Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Art of Deception

I’m a big Detroit Tigers fan—have been since I was 10 years old. This is only the fourth time in my lifetime that the Tigers are playing the post-season; so I’m enjoying every moment, whether they win or lose. I’m not only a big fan of baseball but I’m also a high school coach. So when I watch the best players in the world play on the big stage, I tend to study their approach, their strategy, and how they handle given situations. Though baseball is played on a fairly large field, much of the game centers near a 60 foot, 6 inch stretch between the pitcher and batter. Anything that happens on the field is determined by what happens when the ball is thrown to the plate. Over the years, I’ve bumped into people who really hate watching this aspect of the game. They call it slow and boring because players have the tendency to do things to cause the fans to wait. Both hitters and pitchers do a lot of thinking, tugging, and scratching before they step on to the pitching rubber or into the batter’s box.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what’s happening in these slow moments of the game. In these tedious moments a plot of deception is being crafted. The pitcher is scheming how he’ll use his arsenal of pitches to fool the hitter to fail. One of the Tigers pitchers, Justin Verlander (the best in baseball this year), has three effective pitches. His fastball often travels over 100 mph, the fastest in the game. He also throws a big bending curveball that looks like it’s coming high and inside but it ends low and outside. His other “money pitch” is a change-up. This pitch is the ultimate deceiver because it looks like a fastball coming out of his hand but it can be 10-15 mph slower. The hitter, fooled into thinking the ball is traveling 100 mph, will swing early, missing or hitting a weak ground ball. Good pitchers are good liars.

The hitter, on the other hand, is trying to predict or plan for the deception. Good hitters are able to hit any pitch… if they know what’s coming. But since this is not the case, good hitters have to understand how good pitchers deceive. So they study pitching patterns and they look for tendencies that could reveal what type of pitch is coming. That’s what’s happening in those nervous moments between every pitch. The pitcher is planning his deception and the hitter is trying to anticipate what’s coming.

In baseball, the art of deception is fun to see in action. In the series between the Tigers and the Yankees, crowds of over 40,000 people hang on every pitch. But in life, navigating through the art of deception can be tough and the outcome can be devastating. Each day, whether we realize it or not, someone, Satan, is attempting to deceive us. He uses powerful things that look like a 100 mph fastball. But, he can also throw a nasty change-up to knock us off balance.

This week in the sermon series, The Seven Churches of Revelation, we’ll look at a church called Pergamum. Jesus describes the city as being Satan’s city, inferring that this is the town he lives in. I think this is his way of saying, “Satan runs this place. He owns it.” The way Satan got such a deep foothold in this community is through deception. In the church in Pergamum, he’s deceived many of the people into ways of idolatry and immorality. Idolatry is placing anything above God. Satan has convinced them that the One True God is not enough and that there are other gods that need their attention and their allegiance. And in their idolatry, they became immoral, engaging sexually beyond what God had intended. In essence, they’ve believed the lies of Satan that God is not enough and that he is holding back.

Not everyone in the church was fooled by the big bending curveballs of Satan. Jesus commends them, “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you remain true to me. You refused to deny me…” Revelation 2.13 NLT

The art of deception is making something false appear to be true. It’s making something bad look good. If Satan were to play baseball, he’d be a Hall of Fame pitcher. He’s a master deceiver. He has a way of making ugly, destructive things look attractive, beautiful, and life-giving. But, there’s good news. We have the Holy Spirit in us to help us distinguish between a fastball and a curveball— between truth and a lie. When we a walk in step with the Spirit, we can see a lie coming and knock it out of the park.

Some questions to ponder today:

1. Are you recognizing the lies that Satan is spewing in our culture?

2. Where are your weak or vulnerable points? Where are you susceptible to being deceived?

3. Jesus closes his note by saying, “Anyone who has ears to hear must listen to the Spirit…” How are you listening to the Holy Spirit? Are you quiet enough to hear him? Remember, Satan’s lies scream loudly, but the Spirit whispers.

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