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The Value of Reflection

When we look into a mirror we are able to see what we normally cannot see which is a good look at ourselves. If you have ever had your spouse or a friend tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth when you smile, it illustrates why having a mirror can be valuable. We desire people to value us, and a mirror enables us to check ourselves and see us the way others see us.

One of the reasons we observe traditions in Israel is that it reminds us to ‘reflect’ and look back at what happened in the past. As with Passover, observing these festivals are opportunities to reflect and remember the joyful occasions of God’s deliverance. However, there are also times of remembrance of God’s correction in our lives. The 9th day of Av in the Jewish calendar is one of these observances where the Jewish people remember the tragedies of history and take time to reflect.

The 9th of Av is associated with multiple tragedies in Jewish history, the most important being the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem. In reflection on these tragedies, there is a value in knowing what led up to such severe acts of national judgement and destruction. When we apply this concept to our personal lives, it may be unpleasant to reflect back on these times because it forces us to revisit the places of our failures. But the value in times of reflection is not for the purpose of condemnation, but education. Remembering helps reinforce the lessons that were learned through the pain, and keeps us from repeating those failures.

The Bible teaches that we are to:

“Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25, NASU)

The value of what we hear and learn through God’s word is only as good as we are willing to walk it out. Like the story of creation in Genesis, God’s word brings order out of chaos, and our lives will gradually have a decline in chaos as we align ourselves with the statues of His word. 

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Loving Leadership

There are many different forms of leadership, and there are many motivations for wanting to become a leader. As I was driving through the Jordan valley, I looked at the mountains on the other side of the Jordan River, and I thought about Moses standing with the Lord on one of those mountains. The Lord had taken him up to Mt. Nebo so that he could look into the Promised Land that he would never enter. I thought about how loving and humble a man he had to be in order to lead the people of Israel for forty years, knowing that he himself would never enter into the promise.

Earlier in their journey in the wilderness there was a place where the complaints of the people with Moses brought him to a point of frustration. He was instructed to speak to a rock in the sight of Israel and bring water out of it. But in anger, he struck the rock and water came out. For this, God told Moses that he would not enter into the land of Canaan as promised.

When I think of this situation, wouldn’t it be so easy for Moses to blame the people for why he disobeyed God and hense received such a punishment? It is safe to say that most of us would probably have chosen to pick up and leave and wash our hands of these ungrateful, stiff necked people. Moses could have wrapped himself up in bitterness, but instead he chose to continue leading God’s people. What an amazing man to be able to see past where the people were at and to believe in the promises of God to transform them into what He was calling them to be. Moses continued in the wilderness to partner with God in the slow process, to intercede and teach this rough band of former slaves because he believed in the God who was able to complete what He had started.

It is very possible that Moses was aware of the transforming power of God in the life of a person because he had spent so many years of his own life in that same wilderness before anyone was following him. He had seen in his own life what God can do and it enabled him to continue to love and serve people who were very difficult to be with. Walking with others may not be an easy thing to do, but when you recognize how gracious God has been in His dealings with you, it may help to make it easier to see beyond where they are now and concentrate on what God has called them to become. This is the godly calling of leadership. It is not a place of authority and power so that others can serve you. It’s a place of allowing God to use you to serve others so that they come into their inheritance.

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Come Out of the Shadows

Jesus said we are the bride, but what does it mean to be His bride? A bride means first of all that we are the most beloved in His eyes- pure. Jesus sees us as pure although we know that we are not apart from His blood. The issue is that we look at ourselves in the mirror and see all the spots- the dark parts. Often, we lean either towards being very judgmental about ourselves or towards narcissism and in that case, we really don’t see. The truth is that we all have those areas that are unlovely and cause us to feel ashamed. Sometimes we get to a place where we see everything that is wrong with us and we don’t see ourselves in the mirror that He placed in front of us.

In the book of Song of Solomon 1:6, the woman that Solomon loves is feeling ashamed of who she is and unworthy of his love for her. She says, “Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!” This woman was not with prestige and servants. She was working in her father’s fields. Her skin was not flawless like a daughter of a king, but instead she bore the scars from the harshness of the sun. Essentially she is asking the question, “what do I have that you would choose to love ME?”

But her lover repeatedly responds with kindness and affirmation- “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!”- Song of Solomon 1:15. This lover is like our God. He does not see the scars that we see. He sees us with the eyes of love and He sees who we will become because of His love. Later in the second chapter verse 14, Solomon says to the woman, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hidden places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Is this not an incredible picture of God’s amazing love? This woman, like us, is hiding because of her shame and lack of self worth. But the lover, like God, desires to hear her voice, to see her face and to openly, unashamedly, reveal that this is the one he loves! 

Beloved, God is saying to you, “Come out of the shadows! I see you for who you are. Do not be ashamed of your scars for you are beautiful in My eyes!

Psalm 45:10-11 says, “Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.” Further in verses 14 and 15 it says, “In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her— those brought to be with her. Led in with joy and gladness, they enter the palace of the king.” You see, when we receive God’s love for us and walk in our identity as His bride, we are changed and in turn, that change provokes others to want to know Him. Imagine it! Wouldn’t you want to meet the One who loves the unlovely, beautifies the broken and turns the shamed into the glorious? 

That my friends is exactly the work of God in our lives…at least it is for those who are willing to receive His love and come out from hiding in the shadows. 

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Establishing the Kingdom

In 2nd Samuel chapter five,  we see the establishment of David as king over all of Israel. This didn’t happen all at once. There was a long process between the time David was anointed by Samuel to be king as a young man and when David becomes the king of all Israel in Jerusalem. The process was a time of preparation, where both David and the children of Israel come to a place where they were ready to receive David as king.

The David who is anointed by Samuel is not the mighty man of war that we read about later.  He is an insignificant lad who is tending the sheep of his father. He is not even considered by his own family as anything special and is forgotten when the rest of the family attended the special sacrificial feast that the prophet Samuel showed up at. David had no accomplishments to put on a ‘resume’ in order to become the king of Israel.

God, however, sees the heart. He examined this boy and found something that He did not find in any of his brothers. We do not know the details about his battles with the lion and bear that he fought to protect his sheep. But we know that these hidden battles early on in life gave him a testimony that he carried with him into battle with the giant later on. He struggled against a strong adversary where no one could witness his bravery, and he experienced first-hand a God who gave him the victories. God saw the heart of a boy who cared so much for the dumb sheep entrusted into his care, he could be trusted to care for His people also.

The foundation of David’s life which was laid in this lonely time is where he found God to be a special companion. He may have become familiar with the stories that he had heard about God’s dealings with the Patriarchs and his ancestors. He may have even been like others who revered and worshiped this God of his fathers. But in the lonely place where David is of little significance, he experienced God in a way others didn’t. His extraordinary confidence in his personal relationship with a great God is why David’s courage stands out. When everyone else retreats in fear, David runs towards the challenge of the giant:

“You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” (1 Sam 17:45-47, NKJV)

God desires us to know him in the same way that David did. His call is not to just hear stories about Him from others, or even participate in distant worship and reverence. Not that these are bad things, but we miss out if we do not seek out more. It is in experiencing God in your own circumstances, and seeing His hand at work in your own life that enables you to become all that He has called you to be.

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For Your Glory, Lord

No one wants to suffer. In this day and age, we have so many luxuries that we think, “well, why should we have to suffer”? As believers, we have personal access to the God of the universe who can speak one word and heal us instantaneously, provide for us miraculously or create a universe for that matter. So, when we begin to suffer, we cry out to Him for help and if our circumstances don’t change, we think, “what just happened here? Doesn’t He see what I’m going through? Doesn’t He care?”

But what if God is allowing that suffering to do a work inside of us that could not be done through any other means? Or what if God has a greater purpose of salvation through our suffering? After all, wasn’t that what Yeshua went through for us? Yeshua never sinned and never deserved the suffering He endured when He walked the earth. Yet the Bible says that He was well acquainted with sorrow and grief (Isaiah 53:3) and was even separated from His Father when He bore the sins of the world on Himself. Did not Satan himself question Jesus concerning this matter of suffering? 

Jesus didn’t need to fast, but He did and He experienced hunger. It was when Jesus was hungry that Satan encouraged Him to use His power to turn the stones into bread. Why suffer if you have the power to change it? Satan then took him to a high place and showed him all the kingdoms and their splendor. “You can have it all, Jesus, and not have to suffer if You will bow and worship me”, Satan said in paraphrase. (See Matthew 4). But this was not the way the Father planned to bring the world salvation. Salvation for all men, women and children would come through Yeshua’s suffering. Remember, Yeshua left His throne to become a human like you and me and He chose this humility and suffering for your freedom and mine. There was a purpose to His suffering. 

Many times, this is what happens when we suffer also. Yes, God has all power and all authority over all the principalities and kingdoms of heaven and earth. He can speak one word and alter the course of history. He can heal us instantaneously and there are many times He does! He can open doors to our financial breakthroughs and can rescue us out of horrible relationships and the list of things He can do is literally infinate. Nothing is impossible for Him. But the truth is, His ways are not like our ways. And there is no formula. The only thing we know for sure is that He is good and His ways are perfect. So even when we don’t get what we want, the way we want, and when we want it- it does not mean that He is not hearing our prayers and at work in our situation. It’s just that there are times He chooses to walk through our suffering with us, giving us grace instead of deliverance, perseverance instead of rescue and revelation of who He is instead of the easy way out. When we experience suffering, we can trust the Lord to use it for His glory while we humble ourselves like Yeshua and pray – “Father, not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). 

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The Source of Reaction

People are wired to respond to their environment. This trait is natural and has benefits for our preservation. But as we grow up, we discover that there are also ways that we react that are not beneficial and that we need to learn to control those reactions. Our reaction is our response to an event; it can be at a thought level, emotional level or a physical level. We will also react at various levels of intensity based on how close our connection is to an event. When I watch a sporting event and the team I like loses, I will be a little disappointed, but move on quickly because I’m not very connected (I do realize that some of us are more intense than others in this example). If my daughter were to have a medical emergency, I would react by immediately dropping everything else in order to get to a doctor because I’m very connected. If we take some time to think about it, our reactions and the intensity of the reactions can tell us a lot about our own priorities.

When we drive we use gauges on our dashboard to let us know if there is anything wrong with the way the car is running. It helps us to know when to stop for gas, or if the engine is overheating and need more coolant. Similarly, our priorities are the engine that keeps us moving down the road and our reactions can function like a gauge letting us know if something is wrong. If you wanted to control someone, all you would have to do is learn what they will react to, and then manipulate events to cause the desired reaction.

If we want to learn to react in a way that honors God, we will be forced to adjust our priorities and resemble His. When Jesus came, His concern and priority was the Kingdom of Heaven. That was His primary motivator. In the temptations in the wilderness, Satan’s first attempt to cause Jesus to react was out of hunger.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:1-4)

Jesus’ response placed His priorities with that of knowing that He relied on God for his sustenance, and wouldn’t react out of His genuine earthly need for food. What this did was take away Satan’s ability to use physical need for food as a tool of manipulation.

Another point of leverage that Satan tries to use is what we feel close to. Here is a passage that goes with little notice: “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”
But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:46-50)

In the society that Jesus was raised in, clan and family were the top priority. Even today, many loyalties are ‘clan’ based. The family or clan is the inner circle of intimacy, and the expected response is that family takes priority over outsiders. Jesus’ doesn’t respond based on society’s values, His response creates a circle of intimacy that is deeper than blood relations; it is the ‘family of faith’ that takes priority. He points to His disciples, the ones who follow Him day to day, and says: “Here are My mother and My brothers!” Jesus is showing us by example what our priorities need to adjust to.

Today we hear many calling out for ‘Justice.’ Just like our other examples, like eating in response to hunger or intimacy of family, ‘justice’ is not a bad thing, but as events happen- let us closely examine whether we are just reacting to manipulation. When Jesus was judged by those who sentenced Him to death, He knew that He was in the center of God’s will, and that God is sovereign. Even though those who were judging Him were being unjust, Jesus is not interested in justice in His circumstance; He is wholly submissive to the will of His Father. His priority was the Kingdom of Heaven, and that seeking justice from the kingdoms of men was futile.

Jesus gives us an example that forces us to examine our priorities. It is our reaction and the intensity of our response that will tell us where our priorities lie. As we allow ourselves to examine our responses, we may discover that much of our peace is taken away in areas where our priorities don’t line up with that of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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A Calling of Separation

What do you think about when you hear the name Sampson? Many of us, when we think about Sampson, think about a strong, talented guy who fell asleep on the lap of the wrong girl. The next think he knew, he was blind and weak and grinding wheat for his enemies to eat. This is not the destiny God had planned for him. But he was indeed gifted.

When we take a deeper look at Sampson’s life we see that his relationship with Delilah was not the first thing that caused him to become defiled, but the last. See, Sampson was called by God to be a Nazarite. A Nazarite could not partake in anything that came from the vine. Not from the seed, not from the skin not even vinegar that was made from wine. A Nazarite could not come into contact with any dead thing not even for the sake of burying a close relative. Coming into contact with the dead would defile the Nazarite and the vow would be broken. The last thing that separated a Nazarite was that they could not cut their hair. Having long hair was a visible sign that a man had taken a Nazarite vow and many times, it was only for a period of time.

Early on in Sampson’s life, he was confronted by a lion which he ripped apart with the strength that God had given him. But later on, he passed by that same way and he saw that some bees had built a hive in the carcass of the lion and there was honey. Sampson was hungry, so he ate that honey from inside the dead lion and he broke his vow.

Then, he took a philistine girl to be his wife. He celebrated his marriage for one whole week and there were thirty Philistines who celebrated with them. Now, the Bible doesn’t say that he drank wine during the ceremony, but it was customary for a person to drink wine in celebrations and it is hard to imagine that the Philistine’s would have understood that Sampson could not enjoy a drink of wine because of a vow he had made.

Then, years later, Sampson broke his final Nazarite vow when he gave Delilah the secret to his strength and she cut his hair while he slept in her lap. When he awoke to her cries that his enemies were upon him, he thought he go out as always in the strength of the Lord and take on his enemies but the Lord had departed from him. And his shaven head was a visible sign that his anointing has come to an end.

“The Philistine’s took him and put out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters and he became a grinder in the prison”– Judges 16:21.

In the end, what is it we can learn from Sampson’s life? Here was a guy who had giftings and a calling and an anointing to deliver the children of Israel from the hand of their oppressor. But he did not value the calling to be visibly separate from those around him and it ended up causing his blindness and his early death.

God has a calling on our lives as well and we have to recognize that His calling is contingent on our separation from the world around us. We cannot live like the world and walk in God’s anointing- it will not work. So, choose this day the calling of God in your life. Make a commitment to not fulfill the short term satisfactions of this life but to enter into the eternal satisfaction of knowing that you have been a good and faithful servant.

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Think on These Things

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good reputation, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think on these things”. – Philippians 4:8

It is not by force, nor by our ability to fight, but by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can overcome. Throughout my time of working with families in financial crisis and single mothers, I have met many believers who think that we need to focus our attention on overcoming the enemy and “taking him down”. While there is a time and a place for this, there is something we miss that I believe is even more powerful and effective. It is our offering of thanks and praise to God.

Over the years, I have learned that God loves to see us at peace despite our circumstances and to hear our praises and offerings of thanksgiving for all that He has been and done for us. Our spiritual enemy, on the other hand, loves it when we focus our attention on the battle that rages around us. Satan lures us into his battle field where his chances of defeating us increases.

I believe that what we need to do is walk out the victory that Yeshua already won for us. The question is not whether or not the struggles we have and the pain we suffer will come to end. The question is what we will do with our struggles and what we will learn and gain from them. Didn’t God say that through our struggles we will grow in godliness and in character?

Here are three things to remember as you endure the inevitable suffering you will face in this life.

1.) You have a choice. God does not force you and I to do or think or believe in a certain way. That is a choice He has given us to make. He has given us all the instruction we need for life and godliness, but it is up to us to take it, believe it and apply it to our lives and circumstances.  

2.) Our words have power. When we speak negatively about our circumstances and we don’t add faith to the equation, we may not realize that our negative words are paving a path for us to walk on. But on the contrary, when we choose to speak God’s truth and perspective over our circumstances, we will see those words taking effect in our lives.

3.) God is good and He is with us who believe. No matter what we face in this life, He will walk through it with us. You are never alone. He who began a good in you will complete it until the day of the coming of Yeshua our Messiah!

I encourage you today to take your cares to the Lord and do as His word says, “cast them” or a better translation would be to “throw them” at the feet of Yeshua and let Him bring all things into focus. Don’t be afraid to take time to make decisions if it means that wisdom will be your guide instead of fear and hastiness. One moment of prayer and asking God for help could change the entire outcome of your future.

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But There Are Giants in the Land!

When God spoke to Moses and called him to be the deliverer of His people Israel out of their bondage and slavery in Egypt, He said to him, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”- Exodus 3:12. God did deliver His people out of Egypt through Moses and they did come to meet with the Lord at Mount Sinai as He promised.
There at the mountain, God wanted to reveal Himself to His people and to make Himself known to them that they might hear His voice for themselves and receive His good instructions. But their response was fear and they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”-Exodus 20:19.

God’s intention has always been to have a personal relationship with His people. We see this in the garden of Eden when Adam walked with God. We see this in the sending of God’s Son Yeshua whose death tore the veil in the temple so that all could come into God’s presence. We see this in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34 when God says the days are coming when all will know Him for themselves.

But what is it that hinders us from knowing God and receiving the good things He has for us? Fear. When the people heard God’s voice on the mountain, they were afraid and said to Moses, “you speak to us, but don’t let God speak to us or we might die!” God heard these words and He gave them what they asked for. Moses mediated between God and the people all throughout their journey through the desert.

Later on, when it was time for the children of Israel to inherit the good Land that God wanted to give them to possess as their own, spies were sent out to investigate what it was they would face. When the men came back, most of them gave a negative report and invoked fear into the hearts of the people. Their focus was not on the promise of God, but on the giants the people would need to overcome. Because the people chose fear instead of faith in God, once again, He saw their choice and instead of taking the Land He wanted to give them, they spent the next forty years in the wilderness.
Time and time again, it was fear that kept God’s people from intimacy with God and receiving the good things He had in store for them. Are you afraid to hear God’s answer to something you are seeking Him about? Are you afraid to do something that He is calling you to do? Perhaps you have lost faith that the challenges or giants that you are facing are part of the outworking of God’s plan for your life. In this day, God sets before us a choice to make. We can either choose fear and miss out on all that God has for us, or we can choose faith and walk out His calling and into His promises.

Remember, God’s intention is not to bring you and I out of Egypt, up the mountain, or into the promised Land to harm us. His intention is for us to know Him, worship Him and to make Him known in the earth.

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Comparison is a Sickness

I was just a child in elementary school learning to read when I experienced something that would change my life. My teacher, who had also taught my older brother and sister before me, saw that I struggled to read and said, “If you are their sibling, why are you so different that you can’t read like them”? In that moment my confidence to read was shattered. For many years afterwards, I was terrified to read in front of people because one woman who had authority in my life spoke something negative over me. And as long as I believed those words, they had power in my life. 

One day I decided not to let them affect me anymore. I began reading out loud and was even able to read in front of the group I was teaching at the “Heart to Serve” seminar. When I shared this testimony with those who were present, they clapped for me because they saw that I could do it and in encouraged them to overcome their fears and weaknesses as well. 

Those who think they are weak have a lot to give. Many times, the weak are stronger than those who think they are strong. Yeshua told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Messiah’s power may dwell in me”. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Since I was born in the 1960’s, I remember the time when magazines came out featuring models as examples for beauty. Intelligent young women suddenly struggled with anorexia and depression because they were trying to be like those models and they couldn’t. How many times have we looked at other people’s Facebook pages or lifestyles or the opportunities other people have and we compare ourselves with them? It produces the same kinds of sickness! No one is supposed to be the same as anyone else. We were all created differently with sets of strengths and weaknesses. But God never intended that we should accomplish anything on our own. When we try to be perfect in the eyes of man, we fail because our trust is in ourselves and not in God. For it is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts”. – Zechariah 4:6. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But He has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit and this same Spirit that raised Messiah from the dead lives in us! 

“But let him who boasts boast about this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD”. – Jeremiah 9:24.

If you have swallowed the lies of the enemy about who you are, I encourage you to face that lie with God’s truth and trust Him to give you the courage to see yourself through His eyes. He has given you great gifts to be used for His glory and as a blessing to others. So don’t let the enemy make you sick with comparison or depression about what you don’t have. Be thankful for all that God has given you and go out and make something of it! 

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