Lost Connection



When I look around today in almost any context, I might think that ‘staying connected’ is a key value in the lives of almost everyone. Sadly, that would be based on incomplete research on my part. It would be based on how often all of us are connected to devices that give us the sense of being connected.


I am as guilty of being attached to my devices as anyone. (Ask anyone who knows me?) They are great tools and to some degree, they do allow me to connect with people in my life to touch base via text, email, and the plethora of social media available to us.


What I need to always keep in mind is this: Devices only give me a snippet of a moment in time in the life of the person sending or receiving the message.


In some ways, the devices can give us the illusion of relationship, but I am clear that they never truly satisfy me in the way a leisurely conversation over coffee can do with a good friend. That time face-to-face gives me a much greater depth of knowledge and understanding about what is happening within that person’s heart, mind, and spirit.


It can do so because I get to see the facial expressions and body language that even Face Time and Skype do not fully satisfy. I also get a longer period to listen and share versus a snippet. It increases my discernment. I can also actually touch that person. There really isn’t a substitute for a good hug, is there?


Now don’t misunderstand, I am not bashing devices.


I am more concerned about how easy it is for us to lose connection with one another. I know we can all point to busy schedules and demands of many kinds. (I know I can even though I am retired.) When I listen to a group of people talking about their lives, it can almost sound as if we are competing to see whose schedule is the busiest or most demanding.


The risk for each of us when we do not have true relational connection is that we become more vulnerable.


Vulnerable? I know you’re thinking that relationships increase the risks because they involve some level of vulnerability.


Yes, that’s all true, but the lack of relational connection opens us up to a rather long list of things which weaken our faith, allow us to become deceived, and increase our independence from others as well as God. What we need is healthy interdependence and accountability in order for our lives to experience growth.


We also need it in our ministries and churches. We can become so busy building a God given ministry that we lose track of the condition of our hearts, our spirits, and our walk with the Lord.


I love the book of Nehemiah. It gets tucked back there in the Old Testament and some might not even notice the treasures God has tucked inside.


The theme of Nehemiah is the Lord’s protection of His people and the need for their faithfulness in keeping the law (Torah) and in worship. Things were a mess back in 445 B.C. in Jerusalem. (I guess times have not changed much!)


Israel had been in exile and the walls and city of Jerusalem were in rubble. Nehemiah was raised up as a governor to lead the people in the hard work of renewing their commitment to covenant faithfulness via political power. Ezra was alongside and rose up as a priest and a teacher to remind the people of the truth and principles they had forsaken prior to exile.


Nehemiah went out to survey the damage under cover of darkness. Wise man! You can’t correct something without understanding what needs to be changed, rebuilt, or handled in some way. He didn’t need any distractions or naysayers distracting or discouraging him.


He saw the task ahead of him and the exiles that had returned was enormous. If you look at the story, you see Nehemiah was not only wise, but also consistently prayerful as an approach to problem solving. He knew there was a connection with God that needed to happen along with the work.


The people in the story had lost connection with: God, each other, and their true identity.


Does that relate to 2016?


I know I keep using the word connection, but what do I mean? To connect if I use the word as a verb means to become joined, to pin or fasten together, to place or establish in relationship, or to have or establish rapport.


If I look at connection as a noun, it means a level of personal intimacy, community, or something that connects or transports.


I might like to blame devices for the lost connection, but that would actually be only a symptom and not hit the real issues. That would be too easy even though we do need to be aware of our ‘connection’ with them.


The real issues are the things that open us up to doubts, fears, loneliness, anxiety, lack of trust, misunderstanding and so much more.


How do I (how do we) face those in this time of uncertainty and turmoil that we see on the opposite side of the world, in the midst of our churches or ministries, and even in our own neighborhoods or homes?


I will share what the Lord showed me through Nehemiah back here on Wednesday.

Cornerstones of Relationship



January can be a time when we reassess many areas of our lives whether it is finances, health, or relationships. Something about turning the calendar to a new year feels a bit like turning to a clean page devoid of smudges, scrawls, lists completed, and lists undone.


It is often a reflective time. It feels like we get to start over.


I have been involved with that as well. It is one of the things I have come to enjoy about January. Somehow the month seems quieter and lends itself to that if you live in the Midwest and days turn frosty, the wind howls, and a fireplace beckons.


Relationships are my greatest passion.


Yes, they can be messy, disappointing, challenging, and hurtful many times, but they also teach me so much about others, the Lord, and myself. They do so in a myriad of ways that nothing else can.


There are two cornerstones that influence the course of the development of all of our relationships.


The first relational cornerstone is knowledge.


I can’t very well have a relationship unless I know the person. A relationship implies a connection. The tricky part for most of us is how we go about the process of getting to know a person.


Early in our lives we use some fairly superficial observations as our source of knowledge. It’s not bad, but it is incomplete. Hearing what someone says and listening to how they express themselves and what they talk about often starts the process.


We add to that knowledge what we see them doing or being involved with and this helps us begin to discern a bit more about their interests, passions, and values.


On the basis of these two initial pieces of knowledge, we often choose whether or not to pursue a relationship. If we go forward, we discover there is much more to learn than we initially realized.


When I met my husband more than fifty years ago, I started to learn about these basic things. They let me know that I wanted to get to know him better, but it would take many years and a great deal of time to plumb the depths of his heart, the complexities of his thoughts, the strength of his spirit, and the nuances of his personality. Even now, I discover some new thing here or there that adds to the texture of the fabric of the relationship we have built.


I also have learned much about his character by observing how his words and behaviors tend to match. That spells integrity. All of this together has deepened my love, our love.


Do I, do we, invest that energy in our relationship with the Lord? Do we invest it with others?


The second relational cornerstone is habit.


Habit? That sounds boring and unexciting for sure. Habit suggests practice, diligent practice many times. That suggests work, discipline, a never ending process.


The truth is that if I believe I know all there is to know about someone, I will stop learning about him or her, stop pursuing him or her. The relationship will grow stale and may even fade away through neglect.


That belief will also reveal my self-centered arrogance. Ouch!


Only the Lord knows any one of us completely. There are no gaps in His knowledge and understanding because He is God!


We human types always operate with incomplete knowledge about the Lord, others, and ourselves.


Great relationships require lifelong learning.


To do that, I also need to develop the habits that cause my knowledge to increase. I need to continue to observe, listen very carefully, and spend intentional time with a person.


None of us are static. We are ever evolving and changing, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. That’s why we will miss the rich discoveries of a relationship if we do not grow in the practice of investing the energy to keep learning.


That is no less true about my relationship with the Lord. Yes, it means developing my relational habits with Him.


My knowledge of Him will always be limited because I am finite, but it will be very restricted if I don’t continue to learn to know Him better.


I can do that certainly by time in His Word, reading and studying it, but there is more needed. That can stay stuck in the cerebral if I get hung up on that alone. Solitude with Him where I am conversing with Him, listening to His whispers, learning more of His heart for me adds richness and texture to anything I read or study. I also observe how I see Him working in the world around me, in the lives of those I know well, and in the lives of some I have never met.


For me this means recommitting to practice daily the habit of learning about the relationships I value most. After all, they are God’s gifts to me. How am I stewarding them?


What Did We Expect?



As I look around my little corner of the world, it seems like there are more than a few challenges going on in the lives of most everyone I know.


Peeking beyond that to a broader view beyond my corner, I see even more challenges. It’s a bit like looking at range after range of mountains that do not end.


The challenges come in all sizes and shapes.


They come no matter what the season we are in.


Some challenges are ones we choose and are for some good goal, but others come unbidden by us.


It’s one thing to choose to run a marathon, take a rigorous college program, signup for the military, or go on a mission trip. Those are all tough, but it’s those other challenges we didn’t sign up for that can seem especially daunting.


None of us sign up for accidents, a job loss, a failed relationship, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a child, abuse, or a betrayal in ministry, but some of these and others I did not name still come anyway.


What is amazing to me is that somehow we can be so shocked when life doesn’t work out or go according to our plans. What did we expect?


At it’s very best life is an adventure. At its worst, life is a trial or a series of trials that may feel never ending.


Somehow some part of us still likes to believe in the illusion that we have more control than we do or were ever meant to have. Some of us believe if we follow the rules, are just good enough, or make very few mistakes, everything will be fairly smooth.


When things don’t work out that way, fear, anger, or hopelessness can paralyze us.


We want life to be safe (at least relatively speaking). As believers, we especially want to feel the safety and protection of the Lord with a confidence He will keep us from harm. When life hands us a different menu, we question whether God is good or who we believe He says He is (more often than we might want to admit).


I love the C.S. Lewis Narnia series. It is so rich in meaning and depth. One favorite scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is when the children ask the beavers if Aslan is safe. The beavers respond that he isn’t safe, but he is good.


Having confidence in God’s goodness is one of the linchpins of faith. When it is absent, our trust falters, our faith melts away like an ice cream cone on a summer’s day, and hope flickers like the wick at the end of a candle.


Here’s the truth we forget. We are caught up in a great story, a great adventure. It has been that way from the very beginning. Our challenge is to accept the challenge, move forward in the adventure, and keep the linchpin in place so in Him we triumph against all the odds that might be arrayed against us.


You see, as I read through THE STORY (the Bible), I see that truth everywhere.


Life is scary despite all the beautiful, exciting, wonderful things we discover in the adventure.


If that sounds unrealistic, ask Noah, Moses, Jonah, or the long list of heroes of the faith we learn about through His Word. Sure, we know they are heroes now, but if you could ask them if they felt that way when the flood was raging, the Red Sea lay ahead, or the belly of a whale was home, I doubt they would tell you they felt no fear.


So how did they become heroes? What did they do with the fear they experienced? What can we learn from them on our own adventures?


I think the key is something I heard quite some time ago.


Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the byproduct we receive when we face our fear.


Ask any Medal of Honor recipient if they felt courageous when they threw themselves in harm’s way to save another and the answer will definitely be they did not. What happened in one terrifying moment’s time caused them to step into the situation for the sake of someone else, and God met them there.


That’s what He did with Joshua and every other favorite hero of the Bible.


I am reminded of one of Corrie Ten Boom’s stories of her life with her sister, Betsy, in Auschwitz during WW II. As Corrie was seeking to encourage Betsy as they faced unspeakable horrors and fears, she told her a story. She reminded her of trips they would make on a train with their father. Corrie brought back to Betsy’s memory how their father would not give them their tickets for the train until it was time to board the train because they wouldn’t need them until then.


Corrie gave a marvelous example of how God meets us just at that greatest point of fear and gives us just a few seconds to face it only to realize His gift of courage.


That’s the key to dismantling fear that cripples us.


“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7 ESV






Come Closer


My husband and I spent more than a few months apart thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps when we were first married. We wouldn’t have asked for that opportunity, but what we learned from it resonates more than 50 years later.


It was before the days of Face Time, Skype, cell phones, and laptops, so usually our communication was limited to daily letters where we poured out our hearts and thoughts to each other. Each day I eagerly waited for the mailman to come hoping to receive a letter from my love. Those days were agonizing because I missed his voice, the time we spent together, and the warmth of his arms around me.


During the longest separation of fourteen months, a new anxiety gripped me one day when I realized I could no longer be sure of the sound of his voice in my head.


I started practicing and imagining his voice saying the words he wrote in his letters. That helped, but often I wanted to hear his voice again so I could hold it close in my mind and heart.


That’s how we feel when we love someone deeply and we are separated in time and space from one another.


Few things can do more to brighten a day than the sound of a familiar voice of someone we love who also loves us.


If this is true and I believe it is, what gets in the way of listening for and to the Lord’s voice?


When we become one of His children, the Word clearly says He gives us a new heart. I think He also gives us new ears to be able to hear Him. Perhaps the key question is whether or not we believe He wants to speak to us.


Certainly, we learn early in our relationship with God that He speaks to us through His Word. He speaks through creation as well. If we are tuned in to Him, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the song of a bird, the cadence of rain pelting against a window, or the sound of the wind in the chimney speaks to us of One greater than ourselves who created it all.


His desire is clear. God has shown us in a myriad of ways since creation that He is speaking.


I think the key question is whether or not we desire to hear from Him and if we believe He desires to speak to us.


I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Of course I want to hear from Him!”


What I know and have experienced is that my desire is to hear from Him, but too often my agenda, my schedule; my noisy world gets in the way.


Most of us can say there are times when we are reading the Word that we are reading the words, but not really tuning in, listening for and hearing His voice.


Too often we are not even listening during our times of prayer with Him. When we don’t, it’s like picking up a phone and calling a friend and telling her or him everything that is going on with us, what we are dealing with, what we hope for, and then hanging up without hearing a response. How rude!


Listening to someone who loves us and whom we love is one of the highest forms of respect.


One discipline I have used to practice training my ear to hear has been journaling my conversation with Him and then listening and noting what I sense as His response in red ink. I still recall the first time I sensed and believed He wanted to really speak to me after reading a book where someone shared about her growing intimacy with the Lord as a result of taking time to wait and listen. I wanted that too.


My belief that He would actually speak to me was admittedly shaky back then. I confessed that to Him as I wrote my thoughts and feelings in that January stillness. And how did He respond to my doubt?


Softly I sensed Him clearly speaking to my heart, “I’m always waiting. I long to listen to you and hold you in my arms.”


My heart leaped as I sensed Him inviting me to come closer and to hear the words my heart so much needed to hear as I read His Word and prayed. He wanted a conversation with me and once I really understood, our relationship was forever changed.


Listening takes practice. We are not naturally good at it.


The practice is important in the quiet times we spend with Him so we know His voice so well, we can hear Him when our world is nosily crashing down around us.


Max Lucado wrote an allegorical story entitled “The Song of the King”. It is a powerful story, which time and space does not allow me to retell, but the key understanding comes in the lines at the end.


A knight has been seeking his way through a dangerous forest in order to be considered fit to gain the hand of a princess to wed. He is allowed one companion for the journey. He chooses wisely. His companion plays the same song on his flute as that of the king who is playing from the palace wall. That leads him safely through the forest and he gains the hand of the princess.


When the knight is asked what helped him through the forest, he responds, “As we journeyed, he played. I learned your song so well that though a thousand false flutes tried to hide your music. I could still hear you. I knew your song and followed it.”


In the midst of our daily schedule, are we tuning in, listening to the sound of His voice?

Warring with Limits



I must confess that I have a struggle with limits more often than I wish. I suspect that you might also even if the limits that you face are not the same as mine.


What do I mean by limits?


I’m talking about those things that restrict me, slow me down, and stop me in some way from doing or being able to do something that I wish I could do. They are boundary lines and some of them feel restrictive and some I wish were not necessary.


Limits seem to pop up in our lives from the time we arrive on earth.


Think of all the limitations of an infant as well as their lack of determining how quickly or when they might be fed, changed, cuddled or put to bed. Mom and Dad make those choices depending on their endurance, values, schedules, and so on.


As an adult, I face other limits. Before I retired, my time and spending habits were limited by my working hours and income. The speed I could drive to work was limited by how many risks I would take to exceed the speed limit. My energy level had limits as well and working often affected those and could get in the way of the things I wanted to do such as read, bike or hike, do something creative with photography and a long list of things I might wish.


The truth is the categories and lists of limits or potential limits can be quite long. 


The categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Money and economic opportunities
  • Physical health and energy
  • Mental acuity
  • Emotional health, skills, and intuition
  • Time
  • Family situation
  • Where I live or work


I’m sure you get the idea and can add more categories than I have noted here.


 But there are also spiritual limits I need to recognize.


What are those?


I am limited spiritually by what I know of God, my response to Him, and all things spiritual. These are impacted greatly by my life experiences, my church experiences, and the amount of time I spend seeking to know and understand God.


The Lord loved me (and you) so much He gave me choices from the very beginning. He didn’t force me to accept Him, love Him, spend time with Him, and pursue His heart. He didn’t force me to read the Bible or spend time in worship. He wanted me to choose to do those things out of my love for Him.


That was His design from Genesis to Revelation. He, who had no limits, put limits on His creation to prevent chaos and keep balance. What would happen if the speed of the rotation of the earth varied each month or each week or day? What if the sun didn’t come up in a pattern or rhythm? Every living thing on the earth is connected and would be damaged without the boundary lines God put in place.


He put them there for man as well. I’m sure you remember the freedom Adam and Eve had except for one tree. They didn’t seem to like or accept limits either as a result of Lucifer’s ploys. Lucifer never accepted his own limitations with God. It is little wonder that we have all gotten tripped up with boundary lines and limits. Even when we are told the consequences of violating them, we periodically try to ignore what will happen to us and violate them.


Some of the limits or boundary lines we deal with are fixed by choices between obedience and sin, light and darkness, life and death. Most of us discover those realities through painful practice. There are seasons when we might be tempted to rail at God for the difficulty we face in limiting ourselves to make the best choice, the wise choice, and the one that honors Him.


You see, I think we can easily forget that God did not set up limits and boundary lines to make us miserable, but exactly the opposite.


He was well aware that we were finite and as such, we would deal with a multitude of limitations. He also knew if we violated them we might become unhealthy, get sick, lose relationships, miss out on Him and all He had in His design for us.


He gave us limits and boundary lines out of His love and care for us, to protect us.


 When I retired, I began to hear many comments about how fortunate I was because I could now do anything I wanted. Of course that was not really true.


 Limits and boundary lines follow us into each season of our lives.


 I doubt I will ever totally stop disliking some of the limits that I face no matter what the season, but I am persuaded I need to adjust my perspective about their purpose, their value. I need to keep in focus why a loving, gracious, and merciful God has placed them in my life, in your life.


Then I can abide with the psalmist when he writes:


“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”  

Psalm 16:6 ESV