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Some encouragement from Valley Bible Leadership
Elder, Justin Horton:
Focus — Satisfaction in His Likeness
When I played soccer as a kid we had to do the stretch where you lift one leg and hold it behind you and balance standing on the other. Looking back, I can’t imagine how entertaining this was for our coach to watch a bunch of 10-year-olds falling all over the place. Our coach would always tell us to find something to focus on, even if it’s a blade of grass or a spec of dirt. It was amazing what that did. I thought that might just have been a novice trick, but what I found watching professionals balance on some of the smallest things was that they were doing the same thing! There could be all kinds of things going on around them, yet the one thing I noticed for all of them was that their eyes were locked in on one spot and their head didn’t move. Sometimes what the “professionals” do isn’t that complicated, it just takes focus.
Right now there are a lot of things around us causing uncertainty, shifting our focus to security and comfort in finances, health, and relationships. We are sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting, hoping, and praying that the next thing we hear will ease the tension. I am not saying that praying and considering these things is wrong, but should they be our main focus? Should they be where we anchor our lives?
Scripture calls David “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). There are different theories on what made this true. I believe, through the pattern we see in his life, that his heart was shown in his responses. We can see it in almost every Psalm he authored. They often start with intense emotion whether it be fear, frustration, or accusations. His frustrations are legitimate, no one would argue that. Yet how does he end each Psalm?
Looking at Psalm 17 we see this pattern.
1-5: Hear me, I am innocent
6-9: I call, for you will answer
10-14a: We are surrounded, help!
14b: You give to them, they are satisfied
In this season, we could and probably have prayed something similar like:
“Hear me, I haven’t done anything to deserve this.
Lord, I call, for I know you will answer.
I feel like I am surrounded with problems and no answers.
I feel like you are helping others, but what about me?”
But wait, it does not end there. What was David’s response? Verse 15 says:
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”
David had one focus amidst all his challenges, God and His likeness - a singular point of reference regardless of all that surrounded him. May we too have that one focus. “Lord things are worse than ever before and I have no idea why You are allowing this, but I will seek and be satisfied with You every morning ‘when I awake.’ You are enough.”
May we be different from the world, may we hold to our Rock, our Fortress, our Savior.
Elder, Allan Brain:
Radical, Ordinary Hospitality
This is not a phrase that I came up but one that put into words something Christy and I have tried to incorporate into our life over the years. The phrase comes from Rosario Butterfield’s book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key.” Rosario was not a follower of Christ but came to know Him through the persistent hospitality of a pastor and his wife. When we lived in Africa, we would have people stop by anytime of the day (or night!) We would stop and visit and or make a run to the hospital. After all we were there to “reach the people,” to “love on them,” to “share God’s love with them.” That’s the kicker. We were there to “share God’s love with them.” How would they see God’s love if we didn’t spend time getting to know them. How would they see His love if they didn’t see me loving God? When we lived in Africa, it was not culturally appropriate to deny someone the right to visit. We just did it. Basically we had an unwritten policy of our front door always being open. After we moved back to America, we carried this mindset with us. When we were at Horn Creek, we told staff and interns that we had an open door policy and now as we live in town, the friends of our boys know they are welcome anytime. One of Gavin’s friends usually says “hi” and then proceeds to the pantry to get a snack. I’m not relating all this to draw attention to Christy and I. We’ve been blessed to have the experiences that we’ve had and many people have shown us hospitality repeatedly. Let’s look at the scriptural basis for this idea of “radical ordinary hospitality.” Genesis 18:1-8 says:
“And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘Oh Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’”
Abraham welcomed these men in, complete strangers, and fed them. After Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, He goes out and eats with the “tax collectors and sinners.” (Matt. 9:10-11) The Pharisees question Him and Jesus answers, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt.9:12). In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the 12 disciples out to the “lost sheep of Israel.” These were unbelievers. In verse 11 of this chapter, Jesus says, “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.” In these passages we see both the giving and the receiving of hospitality. How does this play out in our lives? Do we just host friends from church? Do we include our neighbors? These questions have challenged me. It is easy to have friends over. Is it because they are like-minded? Can I have friendships/relationships with those that I do not see eye to eye with? I should! I challenge myself and you in this. Let use this phrase, “Radical Ordinary Hospitality,” as we start to reach out to our neighbors, to our co-workers and to whomever God brings into our paths. Many will not see God’s love unless they see it through us. You may be thinking, “This is all good but how do we practically do this in light of where we are as a country with COVID-19?” Well, to start we can call our neighbors and friends and check in on them. We can see if they need anything (even toilet paper) and share what we have. If we are going to town or to Springs, we can pick up some things for friends. We can drop cookies off or a meal. If we do know that someone is struggling, we can give our time by just listening. These are just a few ideas. We all need to be sensitive to God’s leading and let him guide us.
Elder, Justin Horton:
The Road to Damascus - Returning to a Normal World, Changed (Acts 9)
Hopefully, you have heard many times what opportunity lies within this point in history - to trust, to pray, to dig deep, to rest in His presence, to spend more time with family, to slow down, and to know and love one another deeper and stronger. The impact this could have on our thirst to spend intentional time with our families and friends could forever change the trajectory of our lives and how we spend our time. Soon, we will return to “normal.” How do we do so, changed?
Many of us are familiar with the story of Paul’s conversion, seen in Acts chapter 9. The author, Luke, tells us that Paul, also called Saul, was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1). And then he met Jesus, an unprecedented moment in history where the resurrected Christ intersected with a murderer on the road to Damascus. It was not normal. It was not expected. It was crippling and it upended Paul’s life. “Although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing… And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (9:8-9). What was going through his mind for those 3 days? I would venture to say he probably sat in confusion and uncertainty, questioning how he had been living his life and what it would look like moving forward. He didn’t know how long it would last. He didn’t understand why. He was completely out of his routine.
You might say we are in that 3 day season. So much uncertainty. Lack of understanding why or what God is accomplishing. Completely out of our routines. Likely, change is happening. Is it good change? Are we learning to trust God amidst uncertainty? If so, how will we carry that change with us? How will we let it shape us to look more like Christ in the days to come?
We know from the Lord’s words to Ananias that Paul was praying and that he had “seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight” (9:12). Though Ananias had heard of the evil he had done, he obeyed and was used as God’s instrument to return Paul’s sight. Paul’s heart was opened too, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. His response to three days of trial and uncertainty was not to return to normal but to embark on a new journey, changed at the core by the Holy Spirit.
Paul then spent time with the disciples at Damascus, proclaiming Christ. “And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name?’… But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (9:21-22). Paul held on to the change because he knew his new trajectory was towards truth.
Then Paul went to Jerusalem, where the disciples were afraid of him. But Barnabas vouched for him and supported the change he saw in him (9:27), helping him succeed in the new normal. And what was the result of this? “The church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (9:31).
Right now in our “3 days,” the change is happening in our homes. What does that look like when we emerge from our homes and return to the community? We need to stay connected in this time to encourage change in our brothers and sisters so we can support the change as we all return back to normal. There is much potential for the body of Christ to be built up, to walk in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and to multiply.
We will remember this season for the rest of our lives as an unprecedented moment in history. Will we look back on it as more than just a chapter for the history books? As Dean mentioned in his sermon, this season is the bud, and the bud is just the beginning. If we nurture the bud, oh what beauty lies ahead. It has been said, “the growth is in the dirt” and are we ever in the dirt right now. May we be marked by Him. May we let his light blossom through us. May this moment in history change our trajectory. May we remain different.
Elder and Worship Minister, Nick Hargis:
It seems we are a society of busyness. I find very few who aren't inclined to be so. When I do find that person who seems to be out of the clinches of busyness, I find it alluring and refreshing!
I have often thought what I would do if I had more time. Well, for me (and for many of us), I've found myself having a fair bit more time given the current situation. To be fair, I still have 24 hours in a day, but the demands of that time have definitely changed. I also may not be able to do what I'd want to do with my extra time, under different circumstances, due to the current restrictions and needs.
Here are a couple of new things that have been filling that time. I've been brushing up on my 1st grade and 3rd grade studies (I had no idea that a Narwhal's "tusk" is its front left tooth that grows through its upper lip, spiraling straight out, up to 10 feet long!), as well as, giving Stephanie much needed breaks from the demands of a newborn and housework.
Many times, I've blamed busyness on not spending the time I'd like to with my family. I've blamed it on not spending time devoted to prayer and the Word. I've been pondering what everyone is doing with this unique, "extra" time. What I want to encourage you with is to make the most of it for your personal faith and for the Kingdom. It's easy to let this pandemic, or the economy, or other worldly things to consume our time and control our minds and our actions.
During this time, we have the potential to do a lot of things we normally wouldn't be able to do. There's potential for great spiritual growth in a lot of ways! I encourage you to use this time to develop a strong, intimate prayer life. To intercede for others. To study for yourself and understand the Father's heart through His Word. To be awakened (or more so) to His Spirit, to be led by it daily, and to let it have power in your life.
Steward, Andrew Straight, along with his wife and our Children's Ministry Director, Elanor:
Passion and Submission
A fellow missionary from our time in Prague recently quipped, “This is the Lentiest Lent I’ve ever Lented.” And I couldn’t agree more. The period of Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter and it is traditionally a time of fasting and devotion meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to the start of his active ministry. We have all been asked to give up a lot in the last 40 days. And now we are come to “Holy Week.” How is it treating you? I am surprised how often I have found myself uttering the words, “Thank you, Lord” in response to this “new way of life.” This is not to say I am grateful for illness, death, uncertainty, and isolation but grateful for confirmation that God is still working in the world, still moving us from death to life, and doing it in the most unexpected ways.
In one sense, there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this week. Just another set of spring days —these seven days are only “holy” if we choose to set them apart from the rest of our yearly calendar and intentionally reflect on the last few days Jesus lived here on Earth before His crucifixion. Observing Holy Week is not an obligation handed down to us by Jesus or his disciples, but it is an opportunity. It is our chance as the church, throughout time and with believers worldwide, to walk with our Bridegroom through the most important week in the history of the world. It is a chance to focus our minds on a celebration that quickly turned into a betrayal. The Creator of the Universe submits to his Father’s will to be beaten, abused, humiliated and even put to death. Can we take the time to feel the depth of this sacrifice and the magnitude of the love that inspired the submission that leads to our salvation?
Traditionally, the middle days of Holy Week tend to focus on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. For much of my life, I have often seen myself playing the part of Judas, all too willing to give up my relationship with Christ, my daily communion with him in prayer and obedience to his word, turning a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit, all for more convenience, entertainment, and pleasure.
Elanor often reads Henri Nouwen’s ‘Show Me the Way’ as a mental and spiritual preparation for the weeks leading up to Easter. This week, she shared one passage with me, and I thought I’d pass it on to you:
“The moment when Jesus is handed over to those who do with him as they please is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. It is turning from action to passion. After years of teaching, preaching, healing, and moving to wherever he wanted to go, Jesus is handed over to the caprices of his enemies. Things are now no longer done by him, but to him.
He is flagellated, crowned with thorns, spat at, laughed at, stripped, and nailed naked to a cross. He is a passive victim, subject to other people’s actions. From the moment Jesus is handed over, his passion begins, and through this passion, he fulfills his vocation.
It is good news to know that Jesus is handed over to passion, and through his passion accomplishes his divine task on earth. It is good news for a world passionately searching for wholeness.”
We tend to be a people focused on freedom and action. We go to work. We start ministries. We are ready to challenge the status quo and strive to establish justice and care for those in need. We are called by Christ to be dynamic world changers and we can embrace that mission willingly. According to our will. But in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”
How do we respond when the conditions of our lives are no longer manifested by our own choices? It is contradictory to our ‘American spirit’ to find vocation in the things that happen to us, rather than the choices we make. This is a unique time in the history of our country. We are told that we need to stay home and isolate ourselves. Asked to stop gathering. The schools are closed, and we are trying to direct our children’s education while working from home. Long-anticipated trips have been canceled. Ministries that we have dedicated our lives to have suddenly evaporated. Even a trip to the grocery store shows us that we have fewer choices about what we will eat and what products we can buy.
Can we see all these circumstances, so beyond our control, as an opportunity for passion? As I reflect on these days of Christ’s life, I am grateful for a savior who demonstrated that you can serve God both in action and in submission. The suffering of Christ was greater far than the inconveniences I personally face, but this is also a time of grieving for much of our nation as more lives are lost to this disease. As many of us may walk through the valley of the shadow of death in the weeks to come it is important to remember that Christ did not remain in the grave where they put Him. All of his suffering and submission ultimately leads to resurrection.
And the resurrection to come, as C.S. Lewis says, “will turn even that agony into a glory.” Joy has triumphed over sorrow. Christ, by dying, has destroyed death, and in doing so invites us to step out in faith onto the thrashing and ever-changing waves of the circumstances of our lives towards him. The longer we walk with and towards him, the more we can see it. Day by day, year after year rehearsing the final days leading up to the cross, all the while readying us for the triumph and glory of being in his presence.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Elder, Dave Schneider:
Majesty of the Mundane
It has been interesting to observe people’s actions and reactions over the past few weeks as “normal” life has been put on hold. Many have been removed from jobs and workplace arenas that are a major source of identity and significance. In many cases, families have been forced to live together 24/7, creating some friction points as a lifestyle of individual busyness has grounded to a halt. The grubby realities of mountains of laundry and dirty dishes have replaced stimulating work environments and lunch dates with friends.
For the past few months, I have been mulling over our society’s value system and comparing it with the value system that Jesus walked and taught in the Gospels. Often when Jesus taught, he would start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” and then describe a value system that was quite different from the values that his listeners were living. I am surprised by the ordinary life Jesus lived during his Incarnation. It is hard to grasp the humility of the Almighty Son of God choosing to be born a human, to a no name girl from a no name town, born literally in a barn. Are you kidding? He was recognized as something special at 12 years of age and then spent the next 18 years in obscurity. Really? The Son of God? A homeless rabbi with a rag tag group of disciples?
I am beginning to realize the purposefulness of Jesus’ life on earth and the powerful example He left for us to follow. Jesus revealed his majesty in how he lived his normal mundane life and desires us to reveal His majesty in how we live ours. Too often our tendency is to look for the marvelous in our experience and we mistake the sense of the heroic for being heroes. It is one thing to go through a crisis grandly, but another thing altogether to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. It is easier to walk to Jesus on the water than it is to live 24 hours every day as a saint on land, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.
We must take great care not to fall into the trap of valuing our perceived worth to God more than we value our relationship with Him. If you are rightly related to the Lord Jesus, you will reach a place where the desire to do exceptional things for Him will be replaced with exceptional living in the ordinary mundane things, where no one ever thinks of noticing you and all that is noticed is that the power of God comes through you all the time.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you not only look to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. (Philippians 2:3-8)