EXPECT TROUBLE

alligator - CREWThen Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. [Luke 4:1-2a (NLT)]

We must not count temptation a strange thing. “The disciple is not greater than his master, nor the servant than his lord.” If Satan came to Christ, he will also come to Christians. [J.C. Ryle]

One of my favorite trails is an old tram road through a maple-cypress swamp. After a short walk on a crushed shell path and a boardwalk, we come to a slightly raised grassy trail originally used for logging. It is on this narrow path, with water on both sides of it, that we frequently encounter an alligator sunning himself on the trail! Since it’s a swamp, we should expect gators, snakes, raccoons, otters, and birds but seeing an alligator directly in our path is disconcerting. More alarming, however, was when I stepped out of the car at another park and found an alligator sunning himself just a few feet away from my feet! A gator in the swamp should be expected but one in the picnic area is an unpleasant surprise (as are the alligators that occasionally move into the lake by our home or rest amid the flowers at the botanic garden).

Following his baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Had He been led to a pagan temple or the 1st century equivalent of a bar or gentleman’s club, Satan’s presence could be expected but you’d think the wilderness would be a temptation-free zone. Perhaps that’s why the Spirit specifically led Him there to be tempted—it’s a vivid reminder that we don’t have to be where we don’t belong or doing what we shouldn’t be doing to have Satan come looking for us. Going where the Spirit leads is no guarantee that Satan won’t try to follow. Like alligators, he’s no respecter of boundaries and will show up where least expected.

In various mythologies, evil supernatural beings like vampires can’t enter your house unless they’re invited inside. Make no mistake about it, Satan doesn’t wait for an invitation and he’ll show up when and where we least expect him. Eve didn’t ask that serpent into the garden nor did the naïve woman expect the evil one to lie. But, he lied to her, he lied to Jesus, and he’ll lie to us.

Here in Florida, we don’t have to be walking in a swamp to encounter danger; wherever there’s brackish or fresh water, alligators should be expected. Whether or not we see them, they’re there. The same can be said for Satan—he’s lurking somewhere near and we don’t have to be in the equivalent of a swamp. Satan and alligators are opportunistic and both will quickly lunge at prey should the opportunity arise. The gator’s preferred method of hunting, however, is to patiently stalk his prey, silently sneak up, and then attack. Satan works much the same way. We must walk cautiously whether in a swamp or a garden because no place is truly safe. When we happen upon a gator, we keep our distance, turn around, and go the other way. When we encounter Satan, with the power of the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, we’ll stand our ground, rest on the Word of God, and send him packing.

As the most dangerous winds may enter at little openings, so the devil never enters more dangerously than by little unobserved incidents, which seem to be nothing, yet insensibly open the heart to great temptations. [John Wesley]

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” [Luke 22:40 (NLT)]

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TAKE THE WEIGHT OFF! (Hebrews 12:1-2 – Part 2)

What about us, then? We have such a great cloud of witnesses all around us! What we must do is this: we must put aside each heavy weight, and the sin which gets in the way so easily. We must run the race that lies in front of us, and we must run it patiently. We must look ahead, to Jesus. He is the one who carved out the path for faith, and he’s the one who brought it to completion. [Romans 12:1-2 (NTE)]

When Alexander the Great’s army was advancing on Persia, his troops were so weighted down by the spoils of war they’d taken in earlier campaigns that they moved too slowly to be effective in combat. At one critical point, it seemed that defeat was inevitable. As much as the greedy Alexander desired the silver, gold, and other treasures they’d pillaged, he ordered that all the plunder be thrown into a heap, burned, and left behind. Although his troops complained bitterly, they did as directed. Once unencumbered by the excess weight of their treasure, his army saw the wisdom of Alexander’s command when their campaign turned from impending defeat to victory. “It was as if wings had been given to them—they walked lightly again,” said one historian.

While I’m not sure of the truth of this story, it makes an excellent illustration of what the writer of Hebrews means when he tells us to lay aside every weight that slows us down. He didn’t say “some” of the weight; using the word pas, he meant every bit of it—the whole enchilada! Using the word ogkos, which meant a bulk or bulging mass, he was referring to any hindrance, burden or impediment. While there’s a specific mention of sin, other things can weigh as down, as well: disappointment, grief, shame, fear, worry, and material possessions. Not every weight, however, is as obvious. The excess weight in our lives could be seemingly harmless distractions like constantly checking email or social media, surfing the Internet, Netflix, TikTok, YouTube, gaming, shopping, or even crafting.

How do we know what’s hindering us? If it isn’t helping; it’s hindering! For example, Walt Disney was ruthless when it came to cutting anything from a film that interfered with its pace. One animator worked for nearly eight months on a four-and-a-half minute sequence in Disney’s Snow White. In it, the dwarfs made soup for Snow White and nearly destroyed the kitchen in the process. Disney liked the scene but he cut it—not because it was bad but because, rather than adding to the narrative, it slowed it down. If it didn’t help move the story forward, Disney knew it hindered!

As we begin this new year, now is a good time to ask God (and ourselves) what might be hindering our progress. Along with the multitude of “bad” things we need to lay aside in order to make room for all the great things God has in store for us, this also is the time to ask if there might be some “good” things that should be eliminated, as well.

Runners in the ancient Olympics ran naked and, while I’m not advocating stripping down quite that much, they knew what it meant to rid themselves of any extra weight! Let us follow their example and run the race God sets before us as if we’re in it to win it!

It is a most lamentable thing to see how most people spend their time and their energy for trifles, while God is cast aside. He who is all seems to them as nothing, and that which is nothing seems to them as good as all. It is lamentable indeed, knowing that God has set mankind in such a race where heaven or hell is their certain end, that they should sit down and loiter, or run after the childish toys of the world, forgetting the prize they should run for. [Richard Baxter (Puritan theologian)]

Don’t you know that when people run on the race-track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. [1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NTE)]

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ANOTHER SONG OF MOSES

Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River. [Deuteronomy 32:46-47 (NLT)]

queen anne's laceYesterday I wrote about the Song at the Sea or Song of Moses found in Exodus 15. There is another psalm known as the Song of Moses. Found in Deuteronomy 32, it was sung forty years after that first one, when the Israelites were again preparing to enter Canaan. With Moses’ death imminent, God had appointed Joshua as the nation’s new leader. Knowing that the people would turn their back on Him once in Canaan, the Lord met with Moses and dictated the words to this song. God’s words were ones of warning and Moses was to teach this song to the Israelites as a reminder of the consequences of disobedience.

Starting with praise for their “glorious God…a faithful God who does no wrong” [32:4], it moved into a brief history of the people and God’s faithfulness in bringing them out of bondage. Taking a prophetic turn, it then spoke of Israel’s future ingratitude, idolatry and apostasy, God’s resulting anger that “blazes forth like fire and burns to the depth of the grave,” [32:22] and the judgments of abandonment, disasters, famine, and terror that would be inflicted on Israel by their enemies because of their sin.

Even though the song ends on a note of hope, with God promising vengeance on Israel’s enemies and salvation for his people, it’s a grim prophecy and one we know comes true. We know that God’s clear warnings in this song were not heeded any more than His promise of victory in the first song was believed. We know of Israel’s idolatry and alliances with pagan nations, the divided kingdom, the northern kingdom’s defeat and removal to Assyria, and Judah’s fall and exile to Babylon. We know that, when the Jews finally return to Jerusalem, they are ruled by a foreign nation and that the temple will be destroyed and Judah cease to exist in 70 AD. We know that nearly two thousand years will pass before Israel again is a nation.

God is not like a sadistic teacher who springs a final exam on us without warning. Throughout Scripture, like a good parent, He’s warned his children about disobedience and its consequences. Will we heed His words? Will we learn from those who’ve walked before us?

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” [Hebrews 3:12-15 (NLT)]

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THE SHADOW KNOWS

The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. [Proverbs 15:3 (NLT)]

black vultureAfter eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. Did they think God wouldn’t know what they had done and come looking for them? Did they really think trees could hide them or that fig leaves would cover their transgressions? We’re not much different. I remember when my brother used his questionable artistic skills to crudely enhance the illustrations in one of my mother’s favorite art books. Thinking she’d never look for it, he then hid the defaced book at the back of the bookcase. She, of course, did find it; like God, parents have a way of discovering our misdeeds!

While Adam, Eve, and my brother failed at hiding their transgressions, sometimes people appear to be successful at covering theirs. I have a friend with a “lead foot” who brags of talking his way out of numerous speeding tickets with such heart-breaking stories (none of which are true) that policemen are usually comforting him by the end of his tale. We all have ways of trying to conceal our wrongdoings, deny culpability, or avoid punishment. A word of caution: while our methods may work with people, concealment, rationalization, misrepresentation, and deceit will never work with God.

In the introduction to The Shadow, an old-time mystery radio program, this question was asked: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Said with an ominous laugh, the answer was, ”The Shadow knows!” At the end of each melodramatic episode, the Shadow’s eerie voice reminded listeners that, “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay…The Shadow knows!” While I have my doubts about the invincible crime fighter knowing what’s in our hearts, I know who does see the evil lurking there: God. We can hide, conceal evidence, lie, and deny responsibility, but we can’t fool God. We must never forget that He sees us all, all of the time.

Father, forgive us our sins and for foolishly thinking we can conceal them from you. Thank you for watching over us, for holding us accountable, and for your beautiful gift of forgiveness.

In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You. [Saint Augustine]

O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you. [Psalm 69:5 (NLT)]

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IDLE WORDS

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. [Matthew 12:34-37 (NLT)]

sanfoin - Onobrychis viciifoliaSince we’ll be held accountable for our words, I wondered how many words that might be. In 1984, Gyles Brandreth claimed that by the time a typical American dies, he (or she) will have uttered more than 860 million words. Since Brandreth is an actor, writer, and Scrabble fanatic rather than a scientist, his number seems questionable. In 2006, Louann Brizendine claimed that women speak an average of 20,000 words per day while men speak a mere 7,000. Based on her numbers, in a lifetime of seventy years, women would have to account for over 511 million words while men would answer for about 179 million. While Brizendine’s qualifications as a neuro-psychiatrist lend credence to her statements, she provided no source for her statistics. Skeptical of her lopsided numbers, psychology professor James Pennebaker conducted a systematic study in 2007 that recorded the daily conversational word output of both men and women. He found that women averaged 16,215 words a day and men 15,669. Based on his numbers, both men and women will speak well over 400 million words in a seventy-year lifetime.

It’s no surprise that the biggest difference between sexes was the way they used their words: women used more pronouns and talked about relationships while men used more numbers and talked about gadgets and sports. Common among both sexes was that most of the words spoken were mundane and seemingly unimportant.

Nevertheless, come Judgment Day, we’ll be held accountable for all of our words simply because they reveal what’s in our hearts. Jesus’ warning wasn’t about blasphemy, a sin well covered elsewhere in Scripture; He specifically spoke of “idle” words. The original Greek phrase is rhema argon meaning unproductive, unprofitable, ineffective, empty, or careless words. Jesus seems to be speaking of the words that spill out: the spur-of-the-moment utterances, the unrehearsed speech, the words that reveal what we’re truly thinking, and the ones said under our breath so no one will hear. He’s speaking of the offhand remarks, insensitive comments, slips of the tongue, little digs, snide asides, thoughtless words, sarcasm, spite, and insult that come from our mouths. Remember—words have tremendous power. After all, God spoke the world into existence!

Our whole lives will come under review on Judgment Day—including those over 400 million spoken words along with the millions of written ones. How have we used our words? Have they wounded or healed, cut down or built up, disparaged or encouraged, cursed or blessed, rebuffed or embraced, insulted or honored? There are consequences to our careless and thoughtless words because our words reveal the true state of our heart! If what comes out of our mouths is faulty, our hearts are equally flawed.

Whether we speak 150 or 15,000 words today, may all of them be worthy of a Christ follower!

His heart cannot be pure whose tongue is not clean. [D.L. Moody]

But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. [James 3:8-12 (NLT)]

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RESTORATIONS

Bryce - UtahSince you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

Having worked in a garage as a teen, my husband enjoys those shows in which cars or motorcycles are renovated, restored or customized. Either the mechanics seek a wreck in the hope of restoring it to turn a tidy profit or a car’s owner brings in a vehicle for a rebuild. Derelict vintage cars and cycles are restored to their original glory in some of the shows while, in other programs, vehicles are upgraded and modified in truly remarkable ways

Turning rust-buckets into pristine collector cars of beauty or ordinary cars into extraordinary muscle machines is a little like what God does with us. Rather than just a little body work like buffing out a scratch, pin-striping, or filling a ding with Bondo, God does complete restorations like the ones done on shows like Fast N’ Loud or Counting Cars (only without the tattoos). Whether we know it or not, we’re as damaged as the rare E-type 1964 Jaguar left to rust in a barn for over forty years. Purchased for fifty thousand pounds, once restored, it was sold for four times that price. God, however, doesn’t have to buy us because Jesus already paid the price for us. Moreover, God isn’t concerned with turning a profit. Out of love for us, He does a complete overhaul, not to make us appear new, but to actually make us new!

As the original manufacturer, you can be sure God uses only OEM parts rather than aftermarket or recycled ones. No soul is too damaged, no job too hard and God won’t stop at something like a simple honesty fix when He sees a tough patience issue. He’ll get out His heavenly tool kit to work on a selfishness adjustment, replace the foolishness with godly wisdom, file down that vanity, and then get to work on that persistent case of pigheadedness. Even a pesky obedience problem can’t deter Him from His holy work. He’s not going to stop until we’re completely rebuilt.

When we accept Christ, we’re reborn or regenerated and taken from spiritual death to life. A momentary act, regeneration is the exclusive work of God. It’s like towing a broken-down car out of the junk heap and into the shop. The restoration part is called sanctification. TV’s restoration specialists usually have a deadline in which to complete their work but God’s sanctification work is never done; it’s a process that lasts a lifetime.

There is, however, another major difference between the car restorer and God. The mechanic doesn’t need the cooperation of the car to do his work. Sanctification, however, is a joint effort between God and us. We must do our part to mature and become more like Christ. As God continues His work in us through the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened in our continual struggle against sin. Because this process of putting away sin and putting on godliness never ends, we won’t be leaving God’s garage any time soon. It is only when we return to our rightful owner at Christ’s resurrection that we will be completely restored.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)]

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