Trapped

I recently flew on Southwest Airlines and discovered the world’s smallest airplane lavatory. I’m talking really, really small. I’m not a large person, and I banged my shoulders on the walls as I tried to maneuver around. As I washed my hands, I had to breathe deeply, move fast, and concentrate on what I was doing to hold my claustrophobia at bay.

Claustrophobia is not just a fear of small spaces, it is a fear of getting trapped. As I reached for the door handle, the inevitable thought flashed though my mind: what if it doesn’t open? What if I get stuck in here? What if panic takes over?

We get trapped in all kinds of places and situations by all kinds of things and people. I have a friend who is trapped in a bad relationship and can’t find her way out. Another is trapped by addiction. A third is trapped in his credit card debt. Our world is trapped by a pandemic that caught us by its teeth and won’t let go as it shakes us back and forth in an effort to snap our collective neck. Bad choices, bad luck, bad friends, and bad timing can make us feel immobilized and helpless.

What can you do when you feel trapped?

Our psalm today addresses this issue, and reminds us that the Lord is FOR us. This concept is so important, the psalmist repeats it twice:

Psalm 124 (Common English Bible)

If the Lord hadn’t been for us—
    let Israel now repeat!—
    if the Lord hadn’t been for us,
        when those people attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up whole
        with their rage burning against us!

Remembering that the Lord is for you is crucial when it comes to finding the strength to pry open the steel jaws of what has you trapped. God can overcome the raging waters and the enemies’ teeth when we are too weak to help ourselves.

Then the waters would have drowned us;
    the torrent would have come over our necks;
    then the raging waters would have come over our necks!

Bless the Lord
    because he didn’t hand us over
    like food for our enemies’ teeth!

What has you trapped today? Your help comes in the name of the Lord. He made heaven and earth! He surely can reach down and release you from the hunters’ snare. All you need to do is ASK. Prayer makes all the difference in an imprisoned life.

We escaped like a bird from the hunters’ trap;
    the trap was broken so we escaped!

There is nothing in life that you can’t escape if you turn yourself over to the Lord. In fact, there is nothing in death that you can’t escape either. When Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and then on the third day arose from the dead, he opened up an escape hatch that can never be shut. Do you believe that? I do.

So no matter what has you by the teeth, cry out to the Lord of all creation and ask for freedom. It will be hard. You will have to do your part and make the difficult and exhausting changes that are required. But the good news is, God has come to deliver you, and he will walk beside you toward your freedom. You are never alone.

He is the Truth, and the truth will set you free.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.

Thanks be to God.

Freedom Awaits by Michelle Robertson

Don’t Pet the Shark

One of the best things that happens in July is the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, where every program is devoted to sharks. Shark movies, shark documentaries, shows that explore how sharks react in certain situations, (and the divers demonstrate each one with live sharks….anything for ratings!) shark commercials, shark talk shows…it’s a sharkapalooza.

This year the Outer Banks was treated to a visit by the Shark Week Blimp flying overhead. Just in case you weren’t concerned enough about sharks in the water, now we have one in the sky!

I watched a show where a diver demonstrated where you can touch a shark and where you can’t. (Ummmm….just don’t touch the shark??) Our fascination with sharks fuels this entire industry. Shark attacks are on the rise. Sharks are not our natural predators, but we are increasingly getting into their habitats with disregard to our safety.

Here are a few tips from Shark Week:

If you fall off your paddle board near a shark, don’t thrash around. Stay very still (because that would feel so natural) and ease your way back on the board. Be cool. Betsy’s pro tip: to be even smarter: don’t paddle board in shark-infested water.

Don’t bring your iphone or iWatch into the water. Your electronics attract the sharks and they will approach you to ask to make a phone call or have a selfie taken with you. Betsy’s pro tip: just don’t bring your electronics in the the water, DUH.

If you encounter a shark in the wild, don’t reach out and touch it. If it comes for you anyway, touch it on the top of the snout and gently redirect it. But don’t touch it under the nose, or he will automatically open his jaws and eat you. Betsy’s pro tip: don’t pet the sharks.

Sharks have excellent hearing, but they don’t like heavy metal bands or the sound of a camera flash going off. This was scientifically proven this week. One last pro tip: next time you go surfing, invite Iron Maiden along.

Follow me for more pro tips!

Now while there are no stories in the Bible involving sharks, there is a pretty cool story about a whale and a man named Jonah. Jonah was an Israelite whom God had called to be a prophet. Jonah didn’t want to be a prophet, so he went on a sea cruise instead. God then raised a great storm to get Jonah’s attention. The sailors, realizing that Jonah’s disobedience had caused the storm, threw him overboard to try and save their ship. He was swallowed by a whale and lived for three days inside the creature, after which the fish “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Thankful that his life had been spared, Jonah took up his prophetic mission:

Jonah 3 New International Version (NIV)

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

So here are three lessons from Jonah:

You can run from God, but you can’t hide.

God’s call may be hard, but it may also save lives (including your own).

God is a God of second chances.

Think about that today. Where is God calling you to do something difficult? Are you running? Or maybe you are in a dark fish-belly of disobedience and you’re sick and tired of the smell. Do you need a do-over? We serve a God of second chances. You get to come out and try again, this time with the power of the Holy Spirit helping you to make it.

God’s message to us today is that he is bigger than the shark, bigger than the whale, and bigger than anything this world has thrown at us to keep us down. He is a 24/7 God who is actively working to bring us to wholeness through joyful obedience and second chances.

Rise up, people. Our deliverer is here.

Look UP! By Karen Bacon

Deliverance

Deliverance. What a curious word! Think of the many things that get delivered. Mail gets delivered. Pizzas get delivered. Newspapers get delivered. Babies get delivered. People in jeopardy get delivered. Souls get delivered.

Have you ever asked God to deliver you from something?

It is not uncommon when you find yourself in a place of great distress to ask God to deliver you from it. Illness, abuse, violence, unfulfilling jobs, hateful bosses, out-of-control teenagers….Lord, in your mercy, deliver us. Even atheists pray in foxholes.

I have had many a broken-hearted spouse come to me seeking God’s deliverance from the awful pain of betrayal. Sometimes he delivers them from the marriage, and freedom is restored. Other times he delivers them from their own grudge-holding, and facilitates forgiveness and reconciliation.

One thing is sure: God is our refuge and strength. He is our Deliverer.

Take a look at the beautiful language of Psalm 31, but before you do, ponder this: is there something from which you need to be delivered? Some sin, a destructive habit, an overwhelming loneliness, a feeling of shame, debilitating anger, or a negative personality trait? These things can feel like a fishing net that has wound itself around your ankles. You can’t move. You are trapped.

Think of that net, and imagine that you are at the foot of the cross asking Jesus to cut you loose as you pray this prayer:

Psalm 31

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in Your righteousness.
Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.

For You are my rock and my fortress;
Therefore, for Your name’s sake,
Lead me and guide me.
Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength.
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

I’m sure you recognize verse 5 as the last thing Jesus said as he died on the cross. Jesus was quoting this scripture at the moment that God delivered him, cutting the crucifixion-net free and releasing his spirit as he left the earth.

So too will he do for you, if you trust him to release you from whatever has entangled you.

You don’t have to stay entrapped. You don’t have to be caught in despair. You may have done things that led you straight into a net that was laid out for you, but you don’t have to stay there. All you have to do is ask to be pulled out.

Behold! Your deliverer comes.

Old Net by Michelle Robertson