Relationships That Matter, Relationships That Last – Looking Closely, Keeping Close, for Heaven’s Sake

Elizabeth & Ward: 50’s. 30 yrs. married. Church pillars. He cheated. She was crushed. He justified himself. “The other party’s all my partner lacks. He was asked. “What do you lack? How will this speak to you and to God, even before your wife and 3 kids, of who and what you are and want to become?” Elizabeth was asked, “How will you be as a daughter of God, should he return, should he not; should you forgive, or not?” Both were asked, “What does it take to keep close, when others and God are looking closely?”Fred and Simon, 15 years partners. The accounts came up short. Ugly words exchanged. Accusations. Admissions of little sins and prior “withdrawals”. ‘Times each went around the other. Stuff about, “I never will forget what you said to me. It hurt.” ‘Phone rang. The bank. “Our error.” Now what? Partners, or no? What’s it take to keep close? Others & God are looking closely.”

Relationships are a blessing. It’s all about me blessing you and you blessing me. That’s the blessing God gives to us both in Jesus Christ! Here’s THE BEDROCK IDEAL of marriages, families, friendships, partnerships, churches… every kind of connection-between-us in Jesus Christ. THE unique, Christ-centered approach to all our bonds is this. Us is not about me, it’s about you. It’s about Him, because He gave you to me. It’s about God, who gave Christ to us all. Us is the ministry God gave to me when God gave me you! Read the marvelous words atop your bulletin today. Just before Jesus returns On High, he tells his own, “I send the promise of my Father upon you.” He told them to wait, collectively, for the Spirit… knowing their very togetherness was the down payment on that promise. The first-proof. It still is. So how might we live like it at home, school, work, play? Let’s look closely, in the hope of keeping close, for heaven’s sake.

Closeness helps the Spirit come close! “I send the promise of my Father,” says the Lord. When we draw nearer, we are drawn upward! ‘True, our marriages, like Liz & Ward’s, our friendships, our partnerships, like Fred & Simon’s can be battle grounds. But they are designed to be blessings. Difference challenges us. Gender, especially. Women desire affection, men admiration. Women crave attention, men announcement. Ta-da! Ladies: love active family involvement; men: active pampering. I just want to be appreciated, say ladies; fellas: gimme some lovin’, be at-the-ready-to-play with me. The common denominator: “I-itis”… or SIN… our Bibles tell us. Paradise passed away from people because from Adam and Eve on, we’ve put our personal wants and agendas before our partner’s and God’s. The only thing strong enough to overcome this and return us to God’s Garden: the love of Jesus on the cross. Granted, we can’t love quite like that, but Jesus commands and our partners desire that jaw-dropping love that loves by doing, never letting go. Agape! Blessing by blessing!

Paul gives specific how-to’s. Do you know them? “Put away lies; let every one speak the truth. After all, we belong to each other because we belong to Jesus. Be angry: but don’t sin. Ditch your anger before dark, daily! Don’t give the devil doodly!” Paul covers 2 of the top 5 marriage and connection breakers: untruthfulness, and belittling (words/thoughts). No one wants to bond to someone who deceives or outright lies. It’s a marriage killer, a church-buster, a partner dissolver. Even the white lie: few are that pure. Down deep, many a wife/husband/child inclines to ask, “If I can’t trust the answer to, ‘How do I look?’ how can I rest assured of the answer to, ‘What did you do?’ or ‘How do you feel?’” And deceit…is but a lie in slow motion. Proverbs is right, “Lying lips conceal hatred, and are an abomination to the Lord.” (10: 18; 12: 22) To belittle one another is little better. Partners want admiration, not disrespect. A volunteer please. “Kindly squeeze out all the tooth paste in that tube. Now, using the implements provided, kindly get the paste back in the tube. Demo. Carping, harping, criticizing, the under-breath smoldering of emotional underbrush that sometimes explodes. These are a long way from, “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rms. 12:10) Words, like this paste, can never be put back. Be mindful of yours in your relationships. Be a blessing… by blessing! Become “new persons in Christ”, and the kitchen table, the office, the school room become new places too. There are other relationship wreckers. “Give the devil no chance.” Paul doesn’t speak of money here, but he could have. Hmm. Resources/Money, not evil, but at its root. It’s not the bucks that bedevil us, but the love of them. Misplaced priority’s the thing. Idol worship. Paul wrote Timothy, “The rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires.” I’ve seen this twist countless marriages, harm friends, dissolve daters into disinterest. Bible help is available. “The lover of money will not be satisfied with it, nor the lover of wealth with gain.” The Bible principle is this. Beware what you value/lean on. Nothing/no one can say what Jesus does, “Whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty.” Jn. 4: 14 The other holy corrective to money is the tithe. Giving up the first and best, knowing God will see to all the rest. Couples, friends, are often spared by the principle of giving. It prioritizes our priorities. (E.g.: K/BH, yr. 1) “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” writes Paul. There are a bzillion ways. In relationships, here are just two. Wrong reliance. Infidelity. All substance abuse, bottled, smoked, injected, digested stems from wrong reliance, a grief to the Spirit. The Bible knows nothing of drugs, doesn’t condemn alcohol. But it cautions, “Wine is a mocker… whatever is led astray by it is not wise.” Prov. 20: 1 Surely Paul knew the words, “Two are better than one, for if they fall one will lift the other. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecc. 4:9-12 If a friend or spouse tells you you have a substance problem, let them lift you. Trust, believe, follow them. And remember, it’s not just you two against the demon, the third cord in the unbreakable rope is Christ. Therein is your real strength. Infidelity grieves the Spirit. There’s the obvious marital kind. But more subtle forms are just as lethal. The too-close friendship where you give your heart away. To another person, cause, commitment. (Prada, “The one on the other end of the phone line is your relationship) Simply withholding your affection or attention, refusing to be fully present to your partner, causes similar pain. Remember Liz and Ward? He strayed. She had long withdrawn. Neither had been fully faithful, but each differently. Fred and Simon withdrew communication, thus trust. The damage was nearly deadly. Is any of this in your past, present, future?

STOP! What can save us if these can destroy us? How can we goof proof our connections? Read our lesson. Eph. 4: 31-32 aloud. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice; be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Here’s some immensely practical applied theology. Paul, surprise, got it from Jesus. Either he actually heard it on that hillside, or heard of it. You remember the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Do you recall those other famous words from the same sermon? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yup, we learned it in Sunday School. The Golden rule! Whereas many a rabbi cautioned, don’t do what you wouldn’t want, Jesus makes it an active, positive command. Actually do what you yourself would prefer. There’s a second version of the same lesson. “Love your neighbor (and who lives closer than those you love),”…how… “as yourself!” Liz and Ward eventually reconciled, still healthfully together 25 yrs. later. In part, because they discovered what they wanted to value in themselves, and then began to discover and practice that with each other.

Like Paul, my colleague Adam Hamilton’s helped me with this. He takes the Apostle’s words and makes this observation. Six words can save many a relationship, circumstance, covenant, marriage. “I am sorry.” And, “I forgive you.” Here is malice melted. Here is tenderness. Here is doing for each other as Christ has done for us. The rabbis used to tell of one who wandered the streets of wicked Sodom crying out, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the stranger. Do not wrong one another.” No one listened. But he continued. Finally someone asked, “Why do you keep crying out ‘Be good.’ Obviously no one’s listening.” He replied, “I don't cry out so they will listen. They will not. I cry out so I will listen and not become like them.” Jesus, on the other hand, took a different way. “He became as we…fully… tempted, but without sin.” “He emptied himself and took the form of a servant.” From the cross, the cross mind you, he uttered, “Father, forgive them.” In effect declaring, “They just have no idea…” His idea was forgiveness. Positively, utterly doing for us, as he would have for himself. Closeness with God. A ministry of drawing near with faith. Adam Hamilton writes of marriage, “It’s not simply the next step after falling in love, but a calling from God, a lifelong mission of service, caring and ministry to another… seeking to be, on God’s behalf, a companion and helper.” Like the best friendships, I’d say, and more! So… look closely. Keep close, for heaven’s sake. It’s the first proof of the promise of God: the Spirit, delivered by Christ himself!

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