THE CHAIR

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. [Isaiah 31:1 (NLT)]

The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. [Psalm 33:16-17 (NLT)]

Lake LouiseThe small chair looked quite inviting but there was a note on it: “Broken—do not use.” That note has been resting on the same chair for several years. Had the chair been mine, it would have been repaired or at least hidden out of the way. As it is now, the chair is useless and an invitation to disaster. Just a slight breeze might blow the warning off the chair; the next person to come along could sit there and end up sprawled on the floor surrounded by splintered wood.

In contrast to the precarious antique chair at my friend’s house, is the large leather arm chair in our family room. It’s not there for looks—it’s there for support and comfort. Oversized and well-built, it’s strong enough to hold my weight and that of all the grands as they pile on it with me. It’s durable, comfortable, welcoming and dependable.

Some people depend on things as fragile as that broken chair—things that look nice but can’t be trusted like wealth, career, appearance, possessions, power, contacts, intelligence, or fame. They may appear sturdier than that broken chair but, like it, they can easily shatter and collapse when we need them most. Our circumstances can change in an instant and what we had yesterday may not be here tomorrow. The Old Testament is filled with stories showing the danger of relying on the wrong things. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered for their dependence on idols, other nations, and themselves rather than God; we will, too. When we depend on anything as weak as a rickety old chair, eventually it will collapse and we’ll be left to pick up the broken pieces. As for me, I’d rather depend on a God who is like our arm chair—strong, steadfast and indestructible! Ours is a rock-solid God who won’t fail us, no matter how much weight we place on Him.

On who or what do you rely? Is it reliable….as reliable as God?

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. [Psalm 33:19-22 (NLT)]

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BOTH SEEN AND HEARD

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. … Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”  [Genesis 16:11,13a (NLT)]

sparrowThe slave woman Hagar felt invisible. It was Sarah who was loved by Abraham; Hagar was just a substitute womb. Of course, Hagar wasn’t entirely blameless. Once pregnant, she taunted her mistress with her fertility and Sarah retaliated by treating her harshly. Abraham washed his hands of the whole thing when he told Sarah the way she treated (or mistreated) the maid was her business, not his. After all, Hagar was little more than a brood mare; the powerless victim of Sarah’s scheme, she meant nothing to Abraham so she ran away. Invisible, unappreciated and unloved—she sat by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel of the Lord heard and saw her, comforted her, gave her hope of a future and sent her back to her mistress. From then on, Hagar referred to the Lord as El-Roi: the God who sees me.

Fourteen years later, Sarah bore a son—Isaac. Animosity and jealousy between the women and sibling rivalry between the boys made a bad situation even worse. Now that the promised son was born, Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of both Hagar and Ishmael. Although Abraham was upset about losing his first son, Hagar continued to be invisible, unappreciated and unloved by him. After strapping some food and water on her back, he sent mother and son off into the wilderness. Their water supply was soon depleted and, at death’s door, Ishmael lay under a bush and cried. His name meant “God shall hear” and, indeed, God did. Hearing her boy’s cries, God again reassured the distraught woman of her son’s future and opened her eyes so that she saw a well and a means of survival.

We have a God who sees and hears us. If He could see an invisible unloved slave woman in the wilderness and hear her unwanted son’s cries, He can see and hear us. If He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, He knows when we need Him. It may seem that we’re invisible and unheard by those around us but we are never invisible or unheard by Him. He will open our eyes to possibilities and give us hope and a future.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. [Psalm 18:6 (NLT)]

Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely, And long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? A constant friend is He;
His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me.
[“His Eye Is On the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin]

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THE ENEMY – FEAR

Laudermilk Park Naples FLWe, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ [Hebrews 13:6 (PHILLIPS)]

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address. It was 1933 and the nation was in the dark days of the Great Depression. Although the reason for our nation’s darkness differs, his words still hold true.

Like many others, our church spent last week discussing and implementing security measures. How can a house of worship—a place that welcomes the lost and the least, the weary and the burdened—protect itself from the violence that increasingly surrounds us? As so many schools do, should we require everyone to have laminated ID cards for entrance through our doors? Do we pat down people or pass them through metal detectors? Should we carry guns in shoulder holsters and purses? Do we cease welcoming strangers? Will we refuse entry to anyone involved in a domestic dispute lest their angry spouse chooses to vent his anger on our doorstep?

Will we allow fear to stop us from attending church? If we do, we might as well stop going to concerts, schools, theaters, shopping centers, street festivals, airports, parades, marathons, or sporting events—all of which are perfect targets for both terrorists and the mentally ill. No place is entirely safe, especially when cars and trucks can become weapons with just a turn of the wheel and a little pressure on the gas pedal.

I admit to being more cautious nowadays. I look for exits and avoid confrontations but that’s being sensible rather than afraid. Told to say something if we see something, I am attentive to my surroundings but for what are we supposed to look? The concert goers in Las Vegas never saw the shooter and, by the time the parishioners in Texas saw the gunman, it was too late. Once it was easy to identify the deranged—they were the ones talking or screaming to themselves, gesturing wildly, or dancing to their own inner music. Now, because of cell phones, blue tooth, and iPods, many on the street seem unbalanced when they aren’t and terrorists don’t wear t-shirts announcing their hateful plans.

Admittedly, we live in a world of random violence but it’s not nearly as violent as we think it is. The odds of dying of either heart disease or cancer are more than 30,000 times greater than dying at the hands of a terrorist. While those odds are of no comfort to the families who have lost loved ones to terror, they tell us to be watchful rather than afraid.

There is more to FDR’s quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to turn retreat into advance.” When we allow fear to keep us from our daily routine, when fear keeps us from attending  our children’s football games or  flying on a plane, when we become too afraid to go the beach or even to church, we are retreating from the real enemy—Satan. Rather than arming ourselves with weapons, let’s put on the armor of God and, as Christ’s soldiers, bravely advance onward into battle.

Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction! [Matthew 10:28 (PHILLIPS)]

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ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

rose colored glassesAnd we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. [Romans 8:28 (TLB)]

When someone has an unduly optimistic or positive view of things, they are often said to be wearing “rose-colored glasses.” According to Adam Anderson, a University of Toronto professor of psychology, our moods actually affect the way we see things and, as moods change, so does our visual perception. “Good and bad moods literally change the way our visual cortex operates,” says the professor about a 2009 study he conducted. ”In a positive mood,” he explained, “our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision.” He concluded that the better our mood, the better able our brains are to comprehend what it is our eyes are seeing. In short, we see better when we have a positive outlook and are wearing rose-colored glasses!

I imagine it was a set of rose-colored glasses that allowed young David to see the possibility of defeating the huge Goliath with his sling. In all of Saul’s army, there had to have been other brave men equally skilled with a sling. Because of their despair and pessimism, however, they never saw what was right in front of them—an enormous man, encumbered by a coat of mail weighing 125 pounds, wearing heavy bronze leg armor, and carrying a javelin, spear and sword. Instead of seeing a man so weighed down that he needed another man to carry his shield, they saw an undefeatable opponent. David, however, saw someone who wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to dodge a well-aimed stone. That stone wasn’t from a child’s toy sling-shot; it came from a shepherd’s weapon used to kill wild animals. According to Malcom Gladwell, that sling had the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. With their defeatist attitude, Saul and his army only saw the power of the enemy. David’s optimism allowed him to clearly see both the enemy’s weakness and his own strength and skill!

Like Saul and his army, when the disciples found themselves in the midst of a storm, the fearful men had tunnel vision. They only saw danger and impending death. If they’d put on some rose-colored glasses, they would have seen the one who can calm storms sleeping in their boat! Rose-colored glasses can help us see what is right in front of us. A positive attitude is what helps us notice any weakness in the opposition, find detours in life’s roadblocks, identify solutions to our problems, and spot help when we need it.

We actually can purchase rose-colored glasses but, unless they have corrective lenses, they’ll not improve our eyesight. Faith in God, however, is what offers us the kind of rose-colored glasses that give clarity to life and allow us to see the big picture. It is knowing Jesus that enables us to face each morning with optimism, joy and hope. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to see our challenges as opportunities to do God’s will. So, put on your rose-colored glasses and see what wonderful things the day will bring!

I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you wisdom to see clearly and really understand who Christ is and all that he has done for you. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! [Ephesians 1:16-18 (TLB)]

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HUNCHES

Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods? [Job 38:36-38 (NLT)]

alligatorThe Bible gives us plenty of instances of God directly speaking to His people—Noah, Moses, and Joshua were all given specific directions before building the ark, liberating the Israelites, or crossing into the Promised Land. On the other hand, there are many people who furthered God’s plan without His specific instructions. As far as we know, God didn’t tell Moses’ mother to place her son in a basket and lay him among the reeds of the crocodile infested Nile, yet she did just that. What caused a mother to literally send her beloved baby down the river? Yet, that very action furthered God’s plan; as the son of an Egyptian princess, Moses received a royal upbringing and an excellent education, all of which he needed in his later confrontations with Pharaoh.

There’s no mention of God telling Joshua’s spies how to get their information about Jericho. Granted, Rahab was a prostitute which might explain why they stopped there. Still, she probably wasn’t the only harlot in town and hers wasn’t the only house near the city wall. What made the men choose the one house where they’d find a woman who believed enough in the Israelites’ God to lie to the king’s men and save their lives?

Did the spies and Moses just catch lucky breaks? My husband often says, “Luck is better than skill!” but I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. We can’t truly comprehend God and, since we’re created in His image, it would seem that there is a part of us that also is beyond our understanding. An EEG can’t detect it and neither CT scan nor MRI can show it; nevertheless, it is what provides us with inner guidance and enables us to discern right from wrong, recognize danger, and become suspicious when things don’t seem quite right. It goes way beyond experience, aptitude, and skills. God has blessed us all with an innate intuition through which He steers our minds, changes our perspective, reveals opportunities, and helps us rethink situations so that we can choose His plan, even when we’re not sure what it is. It’s that strong inner feeling that something is the right thing to do, not just for our benefit but also for the benefit of those around us. It was what brought the spies to Rahab and caused Moses’ mother to place him in the river.

Unfortunately, not all of our inner feelings come from God; the enemy also is whispering into our ears. Being mortal, we are prone to errors in judgment and not every hunch, feeling, or instinct should be heeded. The Book of Judges tells us that, when there was no king in Israel, “All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” [17:6] In fact, after listing all of the nation’s appalling moral failures, Judges reiterates that thought in its last words. When God provided us with intuition, he did not abdicate his authority over us. The Israelites needed a king to govern them and we certainly need our King to rule us. Whatever we think intuition is telling us should be in line with what God has already told us.

Intuition isn’t our problem; it’s not adding God and prayer to it that is. We all will have intuitive moments but must discern their source by going to God’s word in the Bible and to His throne in prayer. The closer we are to God, the more likely we are to know whether or not that feeling in our gut comes from Him or from the spicy burritos we ate for lunch.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. … Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. [Galatians 5:16-17, 25 (NLT)]

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WHO KNOWS?

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. [1 John 1:5 (NLT)]

black white butterfly

An old Chinese parable tells of a poor farmer whose only horse runs away. His friends commiserate over his bad luck and ask how he’ll plow his field. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” Two days later, the horse returns along with several wild horses. When the farmer’s friends congratulate him on the good fortune of having a stable full of horses, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” The following week, while trying to tame the horses, the farmer’s son breaks his leg in three places. The farmer’s friends offer condolences and wonder how he’ll survive without his son’s help. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” When a war breaks out, the Emperor’s men arrive and conscript all the young men in the village. With his leg in a cast and needing crutches, the farmer’s son is considered unfit for battle and remains in the village. As his neighbors watch their sons leave home, they congratulate the farmer on his stroke of luck. He replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” Although the son’s leg eventually heals, he has a bad limp. The farmer’s neighbors express their sympathy for such trouble. “Who knows? We shall see,” he again replies. By the time the war is over, all of the village’s boys have died in battle. With his several horses and one living son, the farmer is able to plow several fields and grow wealthy. When the villagers congratulate him on his good fortune, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.”

This 2,000 year-old tale reflects Taoist stoicism and the belief in Yin Yang—everything in the universe consists of two complementary yet opposing forces. There is no good or bad, only that which appears to be so. The resigned farmer is subject to fate and it is only his attitude over which he has control. Associated with this philosophy is the Yin Yang symbol: two equal parts of white and black comma-shapes with a black dot in the white side and a white dot in the black one. It represents the belief that good and bad aren’t at war but rather in a constant state of flux; there is a little bad in all that’s good and a little good in all that’s bad.

While it is comforting to think there are no absolutes and that life is just a balance of opposites, that’s not Biblical. We live in a world of absolutes and our triune God is absolutely righteous and the sovereign judge of all that’s evil. Not all things change—our God is immutable and Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. If Christians had a symbol similar to that of Yin Yang, it wouldn’t show equal forces with neither side struggling for dominance. It would have the light consuming the dark. Good and evil are not balanced—they are at war and good won the war when Christ died and rose from the dead! Moreover, there is no dot of darkness in God’s light.

If this was a Christian parable, the imperturbable farmer wouldn’t answer, “Who knows? We shall see.” Rather than being complacent and merely accepting his fate, he would find purpose in it. He’d echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “In all things I give thanks, knowing that I can be content in all circumstance because my strength is in Christ.” The Christian does not find peace in a philosophy—he finds peace in the person of our triune God. Like the Taoist farmer, he doesn’t know what the next day will bring or how it all fits together but, unlike that farmer, he knows who is writing the story and how the story eventually will end!

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)]

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