by Mark Milioni
This is a story of two tragedies. Two fathers, millenia apart, risked their lives and families, all for the fleeting pleasure of dancing with the devil. While everything on the outside looked promising, both men suffered from serious problems deep within. Problems that would cost lives and bring terrible hurt.
After 40 years in the wilderness, a long-anticipated crossing of the Jordan, and the inspiring victory at Jericho, the children of Israel found themselves approaching the diminuitive city of Ai. Brimming with confidence and faith in God, Joshua and the Israelites charge into battle against Ai, only to suffer a crushing defeat and the loss of 36 lives. A distraught Joshua fell upon his face, seeking the Lord and an explanation. Notice God’s response:
So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you. (Joshua 7:10-12)
There was sin in the camp. And it was not the outwardly visible kind of sin that is easy to assess. Buried under the tent and in the heart of a man named Achan was a far more sinister variety of disobedience. The kind that lurks beneath the surface, emboldened by deception, thriving out of sight. Contrary to God’s command, Achan had taken some of the spoil from Jericho for himself (Joshua 7:1).
Now, for another story. I first met Dylan* when we were kids. He lived down the road from my family. He had a brother my age and he was a couple years older. I lost contact with him until the mid 1990s when he, his wife, Jackie*, and their newborn son visited the church I pastored. They seemed like a great family — sharp, well-groomed, godly husband and father. Dylan had a charisma about him that caused others to laugh and like him. His wife was the sweetest lady you could imagine. She was quiet, very petite, and loved her family. They appeared to be a tremendous addition to any church.
LESSON #1: DECEIT OPENS THE DOOR TO DEVASTATION
You cannot play with the truth no matter how insignificant the details may seem, and still walk with God. So often Christians toy with truthfulness without considering it a problem. Rather than confessing his sin, Achan lied and tried to get away with it. He was deceitful and selfish (Joshua 7:16-20).
Shortly after Dylan started coming to our church, I heard him telling others he was a state high school champion in tennis, track, and boxing. Then, one day I overheard him tell someone he was 25 years old. I grew up with him and knew he was older than me — and I was 31 at the time. When I confronted him about his deceit, he brushed it off and said he was just having fun. At that moment, I sensed something was very wrong.
LESSON #2: UNACCOUNTABLE TIME IS UNACCEPTABLE
Achan’s confession to Joshua in Joshua 7:19-21 reveals another fatal vulnerability that ensnares Christians today. He saw the spoils, he wanted them, so he took them. He was tempted, he was weak, and he was alone. Unaccountable time is unacceptable because it gives sin opportunity.
After a couple of years, Dylan and Jackie had another little boy. Dylan got involved in pornography and began to hang around younger guys who were unbelievers. They went places and did things Jackie didn’t know about and he lied to cover up his actions.
One Saturday night, a woman in the church called to tell me Dylan had tried to assault her. She pushed him away, literally out the door. I told her to call the police, but she wouldn’t, afraid of her husband’s reaction. I demanded she tell her husband. The next day at church, Dylan said everything was okay, he had already talked to this woman’s husband and it was a big misunderstanding. I demanded he tell Jackie, or I would. He got a little upset, but then agreed. That night he said he had told her about the incident … he lied.
The next Sunday he came forward, emotionally apologized to his wife, and agreed to do right. One condition placed on him was to attend a men’s Bible study I hosted on Sunday nights. He attended faithfully at the beginning. When he would miss a night, I would ask Jackie if she knew where he was. He always told her he was at church, yet he explained his absence to us with a story about being at home that night.
LESSON #3: SIN WILL CONTROL YOUR DESIRES, AFFECTIONS, AND ACTIONS
One day, Dylan made Jackie mow the lawn. When he didn’t like the way she was cutting it, he yelled at her and hit her, knocking her off the mower. She called me asking what to do. I told her to go to the house of a sweet couple in our church who had promised to help and protect her. She was clearly in fear of physical harm and even death.
I confronted Dylan. He promised to get counseling, he came before the church and put emotion on display again. He fooled many. In the meantime, I called Dylan’s previous pastor. His first words were, “Well, I wondered how long it would take.” Dylan was accused of sexual assault while a member at his church and had physically attacked two other ladies in his church.
A couple weeks later, Dylan went to a friend’s house and waited until this man left for work. Dylan then pounded on the door until the wife answered. He forced himself in, grabbed her, and tried to rape her. Thankfully she managed to get away. This time the police were called and Dylan was arrested and sent to jail. The following Sunday we had a church meeting to dismiss his membership and told people to be careful should he get out. He was dangerous.
LESSON #4: YOUR THOUGHTS LEAD TO ACTIONS
Achan saw something that was not his, something he could not have, and desired it for his own (Joshua 7:21) — his actions were based on his heart attitude. Dylan’s involvement in pornography led him to fantasize about other women and, before long, looking at pictures wasn’t enough. He desired someone and something he was not allowed to have, and he acted on those desires.
As a result of the incident with his friend’s wife, Dylan accepted a plea bargain and pled guilty to a lesser charge. He spent 90 days in jail and was then put on a home monitoring device. He was not to leave his mother’s house.
LESSON #5: SIN LEADS TO DEATH
Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:15)
Early one Sunday morning, I received a phone call from the hospital. Jackie’s body had been found in a car near her home. I got to the hospital and was asked to call Jackie’s mom and step-dad. I called Dylan’s mother’s house. He wasn’t there, but his boys were. This was the first time Dylan had been allowed off the electronic tether and he was supposed to be at a class for prisoners.
I left for church trying to figure out how to tell our church and lead the services that morning. When Dylan got home, he pretended shock and cried. He called me and said, “I loved her. You know I loved her?” I made arrangements to go with Dylan to tell his boys after church. I took another member with me. When we got to his mother’s house, Dylan looked at his sons and, without emotion, sadness, or care, said to them, “Boys, Pastor Mark has something to tell you.” I looked at him, and at that moment had no doubt he had killed Jackie.
Jackie’s car had been made to look like it was in an accident. It looked like she went out late at night for a gallon of milk, crashed her car, and died in the accident. An autopsy proved inconclusive as to the cause of death. I truly felt that Dylan was getting away with murder.
The police investigation continued, uncovering a growing number of inconsistencies among the evidence. When Jackie’s body was found, she was not wearing her glasses or any undergarments. Yet Jackie had very bad eyesight and could not drive without contacts or glasses. She also never bought milk in gallon size or the brand found in her car. It was soon discovered that the gas station where Dylan had just started working sold this brand of milk — and he had been in the store and purchased a gallon of milk the previous evening.
Jackie’s body was exhumed and re-examined in a second autopsy. This time, the cause of death was determined to be suffocation by strangling. Finally, police had enough evidence and Dylan was arrested for murdering Jackie.
LESSON #6: BE SURE YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT
Achan tried to hide his sin, but it was revealed in the end.
Just before Dylan’s trial began, I received a call from his lawyer. I was a witness for the prosecution. He was very pleasant. At the end of the conversation, he asked what I knew about Jackie and what kind of person she was. I told him all the nice things she had done and what a great person she was. Then he asked, “Would it surprise you if she was having an affair with her boss?” Shocked, I could tell he was taunting me with something he was not going to reveal. I ended the conversation and immediately called the prosecutor.
He confirmed that while testing Jackie’s clothing for DNA to determine if Dylan had raped her, the forensic lab found DNA samples from two people. One was Dylan’s, and the other belonged to Jackie’s boss. This man was a great businessman, a deacon in his church, and a public school board member. He was also Jackie’s best friend’s husband.
While all the suspicion pointed to Dylan, another suspect had to be investigated. During the trial, the defense attorney tried to paint the boss as the murderer. He was innocent of murder, but was found guilty of sin, and the newspapers let it be known.
The jury deliberated for an entire week, sidetracked by a single juror who refused to find Dylan guilty. The hung jury resulted in a re-trial three months later.
LESSON #7: SIN DESTROYS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY
Because of his sin, Achan’s entire family lost their lives (Joshua 7:24-25). Sin always brings destruction, and almost always on a greater scale than we imagined.
In the first trial, the prosecution thought their big evidence was the gallon of milk linked to Dylan. But the second trial revealed a more damaging piece of evidence and testimony, delivered by Dylan’s five-year-old son.
After Jackie’s death, police had found a sandal in her bedroom. A single sandal. But they needed a witness to identify the sandal. In front of his dad and the large crowd at the trial, Dylan’s son testified he saw his dad with those sandals on earlier that day.
The second trial ended with a jury verdict in four hours — guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.
Dylan and Jackie’s incident started when a husband, a dad, played with the truth. It ended with a dad in prison for life, a mom who was dead, and two kids being raised by grandparents.
LESSON #8: YOUR ACTIONS LEAVE A LEGACY
Sin has a penalty and Achan and his family suffered the weight of that penalty. Joshua did as God commanded. The name of the place where Achan and his family were buried was called the Valley of Achor, or the Valley of Trouble (Joshua 7:26). Achan’s legacy was that of trouble.
Dylan and Jackie seemed the picture-perfect, sharp young Christian family. Yet, sin allowed to go unchecked, destroyed their lives and left a reputation of dishonor and trouble. What kind of legacy will your actions leave?
*Throughout this article, names have been changed in an effort to remain sensitive to those involved.