Who Is the Enemy?

I’ve been moved this week at the reports of the murders in the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. The whole world watched as details of this heinous crime unfolded. We tried to make sense out of it. I’ll confess that I haven’t been able to.

The Amish people have stepped up big and offered forgiveness to the killer and even aide to the widow and children of the offender. One man told the story of an Amish man who wrapped his arms around the killer’s father and tried to comfort him in his grief and disbelief at this son’s act.

The Amish explained that their motivation was Jesus’ command to forgive those who hurt you.

Some have reproached them for their pacifism but there seems to be no lack of courage among these unusual people. One report said that the two oldest girls in the schoolhouse asked to be shot first, evidently hoping that this might in someway help the others to escape.

Yet one of the most disturbing parts of the whole scenario is that we’re already forgetting. The story is being pushed off the front pages by a Congressional sex scandal.

If an El Kaida terrorist had done this we would be outraged and looking for someone to strike at. That would have seemed so much worse and our memory would have been much longer. To me, this act rivals the evil of September 11. That day, people who hated us attacked innocent people hoping to forward a twisted ideology.

But what do you do when the “terrorist” is the neighborhood milkman? In Pennsylvania, the gunman looked like us. The terrorists attacked strangers; this man butchered neighbors. The terrorists killed indiscriminately; this man deliberately singled out the most vulnerable innocents—little girls.

His evil surpassed that of Osama Ben Laden to my way of thinking.

We’ve spent billions of dollars and thousands of brave men and women have given their lives to try to stamp out the evil behind 9/11. I’m just afraid that we’re going to forget the horror of that Pennsylvania schoolhouse and make no effort at all to defeat the enemy that perpetrated it. Will we stop long enough to consider what makes our own do such unthinkable things?

Who is the enemy? Who do you bomb? Where is this “terrorist” hiding and when will he strike again? We could identify a lot of candidates—violence in the media, child pornography, etc. that may have contributed. I’m sure that we’ll come up with some culprits. The congressman caught in his own scandal seemed to want to blame others and other things for his indiscretions (sins) …

I can’t explain it, but I have a deep sense that people who love the Lord Jesus have an important role to play in the solution. In the Bible, Nehemiah was horrified to learn of the pitiful state of his people. He mourned; he fasted and called out to God in prayer; then he got up to do something about it.

King Josiah learned from God’s Word how rebellious his nation had become. God’s law had been lost and they didn’t even realize that some of the horrible things they were doing were wrong. But when God’s Word was read to him he tore his clothes, which was a sign of mourning, and he wept. He tried to make things right before God. Then he got up and began to obey God and to clear out the sin, where he had the possibility to do it.

When the prophet Jeremiah perceived the great destruction which lay just ahead for his nation, he exclaimed, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1, NIV).

The last few years the United States seems to have had one wave after another pass over it—September 11, hurricanes, war, school shootings. Shouldn’t we as God’s people cry out to him for forgiveness and mercy for the nation? Nehemiah hadn’t sinned but he repented for the sins of his people, including himself among them. He cried out for forgiveness (Nehemiah 1).

And God heard him!

Maybe we need to treat these things as more than just another news item on CNN. “That’s terrible!” we say, and go about our lives as before. Maybe we need to slow down and think, see if we can see what is behind all this, and cry out to God for our nation, our children, ourselves.

If God’s people aren’t stirred, who will be?

The “Ungoofer” Machine

The screen fills with the face and white teeth of the handsome television reporter. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today we’re talking with Professor I.M. Goofy about his new machine–the “Ungoofer.” It takes negative things and makes them positive.”

Next to our famous television announcer stands a little man in a white lab coat. His disheveled, thinning hair looks like it has been out in a high wind. Thick glasses magnify dark, sparkling eyes. “Tell us about your machine, professor Goofy.“

“John, this new invention of mine will revolutionize the way we live. Take this huge hamburger for example.”

He lifts a triple-decker hamburger from the table in front of him. “This triple cheeseburger will cost you about 1200 calories in your diet. But …” here he cackles triumphantly… “Let’s put it in my Ungoofer machine and see what happens!”

Next to him a strange contraption about the size of a microwave oven hums and flashes. The nutty doctor puts the hamburger in, adjusts the dial and the machine explodes into action. Bells and whistles sound. In the background the music from “Stars and Strips Forever” blares.

After a few minutes, the contraption dings and Professor Goofy eagerly retrieves a hamburger that looks as if it had been on the receiving end of an airstrike. “Voilà, the little man proclaims. Your 1200-calorie cheeseburger only has 100 calories now.”

The announcer eyes the remains with distaste wondering if anyone would have the stomach to eat the doctor’s wonderful sandwich. “That’s not all,” the scientist cries. “This wonderful machine takes all the calories out of milkshakes, Snicker bars, and cheesecakes.”

“That’s very interesting, Professor Goofy. We’ll take you back to New York now. folks. It’s all yours Tom.”

Somehow I doubt if the good doctor is going to make a lot of money with his invention.

I needed a machine like that, though, in some of the counseling sessions I’ve participated in. Just like the doctor tried to let people enjoy the pleasures of chocolate without broadening their waistline (wasted line), if I could figure out a way to let people continue in their sins without reaping the wages of sin, I would be rich.

The problem is that the law of sowing and reaping is an eternal truth. You can’t plant spinach and reap peaches.

Once in Luxembourg a couple came to me wanting help. Their whole situation flaunted disobedience to the Lord. I saw the problem quickly and I knew the answer. But I also strongly suspected they weren’t willing to change.

We spent a lot of time with them and tried to be patient but in the end they drifted away, still happily disobeying the Lord. Still miserably reaping the consequences. They needed an “Ungoofer” machine to turn their dumb way of living into something good. I didn’t have one.

Have you been looking for an “Ungoofer Machine” to get you out of a bad situation? If so, why don’t you try my foolproof solution?

Really repent of your wrong acts before the Lord. Don’t just ask Him to forgive you. Pray that he will change you. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus to help you.

Then if you’re suffering for stupidity and disobedience—Stop! Don’t think that God is going to suspend the laws of sowing and reaping just for you. Begin to sow good things.

James Baldwin has well said, “People can cry easier than they can change.” Change is tough but essential.

If your marriage is goofed up because of pornography, do what you must to get loose from this plague. If your job is goofed up because of laziness and lack of focus, get to work! If your friendship is goofed up because of neglect and jealousy, find the time it takes to make it work. If your health is goofed up by horrible eating habits, alcohol, or tobacco, make the changes necessary. If your spiritual life is destroyed by laziness, unbelief, and lack of commitment, get on the ball. Seek God.

We’re going to reap what we take time to sow.

It’s not as easy as popping things into the Ungoofer Machine. It takes commitment, time, and it takes God’s power. We can’t do it without Him. We need His help. He can change the bad into good.
Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases James counsel to us:

“Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. (James 1:12-19, The Message).

No machines or quick fixes will do it. We must change by His strength and our decision.
Think About It—
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” Jim Rohn

Indiana Porter” and the Lost Bike Path

Have you ever wished that you had listened?

I ride my bike often to try to stay in shape–three miles out to the top of a hill overlooking grain-laden fields near the village of Variscourt, a small prayer pause while I admire what a beautiful painter the Lord is, and three miles back huffing and puffing the last 100 yards.

Monday the 9th of June was a holiday here in France (Pentecost Monday), so instead of following my normal trajectory I decided to return by a bikepath next to a canal on the other side of the village. Phyllis and I had ridden through these fields and woods last year but from the other direction.

I crossed the old canal bridge and headed down the path through the trees. On the other side of the water people picnicked, fished and generally enjoyed the warm, afternoon sunshine.

Funny though, after a while grass and weeds obscured the bike trail. “They’re not taking very good care of this,” I thought. Finally to my surprise I came to a barrier, a plastic ribbon stretched between two poles, with a sign warning me I didn’t have the right to enter. Said there were “traps.”

“Traps!” I scoffed to myself. I was nearly sure that the main road wasn’t far ahead. What was going on with this bike path? (I had taken a wrong turn, but I didn’t realize it yet). I decided that I was going ahead anyway. “What are they going to trap around here?”

I ducked under the ribbon and pushed forward. Pushed was the word because the grass quickly got too high to pump my bike comfortably. At the top of a little hill I looked down from the lip of a sort of grass-covered bowl with a little lake at its bottom, off to the side. I startled some wild ducks.

This was beginning to look more difficult than I thought. Turn back? Who me? Never! Besides, it was a long way back now and I didn’t want to prolong this trip. This was an ADVENTURE. Something like “Indiana Porter and the Lost Bike Trail.” Got a nice ring doesn’t it?

I followed the rim of the artificial bowl as that looked easier than wading through waste-high grass straight across. Looks can be deceiving. I soon found myself fighting through high grass, briars, and bullnettle. I was wearing short pants and the front of my legs stung. “The path must be just ahead.” Instead of turning back I plunged on, often in tangles as high as my bicyle. I had to carry it a good part of the way.

Several times I thought, “I wish I had paid attention to that sign. Why in the world did I come in here?” I wondered if anyone would find me if I died of a heart attack. Probably some future hard-head would wander by this place, ignore the sign and find my bleached skeleton, staring hollow eyed into space, my faithful bicycle rusting next to me.

I finally fought my way through and sure enough on the other side was the bike path. It didn’t look promising to the right so I turned left and followed a wonderful path. And followed it and followed it and followed it, forever it seemed, until I saw a little bridge over the canal and off to my right people picnicking and fishing.

I had come back to where I started and still had three miles to go!

Had a hard time sleeping that night, because my legs were screaming, burning, itching, and throbbing from my knees to my ankles. Several times I thought, “I wish I hadn’t ignored that sign.”

Have you ever ignored a sign? God teaches us how to live by His Word, but we think we can do a little better. “He probably put that there so that we wouldn’t be happy. That was for back then. We know better now.” or “Usually it’s wrong but my case is an exception.” Or simply, “Things have changed.”

We know we shouldn’t and we do it anyway. And like “Indiana Porter” we discover that God really knew best. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesiens 5:6, NIV)

Are you tempted to get involved in something that you shouldn’t? READ THE SIGN!–God’s Word. This thing really is dangerous. You really will suffer from it. Are you already caught in the trap? Go back to the start! “But’s it’s tough. I’m tired. I’m sure there’s a way out of this just ahead.”

Don’t buy that line. Go back to where you left the right path, even if it costs you something. It will cost you a lot less than if you persist in trying to make a wrong path right.

By the way, if you need it, I found a good cream that sooths bull-nettle stings. I’ll give it to you. I’m not planning on needing it again.