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  • relationships are the graduate school of Christianity
  • you can have all sorts of good knowledge of theology and the Bible, but if you have lousy relationships, you are nothing
  • relationships are where the rubber hits the road
  • look at the priority that Jesus puts on relationships
  • turn with me to Mark 12
  • 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
  • 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
  • 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
  • 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.
  • 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
  • 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
  • in other words, the command to love others as we love ourselves is central to the Gospel message
  • and yet many of us fudge on this matter
  • to illustrate this, I heard a story about a man who went to a pet store to buy some dog food
  • on the way in, he heard the parrot say, “Mister!”
  • when he turned around, the parrot said, “You’re the ugliest man I’ve ever seen!”
  • the man was flabbergasted, but went anyway and paid for the dog food
  • on the way out of the store, he heard the parrot again cry, “Mister! You’re the ugliest man I’ve ever seen!”
  • this time the man was getting really angry
  • so he asked to speak to the manager and he complained
  • the manager said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it and it will never happen again”
  • he heard the manager take the parrot into the back, and he heard feathers flying and the bird getting slapped around
  • the manager brought the parrot back and placed it on the perch
  • as the man was leaving the store, the parrot yelled “Mister!”
  • really annoyed, the man turned around and looked at the parrot
  • and the parrot said, “You know”
  • many of us go around with plastic smiles treating people with a veneer of respect, but underneath that veneer, we’re saying, “You know”
  • we’ve learned not to say certain things and to treat other people with respect, but our underlying attitude is saying, “You know”
  • the phrase “one another” occurs 58 times in the New Testament
  • commands like “love one another”, “pray for one another,” and my personal favorite, “greet one another with a holy kiss”
  • what I want you to do is to think of the two most important relationships you have, and write them down
  • now think of the two most challenging or frustrating or broken down relationships you have, and write them down
  • now if the same people are on both lists, you have problems
  • and I want to look at a few points as we think of these four key relationships
  • POINT ONE: YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THESE PEOPLE DIRECTLY AFFECTS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
  • it’s impossible to relate well to God when we have poor relationships with those in our lives
  • we lose the ability to have an unencumbered relationship with God when there’s a breakdown in love
  • we like to think that we can have a breakdown in a human relationship and go on and relate to God like nothing happened
  • the Bible says you can’t do that
  • (James 3:9-10) With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
  • (1 John 4:20) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
  • our relationship with each other and our relationship with God have this linkage
  • it’s a little like a family system
  • picture a dad who’s going to go fishing with his two sons
  • but the sons have had a fight, they’re really angry with each other, but they want to go fishing with dad
  • so they’re out in the boat, but you can smell a little something in the boat
  • even though they think they can relate to their father okay, every conversation is measured
  • every action in the boat is carefully calculated
  • the father tries to engage the two boys, but he has a hard time
  • the odor of hostility in the boat is worse than the smell of the worms and the fish
  • by 9 a.m. they pack it in and head to shore
  • the family system is breaking down
  • imagine another boat, where the dad’s in the middle seat and the boys are getting along with each other
  • the atmosphere in that boat is free and happy, there is energy and humor, the conversations flow unedited, there is no eggshelling going on, actions are spontaneous, the fishing is enjoyable
  • what keeps the boat on the lake until sunset is the quality of the family system
  • the richness of the community in all of its various dynamics
  • the aroma is very sweet
  • Jesus taught that in his kingdom, we need to think of Christianity as kind of a family system
  • with a father in the center of the boat, and his various children in different parts of the boat
  • the father’s desire is that the children relate to him warmly and to each other with hearts of love and grace
  • because if they do, what happens in the boat is wonderful
  • there’s a life-giving atmosphere
  • the aroma is so sweet that people crowd down by the beach, wishing they could spend time on that boat because there’s love on that boat
  • but some of us know all too well that love is a terrible place to be if love breaks down
  • it’s a confined space, and soon you can smell it in the air, and you can hear whispers and rumors, and accusations are flying, and sides are being taken, and voices are becoming shrill and hostile
  • and you know where it really turns ugly? if in the middle of that boat somebody suggests they all hold hands and sing a worship song
  • I’ve actually heard of that happen one time
  • I’ve sat in a board meeting where hostilities have erupted
  • I’ve read of a board meeting in a church that degenerated into name calling and yelling and even the slip of a profanity or two
  • but the meeting had to be cut short because they had to go over to the evening service
  • the guy who was leading the evening service was the guy who chaired the meeting
  • all the board members sat in the same row, and the leader got up and said, “Let’s sing They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”
  • it’s really hard to worship God properly when all you can see on the screen of your imagination is the mugshot of somebody you’re really mad at
  • try to fix that relationship before it breaks down your relationship with the Father, before it affects the family system
  • Jesus told a story that we know as the Good Samaritan
  • in this story, a man is mugged and left on the highway
  • you know the first two people that come along and step past the man without giving him any help?
  • a priest and a Levite
  • how well do you think that priest and Levite worshipped God that morning?
  • some of you are wondering why your relationship with God isn’t doing that well
  • think of the two on the list that are the most challenging
  • that could be the reason why
  • POINT TWO: HOW YOU HANDLE DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIPS DETERMINES YOUR EMOTIONAL AND ULTIMATELY YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
  • I know a man who is carrying the same grudges that he did 20 years ago
  • and to hear him speak, he’s as full of venom now over events that happened decades ago as he ever was
  • and it’s killing him
  • the bitterness not only has affected his emotional health, but it takes its toll on the body
  • if you rupture your Achilles’ tendon, you can go several days or even weeks before you have surgery
  • nothings bleeding, the complications aren’t severe
  • contrast that to a ruptured appendix
  • if you rupture your appendix, you better get to a hospital fast
  • forget what other things you have to do
  • toxins are going to spread through your body, and it could be lights out permanently if you don’t deal with it immediately
  • a ruptured relationship is like a ruptured appendix
  • once the rupture occurs, poisons are released immediately, and before you know it resentment sets in
  • we can be in a great relationship one day, and less than 24 hours later be worked up to a point where we can say, “I hate that guy! He can never be trusted! She can never be trusted! I’ll never talk to them again”
  • that thirty minutes you wait could be too long
  • Jesus says in Matthew 5
  • 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
  • 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
  • 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
  • 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
  • Jesus even uses a legal matter
  • he says if somebody sues you, you’re better off settling it out of court, it’ll be much cheaper and better
  • speed is of the essence; don’t let it go
  • Ephesians 4:26 Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
  • Ephesians 4:27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
  • don’t let the toxins take effect
  • if you let a grudge settle overnight, the Scripture says you’re in danger of giving Satan a foothold
  • a little room to maneuver in your soul
  • and your witness to the world could be destroyed, your relationship to God endangered, and your health compromised
  • the kiss of death in our relationships is what the Scriptures call hardness of heart
  • he says, try to reconcile the relationship
  • he doesn’t say, go out and vomit all your hurt on somebody, or point a finger of shame on somebody
  • he doesn’t say push all the issues under the carpet and smile a false spiritual smile
  • he says go and try to reconcile that relationship
  • Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
  • unfortunately, I have some people that have been offended by me
  • but Paul says “as far as it depends on you”
  • do everything you can, make one more attempt to reconcile the relationship
  • but unfortunately,
  • you can’t be healthy as long as bitterness is in your soul
  • a man named Stephen Covey has written at least three books
  • executives pay thousands of dollars to hear him speak
  • but Stephen Covey says you automatically fulfill all his teaching when you do one simple thing: fix a broken relationship
  • POINT THREE: IT’S NOT HOW WE TREAT THE 99, IT’S HOW WE TREAT THE ONE
  • of course I’m referring to the story Jesus told about the shepherd and the 99 sheep
  • one of the points I would make is, it’s very important how the shepherd reacts to the one sheep, because each of the 99 sheep could have been that sheep
  • you can be a great success in 99 of your relationships, but what about that number 100?
  • we all know people that are just plain hard to love
  • a man named Adolphus attended a Chicago inner city church
  • Adolphus was a young black man with a wild, angry look in his eye
  • if Adolphus took his medication on Sunday, he was manageable
  • otherwise, well, church could be even more exciting than usual
  • one week he might start at the back and high-hurdle his way over the pews down to the altar
  • he might raise his hands in the air during a hymn and make obscene gestures
  • or he might wear headphones and bebop instead of listening to the sermon
  • as part of this church’s worship service, they had a time called “Prayers of the People”
  • everyone would stand and spontaneously different people would call out a prayer – prayers for peace, for healing, for justice
  • and after every spoken request, everyone would join in, “Lord, hear our prayer”
  • well, Adolphus joined right in
  • “Lord, thank you for creating Whitney Houston and her magnificent body!” he prayed one morning
  • after a short pause, a few chimed in weakly, “Lord, hear our prayer”
  • “Lord, thank you for the big recording contract I signed last week, and for all the good things happening to my band!”
  • well, he was making it up, but everyone joined in, “Lord, hear our prayer”
  • once Adolphus prayed that “the white honky pastors of this church would see their houses burn down this week”
  • nobody seconded that prayer
  • Adolphus had already been kicked out of three churches
  • a group of people in the church, including a doctor and a psychiatrist, took on Adolphus as a special project
  • every time he had an outburst, they would pull him aside and talk it through, using the word “inappropriate” a lot
  • they learned that Adolphus sometimes walked the five miles to church on Sunday
  • some of us might move the church farther away to make it harder for Adolphus to attend, but they began to offer him rides
  • one day he asked to play in the music group that sang during Communion services
  • they reached a compromise
  • they told him that he could stand with the others and sing, but only if his electric guitar remained unplugged
  • so he would stand up and play his guitar which nobody could hear, except on the weeks when he didn’t take his medication
  • then he would do a gyrating Joe Cocker imitation across the platform
  • the day came when Adolphus asked to join the church
  • elders quizzed him on his beliefs, found little by way of encouragement, and decided to put him on a kind of probation
  • he could join when he demonstrated that he understood what it meant to be a Christian, and when he learned to act appropriately around others in the church
  • against all odds, his story has a happy ending
  • Adolphus calmed down and started calling people in the church when he felt the craziness coming on
  • he even got married
  • and on the third try, Adolphus was finally accepted for church membership
  • what this story teaches me is about grace
  • it’s not what we do with the 99 that is the test, it’s what we do with the people like Adolphus
  • Jesus said in Matthew 25
  • 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
  • 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
  • 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
  • 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
  • 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
  • 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
  • 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
  • what we do to the least, we’re actually doing to God
  • when we refuse the least, we’re really refusing Jesus
  • I asked you at the beginning of the message to think of two people that are the most important to you
  • and two people who are the most challenging to you
  • your relationships with them are so important that they will determine your obedience to the second greatest command in the Bible
  • and the quality of these relationships will determine the quality of your relationship with the Father, and your emotional and ultimately your physical health
  • and how you treat the most unlovable people, the 1 out of the hundred, is how you treat our Savior
  • the way we treat Adolphus is the way we’re treating our Savior