Wednesday, October 28, 2009


By Brenda Black

I buried my head between tall, broad shoulder blades and wrapped my arms around my friend's waist. With one eye tightly closed and the other slitted just enough to capture a peek at my feet, I shuffled through the haunted house, trembling and weak. I was about 15 years old. I haven't entered another since.

I paid for a ten minute tour through garish costumes, dark rooms, spooky sounds and silicone cobwebs. For what? A racing heart, sweaty palms. Shivers and shakes and creepy crawly memories. Back then, a fake scare for a teenager may have been the cool thing come the end of October. Today, I know better that true evil lurks year round and fake blood and rubber masks are a tame imitation for real demonic presence. Instead of cowering in fear, now I come out fighting with both eyes wide open and the name of Jesus as my spear. That's how I say “Boo!” to the enemy.

Since his fall to earth, Satan has attempted to fool mankind into thinking that evil is either overwhelming and impossible to defeat or just kid's play like a seasonal haunted house and is really no threat at all. Both are lies! We can have the power of Christ to immobilize the devil. But we need to remember that we are messing with fire. To prove my point, I give you Acts 19. This ghost story reveals the difference between those who fight fire with faith and those who flee in fear when they stand against Satan in their own strength.

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, 'In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.'

“The evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” (Acts 19:11-13, 15-16)

When false witnesses attempt to call out evil spirits in the name of Jesus, demons offer no respect. It takes more than empty magical phrases to combat a supernatural enemy. It takes faith and an I.D. I want to make demons tremble at the mention of my name, don't you. We may not have the particular anointing that enabled Paul to work such miracles, but if you know Christ as Savior, you have the same Holy Spirit power to conquer evil.

Don't deceive yourself though. The Father of Lies knows a liar. If you plan to whip the devil, you had better be wearing God's true armor and not just playing the part. You think about that for a minute. Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweaty? Satan has an army here on earth that operates covertly in the spiritual realms. Drug addicts catch glimpses of them in their chemically-induced hazes. Murderers hear their whispers of hate. Fornicators are wooed by their sensual lies. Don't kid yourself for one minute if you think the devil isn't at work in the real world. Nearly 80 times, Scripture talks about demons or demon possession. It's real! And Satan and his legions will destroy you if he doesn't recognize Jesus Christ in your life because he is the only One who has authority over this fallen angel. He cowers to no one but the Lord himself who defeated death at the cross. But, oh to the Holy One, he completely must submit.

“Then [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

“In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 'Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!'

“'Be quiet!' Jesus said sternly. 'Come out of him!' Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

“All the people were amazed and said to each other, 'What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!' And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.” (Luke 4:31-37)

Fear God if you don't want to be afraid of the devil. With the Great I Am in your corner, every slimy, sinful, slithering ghoul must go when we we say “Boo! In the name of Jesus!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scared Stiff

Scared Stiff
By Brenda Black

An eery, orange blob peered through gangly and gnarled trees, penetrating increasing darkness. Like one enormous eye, it glared down on my hiding place behind a rambling sticker bush. I hunkered lower and tried my best to blend into the mottled forest floor. Day's end crept nearer and the eye shrank and cowered with each passing minute. I turned my back to its foreboding presence and concentrated on the gusts of rushing winds that roared through timber tops. Just as quickly as they came, they abruptly stopped or slowly exhaled ghostly breaths through quivering amber leaves and upraised, pale branches. Though the wood seemed haunting, it failed to frighten me. For nothing could be more scary than the scene I beheld just moments earlier.

I stood staring up the length of a 40-foot, scaly creature and watched helplessly as my son ascended and conquered it. I'd sent him and his brother to the woods before at this time of year and worked at not worrying. But this time, I witnessed why mothers pray so much during deer season – the hanging of the tree stand.

In former seasons, I spent my energy fretting over boys already perched on a two-by-three-foot square, suspended 15 feet off the ground, and didn't give much thought to the preliminaries. As a result, I hammered in rules for safety harnesses and keen observation for opening morning. This was my first experience to see the real danger of installing said equipment.

The first three or four steps didn't bother me; I knew he could drop and roll if necessary with nary a scratch. But, as I stood on tip toes and precariously suspended sharply pointed metal bars up to my son-turned-monkey, my nerves were tested. He grappled and clung to loosening bark and I ducked from falling twigs and acorns. Methodically, Cooper drilled and tightened each step precisely placed for ascension.

If that wasn't horrifying enough, he then strapped himself to the tree that I had since noticed was missing a big chunk of itself on the backside, hollowed from lightning, disease or insect infestation. My doubts fell on his deaf ears, now a convenient five yards above my craning neck and counsel. So I squelched my reservations and continued as ground support by half hitching a rope around the metal contraption that he slowly hoisted to his tree-hugging side.

He wiggled and clamped and chained his pending perch and tested it for stability while I rubbed my aching neck and prayed with head bowed low or chin raised heavenward, depending on how bad the neck kink was at the moment. Then the worst came when he loosened the belt from the tree and wriggled his bottom to the seat. I efficiently moved all equipment encircling the base of the tree and, while holding my breath, began strategizing how I could catch that big boy if he took a wrong step. At one moment it even occurred to me that his safe landing would probably break my back, yet I would still do it.

I was scared stiff … and also very proud. He was cautious and methodical and performed his feat with expertise. Come to think of it, he probably knew better than me from his vantage point just how great the risk. And while I spent my time on solid ground in a mental frenzy, he stayed calm and clear-headed way up in a tree. You tell me, which one of us was more stable.

When the “hearts of his people [shake] as the trees of the forest shake with the wind,” the Lord says “...Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted...” (Isaiah 7:2, 4)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keep Your Eye on the Eight

Keep Your Eye on the Eight

By Brenda Black

A big, green monster lived in our basement for years. It beckoned teens to come near its hard, yet hollow sides and gulped down giant gum balls they'd feed it on Friday nights. We tamed the beast with clever shots and soothed it with giddy laughter. Years of unintentional jabs left scars on its hide. A few cola spills stained its velvety fur. Still the beast endured and celebrated with each warrior who chanted over its head, “Eight ball – corner pocket!”

The calls of confidence bounced off basement walls and affirmed the popularity of the game of Eight-Ball where the ultimate object of play was to legally drop the eight ball into a specified pocket. The game has relatively straight-forward rules - designate which pocket you plan to sink the eight ball and then successfully hit that ball into that pocket. Only, don't drop it until you've cleared the table of all the other stripes or solids.

Simple enough – right? Just keep your eye on the eight. That time-honored strategy has proved effective not only in billiards. I've found other places where we need to focus on the eight if we want to be victorious. Nehemiah 8 for instance.

“So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” (Neh. 8:2-3)

In any game, the rules must be understood in order for fair and fruitful play. Ezra read the rules for life and it benefitted the hearers. “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” (Neh. 8:12)

One who heeds instruction has a far better chance of winning. Which leads me to our next important “8's” - Proverbs 1:8. “Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching” and Proverbs 8:11 “for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”

Eight-Ball experts listen, apply and appreciate God's wisdom. They know that even if they engage physical senses – eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, tongues to taste – true understanding still comes from the Lord. “I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, 'My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?'” (Daniel 12:8)

All too quickly, a game of Eight-Ball can end in ruin if we don't seek the Lord's wisdom. Drop the ball prematurely. Sink the ball in the wrong pocket. Scratch in that final play and every good intention culminates in defeat rather than victory.

So keep your eye on the eight. John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” Don't try to get ahead of the game; follow the Lord and walk in his perfect ways.

Keep your eye on the eight. Proverbs 21:28 “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” If you aim for heaven and end up landing in hell, it's because you went the wrong direction. The saddest part is you can take someone down with you when you get misdirected. Psalm 68:20 “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” Don't scratch by serving anyone but Christ.

Keep your eye on the eight. Ecclesiastes 7:8 “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Win the game cleanly by persevering to the end. Follow the rules, know your target and aim carefully so you won't put anyone else out of contention for the prize. Luke 8:15 should be our motto: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Here's to shooting straight for heaven with a little help from all those words of wisdom hidden behind the eight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Play Ball

Play Ball
By Brenda Black

Major League Baseball Division Series play is underway! For the faithful fans of America's iconic sport, here's one....two.....three....striking stories to commemorate the finish of our nation's summer addiction.

FAST BALL: The Minnesota Twins had acquired a new pitching coach, Johnny Sain, back in 1966. During spring training he silently watched pitcher Jim Katt perform. Then called him in for a personal chat.

"Jim," said Sain, "I've been watching you pitch. Tell me, what are your four best pitches?"

Kaat responded, "My best pitch is my fastball. Then comes my curve. My slider and changeup are third and fourth."

"What pitch do you spend the most time practicing?" asked Sain.

"My slider and changeup," said Kaat. "If I can improve on those two pitches, I know I'll have a good season."

Sain looked at Kaat, pondered his comments, and then responded, "I see it a little differently, Jim, and want you to take a different approach. Work on your fastball. I know it's your favorite pitch, so go out there in practice, warm-ups, and during games, and concentrate on your fastball. Throw your fastball 80 to 90 percent of the time all year, and you'll win a lot of games."

Kaat left Sain's office stunned. He had expected expert tips for improving his changeup or slider. At least Sain could have provided some advice for smoothing out his second-best pitch, the curve ball! Telling him to do more of what he already did best didn't make much sense.

But he listened. That season Jim Kaat threw fastball after fastball. Kaat said he thought his arm was going to fall off! But, he heeded the advice of his coach-- and thanks to his fastball, Jim Kaat won 26 games that year, and was named pitcher of the year in the American League. ("Speaker's Source-book 2" (Prentice-Hall), pp. 7-8)

FOUL: From a perfected pitcher to a sloppy hitter, the next story documents the messiest foul ball in baseball history. When a pitch was fouled over the Boston grandstand in 1903, no one thought much of it----at first. But the ball bounced onto a neighboring factory and lodged itself in the shutoff mechanism of a steam whistle. When workers at other factories heard the non-stop noise, they assumed there was a fire somewhere and they fled their factories. In a factory that made baked beans, an evacuating worker forgot to shut down the giant vat in which the beans were cooking. Minutes later, the vat exploded, blowing the roof off the factory and showering fans in the ballpark with tons of Boston Baked Beans!

FAN FAIR: Fans may have needed spoons and napkins in 1903 when it rained baked beans, but humble pie was served along with some kleenex during one of Babe Ruth's final professional games. In his career, Babe hit 714 home runs, but toward the end, the aging Babe racked up errors in field play that turned fans into foes. During one of his last games as a pro, he fumbled the ball several times. In one inning alone, his errors were the main reason the opposing team scored five runs. As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout, a crescendo of derisive yelling and booing reached his ears. It was a humiliating moment for that great athlete who had been the number one idol of baseball fans for so many years.

At his lowest moment, a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he knelt before his hero and threw his arms around his legs. Ruth took the boy's hand and lifted him up. He hugged him, then set him on his feet, patting him gently on the head.
Suddenly there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. The Babe and the boy melted the hearts of the crowd. ("The Preacher's Illustration Service," Jan/Feb 1997)

Just like the game of steals and hits, curves and fastballs, life off the field can be unexpected, comical and compassionate. Bring your best, laugh when the baked beans blow up, and offer grace to those who need it most. That's how you play ball like a pro and win in life.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom...the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peace-makers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:13, 17-18)