Bench Players

The 2024 NBA (pro basketball) Championship Series (“Finals”) has just begun, and one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in this year’s playoffs has been how crucially so-called “bench players” have contributed to the winning team’s success in each series so far.

For those who don’t play or watch basketball, NBA bench players are the handful of fellows who free up the first-string “starters” for foul-trouble or breath-catching breaks throughout a game, which is why they’re also commonly called “substitutes” or “subs” or “substitute players”.

And as I’ve watched them do their thing for these past four or five weeks of the season-finishing playoffs, my mind keeps coming back to how Jesus – the very essence of holiness and perfection – became a substitute for US by willingly and lovingly volunteering to vault over that humanly-unclearable bar (sinless perfection) so one day we will join Him in heaven for all eternity, thus escaping humanity’s truly due and deserved destiny of hell.

  • “He [i.e., God the Father] made Him [i.e., God the Son, Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on OUR behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, emphasis added)
  • “… while we were yet sinners, Christ died for US.” (Romans 5:8b)

Jesus Christ is the ULTIMATE Substitute…

  • “… we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself IS the PROPITIATION [i.e., substitute!] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1c-2)

… who offered and freely gave His own human life and body and blood in our stead

  • “… having made peace through the blood of His cross… He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:20b,22)
  • “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who GAVE HIMSELF as a RANSOM [i.e., substitute!] for all…” (1 Timothy 2:5-6a)

… so our souls could be saved and spared the certain “wages” (result) of sin, which is death – physical and spiritual.

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Christ made this ultimate substitution – the Blameless for the blameworthy, the Sinless for the sinners, He “who knew no sin” for those who knew nothing BUT  sin – on the Cross, atop a haltingly haunting-turned-thrill-inducing hill called Calvary.

[If that song seemed “sleepy”, this one will wake you up…]

[…and please don’t miss the big blessing of THIS third and final song, I think it just might melt or mend your heart… (it definitely melted mine!)]

Like I said, the ultimate Substitute!

Our all-in-all, our Everything,
Jesus is our God and King.
For Him – and Him alone – we sing,
Because He crushed death’s pow’r and sting;
To Him our hearts we humbly bring –
Yes, Jesus is our God and King.

And bringing this post full circle by ending where we began (basketball), there’s a similar-but-distinct second  sort of player who has impressed me throughout these Playoffs, which I’ll write about in the next post so stay tuned (as they say in the TV biz 🙂 ) …

 

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The (Mind-Popping, Pervasive, Palpable, Pitfall-Prone) Power of the Tongue

Now more than ever in my lifetime, plenty of people presume that talking more  is okay, that it’s good, that it’s better – but the Bible has a blistering boatload of bad news for them; you see, not only is talking more  NOT better, NOT good, and not even just OKAY… it’s WORSE!  Much, much worse…

because it’s G-U-A-R-A-N-T-E-E-D to lead to SIN!

  • “When there are many words, transgression (!!!) is U-N-A-V-O-I-D-A-B-L-E.” (Proverbs 10:19a, emphasis added)

But wait, there’s more!

  • “And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'” (Jude 14-15)

And the Lord Jesus Himself went even further, broadening it to not just words spoken against Him  but “every careless word” a person speaks!

  • “And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

But the Bible goes EVEN FURTHER to say something so stark and significant that it’s super-startling:

  • “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is counted prudent.” (Proverbs 17:28)

Even with just a cursory scan through Proverbs, one will quickly come to a crystal clear conclusion:  nothing in life is so dire and dooming and destructive and deadly as folly.  Yet this verse provides the antidote!  This verse says that there’s something which can trump and topple even folly:  the tongue.  Specifically, NOT USING IT!

And that those who DO are DOOMED to suffer the horrific consequences.

  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

Not only in the life to come (as we saw in the passage above, from Matthew) but also in this  life.

I think that the utterly dangerous, destructive, disastrous, and downright deadly  potential of the tongue is probably most poignantly put forth in these verses (fittingly, from another earthly brother of Jesus, like just-quoted Jude):

  • “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well.  Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.  So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.  For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race.  But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (James 3:3-8, emphasis added)

Yikes!  Clearly, we would be wise to heed the pure and powerful words of warning in a certain Sunday school song from yesteryear and “be careful little tongues what you say.”

 

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Four Umbrellas

Earlier on this first Monday morning for the month of May, with the start of a new week I was wondering what was THE WORST thing in the world…

The WORST thing is sin.

And under that umbrella, THE WORST thing is pride.

And under that  umbrella, THE WORST thing is self (e.g., selfishness, self-focus, selfish ambition and jealousy, etc.).

And under that  umbrella, THE WORST thing is the tongue.

That fourth and final topic of this post definitely requires and calls for one of its very own, so stay tuned, it’ll be here soon…

 

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“A or B”:  Four moreBinary Choices

A lot of people live life as though their faith is a very nice perk.

But a perk nonetheless.

They seem to view it as “free” in the sense of not costing them anything.  But the Lord Jesus rejected that common conception with crystal clarity, confirming that Christianity comes with a cost:  not in terms of what we do (it definitely can’t be bought or earned in any way or extent) but rather it terms of what we don’t.

Here are four things which a Christian must (must!) reject, between which we must choose, these four things or God, i.e., we can’t serve, love, or primarily focus on both… yep, it’s a binary choice as discussed in the previous post, A or  B.

Each and every believer must choose between:

God or money/mammon/wealth (i.e., that isn’t used for His  purposes and will and work, not wealth that is – as has been beautifully and properly proven through the years, from Abraham to Joseph of Arimathea to Joe Gibbs of NFL and racing fame, Norm Miller of Interstate Battery [and now his son Scott seems to solidly be carrying on that tradition] and Steve Green [of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible fame]).

  • “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24, emphasis added)

God or sinful pleasure

  • “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4b)
  • “in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:12)

God or the world (i.e., the worldly system or possessions…)

  • “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

…and James puts it just as clearly and using even stronger language in his Epistle:

  • “You adulteresses [i.e., people who pray with wrong/worldly/selfish motives], do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

God or our friends or family or even our own life in terms of  the “pole position”, of who or what takes precedence in our life, which is why the Lord Jesus made the two following statements, really wise words of warning:  Christ comes FIRST, and Count the cost FIRST (before becoming a Christian, before consummating that commitment… see, I told ya  there’s a cost!  But infinitely more importantly, the Lord told us!)

  • “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life [i.e., compared to how much  one loves the Lord, i.e., one’s love for even family and even one’s own life should be so much less by comparison that one’s love for those other things seems like  hatred], he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower [or house], does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else [i.e., if the answer is no], while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.  So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. [i.e., for the sake and purposes of the Kingdom and will and work of God]” (Luke 14:26-33)

I don’t know how often or deeply the powers-that-be at Mercedes-Benz browse the Bible, but one of their most famous taglines could’ve come straight from this passage, that we must give the Lord our ALL, or nothing at all  (in effect); that we must give the Lord our BEST or nothing.

True Christians:

1. Count the (considerable) cost
2. Commit (completely) to Christ

 

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“A or B”:  Four Binary Choices (and one Great Finish?)

Here’s a phrase which many of you who follow politics have no doubt already begun to hear quite a bit and of which the rest of the citizenry is about to get a big, double-dog-dare-ya-to-disregard dose during this election year:  “binary choice”.

“Not enthused with either presidential (or congressional or local) candidate and therefore don’t plan to vote for Trump?  Then you’re in essence voting for Biden!”  Or, “Not going to vote for Biden?  Then you’re in effect voting for Trump!

In other words, because we (U.S.) only have two major political parties, it ends up being a binary choice virtually every time.

Regardless of how good or bad either or both candidates on the ballot might be… if you don’t vote for the one, then in practical terms you’re helping elect the other, and vice versa.

But far, far, far more important and weighty than any political battle is the fact that this concept also holds true on the spiritual  battlefield.

The Bible comes to a crystal clear conclusion:  each person faces several binary choices in life which will largely determine how they fare not just emotionally or relationally or physically but also spiritually… here are four of them.

Pray – or be  prey.

  • “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation … Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour [i.e., to PREY upon] … Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil … With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…” (Matthew 26:41a; 1 Peter 5:8b; Ephesians 6:11,18a)

Be humble – or be humbled.

  • “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
  • “And He [Jesus] began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table; saying to them, When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both shall come and say to you, “Give [that/your] place to this man,” and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last [i.e., worst, lowliest] place.  But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.'” (Luke 14:7-11)

Be forgiving – or be unforgiven.

  • “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me.  Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’  And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.  o shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not FORGIVE his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
  • “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
  • “The merciful man does HIMSELF good, but the cruel man does himself harm.” (Proverbs 11:17)

Meditation – or medication.

  • “For they [the “my words” of verse 20, i.e., God’s words and Word, the Bible] are life to those who find them, and health to all their whole body.” (Proverbs 4:22)
  • “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Psalm 119:11)
  • “O how I love Thy law!” [i.e., the Bible]  It is my meditation all the day.(Psalm 119:97)
  • “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3)
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)

If we want to fulfill the following verse and “finish strong” and receive a waiting reward, a literal crown…

  • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

… then it’s absolutely crucial that we choose correctly when it comes to binary choices, in which inaction is tantamount to losing.

In other words, we will wisely want to “finish the course” – all  18 holes, as it were – and thus put in a GREAT FINISH in this life, in light of the one (and the One) to come.

We don’t  want to be like this year’s (yesterday’s) Masters pro golf tournament which looked certain  to be headed for a fantastic finish when, with around just nine holes left to play, not one, not two, not even three but an unheard-of FOUR players were all tied for the lead (at -6).

Four  co-leaders with just the BACK NINE to play?  It’s going to be one whale of a finish!”

Then three of them watched their golf game fall apart.  Despite how excellent it had been for each of them the previous 3.5 rounds.

And, sadly, that’s exactly how it is for far too many Christians:  strong (and, often, very  strong) start, weak finish.

To paraphrase the verse above, “No good.”

Not good enough.

Not good at all.

Because, you see, it’s not how one starts that really counts, it’s how one finishes.

The silver lining yesterday was that, while three of the four down-the-stretch co-leaders fell apart, the other one – a brother in Christ no less, named Scottie Scheffler, the #1-ranked golfer in the world even before yesterday’s major win – “finished strong” after making great choice (wood or iron?) after great choice (go for the pin or lay up?) after great choice (wedge or putter from just off the green?).

May we too heed the advice of a fictional yet fully factual phrase from a (very) old knight and “choose wisely” when it comes to the binary choices we face week in and week out.

Yes, exactly!  We must  choose.  May we choose wisely.  Per the precious passages cited above, so that we will “finish strong” in this life in light of  the one to come and thus receive the crown of righteousness.

(That’s even far greater than golf’s “green jacket”!)

 

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Four Masters (and one Golf Major)

I don’t usually watch golf on TV with two exceptions:  the U.S. Open and The Masters, two of the sport’s four “major” tournaments.

I enjoy both but the latter is a slight favorite since it occurs right around Resurrection Sunday (Easter) each Spring, and occurs first of the four, a fitting “kick-off” to the serious golf season.

After a couple-hour rain delay, this year’s Masters finally got going and it has been a great first round so far and while watching (wistfully… I could never play like those pros) my mind immediately meditated on this tournament’s title and it got me thinking of four main matters or motives or aspects of life which may become more important than they should, which may become “masters” of far too many minds and lives:

  • Pride
    • “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.  It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19)
    • “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Matthew 23:12a)
  • Power
    • ALL authority has been given to Me” [i.e., NOT thee!] (Matthew 28:18b)
    • “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.” [i.e., power is Thine, NOT mine!] ()
    • “He who is the blessed and ONLY Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15b)
  • Profit
    • “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
    • “No one can serve two masters [i.e., ding ding ding]; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon [i.e., money, wealth].” (Matthew 6:24)
    • “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
  • Pleasure
    • “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to [i.e., mastered by] various lusts and ” (Titus 3:3a)

But did you know that roughly two thousand years ago  the Bible PREDICTED that people would fall prey to these “4 P’s”?  And all four in the very same passage:

  • “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self [i.e., power!], lovers of money [i.e., profit!], boastful [i.e., pride!], arrogant [i.e., pride!], revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited [i.e., pride!], lovers of pleasure [pleasure!] rather than lovers of God…” (2 Timothy 3:1-4)

So for those of you who, like me, will be watching much of The Masters golf major over these next few days, may we wisely examine ourselves, our minds, our lives, to ensure that these four masters – or any others! – haven’t and don’t get a grip over us… or as the precious Apostle Paul poignantly put it:

  • “I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12d)

To those of you who will be glued to golf these next few days I say…

Enjoy The Masters!

And, even better…

Enjoy the Master.

 

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Four Types (and one Solar Eclipse)

Per plenty of published projections predicting a pretty plump path, people from Maine to Texas (local cloud cover-contingent) are set to see quite a sight:  just two hours from now, day will literally become night.  In a tad over “the blink of an eye” (but close!) daylight will turn to darkness.

For a few fast minutes anyway.

That’s right, it’s Solar Eclipse Day as mass media outlets have been breathlessly blaring with tremendous anticipation all weekend in particular; the event is about to arrive with full scientific force but here’s what’s filling my mind this monumental moment:

  • how in the world can any rational, brain-possessing person actually believe that there is no God, that nature – on any  day but perhaps particularly and most poignantly an eye-popping planetary event like the imminent Solar Eclipse – is a product of mere coincidence!  Preposterous.  Impossible.
  • the utter, sheer, peerless power of Omnipotent God.
  • just as a solar eclipse can block our planet from the Sun, so also sin can block our life from the Son.
  • I view this as just the latest (and so far “greatest”?) “small mercy” being given by God to humanity, worldwide, as planetary, astronomical events like this tend to turn the attention and focus of the masses upward, to the skies, literally to heaven and thus the throne therein and the Lord who sits thereon.  I view the terror attacks of 9/11 in 2001 and the (very unexpected, “totally unlikely”) massive box office success of The Passion of the Christ  in 2004 and of course the Covid pandemic in 2020 in particular in a similar way, i.e., God’s gracious attempts to “smack humanity in the face” not to punish or discipline but to wake it out of its decades-long spiritual slumber.  To “shake” it out of its spiritual stupor as if to say, “I’m coming soon!  Behold, I’m standing at the doorstep, knocking, giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to freely let me into the home of their heart, to single-handedly helm your soul and spirit from this moment for all eternity.”

Which nicely brings us to the meat, the main point of this post:  may we use this stellar solar event with worldwide watching to “examine ourselves” to see if we are indeed redeemed, to pinpoint where we stand on the spiritual spectrum – such a solemn subject and by far the most important of this entire life – or at least come quite close to confirming which kind of person we are of the four types among mankind, as follows, and to act accordingly:

  • He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool, shun him.
  • He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child, teach him.
  • He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep, awaken him.
  • He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man, follow him.

… in other words, to heed the Holy Spirit’s and Paul’s pointed words of warning to wisely…

  • Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5a)

Paul uses an exclamation point.

God uses solar eclipses and other such events to get our attention, to “shake us and wake us” to a few fine facts…

How small and puny people are in the grand scheme of things, how truly little our lives are by comparison.

How helpless we are without Him, especially spiritually.

How much we need Him in every aspect and facet of life – this one and the (much, much, much, much, much longer) one to come.

How mighty and matchless and masterful and all-powerful He is.

Or as countless singers (like the Statler Brothers) have sung to the Lord for 75 years now:  How great Thou art, Lord!  How. Great. Thou. Art.

 

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Four Factors

As everyone learned while watching the first Iraq war in 1991, there are four factors in life, in strategizing, in planning:

  • known knowns
  • known unknowns
  • unknown knowns
  • unknown unknowns

Those first two are pretty easy for obvious reasons.

That third one can be more challenging but still isn’t at all scary since study and analysis can provide the answers and solution.

That fourth one is what wearies people in their planning efforts throughout life.  The “unknown unknowns”.  But thankfully, we Christians needn’t lose even one wink of sleep over even those since, while “we may not know what the future holds, we know who holds the future.”

Thank You, Lord, for Your loving, infinite, endless sovereignty!  Which makes navigating life “easy as pie”, a proverbial “piece of cake” as they say.  That’s so true.  Thank You for the countless ways Your sovereignty is demonstrated day by day but especially in Your plan for the salvation of man:  from our Lord’s very specifically and long-prophesied birth to your sinless life to your substitutionary death to Your true and literal resurrection from the dead on the third day, You were in total and complete control, Heavenly Father, fully sovereign, and I can’t thank You profusely or often enough that such continues even to this very day, even in our far smaller lives and situations.  Just like You demonstrated it on that first Resurrection Sunday.

Happy Easter, everyone!  Our Redeemer lives indeed!

 

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Four Thoughts (and fourteen songs)

A few of my previously-published posts have mentioned that this area has several different routes for my many-mile mega-walks and that my by-far favorites are the ones which involve the National Mall.

The particular path upon which I trod today took me from the Jefferson Memorial, past the Washington Monument, across the pedestrian bridge by the Tidal Basin to the Lincoln Memorial then across the Memorial Bridge to – and around – the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery, past the Netherlands Carillon, culminating at the famous Iwo Jima (Marines) Memorial and then back to where I started, and repeating that path as many as ten times but usually three to five, depending on the amount of time allotted for exercising on a given day.

This morning there were four main thoughts which walloped my mind while I was walking, in this (chronological) order.

I had chosen this same route (of the several different spectacular ones available in this area) just last week and the trees were how they normally are eleven months a year but today was a very different story as they all started sprouting bright, white (cherry) blossoms in the past few days, which reminded me of a post I penned a whole year  ago so the first main thought that struck me this morning was how quickly  time passes… I simply c-a-n-n-o-t  believe that it has been an entire year!

  • “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14) [i.e., like an exhaled breath on a cold morning]

The second thought that hit me during this morning’s walk was, when seeing said cherry blossoms, to take inventory of my spiritual status to see if it was in “full bloom” like DC’s trees these next few weeks, or if there were any areas which needed to be “pruned” as only the Lord and Holy Spirit and Bible can do, can correct, can cause:

  • “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow [i.e., bloom!] in respect to salvation [i.e., spiritually]” (1 Peter 2:2)
  • “But his delight is in the law of the Lord [i.e., the Bible], and in His law he meditates day and night.  And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf [i.e., blossom!] does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3)

The third thought occurred immediately thereafter:  for the first time since last fall, the National Park Service opened the pedal-powered “paddle” boats (blue like the sky-reflecting water on this particular day anyway) and that (of course!) brought a Bible verse to mind:

  • “Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.” (James 3:4)

But the Bible doesn’t stop there!  No, it immediately wields wise words of warning, noting that just as the path of a great ship is determined, indeed, “directed” by one of its “small” parts among many, so also the path of a person’s life is determined and directed by one of its  ”small” parts among many, the tongue:

  • “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (James 3:5)

Much more about that topic in a forthcoming one but for the purposes of this  post, after proceeding along the path picked for today’s walk and coming to Arlington National Cemetery, my eyes were drawn to and literally couldn’t move away from those rows and rows and rows of gravestones, and that reminded me of how our focus, our gaze, our eyes should be drawn to – and remain  fixed (and fixated) on – the Lord Jesus:

  • fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2a)

Just as I (quite literally) couldn’t take my eyes off of those rows and rows of gravestones, so also – and times a trillion – I shouldn’t be able to take my eyes off of the Person and wisdom and will and work and Word and words of our loving Lord.

To be sure, it’s impossible for the finite, Fall-flawed human mind to muster maximum, continual focus on Him, due to the presence and potential of sin on this side of eternity (which is why verse 1 tells us to “lay aside” not just “sin which so easily entangles us” but even “every encumbrance” – more about this too in a future post) but that should absolutely be our daily, increasingly-neared goal.

May we wisely be aware of just how short, how brief our life actually is, and maintain a proper sense of spiritual urgency accordingly.

May we wisely “test” and “examine” ourselves spiritually – rigorously (“be all the more diligent”) and regularly (verb tense) – to take inventory, to see if our walk with the Lord is indeed “blooming”.

  • Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5a)
  • “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:10-11, with “these things” referring back to the preceding verses 5-7 – which, interestingly and importantly, similarly contain the phrase “applying all diligence” – namely, “faith”, “moral excellence”, “knowledge”, “self-control”, “perseverance”, “godliness”, “brotherly kindness” and “love”.)

May we wisely be aware of just how powerful and potent and potentially poisonous and self-destructive our words, our speech, our tongue can be, to never forget that though it’s small in size compared to other major parts of our body, it’s outsized  in determining the direction and destiny of our lives, since it literally “directs” such, just like the “very small rudder” of a ship.

And fourthly and lastly but definitely not least – in fact, most importantly since if we get this one right, the first three will fall into place nicely – may we wisely maintain, keep, “fix our eyes”, our focus, on the Lord Jesus, since He was and is and forevermore shall be the very personification of perfection and power and purity and every good thing – to Him and Him alone be the glory, God-blessed forever.  Amen.

[NOTE:  I never include nearly  this many songs/videos in a post but am doing so this time because each and every one is (a) spot-on to what I wrote above and (b) unique and different  from the others below (hard to believe but I actually nixed  ten other versions, because those ones weren’t  unique enough) and in my humble view all will be a big blessing to you and are thus worthy of your time except the very last one for those who don’t like their music/hymns to be “rocky” in nature, otherwise I think you’ll enjoy all of these.  Sincerely, DJ Bible]

 

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Four Deceivers

It would be tough enough to toe the line of truth if we were hunted by just one deceptive predator, but the purpose of this post is to point out the four  primary suspects I see in Scripture, the “top 4” deceivers that direly desire to derail and destroy us; this is to help you identify them and thus prevent the deadly danger deceivers perpetually pose.

The first and undoubtedly most obvious source of deception I see in Scripture is external in nature:  the devil himself, also known as Satan, Lucifer, and Beelzebub.

  • “…the devil… does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
  • “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which God had made.  And he [Satan, the devil] said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’  And the woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God said, “You shall not eat from it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.”‘  And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! [Liar!]  For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God… [Liar!]” (Genesis 3:1-5)

“Crafty” like a serpent.  And a lion, which doesn’t make itself known when stalking its prey.  Because it knows that would scare its potential prey away… so instead of revealing itself, a lion will prowl, will slink and slyly seek to stay hidden until the very last second, until it’s ready to pounce – a perfect picture of how the devil does it, how the devil tries to trick his prey – you and me! – and keep us unaware of his activity, of his deception, until it’s too late, until we’ve sinned.

  • “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

A lion stealthily slinks, a serpent sneakily slithers, and Satan schemes.

  • “… the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11c)

What a wicked, wily, woeful foe.

The second source of deception I see in Scripture is internal in nature and very closely related to and inextricably linked with the devil but is a separate and additional entity which is constantly trying to deceive us, and that’s sin itself, which the Bible clearly states has no trouble at all entangling us in its (world-wide 🙁 ) web.

  • “… lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin … sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 3:13b; 12:1c)
  • “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed [like fish by a worm and hook] by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” (James 1:14-16)

The third source of deception I see in Scripture is internal in nature:  the heart, i.e., the human mind.

  • “The heart [i.e., mind] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV)

Thankfully, the Bible is just as clear in confirming that we needn’t – and mustn’t – depend on our “wicked, sick” human mind to live and love life, because we wield a weapon, a tool, “ten trillion times” greater:  the very mind of Christ.

  • “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16c)

Which is (one reason) why we’re warned to trust and lean and depend accordingly.

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6c)

The fourth source of deception I see in Scripture is external in nature:  dishonest people.

  • Keep deception and lies far from me…” (Proverbs 30:8a)

Ultimately, like everything in the Christian walk, it boils down and comes back to faith; therefore, never fear or leer, dear peer… hear, veer, steer clear of would-be deceivers.  (And your year will be full of cheer!)

Help us, Lord.  For our flesh can’t fight off far more powerful foes like Satan, sin, self-deception, and insincere, dishonest people.  But thank You so much that You ARE (infinitely) more powerful than all of these would-be predators which will always want – and try! – to trick and trip us up at any given time, especially when we’re weak, so may we wisely “wear” Your Word like a wool winter coat which warms, and the armor of the Spirit and thus stay strong in such unparalleled, potent, powerful protection promised in the Bible and eagerly granted by the grace of God.

  • “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.  Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Hear, veer, steer clear, yes, but don’t forget to pray, as that passage proceeds to say.

  • “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18a)

In other words… pray, or be  prey.

More power to ya.

 

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