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Archive for the ‘Connection’ Category

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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“ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Ever since we learned of Robin Williams’ unexpected death this week, we have been swamped with analysis and insights from a wide range of people across the globe who, like myself, appreciated his life work and were heartbroken to hear of his tragic end.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams was loved and admired by many – his films alone had grossed over $5 Billion worldwide. Yet a man of such rich accomplishment was haunted by demons of addiction and depression over the course of his life which overtook him in the end.

We know it’s true but it comes down hard on us in moments like this that a successful career, wealth and fame does not guarantee a happy and emotionally satisfying life. By contrast we know of many people who have very little in terms of the world’s wealth and influence who have happy and fulfilling lives.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to some conclusions as to why this is so.

Take for example, the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus comes into the home of Martha and her sister Mary.  When you stop to think about it, Jesus Christ the Lord and Creator of the Universe has just come into her home and Martha’s response is to get “busy.” Perhaps Martha’s activity is well-intended most likely making preparations for a meal that would certainly have been expected of a host in those days.

The problem arises with Martha when she sees her sister Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and “listening to Him.” She gets bent out of shape that her sister is wasting precious time, listening to the Lord rather than helping her with all the preparations for the guest of honor and His friends.

Before we get too reactionary here let’s focus on what Jesus is really saying when he tells Martha to leave Mary alone. He knows that Martha is “worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen what is better.”

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies within you.” I think Jesus is making a huge statement about the contrast between our inner life and the external world around us.

I don’t think that Jesus condemns Martha for hard work or a desire to please Him and his company with a fine meal. I think He’s showing us that we, like Martha, can work hard to make sure our outside “world” is a happy place when it’s far more important to sit before Him as He speaks to our hearts.

The “inner life” that we all have, with its thoughts, desires and motives is made for intimacy rather than activity, by and large. By contrast our culture tells us to “do” all the right things on the outside and pay careful attention to our external image and happiness and contentment will surely come our way.

I recall a crisis time in my own life several years ago where incessant activity was killing my inner life. I found myself driven to perform for an unseen audience that literally controlled my existence. Now I know that if I can’t be content sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him while the rest of the world goes headlong into crisis with excessive activity, I’ll never be content with who I am or what I have.

Mary had it right but going along with the culture around me I was behaving a lot more like Martha.

Our inner life was designed by our Lord for intimacy and connection with Him. It’s reflected in Mary who somehow knew that when Jesus stepped into her surroundings – nothing, and I mean nothing, took priority over sitting quietly at His feet listening to Him. Things around her took lower priority when her posture was one of surrender to Him.

We can take away many lessons from the life and death of Robin Williams. Regardless of your talents you could get very busy with incessant activity so that the audience watching your performance might be happy for fleeting moments. Or you can take time in silence and solitude to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He speaks into your heart and act accordingly.

I think it’s a choice that makes all the difference – to us and to our world.

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September 1, 2009 marked a new chapter in my life. In the weeks leading up to September 2014 I want to share the top five lessons God has taught me during this season of my life. 

 Lesson One – What’s the Connection?

 “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’”     2 Samuel 11:2-3 (NIV)

It can all happen in an instant. We can be going along very nicely then something captures our attention and starts us down a different road.

It tends to happen more frequently these days when we are subject to many interruptions every waking hour with computers, tablets, televisions and mobile devices which are constantly armed for action.

When new information comes crashing in we rarely stop to ask – “What’s happening right now and what connection does it have with the rest of my life – past and future?”

The incident quoted above – King David’s first encounter with Bathsheba – is a huge turning point in the book of 2 Samuel and in David’s life. Up to this moment in David’s life he’s been the golden boy – a true success story. All the way from a shepherd boy to the King of all Israel.

At this point in his life David had just about everything any man could ever want or hope for.  He had influence, friends, power, possessions, wives, concubines and most importantly a rich spiritual life. The Bible describes him as “a man after God’s own heart.”

After David’s encounter with Bathsheba, his life would never, ever be the same. He committed adultery with her, had her husband Uriah killed in battle and kept her for himself.  All of David’s life changes with what is described in these two short verses.  The rest of the story is described in the remainder of 2 Samuel and it’s not pretty – being confronted by Nathan the prophet, the death of his child born to Bathsheba, the breakup of his family and the fragmentation of his Kingdom.

Many wise sages throughout history have grappled with David’s actions. How and why would he sacrifice all he had and all he was for the woman he saw bathing?

Most men I know, including myself, see ourselves in David’s story. We seek to be admired, successful, influential, and even “a man after God’s own heart.” However, at some unsuspecting moment something or someone enters the picture and we lose track of everything, especially the bigger picture of who we are and where we are.

For David he lost it the moment he saw Bathsheba bathing. Even though he had multiple wives and concubines he might have called on at that moment – he lost the plot. The plot turned ugly from there, sparked by his view of someone beautiful.

In reflecting on my own faults and failures in the area of lust I think David lost one vital thing that I’ve learned to appreciate in a new way over the past five years.

It’s summarized in the word “connection.” David lost connection.

In September 2009 I began meeting regularly with a Christian counselor. One of the first comments that the counselor said to me was, “Jesse, everything in your life is connected!” I was age fifty-five at the time and the thought had never occurred to me!

As I learned more about this vital inter-connection I found that my life was far more compartmentalized than I had ever realized. I knew that men tended to compartmentalize their lives but never did I see it in myself until I experienced a personal crash.

It’s been a real education over the past five years looking at subtle ways I disconnect internally to keep from facing reality around me.  Although I’m far from an expert in connection, I can now spot disconnection more readily in my own experience and I see it here in David.

At the point of David’s greatest temptation he lost connection with who he was. He was David the man of God, he was David the husband and father and he was David the King, just to name a few.

David as man of God had a vital role of walking with God and living for God. He had an intimate relationship with his Father. At the moment of temptation, I think he began to think and feel that he could section off his life and operate a part of it independently of God – not the whole – but part of it. That was indeed part of the temptation. He momentarily lost connection with His God.

David was also a husband and father. Obviously he had several wives and concubines (cf. 2 Samuel 5:13-16) but none of them ever entered his thinking when he saw Bathsheba.  He didn’t connect with the reality that his actions were out of harmony with his family. When he least expected it he momentarily lost connection his family.

David was also King of Israel. It was a huge responsibility for anyone. David had been doing a wonderful job as King. He was good at it. It was God-ordained. But in an instant he momentarily lost connection with his vital role in the Kingdom of God’s chosen people.

Do we really ever live one day with the full realization that our lives are connected with those around us? Do we ever fully appreciate just how much the decisions we make really do matter to others?

It’s been a different path for me the past five years as I have been more aware of trying to see the vital connections between everything in my life. I think the life of faith is learning to live with a clear knowledge that the connection is there whether I see it outright or not. Our loving God and Creator is the One who connects everything in our lives.

The fallen world around us says that what we do our own personal business and no one else will be affected. That’s probably one reason why we see such turmoil today – people thinking they can be a law unto themselves and what they do really has no affect on the rest of us. It was clearly seen in the incident of the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last week.

We may not have the power and influence that David enjoyed, but if we look at the reality of God and the larger picture of our lives we’ll see that there’s much to enjoy with gratitude, even down to the fine details.

Next time something grabs your attention or when temptation comes calling, stop and think about the vital connections in your own life. You’ll find, as I have, that the bigger picture is a great picture and you and I are fortunate to be part of it.

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