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!

Learning To Be Wise!

-The Wise Live Proactively!

The wise live their lives proactively! They read from the Scriptures, what God— the Creator & Master Designer— has written, as laws, into His Creation; and, they make course corrections BEFORE they step on life’s landmines & blow up their domain! The Old Testament book of Proverbs offers that kind of wisdom!  For example, wisdom, according to Proverbs, teaches us to be open to loving rebuke. When you choose the right kind of friends— those walking with God— they may offer you some loving rebuke at times. Especially, if they see you moving in the wrong direction! That what good friends do according to the book of Proverbs. “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive” (ch. 27:6)

-Who Can You Trust?

You can trust a friend. They will gently tell you the truth; even, when they know it may cause you pain to hear it. But, it’s for your good! But, if you’re the friend offering a rebuke, don’t be the kind of “friend” who approached her pastor after he preached a message on the spiritual gifts & announced that she had the gift of criticism. The wise pastor asked her if she remembered, from Jesus’ parable, what the man, with the one talent, had done with his talent. “Why, yes,” she said, “he went out and buried it.” And, with a smile, the pastor said, “Go and do likewise.”

-The 2 Sides Of A Rebuke!

There are always 2 sides to the rebuke— the one receiving it & the one offering it. If you’re the friend offering it, be careful! Ask yourself what motivates you to counsel or rebuke this person? Are you motivated by a desire to help the other person? Do you plan to face them honestly, but with gentleness? Are you doing this out of concern for God’s kingdom; or, because you enjoy being critical? If you’re on the receiving end of a gentle rebuke, how do you receive it? If you don’t listen to the wisdom, of a wise friend, you’re just being stupid! I’m not saying that! Scripture says that! “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). Don’t be that guy! Don’t be that gal!

-Don’t Be Stupid!

Oh, and don’t be that kid that hates correction from their parents! Don’t be stupid! “A fool despises his father’s discipline, but a person who accepts correction is sensible” (Proverbs 15:5). That’s because wisdom teaches us to be respectful and a blessing to our parents. If you have friends that counter the counsel of your parents you’ve not chosen your friends wisely! Don’t be stupid! Don’t be a fool! Again, I’m not calling you stupid! I’m not calling you a fool! God is calling you out! If you choose to disregard the wisdom of your parents & choose the foolishness of a bad friend’s counsel, you’re going to mess up your life! “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son, heartache to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1). Don’t be that son! Don’t be that daughter!

-Be A Peacemaker!

There’s another theme that repeats itself throughout Proverbs— wisdom teaches us to be a peacemaker! Let me just make a general observation! If your life is full of drama, you’re probably not a peacemaker! You’re a pot-stirrer! Does drama surround you at home? Does drama follow you to work? Is there drama between you & the members of your family? Or, you and your neighbors? If you’re the constant component, in all the drama, you need the biblical wisdom of a peacemaker! “It is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute, but any fool can get himself into a quarrel” (20:3). “Don’t say, ‘I will avenge this evil!’ Wait on the Lord, and He will rescue you” (20:22 ). The fool is always in a fight! The fool is always out to make the wrongs (that they perceive) right! Wisdom waits on God to right all wrongs! More wisdom next week!

Struggling With Depression?

-Let God Be God!

It’s incredibly freeing when you stop trying to be your own savior; and, everyone else’s savior too! To just let God be God! To admit you don’t know what to do next! To feel the helplessness of being out of control! Only then can you fully abandon yourself to the only One who can part the Red Sea; to the only One who can use 300 weaponless soldiers to overthrow a vast Midianite army; to the only One who can knock down a giant with a little stone; to the only One who can feed 5000 with a piece of bread and a few small fish; to the only One who can raise a Messiah from the dead to save a people from their sin!

-Thank God For Failure!

I can honestly thank God for all the times of failure in my life! I praise Him for allowing me to fail! Be honest with God! Admit you’re not big enough or strong enough or smart enough! Admit you’ve tried! But, praise him when your strength fails! Thank Him for it because your failure is the only thing that drives you back to the only One strong enough & beg enough & wise enough to fix it! Be honest with God when you’re afraid! King David wrote this Psalm during a time of fear:  “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” Psalm 34:4-7. 

-Fear God! Not Circumstances!

Be honest with God when you’re afraid! Fear Him instead of your circumstances & He will deliver you from them; or, He will deliver you THROUGH them! Sometimes He removes them; but, sometimes He grows you THROUGH them! Be honest with God when you’re struggling with depression! And, praise Him anyway! I love Psalm 42:5. It’s a Scripture that has so impacted me that I’ve put it to memory:  “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.” The writer is asking himself why he’s so depressed! Why is he struggling with turmoil inside?

-Sing About Your Depression!

Do you ever feel that way? It’s okay to admit that to God! In fact, it was God who inspired the writer to include it in Scripture! And, let’s remember that the book of Psalms contained songs that Israel sang to God! So, they sang about depression! And, while I truly believe that, at times, depression needs to be treated medically as an illness, there are times in life when we just feel “blue” over the weariness of life!

-Overcoming The “Blues”

The best way to overcome those “blue” feelings is to place your hope in God & begin to offer Him praise for all the blessings He has given you! Praise Him because He alone can satisfy your soul! King David also was inspired by God to include these words in Psalm 63— ”My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands. You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips” vs. 3-5.  Oh that God would bring all of us to that place where we would see that He is all we need! That we would truly live like we believe that His faithful love is really better than life! That our souls would be satisfied with Him alone! That all the other created things that we enjoy in this world would pale in comparison to the beauty of our Great God!

Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

You Can Be Honest With God!

-Throwing Rocks!

In the movie, Forrest Gump, there is an especially agonizing scene where Forrest’s lifelong friend, Jenny, visits the old house she grew up in & it brings back a flood of bitter childhood memories of her abusive, neglectful father; and, Forrest watches as she throws rock after rock, in a fit of rage, at the house that held so many painful memories for her. When she finally quits & collapses into tears, Forrest tries to comfort her.  “Sometimes,” he says, “there just aren’t enough rocks.” But, the truth is that no amount of rock-throwing can ever repair the damage that’s been done!

-Why The Anger At God?

And, if we think that it’s God’s job to protect us and shield us from pain, we’ll ultimately lash out in anger at Him! But,  that’s just now how life works, is it? If your anger is directed at God, it’s misguided! Life, on planet Earth, was forever altered in the Garden of Eden by the sin all of us— in Adam— committed against God! So, it’s because of our transgressions and our depravity that the world is such a difficult place to live! But, God, in His love & benevolence toward us, extends grace & mercy to everyone who admits their sin & their brokenness and comes to Him for forgiveness!

-Pain With A Purpose!

And, that’s God’s purpose for all the pain & suffering that we endure in this life! He intends to show the unbelieving world His grace & His forgiveness despite the curse we all deserve! It’s NOT His purpose to protect us & shield us from all the unfortunate things that happen to us! But, if we can understand that this life is all about displaying grace, we can begin to grasp the importance of our being exposed to pain! It’s amid life’s hurts that we can join God in displaying His love & forgiveness when we get hurt!

-Why Lord?

The book of Psalms, in the Old Testament, were often put to music & sang in Israel’s worship. Music is emotional; and, the book of Psalms is no exception! The Psalms are just filled with the ups & downs of life. You’ll find great songs of praise that we often include as readings during our worship services! But, you’ll also find songs that are filled with anxiety & depression when the author asks God aloud what He’s up to! “Why LORD?” they ask! I’ve personally found the Psalms to be a salve; like a triple antibiotic, when I’ve been cut and wounded in life! We make a great mistake when we limit the Scriptures to the cognitive and see only something to be learned like doctrine & theology! God included a book, like the Psalms, to reach us at the emotional level.

-Skewed Emotions!

Does that surprise you that God would be concerned with your emotions? It shouldn’t! He is a God with emotions; and, He’s created us in His image! He is neither surprised nor put off by our emotions! But, like every other part of our life that’s been negatively affected by our sin, our emotions can be skewed as well! So, God will use the Psalms in our lives to reel us in! To center us back into His reality! God created us with emotions; and, He invites us to pour out our hearts to Him knowing He will respond! Find reassurance in that— God will never leave you nor forsake you! He provides grace to help us; whether, our pain has been caused by someone else or it’s self-inflicted. You really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets that you’re reluctant to share with someone else you can share with God! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him! He will hear you!

A Heart Devoted To God!

-Qualities Of A Good King!

In my last post I talked about the Old Testament descriptions of kings who were said to be either “good” or “evil.” Either they did that which was “good” in the sight of God; or, they did that which was “evil.” We talked, at length, about King Jehoshaphat; and, some of the reasons he was said to be a “good” king! In today’s post, I want to continue pointing out some of the qualities that made him a “good” king! The Scriptures also claim that he was good; because, his heart was devoted to the Lord— ”His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord…” 2 Chronicles 17:6.  That literally means that his heart was “devoted” to the LORD! Above every other thing, in his life, he was COURAGEOUS in his devotion to the ways of the LORD!

-Jesus: 1st Place In Everything!

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Corinth about where Jesus needs to fit in our live:  “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” Col 1:17-18. We need to be devoted to Jesus in the same way that King Jehoshaphat was devoted to the LORD! 1st PLACE in everything! We need to be honest about this, Church! We give a lot of lip service to Jesus having 1st PLACE in our life; but, does He have 1st PLACE in our lives when it comes to reading the Scriptures every day? Or, does that only happen if you can find time to squeeze it in? If He has 1st PLACE you’ll make reading Scripture to be PRIME TIME in your day! Does He have 1st PLACE in your Sunday morning when it comes to gathering for worship with the rest of your faith community? Are you ready to worship at the start of that service? What about the Sunday School hour? Does He have 1st PLACE during that time slot in your week? Are your kids getting the Bible training during the Sunday School hour that they so desperately need?

-Have You Been Lying To Yourself?

Does He really have 1st PLACE? Or, have you just been lying to yourself? We need to get real with ourselves, Church! We need to get real with God! We need to get real with each other! We need to identify the idols that are pushing Jesus out of that 1st PLACE position in every part of our lives! King Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God was so deep and true that he longed to know God through His Word! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 18, there’s an incident where he had interaction with King Ahab.

-He Sought His Father’s God!

Now, King Ahab was classified by God, in Scripture, as an “evil” king in Israel! And, when he showed interest only in what the false prophets of Baal had to say about a situation, Jehoshaphat insisted on hearing the Word of God from Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh. And, that was the pattern of King Jehoshaphat’s life! Though he failed to always keep God’s Word, he had an affinity for it! He loved it! So, again, he provides us with another great example to follow. If you don’t long to know God’s Word; if, you’re not hungry for it, you’re not in a good place spiritually! You need to pray for God’s Spirit to help you! What made King Jehoshaphat a good king? Well, his story clearly reveals that he wasn’t a perfect man! He sinned! He was guilty of indiscretions. Not all of his decisions were wise ones! But, God called him a good king because he humbly repented when he was faced with his sin! The world needs men like King Jehoshaphat!

Calling All Actors To Repent!

-Who Is A Hypocrite?

It’s from the Greek term for “actor” that we get our word “hypocrisy.” We think of a “hypocrite” as one who acts in a manner different from one’s stated belief. In ancient Greek theatre, the “hypocrite” was an individual who “wore a mask”—someone pretending to be someone he’s not! Hypocrisy is called sin in the Bible; and, usually shows up in a person’s life in one of two forms: first, to profess belief in something while acting in a manner totally contrary to that belief; and, second, to look down upon others for their sin while at the same time committing the same or worse sin.

-Hypocrisy Condemned!

The Prophet Isaiah condemned hypocrisy, saying, “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men’” Isaiah 29:13 The Apostle Paul wrote that “love must be without hypocrisy” Romans 12:9; while, the Apostle John said we cannot say we love God if we do not love our brother in 1 John 2:9. In our day, there’s been a misuse of the word “hypocrisy” by many claiming that it’s “hypocrisy” to call out; or, take a stand on sin. But, it’s only “hypocrisy” to call out a certain sin if we’re guilty of committing it.

-When Is It Hypocrisy?

It’s not hypocrisy to call sexual immorality sin unless we’re living in sexual immorality ourselves. That would make us an “actor”; and, in need of repentance! If we’re “in Christ” we’re called to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:16); to “hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). We must live our lives in such an honest way that we avoid that label of “hypocrite.” So, with God’s help—through the work of His Spirit—let us commit to rooting hypocrisy out of our lives! Let’s leave “acting” in the movie theatre; and, bring honesty & truth into our Church!

-Is Christianity Invalid Because Of Hypocrisy?

Christianity does not stand or fall on the way Christians have acted throughout history or are acting today. Christianity stands or falls on the person of Jesus, and Jesus was not a hypocrite. He lived consistently with what He taught, and at the end of His life He challenged those who had lived with Him night and day, for over three years, to point out any hypocrisy in Him. His disciples were silent, because there was none. Since Christianity depends on Jesus, it is incorrect to try to invalidate the Christian faith by pointing to horrible things done in the name of Christianity”—(Quote from: McDowell & Steward, Answers To Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About Faith)

What Do Your Prayers Look Like?

-Are You Willing To Get Honest?

Are you willing to take a good hard look at your prayer life? Of what do your prayers consist? Are your prayers consumed with “requests”? Are they filled with requests that God would change your circumstances? Make your life easier? Make more money at your job? Or, are you asking for a new job? What if none of that is God’s will for your life? Have you ever considered that? Have you ever considered that, for reasons beyond your ability to even comprehend, that it might not be God’s will to heal someone you’re praying for? Have you ever considered, that in God’s eternal plans for His glory & your good, that it might not be His will for you to get the job you’ve always wanted?

-The Proper Motive For Prayer!

The only proper motive, for prayer, is God’s will! In Jesus’ model prayer, he taught His disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come.  YOUR WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Matthew 6:10.  Perhaps the implication is that rather than praying for God to change our circumstances, we ought to pray that God would use the circumstances to change us! Not until after Jesus taught the disciples to pray for God’s will does He turn His attention to praying for our own individual needs. Only after submitting to God’s will, in prayer, does He teach them to pray, “…give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. There is so much we could say about the simplicity of that prayer request! Just give us what we need TODAY! That’s it! Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble! Just ask for the Father’s provision TODAY; and, leave it there!

-God Already Knows What We Need!

Earlier, in the same text, Jesus had said:  “When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him” ch. 6:7.  Don’t babble lengthy prayers about your needs, Jesus said, because the Father already knows! Then, Jesus turns His attention to praying for others. Again, this is a MODEL prayer! “When you pray, pray LIKE THIS…” He said.  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He said,  ch. 6:12.  In other words, pray that God would forgive you in the SAME WAY that you forgive others! Be so thankful for the Father’s forgiveness that you forgive others in the same way that He forgave you— TOTALLY! COMPLETELY!

-God’s Absolute Forgiveness!

There is nothing anyone has ever done to you that could ever be compared to the quantity & level of depravity that you’ve sinned against God! And, yet, He forgave you! It’s not until we are truly thankful, for His absolute forgiveness, that we are truly able to forgive others! After He’s finished teaching the disciples how to pray, He shared these disturbing words with them:  “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” ch. 6:14-15. In essence, He’s telling them to take a hard look at themselves! If they’re unable to forgive others, it’s evidence that they may never have been forgiven themselves!