It was the kind of afternoon camp counselors dread. The rain had been falling, heavy and steady, for two days. The leaden clouds hovered near the treetops and seemed to promise that the cold, penetrating downpour would continue for yet another day.

Inside the main lodge an epidemic of cabin fever had broken out. On the first day of rain, there were crafts to work on and a standby ration of wet-weather cartoon films to watch. The second day of rain was passed with group games and a rerun of the cartoons.

But when the rains continued unabated on the third day, the campers were in no mood for cartoons, or crafts, or games. They demanded fresh entertainments.

How relieved and pleased the counselors were when a camp visitor, a high-ranking officer in an elite law-enforcement agency, volunteered his services. He offered to give the campers a demonstration of weapons, police tactics, and some self-defense procedures. The assembled campers seemed spellbound as they learned how the nightstick and Mace are used. They took turns snapping handcuffs on one another. And they listened attentively to the lecture on the dangers of firearms. As a finale, this modern-day Elliott Ness showed the campers how best to deal with muggers and stickup men.

Calling a young camper to the platform, he described a fast self-defense action by which one could evade, disarm, and subdue any would-be stickup man who might poke a pistol into your back. The maneuver, he explained, consisted of a quick step to the left, accompanied by a rapid thrust of the right elbow backward and downward to knock away the assailant’s revolver. The gun, he promised, would be stripped from the gunman’s hand or, at worst, discharge harmlessly into the ground. It all seemed so simple.

With the help of the camper who had now joined him on stage, the lawman proceeded to demonstrate. He armed the camper with a large water pistol. Then assuming the role of the victim, he instructed the camper to approach him from behind and attempt the stickup.

Gun in hand, the would-be robber struck, jabbing the barrel into the victim’s back. The bold hero lunged to his left, swung back his right elbow fiercely—and was shot squarely in the back by the junior gunman. The huge, running, water spot between his shoulder blades was clear evidence of the failure of his supposedly safe maneuver.

Red-faced and fumbling for words, the lawman scolded the junior gunman, “You’re supposed to hold the gun in your right hand!” But the left-handed robber was not impressed. Scrambling for some lesson to leave as he beat his retreat, the lawman said, “Well, be sure to watch out for left-handed stickup men.”

Every now and then that “lesson” comes back to me, because it is a good one. I can, for example, deal successfully with temptations from the usual and expected sources—from the right-hand side. But it is when I become too confident that I get gunned down from the left—any blind side, really—by the sin and failures I least anticipate. To make matters worse, Satan is ambidextrous, always ready to attack from either side. And so the price of moral growth is perpetual vigilance.

Over the past months all of us in positions of Christian leadership have been made more aware that we possess no special immunity from moral and spiritual failure. There is a left-handed stickup man lying in wait for each one of us.

I have learned I can improve my defenses greatly by joining myself to partners ready to warn me about dangers on my blind side and shield me with their prayers. I must be willing to accept their warnings, corrections, and encouragements as I seek to become the person God intends me to be. Paul reminded his Thessalonian friends that he had expressed his love for them by holding them accountable to live lives worthy of the God who called them.

My friends, we—I—need you to help fend off the stickup men by holding me accountable to live a life worthy of the God who has called me.


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