Summary: Improving relationships in our lives


SUNDAY, JULY 25, 2004

Good morning. We are glad to have you here worshipping with us today. We are on the second part of a seven-part series on “getting our heads together.” We are dealing with it on a variety of topics. Two weeks ago we talked about getting our heads together about our problems. Today I would like to talk about getting our heads together about our relationships. Again, the reason we are getting our heads together is because much of our life arises out of what we think - how we respond rises out of what we think. What we think is key to our transformation and our growth in our relationship with God.

To begin I thought we would start with two clips about relationships. The first one comes from the movie “Frequency” and it’s a picture of what happens when we lose connections with our loved ones. As I show the clip, notice what happens to the son when he connects with his father. Before, in the movie, he loses this connection tragically and it has a profound effect on his life. The rest of the film shows the powerful, positive results when the lost connection is found again. This clip shows the new connection – notice what happens. The second clip is from the film “Cheaper by the Dozen” and it gives a positive example of what relationships can be like if we do certain things.

[Clips being shown.]

Two great clips of the power of love. There is a scripture passage. I Corinthians 13:13 says this – it reminds you of three great things in the Christian faith – faith, hope and love – but the greatest, the greatest is love. In fact it is in love we are born. The first thing we see when we are born is our parents, who loved us, and the last thing we want to be around are our relationships, our loved ones. But how do we develop loving relationships -- relationships that are typified in that last film? If you watch “Cheaper by the Dozen,” it actually has a lot of clues as to what it takes.

[I decided to go through old sermons and see what I have already said because I want to say things that are new]. I have sat down and thought about what is the key, what is really important to making relationships work, making them healthy, and making them loving.

The first thought comes out of the situation with Renee and her dad, and it reminds us with the passing of her father, which hasn’t happened yet; he is holding on. It reminds me of other tragic events in our national history and 9/11 was one of them. Every time crises happen it melts life back to the essentials, and most essential are our relationships and our loved ones. So it reminds me -- the key to strong, happy, loving relationships is to value them, to value what we have before they are lost. I can’t tell you how many people I have counseled who have talked about the years of regret because they did not value their loved ones or their relationships with friends.

These are all transversal principles, not just pertaining to families, but to any relationship. It is important for us to value them and to live each day saying the things we would say at a person’s bedside, and doing the things we would do at a person’s bedside or at their funeral -- speaking our love, not just holding it, but really speaking it, and telling those we love how we really feel. So often we hold it in (especially men). It is important for us to speak our love.

Revelations 3:2 says this: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” It is important for us to bless those around us. When I looked up passages on how God relates to his people, I notice how he blesses his people and how he feels about them. Israel is a problem child all through the Old Testament, and yet here is how God talks about Israel. Jeremiah 31:20 says this: “Is not Israel my dear son, the child in whom I delight?” Proverbs 3:12 says this, written in the context of discipline, (and this is in your bulletin outline if you would like to refer to it): “…for whom the Lord loves he reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights.” Notice how God delights in his children- do we delight in our children and do we delight in our relationships, in our friendships, in those we know, or are we holding it in?

I find it a rather twisted quality of human beings that so often we focus on what is wrong in people’s lives. We are focused on the sin; we focus on the rebellion in our children. As Christian people, the most essential part of who we are - if we take scripture quite seriously, scripture says that if we are Christian people, if God’s Spirit is in us, if we commit our lives to him, then his divine nature is in us. So rather than having sin and rebellion at our core (the bad at our core), what is really at the core in us is God’s divine nature. Romans 6:3-4 says this: “Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when are were baptized? We shared in his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life.”

The core of every believer is the divine nature. There is potential for incredible good, and yet so often we focus on the bad. I wonder what would happen if we began to focus on what is most core to us- the Spirit of God and the fruit of the Spirit that he desires to pull out in us. What if we encouraged that in ourselves and refocused. I think of Christ and his relationships . . . I wonder, when Christ saw Matthew what did he really see? When Christ saw the adulterous woman, what did he really see? Did he see an adulterous woman? Did he see a cheat and a swindler in Matthew or did he see what, in Christ, he could become? The potential by God’s divine Spirit - what they could become - Jesus saw in Matthew a great gospel writer and a disciple, in this adulterous woman he saw a godly woman with supreme dignity. He had a knack of drawing the good out of people. He puts the good in by his Spirit and he draws it out; and I wonder if we shouldn’t do that - delight in people, tell people what we appreciate so much about them and encourage them.

That takes time - the second thing that is required for really strong, happy relationships, loving relationships – time. Probably the number one killer of relationships in our day is not the lack of time, because we have the same amount of time that Moses had 3500 years ago. We always have had the same amount of time. The problem is busyness. We are just too busy. Busyness is fueled in our culture by materialism, and the sense that we have to have it all. “Cheaper By The Dozen” is a great film that illustrates how the parents try to have it all and discover they can’t without sacrificing what is most essential and most valuable -their relationships. I think it is an important lesson for us to learn: to value what is important in our lives and then take some time with what we value. They adjusted their lifestyle, they downsized and consolidated, and they sacrificed income for what was a more precious commodity- time- because the most valuable thing in their lives was their relationships.

I think that is an important lesson for us. We were created not for things. We were created for community. We were created for each other. Genesis 2:18 says “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were not created to be alone. We were created to belong, to know people, to have relationships and to experience love. John Locke in his book, “The Devoicing of Society” calls our culture an autistic society, meaning we are unable to focus and, as a result, we are unable to have a relationship. That may be said of us. May we learn to slow down, simplify, consolidate, and take time for our relationships.

The third thing that I think we need to do in order to have more loving relationships where soul meets soul and heart meets heart is to affirm each other more. Galatians 5:13-15 gives us a warning as to what happens when we don’t learn to affirm: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other.” The words hurting and tearing are the sense of picking and picking and picking, kind of like chickens do with each other, the picking, picking, the constant barrage of criticism, picking and picking and picking until there is nothing left. It is something we have a bad habit of doing; I am included in that.

If you idealize the pastor, don’t do it because there is nothing to idealize here. I am the same as everyone else. I have an awful habit and my awful habit is criticism. I don’t know if you are like me, but here is what happens. (I fall so much and I hate this). After a hard day at work I’ll come home and when I enter the door, what happens? Well, I notice things. I notice that the hall lights are on and the dining room lights are on and the upstairs lights are on. I notice as I am coming up that all the windows are open and when I look at the thermostat, what’s on? The air conditioning is on, and I see money just flying out the window. I notice there are yo-yos on the floor, there are papers over here and there is cut-up stuff there, and before I can stop myself I say, “who made this mess - come over here and fix this.” Then I say those words that will get you in the most trouble as a spouse, and as the words are leaving my mouth I say, Richard don’t do it, “Honey,” no don’t say it, no don’t go there, “what did you do today?” It’s said in such way, though, that what you are really saying is “what did you do today because, by my calculation, not much.” It is a bad habit to have.

So often we focus on what’s wrong instead of affirming what’s right. You know, I have done it for 16 years and my wife tells me, “You know what, instead of getting what you want, it actually makes me less likely to give you what you want. It doesn’t motivate me at all. In fact, it actually has the opposite effect.” I wonder what would have happened in those 16 years if I would have learned to affirm. Would I be getting what I want?

I think that is an important lesson for all of us that we learn to affirm what’s good instead of criticizing what’s wrong. I notice this in my children too. Three of them were in baseball this past summer and I noticed that my tendency was, when they came back, to say “great game, but you dropped the ball in the third inning. Here is how you can not drop the ball next time in the third inning.” I tried to do the fatherly thing of instructing and teaching my children how to play baseball, but I noticed that the wind just got knocked out of them. Why? – because what they want first is some affirmation. Here is what you did right. It is easier to take the instruction if you first learn what you did right, so it is important to affirm. The point of all relationships is to learn to affirm before we open our mouth in criticism.

I looked in the Bible to try to find a command to criticize. You know, “thou shalt criticize,” because we do it so often with each other and with our loved ones. I thought that maybe I could find it in Galatians 5, it has to be one of the fruits of the Spirit because we practice it so much, but it is not there. In fact, here’s what I find about speaking, I find all kinds of passages, particularly in Proverbs (which mean if you are smart here is what you will do), I find things like this: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” “The lips of the righteous nourish the soul.” “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” I wonder if that would be a description of your words and my words. Do they bring healing? Do they nourish a person’s soul and spirit? Are they sweet or are they cutting and are they caustic? I Corinthians 8:1 says: “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” If, as Christians, our key quality is love - what does love demand? What does love cry out for us to do? It cries out for us to build up. I think that for great relationships we need to learn to affirm and to build each other up.

Fourth, another thing that would improve relationships is for all of us to live a little less selfishly. I have noticed over time that most conflicts, most squabbles, most resentment in relationships (and typically in marital relationships), are really a result of some form of selfishness. I have heard wives telling me how their husband comes home, and they have to keep the kids quiet and make sure the kids are not seen in the room- all these just weird idiosyncrasies, and what cries out to me is how selfishly we live.

I always wondered why Christian women react so much to Ephesians 5:22-23. Why do they react so harshly to that? Well, I have learned why - because if we had to put up with such idiosyncrasies, we wouldn’t like it either, that passage would be an irritant, as well. What do you do with it though? I’ve heard the pendulum has been swinging the other way a little bit in that I hear a lot of Christian women reacting to this passage saying things like “well it is just not applicable today.” The problem with that (and I understand why you say it), but the problem with it is that Paul bases the teaching not upon the culture of his day, but upon the headship of Christ, and that is an eternal principle. If Christ is still head of the church, then that principle still applies.

The question is what does it mean. Plus, if you strike out verse 22, wives submit to your husbands, you also have to strike out verse 25 which says, husbands love your wives, and is part of the same passage. I don’t hear anyone advocating that husbands not learn to love their wives, so what do you do with it? That would make for a great retreat theme. I am not going to answer that right now.

The most disturbing thing of this whole conversation is the sense I detect in some women, (and I am not picking on women), dealing with the selfishness of men, to have this ethical attitude that “I don’t have to serve anyone and I don’t have to serve my man”; I understand that, but coming from the mouth of a Christian, it just doesn’t fit. Why? Because we all are called to serve. We all are called to serve. Galatians 5:13: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” If you want strong, healthy relationships, then it is important for husbands to love and serve their wives, and wives to love and serve their husbands; parents, serve your kids and do what’s best for them. What’s best for them is to have you; they need time with you. Kids, serve your parents.

I was blessed a couple of days ago after I had a long day. I had to mow the yard because it was getting knee high, and my wife said, “You need to get our there and mow that yard. We’ve got swamp weed. We lost one of our children today; he is stuck in the weeds somewhere,” so I went out mowing, and it blessed me to have one of my children rake the yard without my asking them. What a blessing! So children, serve your parents, serve your friends, and serve each other; bless someone.

I am going to skip number five (about appreciating our differences). I will come back to it some time. I want to end with the last one. I think this is more important than any of the other ones. I think the key to healthy relationships is a vital connection with Jesus Christ. I say this for this reason. I have observed in our culture, in our society, in our morals (particularly in the sexual area), and in our relationships that everything disconnected from God atrophies. It dies. It decays and it becomes darker. I have also observed, however, that when a person commits his or her life to Christ, when the spiritual presence of Christ really comes in, I have seen amazing things. I just read the story of a guy who left his family – just got on his Harley and left his family for good. While on the road he found Christ. That brought him back home and now he is a selfless, loving, committed, tender man. What made the difference? -- Christ in his life.

I have seen unfaithful partners- people uncommitted in their relationships- become faithful and good. I have seen kids totally messed up on drugs or on the street cleaned up. If you see them and you look at their lives ten years earlier, you would say they are not the same person. I have had some of my friends, some of my best friends today used to be bar brawlers and chronic live-ins, and you never would think that they used to be like that because they have such a godly quality and character to them now.

How do you account for that? It is because they gave Christ their life and his Holy Spirit came into them, changing them from the inside out. That is the promise of the Christian faith. Let me read some closing passages. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness ...” which includes strong, loving relationships. “Through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness, through these he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you might participate in the divine nature.” Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Being controlled by Christ means his love controls you. He died for everyone so that those who received his new life would no longer live to please themselves. Instead they will live to please Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old self, those old dysfunctional patterns are gone, and have been replaced by a new person. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you, if you want a strong family, if you want loving relationships, if you want things to work out in your relationships, then commit your life to God. Pastor how do you explain cantankerous, unloving Christian people? It is a stumbling block. I do have a hard time explaining that, but usually I find that those Christian people just haven’t yielded themselves to the divine potential that is in them. If we yield ourselves to God, he will work those fruits of the Spirit in our lives, which creates fantastic relationships. Let’s pray.