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Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts

Monday, July 2, 2018

Freedom!

Introduction
            One of the great and classic movies about freedom is Braveheart, which chronicles William Wallace's epic struggle to help Scotland win independence from the British in the 11th century.  In his rousing (yet fictional) speech before the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace inspires his rag tag army to tell their enemies, "...They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!"
            On 1775, the American patriot, Patrick Henry, gave another rousing speech in favor of the fight for freedom, where he said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
            A couple months ago, I was privileged to travel to San Antonio, Texas where I visited the Alamo, known as the cradle of Texas liberty.  It was at the Alamo that a handful of Texas patriots held off the vastly larger Mexican army for 13 days before they gave their lives in service of Texas liberty.  Texas went on to win independence from Mexico and was a free country for nine years before becoming a state in our American Union.  From those Texas patriots who gave their life for liberty, the expression "Remember the Alamo!" lives on today as a call to free men to stand up and fight, whatever the cost, for freedom.
            It is always inspiring to remember those who have thought it so important to sacrifice for freedom--especially during this time of year when we celebrate the independence of our free United States of America.  Freedom is the paramount theme of our nation.  However, freedom is not originally an American idea.  Freedom was instilled in us by our Creator and freedom has been sought by people throughout the ages because it is part of the human soul. 
            The truest form of freedom was won by Christ, the Son of the Living God on the cross at Calvary.  It was, indeed, the freedom won by Christ that inspired our American forefathers to imagine a country where people were endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
            Over the next five blog post, I will share my thoughts on the Christian idea of freedom based on a reading of Paul's Letter to the Galatians.  For my first installment, let us read Galatians 1:6-10.

Galatians 1:6-10
6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.
8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.
10 Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.
 
The Galatians and Freedom
            Have you heard of the Celts?  We usually think of Irish or Scottish people when we think of the Celtic culture, but the Celts were a great civilization that spread throughout ancient Europe.  Some of the Celts in that empire invaded what is now modern-day Turkey.  These Celts settled down in Turkey and became the Galatians.  The Galatians were Pagans.  They did not believe in the One True God of the Bible.  They believed in many different Pagan gods.  So suppose they believed there was one god who was in charge of rain, and one over the harvest and another over fertility, and another over war, and so on and so forth.  And the ancient Galatians believed they had to perform so many different religious rituals and sacrifices to appease and gain the favor of the various gods for different seasons of life.  Can you imagine what a headache that would be?  And all this was further complicated by the belief that all the gods didn't get along and they didn't necessarily like human beings!
              And along comes the Apostle Paul with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Paul preaches to the Galatians:  "All these so called gods you've been worshiping are not gods at all.  There is only One True God; and He is all powerful and all knowing.  He created everything and is over it all.  And furthermore, this One universal God cares about you so much, He came down to earth (as Jesus the Christ) to live as one of us.  And He died on the cross to ransom us from our sins and set us free from the penalty of death that was a consequence of our sins.  On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave and is alive again!  He has defeated death and we can rise to new life too if we trust in Jesus!" 
            And so this was really great news to the Galatians.  Jesus set them free from all the tedious rules and regulations of their pagan religions and the fear of the gods, as well as setting them free from sin and death!  And they received the Good News.  They put their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.  They willingly and wholeheartedly became Christians.  And the Apostle Paul joyously helped them establish a church--a community of Christian believers who work together to worship Christ and build each other up in the faith and go out and spread the Good News to all they can.
            However, there was a problem.  At this early stage in the Christian era, most Christians in the world were still Jews.  You see, Jesus was a Jew and all his disciples were Jews.  Even the apostle Paul was a Jew.  These people followed the Jewish religion--the rules and ceremonies, festivals, and traditions of the Old Testament Jewish religion.  And so many of the earliest Christians mistakenly thought new converts to the Christian faith must also start following the Jewish religion.  They must follow the Old Testament customs, ceremonies, festivals, and especially they must be circumcised (because circumcision was the hallmark trait of all devout Jews). 
            After Paul left the Galatians to go to another province to preach the Good News about Christ, some of these "Jewish" Christians came to the Galatians and began teaching, "You must be circumcised and start following the Jewish religion or else you're not a real follower of Christ and you will not have eternal life.  And the Galatians, being new to the Gospel and new to the whole concept the One True God, started to believe they must indeed become Jews in order to really be Christians.
            This is a big deal, because it goes down to the very core of our Christian faith.  Are we saved by living the right way or are we saved by faith in Jesus Christ?  Are we justified by a religion or by trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross?  The Apostle Paul taught it was only by faith in Jesus Christ.  The Jewish Christians (known as Judaizers) said it was by faith in Jesus and following the Jewish religion.  Which is it?
             So, Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians to show the Galatians (and us) that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone.  No religion, no ceremony, no rule, no sacrifice, no extra action other than trusting in Jesus Christ is necessary to receive the grace and forgiveness and salvation of God.  Furthermore, Paul argues, if you are trusting in any other requirement, it actually nullifies the salvation we receive by faith in Christ.  Christ came to set us free of the impossible burden of trying to earn God's love.  God loves us as a completely free gift when we trust in Christ alone.  If we ever try to do anything to earn salvation, we cannot receive it. 

So What?  Who Cares? What difference does it make to us today?
            Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  (John 8:36)  Jesus came to set us free from “the rules” of religion.  In fact, Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.  You see, Jesus came to the most religious people of his day (the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees) and told them, you must repent of your sin and turn to God.  Now that was a surprising claim (from these religious leaders perspectives).  The Pharisees and Sadducees were the holiest, most devoutly religious people of Jesus day.  To tell them they were sinners who needed to repent and turn to God sounded ludicrous.  No one was more religious than them. 
            However, Jesus taught that following the rules is not enough.  Even if you could follow them perfectly, you still have a broken relationship with God.  Following the rules is not the issue.  A broken relationship with God is the issue.  Jesus came to heal that broken relationship.  When we have faith in Jesus, the relationship is restored.  People who devoutly follow all the religious rules are often the ones who struggle the most to have faith in Christ to restore their relationship with God.  You see, deeply religious people are often very good people who do what God says and so they may feel God owes them and should be good to them as a reward for their good behavior.  But God doesn't owe us anything and love is freely given, not earned.  A love relationship is built on love and trust, not rules and regulations and rituals and religion.
            Jesus said the first and second greatest commandments are these:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as your self.  He said all the religious laws of the Old Testament and all of what the prophets said hangs on these two relational commandments.  They sum up all the religious rules.  They are the heart of the matter.
            Religion and rules are easy, but relationships are messy.  Religion is black and white, but relationships are made up of a thousand million shades of beautiful colors.  Jesus came to set us free from religion so we can enjoy the full beauty of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, people often want to leave the less spontaneous and beautiful possibilities of a relationship with the One True and Living God and go back to the confined, black and white (and more predictable) chains of religion.  "A living relationship with God is too complicate," many people complain.  "Just tell me the rules I need follow and I'll do that."
            It will never do.  There is no life in religion.  There is no salvation in rules and ceremonies.  Jesus set us free from all that.  Shall we then go back and enslave ourselves to religions now that we've been set free.  Never!  "Give me liberty or give me death!'
            Trying to live by religious rules is also hopeless because we confuse our culture with our Christianity.  Our culture is the social rules and traditions of the American people.  America was founded on Christian principles and many folks have lived by them for so long they often equate our American way of life with Christianity itself.  The line between what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian is fuzzy and many don't know the difference; they think to be one is to be the other and this is not necessarily true.  Still, people believe "good people" must dress a certain way, look a certain, act a certain way, eat certain food, talk a certain way in order to be good in God's eyes.  Yet this is all very confusing because the rules change according to where you live in this great country.  What is acceptable in New York is different from what is acceptable in Georgia.  And as someone who's lived in Georgia almost all my life--though in many different parts--I can tell you the rules are slightly different in middle Georgia than they are in Northwest Georgia and that's different from Northeast Georgia or coastal Georgia!  The rules can even be different depending on the social class or generation to which you belong. 
            Today, many so called "Christians" equate social justice with Christianity.  They say you have to do good and fight for those who are oppressed and help the needy and that this is what real Christianity is at it's heart.  And we should help those in need, but we must be careful that our charity does not become a religion divorced from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ or else it is merely a means to make us feel good about ourselves and earn the favor of "god" in whatever form we imagine god to be (for it certainly is then no longer the God Jesus showed us).  There are many non-Christian charitable organizations in the world that do good.  What makes Christians unique is we feel God has loved us so much--even though we don't deserve it--that we in turn are compelled to love our neighbor as God loves us. 

An Important Question
            As we begin a journey to understand Christian freedom, Galatians challenges us with an important question.  Are you following a different “gospel” than the Gospel of Christ?  We must never forget:  Faith in Christ alone is the only thing that can save you.´ Or as the Apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 5:6 – “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  So, we will look at this over the next few weeks—the freedom we have through faith in Jesus Christ.  Do you want to know what real freedom is?  Do you want to truly be free?  Our freedom in Christ is so much deeper than fireworks or the fourth of July.  It goes far, far deeper than even America—“the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  Join me for this journey through Galatians and learn about true freedom—something worth dying for, something Christ already died for so that you I could be free indeed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Proverbs Day 27

Read Proverbs 27
A wise person takes care of the people and things most important to them--your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your boss, your employees, your health, your essentials... Always put these first and you will reap the rewards.

Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs 27:18, 23-27
18 If you take care of a fig tree, you get to eat its fruit. If you take care of your boss, your boss will take care of you.

23-27 Know what’s really going on with your flock; pay close attention to them. Money doesn’t last forever and you might not always be in charge, but if your flock is well fed and you’ve stored up hay for the hard times, you can make clothes from your sheep’s wool and sell your goats for a good profit and you’ll always have enough milk to feed your family and everyone who’s important to you.

Know who and what's really important to you. Pray for them constantly. Think about what they need and how to care for them. Take the initiative and be attentive. Always do more than is expected.

Prayer
"Lord, make me aware of those people and things that really matter to me.  Help me to know how to really bless them and care for them that I may do all I can to tend the flock you've given me.  Amen."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Build New Relationships

Acts 2:38-40

Introductions
Pleasant Grove is on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it. 
Our long range goals are 1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community. 
Last week, we discussed how God wants us to follow Christ’s example and give hope to the hopeless.  Today we consider goal #2 – build new relationships.  Relationships are all about connections between people.   

Jesus and New Relationships
Jesus’ came to build new relationships.  His example shows us how to act.  Jesus built new relationships with sinners.  This was a totally new concept because up to that time, religious people sought to keep clear of people who sinned and were “unclean.”  Jesus intentionally reached out to build new relationships with these outcast people. 
Jesus also built new relationships with the rich.  We often highlight that Jesus reached out to poor people, but it was not just the poor.  Jesus realized that those who are wealthy need salvation too.  He said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.”  The rich are just as lost and broken as the poor and so Jesus actively sought to build new relationships with the wealthy.  Perhaps you remember the story (or the song) about Zacchaeus the tax collector.  Zacchaeus grew wealthy through his trade, but Jesus went to his house for dinner and Zacchaeus repented of his sins and became a follower of Jesus.
Jesus also built new relationships with the Pharisees and religious people of his day.  Though they often disagreed with Jesus, were jealous of his influence, and often sought to destroy him, Jesus tried to build relationships with the religious leaders of his day.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to visit Jesus in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John.  By the end of the story, Nicodemus became a follower of Christ.
You see, the whole reason Jesus came to earth was to help all of humanity build a new and right relationship with God.  Jesus knew sin had severed our relationship with God.  He came and died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven.  Now, we are able—if we choose—to have a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ that is free of sin, shame, and guilt.
The Church’s first sermon made it clear that the blessings of Christ are for everyone.  Listen to what the Apostle Peter (the leader of the Disciples) said in Acts 2:38-40. 

Acts 2:38-40
38Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” 

The NT Church and New Relationships
The key verse for us today is verse 39 – “This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles.”  So the relationship Christ offers us with God is for young and old and even the Gentiles.  Gentiles were by definition those who were outsiders—people that religious folks weren’t supposed to associate with.  Yet God made it clear that the Good News was for Jews and Gentiles alike.  In Acts 10:38, Peter said, “God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.”  This meant the church had to intentionally build new relationships with the Gentiles who were previously outsiders.  Throughout history, the Christian faith has been at its best when Christians stepped outside their comfort zone and intentionally built new relationships. 

The Church Today
The church today needs to intentionally build new relationships.  It is important work that takes effort and concentration.  There is something innate in any organization like a church that creates a potential for exclusion.  Think about how groups form in a church.  Groups of like-minded people come together for mutual support and study—this is how Sunday school classes and Bible study groups are formed.  This is natural and healthy.  In fact, it is highly necessary for proper spiritual growth of each individual.  Deep bonds grow between individuals in small groups as they spend time together loving, supporting, and encouraging one another through thick and thin.  Soon, people in the group know each other so well and are so close that people who are not part of their group and look in at them from the outside might feel somewhat excluded.  They may be tempted to call the group a clique (which is defined as a small, exclusive group).  Now, most likely the church group never intended to be exclusive.  They never got together and said, “Hey! Let’s don’t let so and so be part of our group!”  They just grew close together naturally through time spent together. 
So how do you combat this feeling of exclusiveness that newcomers/outsiders sometimes feel?  You fight it in two ways.  First, the established groups have to intentionally go out of their way to make sure and invite, include, and help newcomers become a full part of the group.  That’s hard, because it takes work and time for a person to assimilate into the group.  A second way is to form new groups for new people. 
Looking at our church’s Sunday school classes and small groups, I can see how groups have formed in just the way previously described.  So we not only have classes for our children, but we also have numerous classes for adults of all ages.  These are classes that formed along the way as people of like minds and like circumstances came together for mutual support.  When new or younger people came along, new groups formed.  That’s great!  But it sometimes helps to form new groups for new people (like our young adult Sunday school class).  As we have new people come in, we must form new relationships and new groups to continue to provide the small support groups that are vital to the spiritual health of every person who is serious about becoming a disciple of Christ.  Numerous studies have shown that one of the best ways for a church to grow and be a vital congregation is to establish new Sunday school classes for new disciples.  Is God calling us to build new relationships by starting a few new Sunday school classes?  (By the way, it doesn’t have to be a Sunday class.  It can be a breakfast group or a lunch group meeting during the week; it could meet on a Saturday evening.  As long as you are meeting for study, prayer, and mutual spiritual support, you are doing it right.)
We also need to build relationships with other churches in our community.  We are not in competition with the other churches in our community.  There are plenty of people to go around.  Do you realize that between 50-80% of your neighbors in this community do not actively go to church anywhere?  That means if there are 5 families on your street, 4 probably don’t go to church anywhere.  So you see, we could probably fill up every church in this community to full capacity and still have people left over who aren’t in church.
We need to stop seeing other churches as our competition and look at what is our real competition—camping, the mall, the movies or parties that keep people out late on Saturday nights, the ball games that kids play instead of going to church, the belief that there is no God or that He doesn’t really love me, the disdain for churches that really only care about themselves instead of really taking what they teach seriously.  All of these things are our real competition.  Other churches are not!
So we’ve got to get over this jealousy we feel when we see that another church is growing by leaps and bounds.  Good!  Praise the Lord!  I love it when I hear that about the "cool new church that everyone is joining", because that means more people are coming to Christ.  They are helping us fulfill our mission.  Remember, our mission is not to have the greatest church in the whole community.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ!  Let’s care more about that than anything else.  Let us care only about that!
            We also need to build relationships with people in our community.  We need to build new relationships with Hispanic people in our area.  We have a group of 30 Guatemalans that meet for worship here at Pleasant Grove every Sunday.  I believe God has given us a unique opportunity.  I talk to pastors and other Christian leaders all over Georgia who wish they could build new relationships with people in the Hispanic/Latino community, but they don't know how or have tried and failed.  And here at Pleasant Grove, God has handed us the opportunity on a silver platter and we need to take advantage of it.
As individuals, we need to build new relationships with our neighbors.  I challenge you to build at least one new deep and meaningful relationship with someone in the community and see how it changes you for the better as well as them.
            I think we also need to build new relationships in the broader mission field.  Lori Roberts is heading up a group to select a foreign missionary for our church to sponsor now that Nick and Heidi Griffiths have come home from the mission field in Kenya.  I would like to see us partner with and build a relationship with a new missionary. 

The Most Important Relationship – You and Jesus
A relationship with God is the most important relationship you can have.  The whole reason Jesus came was to build a personal relationship with you.  And so we have to ask ourselves, do we have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s not just: “do I know about him” or “do I know the facts the Bible says about him: or “do I know all the correct doctrines about Christ.”  It is: “Do I know Him?”  Do you get up in the morning and talk to Him the same way you would talk to you husband or wife, your children or you parents or your best friend? 
Well, Jesus is here.  He is here to extend His hand to you and say, “Yes!  I want a relationship with you!  Will you reach out to me and build one with me?”  Some may need to begin building that relationship for the very first time.  Some may have been Christians for many years.  But you know, a relationship has to be tended.  If you don’t tend it, you will drift apart and lose touch.  Maybe today, you need to decide to start re-building a relationship with Christ.  And then as Christ fills your heart with his love, perhaps you will be inspired to build a relationship with someone new.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Deep Relationships at Work

Romans 12:15-18

Introduction
We are designed to have deep relationships.  Human beings are inherently social creatures.  Even shy people who prefer to be alone most of the time need the companionship of other people from time to time.  That’s the way God made us.  We were made to have deep relationships with God and with other people.
We find those relationships through our family, our friends, in romantic relationships, and with other people.  Today, I would like to talk about an important type of relationship—deep relationships at work.
Do you realize you may spend more time with your co-workers than most other people in your life?  Depending on your job, it can even rival the amount time you spend with your spouse and children.  Consider, if you work full time, you might spend about eight hours a work day with your co-workers while you might only spend five to seven hours awake with your family.  That’s a sobering reality that should remind you to make the most of your family time.  It also shows how influential your work relationships are to your life.  Make sure the relationships you have at work—where your spend so much of your time—are a positive influence on your life.
Not only do you spend a lot of time with your co-workers, how you relate to them also affects your success at work.  You cannot reach your full potential at work unless you cultivate deep relationships with your co-workers.  Your technical expertise is one aspect of your work success, but your success depends on your relationships more than you may know.
Healthy work relationships are built upon trust, mutual respect, integrity, open communication, and common goals.  When you trust the people you work with, you can better communicate, collaborate, and work as a team.  How effective can you really be if you feel you always have to “watch your back” at work?  How can you work as a team with people you don’t respect or feel don’t respect you?  How can you do your job well if you can’t communicate openly with your coworkers?  How can your organization succeed if its workers don’t share common goals?  Deep relationships at work are vital.
            The Bible is not a business manual, but biblical principles about relationships apply at work as well as they do at home.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:15-18 as you think about how these principles might apply with your co-workers. 

Romans 12:15-18
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 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!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 

Building Better Relationships at Work
The Apostle Paul’s advice applies in many areas of life.  It is especially appropriate for work relationships.  Isn’t it amazing how the Christian faith enhances all your relationships—even your work relationships?  When we genuinely seek to follow Christ’s example at work, we build loyalty, respect, communication, and cooperation.  Everyone wins.
            Since strong, healthy relationships are so important for success at work, I want to give you some ideas to build better relationship with your co-workers.  There is a very helpful website called MindTools.com that offers free, practical, straightforward skills to help people excel in their career.  Much of what they say rings true with my own experience working in both the secular and church world.  Here are six practical ways I gleaned that you can use to build better relationships with your co-workers.[i]
 
Make Time to Build Relationships at Work – Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  In other words, care about the people with whom you work.  You will always get more from people who know you care.  Make a point to devote part of every day to relationship building.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of time.  Even 20 minutes a day, broken up into five-minute segments can make a big difference.  Stop by someone's office during lunch, write a thank you note or comment on a coworker’s Facebook page, ask a co-worker out for a quick cup of coffee.  These little interactions build the foundation good relationships at work.  A classic book that can teach you how to build relationships is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
 
Appreciate Others – Everyone needs to feel appreciated.  Show your appreciation whenever you can—whether it is your boss or the person who cleans your office.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Look for ways to genuinely compliment people at work.  Spend more time thanking and praising and your coworkers will be more open to the times you need to ask for help, give constructive criticism, or face a difficult problem.  Sincere appreciation leads to loyalty, trust, and great work relationships.
 
Be Positive – Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.”  Focus on being positive as much as you can.  Positivity is attractive and contagious and will help strengthen your relationships with your colleagues. No one wants to be around someone who's negative all the time.  Laugh.  Have fun.  Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too serious.  Be the kind of person people enjoy working with.
 
Maintain Healthy Boundaries – Robert Frost wrote in his poem Mending Wall, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Good boundaries at work make good coworkers.  It’s good to help your coworkers and have them help you, but everyone should be responsible for their own work.  And remember, the primary reason you are at work is to work.  Your friendships with co-workers should support your ability to work, not hinder it.  Healthy boundaries keep your work friends from negatively impacting your performance.   Friendships at work have dynamics that are more delicate than friendships outside of work.  Remember, your coworkers may have different personal values, ethics, and religious views than you.  Be careful.  Be mindful.  Keep it professional and don’t let your personal life damage your professional career.
 
Avoid Gossip – Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.”  Proverbs 25:23 says, “…a gossiping tongue causes anger!”  And Proverbs 26:20 says, “…quarrels disappear when gossip stops.”  Many of the conflicts that injure relationships, hinder productivity, and damage careers could be avoided if only gossip was banished from the workplace.  If you have a conflict with someone at work, talk directly to the person.  This will build trust, loyalty, and cooperation.  Talking behind their back will only make the problem worse and rarely solves the core issue.  So don’t gossip!
 
Communication – James 1:9 says, “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  That’s a beautiful description of effective communication.  Stay calm and listen twice as much as you speak.  Communication is important in all relationships.  It is essential in work relationships.  Communication keeps you in touch with your coworkers’ lives, but it is also fundamental to cooperation at work.  You need to communicate often and well to ensure everyone understands the common tasks you must accomplish together.  Bad communication causes frustration, mistrust, and poor work performance. 

Difficult Relationships
            Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  There is one thing about work relationships: sometimes you have to work with people you don’t really like or can’t relate to.  But for the sake of work, you have to have a relationship.  How do you do it?
Maintain a professional relationship with them.  You don’t have to be their best buddy, but you do have to work with them.  You might be able to limit your interactions with them, but be careful.  Don’t avoid them all together.  When you avoid talking with people you dislike at work, it can handicap you—especially if you need that person’s help.  Why set up obstacles for yourself where you work?  You need all the help you can get.  Don’t limit yourself with bad communication.
Instead of avoiding the problem, try to be proactive.  Take the sacrificial attitude of Christ as much as you can.  Reach out to them and have conversations.  Perhaps you could even go to lunch together.  As you talk, try to focus on the things you have in common instead of your disagreements.  Ask them about their background, their interests, their greatest successes.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you do need to be able to work together.
On the other hand, what if you just can’t have a good relationship with your co-workers?  What if they are just not the kind of people you can trust and respect?  What if communication with them is always going to be a very difficult chore?  What if your coworkers have no integrity?  What if you just don’t have many common goals?  If after serious thought you feel your work relationships at a particular organization are always going to be strained, it might be time to look for another job.  Remember, you are likely to devote a significant amount of your life to your work—possibly as much or more than you give to your family and personal friends.  Why would you want to work at a place where too many of the relationships are bad?  It might be time to take a leap of faith and plan a change. 
In this case, I would not recommend quitting in an angry rage.  However, you can pray for God’s direction and help, start looking for other opportunities, and go somewhere else where you can have better work relationships where everyone will benefit. 

Conclusion
            God wants us to have deep relationships in every area of our lives—at home, at work, at church, with our friends.  Deep relationships are part of our DNA.  However, our relationships will be limited if we do not have a healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  There is a longing in our soul that only God can fulfill.  No other relationship can take its place.  Friendships, families, marriages, & careers are damaged when people look to them for the fulfillment only God can provide. 
If you want better friendships, if you want to fix your marriage, if you want a healthier family, if you want a better career, I implore you:  come to Jesus and let him heal your soul.  As Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” 


[i] For more information from a great article about building relationships at work by MindTools.com, see https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/good-relationships.htm

Monday, February 29, 2016

Deep Family Relationships

Ephesians 6:1-4

Introduction
We were made for deep relationships.  A deep relationship is a profound, caring connection of mutual support, cooperation, and trust.  Deep relationships can be with family, friends, someone we date, a spouse, or a co-worker.  However we find them, our souls yearn for deep relationships.  Today, I want to offer some advice to deepen family relationships. 

Ephesians 6:1-4
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Advice for Children
Writing about how deep family relationships should function, the Apostle Paul offers his advice in two parts.  The first part is for children and the second part is for parents.  Let’s look at Paul's advice for children first.
Recalling the Ten Commandments all the way back from the Old Testament, the Apostle Paul said, “Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. Honor your father and mother.””
What does it mean to honor your parents?  To honor them means to treat them as very important people.  When we are young, we sometime start to think nothing important happened before we came along. We might think we are younger, smarter, and more in touch with what is going on in the world.  How can our parents know more than we do?  It can give us a careless attitude about those who are older.  We feel they just don’t understand.
But God says it is not good to have an attitude like that. He knows our parents have earned a lot of wisdom through their life experience. It is in our own interest to listen to them, to respect their opinions and wisdom, to honor them as important people who have helped us very much and who still have a lot to offer. We must fight the tendency to think our parents are too old and out of touch.  We must honor them, because they deserve it and it is in our own best interest.  God promised to give us a long life if we honor our parents.
 

Here are five practical ways you can honor your parents:
 
First of all, spend time with your parents.  Time is one of the most precious gifts you can give.  Your parents gave a tremendous amount of time to raise you.  Now it’s your turn to honor them with your time.

Second, be patient with your parents.  Do you realize your parents needed great patience to care for you?  When you were teenager, you sometime broke their hearts with mean words.  When you were a toddler, you threw temper tantrums and embarrassed them.  When you were an infant, they changed your dirty diapers.  (Once I took my son to a movie and he got sick and vomited on me in the theater.  I didn’t have any clothes to change into.  It took 20 minutes to drive home before I could change.  Then I had to take care of him all night.)
Your parents have done many things like this for you. With God’s help, mothers and fathers do it with patience because we love our children.  They have been patient with you.  Now you can honor them by being patient with them even if you feel they don’t deserve it.

Third, be respectful.  When you disagree with your parents, do it respectfully.  If they make you mad, be gentle.  Refuse to look down on them.  Don’t speak negatively of them.  Don’t do anything that would shame them.  Deliberate speak well of them to others. Protect their dignity and defend their honor.

Fourth, help your parents.  Go with them to the doctor or to get groceries.  Help them clean the house or cook dinner for them.  As you get older, you might even help pay some of their bills.  There are many ways you can help your parents.  Look for ways to do favors for them as an expression of your honor for them.

Fifth, celebrate your parents.  As a pastor, I often go to funerals.  And people pay tribute to all the best qualities of their parents.  Why wait until the funeral to pay tribute to your parents?  You can do it now.   

Advice for Parents
         Paul said, “Fathers, [and what he says applies to mothers as well as fathers] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
As a parent, I can tell you it is quite impossible to never provoke your children to anger.  Sometimes kids are just going to be angry with their parents.  But what I think Paul means here is: don't let anger be the prevailing attitude in your home.  Instead, create a healthy home where your children can thrive and become all God wants them to be.  

Here are five practical ways to raise your kids well:
First, spend a lot more time appreciating your kids than you do criticizing or disciplining them.  Of course, parents have to set rules and discipline their kids when they go astray (and all kids do).  However, don’t let that be the only interaction you have with your children.  Encourage them.  Let them know you love them.  Let them know how proud you are of them.  And since we know we will have to discipline our kids, we should make sure we spend lots and lots of time appreciating them. Hear are seven things every kid needs to hear:   
   1.  I Love You
   2.  I’m Proud of You
   3.  I’m Sorry
   4.  I Forgive You
   5.  I’m Listening
   6.  This is Your Responsibility
   7.  You’ve Got What It Takes
 
Second, talk to your kids.  Practice by talking about the little things--like what they did at school, what they like, etc.  Abigail and I went to Red Lobster on Friday and she had a great idea for conversation.  Maybe it will work for you.  We had a personal life quiz.  She would ask me one question about her life and then I would ask her one question about mine.  So she would ask me something like:  What are the names of her closest friends?  And then I would ask her a question like:  What is my favorite hobby? Sometimes I would ask her questions about herself:  what was her earliest memory?  We had a great time going back and forth and we learned a lot about each other.  When you practice talking about the little things, your children will feel more comfortable talking to you about the big things like the struggles they are having at school or with their friends, etc.

Third, your kids need to know you are 100% committed to them.  You let them know you are committed by your actions.  You need to be there for them.  Spend time with your kids.  Find ways to play and have fun together.  Pray together.  Eat together.  Go to church together.  Take a family vacation.  If you can’t afford a vacation or can’t take the time off work, then take a short trip or outing together.  It can be as simple as hiking at Fort Mountain or taking a walk in your neighborhood.  The point is to do stuff together--just you and your kids.  There is nothing more precious that you can give you kids than your time.  And nothing shows you are committed to them better than when you share your time with them.

Fourth, discipline your children and hold them accountable.  This is very important.  Remember, your primary job is not to be your child’s best friend.  A parent's primary job is to train their child to be a well adjusted adult.  This includes teaching them integrity, responsibility, self-discipline, and good morals.  Believe it or not, children are happier when they have clear rules to follow and consistent consequences when they violate the rules.  By holding your children accountable to right behavior, you are training them the be happy, successful human beings.

Fifth, love your spouse.  That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s very true.  Your kids need stability and nothing reinforces their sense of stability than when they know their mom and dad’s marriage is rock solid.  Furthermore, you will be a better parent if your marriage is strong.  I see marriages get into trouble a lot because parents make the mistake of focusing too much time, energy, and resources on their kids at the expense of the marriage relationship.  I understand why it happens.  At an immediate level, your kid’s needs often must come first.  But in the long run, you will soon find your marriage in trouble if you always put your kids before your marriage; consequently, your kids will suffer too.  Remember, your kids will be in the home only 18 or so years, but your husband or wife is for life.  If you truly love your kids, you better love your spouse more.  If you want more advice on how to strengthen yourmarriage, you can look back at my blog from last Sunday.  Or, perhaps you would like to make an appointment to come talk with me.

Conclusion
God created you to have deep relationships.  The most natural of these relationships is with the people in your own family.  However, that doesn’t mean having deep relationships with your family comes naturally.  It takes effort and I encourage you to put in the effort; it is worth it.  What our world needs is strong, godly families.  That could change our nation.
As with all the other types of deep relationships in your life, your deep family relationships will suffer if your relationship with God is not right.  The sin in our life impairs our relationship with God, but the Good News is there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  When we we ask forgiveness and let Jesus take control of our lives, we will find our relationship with God growing stronger and all our other relationships--including with our family--begins to grow stronger too.  I invite you to get your heart right with God today.