Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Impossible Mission

When I was in high school in central Florida in the sixties, the Mission Impossible TV show was popular.   In the unlikely event that you aren’t aware of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), it was (or is) a secret band of government agents---so secret in fact, that if they were killed or captured, “the Secretary” would actually “disavow any knowledge of their actions.”  We were never quite sure who this secretary was, or why it would be such a big deal if she said she didn’t know what these guys were up to.  Now that I have a secretary, I understand how implausible it would be for one to claim no knowledge of her boss’ actions.  The secretary normally gets blamed for her boss’ screw ups.
Each member of the IMF was picked for his expertise in deactivating bombs, breaking into impregnable fortresses, or changing his appearance and voice so dramatically that he could trick a bad guy into thinking he was the bad guy’s mother.  This one came in handy.  Whenever they were out of ideas for how to stop a nasty foreign agent from detonating a nuclear weapon and starting the war to end all worlds, his mother would pop into his apartment, and he would casually mention to her, over lasagna, where he hid the bomb.  Then Mom would pull off her mask, the walls of his apartment would fall down, and the bad guy would discover that he was actually in the back of a truck on the way to a federal prison. 
 The ruse was accomplished with a mask which was cooler than any that you or I ever wore, unless of course you are on the IMF.  It was made of a rubber-like substance that apparently had the distinct advantage that, when you put it on, it turned into real skin.  The foreign agent would always feel terrible for allowing himself to be deceived like that, but if he knew what we know, he would have been thankful the secret was tricked from him in the sixties.  Forty years later, Jack Bauer would have pried it out of him fingernail by fingernail, spouting his now classic line, “Masks?  We don’t need no steenking masks.”  
My friends Bill, Greg and Rex thought we should form our own Impossible Mission Force.  The problem was, of all the people with whom we were acquainted (most of whom were fellow students at Lyman High School) none of them, to our knowledge, was planning to detonate a nuclear weapon.   In fact, if you pressed us, we would have to admit that we weren’t even sure that any of them had a nuclear weapon.  We were suspicious of a few guys who always seemed to pass the tests in Chemistry class, but that wasn’t much to go on. 
So we decided we would have to come up with another Impossible Mission, one that was, shall we say, a little more missionish and a little less impossible.  Of course, just like Mr. Phelps in the old show, we could choose to accept the proposed mission, or we could reject it (although I don’t remember him ever rejecting one).  The one mission that I am certain we rejected was Bill’s suggestion that we kidnap Santa from the Winter Park Mall.  I’m not sure what was in Bill’s mind at the time--- force Santa to explain why he never brought Bill a pony? ---terrorize him into admitting he was not the real Santa?  In any event, the nice thing about putting four heads together in the choice of our mission was that at least one of those heads would be likely to recall pertinent information that might otherwise be overlooked----such as the fact that kidnapping is regarded by the FBI as less of a high school prank and more of a federal offense. 
I think I might have been the fellow who came up with the one mission that I know for sure we actually attempted.   Near the I-4, route 436 exit, there was a neighborhood of upscale homes.  My wife used to babysit there when she was still known as Donna Kilmer (Class of 1968’s “Best all-around,” by the way).  There was a home in that neighborhood which had two striking features: there was a large bell at the peak of the roofline; and that roof extended quite low--- maybe only five or six feet from the ground.   In other words, the architect was clearly enticing passers-by to climb the roof and ring the bell.  You might call it entrapment.  The house was in the style of a Spanish mission, so we could have called it our Impossible Mission Mission, if we had thought of it.
The plan was to approach the house at about 11 PM.  One of us would wait in the idling car, while the other three would approach the low roof.  Two of those would boost the third up, and he would stealthily climb twenty or thirty feet, past a second floor window and up to the peak.   There he would quickly determine if the bell on the roof was equipped with a clapper, as we hoped, or if it was purely ornamental (which is what a rational person would expect of an exterior bell that was only accessed by scaling the roof).  If it had a clapper, the IMF member would ring it, then slide down the roof and run to the waiting car.  It was critical that the entire operation take no more than 90 seconds.  This was determined because time was always an important factor in the Mission Impossible show.  
If you are wondering exactly how ringing a bell on the roof of a suburban home in a quiet neighborhood might help fend off a nuclear holocaust, or prevent the assassination of a world leader, or otherwise be Mission-Impossible-worthy, I can only respond, as a former member of the force, “Ours was not to reason why, ours was but to do, or fall off the roof.”
It was a Friday night.  Each of us was wearing black, and we had, over the previous several days, assembled all the technological gadgetry necessary to pull off such a mission;  that is, we had found a working flashlight.  
I was chosen to scale the roof; either because the mission was my idea, or because no one else wanted to do it.  Bill stayed in the car, because for all his talk about kidnapping Clauses, he liked to avoid confrontations.  Rex and Greg helped me onto the roof.   Everything was going as planned until I got parallel to the window, which was still a good ten or fifteen feet from the objective.  Imagine my shock when a man opened the window, just to my left, and yelled at me (rather rudely, I thought),
 “What are you doing on my roof?”
Now I should have been prepared for this scenario, and have a response ready, such as,
“I’m with a counter-terrorism unit; we think you may be in danger.  Please remain inside with the doors and windows locked,” or even, "I think my cat is on your roof." 
But instead, I pointed toward the peak and said, “I’m going up to ring your bell.”
That response set in motion an unfavorable chain of events.  He slammed the window shut, and from the commotion in the house, I perceived that he and perhaps some others would soon be rushing out of that mission-style home, perhaps with some mission-style firearms, shouting “Remember the Alamo.”
I slid down  to the ground in a lot less time it took me to climb up, ran to the waiting car with my adrenaline pumping, and we high-tailed it out of there. 
It was embarrassing to have failed at our only mission, so we went back the following week, a bit later at night, when we thought the occupants of the mission would be asleep.   This time, I made it all the way up, and sure enough, the bell had a clapper.  CLANG CLANG CLANG (“Man, this is loud”) CLANG CLANG CLANG (lights begin to come on); CLANG CLANG CLANG (Rusty begins to get scared); CLANG CLANG CLANG (Rusty slides down the roof in record time).   As I ran to the waiting car, I could hear the garage door going up, and the chase was on.   The thought occurred to me that maybe we didn’t really need those last three clangs. 
We somehow managed to elude our pursuers and get out of the neighborhood, but we were nervous for the next several days that perhaps the padre of the mission had written down the numeros from the license plate of the gringos’ car.  But that was a small price to pay for the knowledge that our mission had been successfully completed, and once again, the world was safe from-----what I mean to say is, the world could breathe easier now that it was secure from-----no longer would the teeming masses of mankind need to fear----Well, the important thing is, we completed our mission.
The followers of Jesus have been given a mission that could rightly be called impossible.  The risen Christ sent us forth to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)   “Go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…”  Is that all, Lord?  You just want us to preach this gospel to everyone in the world, make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and teach them to observe everything you have commanded?  How in the world are we supposed to do that?  But He added this little tidbit that makes all the difference, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)
The Christian Church has an impossible mission, and so does the individual Christian.  Consider the challenge; how can we convince someone that a poor carpenter and sometime itinerant preacher who lived in Palestine about 2000 years ago, a man who was executed in disgrace at the instigation of the religious leaders of his own nation, was and is the Savior of the world, “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father?”  (Isaiah 9:6)  The fact is we can’t.  The mission is impossible.  But Jesus said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  The miracle of the new birth is what is needed.  God, in effect, gives sight to the blind; He breathes upon dry bones, and they live; He removes the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  He quickens (makes alive) that which was dead.  (Eph. 2:1)  

He did it in me just a few years after our mission Mission.  I recognized myself as a sinner.  I perceived my pride and selfishness and ungratefulness and anger, among many other things.  I was enabled, through the power of the new birth, to see my sin as an act of rebellion against my Creator.  I repented of it; that is, I changed my mind about it, and turned from it in disgust, asking God to help me overcome it, and I transferred my trust from myself to Jesus.  I believed that He lived a perfect life, keeping the laws that I broke, and that He went to the cross, paying the debt that I owed.  I asked Him to forgive me and save me, not because of anything I had done or could do, but by His grace and mercy alone.  I believe, on the authority of God’s Word, that when I came to Christ as a little child, not proud and self-confident, but empty-handed, I was forgiven.  God adopted me into His family.  I was, at that point, His child.  From my perspective at the time, I was coming to Christ.  But it wasn't long before I realized that He had brought me to Himself.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  (John 1:12-13)  

That’s something worth celebrating.  That’s something that calls for some bell-ringing.


  1. About 20 years after the mission, on a visit to see Donna's dad, we drove back to that neighborhood. The house and the bell were still there, and Donna took my picture at the scene of the crime. Hopefully the homeowner removed the bell's clapper. You may be comforted to know that for the past seven years we have lived within ear shot of a fire alarm that has awakened us numerous times, so there is a measure of justice in this life.

    1. Please pray for bell-ringing in our family for it often seems to be a mission impossible. But, GOD is good, just, fair, loving, and hears the prayers of the righteous. So those bells may someday ring VERY loud.
      Until then, Donna was the secret Secretary.

  2. How is it that whenever Mission Impossible came on I got sent to bed. I must have been of tender age. You know I just love it when our pastors quote (or misquote) Tennyson! Could you throw in a little Byron or Shelley next time?

    1. Actually, I had forgotten that it was Tennyson who first said, "Remember the Alamo."