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Two Sets of Plans

In a sermon delivered five days after the Columbine High School murders, Pastor Oudemolen says that Satan has one set of plans, but God has a better set.

I, like many of you, am overwhelmed. What's particularly overwhelming for me, in the midst of a devastating crisis like this one, is having to stand publicly and offer hope and comfort. Like many of you, I've turned to God and said, "God, you know what we need right now? We need you to speak."

At some level we all say, "Is there a word from God?" I've come today to tell you there is. My fear is that I will appear glib or trite, but the only reason I can stand here today is by the power of God and the prayers of his people.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good . . ." (Genesis 50:20)

Listen to the next verse in light of the tragedy of this past Tuesday. Genesis 50:20 says, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

On Tuesday morning at Columbine High School the forces of evil converged to unleash a violent and bloody spring holocaust on teens and their teachers. Two suicides followed thirteen homicides. A morning of mayhem led to a horrific afternoon and evening of waiting. We have parents sitting here today who were part of that waiting. Riveting reunions between parents and kids brought tearful relief to hundreds throughout that dark day. Sadly some parents left Leawood Elementary School without a reunion. Many reunions took place in hospitals and funeral homes across our community.

John and Doreen Tomlin were one of the first couples to see their son in a funeral home. On Friday, John and Doreen had a memorial service for their 16 son, John Robert Tomlin.

On April 20, 1999, Satan had a plan for Littleton. We know it was Satan who had a grip on those two boys because he left his calling , destruction, and dread. Make no mistake; Tuesday's atrocity is not simply about black trench coats, purported parental failure, anemic gun laws, inattentive teachers, or Marilyn Manson. Ultimately, what we saw on Tuesday came from Satan's home pit of hell.

In fact, I believe I smelled hell. On Tuesday I believe I got as close as you can get on earth to smelling there at the corner of Pierce and Bowles.

Pastor Boone and I were out together for a morning of meetings, and we were coming home on C470 when we first heard the sirens. Within ten minutes between 15 and 20 emergency vehicles raced past us. We were well aware something huge was going on. We got off C470, came down Bowles, and headed in the direction of the sirens. Cars continued to pass us with emergency lights flashing. We drove to the corner of Pierce and Bowles, and pulled into the parking lot across the street. One student who was they were scattered , "There's someone with a gun inside, and he's shooting everybody."

We got out of the car, walked across the street, and joined hundreds of others who were arriving at the scene. Huge groups of kids made their way up toward the public library, which became a command post. It was utter chaos.

We began talking to the kids and asking them what happened. Many needed to call their parents, and I had my cell phone. I saw a teacher who attends our church and prayed with him. I saw another person I knew and prayed with him. There was terror on every face.

Satan had a plan for Littleton.

I smelled the presence of Satan in that place. You could see it, smell it, taste it. On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, Satan had a plan for Littleton.

First, Satan wanted fear. Some of you have had trouble sleeping. Some of your kids are having nightmares. Some of you wake up in the middle of the night because you've been dreaming about shootings and killings. I have. And every time I've been jolted by fear, I'm drawn to 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, "God has not given us a spirit of fear."

If God has not given us a spirit of fear, then where is it coming from? It's coming from Satan. Satan's plan is that this community will be consumed by fear. He wants us to be afraid to go to bed at night.

One night I looked out my front window because I had heard something. I saw a man sitting in his car with his lights on. As I watched from the window, suddenly I was overwhelmed by fear, and I wanted to know why that person was out there. If you haven't felt it yet, you probably will. And I know where it comes from. It comes from the pit of hell. That was part of Satan's plan for Littleton on Tuesday.

Satan has another plan for our community: he'd love to see us filled with hate. Today I prayed for the families of the two boys who are responsible for this mayhem. That might have been hard for some of you. I'm not an expert on grief, but I know anger is a normal part of the process. If you've felt angry, I'm not surprised. It's predictable. I've had my share. Satan wants us to stay there. He wants us to live with anger.

Perhaps some of you watched the special edition of "Nightline" on Thursday. They were in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where 13 months ago a similar tragedy occurred. Interestingly, the title was "Lessons Learned." I don't think the evening went the way they had planned. I think they hoped the people from Jonesboro would say, "Here's how we learned to walk through this, Littleton. Let us comfort and encourage you." But that message did not come through.

Thirteen months after the tragedy, there is still incredible hostility between those who were victimized and the families of the victimizers. The mom of one of the victimizers, Mitchell Johnson, was at the community meeting that was being taped. Many in the room did not know she was there. One man who lost his wife was nearly out of control with his rage.

I'm not critiquing his response or hers. I'm just saying this: I know what Satan wants Littleton to look like in 13 months. He wants us to be hateful and spiteful. He wants us to see people wearing black trench coats and unleash our anger against them. He wants evil to be repaid by evil. He wants hatred to be repaid by hatred.

Satan had a plan for Littleton, and his plan was that we would be overcome by fear, hatred, and finally, inconsolable grief. Inconsolable grief can ruin your life. That's not to say there's not a place for grieving. Five days after this episode we are all still shocked and grieving.

Everyone handles their grief differently. Some people laugh and giggle. Some people can't stop crying. Some like to make silly little jokes. Some get irritable. Some get so tired they can't stay awake. Some stare at the wall and become immobilized. Some become angry and call talk shows, screaming out their solutions.

We are a community in grief. But Satan wants us to hang onto our grief.

Jerry Shimmel, a part of our church family, survived the 1989 United 232 plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa. On Wednesday night Jerry had some incredible words for us. One thing he said was "You're never going to get over this." Secondly, he told us there are some from that particular tragedy who are in mental health facilities. Ten years after the crash, they still aren't able to process their grief.

Satan loves that we retain horrible memories. He loves that Tuesday's tragic scenes replay in our minds like video and over again. He loves that I vividly remember law enforcement officers drawing their weapons on a possible suspect and yelling at us to "Get down! Get down!" I still remember the horrible feelings, as many of you do. Satan wants us to relive continually those horrible memories.

Satan had plans for Littleton on April 20, 1999.

Satan's plan didn't work, because God also had a plan.

Satan had a plan on Tuesday, but I don't think it worked. Why? Because God also had a plan.

Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Genesis 50, the story of Joseph, reminds us that what Joseph's brothers intended for evil, what they intended for harm, what they intended for hate, God intended for good. I love those words "but God."

Someone gave me a plaque two or three years ago. It's on the wall in my study. Every time I glance toward the door I see it. It says, Bill, I have everything under control. Jesus.

God has plans for Littleton. What is God's plan for Littleton? 2 Timothy 1:7: "God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Satan's plan for Littleton was fear, hate, and inconsolable grief. God's plan, which went into action immediately, is for power, love, and sound thinking.

As I said earlier, I don't want to appear glib or preachy today, but if we're going to turn to God in this crisis, we have to turn to God believing that God is able to do abundantly above and beyond anything we can ask or think. I want to be one voice in this community saying, "God is still in control; God is good; and God has amazing plans for us until Jesus Christ returns to this earth."

God wants the people of Littleton and the world to see and experience his power.

God wants people of Littleton and the world to see and experience his power. I want to tell you, God's power was evident in the middle of this bloodbath.

All of us have read about Cassie Bernall. She was a strong Christian just a kid that went to church. I believe Rachel Scott wanted to be a missionary. John Tomlin had been on missionary trips. These kids were on fire for God.

Would you ever have imagined that a precious 17 girl would be asked, "Do you believe in God?" while a gun was pointed at her? Perhaps she thought, If I say no, they might spare me. I don't know that, but what I do know is that she, according to the eye witness, said yes. In an instant, she was in the presence of the Lord.

This past Wednesday night friends of John Tomlin were having a meeting. One of his friends, Brandon, had been witnessed to by John. Brandon had not yet accepted Christ as his Savior. But on Wednesday night when the man leading the meeting said, "Would anyone like to receive Christ?" Brandon said, "I want to."

The man said, "I want you to be sure. I don't want this to be an emotional decision. I know you're all stirred up by all of this."

Brandon said, "John has been talking to me about this. I know exactly what the gospel is. I'm going to receive Christ tonight."

On Friday morning, John and Doreen said to me, "We want John Robert Tomlin's service to be an evangelistic service. We want you to give an invitation to receive Christ. We know that won't erase the pain of the loss of our son. But please present the gospel."

What an incredible opportunity to stand and say, "The Lord Jesus Christ is first, and was first, in John's life. And if you'd like to put your faith in him and receive him as your Savior, I want you to raise your hand right now." Across the room, five hands went into the air.

Some of you are probably thinking, Bill, we're still grieving. How can you be so loud and positive about what's going on? This is a horrible tragedy.

I know. I think I feel it as deeply as anyone who didn't have someone in the school can feel it. We had kids from this church in that school. There's a mom and dad in the front row who know exactly what I'm talking about.

However, what I want to say to you is God has a plan, and his plan is to turn evil into good.

John's and Doreen's abiding faith in the Lord has amazed me. The father of Rachel Scott has also amazed me. I asked him, "Do you have any anger towards the boys or their families that have done this?"

He said, "I don't, and I probably should. But I feel like I'm blanketed by a covering of God's grace."

I saw the parents of Cassie Bernall in an interview, and they amazed me also. They've been bold in saying, "We believe the Lord can use this for his glory."

None of us in this room would ever have chosen what happened on Tuesday to happen. That was Satan's plan. But in the midst of this horrendous tragedy, God also has a plan. God's light is bringing people to the truth, and God's power is real. Before we leave today, I'm going to ask you if you've put your faith in him. If you haven't, then maybe you've been moved to a place where you've decided, "Today is the day for me. I need Jesus in my life."

God wants Littleton to be a place where his love is displayed.

God wants Littleton to be a place where his power is displayed for the whole world. Secondly, he wants this to be a place where his love is displayed. God's plan is not fear, hate, and inconsolable grief. It's power and love.

Can you feel the love in this community? I've lived in this community for 16 years, and I've never sensed this type of love. It's palpable; it's in the air.

How can a precious family sit in this row on Friday morning and after the memorial service be interviewed by both local and national media and say, "We're praying for the families who have lost their kids and for the families of the boys who were responsible for this"?

I hate what happened on Tuesday, but I love what's happened since then. God's love is in this room. I don't think I've been hugged as much in the past five years as I have in the last five days. It feels fantastic. I've had people come up to me and say, "We're praying for you. We just want you to know." The love is tangible.

If that love continues, what do you think this community is going to look like in 13 months?

God's plan for Littleton was that we would see his power and love. Also, he wants us to have a sound mind. That means clear thinking. Do you know who seems to have the clearest thinking right now? The kids who went through the tragedy or who have friends who went through it seem to be thinking most clearly.

The verse about the little children leading the people is true in our community. Our community is being led by the kids. Why do I say we're being led by them? Let me ask you where they're going. Are they going to the malls? No way. Are they talking about designer labels? Are they obsessing over mtv or computers? No. Are they turning to keg parties? Are they going to sports events? Are they trying to find places where they can be involved in sexual immorality or drugs? No.

Men and women, open your eyes. City of Denver, open your eyes. State of Colorado, open your eyes. World, open your eyes. The kids are turning to God! They're going to churches! They're saying, "We went to one service, and we quickly looked to find another." Why are they going to church? They know they need God.

I pray that out of this devastating and evil tragedy the eyes of the world will be opened, and we will begin to think with sound minds and get our priorities right. What matters now? What you wear? Where you live? What you drive? What you earn? No. God and God alone matters.

I know I'm under the influence of something good right now. I am not diminishing this tragedy one bit, and I'm not saying, "I'm glad that happened on Tuesday." But there is evil in this world, and the evil flows out of the pit of hell. And there will continue to be evil until Satan is cast into the lake of fire. In the midst of it all, let us look to the plan God has. He wants us to be known for his power, love, clear thinking, and glory. That's what we want to see, that's where we want to turn, and that's where we want to the true and living God.

I don't know about you, but I will never be the same. I don't think I have any choice. We are being shaped by a tragedy that will mark us for the rest of our lives. Only time will tell whether the city of Littleton will be known for God's power, God's love, and God's clear thinking. When we choose that, we choose God's plan and God's glory over the plans of his enemy.

Bill Oudemolen is pastor of Foothills Bible Church in Littleton, Colorado.

(c) Bill Oudemolen

Preaching Today Tape #192


A resource of Christianity Today International

Bill Oudemolen is senior pastor of Foothills Bible Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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Sermon Outline:

I. Introduction

In the wake of such a tragedy, we all want a word from God.

II. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good …" (Genesis 50:20)

III. Satan had a plan for Littleton.

IV. Satan's plan didn't work, because God also had a plan.

V. God wants the people of Littleton and the world to see and experience his power.

VI. God wants Littleton to be a place where his love is displayed.


God's plan—power, love, clear thinking, glory—triumphs over Satan's.