Catching Foxes

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It takes two to make a relationship work well.  A team.  A give and take.  Iron sharpening iron.  We see this played out in every area of life whether in personal relationships, a body of believers, or in business partners coming together to make a deal.  It’s that art of working together which makes us learn to be accountable.  Yes!  That ‘A’ word we often want to avoid.

Accountability.  No matter where we are in life, what position we hold, what responsibilities we do or do not have, accountability should be our constant companion. How many times do we hear of someone’s “fall from grace” and on the heels of the news we learn that no one around them was asking the hard questions.

Recently, I spoke with someone who was walking through difficult situations in both personal life and ministry.  She confided that although she had acknowledged to others she was facing some struggles, few reached out because they viewed her as ‘strong enough’ to not really need them.  Yet that thought process is rarely a glimpse of reality.  In fact, last I read, we are all fallible humans.

Our Creator knew this truth.  He purposefully designed us to NEED MORE than ourselves.  If we did not need more, we would not need to have a relationship with a Deity greater than ourselves.  He also created us to desire and need connection to others in our lives.  He wanted us to learn more about Him by learning more about healthy relationships.

We all have heard the saying, “No man is an island.”  Even Christ lived this truth while on Earth when He chose to live with His disciples.  And in His darkest hour, He took three men to the garden with Him to pray.  Christ knew the fight He was about to face was one that, in His humanity, He could not fight alone.  He needed the strength gained by having others pray with Him.

It was always His plan that none of us would be an island to ourselves.  None of us would be disconnected.  No leader or pastor would be a law unto themselves.  If we won’t allow others to speak into our lives, how can we “rightfully” speak into the lives of others?  That is how the iron sharpens the iron.

 “Catch the foxes, the little foxes, before they ruin our vineyard in bloom.”          Song of Songs 2:15 (CEV) 

No matter the type of relationship – marriage, dating, co-workers, friends, or our church family – outside circumstances will work to destroy its growth.  The style in which Song of Songs is written causes us to not always understand who is speaking in the verse.  But the words of verse 15 applies the plural nature, making the statement clear:  “Let us fight together to catch the foxes that are hiding, ready to destroy what holds our promise of growing in our trust of each other.”  We all need the trench buddies that we can trust to be at our side and not betray our hiding place.

Ultimately, there is one main relationship to not allow the foxes to destroy.  Our relationship with God Himself.  The enemies fighting that relationship often are small.  Little compromises.  Ignoring that still small voice.  Little indulgences.  Not guarding our spoken words. Letting activities steal our time.  It all fights our connection to our Lord.  That is where the accountability is most important.  When that is broken, our earthly relationships become weak.

Accountability also requires meeting one on one with either mentors or friends who are comfortable to ask the hard questions.  It’s the hard questions that are needed.  The ones that help us to examine our own hearts and motives.  Questions like —–

“How is your heart talk?” 

“What is your attitude to your children?” 

“What happened to the trust you had in your spouse, boss, leader, yourself?” 

“Who’s voice are you listening to?  Who are you secretly talking with?” 

  “How is your prayer life?” 

“Who’s controlling you?  God? Others? Your emotions?” 

“What are you dwelling on in your thoughts?”    

“How well are you fighting the temptations to compromise?  Are your boundaries still clear or becoming blurred?”  

“Who do you need to forgive today?”   

“Is there a scripture to back up how you feel?” 

  “Who’s approval are you seeking?  God’s or man’s?”

Becoming accountable means becoming vulnerable.  You choose to lay it all out there.  The good.  The bad.  The ugly.  There is beauty in watching Him meet you in the broken places.  It is allowing someone else who is trustworthy to see the hidden side of you, walk with you through the mess, and rejoice in the tools you learn as you become whole again.  A you that is more like Christ.

Accountability sets a trap for the foxes in life.  Lack of accountability often ends up in broken relationships.  Too often our defenses block us from allowing others to speak into our lives.  We think they cannot understand where we are.  They just don’t grasp the full picture.  And we walk away, taking our hurts and offenses with us.  Leaving behind us a trail of brokenness.

Being vulnerable.  It is not easy.  It takes courage.  And a desire to become who you were meant to be.  But it is the stuff that makes us better individuals and better as a whole community.

Being raised in ministry, I can relate to the young woman struggling alone.  My heart was always after God.  That resulted in being in leadership from the time I was in middle school.  But looking back, I can honestly say very few people actually knew me.  The real me.  The struggles that only my heart and God heard about.  And with that lack of mentoring came brokenness.  Thankfully for me, it drew me to depend on Jesus even more.  But too often that is not the case.  Too often the broken ones stumble in their hurt, or completely walk away from truth………and no one is there to help.  Honestly, I do not always WANT the hard questions.  But I NEED them.  We ALL do!

Are we joining together and setting fox traps?  Or do we just come to a service on Sunday, get our feel good on, then go our separate ways for the week?  Do our local churches look like community life or is it just a weekly event because of an obligation to a place or person?  Are we truly connected and vulnerable with each other, or could we just be playing the part?  Are our pastors meeting one on one with someone that speaks into their lives other than their spouse; someone who will hear those hidden talks of the heart?  If not, the fox trap has not been set.

Let’s choose to be trap setters!  Let’s make a difference in the world around us by becoming vulnerable and trustworthy to each other.  Let’s catch the foxes before the vine is destroyed.

Who will take this journey with me?  Let’s set the traps together!

 

 

All For One

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Have you ever been in a situation where you kept asking yourself, “Why am I here?”  I have.  Often.  In fact, many times during this last season of life.  The elephant in the room of my life recently has been, “God, this is not what I am called to do.  My heart is to be ministering and teaching Your word, not being in the marketplace.”  The struggle has been real.  Until the day a co-worker asked for counseling.  Then came that still small voice.

“It’s all for one.”

All for one!  It is a simple concept we all know.  My boys learned it early from watching The Three Musketeers.  And we teach about it in the church.  We remind each other that wherever we are in life, we are to look for that ‘one’ He might be wanting us to reach out to and help.  Yet, the struggle to see it often is difficult when we seem to hit a wall  day after day and our hearts are longing for something else.  But we have the greatest example of Someone who left everything He had done since time began and reached out to the one human race.  And He would have done it for even just one individual.  John 4 tells of a time Christ visited a town just for one woman.

History tells of a people group called ‘Samaritans’.   They were a ‘mixed breed’ of people that were a result of Babylon conquering Judah.  The king of Assyria  took most of the people back to the Babylonian Empire.  Those who were left behind intermarried with non-Jewish people that migrated into the region.  In time, this interracial group became known as Samaritans.  They had their own way of life and worship.  By the time of Jesus, most Jews despised the Samaritans even more than they did the Gentiles.  Why?  Partly because they were seen as ‘half-breeds’ in both their culture and faith.

If one was to travel from Jerusalem to Galilee, the shortest route was through Samaria.  Yet many Jews of that day avoided Samaria and took a longer route.  Their reasoning was to not be in contact with those who they considered no better than a dog.

But not Jesus!  John 4:4 says He NEEDED to go through Samaria.  Why?  For one.  One woman.  One testimony.  One domino effect on a city.  Several aspects of this story stands out.  His actions did not fit that which society deemed proper for a godly rabbi. It was about noon and the women usually went tin groups to draw water earlier in the morning.  But He knew there was one woman who was perhaps rejected by others and would go to the well alone later in the day.  So He sat and waited for her.  Rabbi’s did not speak to women in public.  Neither did the men ask to drink from a woman’s cup.  But Christ spoke to her and asked for a drink.  Why did He do all of this?  He was goal oriented on reaching that one!  The result: she ran into town and brought others back to hear what this Teacher had to say.  The domino effect.

As He started reminding me of the ‘all for one’ mentality, I started looking back on the last ten years of my life.  Our family and ministry has gone through many unexpected twists and turns.  They have not always been fun or easy.  And I have heard myself so often cry out, “God, really?!  Why are we here?!”  Yet looking back, I see the ‘ones’ that are now walking in freedom, called to minister, healed, redeemed, and much more.

Why move us to Missouri?  For the young adult who was starting down a wrong path but is now preaching the Word to young people.  The young woman who visited on a Sunday, accepted Christ, and was killed in a car accident the following week.  The worship leader who was set free from generational curses and is operating now in spiritual gifts she had never known before.  The high school students from broken homes that showed up at our dinner table weekly and experienced a functional family unit.

And each of these are now having a domino effect in their world.

Why the move back to Louisiana?  To be at my mom’s side the last few months of her life.  To see young adults walk away from a life of drugs and are now preaching.  For those who left promiscuous lifestyles and now teach faith and purity to others.  And for the one who rescued from suicide that now travels the world sharing the gospel.

Our society often judges a person’s success in ministry the way the world sees success in business.  For instance, if you have a large congregation or a large ministry, you must be more anointed and successful than that one who has a small group or is in a small community.  Yet the realization I have come experience is that Jesus, in His great love for even ‘the one’, will allow the paths of our lives to take unexpected turns for that ‘one’.  Christ is more interested in us allowing our lives to be turned upside down for just one then He is in how success we appear to be in the eyes of other.  That one may even have a domino effect and in time represent masses of people scattered from location to location.  Are we willing to follow an ever turning path?  Can we see the bigger picture?

Recently, while honoring the life of Billy Graham, we have seen clips of the thousands of people who attended his crusades.  But how many of us remember the name of the minister who’s message changed Billy’s life?  That man’s ministry had a domino effect to millions.  Those of us on earth may not know his name, but our Heavenly Father does.  And He counts the domino effect for eternity.

What about you?  Who is the one in your life that He placed for you to reach?  Are you willing to have your entire life unexpectnantly turned upside down, your ministry put on a shelf for a while, as you are sent to the marketplace and your dreams seems to be lost without hope of returning, all for reaching one?  Are you looking to be a Billy Graham, or are you willing to have your life take unexpected turns to reach the Billy Graham’s around you?

To paraphrase a verse from scripture, I challenge each of us today:  Test Him. See that there is no greater love, or joy, than to lay your life, your dreams, your hopes, your home down for reaching even one person today!  (My version of John 15:13)  There may be pain and disappointment at times along the way, but one day you will see the results domino in your life!

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  1 John 3:16

 

 

He Knows My Name!

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“And Rhonda, I know who you are!”

Although I can still hear the words being thrown my way, at that moment it didn’t earn my full attention.  The words were not spoken out of admiration. They were intended to intimidate.  Yet I stood there focused on another person in the room whom I had originally gone to comfort.  The accusatory voice coming from the one who was now pinned up against the wall did not phase me as I knew its source.  It was pure evil.  But I chose to ignore it.  The person against the wall was a dear friend.  The voice was not that of my friend, but a spirit that was attempting to control my friend as well as distract me from my mission.  That spirit was not going to win.  Not on my watch!  And not while I was in the room with others who also were precious to me……..and precious to my Father.

Years have passed since that evil spirit called out my name.  Looking back, I now rejoice at the changed lives represented in the room that day.  Each of them I consider as valued friends.  From the broken person whom I went to comfort, to the one who was pinned, to those observing, and yes, even to myself, each of us have grown much since that day.  However, just recently my Father revealed an important truth to me.  Often I’ve looked back on that day and wondered why I did not address the spirit.  In Christ I have authority to cast out demons.  But I stood there, glanced its way, then asked someone else to intervene while I focused on my original purpose.  I’ve questioned myself often, attempting to judge as to whether my actions were out of fear or lack of confidence.  Recently while pondering on this again, I heard another voice, that Still Small Voice, whisper, “He knew your name.”

Time stood still.  I looked off and let those words sink in deeper.

“He knew your name.”

Yes.  So……………why is that important?

“He knew your name because you know MY NAME.”

Whoa!  That’s it!  Our enemy knows who we are if we purpose to KNOW HIM!  Not just know His Name, but KNOW Him……..who He really is.  Like the account in Acts. Intimately.  Passionately desiring a deeper relationship with our Savior.  Through that relationship comes the understanding of the authority we have over evil spirits.  Demons tremble just hearing His name!  And they are aware of people who live by that Name.

In Acts 19, we read the account of a group who knew of Jesus.  In our day we would call them ‘name droppers.’  They had heard, and probably had witnessed, the miracles God preformed through Paul.  The group of men were known to be exorcists, but one day they “took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits. (v13)  The result was not something they expected:

“And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ ” (v15) NKJ

Their attempts had failed.  They ‘name dropped’ without actually knowing the Person. For me, as the evil spirit called my name, he acknowledged to those in the room that I had an active, solid relationship with my Creator.  The spirit who wanted to accuse  became a character witness on my behalf!  In a season of my life which I was at times struggling with my understanding, He chose to let me know that even my soul’s enemy saw that I still clung to the only rock of my salvation – JESUS!

As the impact of this realization hit, I closed my eyes and breathed to my Lord, “He knew my name.  Lord!  He knew my name!  Because I made You my everything, he didn’t ask for my name.  He called my name.”  It’s a humbling thought to recognize that God trusts you in such a situation.  That’s what the writer was referring to in Psalms 91:

 “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide in the shadow  of   the Almighty………….(you) shall not be afraid of the terror by night………….Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you…………………you shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”        v1,5,9,13 NKJ

It’s all about relationship.  Relationship with Jesus grows as we choose to learn more about who He is and what is important to Him.  He is more than just a name to cry out as a way to escape an uncomfortable situation.  He is the strength that helps you walk through that situation.  He doesn’t promise to keep the evil from ever fighting against you.  The promise is that the evil will not win over you because He will hold your hand and give you the strategy to overcome evil.  Our battle becomes His.

The fact that a demon knows your name is not significant in itself.  What is valuable to remember is the fact that a demon knows your name because your relationship with Jesus is solid.  Your obedience to Him threatens the very works of demonic powers.  Of greater value is that you know your Savior and recognize the power given you as you speak His Name.

There will be no complaints if I never hear my name called again by an evil spirit.  But should it occur, I have confidence in knowing My Center.  He is the Rock which I have chosen to build my life upon.  My strength, my understanding, my everything comes from knowing Him.  My goal in life – to make Him known.

And most importantly He, Jesus, KNOWS MY NAME!  Does He know yours?

 

 

 

 

 

Ashes

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We all remember where we were that day when we got the news.  Every year we still relive it.  And each year it’s just as true as it was the year prior.

Ashes.  It’s all that was left of skyscrapers on that fateful day.  If you were anywhere within the vicinity of the Twin Towers when the planes flew into them, you can still see the explosion, hear the terror of screams, see people jumping from windows high above, and the the pile of ashes when it all came down.  You can still feel that sense of, “This can’t be happening!”  The images that played out on our TV screens are burned upon all of our memories.  So are the stories of the people who were there experiencing that surreal day in our country’s history.

Ashes.  They represent ‘something that was.’   Something that mattered, yet was destroyed through the heat of a burning fire.  At the time of it’s destruction, often disillusionment and grief quickly follow.  The many thoughts of ‘what could have been’ or ‘what should have been’ flood our minds.  And we face the dreams that were just lost among those ashes.

Once the fire is gone and the ashes are all that’s left, often we sift through the remains hoping to find any buried treasure from the past that may have survived.  Like the iconic cross from September 11th.  It stood as a sign that there was still hope that could be found in God above.

Recently I took a trip with my son, Steffen.  It was a trip that had become very familiar to us through the years.  Our destination was near a place that had represented hurt and betrayal not too many years ago.  The circumstances our family found ourselves in during that season was one that brought disillusion and discouragement to each of us.  The fire that tried our family was one that actually attempted to destroy our very faith.  Now, years later as we traveled the familiar highway, we started reliving events at various exits along the road.

“That’s where we met you on the road headed up for the interview.”

“This exit has a Baskin Robbins.”

“This is the exit we met up with friends.”

As we relived those fun memories, we laughed at dad’s constant hunt for an exit where he could get ice cream.  We smiled with memories of times with the friends we had made on our journey.  With each mile we drove, I felt God bringing healing in those small areas I did not even know still existed.  By the time we arrived at our destination, we had realized how rich our lives had become due to that season of testing.

At the end of that highway, we also reconnected with people who had walked that journey with us.  Having lunch with friends that day, I listened to things that God was doing in their lives.  I saw the joy on faces as we reconnected with each other, shared stories and pictures of families, and just enjoyed being together again.

Driving back home after the weekend, I reflected on our time with friends.  I felt healed and so full.  That still small voice spoke to me.  “You found My jewels among the ashes.  The fire was intense during that season, but it produced jewels that are left pure and resilient – shining brightly with My Love.”

What about you?  Has your journey left ashes all around you?  I encourage you to go back and see what remains.  The jewels you find might surprise you.  For the Master  Craftsman always enjoys making beauty our of the ashes of our lives.

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“I Gave You Three”

I can still recall the joy I had when my husband and I accepted our first full time ministry position.  Even as a child, I knew my calling was that of a pastor.  It was a knowing that just grew with age.  And that still small voice kept calling me to prepare for what He would one day make a reality.

Then it came.  That first night to stand in front of the youth of our church was such an honor.  I had dreamed of this moment.  The altar times; praying with the girls.  The late night chats and shopping events.  The small group setting where one-on-one ministry could altar the course of a life.  Yet within weeks, events went out of the picture perfect lines of ministry.  You know, that picture you can create in your own mind of what something will look like.  It was ingrained in me.  That ‘how my ministry would unfold’ picture.  Instead I found myself rarely even in services with our youth.  The reason: there was no nursery available for my little ones.

About the same time we transitioned into youth ministry, our church transitioned into small groups instead of mid-week service.  Parents were in cell groups while the youth still met at the church in our youth building.  That left only my little ones in need of nursery.  Nursery room was even in a separate building.  So while other ladies were bonding during small groups, I was in a large building alone, marching around in circles with three little ones marching behind me singing, “following the leader”.  And that one-on-one ministry time during our youth’s Friday night small group?  Same thing.  The youth sat in the living room listening to my husband teach.  I was in the den watching Balto save an entire town or Andy pull Barney out of another sticky situation.

My mind went tilt.  And it was time to have my own one-on-one with my Father.  This was not what ‘He and I’ had planned for my life.  And I knew He would listened.

I vented.  “This was not what I had in mind.  This isn’t fair.  My husband wasn’t called into ministry until he was in college.  I’ve know my whole life!!  I am supposed to be influencing world changers from today’s youth……not watching Bambi!  Why would You allow me to walk through the door only to face a wall?”  I vented until I had nothing left to say.  He listened.  Then came that still small voice.

“I gave you three.  Duplicate yourself in those three.”

And my world stilled.  Cracked.  Then came back off from ’tilt’.

As I sit here typing this, those words are still clear and tears fill my eyes.  See, mentoring sometimes looks different according to our seasons in life.  Duplication is still the end game.  Everything I did with my kids became an intentional time to mentor.  If we were planting seeds in the back yard, I taught about the process of seeds dying in the dirt in order to grow into a plant.  Just like Jesus died and rose again.  When we rescued a stray dog and took it in for care, or tried to save a hurt bird, or caught the lizard at the local nursery……only to have it get loose in my car while driving home……they all were times to teach them a character of Christ.  Sometimes I blew it in mentoring of my three.  But God’s grace always covered the empty space where I had missed the mark.  And my Father taught ME how to be creative in mentoring youth as well.  Girls joined me in grocery shopping or various outings with my kids.  Those are times I taught the life lesson of being a godly role model.  Or we baked together.  Or had coffee.  No matter how creative it became, it was all still the intentional art of duplication.

In the last few years I have been able to minister in Peru, Guatemala, Alaska, Tanzania, Morocco, Spain, Zambia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia,… and I have a kids’ home in Haiti.  Yet I’ve never visited another country except Mexico and Canada.  So how could I have ministered in other places?  Just one answer……….

HE GAVE ME THREE!

 

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