Don’t Rely on Horses

I came across this underlined passage in my Bible this week that served as a needed reminder about where I should be putting my trust:

 

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” - Isaiah 31:1

 

I realize this passage is a little out of context in the twenty-first century. Not many of us are seeking help from Egypt these days, or putting our faith in the fighting power of horses and chariots.

 

But we so often do put our faith in the wrong thing. We rely on ourselves, or our education, or our reputation to see us through. Or we depend on our credit card, or our insurance policy, or our government to help us.

 

We look to human effort and wisdom, “but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

 

I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty long list of things I’m worried about right now. And it is my natural inclination to dwell on those things and try to come up with plans and back up plans for how I’m going to take care of each thing.

 

I tend to put my hope in myself or in my husband and in our own ability to take care of these worries. I develop these plans for how we’ll come up with the money for this, or the time for that, or how we’ll take care of such and such.

 

Without realizing it, I’m going down to Egypt for help, and I’m relying on horses and chariots because they are many and putting my trust in horsemen because they are strong.

 

Woe to me. Woe to all those who look to anyone or anything for help except the Holy One, the Lord our God!

 

How silly of me to think I can trust in “horses and chariots” because they are many or because they are strong. I grew up on a ranch, I do know that horses are strong and beautiful creatures. But honestly, what can ever compare to the awesome strength and power of the Lord my God?!

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Philippians 4:5-7

Faithful, Not Flawless

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

If you’re very familiar with the Bible, then you likely have heard of “The Faith Chapter,” Hebrews 11. This “Hall of Faith” is full of examples of men and women of God who have lived faith-filled lives. Spanning forty verses, the chapter is an inspiring passage of scripture known and beloved by believers around the world.

 

As I read about these men and women and the remarkable lives they led, I tend to put them on a bit of a pedestal. I see these individuals as “heroes of the faith,” who through their faith and obedience to God accomplished extraordinary things far and above anything I have ever done or hope to do.

 

We read about their stories in the Old Testament and teach them to our children. We admire their lives and try to live by their wisdom. We think wistfully of the miracles they experienced and the works God used them for and we wish our lives were a little more like theirs.

 

Yesterday in church, in continuation of a sermon series through the book of Judges, our pastor taught on the story of Samson (Judges 14-15). Most of us – churched or not – have heard of Samson. We know about Samson’s strength and Delilah’s treachery, and how by his final act of incredible strength he brought down a giant building on top of his head, sacrificing himself while killing thousands of Israel’s enemies (Judges 16).

 

If that’s all you know of Samson, he sounds like an incredible hero and martyr. It makes sense that his name appears in the Hall of Faith. Well, there’s more to his story; there’s more that happens before Samson ever meets the beautiful and deceitful Delilah who helps bring about his martyrdom.

 

Samson was anything but perfect. He was impulsive and hotheaded. He ignored his parents’ wisdom and recklessly pursued women he should have stayed away from. He had a mighty temper and super-human strength to go with it. When things didn’t go the way he wanted, he reacted with anger and violence. Once, when he was angry that the answer to a riddle he had told had been discovered, Samson struck down thirty men and took their clothes. And that’s just one story.

 

And yet God used him.

 

Even with all of Samson’s imperfections and character flaws, violent history and reckless pursuits, God used him.

 

God also used people like Jacob the deceiver, Moses the murderer, Rahab the prostitute, and David the adulterer. Each of these names is found in Hebrews chapter 11 – the Hall of Faith. Each of these people is counted among the great heroes of the Bible who lived by faith.

 

Faithful, but not flawless.

 

Faithful, but not perfect. Faithful, but more like you and I than we might have thought.

 

God can use the most hopeless cases and the worst mess-ups. God can use ordinary, imperfect people like you and I. It doesn’t matter what mistakes we’ve made or what character flaws we can’t seem to shake. God can use us. All it takes is faith.

Road Rage and Unfair Grace

Copyright Emily Sirkel

You’ve been there before. You’re driving down the street and see a construction sign warning that your lane is about to end. You dutifully merge to the left, giving yourself plenty of time before the orange cones force you over. You notice the car that had been behind you in the right lane doesn’t merge. Instead it suddenly accelerates, speeding past you and several cars ahead of you in a blatant attempt to “skip the line.”

 

As it nears the cones, the offending car slows slightly and tries to find an opening to its left. You smirk a little bit as you witness the cars ahead of you refusing to let the cheater in. As you draw closer, you too have no intention of letting this driver get away with his little ploy.

 

Just as you get even with the car, its engine revs and it shoots forward and swerves in front of you. You slam on your brakes to avoid hitting it.

 

$%*#!

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel

 

Believe it or not, I’ve never really struggled with road rage.

 

Oh, I’ll definitely get annoyed and frustrated with other drivers, but I’m not one to yell obscenities, flip the bird, or react with “vehicular aggression.”

 

At the most I’ll mutter a snide remark, shake my head, and scowl at the offending driver.

 

That said, yesterday I probably came closer to exhibiting road rage than I ever have before. Ohhh I was mad.

 

The incident wasn’t particularly extraordinary or unique, and no damage was done. But for whatever reason, it rubbed me the wrong way, and I have never come so close to full-blown road rage!

 

Even after I reached my destination a few minutes later, I was still fuming.

 

No, I did not curse or scream or gesture angrily with my middle finger. But boy did I want to. And with shame I admit that about two seconds after slamming on my brakes, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have braked, I should have just hit him and enjoyed the insurance payout.”

 

I was that peeved.

 

And then the Holy Spirit started to work on my heart.

 

Sure, I didn’t actually react outwardly other than an angry scowl and shake of my head. And I didn’t scream bloody-murder. But I was thinking it.

 

I quickly and easily justified the angry thoughts in my head, trying to ignore the nagging thought that I could have been gracious and just let the car merge with ease. “But that jerk of a driver didn’t deserve grace!” I protested silently, pushing back against the uncomfortable twinge of my conscience.

 

“Tell me, little one, who does deserve grace? Is there anyone deserving of MY grace?”

 

Though no sound was heard, the question rang loudly in my ears. I didn’t like it.

 

It’s not fair though!” I insisted.

 

“My grace isn’t fair.”

 

Dang it. He had a point. His grace is not fair. No one deserves it, and yet he offers it freely. My-silent-road-rage-self certainly wasn’t deserving of God’s grace – not at that moment of weakness and not ever – yet I am covered by his boundless grace.

 

Reluctantly, I acknowledged the Spirit’s whispering in my heart and repented of my arrogance and self-serving anger.

 

And then I took a moment to thank God for his grace that is so beautifully unfair.

Finding My Strength in the Lord

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

Well, in case you were wondering, I’m still alive!

 

I took an unexpected two-week break from writing due to the sudden increase of chaos in my life.

 

In one of my last posts I mentioned having a stomach bug immediately followed by a cold. Well, that minor cold became major bronchitis and a sinus infection. I guess life just decided to kick my immune system while it was down.

 

To top it off, my husband’s grandmother became suddenly ill and passed away. So in the midst of antibiotics, Nyquil, and all-night coughing fits, there were also hospital waiting rooms, grieving family members, and funeral arrangements that spanned an entire week.

 

Frankly, I just didn’t have it in me to handle anything else.

 

But in the midst of all the chaos, sickness, and burden of sorrow we were helping carry, I was amazed again and again at the blessings and providence of our God.

 

From the sweet woman who struck up a conversation in the hospital waiting room, to the man who found my husband’s lost iPhone and returned it, to the stranger in Panera checking to see if I was okay, to our incredible church family who brought us food and offered their sympathy – God was showering his mercies upon us in the smallest gestures and most precious moments.

 

We were able to open our home to Geoff’s family throughout the week, and though the circumstances were difficult, it was a blessing to have them near. I have such great respect and deep love for my mother-in-law, who bore the sorrow of losing her beloved mother with such grace and strength. I felt like I was struggling to make it through the week, and can’t even imagine the kind of distress she was – and is – enduring.

 

In the midst of it all, I was preparing for my turn teaching my adult Sunday school class, and I stumbled across something I’d underlined some time ago in 1 Samuel chapter 30. It’s part of a story about David before he became king. He and his 600 men had gone out for battle (a battle which they ended up not fighting, but that’s another story). When they returned home, wearied from travel, they discovered with horror that their home city had been raided and burned in their absence, and all of their wives and children had been taken captive.

 

David and his men wept for their loss until they had no strength left to weep. The men were “bitter in soul,” and spoke of blaming and stoning David, their leader.

 

In verse six I came across these two underlined statements:

 

“And David was greatly distressed…

But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

 

Wow. I found that to be such a powerful verse these past two weeks.

 

I was wearied and stressed. I was worn out and worn down from being sick and not getting enough sleep. I was falling further and further behind in work, having to back out of church commitments, and getting nothing done on my to-do list. And while I personally was not deeply grieving the loss of “Omie,” I was sharing a little bit of the burden of sorrow that my second mom and her sisters were carrying.

 

All in all, I was definitely ‘distressed.’ But you know what? I took a cue from David, and I didn’t try to do it all on my own. I found my strength in the Lord my God.

 

So if you too are at that place where you are greatly distressed, be reminded and encouraged that you don’t have to find the strength to handle it all – in fact, you won’t be able to find the strength to handle it all – instead, strengthen yourself in the Lord your God.

 

Let Him be your strength.

 

Oh, and by the way, the story about David and his men? It has a happy ending. Check it out in 1 Samuel chapter 30!

Conquered or Conqueror?

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

Short but sweet today:

 

“All of us will either be conquered by life or we will be conquerors in life through the power of God.”

Pastor John Durham

 

Life, in all its glory, sorrow, and chaos, will not conquer me.

 

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

 

I will conquer, through the power of God!

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

…Don’t say anything at all.

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel

 

Or in other words, follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who once said,

 

“I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.”

 

I think that’s really good advice.

 

Last night at my church’s Wednesday night fellowship meal and prayer gathering I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation taking place across the table.

 

Let’s just say that these gentlemen were not following Lincoln’s example.

 

It saddens and angers infuriates me when Christians speak and act like they are better than everyone else. You know what I’m talking about. Puffed up self-righteous holier-than-thous. Some are worst than others, but they’re all equally frustrating.

 

I’m a Christian, I know we’re not any better than anybody else! Nothing we have done or can do will ever make us “better.” It’s all about what God has done for us.

 

Right about the same time I was fuming over some strangers’ conversation, my husband handed me his iPad and showed me a story and picture where someone had written a note on their restaurant credit card receipt. Instead of penciling in a tip amount, they scribbled a zero, and for good measure added, “I give God 10% why do you get 18?” They signed the receipt with “Pastor” before their name.

 

I can’t even begin to express how angry that makes me.

 

It reminds me of when I worked as a waitress and when I was a barista at Barnes and Noble Café. Though I did not work Sundays, my coworkers frequently talked about how much they hated working Sunday afternoons. Why? Because the “Christian crowd” always showed up after church – demanding, rude, and stingy.

 

Now that’s shining God’s light right there.

 

Not.

 

Dear beloved non-Christians:

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the “Christians” who have looked down their nose and treated you like you’re below them. I am sorry for the “Christians” who use up their good behavior on Sunday mornings and don’t have enough to go around the rest of the week. I am sorry for every “Christian” who has failed to reflect the genuine love and grace of Jesus Christ. And I’m sorry that at times, I’ve been one of those “Christians.”

 

Dear fellow Christians:

People are watching us. People are listening to us. They see what we do or don’t do and they hear what we say or don’t say. We are Christ’s representatives. Let’s act like it.

Abundance

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

This past Saturday I enjoyed a fun afternoon with my girlfriends checking out some shops in Highland Park. Everything was cute and classy and ridiculously out of our price range. From Sur La Table to Weir’s Furniture to Crate & Barrel, we saw a hundred things we wanted and didn’t need.

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

While it was fun spending a few hours out with the girls, overall I couldn’t help but feel a little depressed and disillusioned by the end of the outing. My hand-me-down furniture and mix-matched kitchenware will never measure up to the delightful displays we ooed and awed over with stars in our eyes.

 

However, even if I someday could afford it, I simply cannot imagine spending $3000 for a couch. No matter how gorgeous and cushy it may be, that’s just not happening. We spent $300 on our sectional off of Craigslist, and it suites us just fine, thank you!

 

And yes that bamboo cutting board was nice, but $150, really? Or those scarves – simply lovely. Not 89 bucks worth of lovely though.

 

Even with those practical sentiments in my head, it was hard not to yearn for the pretty hats, cute knickknacks and fancy furniture.

 

But I was reminded of a parable found in Luke chapter 12, the Parable of the Rich Fool. A few months ago Jason Hatch, the college and men’s pastor at our church, spoke on this passage, and it really hit me hard. The parable is found in Luke 12:13-21, but let me just share one verse – Jesus’s words right before he tells the parable:

 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

Luke 12:15

Well if that’s not convicting, I’m not sure what is.

 

If you’re not really familiar with the meaning of “covetousness,” think envy, jealousy, greed, eager desire, etc.

 

I was definitely feeling all of the above on Saturday. Not only did I covet all those fancy things, I also envied the serious shoppers in those stores – you know, the people who were there intending to actually buy something, not just drool on it. The people who actually had money in their pockets.

 

Jesus isn’t necessarily saying having nice things is bad, or that we’re not supposed to enjoy expensive possessions or live in comfort – that’s a theological can of worms I’m not trying to open right now. But he is warning against the very dangerous trap of desiring more.

 

As Hatch said, “There is no end to more.” Over time, immersed in our toxic more-now American culture, our eyes become trained not to see what we do have, but what we don’t have.

 

Hatch also said, “Stuff isn’t big enough to fill up the human heart.”

 

We find that no matter how much more we get of what we think we need, we are never satisfied. We’re never fulfilled. That cushy couch, perfect cutting board and lovely scarf just don’t cut it.

 

The problem is not the amount. It’s not about more, it’s about what. “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We’re seeking the wrong thing.

 

Hatch left us with four points to be taken from Jesus’s words and the Parable of the Rich Fool:

 

  1. You desperately need to be on guard. Our hearts are far too susceptible to the allure of stuff. I’m thinking my next fun outing with the girls won’t include subjecting myself to the temptation of covetousness.
  2. Stop believing the lie that more stuff will make you happy. It won’t. More money, more clothes – even more time or more friends – brings only fleeting and shallow happiness quickly overwhelmed by the feeling that you need more.
  3. Be content. Look at what you have, not what you lack. Take the cliché to heart: count your blessings.
  4. Be rich toward God. Invest in your relationship with God, and with people. That’s where you’ll find fulfillment.

 

The Parable of the Rich Fool is immediately followed by the passage where Jesus tells his disciples not to be anxious about anything – reminding them (and us) about how God feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies of the field – oh how much more will he provide for us!

 

Instead of worrying over possessions or food or clothing, we should “seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:31, 34

Not Giving Up On A Tangled Mess

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

Geoff made me a jewelry tree for Christmas this past year. Not only is it charming (it’s made from an actual tree branch) but it also serves its purpose well. My earrings and necklaces are beautifully displayed, and – most importantly – not tangled.

 

I hate tangles.

 

After Christmas, when I went to hang up all my jewelry, I inevitably came across some very tangled necklaces. Delicate chains and glimmering pendants in a big tangled knot.

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

I grabbed one particularly formidable tangled mess and flopped down on my bed, settling in for the arduous task. Propped up on my elbows with my face inches from the knot, I went to work carefully teasing the thin chain with the tips of my fingers.

 

Ten minutes later, I was ready to deem it a hopeless cause and just toss the useless piece of junk in the trash. What was once a delicate piece of jewelry had somehow made such a mess of itself that it seemed impossible that it would ever be usable again. It certainly didn’t seem worth the time and effort I was having to put into it.

 

And then, as happens quite often in my head, an analogy began to form.

 

How many times have I gotten myself into a tangled mess? And how many times has God patiently untangled me?

 

He doesn’t decide that the knots in my life are too bad and can’t be fixed. He never determines that I am so messed up that I can no longer be used for the purpose he has set for my life. He never says, “I’ve had enough, you’re not worth my time.”

 

Thank you, Lord, for your immeasurable patience. Thank you, God, for not giving up on a tangled mess.

Above The Clouds

Four days ago, my website went down suddenly and without explanation. Two days ago, my computer hard drive crashed-and-burned for the second time in less than four months, with replacement the only option. Yesterday, I discovered that I was in Vermont attempting to make a purchase at Kuwait Airways…. or actually, that my debit/credit card information had been stolen.

 

And to top it all off, it’s been rainy and dreary for days.

 

Doesn’t sound like a very nice week, does it?

 

But you know what… I am reminded of something that I realized while on a trip to LA with my husband a few months ago. As we winged our way to California on an early morning flight, I noticed something that I had never thought about before. Even though the ground was obscured by clouds, from our vantage point at 30,000 feet we could easily see the brilliant rays of the rising sun.

 

Even on a cloudy day, the sun is still shining above the clouds.

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography
Credit where credit is due: My husband, Geoff Sirkel, snapped this photo out the plane window (at my request, I might add!)

 

 

That truth parallels an even more powerful one:

 

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1   

 

Even when we don’t sense him, he’s there.

 

My website was up and running the next morning with nothing lost. Apple Care is covering my computer repairs, and “Time Machine” is keeping my data safe and secure while I wait. Wells Fargo immediately took care of my debit/credit card situation and restored by peace of mind. And the rain? Well, I don’t really mind the rain. Especially when I know that the sun is still shining, even when I can’t see it.