Sports events, successful careers and circumstances of life offer parallels to our spiritual life. For instance, if you watch the Olympics are you ever struck by the fact that someone as great as Michael Phelps often wins a swimming meet by a fraction of a second? I watched Tiger Woods play in the 2009 Memorial Golf Tournament and he won it by one stroke. He made this unbelievable shot on the 11th hole from the rough, up onto the green and into the hole. Without that shot he probably would have tied for first place with Jim Furyk or maybe came in second. In the second game of the 2009 NBA finals between the L.A. Lakers and the Orlando Magic with .06 seconds to go the game was tied. The ball was perfectly thrown in from the side of the court by Hedo Turkoglu as an “alley-oop” to Courtney Lee, who then missed the dunk or lay up by inches. That put it into overtime and the Lakers won. If Lee could have sunk his shot the series would be tied at 1-1. After the over time, it is 2-0, a much bigger deal.

This timing issue comes into our own lives in very odd ways. I was jogging this morning and as I passed a house in our neighborhood I heard loud barking and before I had taken 5 more steps I looked back to see two pit bulls and some other large mongrel dog charging full speed and quickly getting only a couple feet away from me. I turned to face them, yelling as loudly as I could “No!” and “Go home!” They did the wolf pack deal of triangulation of the prey and forced me backward into and across the street. The aggressive leader of the pack was really only six inches or so from my leg, teeth bared and barking as loud as I was yelling as I backed into a parked car and then fell over the curb onto the grass. Now I really felt my age and figured at this point I was going to be mauled or killed. With my heart racing, I leaped back up and for some reason they stopped before taking me out. A truck came around the corner and they went back across the street. The leader, however, went very slowly and I could read his mind “Next time, you’re mine,” as he looked at me with malicious and deliberate surliness. How much more time did he need? Was there an angel over my shoulder? If the truck hadn’t come by at that time, what then? As I walked the rest of the way home, I thought about it. I had just been scared out of my wits, but it could have been much worse. I fell onto grass rather than pavement, which kept me from obvious wounds to the elbows, hands and whatever. If they had even bitten me once or twice, as pit bulls are wont to do, they usually don’t let go until that piece of flesh is successfully ripped off the victim’s body. All the rest of the summer gigs and workshops might have been out the window; my playing career could go with any number of fingers chewed off. I also could have been a jogging martyr. I could see it on my tombstone, “Christian husband and father, musician and teacher and jogging martyr.”

Now compare that to how decisions or timing affects our Christian life. In my own life, which is the only thing I have any experience talking about, when someone offers me some herb (and I don’t mean sweet basil) I have a choice. I can say no thanks or I can indulge. After all, it’s a plant. God made it, didn’t he? It grows naturally on the planet. It’s the government that has wrongly made it illegal. Whoa! Wait just a minute! What’s going on here? Why am I rationalizing something I thought I had settled long ago? The pit bull is barking loudly and the quality of my life, career and marriage could be on the line. I have the following options:

  1. say no, walk away free
  2. say yes and get ready for guilt, condemnation and bondage
  3. say yes, listen to the Lord’s gentle reprimand and immediately repent and ask God’s mercy for doing what I know is wrong for my own life and relationship with him

The reality of this is I have done all of these. Sorry to blow my cover, but left to my own devices I can screw my life up as well as anyone. The opportunity could be many and varied: lust and sex, lying and cheating, gossiping and back biting, drunken partying, refusing to do good to someone in need, avoiding the Lord in prayer, letting religion substitute for relationship, saying stupid things to people I love, driving like a jerk, coveting stuff I don’t need, eating too much, and man, the list can go on and on. So, what is the comparison to one- stroke golf victories and .06 second missed shots and pit bull attacks have to do with this? Simple, we are in a war. Wars are composed of a series of battles. Battles are often lost by a seemingly very small tactical error. Lose too many battles and you may lose the war.

The enemy of your soul is a pit bull six inches away from attacking. His objective is to kill, steal and destroy. If he cannot keep you out of heaven, then he will suggest things that will so screw you up that no one else you come in contact with will go to heaven because of your hypocritical lifestyle or pharisaic religious choices. He is also a pit bull with a doctoral degree in deception. He has had a lot of experience and his tactics has taken many of the best warriors out. The rationalizations about our choices often come from a whispered thought in our mind. When we agree with that thought that obviously goes against scripture and the Lord’s spirit in us, we effectively create an enemy stronghold or encampment. It’s like when Courtney Lee had leaped up by the basket to catch the pass and possibly win the basketball game; he was encamped in Lakers’ territory. The Lakers had let him get past their defenses and he was ready to take them out.

How do we defeat the enemy in our own camp? Paul says it well.

“Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

(2 Corinthians 10:1-6; italics mine)

Notice he says “pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments.” Who is arguing? Where did these strongholds come from?

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion (barking pit bull), seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”

(1 Peter 5:8, 9)

Be vigilant could also be stated as “keep awake” or “keep an eye out” or “don’t let your guard down.” Just when you think you have the game won, the enemy is at your goal and ready to dunk it. You think you have the swimming meet in the bag and some guy barrels ahead of you to touch the wall .030 seconds faster. You could be jogging, minding your own business, daydreaming and all of a sudden your enemy like a barking pit bull is ready to devour you.

I can tell you this because I know it to be true. I have lived it and been injured and sidelined while the battle goes on because I was not aware of my surroundings. Christians are vulnerable. Stay in the scriptures, pray without ceasing, do what you know the Lord wants you to do, avoid the obvious traps and be aware of the hidden ones. This is no game. This is for keeps and for all of eternity. Be strong my brothers and sisters, we live in a kingdom and the king is Jesus. Do his will on earth as it is in heaven.