All posts by Cindi Noble

Beware the Hidden Snare

Web 2

   Jack never saw it coming. He knew he’d been working late a lot of nights in the past few months, and he knew the young, attractive intern had been, too. But he knew enough to stay away from her. She worked somewhere down the hall—he didn’t care where. He had a good marriage to a good woman and he wasn’t about to mess that up. So when the attractive, young intern started hanging around his office after hours with a question here or an offer of coffee there, he simply told her—very politely—that he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea so could she please stay put in her own space. He was sure she wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression either.

   Unfortunately for Jack, he had no real understanding of the wrath and peril posed by a woman scorned—the scorched earth, the nuclear fallout, the mass casualties.

   But he found out.

   The two days later Jack was invited into his boss’s office for a little chat where he was informed that he was being fired. The attractive, young intern had, in tears, accused him of sexual harassment after insinuating that if she complied, the company might be hiring. Jack denied the allegations, of course, but the company board seemed to feel that, regardless of the facts, it would be a huge liability and PR crisis to keep him around.

   Snare.

   Such is the nature of traps set by the enemy. When Jack failed to fall for the temptation of working alone at night with the attractive, young intern, the enemy set a trap for him.

   Could this scenario have been avoided? Yes. If Jack had questioned the wisdom of being alone with a young, attractive woman about whose character he knew nothing, then he might not have ended up the lamb at the slaughterhouse. What Jack failed to consider was that just because he was an honorable man, doesn’t mean everyone else is honorable.

   While the enemy might regularly send temptations our way, traps and snares are a little less frequent—that is, unless we make it easy for him. A little wisdom, an ounce of prevention, could have saved Jack a mega-ton of trouble.

   Make no mistake—the devil’s number one priority is to take you down, destroy your destiny and, if he can, induct you into his eternal hall of flame and torment.

   So—what can you do?

   Don’t let him.

   The Bible is replete with warnings regarding the enemy’s traps: the “adulteress” is called a snare. Foolishness, arrogance, drunkenness, careless spending, lying, cheating and general stupidity are all mentioned as probable causes of snares. And there are others.

   Anger is a snare. What about that graphic gesture you treated the other driver to, the waitress whom you stiffed because she forgot to refill your coffee or the cashier you were rude to because she took too long? (Doesn’t she understand how busy you are??) Who was watching? Your boss? Your seven-year-old? Someone in the Sunday school class you teach?

   Snare.

   What about “bad company”? You know what they say about that…

   One night Philip who went out drinking with a buddy. It was a weekend and after the bars closed, the buddy suggested that, on the way home, they stop at a convenience store. Coffee or cigarettes or some such thing… “Not a problem,” said Philip, and in they went. But before Phil had even made it five feet inside the door, his good buddy pulled a weapon and robbed the clerk at gunpoint. And shocked and dismayed though Phil might have been, no one quite believed that he was innocent. (Apparently policemen and judges hear that a lot.) So for the insidious crime of hanging with bad company, Philip did two years in the fed pen for a felony—Class A.

   Snare.

   Could that set of cuffs have been avoided? I would think. It’s hard to imagine that a good buddy could have a mindset that armed robbery is an option and his good friend not know that.

   And what about the high school girl who went out with the class bad boy? (He was cute, after all.) Nothing happened between them but that’s not his story. She’d had a rep as a good girl. Not anymore.

   Snare.

   The thing about traps and snares is that we don’t see them coming. But we can perhaps anticipate them. As the mother rabbit said to her little bunnies, “Don’t play over there! There might be a trap and you won’t see it until too late.”

   Ditto. Guard your integrity, your relationships, your finances, your health, your reputation.

   Guard your destiny.

 

 

 

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The Unseen Realm

Big bang 2

   Imagine a place at the far reaches of the earth, a remote corner of the world where mansions are one-room straw huts; five-star restaurants seat people in the dirt around small cook-fires; and the latest irrigation technology means two pails of water carried from miles away. Imagine that higher education is a knowledge of the great stalking cats lurking in the bush or how to scent a storm before its burning pitchforks of lightning split the sky. And imagine that the greatest entertainment to be found is a fiery display of blazing stars wheeling across the heavens in the stillness of some dark midnight.  

   In such a place, glittering fifty-story high-rise buildings would be beyond imagination—and yet they exist. Grocery stores filled with bread and meat and fruits and vegetables and cakes and pies enough to feed an entire army would be unfathomable—and yet they exist. The technology to hear a voice from the other side of the world or to broadcast a picture from anywhere on earth would simply be a myth, a privilege limited to the gods—and yet it exists. In such a place, lights never go out when the sun goes down; commerce never completely halts anywhere on earth; and working and building and making money are second only to laughing and dancing and drinking—twenty-four hours a day, every day, forever.

   Somewhere on earth—perhaps in a few hidden places—the inhabitants are oblivious to even the concept an outside world; they are, as far as they know, the sole inhabitants of creation.

   Now—imagine us, in the center of our cosmos, as completely unaware of another dimension, another realm, as the people who populate the primitive universe are unaware of us. And imagine that this realm, this other plane of existence is, to us, as completely incomprehensible in terms of its supremacy as is ours to the primitives.

   Imagine that in this realm, the marble palaces of this earth are dingy in comparison to entire cities comprised of light; our most intricate satellites are obsolete because thought is the only vehicle needed to communicate; and travel, commerce and education—all gone—because one has only to speak and one knows, visits or sees whatever one wishes to know, visit or see—in the blink of an eye. Imagine that in this realm, there is no night—yet there are stars; there are no schools—yet there is always learning; and there is no rest—yet there is no fatigue. There is limitless energy, strategy, purpose and activity and yet there is no strife, panic or uncertainty.

   But this place is not some future heaven. This place is the spirit realm which exists, right now, just beyond a flimsy curtain of element. It exists, right now, in the very places we sit, stand and sleep. It is a realm populated with spirit beings who keep watch, who defend, who protect, and who strategize on our behalf. They stand, warriors of spirit, invisible—yet more real than we can conceive.

In realms unseen and incomprehensible.

   Imagine now that in this place, every possible outcome is already known and our greatest challenges are already being met—even though we don’t see. Imagine that in this place, answers to our petitions have been decreed and await release for some future moment—even though we don’t yet know. Imagine that solutions to our problems and resolutions of our crises have been pronounced and are being kept in invisible storehouses for delivery until the times of our challenges are fulfilled.

   You don’t have to imagine.

   The fact is, it’s all true. Wheels are turning in the spirit realm and circumstances aligning that we cannot see and therefore do not know. Judgments against unseen foes are being declared on our behalves—against even those enemies of whom we are not yet aware. Events are being planned, people strategically positioned and divine appointments decreed—even if our faith is wounded and bleeding.

   Still, angels are aligning, invisible messengers taking wing, and the whole spirit realm is on alert and positioned to deliver our rescues, our blessings and to assist us in the fulfillment of our destinies.

   Just believe.

 

 

 

 

 

First-World Problem— Third-World Perspective

Third World Problem 3   Years ago, I returned to my apartment one Saturday afternoon after yet another extended-family party at a relative’s home. It was bad enough (in my mind) that this particular relative had a house but this was their second house, an upgrade from the first one which had been very nice to begin with. Meanwhile, I was still stuck in the same apartment my husband and I had been in for ten (long) years, living in a very, well—unfortunate—neighborhood. And for various economic/financial reasons, we had few prospects of owning a house anytime soon. Or ever. So you can bet that God got a piece of my mind that day. However, half-way through my rant, God suddenly decided a little conversation was in order.

   GOD:  “Look around your living room. How big would you say it was?”

   ME:  “Huh?”

   GOD: “Your living room—how big is it?”

   ME: “Uh, maybe 12×15. I guess.”

   GOD: “Do you have any idea how many people in the world would give their right arms for this much space? Do know that in many places in the world, entire extended families live in spaces even smaller than this?”

   ME: Uhm, no…

   That was the end of that rant.

   That day gave me a whole different perspective on life. It taught me to focus on what I have instead of what I didn’t have. I remember that from that day on, no longer did I mourn not having what my relatives had, but I found myself very grateful that I was not living in a mud hut with nine other people and no heat or bathroom or shower or even running water. Did I mention that I was pregnant at the time? So instead of being angry and resentful that I didn’t have a new house to bring my baby home to, I was grateful that I would be able to bring my child home to a warm, safe home. I was grateful that I would have food for my baby and medical care and diapers and even toys. I couldn’t help thinking, often, about women all over the world who have to watch their children suffer from hunger or thirst or disease. I thought about how, in some places, their children had no clothing or shoes or if they did have them, they might be too small or outgrown altogether. I thought about how their children might have no diapers and no water to bathe. I thought about how their children might not be safe from violence or thievery or even kidnapping. And I thought about the orphans who had no parents to provide even the smallest of these necessities and whose only hope of surviving was to beg in the streets—or worse. 

   I still think about them.

   Last month, I had a series of mishaps and break-downs occur in the house among appliances and other things that needed a tweak here and there. An electrical outlet in the kitchen stopped working and, among a tangle of extension cords, I had to plug appliances into outlets in other places until I could get it fixed. As I began to gripe and complain, it occurred to me that this was a 1st-world problem. At least I have electricity. Then the washing machine (which, granted, is well past its teenaged years), decided that it might take a break from spinning water out of clothes. As I struggled to wring out the laundry by hand, I might’ve muttered some stuff. Then I pictured women in other places hauling their clothes down to a stream somewhere (if there was one) and scrubbing their clothes on a rock. At least I had a washer—and it could be fixed.

   1st-world problem.

   Over the years I’ve seen too many students pitching fits that they have to come to school. I try to explain to them that in many countries in the world, education is not free or even available, and people in 3rd-world countries (after I define that for them) have no hope whatsoever of making their futures better for themselves or their children. I try to make students understand that, not only do most children in the world not have cell phones or computers or television, many of them don’t even have food or water or clothing. And my little speech seems to make an impact. For about ten minutes.

   The sad thing is that those in 3rd-world countries who have so little are so grateful when they’re given even a little more, while many in 1st-world countries who have so much are jealous and bitter because they don’t have more.

   That’s the difference between a 3rd-world perspective and a 1st-world perspective.

   As I tell my own sons—there are always going to be those in the world who have more than you have and those who have less than you have. Your happiness, success and destiny will depend entirely on which you choose to focus on.

   Don’t think so? Look around. Who’s more grateful? Who’s more influential? Who’s more productive? Who’s more contented and fulfilled? Who’s more pleasant to be around?  

   Who’s got the right perspective?

  

 

 

 

 

The Power of Silence.

Snark Meter

   One of the greatest responsibilities leaders have is to keep their mouths closed.

   Whether you’ve asked for it or not, as a leader—a boss, business owner, ministry leader, politician, teacher, parent or grandparent—people are watching you and listening to you. And they believe what you say (or what they thought you said). When the wrong thing is said, whether unintentionally or on purpose, the nuclear fallout can poison the atmosphere and disparaging impressions are inevitable. Here are a couple of too common scenarios:

   Scenario #1—The Offhand Comment

   Leader (scrolling through text messages): “Looks like Melinda’s going to be late again.”

   Listener: “Melinda Tardy?”

   Leader: “Yeah, she’s never on time. I usually tell her to come a half hour before a meeting actually starts.”

   Listener: “Really? Huh…”

   While that comment is not technically libelous, it hardly leaves a favorable impression of Melinda. The listener can’t help speculating as to why she’s always late: Is she deliberately insensitive to others? Oblivious to the inconvenience she causes? Too particular about her appearance? Can’t tell time? Thanks to human nature, speculations rarely favor the offender.

   Scenario #2—The “Innocent” Gossip

    Leader: “Let’s all pray for Larry and Maeve this week. They’re having some issues at home.”

   Listener A: “What kind of issues? You know—just so we can pray more effectively…”

   Leader: “Well, Larry is out of work again and the financial stress is putting a strain on their marriage.”

   Listener B: “More details would definitely help us to pray…”

   While this scenario is obviously a little exaggerated (I would hope), the point is this: Once a leader even hints that gossip is okay, others will take that permission and run with it. No doubt after the little prayer meeting, Larry and Maeve’s private problems jingled phones all up and down the prayer chain.

   As leaders, we must beware what we start.

   What leaders have to recognize is that our comments, speculations, and judgments are not forgotten by those who hear them—whether we remember them in five minutes or not. And they leave an impression—often a lasting impression.

   Sadly, I can’t tell you the numbers of times over the years that I’ve heard someone in some leadership capacity make a careless or negative comment about someone’s mistake or struggle or fault and, whether I wanted it to or not, it influenced my view of that person.

   “Well,” (you might say), “that’s very immature of you.” Not really. What would be immature would be to repeat the tidbit or to treat the person differently as a result of what I’ve heard. But let’s face it—if we hear something about a person’s bad behavior, weakness or error in judgment—especially if we hear it from someone in authority—we’re going to view that person a different light. The shift in our view may be large or small but it’s there. And it could be any change in thinking from a retraction of trust or respect for the target person to a feeling of pity. (And who likes that?) In more unfortunate situations, careless comments to others by a leader can inspire feelings of jealousy, superiority or even dislike.

   Who does not remember, at one time or another, our wide-eyed, unconditional acquiescence to some respected person’s opinion—no questions asked? If dad, in a moment of frustration, refers to grandma as controlling, then to us she is—even if she’s not. If a coach remarks to a player that “not everyone is cut out to play soccer” (or football or basketball), then forever we’ll believe that Johnny just doesn’t have what it takes—and never will. Poor him.   

   Careless words.

   In the Bible, James talks of the critical importance of controlling one’s tongue. “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire…” (3:3-6a, NLT).

   Our words, especially those of people in leadership, can steer opinions, viewpoints, biases, and prejudices; words can start fires—rumors, lies, conflicts, and divisions. And in the end, the tongue’s poison can destroy families, churches, work places, communities—even entire nations.

   Is all of that worth the satisfaction of one snarky or careless comment?

   Do leaders get frustrated? Sometimes. And if we need to talk about it, we must be most on guard. Who’s listening? Who’s impressionable? Whether through immaturity or malice, who’s likely to misinterpret?

   As people, we must guard our words and as leaders, even more so; if we do not, everything we’ve tried to build, everyone we’ve tried to encourage—even people’s priceless reputations—can blow up in a micro-second. And let’s not forget one more thing: our own trustworthiness is on the line. After all, if we’ll talk about one person, why wouldn’t that put everyone else on notice that we’d talk about them as well?

   Jesus said we’ll be accountable for every idle word we speak. And no wonder.

                                                                               

 

 

Kingdom Math: Subtraction = Multiplication

100 Bill

   Would you give away 90% of your income? That’s what Crazy Love author Francis Chan and his wife decided to do; they give away that 90% to the church and other charitable causes and live on the 10% left over. Have they suffered? Not at all—in fact, they’re doing quite nicely.

   How’s that happen?

   The laws of math in the Kingdom of God are different than those of the world. Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be—Jesus has mentioned that. Cases in point: the OT widow, alive during the great famine of Elijah’s time, was asked by the prophet for something to eat. Somewhat fearfully, she says, “’I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die’” (I Kings 17:7-16). How’s that for faith? But, scared or not, she shared her food, and what happened? The prophet multiplied the last of her flour and oil and afterward, it never ran out. In a NT example, a boy offered to give his lunch to feed a hungry crowd: five loaves of bread and two fish which Jesus then multiplied so that  5000+ were fed and leftovers collected (Mark 6:41).

   Principle: Multiplication in the Kingdom of God comes from giving away what we have.

   Forgiveness is another principle of giving. Really. When we break down the word, the prefix “fore” means “before” and “give” means, well, “give”. When we obey the command to give mercy to another—even before they ask or make amends, we harvest the benefit: release from anger, bitterness, shame and the lust for revenge. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we’ve lost (as the world believes)—instead, we win: peace. Maybe you don’t think peace is a big enough payoff, but try living without it.

   Bottom line: Giving that which it doesn’t make sense to give, results in receiving that which the world strives, in vain, to find.

   Time is another opportunity to give. It’s difficult to imagine, in this crazy world, that taking time out of our day or week to spend in prayer, Bible reading, church or kingdom work will do anything but suck us dry. Of all of these “giving” principles, I must confess that this is the one I struggle with the most. How to fit it all in and still have time for family, work, sleep, chores, errands and, yes, writing? But I’m reminded, of all things, of the stories of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby…

   As you’ve probably heard, Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby refuse to open on Sunday. Most all other large businesses and even many small ones elect to stay open on Sundays for fear of loss of business, market share and, ultimately, money. But neither Chick-fil-A nor Hobby Lobby are losing money. In fact, they’re booming, making more profit than any competitors in their industries.

   Example 2: Years ago, a friend of mine was in med school which left him virtually no time for anything else, but he wanted to spend time sharing the Gospel. At one point, he found he had to choose between writing an important paper or witnessing for the Lord; he just didn’t have time for both. In the end, he decided he’d have to take the hit on the paper because the other work was more important. Imagine his surprise when he found that a paper had been turned into the professor—a really good paper—with his name on it. And he had no idea who’d done it.

   When we give our time to the Lord, it’s multiplied and things get done.

   God also multiplies faithfulness.  I didn’t realize how much until last school year when I agreed to tutor a student after school for the money to help son through college. (I tell the following story only to make that point, not to pat myself on the back.) For tutoring, a teacher is paid by the hour except when the student cancels. Unfortunately for me, my student canceled a lot—sometimes entire weeks. I could have quit and picked up another tutoring job but the district is legally obligated to provide a tutor so that it’s on record that tutoring had been offered. I knew that, given the circumstances, no one else was likely to volunteer so I stuck with it but lost a lot of money. Imagine my surprise when, last May, I found an extra $632 in my bank account. The bank verified that it was there—even though there’d been no record of any extra deposit or math error. (See post entitled “When Money Just Appears”.) When I added up all of the hours I’d missed and the money I’d lost, you guessed it—over $600.

   The fact is simply this: Math in the Kingdom of God is the polar opposite of math in the world. In God’s economy, you give and then what you give—money, time, sacrifice—is multiplied back to you, “‘…pressed down, shaken together, overflowing. For the measure that you use [to give], will be the measure used to give back to you’” (Luke 6:38). On the other hand, math in the world is a question of hoarding money, time and other resources—none of which are guaranteed multiplication or even protection from loss. I have nothing against the stock market or investing, but it’s never a sure thing.

   Doing things according to Biblical principle can be scary—after all, we’ve been programmed to do the opposite our whole lives. But when we look at the return, both now and for eternity, there is, hands down, no comparison.

   Kingdom math = multiplication. Take it to the bank.

Guardian of the Realm: You.

Vietnam Soldier 2 edit

   One dark and solitary night fifty years ago at a remote Air Force base in Viet Nam, a soldier standing guard at a gate decided that, since it was such a quiet night, he could postpone the call of duty momentarily and answer the call of nature—he’d only be gone five minutes, if that. It was, after all, 3 am, the base was miles from anywhere, and Charlie hadn’t been spotted in two whole days. What he didn’t know was that Viet Cong troops were lurking nearby, just waiting for their chance to gain access to the military base. Fifteen minutes later, security had been breached, several aircraft blown to bits, and three airmen killed. And why?

   Because the soldier had let down his guard.

   The response most people have to that story is some version of “A soldier never leaves his post, under any circumstances—he should be court-martialed!”

   He was, but that’s not the point. The point is that most people commenting on that sad tale will swear on their paychecks that if they had been that soldier, they would have never let down their guard.

   And yet they do.

   The Apostle Paul, in his advice to his young protégé Timothy, warns him to guard closely what had been entrusted to his care (I Tim. 6:20).  Now many people (not us, of course) read that warning and discount it because Timothy was, after all, a pastor, and that stuff only applies to them.

   But not so fast. Granted, Timothy was a pastor and had much to guard, but when you break it down, much of what he was entrusted with is not so different than what we, ourselves, are responsible for. Timothy had a congregation, but we have people, too—spouses, children, parents, employees, students or even co-workers in one capacity or another. Peter warns leaders to “care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (I Peter 5:2).  Of course, this admonition applies to all who are responsible for others. In fact, Jesus told His disciples (us) that we are even responsible for our “neighbors” —that being our fellow human beings.

   Paul also warns Timothy to guard against some things, “youthful lust” being one of them (II Tim. 2:22), and Paul warns all of us “not to think more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought” (Romans 12:3). In other words, we need to guard against lust and pride. In fact, we should guard against anything that threatens our integrity and reputation.

   Another part of Paul’s warning to Timothy is to “carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you” (II Tim. 1:14), and to beware of men who deceive and pollute the purity of the Gospel. And while we aren’t necessarily responsible for what’s taught from the pulpit in our churches, what about guarding ourselves and our children from deception—from the insidious infiltration of the occult into our culture? “Innocent” games like Ouija boards and séances, “harmless” little excursions to the fortune teller at the carnival, or amusing little forays into the horoscope section of the newspaper? What about the crossbreeding of religions—a New Age dash of Zen Buddhism here, a refreshing mantra-laced Hindu meditation there, with a little Christian spice on top? (Except not the “Jesus is the only way” part because that is so closed-minded!)

   What about guarding against that?

   And what about the money that’s been entrusted to us? Cash or credit card? Save or splurge? Charitable causes or vacation? Hoard or share?  Jesus had a little bit to say in that regard: “‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed…’” (Luke 12:15).

   And then there’s the heart. The Bible speaks in Proverbs about guarding our hearts—and that means not just who we fall in love with but rather what we open our hearts to. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (4:23). So— do we indulge in a perfectly-justified morsel of offense and/or unforgiveness when someone angers or hurts us? Or do we simply ignore the warnings and thereby allow those evils to take root and blossom into bitterness? And not just bitterness: “‘For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness’” (Mark 7:21-22).

If we don’t guard what we allow into our hearts, we’ll eventually have no control over the evil that comes from them.

   Do we guard our hearts?

   Finally, do we guard the most important treasure we have—our relationship with the Lord? Do we guard our time with Him? Granted, that’s not always easy, and I’m not in any position to imply that it is—but do we try? Do we go places with Him? Or are we always out with the guys, the girls, the kids? Do we read His book or watch our movie? Sunday morning worship or NFL pre-game tailgate party? (or brunch or soccer game or bubble bath?) And who has the final say in our decisions—the Lord or our Facebook friends?

   Is He in charge of our destiny or are we?

   Some not-too-distant day we’ll stand before the Lord to give an account for all that we’ve been assigned to do. And on that day, regardless of what we claim right now, we’ll only want to hear Jesus say one thing: “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with what I’ve entrusted to you’” (Luke 19:17).

   We talk a lot about having trust in God, but the unfathomable fact is that He’s trusting us to fulfill the assignment He’s given us. But that will only happen one way.

   You have a destiny. Guard it well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Hope: More Powerful than Irma or Harvey

Hurricane Satellite Pic Edited

   Hurricane Harvey:  FEMA reports that during Harvey’s five-day insurgency upon Texas (August 24th-29th), more than 53,600 residents from over 18,700 households were forced to evacuate their homes; over a half million families (560,000) —including those who chose not to evacuate—have had their homes damaged or destroyed; and over a million cars have been lost. Sixty-eight people have died.

   Hurricane Irma: As of this writing, Irma is a huge, Category 5 storm with winds clocking in at 175 mph. This dangerous storm is being billed as the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in both the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Irma has decimated the Caribbean island of Barbuda where 90% of structures were destroyed by the storm, prompting Prime Minister Gaston Browne to call the island “uninhabitable”.  At least ten people have died. 

   Irma is a Cat 5 storm and since winds from a Category 5 start at 150 mph, some are suggesting that the National Hurricane Center should designate a Category 6 just to measure the strength of Irma.

   Note that a Category 5 hurricane is not simply five times stronger than a Category 1—it’s 500 times more powerful than a Category 1 storm (The Weather Channel).

   Hurricane Jose: A powerful Category 3 storm close on the heels of Irma….

   So why is all of this mayhem happening? In a quest to make sense of the senseless, one professor tweeted that Hurricane Harvey is God’s judgment upon conservatives in Texas for supporting Donald Trump. (He’s since been fired.) Others in the opposite camp insist that God is judging those who don’t support President Trump. God, on the other hand, is withholding comment.

   Maybe.

   It’s been said that there can’t be a resurrection without a death. And while death, which we primarily think of as pertaining to a physical body, comes in many other disguises, its primary characteristic is destruction in one form or another. Deadly hurricane destruction bombards communities, cities, and entire regions with chaos and fear; it shipwrecks lifestyles due to financial losses; it decimates dreams and visions that people have worked their whole lives to achieve—homes, businesses, and careers; and it breaks the hearts and spirits of those affected by so much damage and loss.

   But what if there was a reason for Harvey and Irma and for all of their tragic aftermath? What if there’s a reason for the trillions of dollars of destruction? And what if there really are reasons for all kinds of tragedies?

   What if…?

   When I was praying for Texas after the hurricane, the words “resurrection,” “restoration” and “revival” popped into my head and it occurred to me that, in God’s methodology, those words are a progression of events. In other words, after a death, God can bring resurrection—and that thing we thought long dead is suddenly given new life. However, a resurrection and a restoration are two different things. After Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus instructed those witnessing his resurrection to remove the cloths that bound him. In other words, that rescue from bondage, that restoration to normalcy was a separate action from the resurrection itself. The same is true today: Resurrection is and must be followed by restoration.

   Nevertheless, the question remains: Even if we experience resurrection and restoration, what’s the point of having had to endure a tragedy that leads to the need for either of those? Either one is certainly a good thing—an excellent thing, but in the eternal picture, there’s even a greater purpose to tragedy than merely a return to what once was. The truth that is there’s a vast difference between a simple return of what was lost and a multiplication of what was lost. For example, say a business fails and dies and in the process, a million dollars is lost. Resurrection brings the business back and restoration returns the million dollars. But after that? What would be the point of going through all of that if all you get back is what you had to begin with? Isn’t there a greater purpose? Yes, there is.

   Revival.

   Revival is that which takes us beyond a resurrection and a restoration—sweet as those things are—to a place of multiplication, to a creation of that which did not exist before the resurrection.

    It’s what happens when we come back from a devastating tragedy—say a person has a life-sucking addiction. When he’s snatched from the jaws of death, he’s resurrected. And when he’s returned to his prior clean physical, mental and emotional state, he’s restored. But then when he’s able to go out and minister to others from his experience, when he’s able to be the catalyst for the resurrection and restoration of others, when he multiplies his new life—that’s real revival.

   Revival is often equated with resurrection but it’s so much more; both bring new life but revival brings it on a bigger scale, often to whole regions or populations—many of which may have never experienced life to begin with. Revival brings multiplication of that life, whether it be physical, spiritual, financial or otherwise.

   The point? While many in the southern states are experiencing the tragedy of destruction and loss from Harvey and Irma, there will be a resurrection of that which has been destroyed, a restoration of that which has been damaged, and a revival which will bring a multiplication to that which existed before. New structures will be built, new relationships forged, and new spiritual life birthed in people who might never have given thought to such things otherwise. You may remember that revival broke out after the 9-11 terrorist attacks; churches were filled with people who had never graced their doors before. Souls were saved, and people were snatched from the jaws of eternal death.

   Does knowing this make it easier when you’ve lost everything? Perhaps not, not in the moment or even in the weeks and months to come. But hopefully it will bring some comfort to know that despite the excruciating pain of loss, despite the grief, despite the seeming senselessness of it all, God is still in charge and He has a plan. And it’s just when it seems darkest that He implements that plan. After Jesus was dead and His disciples filled with despair and hopelessness, then God’s plan exploded into the world: resurrection, restoration, and revival.

   That’s always been His plan—and it will never change.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The Key to Leadership

Leadership Key   Once there was a woman who displeased her husband so he simply divorced her. In this case, the man was a king and his wife was a queen but that doesn’t matter; the husband could have been a farmer—or a physician or a factory worker or a finance administrator—or anything else… but I digress. The reason the king divorced his wife was that he had made a request of her but his wife had refused the request. And in those days, refusing a king was simply not done.

   None of that, however, is the point of the story. The point is why the woman refused to obey the king. Unfortunately, we’ll never know why because the king never bothered to find out. Or, if he did, it didn’t matter to him—which is, in our little story, not a minor detail by any stretch.

   By now, you’ve probably guessed the story: the king is Xerxes, the queen is Vashti, and the story is told in the biblical Book of Esther. But the core of it is an old story that continues to unfold everywhere, all the time.

   King Xerxes “requested” that Queen Vashti appear before him and all of his drunken officials so that Xerxes could show off the queen’s beauty, but the queen declined the offer. Suddenly, the party was over. At best, a great breach of protocol had occurred and, at worst, a serious crime had been committed. Perhaps even a Class A felony.

   So, beside himself, the king insisted his counselors tell him what to do. They immediately defaulted to “if she gets away with such blatant disrespect, then none of our own wives will respect us either. Away with her!” And so, away she went.

   Point? Not once (that we’re told) did the king nor any of his officials ever think to ask the queen whether there might’ve been any valid reason why she had refused to appear before the king’s assembly. However, through the centuries, there has been a great deal of speculation. And that’s because Vashti had to have had a very good reason for disobeying the king; people who did that were generally executed—which probably rules out simple defiance. And so, theories abound…

   Reason #1: Queen Vashti was ordered to appear before her own servants. This particular reason is not speculation. The Bible reports that Vashti was being ordered to appear at a party which the king was hosting for his servants and officials. (He’d already hosted a party for the governors and nobles.) It was on the seventh day of this party that he sent for the queen because “he wanted all the men to gaze on her beauty…” (Es. 1:11). Imagine, a queen being ordered to appear before the servants of her household so that they could, essentially, ogle her. That would certainly be a valid reason she might be reluctant to appear.

   Reason #2: King Xerxes wanted Queen Vashti to appear before the men sans clothing. (He did, however, order that she wear her royal crown.) Now while those proposing this theory can offer no definitive proof that Vashti was expected to appear unclothed, it is worth noting that women in those days were certainly considered of less value than a good war horse. Thus it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that if the king’s sole goal was to impress his officials and servants with his queen’s beauty, they should view all of it. However, in a culture where women were veiled for modesty, imagine what a scandal this would be. Sadly, in the king’s drunken state, he probably didn’t think of that. No wonder Queen Vashti refused to show— and especially before her own servants.

   Reason #3: Vashti could have been, for a variety of cultural reasons, considered “unclean” on that particular day. And we’ll leave it at that.

   Remember, Vashti knew—everyone knew—that to defy an order from the king could well mean death. That being the case, my guess is that whatever she was being asked to do, she must have considered worse than death. To appear under any of the above circumstances most probably would have resulted in a humiliation and degradation from which the queen would never have recovered. To be remembered as the queen who was forced to appear before servants and possibly without clothes (or worse) would truly have been a fate more terrible than death. But we’ll never know because Xerxes never bothered to ask why his wife would rather risk death than obey his command.

   The king lacked understanding.

   Xerxes cared more about his pride and reputation than about his own wife’s concerns. Nevertheless, after sobering up, indications are that he regretted his irrevocable decision to send her away.

   Perhaps he finally understood the facts.

   As leaders, whether in our homes, businesses, government or any other authoritative position, we need to understand the facts of any given situation and the effects of our verdicts upon others before making those decisions. That’s just good leadership. And although one would think that should go without saying, sadly it does not.

   In several places in his letters, Paul admonishes husbands, fathers, and slave owners [by extension, employers], not simply not to mistreat wives, children or slaves [employees], but to treat them with understanding (Eph. 5:21-6:4; Col. 3:18-21). And this principle holds true for anyone, including women.

   Understanding. It’s the key to wisdom, insight, revelation, discernment, and discretion. Without understanding, leaders cannot attain any of those.

   Think about that.

   Simply put—get the facts. The truth is that if those in authority treat others with understanding, then there will be much less need to demand respect and obedience. There is a time and place to deal with overt rebellion but not as an automatic default. Yes, chronic offenders, in-your-face law-breakers, criminals, and terrorists certainly demand swift and meaningful consequences, but in dealing with our families, our employees, and our constituents, fact-based understanding is the better part of wisdom.

   Understanding is the difference between a tyrant and a great leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Bondage

Man Behind Bars

  Penelope (name changed, of course) hid her face and sobbed, confessing that she’d once had an abortion. Now I’d known Penelope for several years at that point and, as college girls do, we’d shared all of our most intimate thoughts and secrets. Or so I thought. But Penelope had never once even hinted at the pain that tormented her day and night. Her guilt had kept her from sharing that excruciating part of her past.

   Fast forward several years – another friend, another setting, same confession. Portia had had an abortion and carried such guilt from it that she couldn’t bear it one second longer. She broke down that day at work and cried her heart out.

   Jeremy lost his job but was too embarrassed to tell his wife so he pretended to go to work every day until he couldn’t hide his secret anymore. Anthony had an undiagnosed learning disability, making it a struggle for him to read so he simply refused to do it. His classroom behavior was disruptive, his grades were poor, but his secret was safe. Sarah was drowning in debt; Darryl was addicted to pornography; and Landon felt he could never live up to his parents’ expectations.

   What do all of these people have in common?

   Shame.

   And it’s kept every one of them from asking for help.

   Feelings of shame transcend knowledge and reason. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people hide their failures, fears, guilt and condemnation from others because they’re driven by shame – at themselves.

   Shame is the great isolator; it causes people to hide behind masks that smile and say, “I’m fine. How are you?” And in many cases, it even causes people to separate themselves completely from others.

   But what gives shame its power over us? Primarily this: We let our failure or fear or fault or sin define us. In other words, that thing becomes our identity. To people tormented by shame, the unconscious message that plays and replays in their minds is not simply “You did a bad thing;” the message is, “You’re a bad person.” As time passes and that message is not deleted, it morphs into “You’re a horrible person” or “There’s something wrong with you – and you’ll never be right.” Eventually, if that message is allowed to metastasize further, it can lead to hopelessness, addiction, mental illness or even worse.

   Shame is a monster – unseen, undetected and, ultimately, unslain. Shame enslaves, tortures, and destroys. And tragically, many see no hope of ever escaping it.

   But there is one way. Jesus came to set us free – even from the demon of shame. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, He took our shame for us so that we don’t have to live with it or die by it.

   The blood of Christ is the only sword which can slay the dragon of shame. Why? Because in Christ, we gain a new identity – His identity. No longer are we defined by our sin but rather by His righteousness (II Cor. 5:21). We can be transformed from a “horrible” creature to a “new creation in Christ” (II Cor. 5:17), a truly good person – righteous and perfect. We can go from believing that we’ll never be loved or forgiven because we’re too “ugly” or “dirty” or “wrong,” to knowing that, through Christ, we’re really, truly worthy of being both loved and forgiven.

   Of course, folks can ridicule this. They can continue to spend big bucks on therapy or to work harder at being good enough or to paste on the mask again and try for one more day to “fake it till they make it”. But it won’t help. And we know this because if people are still doing those things and those things still haven’t worked, then why would we think they ever could possibly work in the future?

   They call that insanity.

   Think about it: If we could free ourselves of shame, then why did Christ have to die to set us free? Just to give us another freedom option? Why would anybody die to set another person free when they have another way to get free? That’s insanity. And Jesus isn’t crazy. So that means that if he died to set us free, then He’s the only option we have.

   The bottom line is that shame destroys destinies. Shame says, “Don’t be stupid – you can’t do that!” And maybe shame speaks through the voices of other people – people you know. Doesn’t matter. They’re still wrong. Shame is a liar whose mission it is to stop you from ever even trying to achieve the destiny you born for.

   Don’t listen.

 

 

 

Solar Eclipse: Don’t Blind Yourself (to the facts).

Eclipse Eye   Don’t think a solar eclipse can cause eye damage or even blindness? Neither did Lou Tomososki. But it did.

   During a partial solar eclipse in 1962, Tomososki was walking home from school with a friend when they spotted the moon sliding over the sun during the eclipse. They’d heard the warnings in school from a science teacher: “Do not look directly at the partial solar eclipse!” But, being teenagers, Tomososki and his friend figured that peeking at the eclipse for only a couple of seconds couldn’t hurt. Right?

   Wrong.

   Tomososki’s first indication of a problem was while watching the eclipse; he saw flashes of light before his eyes. He didn’t worry though. The flashes were so similar to a camera flashbulb’s that he didn’t think it was any big deal. But Tomososki later confirmed that he and his friend were both burned at the same time and both, to this day, have permanent eye damage.

   “We were just doing it [watching] for a short time,” he said. “I have a little blind spot in the center of my right eye.”

   Types of eye damage from watching an eclipse include loss of central vision (solar retinopathy), distorted vision, and altered color vision.

   PREVENT BLINDNESS (preventblindness.org), a highly respected resource for eye health professionals, is sounding the warning about looking directly at an eclipse, partial or otherwise. In an article entitled “Solar Eclipse and Your Eyes,” Prevent Blindness (PB) explains how our eyes are adversely affected by looking at a solar eclipse.

   “Exposing your eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause ‘eclipse blindness’ or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. This exposure to the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain.”

   The article warns that eye damage can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to appear.

Many people who’ve glimpsed at an eclipse may think they’ve dodged a bullet if they don’t experience symptoms immediately.

   Other people may not realize they’ve damaged their sight because eclipse-related eye injuries occur without pain. Nevertheless, eye damage, including blindness, can be permanent.

   But it’s not just gazing up at the sky that can cause permanent damage. PB warns about other ways not to watch a solar eclipse.

Do not use a Smartphone: Think about it: We all have to line up a pic when we take a photo with any camera, including a phone. What we need to take seriously is that even those few seconds when we take a peek at the eclipse to frame the shot is enough time to do the damage. And it’s enough time to damage your phone as well.

Do not use a camera viewfinder: The optical viewfinder on a camera is no protection for your eyes, either. Why? It’s just glass. And it has nothing on that glass to protect your eyes from the rays coming through it. The fact is that looking at an eclipse through a viewfinder is essentially the exact same thing as staring at the eclipse, and it can cause the same kind of damage to your eyes.

Do not use unsafe filters: Many—too many—people think that some kind of filter will shield them from the dangerous sunrays. Not so. PB says that “…unless specifically designed for viewing a solar eclipse, no filter is safe to use with any optical device (telescopes, binoculars, etc). All color film, black-and-white film that contains no silver, photographic negatives with images on them (x-rays and snapshots), smoked glass, sunglasses (single or multiple pairs), photographic neutral density filters and polarizing filters are unsafe filters to watch a solar eclipse. Also, solar filters designed for eyepieces that come with inexpensive telescopes are also unsafe. All of these items can increase your risk of damaging your eyes.”

   In addition to the PB warnings, use common sense.

Do not rely on sunglasses. Note above that sunglasses are not deemed proper gear for viewing an eclipse; they simply cannot filter out the concentration of damaging rays that an eclipse throws down. And wearing more than one pair of sunglasses is not going to help, either. (That would be like wearing two pairs of socks when you go swimming instead of one because you don’t want your feet to get wet. It’s still not going to work.)

Do not look out of a window. Sunlight is, obviously, not deterred by windows. Unlike wind, rain, sleet or snow, simply being on the other side of the glass is not going to protect your eyes from the damage done by looking directly at an eclipse.

Do not forget your pets. Our pets’ eyes are as susceptible as ours to the damage caused by looking directly at a solar eclipse. Since we can’t tell them that, probably the wisest course of action is simply to keep them indoors.

Do not forget to warn and/or supervise your children. Experts say that children are at even greater risk of eye damage because protective barriers in their retinas are not yet fully formed. Make certain that children and teens understand all of the risks involved in watching a solar eclipse, specifically that they cannot rely on phones and/or sunglasses for protection.

   For more information on how to watch an eclipse with any degree of safety, visit preventblindness.org for a comprehensive list of safe viewing options. Remember: one unguarded moment can change your whole life.

   Lou Tomososki knows that.