Three Keys to Good Relationships


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:

  1. Understand People – This is no small task, because people are very complicated.  We all have different experiences, beliefs, hurts, habits and hang-ups.  As we grow older these things all come out in our relationships.  Things that happened to us as a child effect us as adults.  Whether it is lies we are believing, hurtful experiences or our worldview, it all effects our relationships with the people around us.  To better understand people we need to be curious about the people around us.  We need to be able to connect on a deeper emotional level by talking about those past experiences, core beliefs and worldview.  We need to discover what their love language is and then speak that language with them on a regular basis.  We also need to read books about relationships that can help us to better understand why we do what we do.  Here are three books that have helped me a lot in the area of relationships:  “The DNA Of Relationships”  By Gary Smalley“The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman “Love & Respect” by Emmerson Eggrichs.
  2. Love People – Not many of us love people well.  We tend to be judgmental, hold grudges, be selfish, rude, sarcastic and jealous.  How to love well is clearly explained to us in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul wrote about the importance of love in 1 Corinthians 13.    He basically says that we can have all kinds of gifts and abilities, but if we don’t have love we have nothing.  Listen to these words about how to love:  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Read that again and put your name in place of love, does that describe who you are?  If not start today to change that.
  3. Help People – To have healthy thriving relationships we need to have a servants mindset.  We should be thinking about how we can serve and help the people around us.  We can only do this well if we understand the people around us and are loving well.  To help people we need to be able to add value to their lives.  Are the people around you benefiting from knowing you, or are you the only one benefiting?  When we add value to others we are building up our account with that person.  They will want to be around us and spend time with us.  If we are only taking in a relationship people will not want to spend time with us.  Helping people starts with the mindset of serving.  This does not come naturally to us because we are wired to look out for ourselves and not others.  This needs to be balanced with taking care of ourselves, so that we are healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually.  When we are healthy, we can serve and add value to those around us.  So that means going to a counselor, meeting with a mentor and working through our junk.  That can be a great way of helping others by helping ourselves.

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.

A Letter From Grandpa


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.

Fear Not


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:

  • You can worry and assume that Jesus no longer cares like the disciples did.
  • Or, you can resist that fear, and trust that God is in control and He will guide you through the storm.

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:

  • We need to fight fear with fear.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of freedom.  When we have the right fear and reverence for God, we obey Him and our focus is in the right place.
  • You and I must remind ourselves who’s in the boat with us.  When God permits us to go through a life storm, it’s usually to show us that there is no problem he can’t solve.  There is no storm that is too big for him.

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.

The Fear Factor in Relationships


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:

  • Withdrawal – You avoid others or alienate yourself without resolution; you sulk or use the silent treatment
  • Escalation – Your emotions spiral out of control; you argue, raise your voice, fly into a rage
  • Try Harder – You try to do more to earn other’s love & care
  • Blaming – You place responsibility on others, not accepting fault; you’re convinced the problem is the other person’s fault
  • Exaggeration – You make overstatements or enlarge your words beyond the bounds or the truth
  • Denial – You refuse to admit the truth or reality
  • Defensiveness – Instead of listening, you defend yourself by providing an explanation
  • Passive-aggressive – You display negative emotions, resentment, and aggression in passive ways, such as procrastination and stubbornness
  • Complaining – You express unhappiness or make accusations; you criticize, creating a list of the other person’s faults
  • Anger and Rage – You display strong feelings of displeasure or violent and uncontrolled emotions
  • Humor – You use humor as a way of not dealing with the issue at hand
  • Sarcasm – You use negative humor, hurtful words, belittling comments, cutting remarks, or demeaning statements
  • Minimization – You assert that the other person is overreacting to an issue; you intentionally underestimate, downplay, or soft-pedal the issue
  • Rationalization – You attempt to make your actions seem reasonable; you try to attribute your behavior to credible motives; you try to provide believable but untrue reasons for your conduct

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:

  • Rejection – The other person doesn’t want me or need me; I am not necessary in this relationship; I feel unwanted
  • Disconnection – We will become emotionally detached or separated; I will feel cut off from the other person
  • Failure – I am not successful at being a husband/wife, friend, parent, coworker; I will not perform correctly; I will not live up to expectations; I am not good enough
  • Inadequate – I am not capable; I am incompetent
  • Invalidated – Who I am, what I think, what I do, or how I feel is not valued
  • Unloved – The other person doesn’t care about me; my relationship lacks warm attachment, admiration, enthusiasm, or devotion
  • Judged – I am always being unfairly judged; the other person forms faulty or negative opinions about me; I am always being evaluated; the other person does not approve of me.
  • Ignored – The other person will not pay attention to me; I feel neglected

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?

The list of reactions and fears came from Gary Smalley and his book – “The DNA of Relationships.”