Archive for the ‘Connections’ Category

Are You a Fan or a Player?

So they arrested him [Jesus] and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance.  Luke 22:54

My dad took me to the Indy 500 race track on the second Sunday of qualifications on year. This was the last day a driver could make it into the race. It was exciting. But the place to see the real action was in “Gasoline Alley.” This is where the mechanics worked on the cars. This is the place the drivers would go just to hang out. I wanted to go to Gasoline Alley so I could see my favorite driver, Mario Andretti. It was great to actually walk in Gasoline Alley, rub shoulders with the drivers and get Mario’s autograph. 

Many years later I returned to the track as an adult. I was excited to once again walk through Gasoline Alley. I heard that it had been rebuilt with bigger and better garages for the cars. But along with the new facility came a large fence that kept the crowds at a distance. I could barely see the cars, let alone the drivers. There is something about distance that disconnects people from one another. When I was a kid I felt a part of Mario Andretti’s team. Coming back as an adult, I felt like an observer at best. 

The night of Jesus’s arrest, Peter followed Jesus at a distance. He wanted to see Jesus, to observe what happened, but he didn’t want to be connected. What resulted was disastrous. Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus three times that night. The distance caused a complete separation. The difference between Jesus and Gasoline Alley is that Jesus still gives us full access to Him and His Kingdom. He doesn’t put up a fence. He doesn’t keep us out.

We are the ones who too often put distance between ourselves and Jesus. We build fences and sometimes even walls to keep Jesus at a “safe” distance. We want to see Him and accept His gift of eternal life and we may even want His autograph for everyone to see. But we don’t want to be given any responsibility. We are fans of Jesus. But we stop short of becoming devoted followers of Jesus. A fan is someone who watches the game. A fan may even keep track of the stats of the game. But a fan never plays in the game.

What Jesus is seeking is devoted players in the game. Jesus came to this earth as a player. He suited up and met people wherever He could find them. Jesus did not build fences or walls. Jesus carried a cross to Calvary where anyone who wanted could come and see Him. There were no fences, no obstacles. Just Jesus with outstretched arms of love for you and me. Are you a fan or a player? Do you want Jesus’s autograph or His mission? The choice is ours to be just a fan or a real player on His team. 

Why Church?

We are busy. We balance work and family, home projects and recreational pursuits, responsibilities to others & ourselves. It’s website graphichard enough to fit everything in, who in the world has time for church? I have found many reasons why I make time for church in my life. But influence is the one I’d like to focus on today. 

It’s easy to forget the impact other people have in our lives. Our parents, friends, teachers, mentors, even acquaintances are part of the environment that serve to shape who we have become. We have not chosen many of the people who have touched our lives. But it’s the ones we choose, the ones we let “in” to our lives that influence us the most. And yet we too often ignore the importance of these choices in favor of the belief that we are fiercely independent and immune from the influence of others. The church becomes unimportant in such a worldview.

However, there is evidence all around us that we are influenced by others more than we care to believe. In 2011, there were 36 companies in the U.S. who spent more than $1 billion on advertising with the express purpose of influencing your decisions. These companies either wasted their money or they know something we want to ignore. Consider a restaurant study as it relates to how we are influenced… The waiter either brings a sweet mint with the bill or doesn’t. If he brought a mint, the tip was 3% greater. If 2 mints were given, the tip was 14% higher. If the waiter gives 1 mint and starts to walk away, but then returns to give another mint, the tip was 23% greater!

Let’s face it, we are influenced by others. This should be no surprise to any student of the Bible. Satan influenced Eve. Eve influenced Adam. And we’ve been influencing each other ever since. We influence for better or for worse those around us everyday. And we are influenced for better or for worse by those around us everyday. That’s because we are social beings. Like it or not, we need each other. We seek connections in life. Just like the wires in your house need to be connected to an outside source to provide the power you need in your home, you need to be connected with others outside of yourself to provide you with the power you need each day. Loneliness and depression have become an epidemic in this country for lack of meaningful sources of outside connection and power.

Church is simply the term we use to describe how God connects people together to influence one another and the communities in which they live. Bill Hybels has said that “the church is the hope of the world.” I have found this to be true in my own life. It was church that touched my life through the age of 18 when I went off to college. I then attended church, but was not part of the church for several years. During this time I took a journey into atheism as I wanted to deny my need for God or those who follow Him (church). It wasn’t until I was able to settle into a church community in Rockford, Illinois that I found my way back to God.

You will be influenced and you will influence. Who will you choose to be your influencers? And who will you choose to help you influence your community? My advice is to choose the church. Better yet, be the church. God uses the church to bring you hope and He wants to use you to bring hope to others. If you really care about your influence, why not try church?

Connections: The Missing Link

Downton Abbey is a hit TV series on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. There is an episode in Hands1season 2 that illustrates the missing link in relationships that is far too common. According to Wikipedia, “The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era — with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy.”

Robert Crawley is the Earl of Grantham in this series whose relationship with his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham has become distant. They have allowed Downton Abbey to be used as a hospital during World War I. Cora has become overseer of the newly established hospital that is taking all of her time. Their lives are completely disrupted. They are committed to each other and have a very good marriage by every account. But in an innocent exchange with a housemaid, Robert shares his feelings about his life during this difficult time. He has made an unintended emotional connection that catches him by surprise. He now finds the housemaid almost irresistible and yet he is still completely committed to his wife. In the end, he honors his commitment to his wife, but seems puzzled as to what happened and why.

What Robert didn’t understand is that we all have a need for emotional intimacy. It is a powerful inner motivation. We can do and buy things for each other, but if we don’t share our feelings with each other, there is a missing link. And then when someone comes along who provides a release for our feelings, we become connected with them. The key is to share myself with those I love if I want to have a lasting, vibrant, and real relationship with them. It’s called communication. It is the avenue husbands and wives have to reigniting their passion and shoring up their commitment to each other. The best communication is when I share my hopes, dreams, anxieties and joys and listen to yours.This is the missing link in many relationships.

Our relationship with God has the very same dynamic. If we want to be close to God we need to share our hopes, dreams, anxieties, and joys with Him. But that’s not enough. We must also listen to His hopes, dreams, anxieties and the joys He has for us. This is called prayer. It’s the missing link for many of us in our relationship with God. Without it, we will seek emotional intimacy elsewhere. The Bible calls this “idol worship.” We begin to chase after wealth or get trapped in all manner of addictions to satisfy our need for emotional intimacy with God. And then when we pray we make it about getting answers and things from God rather than a relationship with Him. We then make our relationship with God about doing things for Him. I have become convinced that all God really wants from us is us! He wants my heart. He wants to spend time with me. He wants to talk with me and listen to me. That’s what prayer is all about. It just might be the missing link. What does prayer mean to you?

Connections: Aren’t They Really about Family?

I was a third year OB/GYN resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital when I was required to live and work at the MarineHands1 Corps base, Camp LeJeune located in North Carolina for three months as part of my obstetrical training. In the big scheme of things three months isn’t much, but it seemed like an eternity as I left Pam and our three children in the Washington, D.C. suburbs for the solitude of the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) in North Carolina. I was sent there to gain more experience in obstetrics (delivering babies). What I learned was the importance of my family. 

We talk about the need to connect with others, care about others, and reach out to others, which is important. However, at Camp LeJeune I discovered the most basic and formative connections we make are those with our own family. I’m astonished at how easy it is to take for granted our relationships with our spouses, children, brothers, and sisters. And yet the family unit, the home, is the God-appointed place for us to learn how to relate to one another. The home is a “testing ground” of sorts. It is the place God designed for us to learn relational skills. 

During those three months at Camp LeJeune, I thought carefully about how much I treasured my family. I thought about my attitude toward them and how often I interacted with them out of selfish motives. It was the beginning of a long journey for me to understand how precious my family truly is to me. Though I missed them dearly when I was absent from them, I knew that I often treated my car with more love and respect than I treated them when I was present with them. It was then that I determined to make a shift in my life. I realized that my priorities were amiss. I had seen things as more precious than people. Too often, my car, my job, my reputation, my status was more important than my family.

It’s been a challenging and yet rewarding journey toward treating my family as the precious gifts they are. Once I learned to value my family as precious, I slowly realized that I was beginning to see others as precious as well. I am thankful God is patient with me and has never given up on me. No matter what our family relationships have been like in the past, God can transform us into people who can connect with others beginning with our family today. It’s up to us. It is in this context that Paul writes in Colossians 3:

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

The Bottom Line

We had been married for about a year when we totaled our 1975 Chevy Vega in a head-on collision with a 4-wheelHands1 drive Ford pickup truck. We were returning to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan on a Sunday evening from Kenosha, Wisconsin where Pam’s parents lived. There was a severe winter storm that January evening, but we made it within 10 miles of our home when the accident happened. Pam’s face hit the windshield requiring stitches and a light night in the emergency room, but there were no serious injuries.

It was a month later when we were at a Chevy dealership in South Bend, Indiana desiring to purchase a slightly larger Chevy Nova to replace our last car. This experience was perhaps more traumatic than the head-on collision. We had decided on the car, but the process of deciding on the price was arduous at best. We were sequestered into a small room. Our salesman assured us he was on our side and would get the best possible deal for us. He would go to his manager for 20-30 minutes at a time pleading on our behalf. He would come back with new terms and new decisions for us to make. After 2-3 hours, we just wanted to leave. I just wanted to know the bottom line. At what price would they really sell this car? We finally left there having purchased a new 1976 Chevy Nova. But I was determined to never go through such a process again. Even though I had purchased a car, to this day I am still not certain as to their bottom line.

When it comes to life, we all want to know the bottom line. We want to know the bottom line in our purchases, in our work places, and in our relationships. In Colossians 3:1-17, the apostle Paul talks about the principles, realities, and virtues of the Christian life. In verse 16 he says, “Let Christ’s peace control you. God has called you into this peace by bringing you into one body.” I don’t know about you, but I want the reality of inner peace. That’s my bottom line in life. What’s yours? 

Connections Depend on Roots

Pam and I bought our first home in Redlands, California while I was in medical school. We were excited to be the first owners of this newly constructed home. That is until we discovered the amount of work it took to landscape around the house located on a corner lot. Let’s put aside the obvious issues of money, time, and creativity for the purposes of this blog and focus on the project itself for an important life lesson I learned that summer of 1979.

We began by installing the irrigation system. Pam helped me dig the trenches, lay the PVC pipe and connect the valves. It was much easier than I anticipated which gave me an inflated view of my landscaping expertise. I then installed the edging to define the areas of the future planting beds which again went without a hitch. Now I’m really certain of my landscaping skills and knowledge. Now it was time to purchase the shrubs, trees, perennials, and groundcover. Once home with these precious living things, I checked the instructions supplied by the nursery for planting each item. This is when I realized the process was slightly more involved than taking the shrub out of its pot and putting it in a hole in the dirt. I needed to buy additional supplies to place around the roots, carefully maintaining the integrity of each plant’s root system.

Due to my tight schedule and need to get the plants in the ground as quickly as possible, I decided to skip the instructions and get the plants in the dirt. Once completed, the yard looked beautiful. The trees and shrubs were green, the perennials were colorful, and the groundcover was lush. The beauty lasted for about 2 weeks. This is when I began noticing the groundcover was thinning out and the leaves on the trees were wilting despite plenty of irrigation. And then the perennials lost their color and the shrubs began to die. Not every plant was dying, but a significant number were in deep trouble. I consulted a local horticulturist who told me the problem was the roots. I had not taken the proper care to make sure the roots were transplanted without damage. And then I had not given the roots the necessary nourishment to overcome the trauma of the transfer from pot to hole in the ground. I purchased replacement plants and carefully followed the instructions with much better success.

Our connections with one another are as fragile as the roots of plants. And our connections depend on the roots we develop throughout life. This is where the Bible becomes a treasure not to be ignored if we want to have meaningful and abundant growth in our personal lives resulting in healthy relationships with others. I have found the Bible to be a reliable source of guiding principles of relationships. These principles form the roots in our lives which will blossom into loving connections with one another. No wonder Paul gives this advice in Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” I have learned the hard way to follow instructions when  dealing with roots. I encourage you to care for your roots and nourish them in the One who gave His life so we could have life abundant.

Who Is Jesus?

I attended a 2-room, 8 grade church school through my 7th grade year. There were a total of 35 kids in that school. It was a huge deal to Hands1make it to the “big room” in 5th grade. It’s something I had looked forward to for 4 years! After all, the really cool kids were in the “big room” which was actually the same size as the “little room” that housed the first 4 grades. “Big” referred to the kids in the room. And I desperately wanted to be “big.” But when you’re a 5th grader in a room full of kids in 5th through 8th grades, you don’t feel very big. I certainly didn’t.

This is where Steve enters the picture. He was in 8th grade and the biggest kid of all when I entered 5th grade that year. Not only was he the biggest kid, he was the fastest and the strongest. Everyone wanted to be on Steve’s team, no matter the sport. When we played kick ball, he would send the ball over the entire school every single time which was counted as a home run. In fact, our teacher changed that rule and made such a kick an automatic out rather than a home run, all because of Steve. When we played capture the flag, you guessed it, Steve always captured the flag. When we played softball, Steve was the pitcher on defense and the star batter on offense. And when Steve talked, all the other kids listened.

So when Steve took a special interest in me, a 5th grader, I was ecstatic. I hung on his every word. He would always pick me to be on his team. And when it didn’t work out to be on the same team, I knew Steve was still my friend. My status among the other students grew because Steve included me in his inner circle. I felt special. As I look back on that experience, I realize that in actuality no one was excluded from Steve’s inner circle. He somehow made us all feel special. When you feel special, when you feel like someone cares and is on your side, you somehow do better than you thought possible. At least that’s what I discovered in 5th grade.

I got to know Steve really well that year. That’s because he not only included me, but I intentionally responded to his open invitation to be his friend. It was a 2-way street; he asked, I joined. Jesus is like that. He asks us to be HIs friend. Jesus is inclusive, accepting, forgiving, wise, and strong. Jesus brings out the best in us. He includes all of us. The only question that matters is, Will you respond to His invitation?

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