preventing us from being the church, it means that prohibiting typical church services prevents us from being Christ’s body, bride and temple. Additionally, by putting our primary energies and focus on fighting the restrictions, we are accepting this far inferior idea of who and what the church is. To accept this church identity—that is defined by having traditional church services—is to accept a serious spiritual defeat. On the contrary, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Now is the time we should be heralding truths about who we, the church, are. We should be resolute that these restrictions do not stop us from being Christ’s own possession. We are still His bride; we are still His Body; we are still His temple; and we will continue living this out. We will continue living by His blood to love God, to love others, and we will go on making disciples—just not through large, indoor, in-person services right now.