The Sauna Showdown
Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news first. My Spanish continues to improve and today I discovered that the Ecuadorian accent is probably the easiest Spanish accent for me. I had a long and detailed conversation with an Ecuadorian man at the end of which he remarked, “Wow, your Spanish is really good. Where did you learn?” I think he was expecting me to say that I had gone to school to learn Spanish. He appeared a bit surprised when I responded, “en la calle” (in the street). He asked me which streets in particular, and I told him the streets of Sacramento. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that sufficed for our conversation.
Now for the bad news, the devil is alive and well and working hard to prevent us from evangelizing. I’ll explain.
This afternoon, my wife suggested we run over to the YMCA, do a light workout, and then sit in the sauna. I go in the sauna that’s 190°. She goes in the one that’s 160° (That’s not relevant to the story but it is a bit like John having to mention that he outran Peter when running to Jesus’ empty tomb). When I entered the sauna, I noticed a young man in his early 20's was already there. I sat down on the opposite side of the sauna expecting there to be no conversation other than a polite nod to acknowledge each other’s presence. Resigned to my impending thirty minutes of silent prayer and reflection, I was surprised when the young man broke the silence and asked me about my Whitworth T-shirt.
“Oh, did you go to college at Whitworth?”
“No, but three of my daughters graduated from Whitworth and one teaches there now. However, I am still in school, myself. I am working on my doctorate. Why do you ask?”
The young man explained that he was interested in becoming a male nurse and asked if I had any academic advice for him as he was starting school in just a month. I explained that my wife is a retired nurse and that I had a lot to say on the subject. He listened attentively for a few minutes, then the Holy Spirit prompted me. This is basically what he spoke to my heart.
“I brought this young man to you. He’s hungry and knows that you have answers. How long will you take until you turn the conversation towards the subject that he really needs to discuss?”
I didn’t hesitate. I asked him, “A few seconds ago you said that you went through some stuff and that God really brought you through. What do you mean when you refer to God? Are you a Christian?”
My question had the effect on him of turning on a verbal fire hose. He just started talking and talking and talking about all of his views about the god that he had created for himself; a god of pure energy that resides within him. He mentioned that he was a Jehovah’s Witness until age 15 at which point, he had walked away from religion. Who can blame him? The Jehovah’s Witness religion is not pleasant for anyone.
Somewhere amid his diatribe, I recognized a verb construct that people who grow up speaking Russian use. It is not grammatically incorrect, but it is not a way that native English speakers use that verb tense. If you put me on the spot and ask me what it is, I will not be able to explain it to you, but I always recognize it when I hear it.
As this young man was speaking, the Lord gave me a heart for him. I was praying on the inside as I was listening on the outside. Intellectually, I could have crushed every justification this kid was making for his faux religion, but I recognized him as a postmodern thinker and knew that I needed to show him a better, more efficacious way. I was overwhelmed with a desire to speak to him as a loving father and wise friend would. Having picked up on his almost invisible accent, I opened my mouth to initiate the next phase of our conversation by speaking in Russian. I speak ni mnoga (a little).
As I opened my mouth, our Ecuadorian friend made his grand entrance into the sauna. Hearing the word, Christian, I guess he was triggered by that, because he started a ten-minute diatribe using every flawed argument there is to justify why he, a Catholic by upbringing, rejected all religions. I knew that this man, who in all other respects seemed like a decent fellow, was serving as Satan’s errand boy. As Satan’s errand boy spoke, he referred in one breath to multiple universes and in the next to the infinity of our universe. I interrupted him politely and pointed out the inconsistency in his logic. After all, a multi-verse would necessitate that no one universe could be infinite as it would be limited by the existence of other universes. You can have a multiplicity of universes or a single, infinite universe, but not both. He responded, “Well, you know, I’m just not that smart about those kinds of things.”
I was excited by that comment because I knew that I had an answer for him. Without being argumentative, I could establish myself as an authority figure and maybe the Lord would give me an opportunity to lead two people to salvation. I had been praying the entire time while listening. I knew I was in a spiritual battle and I also knew the very next thing that I was supposed to say.
Mirroring the word choice of Satan’s errand boy I would say, “Well, I happen to be kind of smart about those kinds of things. Maybe we can learn from each other.”
As I opened my mouth to speak, a third man, a man who was about my age but with more gray hair and less belly fat, walked into the sauna and jumped into the conversation as if he had been listening to it all along. Here’s the thing, there’s no way he could’ve heard our conversation because you have to yell for someone to be able to hear you through the walls of the YMCA sauna. We had been speaking in low voices. Nevertheless, Satan’s authority figure sat down right next to me, and said, “Christians, what a joke. What about Trump saying he’s a Christian? Who believes that garbage?”
At that point, Satan’s authority figure and Satan’s errand boy did a fist bump. They were so caught up in their self-congratulating that they failed to notice that I was not expressing agreement with their sentiment.
What ensued next is best described as a whole bunch of crazy. I just sat there praying and waiting for instructions from the Holy Spirit. While things were a bit out of hand, the young man who had started this whole conversation got up and walked out of the sauna. I don’t know why I didn’t just get up and follow him out. Instead, I sat there in our verbal vomitorium and marveled at the depths of ignorance that informed the religious views of these men. It was heartbreaking and it made me hate ignorance even more than I already do. Each time wanted to rebut or interject a thought, I felt the Holy Spirit gently hush me.
As soon as Satan’s authority figure was done speaking, he stood up and walked out. A few moments later, I made an offhand comment in Spanish to find out if the brown skinned man in the sauna with me, Satan’s errand boy, was indeed Latino. He and I then had the very pleasant conversation in Spanish. I referred this conversation at the beginning of this blog post.
I’d like to say that I’m mad at Satan for interfering with what I was doing but that’s kind of like being mad at a mosquito for biting you. Satan was just doing what Satan does. For whatever reason, God allowed that interference to take place today. I know from experience that had God wanted the interference to cease, He would’ve shut it down through some other means, or shut it down through me.
I’d like to say that I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to lead our young, aspiring college student to salvation today. The truth is, that the Holy Spirit is the one who is responsible for that. My job is to be available and to be obedient to the leading of the Lord. I did that. Perhaps his encounter with me was just the first in a series of encounters that will lead to the young man's ultimate salvation. I’ll probably never know, but my victory is in the obedience. My ministry to the young man will be in praying for his eternal soul.
I’d like to say that I’m angry with the two men that Satan used to interfere with what was beginning to be a life-changing conversation. But unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit living inside of them like I do. They are easy prey to demonic spirits. The Bible says that those men are God’s enemies and are citizens of Satan’s kingdom. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “they serve their master well.”
I’d like to say that I’m angry with myself for not taking command of the situation and shutting down all of the foolishness that was being spoken today. The truth is, I am confident that I was listening to the Holy Spirit and that I was following his lead. If I was supposed to shut them down, I would’ve been obedient and done that.
We don’t always know the how and why of what the Lord does. Often his ways are quite mysterious to us. We have to be content to know that we were obedient in the moment, and that our loving Heavenly Father has a plan that is greater than our ability to comprehend. We must have peace with the idea that we are a part of a greater whole, the body of Christ, and that God is using us to fulfill our small role in his big plan.
I didn’t get what I wanted today, but I believe God got what he wanted. In this story, God is clearly the only hero; as it should be.
If you've read this far, take a moment and just shoot up a quick prayer for the salvation of the young Slavic kid who is starting college to become a nurse. I don't know his name, but God will know who you are talking about. - Scott