Healthy Relationship Essentials!

Not A Good Dating Candidate!

What are the essentials that contribute to healthy relationships? And, what kinds of things are harmful & destructive to our relationships? Early on, in our friendship, my wife Sara saw me playing in a softball game while we were attending college. And, well, softball just wasn’t my sport! I had played baseball growing up; so, I was used to over hand pitching that might hit 80 mph or more! I just lacked the necessary patience to wait on an underhanded, slow-pitched ball. Well, I struck out; and, I was embarrassed & mad at myself! So, I did reacted with great maturity—I slammed the bat on the ground in anger! A really stupid thing to do! Well, Sara would tell you that after observing my college-aged temper tantrum that this guy was NOT a good dating candidate!

-Overcoming 1st Impressions!

But, she didn’t really know me very well at the time. She was someone that I had noticed the 1st time I spotted her on campus. But, I was dating someone else at the time; and, a pattern seemed to develop that either I was dating someone and she was free; or, she was dating someone and I was free. But, when that magical moment happened when I was free from dating someone; and, she was free from dating someone; that, I asked her to go out with me; and, she agreed! But, it would take some time for her to overcome those 1st impressions watching me smash a bat into the ground after striking out. She had to grow to trust me! To trust my heart! To trust that when I got angry I would never physically take it out on her! I might take it out on a baseball bat; but, it wasn’t in my nature to be a brawler with her; or, with other people.

-Trust Is Essential!

Trust is essential to any healthy relationship, isn’t it? If you study up on any relationship advice, for marriage partners; or, for just being a good friend, trust is always listed as a requirement along with honesty & communication. Relationships are healthy where there is respect, transparency & vulnerability. Where there is commitment, empathy & kindness! And, it may surprise you that all of that is also true about your relationship with God. We think we all struggle, at least a little bit, to think of God in those terms because He is Spirit; and, we are flesh, right? So, how do we relate to Him?

Relationship With God!

I think that’s why God, the Son, coming in the flesh is such a big deal! For more reasons than the Gospel, Jesus fleshed out, for us, who God is! We know God better because Jesus walked on the planet He created among the people He created. Our relationship with God does not depend on our faithful ministry to Him; but, on Jesus’ faithful ministry to us on the cross! Over the next few posts, I’d like to invite you to look at the Old Testament book of Isaiah with me; so, that, we might grow together in our understanding of what a relationship with God looks like.

Just A Normal Guy!

From what we know of Isaiah, he was just a normal guy; married with children; and, trying to live out his faith during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. The nation had rebelled against God’s theocratic rule! The northern half had already been conquered by Assyria; and, Babylon would soon rise to power and sweep away the southern half of the nation. So, God calls Isaiah in the midst of that mess; and, makes him a prophet to the Jewish people. And, the book of Isaiah records the visions & the oracles that God gave to Isaiah to deliver to Israel.  I hope you’ll come back to visit my posts over the next couple weeks! It’s my prayer that you might come to learn more about God’s character; so, that you might  grow in your relationship & your walk with Him! God began revealing Himself to us in Genesis 1— in the beginning— and, He continues to reveal more of Himself in the balance of Scripture; including, the book of Isaiah!

You Want To Be Happy?

-It Begins With Your Relationship With God!

So, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about being happy! And, about what that looks like through the grid of Scripture! According to Psalm 1, God’s word says that your level of happiness is directly related to the depth of relationship you have with Him! Let’s look a little deeper at that Psalm! The writer, inspired by God’s Spirit to write these exact words, says that your happiness also depends on what you meditate on! It says in v.2, “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The happy person is happy, in part, because he meditates on God’s word at all times throughout his day!

-Meditating On God’s Word!

In the original language, that word we have translated “meditate” means to speak or to mutter! So, the writer says that meditating on God’s word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the words of God to yourself all day! You wanna be happy? You find happiness when you chew on the word of God! When you speak & mutter the word of God to yourself day & night! There is no end to the applications we can make from God’s word! His word is eternal in its depth of wisdom! It’s impossible to plumb the depths of it in this lifetime. 

-The Fruit Of Your Life!

The writer of this Psalm also gives us one more significant point to mull! Your happiness, he says, depends on the fruit your life bears! He sums it all up here! The person who rejects the advice of the world; who delights in God’s Word; and, who meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (v.3).  Every life bears fruit! In this Psalm, the writer points to 2 different kinds of people who have 2 different ways to live their lives; and, who bear 2 different types of fruit! So, choose wisely who you listen to!

-Two Different Kinds Of Fruit!

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his church letter to the Galatian believers. He writes that one way produces the fruit of the flesh:  “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (Galatians 5: 19-21).  While the other way produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  The Psalmist concludes with the end; or, the resulting fruit from the 2 different ways to live your life:  “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5,6).

-Judgment Day Is Coming!

In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel! The way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, there is coming a judgment; a day of reckoning when those who took their advice & counsel from God’s word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the Throne of God! Forever they’ll enjoy eternal happiness! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge of all the earth; who will give them what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord watches over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! If you don’t have this, you need help! Jesus said: “You will know the truth & the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That delivers happiness!

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

This Is Your Spiritual Worship!

-How Do You Define Worship?

Ask how the Bible defines worship, and, you may be surprised how wide & inclusive is the answer that’s given! Many of us perceive worship to be limited to this narrow part of a church service we call singing! For others, you grew up in a tradition where “worship” consisted of elaborate prayers spoken in the King James language—with all the “THEE’s” and “THOU’s”—very ritualistic & done in a “sanctuary” with stained-glass windows, lighted candles, incense & old classical sacred music with a pastor wearing a long, flowing robe! Each of those things can possibly contribute to authentic worship, provided the focus is on God & not some kind of warm, fuzzy, religious feeling you get from all those “accessories.”

-Is Worship An Activity?

Genuine worship is not an ACTIVITY, it’s an ATTITUDE of the heart—originating in your inner being; or, the REAL YOU; and, it changes your life! I guess that pretty wide and inclusive, isn’t it? Real, genuine worship impacts your entire life because you’re occupied with God, your Creator! Worship is being occupied with God’s character, with who He is—His love, His grace, His mercy, His kindness, His benevolence, His justice, His righteousness! It’s too praise Him for being a Good Father & a Faithful Friend & an indwelling Spirit who transforms us into His likeness as we’re engaged in genuine worship & reflect on His Beauty!

-Worship Re-Forms Us!

In other words, worship will gradually re-form us into His likeness—we become more loving, gracious, merciful, kind, benevolent, just & righteous! We become better fathers and mothers! We become more faithful friends all because we’re focused & occupied with God in worship! Romans 12:1-2 is one passage of Scripture that has recently arrested my attention because of what it has to say about worship! After breaking down the Gospel, of Christ, in the first 11 chapters, the Apostle Paul concludes:  “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship…” I had never considered this a definition of worship! But, in fact, it is!

-Paul’s Worship Definition!

Paul is defining “worship” for us! Look at it again: ! He begins with a command: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” And, than he says, “…THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.” If you’ve even been curious about a good Biblical definition of “worship”; well, here it is! Why is that significant? Because we need to know HOW to worship God rightly; or, He will reject and dismiss our worship! I’m referring to the authority of God’s Word over every area of our lives!  The Scriptures are not only inspired, they’re authoritative! In other words, we don’t have the right to define “worship”—or, anything else for that matter—differently than God does in His Word. Paul is saying that genuine, spiritual worship impacts us & profoundly changes the way that we use our bodies—we sacrifice our bodies to please Him!