Posts tagged ‘connections’

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.

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.

Connections: Where Does God Fit In?

I am the result of an unplanned pregnancy. My mother developed hyperthyroidism after having two girls. About sixHands1 years after Sheryl (daughter #2) was born my mother was treated for her disorder. What she didn’t know was that hyperthyroidism causes infertility that is easily reversed when the underlying disorder is treated. I don’t know if her doctor did not tell her or she simply did not hear him if he did. But 9 months after being treated for hyperthyroidism I was born.

Though I was unplanned, I never felt unwanted. My father was 43 & my mother 32 when I was born. My father was kind, patient, and filled with love for me. He was always there for me until his death when I was 29. He taught me how to drive a tractor and arranged for my first job at the age of 12 caring for a 5 acre yard. He would stop by with lunch and admire my work gently giving suggestions on what to do next. His pride in me taught me to take pride in my work. He helped me buy my first bike. He allowed me the freedom to ride that bike around town. And when it was time, he patiently taught me how to drive a car – a 1962 Ford Galaxy 3-speed manual transmission with the gear shift on the column. He then helped me purchase my first car in 1975. Though I inherited my mother’s temperament & many of her characteristics, it was my connection with dad that has most influenced my life.

We all have at least one person in our lives who has influenced us deeply. In fact, most of us have several people who have helped shape our lives. It’s worth taking time occasionally to consider the impact of these people in our lives and even drop them a note of thanks. I find this helpful as it reminds me of the characteristics of those who have meant so much to me. I don’t know why it’s so easy to take these connections for granted, but it is. And to take the time to dwell on the characteristics that produce the character I want to have helps me to focus on the life I truly desire.

In Colossians 1:11-14, we find Paul describing 5 actions of God that result in a connection with Him that I have found to be not only formative, but transformative in my life. In these verses we find that God strengthens us, qualifies us, delivers us, transfers us, and redeems us. Once you’ve experienced a connection with this kind of force, you will never be the same. 

Connections: What Are They?

When we moved to Richland, Washington my wife landed a job in a hospital working as a pediatric nurse. One of Hands1her colleagues asked her whether I worked in the area. Pam answered affirmatively as the hospital in which they were working was in Richland and I was pastoring a church in Richland. Later in the day this same nurse asked exactly what I did in the area. When Pam responded that I pastored a church, the nurse indignantly said, “But you told me he worked in the Area. There are no churches in the Area!” What Pam didn’t know was that the word “Area” when used in Richland meant a specific location associated with nuclear cleanup and research. But Pam, not being from this “area” didn’t know the meaning of “Area.”

We are like plants with roots. We become rooted in a community, grounded as a person, and connected with others. When we leave one city, state, or country for another we say that we are “uprooted” and need to put down roots again. But you can’t cut off the roots without destroying the plant. And you can’t get rid of your roots without changing who you are. The roots we grow are revealed in our words and actions. So it became obvious to anyone with roots in Richland that Pam and I had no roots here. But it became equally obvious that we had roots, ones that are deeply planted in God, His church, and a desire to put those roots to use in this new “area.”

In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul describes the connections we make, the roots we grow, in the following way… And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

We all have roots. We all make connections. Others see what we’re connected to by what we care about, associate with, love the most, & ultimately worship daily. We can connect with people, places, or things. We can connect with God or not. In my experience, connecting with God is the one connection that grows the deepest roots and makes the most exciting connections of all. This is because when you connect with God you connect with what is connected with Him.



The Happiness Connection

Benjamin Franklin said, “The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” When I was 6 years old nothing made me happier than playing in the sandbox. I would go to the sandbox at the back of our yard and play for hours losing all track of time. The only thing that made it better was when my best friend, Timmy, came to play in the sandbox with me. There’s something about sharing an experience with another person that makes the experience better. 

Today, I find happiness to be a state of being that is closely connected with the relationships I have with my family and friends. I love to bike, snow ski, work in the yard, go for long walks, and read good books. I love these activities enough to do them by myself, but they are always better when I do them with someone else. I can’t explain it, but I even like reading a book better when Pam is with me. There’s something about being connected with others that makes me happy.

In recent years, researchers from around the world have studied happiness. The findings are most interesting. The researchers have found that happiness is an “inside job.” In other words, we can be happy even when we have no control over the circumstances around us. However, of those variables in our life we can control, none is more powerful in predicting happiness than the relationships we choose to have with other people. 

“One of the strongest variables in happiness that we can control is our personal relationships. An increased quantity and quality of personal connections can have a significant impact on our happiness. This is one reason that people who attend church are happier on average than non-church goers. Spending more time with your close family or friends rather than working extra hours can also lead to a happier life. Additionally, your income can provide a more positive impact on happiness if you choose to spend it on experiences that you share with family and friends such as a dinner at a restaurant or a vacation instead of buying luxury items like expensive cars or accessories.” (“10 Surprising Findings on Happiness” by Charles Sipe)

Once again, the Bible narrative rings true. The Genesis account of creation tells us that we were made to be in community, to love one another. This connection is so powerful that Adam chose to directly disobey God than to lose Eve. This didn’t turn out so good for him or us as relationships with God, ourselves, people, and things have been messed up ever since. In fact, you could define sin as one or more of these relationships being broken. No wonder researchers are finding that relationships are the most important ingredient in obtaining true happiness. 

So, what are your relationships like? Are you connected with God, with others? This is why in our church in 2013 we are focusing on “Connecting with God, one person at a time.” 

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