Thursday, 18 February 2010

Building Inclusive Relationships

I want to address how we can get traction in our relationships. Getting the body in shape is one thing. Getting our own life and relationships in shape is another! I’ve written about building good relationships in other places. On this occasion I want to give some keys about how we can move forward into our destiny. What I write is all learned from personal experience and resonates in scripture.

Prov 13.20 says this; He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. Wow. Is it really like that? I’m now in my fifties and life has shown that this is absolutely true. Who you hang with has a tremendous influence on your life. And so it should. The key is to choose wisely who you allow to be your friends and companions. For you will end up like them, for good or for bad.

Paul picked up on this when he warned the Corinthian believers, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” (NET) 1Cor 15.33. He had written them a letter (before 1Corinthians) warning them not to keep company with sexually immoral people. They had completely misunderstood his point and were avoiding all unbelievers. So in 1Cor 6.9-13 he wrote again and clarified his meaning. I’ll do a liberal paraphrase for you.

“I’m not talking about people in the world. I expect that from them. That’s how they live unless they get saved. You need to interact with them. How else will they hear the message – the good news of Jesus? I’m talking about people who profess to be believers but their lives are not changed. They can’t walk the talk. Those are the people you should censor. Don’t even eat with them - they’ll corrupt you”.

You get the point. Now let’s be clear here. Paul is not talking about people who have areas of weakness in their life and are in a process of dealing with those issues. They are to be respected and applauded for facing their problems and wanting them resolved. Paul is addressing those who are proud and unrepentant about their lifestyle that is unbiblical. They make continuous accommodations for behaviour that is clearly challenged in scripture. They are deceived.

Prov 1.10 says: “If sinners entice you, do not consent”. In other words learn to say no to things you know to be wrong. But saying no to some people is not easy. We’ve all experienced peer pressure. The famous line we sued at school was, “I dare you!” Or worse, “I double dare you!” Backing down from such a taunt was never easy. You risked unending amounts of tease and ridicule. But there comes time when we need to see where that kind of friendship is taking us and pull back.

Heb 10.24 tells us to, “Provoke one another to love and good works”. That’s what I look for from my friends. Do they stir me to love God and others more? Do I find myself involved in things that have virtue and value? Can I admire the way they live and how they do life? Am I stretched to go further for God when around them? Do they help me explore my full potential and gifting? Choose wisely. Destinies are at stake.

The second thing that has helped me in life is being genuinely accountable to another person. There has to be someone to whom you can say, “I give you permission to speak into my life”. Risky business? Yes, but without it you’ll never make any significant step forward into your future. Find someone who cares, who is mature, who is a few steps ahead of you and commit to a season of being mentored by them.

In 1Cor 16.15-16 we read; “I urge you brethren – you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints – that you also submit to such and to everyone who works and labours with us”. Paul reminded the church of Stephanas and his household. They were early converts in the region of Achaia (where Athens and Corinth were situated). Paul lifts him up along with the members of his household as an example of someone they could submit to and be lead by.

The twelve followed Jesus. Paul followed Barnabas. Timothy followed Paul. John Mark followed Barnabas then Peter. Moses had his Joshua and Elijah had his Elisha. Who are you looking to? Who is looking to you? Discipleship is not discipleship without accountability. It takes a while to mature as a Christian. John talks of those who are children, young men and fathers in the Kingdom. I see this as three distinct phases of spiritual growth. Interestingly he addresses fathers after children and not after young men, 1John 2.12-14. Why?

Rather than be chronological in the development of a believer, John highlights the key figures in reaching maturity; fathers. There they sit right in the middle of the whole process; for they are the ones who help children transition into young men. That’s how I grew as a Christian. And the casualties I’ve witnessed over the years often lacked real spiritual fathers they could be accountable to.

Jesus made it clear in His teaching that we are all accountable to God for our life choices. The whole of Matthew 25 highlights this principle. Jesus borrowed from real life to make this point. When accountability is missing deception or corruption can take root. Remember Nick Leeson? He’s the rogue trader whose unchecked risk-taking caused the biggest financial scandal of the 20th century. The collapse of Barings Bank (personal bank to HM The Queen) in 1995 is one of the most spectacular debacles in modern financial history. How could one trader bring down the banking empire that had funded the Napoleonic Wars? It wasn’t just his lies. The problem lay in the lack of accounting safeguards. There was no real accountability to expose his deception until it was too late.

Accountability shows us our blind spots. It often requires us to rethink a decision and come back with a new one or a stronger conviction about the first choice. Accountability makes us face reality, not as we perceive it to be, but as others around us see it. And in doing so we are often set free from subtle egocentric frames of reference that keep us back from seeing the big picture. Accountability keeps us honest, with ourselves and others. It is the gift that allows righteousness to truly reign.

The third thing that has helped me to grow in my relationships has been to learn how to take the initiative. Prov 18.24a is translated two ways. One version puts it like this; “A man that has friends must show himself friendly”. Another translation says: “A man of many friends will come to ruin”. There is some ambiguity in the Hebrew. But the reality is that both are true. In order to make friends you have to be friendly. But if you have too many ‘friends’, they are likely to be shallow relationships who abandon you in your time of need.
That is what happened to the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he had money everyone was his friend!

Yet it is possible to build lasting relationships, but someone has to make the first move. Jonathan took the initiative in his relationship with David and both were enriched. He watched out for David always taking the initiative to speak up on his behalf when he wasn’t around to defend himself. We do well to follow in his footsteps. Who knows how many David’s are in the wings waiting for someone to be an older brother to them in the real sense of that role?

Don’t wait for others to open up to you. You take the first step. Don’t wait for others to talk to you. You strike up a conversation. Having overcome your fear of initiating a conversation, stay with it. Get past the surface level stuff of who you are, where you’re from and what you do and go a little deeper. A man with many friends doesn’t dare to do this. It’s too vulnerable a place to be. Yet each of us desires that quality of friendship.

The challenge is to continually be willing to add people to our world. Those who don’t, form relationships that remain exclusive. They soon become cliques. There is an elitist feel to the group. They have their own ‘in jokes’ that outsiders can’t share in. Including others in our world is part of the gospel – for the gospel is universal, impartial and open to all. That needs to be reflected in the way we relate.

How would you encourage a new believer? It’s not rocket science. It’s as simple as inviting them to be part of what you do, not just the meetings you attend. We’re talking life here. Make it easy for them to say yes by going the extra mile. Give them a lift to an event instead of having to make their own way; at least in the initial stages. Introduce them to your friends. Be friendly.

How would encourage a believer who is a bit stuck in the mud? It means taking the initiative. Get close. Earn the right to say something. Begin by speaking to their potential – all the good that you see. Letting go of the bad is easier when we get a vision of the good. Maybe you even tell them about this series design to help believers get some traction in their life. Offer to hear it through with them and walk it out together. This is discipleship at its most basic.

Taking the initiative can be applied to almost every area of our Christian experience. Don’t allow passivity and indifference to hold you back. God always takes the initiative. He didn’t leave us lost. Like a shepherd He came to look for the lost sheep, leaving the ninety nine who were safe. If we are filled with the life of God we too will do the same. Listen to James on this: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins", James 3.19-20.

According to James it’s not just God who saves souls! We partner with Him in the process, but only when we take initiative. The word initiative means an introductory act or step, a willingness to take action. That is what I am challenging us to do. 1John 3.17 says our response to the needs of others is a test of God’s love in our hearts. And only an open heart can dare to be moved and take that step.