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Encouragement

a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away….oh, oops. Wrong story. Well, it was a long, long time ago – I was 18 and lets just say I’m well past that age. And it was far, far away from where I live – the Himalayan Mountain range in Nepal, Pokhara to be exact (see image below, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Meph). I was doing a trek that some famous British monarch had done. It was December, rivers were swelling but there was snow in the upper mountains. One of our guides, called a “Sherpa”, told me about living in the valleys between these high mountains. He talked about the floods that washed down almost yearly with snowmelt, overwhelming the lake and the river banks. The people who live in the valleys just pick up and go into the mountains. Their life is disrupted by the floods, so why do they live in the valleys? Why not live in the mountains?

  
In the valleys is where the floods deposit great amounts of silt, making the soil rich to bear crops.  In this particular valley is where millions of tourists come to access hike trails into the Himalayas, just like we did. In the valleys is provision, shelter, and community.

The same is true of our spiritual lives. Most people look for the mountain-top experience. But what makes the view from the mountain so beautiful? Is it not the beauty of the valleys? Is it not seeing the bounty of nature set against the harsh barrenness of the rising rock?

See, I’ve come to discover that while the mountains are great for a time, the valleys are where true fruitfulness is born. It’s in the valleys of our life that we find creativity, passion, and purpose. It’s on the valleys of our lives that we find community and shelter from elements, even while we endure floods and dark shadows.

I’ve walked through a deep valley recently. Burnout, otherwise known as stress overload, is amazingly common. I see people teetering on its edge all the time, flirting it seems with it; bouncing from vacation to vacation trying to fight it. But burnout and its many cousins of trials and tribulations are really just valleys. If we pay attention in these valleys, God will bring us into new levels of creativity and fruitfulness. And this is the real reason we all get to endure valleys: God wants us to be fruitful and multiply spiritually. But fruitfulness doesn’t happen in the mountains, remember. It happens in the valleys.

Psalm 84 hit me like a ton of bricks a few days ago and a friend even shared it with me too, confirming this whole revelation I was undergoing.

Psalm 84: 4-7 (New Living Translation)

What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises. Interlude. What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

If you are in a valley, just coming out of a valley, or maybe getting ready to enter a valley, ask yourself: “What is God trying to accomplish in me during this valley? What is he trying to either get out of me or put into me? What could he be trying to birth in me that will bring great impact to His Kingdom?”

Answering those questions is really the key to walking through the Valley of Weeping. Draw closer to God and He will tell you. He told me and now I’m writing a new fiction book series. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to undertake that project had I not walked through the Valley of Weeping and been broken of a few things. So take heart, you are not alone; there is a purpose to the Valley of Weeping. Persist until you find it.

I was absolutely shocked as the news “brief” turned into a take-over of the radio program I was listening to in the car this afternoon. Good reason to be shocked. They were reporting on the second biggest school shooting in US history and it was an elementary school. I have three kids in a public elementary school. This one hit really close to home. After I was done crying and praying for those families whose loved ones were ripped from their lives today by a madman with four guns, I began to process the entire event.
This tragedy, like so many others before it, are opportunities for the rest of us to recalibrate our lives. Tragedy doesn’t come with a pre-scheduled appointment. Therefore, we must live our lives each day to the full. Here are a few thoughts I had about that.
1. Be reconciled to God. you don’t know when the last moments of life are, so you might not have the opportunity later. Do it now. If you don’t know where you will go when you die (two choices: heaven or hell), or if you had no idea about these things, take a minute to read this. There was a problem that man had: we fell short of God’s standard and no good deeds can make up for even one white lie, for God is perfectly holy. Therefore, God sent his only son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, to the earth to live the perfect, sinless life we should have lived and to die the horrible, tortuous death we should die, as a sacrifice in our place. Jesus rose from the dead, having conquered even death, all sin, and every other terrible thing. Because Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life and lives and reigns in heaven, by putting our trust in Him alone as Savior and following Jesus as our Lord, we too may be given eternal life and live forever with Jesus in heaven. If you don’t know Jesus, but want to, just pray now. Tell Jesus you are sorry for everything you did against him and his holiness, ask his forgiveness, acknowledge him as your Lord and Savior and accept his free gift of salvation!
2. Be reconciled to each other. If you have anything against someone else, I beg you today, make amends. And if there are issues in your family, work to resolve them. The apostle Paul tells us to make every attempt to live at peace with one another. Every one of the world’s wars started out with two unreconciled people. Forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did right, but it does release you from the bondage of unforgiveness. Have you ever seen a bitter old person? It is one of the ugliest sights on earth.
3. Tell your family how much they mean to you. Forget about all the stuff. Forget about the to-do list. Take a minute TODAY and tell those you love what they mean to you. Then make it a habit to keep this up. They should get embarrassed by how often you tell them. And the kids should say something like, “Mo-o-om, I know!” (insert know-it-all teenage type vocal patterns). Then you know they won’t question your love as a parent, as the young man who killed his own mother and many of her students in her classroom today clearly did. My prayer is that my kids will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Steve and I love them.

Question: What will be your response to the school shooting today?

Sometimes the most interesting way to study a subject is to look at the failures.  In medical school anatomy class, one of the first things we did was watch films of horrible athletic injuries.  Football players breaking legs or tearing ligaments; skiers crashing into snow-covered slopes at 80+ mph, breaking untold numbers of bones in the process; and bikers flying over the handle bars to sustain broken collar bones.  While to the casual observer these things might seem somewhat perverse and morbid (OK, they are), they helped us to understand the mechanism for injury and how, later, to restore the body back to its natural function.

This sparked an interest later for me to examine community service project failures throughout my time in the Executive Director’s slot of a nonprofit, whether those were my own failures or those of others I knew.  I have developed a list of “never do these things” pertaining to community service.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I will share my own “Top Ten” ways and attitudes which are almost assured to bring a project to a failure – or at the very least limit its impact.

#10: Don’t even try to serve others

So this might be a little obvious, but there are a lot of people in the church sitting on the bench when it comes to community service.  They have gifts, talents and connections that are not being utilized.  Many of these people might feel inadequate, or that maybe serving others is the job of the super-holy Christian or church leader – or worse yet, community development professionals only.  Some of these people might not know where to start or what to do, and so are paralyzed in inactivity.  And a very small proportion might just be too self-absorbed, over-committed or plain lazy.  Some might think, erroneously, that the only thing God would require from us as believers is to show up on Sundays, give some money in the offering, smile and be nice at church, and try to obey the Ten Commandments the rest of the time.  Some might think, also in error, that there is a verse in the Bible someplace about how God loves those who help themselves, so if we help others we are short-circuiting God’s work in their lives.  But mostly, in my experience, people who are sitting on the bench had no idea that there was a game happening and that they were not involved in it.

So, how do we counter this in our lives?  We need to honestly examine our attitudes about serving others.  Then we need to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  • What do I really believe, deep down inside, about serving others?
  • What is keeping me from participating in service projects?
  • How can I overcome these attitudes and start serving other people?
  • How do I serve at my local church?  Are there opportunities that I know about already but am not involved in?
  • Do I volunteer in outreach or service projects outside of church?
  • Do I teach my children about giving to others and do we as a family participate in some type of giving above our tithe to church – both financially and with our time and talents?
  • Do I have preconceived ideas about other people, especially those of different economic, racial or religious backgrounds, which have kept me away from opportunities to serve others?  If so, how can I overcome these?
  • Who do I know who serves others well?  How can I seek their help to increase my own involvement in service projects?

The most important questions we can ask ourselves are the ones that get to the motivations and attitudes of our heart.  If we are not serving others because we are broken inside or have selfish motivations, then we must allow God’s love to meet us in that place to bring healing.  I hope you can start the journey today toward giving of yourself to others.  God doesn’t want any of us to be the “negative” example to others of how NOT to follow Him.  He says that He makes us to be like a “shining city on a hill” so that others may see us, know that He exists and give glory to Him

I haven’t seen the WWJD bracelets in a while, so I was wondering the other day if people still gave thought to what Jesus would do if He were here in our situation today. Then I heard a major political figure talk about how Jesus would serve the poor and though I didn’t agree with everything he said, I did have to say a silent, “Amen, brother.” We can look at what Jesus did through the lens of the gospels to get an idea of what we should do as His followers, because after all if we are following someone, we should do what they do, right?

So, here is a non-theological and non-scientific summary of Jesus’ activities from the “action” gospel writer Mark:
Healing from disease or Deliverance from demons: 22 times
Teaching crowds: 19 times
Teaching disciples: 21 times
Arguing with Pharisees, rulers or others: 10 times
Providing food / money/other provisions: 5 times
Praying: 8 times

In some of the accounts in the gospel Mark, several activities are recorded, as when (in Mark 2) Jesus was teaching a crowd inside a house and young men lowered their crippled friend through the roof, Jesus healed him and then argued with the Pharisees who were also present. But from this simple analysis, a few things are clear:
1. Jesus took time to minister to others – whether it was through teaching, healing, providing for their needs or praying for them, Jesus loved people and spent the great majority of his ministry time on Earth with them.
2. Jesus met physical needs through healing and providing materially for people.
3. Jesus faced great criticism, yet continued to do what God, his Father, had called him to do.

Jesus was all about people and we, as His followers, should be about people too. How can you follow Jesus’ example and serve others in your life today?

In honor of the Every Nation Dream 2011 conference, I wanted to write a blog about dreams fulfilled and in process.

When I was a little girl I was very influenced by watching the Middle East peace negotiations between then US President Carter, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin.  I had dreams back then for my life that included serving others in foreign lands.  I literally dreamt that I would be bringing peace into that troubled region!  At that time, my only idea of how that would happen was through the US Foreign Service.  How wrong I was!

Today, I now see at least the beginnings of God’s plans for my life.  While I had the general ideas right – serving others, foreign travel, bringing peace – I never could’ve imagined how God would direct my steps.  Now, I dedicate my life to helping others serve their communities and to seeing the gospel of peace preached throughout the world.  This is a fulfillment of my dream!

What dreams has God put in your heart that are not yet fulfilled?  Is He preparing you now for those or are you walking in them already?  At whatever stage of the journey you are in, be encouraged that God has not left you alone, nor has He forgotten your dream.  He tells us in a very familiar verse, Jeremiah 29:11-12,

“’For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

In fact, your dream is more important to Him than it even is to you, for He is the one who created it and set it into motion.  You fulfilling the dreams in your heart is critical to the advancement of the kingdom of God.  Everyone has a job to do in God’s Kingdom.  We are all foot soldiers with a mission.  With what part of the kingdom mission are you supposed to be involved?  When you figure that out and start fulfilling that role, you will see your dreams come to their fulfillment, simply because you got into God’s mission.  And maybe it will look like what you imagine – but I think it will be much better because God has a bigger imagination than we do!

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