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

 

 

The Scarlet Bow-tied Gift

PSX_20171224_230733I love so much about Christmas.  Even though I realize Christ was probably not born on December 25th, especially since that date originally was a pagan holiday, it still brings me great joy to hear His name proclaimed in the carols being played everywhere.  I enjoy proclaiming, “Happy Birthday, Jesus,” as strangers greet me with a “Merry Christmas!”  And it’s fun to watch their expressions at the non-traditional reply.  I also enjoy some of our own family traditions.

Every year my family knows there will be that gift, or several of them, carefully wrapped by my husband.  He would have put much thought into his every action.  There may be a drawing on the package, or an encouraging note, or even a riddle to be solved. Sometimes we find another wrapped box….. and another…… and another…, until we finally find the true treasure hidden through the cardboard wrapped layers.  But with each of those ‘gifts’, he took thought into every detail of what he wanted accomplished in order to bring great joy to the receiver.

The birth of Jesus is much the same as those layered gifts.  That first true gift of Christ came with a scarlet ribbon.  A scarlet sacrifice.  See, God is into details.  He personally wrapped each story in scripture in such a way for us to find another scarlet-ribbon-tied gift waiting to be unwrapped.  And He gets excited thinking of the joy that we will find in that last unwrapped gift.  The story of Christ’s birth is full of such deeper meanings.  The well known verses tie Luke’s account to the many previous ‘gifts’ given by our Creator.

Looking into some of these layered gifts of Christmas, I have often pondered the gift given by heavenly beings to local shepherds.  After all, the task of caring for sheep was considered as a hard, lowly and dirty job.  So, what was so important about this group to cause heavenly beings to personally tell them about the birth of the Messiah?  Simple.  They understood Hebrew Temple worship.  After all, they were Levitical shepherds.  Priests.  Men who’s duty was raising sacrificial lambs.  Men who recognized the details of the deeper, hidden gifts.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  Luke 2:8

The region of Bethlehem was home to thousands of lambs.  The Hebrew Torah gave God’s instructions for temple sacrifices which took place every morning and evening.  That would be a total of 730 sacrificial lambs a year, plus tens of thousands more lambs needed for the feast of Passover and other holy days.

“And you, O Midgal Eder, tower of the flock……the former dominion shall come…..”  Micah 4:8

In the northern part of Bethlehem, less than an hour’s journey by foot to Jerusalem’s temple, was the tower known as Migdal Eder, the “watch-tower of the flock.”  This was an area prepared for the raising of these sacrificial lambs.  During lambing season, shepherds would bring their sheep from the fields to the lower level of this tower.  The lower level was the place designated as the ‘birthing rooms’ for the lambs.

“…..you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10

What is missing in this well known verse?  Look at it.  There is a detail here for us to find.  Keep digging!  It’s prophetic!  Every detail of the Levitical Priests’ duty was tied to that ultimate Lamb.  Look closely at the verse and see the hidden truth – the angels gave no directions as to where to find this babe!  No, “down the hill, turn left, near the stop sign.”  Just, “you shall find….”  Obviously these shepherd priests knew where to go.

By Levitical order, the lower level of the flock’s watch tower had double-hewn depressions from limestone rock known as “the manger.”   After birthing, the shepherds placed male lambs into the manger and swaddled them in cloths in order to keep them from thrashing around and bringing themselves harm.  These cloths of gauze-like strips which were required in order for a sacrifice to be valid.  They remained swaddled in the manger until they had calmed down enough to be inspected for any spot or blemish.  Those without spot or blemish became sacrificial lambs.

In Hebrew, the word for ‘without spot or blemish’ is tamiym.  It means complete, whole, entire, sound.  This tamiyd was sacrificed the third hour of each morning, the same time as Jesus, Yeshua haMashiach, was sacrificed!  The last wrapped box of the gift was sacrificed in tradition with the daily temple sacrifice.  The birth and death tied into one.   Hidden details.

Do you see this hidden gift?  It’s big!  These shepherds understood.  The angels spoke their language.  And this group of priests were sent to validate my sacrificial Lamb!  His birth was the scarlet ribbon which ties the entire package of His Love together.  The first gift was tied scarlet red and led to the last box, the true gift of our Sacrificial Lamb.  Each detail of the night of His birth has a hidden scarlet bow just waiting for us to receive His gift of sacrificial love.  From the beginning Christ understood that His birth led to His death.  He knew the meanings…..and sanctioned the very act!  He had to be bound.  He had to be hidden in the cleft of the rock.  He had to be inspected by the priests, these Levitical Shepherds, in order to be found spotless.  He had to be birthed in a birthing room near Jerusalem to be set aside as a sacrifice.  It’s in the details.  Neatly tied in red.  This message to the Levitical Bethlehem shepherds proclaimed, “You will find The Spotless Lamb of God swaddled in His protection.”  No doubt they understood the full meaning of these words.  It was in the details.

What about the details of your life?  Like the shepherds, is there a hidden message in the words you are hearing?  Others might see your walk as messy, off track, not the normal outward ‘look’.  But God knows the wrapped boxes that are layered inside.  They, too, are prophetic for your life.  And He has them neatly tied in a bow of His love.  Christ knew His birth was tied by the scarlet bow to His sacrificial death.  And He embraced it!

This year, give Him a gift in return.  Take time to get along with your Yeshua.  He’s calling.  Like Christ, embrace what has been given to you by your Father.   He has a deeper message for you than what others are hearing.  He’s in the details!

And this year, let’s celebrate that special wrapped gift Himself –  Yeshua haMashiach!!  

He’s speaking your language.  Listen!  He’s calling……………….

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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