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!

Finding Your Way Back To God!

-The Bible’s Longest Chapter!

The longest chapter in the entire Bible is Psalm 119. It has 176 verses; by far, the longest chapter in all of Scripture. The last verse arrested my attention when I read it! Just look at v.176. The writer admits how vulnerable he is to wandering away from God; and, he makes, what to us, may seem like an unusual request; and, then concludes the Psalm with a significant statement. He says, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.

-A Buzz Without A Shock!

Recently, I read a story by an individual who trains Doberman Pinschers. They’re a highly intelligent & independent breed of dog. And, they love to run when he takes them out to the forest! Especially, when they discover deer! And, because it’s difficult to control them when that happens, he uses an electronic shock collar to train them for their safety. The transmitter has 2 buttons—one that sends out a very quiet “buzz” sound; and, the other that sends a very mild shock! He trains them by administering 3 “buzzes” followed by one mild shock! He never shocks them without buzzing them first! The method, to the training, is that the dogs will eventually learn to respond to the “buzz” without the need for a shock.

-God’s Quiet Little Buzz!

I think that in more ways than we care to admit, that we resemble his dogs! We tend to run wild & to chase after things & wander away from God. So, God sends out a quiet “buzz”— He’s warning us about the dangers of living sinful, selfish lives! But, when His warnings fail to get our attention, He has to shock us! We experience the painful consequences of our decision to rebel against all the safeguards and the protections that God has revealed to us in His Word! As we grow, in spiritual wisdom, we’ll learn to respond to God’s “buzz” without the need for a shock!

-We’re A Lot Like The Prodigal Son!

These next couple of posts are about finding your way back to God! We tend to be a lot like the prodigal son, who was shocked to his senses! He realized what an awesome, loving Father he had wandered away from! He returned to Him in confession & humility & found that the Father’s love, mercy & grace was all he needed! We find our way back to God; and, experience spiritual growth only as we remove all the masks of hypocrisy & become transparent before God! The word “only”— in that last statement— is perhaps the most important in that sentence.  You will experience genuine spiritual growth only as you remove the mask of hypocrisy & become transparent with God and with others!

-Stop Pretending!

There can be no spiritual growth in your life so long as you hide your sin & wear a mask, pretending to be someone you’re not! The writer, of this Psalm, confessed; and, he put it in writing for the world to see:  “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.” So, how do you make your way back to God from your wanderings? First, regularly confess that you tend to wander from God. That is the writer’s true confession as he concludes the longest chapter in Scripture. “I wander like a lost sheep,” he says. Can you identify with that confession? Can you admit that to another person? “I wander like a lost sheep!” He’s confessing his brokenness, isn’t he? “I’m not going to lie to you,” he’s saying, “I tend to wander like a lost sheep.” Can you say it with me— ”That’s what I resemble! A lost sheep!

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!

Daniel: What Revival Looks Like!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-It Starts With Humble Prayer!

I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful & spiritually moving prayer than Daniel’s prayer in the 9th chapter of the book named after him. There’s a humility & a brokenness that’s often missing from the hurried & self-centered prayers of our day! When revival occurs, in the hearts of believers, this is what it looks like! Prayers, uttered by a revived saint,  admits a brokenness & even shame over their sin, selfishness, and idolatry— “Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but this day public shame belongs to us: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel—those who are near and those who are far, in all the countries where You have dispersed them because of the disloyalty they have shown toward You. Lord, public shame belongs to us, our kings, our leaders, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, though we have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His instructions that He set before us through His servants the prophets.  All Israel has broken Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You” (Daniel 9:7-11).  Wow! What brokenness & transparency!

-Admitting Public Shame!

“…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” he confessed in v.7; and, in v.8 he says it again, “…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” Daniel’s greatness, in the eyes of God, was not because he was without sin! None of us are! It was Daniel’s sensitivity to his sin! He admitted the depth of his sin! He owned it! For our world—and, our NATION—to experience revival, it has to begin with the broken humility of God’s people! With us! We, the Church, have to take ownership for our sins—for our IDOLATRY! For our failure to love all the world’s people groups & every kind of sinner!

-Looking In A Mirror!

Daniel didn’t just throw “…our kings, our leaders & our fathers…” under the bus (v.8).  He said, “…WE have sinned against You…WE have rebelled against you…” (v.9).  I fear the American church has been too preoccupied with pointing fingers at political leaders when WE are the real problem! We should be looking in the mirror, spiritually speaking! God will only use a broken church to bring the world to revival!

-Concern For God’s Reputation!

Daniel was concerned that Israel had hurt God’s reputation in the world! “LORD, bring revival to your people,” Daniel prays, “…for the LORD’S sake” (v.17); “…make us a city called by YOUR name” (v.18); “LORD, HEAR! LORD, FORGIVE! LORD, ACT…” (v.19). Did you notice that? “…for YOUR SAKE”, Daniel prayed, “We base our prayers on YOUR abundant compassion” (v.18). Do you pray like that? I’m afraid that, for most of my life,  my prayers sounded nothing like that! Is it possible that the reason so many of our prayers go “unanswered” is because we’re not offering “God-Centered” prayers? Can we begin to pray—as Christ’s Church—that God would act in HIS own BEST INTEREST? And, for HIS GLORY? Let’s do it!

 

Daniel: Taking Ownership Of Our Wrongs!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-I Was Wrong!

It’s been said that the 3 most difficult words in the English language are: “I Was Wrong!” Husbands, how hard is it to say, “I Was Wrong” to your wife? But, let’s be fair, ladies, it’s just as difficult for you to say those 3 words too, isn’t it? It has to be the result of the fall, right? We’ll do almost anything to avoid saying, “I Was Wrong”—we’ll say, “Man! I messed up” or “I fumbled that one” or “I goofed” or “I blew it”. We’ll say, “My Bad” or “Oops! I made a boo-boo”! All of those are easier to say than, “I Was Wrong!” They minimize our wrong! I mean, how bad can a “boo-boo” be, right?

-Being Transparent With God!

This post is about taking ownership of our sins. It’s about being transparent with God , and, with each other about our sin. If there is any hope for revival across our nation—and, God only knows how badly we need it—we need to learn how to say those 3 words: “I Was Wrong!”  “I Was Wrong, God! Here is my sin! I confess it! I agree with you about it!” For the world to experience a revival, it has to begin with God’s people! The Apostle Peter wrote: “…the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household…” It’s gotta start with those who claim to be Jesus’ followers! We can’t pray for national revival & ignore our own personal need for repentance! We dare not call out the sin of the lost & wink at our own failure to confess our sin!

-Blessings & Cursings!

As we turn to chapter 9 in Daniel’s prophetic book, it begins: “In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, a Mede by birth, who was ruler over the kingdom of the Chaldeans: In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be 70.” Let’s stop there, for a moment, and include some really important background! You might recall that Daniel’s story, in chapter 1, begins with Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laying siege against Jerusalem & taking Daniel & many of the Israelites into exile! Do you remember why? They were being punished! They failed to confess & repent of their sin! They failed to tell God, “I Was Wrong!” And, God fulfilled a promise He had made to Israel 850 years earlier in Deuteronomy 28—Blessings, to Israel, for obedience! Curses for disobedience!

-Don’t Test God’s Patience!

Just as God had dispossessed the Canaanites & other people groups from the land because of their evil ways, God dispossessed Israel from the land because they became evil! One more thing to consider: Israel’s sinful disobedience was a gradual thing! Sin always is! As the nation, of Israel, became more and more evil, God sent prophets to warn them! He would extend grace & mercy if they would just repent & turn from their sin! But, there is always an end to God’s patience & long-suffering; and, through the Prophet Jeremiah, God confirmed that His judgment was coming! It was inevitable, irreversible & non-negotiable! He even told Israel to quit praying for revival; and, to pray for their captors instead! By way of application, it’s time Christ’s Church in America wake up! It’s time we confess our sin of idolatry! We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ Commission to His Church; and, we’ve given great occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme! Wake up, Church! Let us repent & return to the work of the Lord in faithfulness!