Life is all about relationships. When our relationships are healthy, our lives tend to be healthy. When our relationships are strained or broken we are strained and broken. Our closest relationships are the ones that affect us the most. Having and maintaining healthy relationships takes work and constant learning. The reason relationships take work is because each of us tend to be selfish at times and that hurts our relationships. When we stop trying to improve ourselves, the people around us suffer. That is why we should always be working on ourselves and how we can strengthen our character. As I think about keys to healthy relationships, it really boils down to these three areas:
Relationships really matter and the harder we work on ourselves and our relationships the happier and healthier we will be. One last thought about relationships. Forgiveness is needed in every relationship in order last over time. We will hurt each other and let each other down, and the ability and desire to reconcile and forgive is vital to long term relationships. I will talk more about forgiveness later.
Every year around Christmas my grandpa Stutzman sends out a letter and sometimes a poem. This year he shared an extended poem in tribute to grandma who passed away last November. I just started reading it. My grandpa Stutzman was a pastor for many years and he still loves to write. Maybe that is where I get some of my passion for writing and speaking. He has been an inspiration to me over the years and an encouragement to finish life well. He was married for 68 years and turned 91 in September. Even now he is focused on his relationship with God and helping others with that relationship as well.
When I think of my grandpa, I think of a man that is very focused on God and the eternal, a man that loved his wife deeply and loved his children and family well. I think of a man that welcomed my wife Vikki into the family when we got married over 22 years ago, even though she was not Mennonite. I think of a man that has impeccable character and integrity. He started a book store many years ago and built that business with the help of his family. His love of books and reading and poetry has been passed on to many in the family. He loved to preach and has told me that many times. I think it’s the one thing he misses most since his retirement. I thought I would share some of his letter entitled “Joyous Christmas Season 2011” that he sent to family and friends this Christmas as a tribute to David Stutzman:
Another Christmas season has arrived. With that season comes the knowledge that the year is coming to a close. Though we do not know the exact date of Christ’s arrival, I think it is quite interesting that we are closing the year on a joyous note. So to my many friends and loved ones I wish a MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR. In your prosperity keep your focus firmly fixed on the Eternal. Make that your New Year’s resolution.
Two words in John 1:4, and I love them; Life and Light. Then a third word in verse 9 is descriptive, “That was the True Light”. Verse 4 then is so profound. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus arrived in a dark world, so it was soon clear that He was that true light. True life is always luminous. It always lights up and is revealing. Jesus himself said in John 14A:6 “I am the way, (for going) the truth, (for knowing) and the life, (for growing).” It is very clear then that Jesus was that True Light.
The reason for the Father to send His Son into a dark world is very interesting. His sole purpose was to put that light into some being where it would luminously shine. He did not choose the angels because they were already lighted up. For example, if I take my flashlight into a brightly lit room and turn it on, it would not be noticeable. But if I take it into a dark room it will shine brightly. So the Father sends His True Light and Life into a dark world. He places that light into us darken sinners and makes us alive and luminously shining. I become the showcase that the True Light is lighting up. The glory is not mine, but it belongs to the Illuminator. May we this Christmas season thank God for the True Light and Life. May our lives be a luminous glow for Jesus.
I hope that was a blessing to you as we head toward Christmas. Shine brightly! Love you Grandpa.
Why are you so afraid? Jesus spoke those words to his followers after he calmed a storm. It’s a question he is still asking all of us. Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?
Here is what was happening at that time. Jesus had been building his ministry and had attracted many people. He had just spent most of the day teaching the people gathered about the Kingdom of God. He was teaching in stories, and many of the people had trouble understanding the stories and their full meaning. He would always take time to fully explain his stories to his closest followers. The Bible tells us that when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
So after a day of teaching and then explaining the teaching in simple terms to his disciples, he said to his disciples “Let’s go over the other side.” So off they go to cross the Sea of Galilee. This sea is known for having violent and unexpected storms. When the storm hit, these seasoned fishermen panicked, thinking the storm was going to sink the boats and they would drown. This was no ordinary storm it was bigger than any of them had experienced before. As this storm began, Jesus was sleeping. He was tired from a long day of teaching.
Jesus knew this storm was coming, yet he chose to go to sleep. That really bothered his followers. How could he sleep at a time like this!
They finally woke him up and said; don’t you care if we drown?
Does any of this sound familiar? Our lives are full of unexpected violent storms. It often feels like Jesus is sleeping and does not care that we are in this sorm. We feel like we need to cry out and wake him up. We want him to keep us safe and take the storm away.
The disciples knew who Jesus was, they believed what he was teaching them, yet they underestimated his power. They did not fully trust that he would not let them drown. We often get spiritual amnesia and don’t remember all the things God has done for us and how He has helped us in the past.
We are the same way, we believe in God and may even have read and studied what he has to teach us; yet we don’t fully trust him with the storms that come up in our lives. We often equate our lives being out of control as God not being able to control.
Think about the storms in your life-the situations that cause you great anxiety. Whatever your difficulty or challenge, you have two options:
The difference is where we keep our focus – on the problem or on God.
We too often try to take control of the ship and fix things on our own. When we do that and exclude God, he patiently waits for us to come to him and trust him, to put our faith in him.
Here are two lessons we learn in life’s storms:
Traveling through these storms with Jesus in our boat strengthens our faith, develops our character and deepens our relationship with him. That only happens when we completely trust him no matter what comes our way. Even when we don’t understand why something is happening, God wants us to trust him and not be afraid. When we try to lean on our own understanding we will fall down and miss what God has for us.
Proverbs 3:5-6 say “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Leaning means putting our full weight on him, resting on him without fear of falling. God knows what is best for us, because he has a much bigger perspective than we do.
If you are in the middle of a life storm, know that Jesus is in the boat with you, or you can invite him into your boat. Once there, he will never leave you, he will stick with you through the most violent storms imaginable. Lean on him when you don’t know what your next move should be. Trust God completely, he might not make the storm go away, but he will not let you drown.
None of us need new ways to screw up our relationships. The way in which we mess things up is working just fine. Most of us tend to fail in the same ways over and over again. It is part of our hard wiring that has happened over our entire lives. We have learned how to deal with pain, in mostly unhealthy ways. At the core of our behaviors that cause problems in our lives is fear. Fear is what drives us to do and say things that mess up our relationships. These fears have been embedded in us over a long period of time and when certain buttons are pushed, the fear rises up and out rushes our response to the heat or pain we are experiencing. Our emotions are an indicator of what is going on inside of us. They are like warning lights that something is not right. Fear will amplify those emotions to the point of no return.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is what do I do when I am afraid? What is my typical reaction when my fear button gets pushed? Here is a list of some of the most common unhealthy reactions we have:
There are many more I could list, but I am sure there are several responses in here that we all can claim as to how we respond when the heat is turned up in our lives. These responses usually bring the same results, however we continue to use them in our conflict situations, because we truly believe we are doing the right thing. We are trying to get the other person to stop whatever behavior triggered the fear inside of us. Unfortunately each of these reactions only tends to poke at the fear inside the other person, which causes them to respond in one of these ways as well.
So around we go doing this dysfunctional, awkward, relational dance with the people around us. The fears we experience are a result of lies that we truly believe. Some of the most common fears that cause these reactions are as follows:
There are many more fears as well, but again I think each of us can identify several fears we struggle with. As we identify these fears and begin to understand the lie behind it and what is going on inside of us when these fears rise up, we can begin to change the way in which we choose to respond. This is called self-awareness.
The best way in which to overcome these fears is by growing closer to God and fully understanding how only He can meet the deep emotional needs that we all have. Our fears will never go away, but we can learn to turn to God when they pop up and lean on Him for the strength we need to respond in a healthy, humble way. The best way to fight fear is with fear. What I mean by that is when we have a healthy fear or reverence for God it helps us to have more courage in the face of the inner fears we have. The fear of the Lord is what sets us free from the fear of man, finances, death, divorce and the future.
The Bible says that fear and love cannot cohabitate. So when our hearts are filled with God’s love we have the power to react or respond in a different way. We can hold our tongue, listen and try to understand, ask questions to clarify, wait for the right time to confront, seek help from others, admit our part, ask for forgiveness, grant forgiveness, use words that are positive and encouraging, use body language that is open and loving. Fear is all about ourselves, while love is all about other people. Fear is inward focused while love is outward focused. Every time we face a fear we have an opportunity to trust God or trust ourselves. When we trust God, even when we don’t know the outcome, we grow closer to Him and farther away from those fears.
So what is keeping you from surrendering everything to God and trusting Him? What is keeping you from fearing God more than man? What emotional wall are you hitting repeatedly that causes fear to rise up inside of you? What reactions need to be changed in order to improve your relationships?