In Santee, California a boy turned fifteen just a few weeks ago. While fifteen year old freshmen in high school are supposed to be studying for their math exams and trying out for the freshmen baseball team or getting ready for their next Debate Team competition, Andy Williams was planning on taking out as many of his classmates as possible. While fifteen-year-old freshmen are supposed to be talking to their girlfriends at night before they go to bed, Andy was talking to himself — trying to figure out how he was going to pull off his devilish scheme to get back at those who had hurt him.
How does something like this happen? We’ve only asked that question dozens of times over the past several years as school violence has captured the headlines of newspapers, television news magazines, and radio talk shows. Those at Santana High School in Santee, California and those in Andy’s hometown of Knoxville, Maryland don’t understand how he could have done such a thing. Back in Maryland Andy was known as a happy-go-lucky kid. Andy’s best friend, Scott Bryan said, “It doesn’t make any sense at all. I’ve never seen Andy get mad at anyone.” Scott remembers when the Columbine shootings happened in 1999 and how Andy thought that the shootings were so sad, a terrible thing to happen.
Art Fairweather, principal of Brunswick Middle School, said Andy Williams was on the honor roll there. “His grades were always good,” he said. “He seemed to have a lot of friends, and he appeared to be well-adjusted.”
How can a “good” kid, on the honor roll, seemingly well adjusted go off and take out his school? Well, some say he was picked on. Let me ask you something, what 9th grader is not picked on by upperclassmen? Being picked on, having big ears, or being skinny doesn’t explain how a child can arrive at a mental state where they take a gun and intentionally end the lives of their classmates.
On Wednesday night I was reading articles on the internet about Andy Williams when I stumbled onto some additional information that hasn’t gotten the publicity of Andy’s shooting spree. Let me share with you some other incidents that have recently taken place in the lives of young people – they should cause you and me to shutter.
* Williamsport, PA. A 13-year-old girl was hit in the shoulder when a 14-year-old girl began shooting at Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High. Police said freshman Brent Paucke, 14, was able to persuade the girl to drop the gun. Paucke said he ducked under a lunchroom table when the girl came in screaming and fired two shots, but then recognized her from his school bus. “She was saying, ‘I don’t want to live. I should just commit suicide right here.’ And she pointed the gun at her head,” Paucke said.
* In the desert town of Twentynine Palms, two 17-year-old boys were arrested at their homes Tuesday night on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder and civil rights violations. At one of the boys’ homes, deputies found a rifle. At the other, there was a list of 16 fellow students at Monument High that the pair planned to target, San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokesman Chip Patterson said. The teens’ motives were unknown.
* Authorities in Washington state arrested a student Wednesday for allegedly bringing a gun to Kentwood High School in suburban Seattle. The 15-year-old boy did not fire the gun but police shut down the school for more than an hour after apprehending him in a classroom in the Seattle suburb. The parent of one student at the school told a local TV station the suspect cocked the gun and pointed it at classmates, asking: “Who thinks I’m crazy?”
* Three junior high school students in San Bernardino County were arrested Tuesday for threatening to place a bomb on a teacher’s desk, authorities said. Classmates at Woodcrest Junior High alerted the principal. The two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old talked about the plot last week after one of the boys had a disagreement with a teacher, Ontario Detective Mike Macias said. But no bomb-making materials were found at their homes. Police said the boys cried and confessed during questioning.
* At Perris High, in Perris, Calif., school guards Tuesday found a 4-inch knife in the backpack of Luis Benavides, 18, and he was arrested for investigation of possession of a weapon. Deputies found two rifles and ammunition at his home. “He made the comment that he needed help because he felt like killing somebody,” said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Mark Lohman. “The teacher, in light of everything that’s going on, took this very seriously.”
* At Wheatland High, an hour north of Sacramento, a boy was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly threatened to bring a gun to school and kill people. He was released after authorities determined he did not have immediate access to guns.
* In another arrest, a woman Tuesday was enrolling her son at the Perris Community Day School for troubled youth when, according to a sheriff’s report, a 14-year-old told an administrator: “If you make me come here, I’ll bring a gun and shoot the place up.” The boy was taken to a juvenile jail.
* Outside California, an 18-year-old was charged with assault Tuesday for allegedly threatening a school administrator via e-mail. Sara Elizabeth Turner, who was apparently angry over a graduation delay, was accused of telling the school board president in a Feb. 11 letter: “I will put you in so much pain that you will wish you were dead.”
* In Camden, N.J., a 15-year-old honor student was arrested Tuesday for allegedly threatening to shoot members of a clique in wood shop class. Police said the boy, whose identity was not disclosed, may have been angry about comments made about his father, who died last year. No weapons were found at his home.
These incidents have taken place just this past week. These incidents do not include the thousands of incidents of violence that just aren’t as violent as the ones just listed. What is happening? How is this happening? That is a great question and if you have the answer, an answer that is acceptable to authorities, then you could be a real hero. I have my own theories of what is happening in the lives of people, not just young people, but people of every age who find themselves so isolated and twisted in their minds that they feel utterly hopeless.
Just last week while I was teaching the Beth Moore Bible study, “Jesus The One and Only,” I shared with the class about solitary places. I have seen how the Enemy has worked overtime to cut folks out of the fold and drive them to secluded places away from those who love them, care for them, and can work to support them while they go through very difficult times. I’ve seen this happen to believers and unbelievers alike over the past several years. A myriad of factors are used by Satan to convince us that we need to withdraw from those who care about us. When he does this he will have a field day with our head.
Satan’s ploy to drive us to seclusion is not a new strategy of his — he has been driving folks to isolation for generations. Take a look at Luke 8:26-39 and read along with me.
26They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. 30Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. 32A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. 33When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. 38The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39″Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39 NIV)
I want you to notice some things about this man who was being terrorized by Satan. First, he had been living naked, without any clothes, and outside for a long time. Secondly, he was living among the tombs. The man was living among the dead – he himself was a dead man walking among the dead. Third, notice how the man responds to Jesus when he sees Him.
28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”
Isn’t that interesting? The tortured man, who has been living in the tombs among the dead, no clothes, and out of his mind, is begging the Prince of Peace not to torture him. Have you ever had your mind so twisted that you shrunk back from Jesus in fear? I knew a man one time who was being tormented. As we talked I sensed that I wasn’t going to be able to help him simply by talking to him so I asked him if I could pray with him. When I moved over and took his hands I said, “I want you to say, ‘Jesus is my Deliverer.’” He looked back at me with hollow eyes and didn’t say a word. I tried it again, but he still was silent. Finally, I said, “Mike, just say ‘Jesus.’” This man who had shared Scripture with me in the past, who knew the Bible better than most churchgoers, was not even able to say the name of Jesus.
The trials of life, the troubles of every day, the tragedies that visit us, and the turbulence of temptation can be used by Satan to separate us like a cutting horse separating a calf from the herd. I mentioned to you earlier that Satan can and will use anything he can to destroy you. I have known people who have gone through all kinds of experiences, everything from financial pressures to health problems to marriage problems to breaking up with a boyfriend to not fitting in at school to not making the team or the grade and more. These problems have weighed heavy on their hearts and made them feel like losers. The problems caused them to crawl in a hole and the darkness enveloped them like a winter coat. They stopped talking to their friends. They stopped getting out. They were depressed. They feared that somebody would find out that they weren’t who they had represented themselves to be. They were haunted by the thought that others saw them as weak and feeble. The depression turned into despair until they wondered it there was even a reason to live.
Just a few months ago I got an email from a young friend of mine who lives in another city. She was going through a tough time. I’ve known this young girl for quite some time and I will tell you that she has got a heart of gold for God. The darkness was creeping in as things were not going as well as she had hoped at school. Satan was throwing temptation after temptation at her from every direction. She wrote to me and shared her struggle. In her letter she said, “I don’t want to do what the voices in my head are telling me to do.”
How many of us here this morning can’t relate to that statement? When the darkness sits so squarely on your chest that you can hardly breath and your eyes are clouded with an endless stream of tears aren’t there thoughts that pound your brain that embarrass you, that you hope nobody ever finds out about you? That is exactly what Satan is trying to do to us – he wants to isolate us, convince us that his way is really the only option we have, and then convict us as losers in the eyes of God. God’s Word gives us such good counsel during these times. Read along with me from 1 Peter 5,
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11 NIV)
Satan will try and convince you that you are all alone, but the fact of the matter is that everyone struggles with something, everyone faces trials and troubles in life, and the darkness reaches far and wide to touch the life of every person at one time or another. The question isn’t “will I face hardships?” or “why am I going through this?” but when the hardships come how can I respond so that the Enemy doesn’t isolate me and drive me to solitary confinement where he can destroy me?
Peter tells us to hold on, to stand firm in our faith, to be self-controlled, alert, and resist Satan when we are going through all kinds of sufferings. Why are we to resist and stand strong? Great question and there are two answers based upon this Scripture:
First, because the God of grace will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. Peter says as much in verse 10 when he writes, 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. Satan’s plan is to convince us that our lives are over. Our present pain will be the order of the day for the rest of our lives. He wants to convince us that we are all alone and hopeless. God wants us to know that He will restore us as we stand strong and resist the enemy’s plan to isolate us.
Second, we are to stand strong because we are not alone, at the very moment that we are suffering, there are literally untold millions who are struggling along with us. Once again, Peter says as much in verse 9, when he says, 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. There is strength in numbers and when sufferers and strugglers come together to seek God’s comfort and strength without trying to offer easy answers to one another then there is hope and encouragement.
I have to tell you that our problem is not the trials and struggles that we encounter in life. Problems can be great opportunities. Struggles can bring about strength if they are put in the hands of the Father. Solitary places are not the sole possession of Satan. As a matter of fact, Jesus went to a solitary place often, but the result of His time spent there was quite different than the results we see in the Gerasenes demoniac or the results that many of us have seen in our own lives when the enemy has driven us to seclusion and isolation. Let’s take a look at Jesus’ time spent in solitary places. Look first with me at Matthew 14:13-14.
13When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14 NIV)
We are told that when Jesus heard what had happened that He withdrew to a solitary place. What had happened? If you read the first twelve verses of Matthew 14 then you will learn that Herod had just had John the Baptist beheaded. John, the one who prepared the way for Jesus. John, the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. John, because of a drunken promise of Herod, was now gone. Jesus was heartbroken and grieving over the death of someone He dearly loved. Where did Jesus run when He was overwhelmed with sorrow? He went to the Father. He went to a quiet place where He could be held and comforted by the only One who brings lasting comfort.
In the next Scripture that I want us to look at this morning we find Jesus seeking out a solitary place once again. Take a look at Luke 4:42-44.
42At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:42-44 NIV)
On the day before Jesus had been worn slick casting out demons, healing the sick, and pouring out His life in ministry to those who were hurting and coming to Him. After such a long day Jesus found solitude, but while He was there the people found Him once again. What was Jesus doing out there in the quiet place? He was being restored, revived, and renewed by the Father.
Let’s take a look at one more section of Scripture this morning before we leave here. Open your Bibles to Mark’s Gospel and let’s read from Mark 1:35-42.
35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:35-39 NIV)
Once again Jesus goes out, while it is still dark, to a quiet place where He could be alone with the Father. The old hymn says, “There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” Long before the hymn was ever written Jesus knew the place of quiet rest in the storms of life. These instances of Jesus’ going to quiet places to be with the Father have been recorded in Scripture for you and for me. Just as Jesus needed to withdraw into the arms of the Father, so we need to step into His loving arms as well.
It is really important that we recognize what happens in Jesus’ life when He retreats to solitary places with God. This is so important for us because it is the difference between living victoriously in a vicious world or succumbing to Satan’s schemes to smother and destroy us. If you will notice, in each of the three Scriptures where Jesus withdraws to a quiet, solitary place, immediately afterwards He leaves that place to step into the mess of life and minister to those who are hurting. This is the difference between the solitary places of God and the solitary confinement of Satan.
When we step into the arms of the Father for times of quiet rest, confession, sorrow, or fellowship we will be broken by the hurts of others. Our suffering and sorrow, our depression and despair, and our frustrations and confusion will be turned into brokenness for others. On the other hand, when Satan is able to isolate us he will consume us with our own troubles, he will surround us with ourselves, and cause us to forget about the suffering and confusion of others.
God’s suffering people began living out this reality in Santee, California as soon as bullets began to fly this past week. In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune, Sandi Dolbee wrote an article entitled, Churches Offer Solace: The Grief-Stricken Flock to Houses of Worship. In the article written on March 6, she writes,
SANTEE — As the sun set on a terrible day of lives cut short and innocence lost, the doors of Santee’s churches began to open. From the modest Santee United Methodist Church to the sprawling Sonrise Community Church, people gathered to pray and sing and do what people do when they are seeking a balm for a wound that cannot heal on its own.
There is an important line in Sandi’s article that I hope you didn’t miss. It reads, “People gathered to pray and sing and do what people do when they are seeking a balm for a wound that cannot heal on its own.” Those kinds of wounds are not the exclusive property of those who go through school shootings, they are experienced by everyone who has ever lived. When we feel the excruciating pain of those wounds we need to run into the arms of the Father.
I pray that today you will run into the Father’s arms. If you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life then won’t you surrender your life to Him this morning and allow Him to give you His salvation, His peace, and the healing for your soul that you’ve always longed for.