Relationally Founded- Right relationships are the heart of our lives and ministry.
My former pastor, Steve Bredesen, found himself faced down on the floor one day while he was in seminary. Now being face down on the floor is an awkward place to be. It is a place of helplessness from a fall, or surrender because of the fall. Steve was face down praying to God, and God gave him a word. A word to build his ministry around, and that word was Relationship.
It should be no surprise that we begin with relationships because our God does not just act in relationships or is relationally-oriented. Our God is relationship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now admittedly , there is much that we do not understand about the Trinity, but what we can understand about the Trinity tells us much about the essential nature of right relationships.
Dr. Steve Seamands in his book Ministry in the Image of God talks about what we can learn from the relationship of the Trinity. He outlines seven qualities of the Trinity that our foundational for our understanding of being in right relationships with one another: Relational Personhood, Joyful Intimacy, Glad Surrender, Complex Simplicity, Gracious Self-Acceptance, Mutual Indwelling, and Passionate Mission. The Trinity exemplifies relationship for us. The Trinity teaches us that we are made for relationships, and not just a Facebook friendship, but with an intimacy that is goes deeper than we are even aware of. While we are still in individuals, we are individuals dependent on relationships. God has created us for relationships. Physiologically, we are created for relationships, and we are physiologically oriented to complete one another.
For us, right relationships must begin with God. One time Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 3 If we do not have a right relationship with God, all of our other relationships will be wrong. Period. Christ must be our foundation of relationship. He is the one who teaches us what love is, instead of what the romantic comedies show us. More importantly, He is the one whose very love, frees us to truly love. A right relationship with God is the very core of our identity. Our identity is shaped by the love of God.
Jesus continues his answer with this, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Dr. Mulholland, one of my seminary professors, says that the understanding of the statement, “And a second is like it” can be translated “another way to say the same thing is…” Thus, our relationship with ourselves and others is an extension of our relationship with the Triune God. So, we need to love our neighbors and ourselves. We, Christians, often like talking about loving our neighbors well, but we do not spend as much time talking about loving ourselves, but the only way we can love others the way we are called to is if we love ourselves. We must have right relationship with ourselves. We are called to be balanced people, who embracing loving ourselves. This is not an ego-boosting-kind-of-love, but it is a nourishment-of-the-soul-kind-of-love. Loving ourselves frees us to better love others. For example, one way I can love myself is by engaging in some sort of recreation especially sports related recreation. When I engage in watching a football game with friends or driving balls on the range, my soul is replenished, and thus I am better for others. It is easy to over-indulge yourself and saturate yourself with nourishment and become fat instead of fit in the faith. Nevertheless, we must be in right relationship with ourselves to be the people that God has created us to be.
Being in right relationship with our neighbors is essential. As it has been often said, “No man is an island.” Neither should there be a “lonely disciple.” A disciple is one who has right relationships with those closest to them especially one’s family. This, of course, can be a difficult thing because we have had more time to notice their brokenness and expose our brokenness. However, the call to love our neighbor begins with the ones we share a roof with.
Our call to loving our neighbors continue with the neighbors we know and like. This is probably the easiest relationship we have. We share things in commons. We have mutual friends, and we can maintain these friendships easy. However, we must be intentional about showing God’s love to them in deeper and deeper ways. Being in right relationships with others beckons us to love them enough to lovingly encourage one another to growth in Christ. Our call is to love our neighbors enough that we invite each other into our homes.
However being in right relationships must continue with love of our enemies, as Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt. 5:46-47) Christians must be in right relationships with those who have greater distance from us. Being in right relationship with those who don’t love you begins with loving them and being God’s grace for them. Also included in this is setting appropriate boundaries that does not enable brokenness of the other and also protects yourself from feeling entirely responsible for the relationship. It is the sort of grace that knows when to say yes, when to say no, and humble enough to say I don’t know.
Finally, we are called to be in right relationships with all those around the world. Being a person in right relationships demands that we remember our connectedness to one another. Being a Christian, necessitates that what happens halfway around the world effects us. The 143 million orphans around the world are our brothers and sisters, and though all of us are not called to adopt, all of us are called to stand up and act justly and lovingly to our neighbors around the world.
Thus, we are made for relationships and our lives are lived out in relationships. Relationships help to define us. Relationships is the nature of the Triune God, and it is to be our nature as well. No person is an island, and we have a great responsibility for one another. In the television show Lost, Jack, one of the leaders, made a rallying speech in one of the first episodes that attempted to bind the variety of characters together, and his climatic word to them was “Live together, die alone.” So it is with us.