Last week's January retail sales report was viewed by the press and many analysts as surprisingly strong. The Bureau of the Census revised the month-to-month change in the December report from -0.1 percent to +0.2 percent.
In addition, they reported the change from December to January as a robust 0.2 percent. Retail sales less autos, and retail sales less autos and gasoline were also revised upward for December. At first blush, the report appeared to be welcome good news in a week filled with bad news and bearish sentiment.
However, details revealed the report was not as it appeared. The increase in retail sales was all due to seasonal adjustments. Data is often adjusted to reflect normal monthly tendencies in an attempt to smooth the data. For example, sales are often higher in December due to Christmas. If we look at the actual data, that is not seasonally adjusted, retail sales in January actually decreased $112.7 billion (-21.9 percent) compared to December. Using seasonally adjusted data, retail sales increased $795 million (0.2 percent).
If we remove seasonality by looking at year-to-year changes, the adjusted and nonadjusted data should be similar. But this year is different. January-to-January retail sales were 1.4 percent higher using actual data and 3.4 percent higher using seasonally adjusted data. Very unusual.
In the kingdom, difficult challenges may not be what they initially appear. Perhaps the problem is a test of our faith or an opportunity to grow. Maybe we need spiritual eyes to see the issue from the Lord's perspective. The undisciplined soul will try to find a natural solution first. But in the kingdom we should always seek the King's opinion first and foremost.
"When a servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, a force surrounded the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What will we do?" And he said, "Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than with them." Then Elisha prayed, "Lord, open his eyes and let him see." So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha" (2 Kin. 6:15-17, MEV).
Similarly, prosperity is not a sure sign that we are in the Lord's will. Jesus told a parable of a rich man who decided to build a bigger barn so that he could eat, drink and be merry. He did not know that his soul would be required that night (Luke 12:16-21). When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the devil offered Him the grandeur of the world's kingdoms (Matt. 4:8-9). The Lord takes care of His children. But the devil can also tempt us with the things of the world. We are told to seek the kingdom first (Matt. 6:33). In good times, we need direction from the Lord as much as in the more challenging times.
People are often not what they appear. Regular church members appear to be holy when they are in deep sin. Couples appear to be happy when they are close to divorce. Families appear to have financial prosperity when they are a paycheck away from bankruptcy. Some that appear to be stalwarts in the faith are having severe doubts.
Too many have unbiblical beliefs or even heresies deep in their hearts. Our churches need to be Bible based, led by the Holy Spirit and demonstrate love through a culture of helping those who are struggling.
Knowledge of the Bible and intimacy with the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Discernment is key to keep us from being deceived when things are not as they appear.
"But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13, MEV).
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