Archive for Relationships
In a conversation with a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law of Moses, Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If we were to summarize the great commands of our Lord we could simplify it by saying, “Love God and love others.” In fact, one of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for God is to love others.
1 Corinthians 13:13 affirms that love is the eternal quality that will last forever. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV). 1 Corinthians 13 is nestled between chapters 12 and 14 where Paul gave instructions concerning how Christians are to worship and conduct ministry. Chapter 13 was not arbitrarily placed there to expound upon marriage. Marriage is not the context of 1 Corinthians 13. The context deals with how we are to relate to one another in the context of ministry. Love has several characteristic behaviors that help us know how we are to conduct our relationships. How should Christians express love to one another?
1. Love is accepting (“love is patient, kind”)
The Bible acknowledges our diversity. We are unique and quirky. We all have our points of weirdness. Love does not demand or force you to be like me. It allows room for me to be me and for you to be you!
2. Love encourages and affirms the success of others (“love does not envy”)
We should riotously celebrate one another’s wins and successes.
3. Love is humble (“love is not boastful, love is not proud”)
Love requires that we walk with deep humility, to assume responsibility for ourselves and to acknowledge our own flaws.
4. Love serves (“love is not rude, love is not self seeking”)
In John 13:1-7, the disciples were vying for the best seats. They were playing politics and making plays to obtain rank and power in the Kingdom of God. In response to this, Jesus picked up a towel and washed their feet.
5. Love forgives and reconciles (“love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs”)
It has been said that we are never more like God that when we give and forgive. We should encourage reconciliation when we see relationships become strained or broken.
6. Love is grounded in truth and honesty (“love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth”)
Love is built on trust, and trust cannot be established without truth. If truth is not the foundation of loving relationships, all that remains is sentiment and shallow pretense.
7. Love works for justice (“love always protects”)
We are like the older sibling who takes up for those who cannot take up for themselves. Love doesn’t turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward injustice. Love speaks up and stands beside those who cannot carry their own offense.
8. Love always believes (“love always trusts, hopes”)
Love avoids judging the motives and actions of others. Love is optimistic and believes the best about others and gives others the benefit of the doubt.
9. Love will not quit (“love always preservers, love never fails”)
Love is marked by a resolve that will not give up on others. Love doesn’t write people off.
The New Testament does not articulate the core values of the Church like modern businesses. But there is little doubt in my mind that Jesus would rank love as the supreme core values He desires his churches to possess.
Our Christian practice involves expressing love within the community of faith. The remainder of Romans 12 tells us that we must also extend love beyond the community of faith…to those outside the walls of our facilities.
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good (Romans 12:14-21, NLT).
When I read these verses, part of me wishes they weren’t in the Bible! The content seems difficult, unreasonable, nonsensical, and unexpected. Do our enemies really deserve our love and concern? Part of the issue is that when we read the word “enemies” we think of those who oppose us and seek to do harm to us. But in the first century, everyone outside the community was a potential enemy. For the first century church, loving enemies was their evangelism strategy.
Jesus said one of the marks of authentic faith is not our ability to love the lovely and the lovable. The true mark of faith is our willingness and ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. (cf. Matthew 5:43-47) So before we cast a critical eye of evaluation toward those who don’t deserve our love and concern, remember that God is asking us to love others (especially the difficult ones) as he has loved us. Who among us deserves God’s love? Who among us is worthy? In God’s eyes we’re all difficult to love.
Last weekend I finished my three week series from Romans chapter 12 titled, Training Camp. Together we learned that the foundational elements of church are worship and equipping for service. The final piece puts it all together in the practice of our faith. The final verses of Romans 12 deal with our Christian practice in two dimensions, the first of which is living our faith within the believing community.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:9-13, NLT).
As you can see, the remainder of Romans 12 contains the practical applications that flow out of our worship and living. If you were to sum it all up with one word, it would be the word love. Love is the foundation of our salvation, and continues to be the platform by which we live out our salvation. The verses I shared above should be viewed as normative behavior for Christians. Paul’s words are simple and sensible. You might even say that they are somewhat expected. Believers should naturally exhibit this level of compassion and concern for one another. While we may fail from time to time to live these verses to their full intent, we couldn’t argue with Paul’s point. And we couldn’t improve on his suggestions. But what about those outside the believing body? Well, that’s the content of the remaining verses. Check in tomorrow for the other side of the coin.
Your place in this world is not only the holy ground of God’s good work in your life, where you are is also the holy ground of God’s good work through your life.
Our relationships in life are wrapped up with our purpose. It’s not just the people we choose to have surround us. Its also the place that God has planted us. God gave Abram a place, then a people. But he also gave Abram a purpose. He was blessed not because he was “blessable.” He was blessed to be a blessing. My friend Cliff Jenkins used to challenge his congregation to “take an inventory of your life so you know what God expects of you.” That inventory includes who you are, what you have, and who you have with you. It also includes where you are.
Yesterday I mentioned that your place in the world informs your mission in life. By surveying where you physically live, work, shop, recreate, and worship, you gather invaluable details about God’s will for your life. Not only does your place inform you concerning God’s will, it also becomes the holy ground of God’s good work in your life.
The apostle Paul said it this way: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NLT) In other words, your physical body is where heaven and earth meet. As children we grew up talking about the church building being “God’s house.” But scripturally, God’s house is your body; the place where heaven and earth continually meet. That means your life is lived in that dynamic tension…
The tension between now and not yet;
The tension between here and there;
The tension between time and eternity;
The tension between material and spiritual; and
The tension between pilgrim and citizen.
Each week in worship we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So where does that begin? I don’t think it begins as some form of external, definable event. I think it begins in you and me, right where we are. Understanding that your body is the great house of God allows us to see that where we are is the holy ground of God’s good work in our lives. Tomorrow I’ll finish this week’s thread up by talking a bit about the purpose behind all of this.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3, NLT).
What value is added to your life by understanding your context? For one, your place informs your mission in life. The gospel of the Kingdom of God begins where you are. Your place is your place of influence; the place where you will be salt and light. In Genesis 12:1-3, God first gave Abram a place, then he gave him a people.
We can ask “Why am I here?” But there’s a better question: “Why does God have me here?” Adding the dimension of God to the question brings divine perspective on your place. Perhaps you’ve gone online and searched for your home on Google maps. If you use the satellite feature, you can see your house from high in the sky. But you don’t just see your home. You see that your home is situated in a neighborhood, which is in the larger context of a community.
You are where you are by divine design. But your places and spaces are not just about where you are. It’s also about sharing borders with others that you can serve as salt and light.
For the past seven weeks I’ve been preaching and posting on the essential, indispensable relationships we need in order to successfully navigate life. Over those weeks I’ve challenged you to find specific people to enhance your life in ways you could not on your own. By way of quick review:
You Need a Jonathan—a true friend who loves you as much as himself or herself;
You Need a Nathan—a truth teller who will mind your business;
You Need a Barnabas—an encourager who will help you through the “dark nights of the soul;”
You Need a Paul—a mentor a God-energized guide who gives the gift of growth;
You Need a Levi—an outcast who will remind you that life is not measured by getting but by giving;
You Need a Moses—an intercessor who will take a seat on top of the hill and pray for you while you do battle in the valley; and,
You Need a Rhoda—a small voice to demonstrate how we are to relate to God and his kingdom.
Each of these influencers help you to become all that God created you to be. The final relationship deals with the context of all of these relationships…your place in the world. You are who you are in time and space. Your place in the world is your context of your life. You are not here today by some stroke of fate or cosmic accident. You are where you are by divine design. Check back in this week as I dive into this final subject.
Having a “small voice” in your circle of relationships can help you in at least five ways. For example, Rhoda’s keep you snug. Children live in the land of make believe where everything is possible. It’s that snugness makes dreaming possible and remind us to stay alive. We adults separate work and play. But for children, their work is play. Mark Twain said, “Children see work and play as words used for the same thing under different circumstances. Children keep us snug, and that helps because you have to be snug to hear the voice of God.
Children not only keep us snug, they also keep us authentic. That’s why we play games with “boo” and “grrrr.” Have you noticed that almost every children’s story has a villain? That’s how kids learn to master their fears. Story book villains helps them learn that monsters are real. Not the under the bed kind of monsters, but the monsters that we adults are all too familiar with in everyday life. We need to face the monsters of life and turn them into instruments of creativity and growth. Children scare the pretense away and shoo out the trite. You can’t be a hero without a villain.
Third, children keep you small and humble. Kids know that meaning and significance are found in the small things. The communion elements, both bread and cup, are small.
Next, children keep you light. Their story books are filled with light hearted and light headed airborne characters. Gravity is an adult disease that leads to the grave. Its natural to children to be idealistic. You have to learn to be a realist.
Finally, children keep you alive. In a child’s world, every thing is alive. Animals, plants, trees, inanimate objects all become alive and talk.
The value they add is that they help us see everything for the first time.
Jesus said that if we want to enter God’s Kingdom, we have to come as a child. If we want to understand what it means to trust God and place our faith in Him, we have to do so as a child. And if we want to know what it means to follow God passionately, we need to look to children as our examples. That’s why its important for us to relate appropriately and frequently with kids. They set the pace.
When it came time for Jesus to showcase his ideal model for faith, he didn’t point to the scholar or the business person. He didn’t gesture toward the athlete or the entertainer. He chose a child. That’s why you need a Rhoda in your life. Rhoda?! Who was that? Rhoda was the first voice heard from a Christian woman in the church in the book of Acts. That woman was a child. Rhoda was the doorkeeper in the house of Mary in Jerusalem, and here’s her story.
The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leadersc had planned to do to me!” When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison (Acts 12:6-17, NLT).
Sometimes it takes a child to point out the obvious. When Jesus wanted to show what discipleship was like, he plopped a child in front of his listeners. Why? Is it because children are innocent? Pure? Truthful? Hardly! (Feel free to insert your own story here about any toddler/parent exchange at the candy rack at the grocery check out.) Then why choose a child? Because it was a child and children were of no value in Jesus’ day. They possessed a rank below women and slaves, slightly ahead of beasts. “Little ones,” especially females, were viewed as worthless and insignificant. They were despised, degraded, and neglected. But in the gospel according to Jesus, “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.” The gospel according to Jesus shows that little is large. Children first was Jesus’ model because in the Kingdom of God the last are first.
Tomorrow I’ll begin a listing of five ways that children teach us about connecting with God.
One concluding thought for this week’s series of posts. Never forget that Jesus is praying for you. That’s been his task since the ascension following the resurrection. His intercession is the basis for our intercession. Today I leave you with these two verses that remind you of that very important fact:
“For Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, praying for us” (Romans 8:34, NLT).
“Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever t intercede with God on their behalf” (Hebrews 7:25, NLT).