relationships

THE GOSPEL ANTIDOTE TO THE EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS

by Debbie Huber

Upon opening Facebook the other day, there was a picture of my family that I had posted a year ago with a notation from Facebook: “we care about you and your Facebook memories”.

Wow!  Facebook cares about me?  The place where I can show family pictures, see pictures from friends and acquaintances, find out about real AND fake news, argue with others without looking them in the eye, not be accountable to anyone, keep my struggles safely hidden from public view…

Right after seeing this I read an article that referred to a major study that was recently presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.  Data from hundreds of studies involving millions of individuals was analyzed. This analysis found that “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity“.  

More significant than obesity?

Marriage rates have been steadily declining and families are having less children.  Families are separated by miles, divorce, estrangement, and just plain busyness. Schedules are busier and family activities dominate any possibility of free time. Neighbors come and go without ever interacting with one another. Many people live their lives without having anyone truly know about them and care for them.  

There have been multiple studies that suggest that frequent Facebook users do not feel more connected at all; they “actually experience feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression.”

Sometimes we are alone by choice by putting up walls because it can be too painful or fearful to be vulnerable to others. Or we just want to live our lives for ourselves without the baggage that comes from being accountable to one another. 

The Bible does have an antidote to this epidemic of “loneliness”.

We were made for relationship with one another but it is not necessarily how the world defines relationships.  God demonstrates what a healthy relationship is through the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. A relationship of fellowship, working together, and enjoyment of each other’s company. 

God calls us to relationship with himself through the gospel. We were “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

God made us to need Him and also to need one another. In Genesis 2 He says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  We were not created to make it in this world alone. 

Real, lasting, satisfying relationships within the context of the gospel brings reconciliation between us because we were reconciled to God through Christ when we were without hope or without God in the world. We have relationship with one another even when it is difficult or inconvenient because we know that Christ died for our relationship to be restored to God even when we were “difficult” and far from Him. 

Be prayerful and watchful for the lonely around you. Seek them out face to face.  Be helpful when they need it, speak of the things of God to one another.  In light of what Christ has done for you seek reconciliation when there is division.  The Gospel will be on display in your lives.

And if you are the one “putting up walls” or on the fringes because you are fearful to be vulnerable or too busy remember the gospel!  You were not meant to go it alone in this world. The gospel tells us that we were made for relationship with God and with one another. Serve, help or become a part of a small group.  Ask God to help you to care for and be vulnerable with others. Preach the gospel to yourself daily and pray that the gospel will be lived out though your relationships.

 

RELATIONSHIPS ARE NOT EASY

Why is it essential to think of ministry in terms of relationships?

God and theology are relational

God by nature is relational: one God who exists in three persons

The word of God is relational

God’s means of saving us is relational:  God eternally took on our nature and gave himself for us

Worship is meant to be relational

We cannot follow God unless we have a relational focus

The Great Commandments are relational

The Great Commission is relational

The fruit of the spirit are revealed relationally

The nature of the church is relational; we are the family of God and the body of Christ

How can we love or how can we show grace if we do not live out “God in us” relationally?

However relationships always bring problems

“Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox” Proverbs 14:4

Everyone you have a relationship with is a sinner

It’s impossible to have problem free relationships, but it is possible to have correct perspectives and responses

We don’t have marriage problems or relational problems, we have sin problems

Remember our people and problems don’t make us sin, they can only squeeze out what was already inside us

Even with all the mess God keeps pushing us together

He instituted the Family and the church

His word keeps pushing us into closer involvements, by telling us to love our neighbor and live in fellowship with each other

It is indefensible for a believer to isolate themselves from relationships

Ministry requires large doses of grace – patience – love – forgiveness – persistence etc

If we are to carry out a biblical perspective in relationships

Burying relational problems and ignoring them is not a biblical option

Walking away from relational problems is not a biblical option

However, God does not ask you to be run over by people; we need to establish boundaries or we are enabling their sin

In many ways life is simpler when we have a self-focus. We only have to worry about me!

But life is much fuller and fruitful when it is relational

When these relationships are God-centered, we are carrying out the most meaningful labors on earth

Ministry involves bringing more oxen into our barn

Make relationship building a way of life

Be helpful and friendly, this draws people to us

Be interested in people’s lives; people like those who listen to them over those who talk at them

Be a servant, so people realize your agenda is not just about yourself

Each morning pray about the interactions you know are ahead of you that day

Look for those who are hurting and on the outside

Our world is filled with ministry potential

If you do not see them, ask God (who does) to open your eyes

When conflicts happen, respond with God’s agenda rather than your own

We typically see conflicts in relationships as an obstacle or as a sign to leave!

God’s wants us to see these moments as opportunities for growth and ministry

Rather than focus on establishing our position, ask God how we can serve his purpose

We are not all people persons, but what we do can be about people

I RECEIVED A WONDERFUL LETTER

Conflicts, hurts and offenses take place in all significant relationships.

Sometimes these hurts tear our relationships apart. This is always a grievous result – especially among believers.

God makes it clear that reconciliation is the only biblical response we have for conflict.

Recently I received a note from someone who knew God was leading them to step forward in reconciliation.

I was overjoyed to receive this note and continue to praise God for it.

In fact, I thought their note was so thoroughly saturated in a biblical perspective that I asked permission to post it here. They graciously agreed.

Please read this letter slowing in order to identify the many biblical principles that flow through it.

Dear Pastor Kyle,

It’s been quite a few years since we spoke last and for almost as long I have often thought about the way we parted company; certainly not on the best of terms.

At the time I was incensed that you accused me of having a critical heart. In my arrogance I took that as a personal attack. Regardless of however it was meant or what basis in fact it may have had, the cause of your statement was what I said to you. I know that now. I have known it for years.

Over the passing years I have often though about sending this email, but did not do so. This morning during my devotional time, I read Matthew 5:23-24, particularly “First be reconciled to your brother.”

It immediately brought this up in my heart again and so I am sending this email as a way to say I am sorry for the things I said and the inferences I made. I was wrong to do so then. I was wrong to wait this long to apologize.

As I have continued to mature in my relationship with Christ, I’ve grown in the understanding that humility may be manifest in many ways. Few ways are better than admitting when one is wrong and showing the respect and love associated with reconciliation. So I ask your forgiveness for my words and actions.

I pray for all of you often. (We) will always be in Jesus debt for calling us. We are also in debt to many at Greentree, particularly you and your father Gene, for bringing us to the point of understanding what it means to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

I wish you all love and success with your work for Christ.

 Is there someone you need to step toward in reconciliation?

Are you willing to ask God for grace in how best to do this?

We are praying that God uses these words to encourage, inspire and guide all of us to be people of reconciliation!

SMALL GROUP DOESN’T NOTICE EACH OTHER

LarkNews is a tongue in cheek website that gently pokes fun of the American culture of church life.

I enjoyed an earlier article about a pastor who sold his congregation on eBay.

This article describes a small group that doesn’t notice that no one spoke to each other. I hope you enjoy the humor and catch the lesson in it.

ANAHEIM HILLS — A small group from Life Baptist church met during the week, but the members have no memory of seeing each other because they were staring at their smartphones the entire time.

“I thought everyone else was keeping up the discussion,” says one woman who successfully ‘Liked’ fifty-five posts and finished two games of Words With Friends during the 90-minute gathering. “I guess no one was.”

Members were so engrossed in texting, posting and Tweeting that it did not occur to them that nobody was talking, let alone leading the meeting. Silence descended on the room as members sat tapping screens, occasionally giggling and typing messages.

“I went into the kitchen at one point to get snacks, and it did seem awfully quiet,” says one man. “Everyone had their heads down. I thought we were praying.”

One man had just bought a new app and was eager to try it out.

“I was tearing it up on Tiny Wings and thought everyone would understand,” he says. “I remember walking into a door, but I’m not sure what building it was — maybe small group or Bed, Bath and Beyond. I don’t have a visual for it anymore.”

Some people even texted and messaged each other while in the same room.

“I was having a great conversation with Karen on Facebook and didn’t notice that she was sitting three feet away from me,” says one woman. “She messaged me, ‘Oh, I’m in small group,’ and I messaged her back, ‘Really? Me too!’”

Only later did members confirm that a meeting had taken place by piecing together tweets, texts and Facebook posts.

“It says on Facebook that I checked in at their house, so I must have been there,” says one woman. “Facebook doesn’t lie.”

Others looked at their timelines and Twitter feeds and saw posts like “Heading to small group” and “Picking up chips and salsa” at around the same time. But none have any memory of what happened after that.

“I think I ate a plate of something, but I was pretty engrossed in Fruit Ninja, so I didn’t really notice,” says one man. “It may have been brownie bites.”

One woman and her husband arrived home afterward, sat in their garage, looked at each other and said, “Did we just go to small group?”

“It was a little eerie,” says the wife. “The only thing I can recall is seeing my iPhone screen. Which, by the way, have you checked out this app?”

Members group-texted each other afterward and pledged to actually look at each other next time they meet.

“We felt kind of bad,” says one man. “I told them if I forget to pay attention next time, just Facetime me.”

WHY DO WE REMAIN IN DISCOURAGEMENT? (Part 2)

Last week, we began a series that looks at reasons why Christians remain in discouragement. Today we look at the second reason:

#2.  We remain in discouragement, when we are disconnected

When we are disconnected from God

We remain in discouragement when we think God has pulled away from us. Yet, God has promised that his covenant presence “will never leave or forsake us”.

Remember God is the One who came to us and initiated the relationship we have with Him. This was not something we prodded God into

When we are convinced of God’s commitment to be with us, we are encouraged to keep working at that relationship.

~ Whenever we open His Word, it contains His heart for us.

~ Whenever we come in prayer, He is listening to us.

~ Whenever we worship in Spirit and truth, He is pleased with us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus showed us the importance of persisting in our connection with the Father. Matthew 26:44 tells us Jesus “went again and prayed the third time, saying same words”.

Jesus pursued the Father as long as his heart remained burdened. Do we expect that we will need to do less?!

Yet even in prayer discouragement tries to follow us

This happens when we make our problem the primary focus of our prayers. We talk to God, but we are looking at ourselves. Our prayers seem to reinforce the weight of our burden

This is because we are making God a servant to our desires. Then we are deflated when God doesn’t fulfill our expectations. Instead prayer should be about worshiping God’s greatness and his faithfulness which he has shown we can trust.

When we are disconnected from God’s people

The local church is a significant way in which God has chosen to minister to us. We see this vividly in the Body of Christ word picture found in I Corinthians 12

How can we expect to be encouraged in God, if we consistently remain in disconnect from God and His people?

These are not just matters of negligence, they are sins of omission. In fact, they are violations of what Jesus calls the two Greatest Commandments!

We were created to be involved with God in the context of the Church community. Leaving discouragement involves becoming more engaged in biblical community with God and with His people

GETTING TO KNOW THEM ALL

Thinking about eternity in Christ’ Kingdom is a feast of contemplations.
 
Most of all I find rest in knowing all striving against sin will cease; whether they are the sins which pervert our world or the sins which still worm their way into my own heart.
 
Often I imagine the enveloping sound which will come from the heavenly chorus made up of the angels and all who love the Lord. 
 
Or, I take joy in anticipating the full restoration of relationships. Conflicts in the church and between all believers will be healed. 
 
But today, my thoughts traveled the path of what it will be like to enjoy perfect fellowship with each believer who has and will ever live. 
 
Our relationships will not bear the pressures of pride and our souls will be bare of those masks we now collect. Instead we will enjoy heart to heart conversations which flow like playful streams, alive with love and listening. 
 
Oh, how many fascinating people we will get to know and how many amazing stories of grace will bring forth praises to the wonder of God’s sovereignty. 
 
Christ’s kingdom will hold an awesome host of people who will not be faceless crowds. Each face will be that of a dear friend that causes our heart to smile. Every person will be better loved than our dearest loves now, and they will never fail to love us with the full measure of Jesus own stature of love. 
 
Stretching over the timeless ages we will have the pleasure of getting to know the God given uniqueness of all heaven’s citizens. And we will have the fun of sharing endless unmarred experiences together in God’s perfect new creation.

WHEN MARRIAGE HAS ROUGH EDGES

I love my wife dearly. But there have been many moments when it would not have appeared that way to someone watching me with Debbie. Much less to Debbie herself.

Russ Ramsey shared a moving personal story in which many of us will find ourselves. This article titled “Scowling at the Angel” was posted in the Rabbit Room. It will hold your attention and more importantly, it will move your heart.

EXPECTATIONS

I enjoy reading Wendell Berry, an author who writes poetry, essays and fiction with a heart for community and the land. Mr Berry who is a religious protestant, does not have a redemptive understanding of Christ or of the Bible, but his works are very thoughtful concerning the importance of relationship and community.

When an interviewer asked him about relationships and commitment, Mr. Berry gave the following response.

“People enter into relationships with one another and with their places with the idea that they have a right to expect those places and those people and those connections to be perfect, and then when imperfection appears, as it inevitably does, they feel they a right to be offended, and they don’t see the arrogance and the condescension in that.

It’s not up to the other people and the places and the relationships to be perfect. It’s up to every participant to make the relationship and the place and the other person as perfect as possible. We don’t have a right to give up on our choices and our places and, indeed our cultural inheritance because it’s not perfect. We don’t deserve that they should be perfect. We have an obligation to make them perfect, if we can.”

As a pastor, I have found that unmet expectations are one of the biggest reasons for our disappointments and the stresses in our relationships. Our expectations tend to focus on what we want other people to be for us, rather than God’s agenda, which is what we should be for them.

We can expect God to be perfect and we can expect every person we know to be a struggling sinner. Do we expect ourselves to be people who represent the gospel and the love of Christ in the lives of those sinners, whether they be the sinner we married, or the sinners who attend our church?

Originally posted 9.13.11

NO RELATIONSHIPS, NO MINISTRY

God and theology are relational   

God by nature is relational; one God who exists in three persons

The word of God is relational; it is God’s revealed plan to save and restore a people for Himself

God’s means of saving us is relational; God eternally took on our nature and gave himself for us

We cannot follow God unless we have a relational focus

The Great Commandments are relational

The Great Commission is relational

The fruit of the spirit are relational

The nature of the church is relational; we are the family of God and the body of Christ

How can we love or how can we show grace if we do not live out “God in us” relationally?

However relationships always bring problems

Everyone you have a relationship with is a sinner  

It’s impossible to have problem free relationship, but it is possible to have correct perspectives and responses

We don’t have marriage problems or relational problems, we have sin problems

People and problems don’t make us sin, they can only squeeze out what was already inside us

Even with all the mess in relationships, God keeps pushing us into them

He instituted the family and the church  

His word keeps pushing us into closer involvements, by telling us to love our neighbor and live in fellowship with each other

It is indefensible for a believer to isolate themselves from relationships

Ministry requires large doses of grace – patience – love – forgiveness – persistence etc, if we are to have a biblical perspective in relationships

Burying relational problems and ignoring them is not a biblical option

Walking away from relational problems is not a biblical option   

However, God does not ask you to be run over by people; we need to establish boundaries or we are enabling people’s sin

Life is simpler when we have a self-focus; we only have to worry about me

But life is much fuller and fruitful when it is relational

When these relationships are God-centered, we are carrying out the most meaningful labors on earth

Make relationship building a way of life

Be helpful and friendly, this draws people to us

Be interested in people’s lives; people like those who listen to them over those who talk at them

Be a servant, so people realize your agenda is not just about yourself

Each morning pray about the interactions you know are ahead of you that day

Look for those who are hurting and on the outside

Our world is filled with ministry potential

If you do not see them, ask God (who does) to open your eyes

When conflicts happen, respond with God’s agenda rather than your own. These can become times of great growth and effective ministry

We typically see conflicts in relationships as an obstacle or as a sign to leave!

But God wants us to see these moments as opportunities for growth and ministry

We are not all people persons, but what we do can be about people

REMEMBERING

My Pop Pop in 1955

Tomorrow morning (September 1) will be the 113th birthday of my grandfather, George Huber. He lived to enjoy the first 100 of those birthdays.

As a boy my paternal grandparents were around a lot. Until my grandmother became bedridden with cancer, they often drove down from Lambertville, NJ to spend Sunday with us. While growing up, a vacation meant going to my grandparents’ house for a week or two.

Yet it was not until my adult years that I really got to know my granddad (or Pop-Pop as I called him until I was too “grown up” to use such terms). While recuperating from surgery my granddad came to stay with my parents and lived with them most of his remaining years.

Since I love coffee shops and my granddad was looking for stuff to do, we began having breakfast together on Thursdays. This continued for the next 17 years. I estimate that we had breakfast approximately 800 times (he paid for about 794 of them). And I know we ate breakfast in 359 different restaurants – because I kept track of them and still have the list.

Sharing life over those thousands of eggs and many thousand cups of coffee I learned a lot about my granddad and I grew to love him more and more. I heard most of his life stories hundreds of times each, which also rooted them into my memory. His favorite saying was “As the old widow used to say, ‘Live and learn or die dumb as the devil’”. I think his favorite stories were those recounting his experiences as a mounted artillery scout during World War I.

I am thankful God allowed me to have those breakfasts with my granddad, and occasionally I wistfully look back and wish we could have one or two more.

Is there someone in your life who has always been there, but you rarely take advantage that they are there? Someone you would deeply miss if they were suddenly gone. Now breakfast may not be your cup of coffee, but you can still find a way to share life with those who God has put in your life.

We all have many regrets, make sure you do not add to them by neglecting the relationships that are precious to you.

People often ask which restaurant was our favorite place. I would have to say the Fox Manor Hotel on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, because we went there more than any other location. The walls of the small dining room were covered with photos of old Atlantic City. There was no menu, chef or servers. Tony would come out from behind the tiny front desk, peer into the refrigerator and offer a suggestion. After he cooked and served our meal, Tony would pull up a chair and sit down with us, while Italian opera played in the background.