The Mind of a Criminal

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit. You redeem me, Lord, God of truth. Psalm 31:5

This is the Psalm I prayed today. And when I came to verse 5, I had to pause. I had to contemplate just who He is for the Lord is the God of truth. And I have to say, truth doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, my tendency is to be less than truthful. That’s just been my way…

For as long as I can remember.

Oh, for various reasons. But number one has got to be fear. Yes, fear has caused me to lie and to veil and to hide and to pretend. No doubt I’ve lived most of my life scared of one thing or another and it’s caused me to be such a timid thing. At different stages, I cowered in shame or meekness or embarrassment.

The worst part? What began as simple shyness and awkwardness morphed to full-blown fear of everything and everyone. Yep, over the years I turned into a coward. Just plain scared. Especially when it came to speaking up.

And today, I don’t know that I like the idea of that. Moreover, I don’t think I want to come to the end of my days and have regret. Kicking myself for the times I should have opened my mouth but didn’t. All in the name of fear.

And you know what else? When my children are grown, I don’t want them to remember a woman who shrank back. No, I want them to see a woman driven forward by God’s spirit. A woman who embodied power and love and a sound mind.

Fearless.

Yes, this is the legacy I hope to leave for my babies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7

I have to tell you there are times I prefer not to write and today happens to be one of those times. Because the topic is heated. Much has been said on Facebook already and the posts have caused more comments than I can count.

See, there was a threat to our high-school recently. A couple of students planned harm and destruction for the anniversary of Columbine. Fortunately, someone had the courage to alert the authorities and what could have been is not. The heinous crime was not committed.

Thank God.

But what’s ensued is a lot of discussion. People wondered whether or not the kids should go to school on April 20th and there was talk about the administration. Was adequate information provided to the parents? Was enough done? Are our children safe now? What measures will be taken in the future to prohibit such a crime from happening?

All good questions. But you know, inevitably, ugliness finds its way to the surface. Someone doesn’t like another’s idea or opinion and says so. It snowballs from there…

Because of all this debate, two quotes I discovered today seem incredibly pertinent. And wise. And not coincidentally, they seem to go hand-in-hand with my Bible study material.

One being, “Sometimes, not saying anything is the best answer. You see, silence can never be misquoted.”  The other, “Discussion is always better than argument because argument is to find ‘Who is right’ and discussion is to find ‘What is right’.

These sayings intrigue me. No, they challenge me. Especially in light of recent events. Should I remain silent? Or dare I open my mouth? More importantly, does God want me to say something?

And if I do speak, what’s my true intention…

Is it to prove who’s right and promote my opinion? Or will the thing I feel compelled to share add value to the situation? Will it shed light on what could be right?

And so I prayed for guidance in hope that the Spirit of Truth would lead me.

Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. 2 Timothy 2:14-16

I’m studying the second book of Timothy and it can’t be an accident the above are my verses for this week. The idea here is to use your speech to build up and not tear down. Edification as opposed to destruction. Because fighting over words (and opinions) is in no way profitable.

In fact, it’s useless. It adds no value. And the New American Commentary has this to say regarding the squabbling over words: “In the end disputing about words seeks not the victory of truth but the victory of the speaker.”

I just had to pause when I read that this morning. I also copied it into my journal. Because it’s convicting. When I open my mouth, do I seek my victory? Or truth’s?

Thus, I’m a bit cautious about entering any debate (no matter how worthwhile). My sincere prayer is that if I do, I have something useful to add. Something of value and profitable to the hearer.

And you know, I think I just might have something I can share. No, that I should share.. Because God compels me to open my mouth instead of keeping it closed. Though I read in verse 23 to reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they breed quarrels, I find myself pulled into the discussion about school because I find a nugget of truth sandwiched between verses 14 and 23.

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

Because if I know anything, I know a lot about youthful passions. And amidst all the discussion, it’s our youth that lies at the heart of this debate. And God help us if we lose sight of them in the fight about how things went down.

Yes, in the conversation about whether enough was done beforehand and after, may we remember our kids. May we contemplate what could have prompted such a thing to begin with…

Oh, may we seek to understand the heart of one who felt the need to threaten an entire school. And dare I say it? May we seek to understand the mind of a criminal…

And whether or not this unfortunate young man is convicted, he finds himself behind bars tonight. Imprisoned for a crime he may or may not have really gone forward with. And so, for me, this is the million-dollar question…

What in the world was this kid going through?

What transpired in the days and years leading up to his very, real threat? What, in God’s name, takes place in the mind of a criminal?

If that’s what he really is.

At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. Colossians 4:3-4

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See that girl? All her life she was a coward. She avoided shame and embarrassment and conflict and debate. She kept her mouth shut most of the time. And I should know because she’s me.

Recently, I tried to color it differently. I said keeping quiet was really like being a peacemaker. But deep down I knew truth. Not speaking up (at least on my part) was pure cowardice. Because fear ruled.

It was embarrassment that compelled me to lie in kindergarten. I was humiliated that my shirt was flawed and had to be fastened by a safety pin. When a little boy fixed it and I cried, I didn’t tell the truth. Instead, I told the teacher I had lice because to me, bugs seemed a more plausible reason for tears than a missing button.

In the second grade, fear caused me to keep silent when my best friend elbowed me in the stomach. Hard. She didn’t do it often but every now and then. And it hurt. Not just physically, either. But I didn’t want to make her not like me by saying something. So I didn’t.

Feeling dumb inspired me to play a part. I assumed the role of airhead at 14 because it was easier to laugh with people than have them laugh at me for my ignorance. But the act didn’t work long because the facade no longer worked when I entered my junior year.

Perhaps that explains the sad look on my face in the above photo. Truth is I was unhappy a lot back then. Because, at 17, I suffered my first depression. And at 17, I had my heart ripped asunder. And at 17, I found myself working hard to fit in with a new crowd.

And at 17, I knew I would never shine. Not next to my friend, I wouldn’t. No, standing next to her I was not special. But I wanted to be. And this was my youthful passion. Oh, how I wanted to shine.

Nonetheless, I dwelt in the shadows while she danced in the sun. She shone brightly and I followed her light.

Sadly, I was a follower in every sense of the word. And though I did mostly whatever my friend suggested, fear was my true master. Because no different than I was at eight, I kept my mouth shut. I worried that if I went against the grain, she wouldn’t like me anymore.

But in the end, keeping silent led to a life of crime. So when it comes to understanding the mind of a criminal, I just may have first-hand knowledge.

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I think about the boys who threatened our school. One behind bars and the other not. I just have to wonder if one was the leader. Because the 17-year old is behind bars, the 16-year old is not. And I wonder if their relationship was anything like mine.

Did one play second to the other’s first? Did one shine brightly and the other just follow his light? Was the younger anything at all like me at that age… someone ruled by fear. Too scared to speak up. And not wanting to lose the admiration of his friend, did he go along with a plan even when he didn’t want to?

All these are just musings, but from experience I know how someone can get sucked into something they don’t want to.

See, it was the end of my junior year and the new gym had been completed. And my friends thought it would be great to paint on the wall. I didn’t. In fact, the idea of it made me sick. I knew we’d get in trouble. But I kept quiet. Never said a word.

Not through dinner at the Chinese restaurant when the plans were hatched. And I managed to sing along with George Thoroughgood on the way home. I even put a smile on my face and joined in with the laughs. And when it was suggested we use my car (being dark), I heartily agreed.

But I didn’t want to. Inside I screamed, NO!

Because I didn’t want to drive to the school at midnight and I didn’t want to hide my car across the street at the Christmas Tree farm and I didn’t want to run like a thief through the fields and hiding out in trees making our way stealthily to the back.

But I did.

Yes, I pulled the socks on my hands (no gloves available) and just stood there, paint can pointed at the wall. But I waited. I didn’t go first. I waited to see if the others would go through with it.

And then I heard it… the “ppppssssss” noise of aerosol paint cans. And so, I joined them. I vandalized school property because I was too scared to say I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be ousted from the group.

Yes, this girl was a coward. Timid in every way. Too fearful to speak her own mind.

Just plain fearful.

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It’s true, I was a vandal. But there were other things not worth mentioning. I broke the law more than once. More than twice. More and more…

I just wasn’t caught. But had I been, I could have been convicted… could have had a criminal record. And it’s here I think about those boys.

Would they really have gone through with it? Could they really have used weapons and explosives and taken the lives of those we hold dear?

And honestly, I think more about the younger one. I wonder if he plastered a smile on his face even though he felt sick. I wonder if he heartily agreed to do things he really didn’t want to do because that’s what he always did.

The boy who always did what he was told. Too scared not to for fear of being ousted from the friendship…

Like me, just plain scared.

And like me, would he have followed his leader right up to the school door? Would he have pointed his gun and held his breath hoping his friend’s senses returned. Would he have placed his finger on the trigger breathing a silent prayer, “Please don’t let him go through with it!”

But then, when he heard the “pop, pop, pop” of the gun, would he do what I did? Would he just move forward and do it because he’d already gotten that far? Propelled by fear…

Fortunately, for me it was spray paint. And for this 16-year old who is no longer at school (but I don’t know his fate), the day never came for him to find out what he’d really do. Or what his friend behind bars would have done.

But there are others. Countless others. Mass shootings at way too many schools.

And I cannot help but think it’s fear that drives them. Fear of being left out. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of not being seen.

Or perhaps it’s that youthful passion to be noticed that motivates. Because who could ever forget the ones who make their mark by slaughtering helpless students…

Got help us all.

I have heard the gossip of many; terror is on every side. When they conspired against me, they plotted to take my life. But I trust in You, LORD. I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:13-14

Yep, I have insight into the criminal mind because I had one. And it was fear that drove me to do so many things I never would have done on my own at 17. Truly, the power of peer pressure is astounding.

As to the boys in our community, I can’t speak for them. I have no clue as to what really prompted their threats. But what I do know is they’re guilty of planning a crime. They conspired to murder and for that they’ll receive punishment on many levels.

Judiciary and administratively and personally. And God knows their reputations will be ruined. But the truth is, they’re not the only ones who are guilty. They are not the only ones who’ve acted criminally…

See, Jesus said, “You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Matthew 5:21-22.

Do you see that? Jesus takes it from the outward to the inward. He says it begins in the heart. Moreover, He says if you’re angry with your brother, you’re guilty.

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

And in light of that, who doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the mind of a criminal. For we’re all guilty of that.

But you know, I do have good news those guilty as charged. I find it in the book of Luke. Seems two criminals were crucified with Christ, one on the right and one on the left. Jesus was there in the middle. They were malefactor’s. Doers of evil. And yet, one found redemption that day.

While one criminal yelled insults, the other rebuked him. “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he asked Jesus to remember him…

Jesus’ response?

“I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

And this is the very reason I dare open my mouth. In hope that others find this redemption. This salvation available to us all.

Because I am guilty as sin. Every day, I do something and I’m surrounded by people who do the same. Nothing more than a bunch of criminals seething in our anger. And if it’s not anger then it’s something else.

But Jesus is right here in the middle of us all and we have a choice. We can insult Him and deny Him. Or, we can revere Him and believe Him. We can entrust our spirit into His hand and be redeemed by the God of Truth.

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

As for those boys who made such a costly mistake, the same choice lies before them. One is to the left of Jesus and the other is to the right. He’s right there in the middle. And I pray they both choose wisely.

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured my him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:26

 

Yep, there’s been a lot of talk around here lately. Lots of debate about these boys and our school system. And fear and anger have been prevalent. And for a while, I didn’t want to open my mouth.

Those youthful passions kicked in…

Wanting to be liked and not ousted. So I kept quiet for a little while. But God compels me to open my mouth. But not in an ugly way. If I dare speak, it should be for one reason only. To build up and not tear down.

So that’s what I try to do. This is my attempt to tell the truth to edify the hearers.

But this goes against the grain with me. Because being truthful has never come easy. Thus, I can only explain it as the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, that’s what He’s done for me.

See, God is transforming me from a liar to a speaker of truth. He’s changing me from a coward to fearless woman. That’s what God is doing for me.

But it’s not just for me… it’s for my children. And this is the legacy I hope to leave for them.

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patent instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth. 2 Timothy 2:22-25

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