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by J. Austin Bennett
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J. Austin Bennett

(The setting is November, 1997: The Federal Prison Camp at Terre Haute, Indiana)

MATTHEW 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which art in heaven.

JOHN 12: 42-43 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should
be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more
than the praise of God.

This is a story of embarrassments.

One day last spring, a young man heard me singing a hymn and suddenly joined in. He then remarked, “I’ve got to get more religious.”
I asked him, “Why would you want to do that?”
He told me that he grew up in a Christian home and believed in Jesus, but had stopped going to church when he was about sixteen. He also never read the Bible anymore. After a few minutes, it became obvious to both of us that he had no relationship with Christ.

A few weeks later, his mother became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. This young man, we’ll call him Joe, showed up in chapel for the first time. He asked for prayer for his critically ill mother. Joe also asked me to lead him in prayer privately.
As his mother hovered near the doorway to eternity, Joe did indeed become religious. He stopped cursing, quit smoking, put away his X-rated magazines and generally did everything he thought a Christian should do. All but one thing, that is.

As Joe and the congregation prayed, his mother gradually recovered. Three weeks later, she was home and out of danger.

I will now borrow two characters created by C.S. Lewis in his superb work THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS. One of them is a demon named Wormwood whose job is to misdirect the poor human that is his assignment. The other is a high-ranking supervisor among Satan’s legions, his uncle Screwtape (talk about nepotism). Their job is to see Joe in hell. Screwtape’s letters will help me tell the rest of the story.

My Dear Wormwood,
I cannot express how disillusioned I am by your hasty action regarding Joe’s mother. By making her ill, you have driven your charge straight into the midst of the enemy. Don’t you realize, after all your training, that attacks on the health of the immediate family simply give Jesus the chance to demonstrate his power? Do you, by any chance, recall that he healed thousands when he was limited by human form? You, my nephew, of all the Satanic hordes, should know better.
A direct attack can only fail unless the victim in your hands has already committed himself to totally renouncing the acceptance of God in any manner.
All is not lost though. Build up this pitiful creature called Joe and let him feel secure. Obviously this will take time. But gradually we should be able to wean him away from this new environment into which you forced him by simply appealing to his lusts. After all, you already had him well indoctrinated into pornography. Put some magazines in front of him and be patient.
Your affectionate uncle,

I didn’t see much of Joe for the next few months. He came to church less frequently, and then not at all. When I passed him in the hall, he seemed to be quite content. Then one day I bumped into him and I asked about his mother.
“Oh, she’s fine,” Joe said. “The doctor did a great job and everything is all right. She probably just had a stress attack.” With that, Joe hurried off to join his buddies in a card game. I heard him laugh, “I feel lucky tonight. I’m going to clean you ______ __ers out.”

My dear Wormwood,
You see how patience and a little work can pay off. Your charge is right back where we left him four months ago. If you hadn’t been in such a hurry, we could have saved that time.
Now that Joe is enjoying our distractions, I suggest that you go to work on his pride. Let him feel invincible. It is when he thinks he the strongest that he is actually at his weakest. He will avoid that awful Christian crowd like the plague. We are lucky that none of them were more persistent in their witness for the enemy, or Joe might have been converted.
You did a good job, my nephew, when you got Joe into the group he is hanging out with. Now use this group to build into Joe a longing for social acceptance. The fear of rejection is a powerful tool. These blind sheep have a need to fit in. We almost got that rotten thorn in our side Peter that way. I’m sure Joe is no Simon Peter, so your success is fairly certain.
Your affectionate uncle,

My next opportunity with Joe came unexpectedly. I saw him sitting alone at lunch several weeks ago. When I sat down at his table, we were joined almost immediately by another young fellow who had previously been openly critical of Christ’s offer of salvation to all men. I was hesitant to broach the subject in this hostile setting, so I kept silent.
Then the young fellow to my right asked Joe if he was a Christian, too? Imagine my surprise when Joe looked him straight in the eye and said, “No.”
This fellow then asked if Joe believed Jesus was the Son of God, to which Joe responded, “No.” It was apparent to me that Joe, craving acceptance, was trying to pass what he thought was this man’s test.
My surprise turned to shock when this young fellow launched into one of the strongest testimonies I have ever heard of Jesus’ love for Joe and how he had died for Joe’s sins. Suddenly, Joe could not meet his eyes or mine. Joe was mortified.
The next evening I saw Joe sitting in the dining hall alone. He had his Bible on the table.
As I said, this is a story of embarrassments. Upon reflection, I realized that I had failed my King for much the same reason as Joe. The Lord raised up that young man in my place.

My dear Wormwood,
I admit that you could not have foreseen the unfortunate zeal of that young man at the dinner table. Your colleague, Slugstench, completely lost control of him. Because of his miserable failure, this fellow has become a force to be reckoned with.
By the way, Slugstench was the main course for dinner last night and made an excellent entrée. I mention this to remind you that you are still responsible for Joe.
We have obviously suffered a setback, but it doesn’t have to be fatal to the ultimate outcome. It is all right, though certainly not preferable if Joe reads that Book for a while. The key is to convince Joe that by merely reading he is making a sacrifice of his time; that it is an intellectual exercise. By giving some of his valuable time, he has proven to one and all that he is a “good” man. That is as far as it needs to go. As long as you keep him away from those born again followers of the enemy, and as long as Joe makes no real commitment, he will gain no real understanding of what awaits him. Then you, my dear nephew, should escape the dinner menu.
Make certain Joe’s old friends get with him immediately. I have also issued a strong memorandum to our forces regarding this zealous preaching. They will insinuate into the minds of those souls that we have already lost to refrain from appearing too fanatical. After all, they want to fit in too.
With a little luck and perseverance, Joe will one day be food for the worms that die not, and you Wormwood can have eternity to torment him.
Your affectionate uncle,

I wish I could tell you how it turned out for Joe, but the battle is still raging. We can be sure that Wormwood, under Screwtape’s relentless prodding is doing his job.

As ambassadors of Christ, are we delivering his message? Or are we allowing the fear of personal rejection to blunt our efforts?

When he walked among us, Jesus held the mirror of each man’s life before him and offered salvation. This is still our great commission today. Was Joe’s denial of Jesus any greater than mine for failing to bring that message?

There is a lot at stake here. Is Wormwood winning, or are you?

By the way, DO YOU KNOW JOE?

J. Austin Bennett Copyright © 2006 Use with credit.

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Member Comments
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Patricia Trimarchi 16 May 2006
Austin, Enjoyed this very much.I too am a C.S. Lewis fan,but feel you could have created your own characters in "Lewis" style.(Rather than use his Screwtape characters)The entire theme should ring true to all readers as it surely did to me...very convicting. God Bless you...There are lots of "Joes" out there!


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