Sunday, July 24, 2016

Frequently Disconnected

Our family has just returned from our annual vacation where we hide out on the beach and completely unplug. It's a refreshing time for the five of us to be together and eliminate many of the distractions we face back home. The past three years we have gone technology-free in an effort to engage in the moment without having our attention pulled to social media and the need to respond to every email and text. My wife and I agree we could have stayed for another week while our teenage daughters were not as willing to forgo that connection any longer (or to share a room for one more day either.) All of us agree, however, on the health of disconnecting.

There is tremendous value in stepping away from the frenetic pace of life on a regular basis. While we have committed to making our family vacations free from the tether of our electronic devices, I think we need to make this a more consistent habit. Too much life can pass us by when we are constantly feeling the need to be connected to the rest of the world. Our week away proved that the world can keep moving just fine without my input, influence, or reflections. It's a healthy reminder of the need to focus on the people and events taking place right in front of us.

Are you feeling the need to unplug from the rest of the world? How can you create space to be in the moment and enjoy the people sharing your physical space? What do you need to do to make this a regular habit to help you refocus on what matters most?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Open to All

The Statue of Liberty stands as an icon of freedom and represents the ideal of the open doors of America as we offer refuge and safety to those in need. A poem by Emma Lazarus is located there as well and contains the well known words, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Those words are powerfully inviting as they offer hope for new beginnings and a place to make a home.

As I meditated on that poem this past week, I felt those words should be used to describe the Church as well. We should be a people offering refuge, safety, rest, and the grace of Christ to those in need regardless of their social background, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, skin color, and past life choices. Perhaps this poem by Emma Lazarus could be modified to more accurately define the church's welcoming mentality:

Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your captive masses straining to be free from the heavy weight of sin, 

The rejected, recovering, confused, skeptical, and sinful. 

Send me your depressed, addicted, disadvantaged, neglected, and forgotten.  

Send those who are wandering looking for a home, tossed back and forth by the misguided intent of those who should be speaking love instead of hate. 

Send those searching for acceptance, genuine compassion, a life filled with purpose, and a safe haven from lies, abuse, discrimination, and legalism. 

We are Christ’s church and we lift His lamp as a comforting light to all who choose to enter. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Right Desire

While reading this week, I came across this prayer from Thomas Merton, an influential American monk. I connect with his transparency and the way he is able to communicate his raw emotions. I think this kind of authenticity is appealing because it helps to know that we all struggle through different phases of this life.

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Listen Closely

When I'm exercising I like to listen to a variety of things. Running is always done to music, but I will listen to podcasts in the gym. Sometimes they are geared towards leadership, some days are focused on listening to other pastors messages, and others days it's sports. This helps me drown out the other noises and focus on what I'm doing.

Today I was at the back of the gym listening to a podcast while a workout class was taking place near me. Their trainer was yelling out instructions and countdowns to the entire group while loud music played in the background. There was also the mixed soundtrack of people lifting weights, the treadmills and ellipticals behind me, and my own rowing machine. With this cacophony of sounds I had to concentrate a little more than usual to hear my own headphones and what I was trying to take in. With a little focus I was able to tune out the other noises and hear what I wanted to hear.

Can we learn to tune out other distracting noises and listen to what is most important? Are we able to narrow our focus so we can pay attention to what matters most instead of being constantly distracted by surrounding sound? The noises around us may not be completely bad, but they can cause us to lose positive momentum if we can't focus on the messages we need to hear.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Taking a Break

In the past few weeks I've been bothered by some pain in my right heel. I'm not sure what has caused it, but I noticed it after one of my running days. I took a week off in hopes of giving it some time to heal, but it didn't get completely better. Since I'm stubborn (and perhaps a little addicted to running) I decided to get back on the streets in spite of my discomfort. It doesn't hurt too much when I'm running, but I have to concentrate to make sure it isn't altering my stride which would lead to other problems.

I was talking about it with a friend over coffee this week and came to the conclusion that I should take some extended time off to allow it to properly heal. I don't want to do something so damaging through my stubbornness that will cause me long term damage. As much I don't want to stop running, it's in my best interest to adjust my habits to give me time to recover. I will have to ramp up my gym time and use other methods of keeping my fitness levels where I want them.

Sometimes we've got to make difficult decisions that aren't the most appealing in the short term, but make better sense for our long term health. This takes an understanding of life goals and the willingness to make temporary adjustments that will eventually bring greater benefits. Success in life isn't just about what's happening right now, but how the present is setting us up for a better future.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Growing Older

Growing older each year isn't an event that has usually affected me emotionally. I haven't been too caught up in the "number" of my age, but have felt fairly content with each phase of life and the idea of getting older. For some reason, however, turning 45 this year has caused me to be more contemplative than usual. I don't know if it's the realization of being halfway through my 40's or checking off a different age bracket (no longer marking the "36-44" box) that has me thinking more about getting older, but this birthday is one that has been looming on the horizon of my mind for several months.

In spite of my thoughts about my age, I've never felt better physically and am in the best shape of my life. Our girls are maturing with one entering college this year and the other two to follow right behind as we enjoy this season of life with them. My wife and I are in our 22nd year of marriage (25th year of being a couple) and are still madly in love. I believe in the calling God has on my life and look forward to these next steps as He continues to guide us forward. With all of those positive things, I still find myself pausing to think more about aging this year than most.

I suppose it is because I am beginning to comprehend the overall brevity of time and windows of opportunity in front of me. Even though those may be open for another 30-45 years, it still is focusing me on the value of each day and how I choose to spend it. I don't want to waste moments I've been given and yet don't want to rush through anything either. This one life is a gift I have been given and I have a deep desire to use it wisely. This is a truth that hasn't changed since I was a teenager, but I am starting to grasp the tremendous value of it as I move farther along my own timeline.

It's been a relatively good ride so far and I'm ready to do what I can to make sure the next part of the journey is just as enjoyable.

Friday, July 1, 2016

One Big Story

There is one big story being told through the totality of our life. We don’t always see the whole tale or understand how it will all play out. Sometimes the chapter we are currently living out can be discouraging or frustrating and cause us to lose focus. Remembering that this is only part of our larger story can sometimes give us hope to keep pushing forward—to turn the page.

Our story won’t be made up of one bad day, one lousy season, or a few bad decisions. Like any good novel, these are only parts of the bigger narrative of our whole life and there is always hope for redemption and restoration. We do ourselves a disservice if we only focus on one negative (or positive) piece. Keep moving forward and focusing on the big picture and it helps each small season make more sense and not seem as overwhelming.