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Archive for the ‘Intimacy’ Category

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Jesus Christ – Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

I think for most of my life I’ve been a pretty committed worrier. Perhaps like a good number of average people at any given time, if pressed to do so I can give you a pretty convincing list of things I’m worried about. There’s all the personal worries I have to cope with well as world news and events that are especially concerning for any sincere person who is seriously seeking to influence the world in a positive way.

Worry is on the rise in today’s connected world. We have constant 24/7 access to e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the list goes on! We have world news – mainly bad – being pushed upon us through many sources. You can find it or think about it any time of the day or night.

There’s even controversy about what actually constitutes “bad” news and sometimes that’s worrying. Lately there have been some major news events centering on Ireland where I live that have been very prominent on the world stage. During the past few weeks I have found myself becoming increasingly anxious and worried over events that no one else seemed concerned about at all. I’m often worried that others aren’t worried about what worries me! And that’s really worrying!

Even when I try to turn a blind eye to what I perceive to be “bad” news, someone else starts talking or tweeting about it and the cycle starts all over again!

There is a dynamic relationship between our thoughts and our feelings. There is obviously a very key connection here and I’m no expert on the subject.

The passage quoted above comes from the lips of Jesus Christ who told His followers that He would take care of them in a very painful, hostile and uncertain world. These words of reassurance come in the context of worrying about material things and having a personal relationship with God so intimate that He can be trusted with every aspect of life.

When Jesus says “seek first His (God’s) Kingdom and His (God’s) righteousness” He’s speaking a new language that the world around us will not recognize, I think. It’s here where Kingdom thinking and Kingdom feeling meet. Worry above all else is a very strong feeling but it is obviously influenced by our thinking.

If I listen (pay heed to, focus on, and cave in to) to the voices speaking around me I can easily become threatened, discouraged, anxious and even despairing. It does actually take positive effort to turn the other way – to God and His rule – and allow Him to influence my thinking and feeling.

We may indeed go through seasons of our lives, perhaps like this one, where we grow more and more anxious due to personal or world events. Perhaps its times like this when we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about whom we trust at the very center of our lives.

When I worry who am I saying is responsible for my life?

When I worry who am I saying is in control?

When I worry who am I really trusting?

In a wired world of constant connection I don’t find myself worrying any less than I used to. I don’t think the answer is to ignore the things that worry me but it poses a greater challenge for me to influence the world from the “inside out” which has perhaps always been the case.

The worries of the modern world challenge me not to be more aggressive but to be more trusting. A man more confident in an all-powerful God who knows what’s best for him and all of us and our world.

There’s a Kingdom there to be seeking. We’re being challenged to “seek Him first” in a world that’s largely ignoring Him. When worry and anxious thoughts and feelings consume us I think we’re being challenged to focus our attention elsewhere.

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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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“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (New Living Translation)

A well-respected man lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood and was known for keeping a luxurious garden. All the neighbors around him admired the way he kept his lawn cut and shrubs and hedges trimmed. He seemed to care for every detail of his garden, particularly his flowers which dazzled with color and beauty.

Most days this man could be seen doing some activity in his garden and although he was a fairly quiet individual he always greeted the neighbors and seemed happy and content outdoors. Many of the neighbors were motivated to keep up their own gardens to a higher standard, but most of them could only admire this man’s accomplishments.

One day, without warning, the neighbors were shocked to see their friend dash out of his house and begin to destroy his garden. The man, obviously shaken and angry, began to pull up the beautiful flowers and wildly cut down his shrubs. He ran to the back of his house and brought out a tiller. He then began to dig up his lawn with wild abandon. He didn’t seem to care that the fruits of years of his hard, dedicated labor seemed to be vanishing in a matter of minutes.

The neighbors were obviously in disbelief. Such behavior from someone so steady and predictable seemed quite outlandish. After the initial shock wore off they started to talk among themselves as to what should be done about this sort of person displaying this type of behavior in their midst. Some of the neighbors said that he should face consequences for his actions. After all it was a peaceful and attractive neighborhood – not a war zone. He had kept a fine garden for a long time and now to destroy it was almost unforgivable.

Others wondered what brought on such bizarre behavior. A couple of them really cared about their friend and found enough courage to approach him, face to face, and ask him what was wrong. They were heartbroken to discover that their friend and neighbor, unknown to them, had been living with significant personal challenges and problems for some years. Outside the house, the man put on a brave face and a confident persona but inside the house he was filled with despair and regret that none of his neighbors ever observed.

The man with the beautiful garden had never opened up to a single soul about the heavy burdens he had been carrying for a number of years. It seems that his garden had been a way to escape from all the pressures and problems of life he faced inside his own home. One day the pressure got to be too much and the only way he knew to respond was by destroying the very thing that had been positive about his life.

Word got around the neighborhood as to what motivated this outlandish behavior. Some of the neighbors continued to visit their friend, and to listen with compassion as he reflected on his life and what was troubling him. Many of the difficult issues of his life even began to be resolved.

Eventually he started working out in the garden once again, re-planting a new lawn and replacing the lost flowers and shrubs.

When the neighborhood returned to normal most everyone was happy to see the gardener back at work, creating something of joy and beauty.

Sadly, some living around him still refused to befriend their neighbor, doubting that he had really changed. They feared that perhaps another attack on the garden would always be imminent. They could never get the picture out of their minds of a man destroying his beautiful garden right there in their own neighborhood.

Still others who were wise and compassionate realized that what goes on inside a man’s house will become evident outside the house. They now enjoyed a deeper relationship with their friend than ever before.

“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

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Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” – Hebrews 4:13 (New Living Translation)

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 (NIV)

Someone once commented that character is what you are in the dark. Looking back, the times in my life when I’ve been tested the most came on  occasions when I had the distinct feeling that I was alone and no one was “watching” me.

These days the news media in the US is at a fever pitch in reporting political scandals and exposing the men, and sometimes women,  who have fallen victim to immoral behavior. These stories provide late night talk show hosts with more than enough fodder for their monologues and jokes. It seems no one is immune from the public eye these in days of advanced technology.

I can pretty much guarantee that no one involved in a scandal ever went into immoral behavior thinking it would ever be found out or exposed. When men and women get the idea that “no one is watching” it’s incredible the behaviors that will result.

Without realizing it I often wondered myself if anyone was really watching my life and if anyone really cared to.  Through major tests, failure and victory in my own life, I’ve been challenged to reexamine my own theology and just how I was living it out. There was a period of my life when I behaved as if I was performing only for those around me and not honest and open before the God who sees everyone and everything.

The dark was another world where no one saw what was hidden in my life and I thought, quite frankly, no one really cared. Fortunately, God through His relentless love brought me through many trials to bring me to a better place and a clearer understanding of His knowledge of me as part of His vast Creation over which He is sovereign.

When we think we’re all alone, we are not living out the reality of the theology many of us profess. God does see and He exposes the hidden recesses of our lives and hearts.

This knowledge, practically applied, makes a significant difference in how we live. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” I have found that there is both consolation and trepidation in that statement.

The fact that God sees it all should not make us want to run and hide from Him but to draw closer to Him. The one who knows us intimately wants to draw us closer to Him every moment. He has opened the door of access to Himself completely through Jesus Christ His Son.

If you will ultimately be accountable to God then why not be accountable to Him now in every aspect of your life? Is your life about performing for others or pleasing the One who knows and sees all?

Jesus challenges us as His followers not to “perform” for people (Matthew 6:1) but to rest in the knowledge that the ultimate Judge of all men sees our “acts of righteousness” and will be the one whose opinion really matters in the end.

If you are like me, a recovering perfectionist or people-pleaser,  this may be the best news we will ever hear. God loves us because He sees it all, just as it is, and deeply desires to draw near to us, and we to Him.

God Sees. He sees you and everything about your life. How you respond to His knowledge of you makes all the difference in how you will live today.

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