The Value Of Relationships

 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” – James 1:19-20.

Relationships play a vital role in our lives, and oftentimes they are a constant source of heartache and frustration. Chances are, all of us have some type of relational brokenness in our lives. If you thought about it for a few seconds you probably would think about specific people and situations. But relationships provide us with friends and family to share our lives with and people who can help us out in tough times.

We were made for relationships. We were made for healthy relationships. Surviving in the world today requires deep relationships. But those relationships do not just happen, they require effort. We have to do more than just reach out to others, we have to share our lives with others as well. Relationships can be a tangible expression of God’s love for people through how we interact with, connect with, and care for them through our relationships.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus recognized the importance of building lasting relationships. Lasting relationships are those that stand the test of time and create a deep sense of personal commitment on the part of both participants.

Take the story of Jesus walking on water. He displayed His divine command of the natural world while using the experience to show Peter the importance of where he placed his trust and faith.“Why did you doubt?” Jesus asked Peter. Jesus knew that respect and trust were the essential ingredients in building lasting relationships.

Did this mean that Jesus was always successful in maintaining relationships on His terms? Surely not. Some people never trusted Him or turned their backs on His efforts when challenged to change. Others (like Peter) became fearful and struggled with doubt at many points. Still, others turned on Jesus and betrayed Him.

Having healthy relationships is central to being a part of the body of Christ. These are to be healthy, loving, and forgiving. And this is true not only within our immediate circle of other Christians, but also with our neighbors, business acquaintances, and even those people you find annoying. Are we willing to keep building them, even after some have failed and others have turned against you? Despite the actions or failings of others, Jesus continued to commit His life to creating lasting relationships – with leaders, with servants, with individuals, and with communities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your most important human relationship (marriage, parent/child, friendship, etc.)? What do you treasure most about this relationship? How do you nurture this relationship?
  2. Can you think back on a time in your life when you began to more deeply understand the importance of relationships? Maybe it took a hike in the woods, or maybe it was a relational rift, but has there been a time in your life when you felt the significance of relationships?

Out Of Date

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”- 2 Timothy 2:22

This devotional is aimed at men. We work hard to identify, date and pursue a woman we want to spend the rest of our life with. But once we get married all that effort can easily be forgotten. It is almost like our master plan is to first, identify a woman you wish to date. Second, get the girl to date and to like you back. Third, so impress the girl as you date so she will agree to marry you. Fourth get married. Fifth, relax. Sixth, get into a routine of kids, work, bills and stress with the girl you married.   

The man who dated, wooed, and passionately pursued the woman of his dreams transforms into the husband who shares a home, bills, and rearing children, complete with all the associated problems with those things with his wife. Dating provides the opportunity to get to really know your future spouse, to talk and bond, share dreams and aspirations for the future etc.  But why does that stop when we get married?  What we really want is a marriage that feels like a mission, a journey that moves towards something beautiful, fulfilling and God centered. Kind of like the way dating felt.

It makes you wonder why we stop dating when we get married.  Maybe it is because men don’t know how to date their wives. They did it before, but they’ve forgotten how, or they’re trying but it just doesn’t seem to be working. But here’s the bottom line.  I believe marriage benefits from dating. It is an opportunity to be alone with your wife and give her your full attention. Prove to her that she is more important than your career and schedule. I read a quote that I think has real value to those who are married as well as those who are considering getting married: Date night is food for your marriage.

Married couples that have regular date nights tell me they are important to oneness in their marriage. They made a point to get out, just the two of them; they talked, shared, and it made a difference in their marriage. If we waited until there was spare time, it just wouldn’t happen. They told me there are a lot of things out there to do, if we, as couples, are intentional, creative, and committed. Even those who have been married for years love their date nights, they look forward to them and treasure them.

I am not talking about break the bank, fancy, wear a tux, rent a limo kind of date, although there is nothing wrong with that. What I am talking about is a once-a-week date with your spouse to communicate with each other and to connect emotionally. I’m reminded of what Solomon said to his bride in Song of Solomon: “The fig tree ripens its figs,and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song of Solomon 2:13-14).

Dates are important for every couple, no matter what stage of family life you are in. If date nights are not part of your schedule, consider talking to your spouse to say you miss dating and want to connect again on that emotional level.  Intentional sharing and meaningful time together are a must for a successful marriage and an example for the kids to follow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to share enjoyable and meaningful time together as husband and wife?  What would it take to enable you to spend enjoyable time together on a more regular basis?  Babysitters?  Schedule readjustments?  A different approach to balancing work and family life?
  2. What one thing can you commit yourself to do this week in an effort to free up more time to spend with your spouse?
  3. How often do you sit down as a couple simply to talk to one another?  Do you set time aside specifically for this purpose?  Why or why not?
  4. Do you have regular date nights? If not, why not? If so, what can you do to keep them from becoming “routine” and “boring”?
  5. What are your most passionate interests as individuals?  What do you enjoy doing most?  How would your spouse answer these questions?  How can you use this knowledge to plan more meaningful times together?

A Culture Shock

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19.

Romans 12: 2 tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” The challenge is disengaging from the culture we live in. Let’s think about dating and relationships for moment.

For better or for worse? Really? With so many mixed messages in our culture that speak to the contrary, it is no wonder that young people don’t think of dating as the means of finding a spouse. Do we really, at a young age, grasp the definition of a commitment for life? We live in a throwaway culture. If it doesn’t click, discard it and move on. We get distracted so easily. 

It is hard for young people to stay focused on what really matters when they are dealing with so much coming at them that while acceptable in society is diametrically opposed to their Christian values and beliefs. The culture can easily become the norm rather than the exception. Those that are dating or contemplating marriage need to realize that it is a spiritual matter. Choosing your future spouse is more than just picking someone you’re compatible with. It’s a faith-filled journey of both joy and pain, but it’s through that journey that God reveals the very person that was created for each of us to fulfill his ultimate purpose for our lives.

By being open to God’s will in all aspects of dating, one can grow in our faith as God helps to shape the relationship. When searching for a spouse, it is essential to be open to God’s will and center one’s life around Christ. When you date with marriage in mind, you are, from the start, shaping a relationship that is built on character—a relationship that helps you to be a Godly partner. After all, it’s got to be much deeper, because we’re talking about for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

A question for all the married people out there: what would you do different if you were dating today? How is the culture different today? Would you make different choices? Would you listen to family and friends who offer advice?  Would you be more purposeful about dating? Would you make more mature decisions? 

We might consider what we can do to help young adults to discover and understand the real purpose of dating. We can help them make wiser choices. We can talk with them about decisions and commitments.  We can help them with questions about their faith in Jesus Christ and in dating and marriage. We can keep them from making the mistakes that so many young people have made before them. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think is (or was) the best part of dating?  What do you think is (or was) the hardest part of dating?   
  2. How does our culture impact the dating experience? How does your relationship with God impact your dating experience?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 15:33: Do you believe this verse includes dating? Why or why not?
  4. Read Song of Solomon 2:7: What does this verse mean to you?
  5. Discuss the idea of a mentor’s role in dating/relationship? Have you been impacted by the example of others?

The State of Relationships

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”- Mark 3:31-35 

If you were asked what the greatest blessings in your life are, what would your answer be? If you are like most people, your answer would be family, parents, brothers, your husband or wife, your children, your grandparents and maybe a few close friends. The next question is why you consider them a blessing in your life. There are many reasons why they could be a blessing in your life. Hopefully, some are a blessing because they lift you up, they support you and they help you with your walk with God.

In the Mark 31 passage above, Jesus’ family comes on the scene seeking to help Jesus, at least in their own minds. Jesus is surrounded by crowds of people and his family wants to take charge of Him.

If we are honest we want to be surrounded by people as well. We desire to be surrounded by people who will help us get ahead, people who will improve our life, people who will help us through the rough patches. We want people around us who we can spend time with, have fun and talk over the issues of the day.  But we also want people who we can be more open, more candid with. People we can do life with and know they have our back no matter what the circumstance. People we can feel secure with. People we can be intimate with: intimacy is defined as any relationship where we know another fully and where we are also fully known.

Our spouse can fill all those roles. The spouse can bring clarity to the relationship and energy, a unifying spirit and the ability to keep the focus on God where it belongs.

The world and God have different views on the recipe for a good marriage. The world might say that couples need “chemistry”. God takes a different view. He says the covenant that men and women make with one another is what a good marriage is based upon. Spouses honor one another and God by understanding and adhering to that covenant. Marital relationships are strengthened by growing together toward the same goals. We simply need to let go and let God handle it.   

God is constantly trying to change us into the persons He created us to be. He uses marriage for this purpose. Recognizing these things provides an entirely new perspective on marriage and will strengthen the relationships without crowds around us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kind of relationship do you want? What brings you closer to people, what pushes you away?
  2. What builds connections in your relationship with them?
  3. What time and energy are you willing to put in to developing intimacy in this relationship?
  4. How might you make them aware of your interest in building greater intimacy?

I Have Found The One Whom My Soul Loves…

“As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” – Song of Solomon 2:3.

Believers not familiar with the Song of Solomon will probably be taken back when they start reading the 117 verses in the 8 chapters. The questions of why The Song of Solomon is in the Bible and why we should study it are one in the same. When we come to study The Song of Solomon we see a very different presentation than we are used to in our studies of Scripture. The Song of Solomon is regarded as probably one of the most obscure and difficult books in the Bible. It can seem risqué, but when considered for its message, it is in harmony with the truths and teachings found elsewhere in Scripture. Most new Christians probably do a double take when they come in contact with it, yet when read carefully and reflect on the verses, you will discover the keen insights, and how deeply it probes into human relationships. Which is why we are spending the next six weeks on the Song of Solomon.

Here’s the thing. God thinks love, romance and sex is important, and Scripture contains numerous guidelines for its use and warnings about its misuse. Perhaps the highlight of this is the Song of Solomon, an intimate story of a man and a woman, their love, courtship, and marriage. It is a moving story, drama, and poem, featuring the love dialogue between a simple Jewish maiden (the young woman) and (Solomon, the king). They describe in intimate detail their feelings for each other and their longings to be together. Throughout the dialogue, love, romance, sex and marriage are framed with a God-given perspective.

As we study the Song of Solomon over the next several weeks, remember that you are loved by God, and commit yourself to seeing life, sex, and marriage from His point of view.

God wants us to enjoy our relationships. Life in Christ is not boring, without pleasure, without intimacy, but quite the opposite. There is much we can learn about intimacy. There is no better place to learn about God, love, and sex than in the Song of Solomon.

From courtship to marriage to the assurance of love, Song of Solomon poetically presents a broad range of events and feelings in the days leading up to and during marriage, offering encouragement toward an enduring love amid the petty jealousies and fears sure to threaten even the strongest of relationships. We should heed Solomon’s words by continuing to appreciate the goodness and the beauty that comes from the union of two people in marriage.

Song of Solomon reminds us that both marriage and the physical union that follows originate in God; we should therefore consider each of them as evidence of His grace working itself out in the world.

Whether you’re married, single, or struggling in a relationship, we all have questions about God, love, intimacy and sex. I believe we have real life answers for real life relationships in the Unforgettable Love Story: A Study of Love, Marriage and Romance series.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you studied the Song of Solomon before?
  2. Are you happy with your relationships? Yes or no?
  3. Do you need to work to change your outlook toward intimacy? Should you value it more highly? If married, do you enjoy it to the fullest?
  4. Pray and ask God to speak to you during this series on marriage, relationships and intimacy.

Defrosting My Relationships

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17.     

In Frozen, Elsa ran away from her problems rather than facing them. The big emotional arc of the movie involves Elsa conquering and controlling her fear and the impact her decision has on the people and on her sister.  The question for today is what is keeping our problems from melting away?  What is keeping us from a better relationship with God and the loved ones in our life. 

Sometimes it is hard to stay focused on God…at least on a regular basis. It isn’t that we don’t have the best intentions. But sometimes something freezes up or freezes over, or someone makes our blood run cold and boom, we lose sight of God. 

If we truly want to find God, we must be willing to do the things that God wants us to do. If we do this, we can start chipping away at the things that separate us from God. Searching for God is like looking for buried treasure. You will never find it waiting at the house for someone to bring it to you. You must go look for it. You must be willing to go to extremes to find it because although we don’t know where the treasure is, we know it is has indescribable value.  Looking for a treasure is never a straight line, you will need to change, adapt, refocus any number of times.

Sometimes we are simply too busy to adapt, to change plans, and refocus our efforts. So our connection with God can be temporarily frozen until we find the time to thaw it out. 

Frozen gives us one possible solution, although Elsa chose not to take advantage of the solution: seeking the counsel of others. I have learned over my years as pastor that in order to live any life—let alone a busy life—that still has God at the center, we need people who are close to us to help me stay focused on Him. That doesn’t mean that all of our friends need to be Christians—far from it. It does mean, however, that we should aim to have a few deep friendships that flow out of a common love for Christ.

These are the relatives and friends who show me how Jesus loves me even when I don’t feel lovable—and they point me back to who God is and the truth that living with Him at the center is worth everything.

The fact is that friends are indispensable in this life. There is something special about having a friend that you can confide in, tell your troubles too, and share your life with. Proverbs 27:10a says, “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.”  The value of Godly friends and relatives friends is one of the most important things in a person’s life: Their worth are not diminished by time, not devalued by inflation, not worn out by use. They improve with time. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is any part of your walk with God lukewarm/cold/frozen today?
  2. People don’t connect with God, because they simply don’t know how. Agree to disagree?
  3. What are some obstacles to connecting to God?
  4. How would you rate the value of Godly relationships in your life? Is there an example of the value of Godly relationships in your life?
  5. Pray and ask God to find or to benefit from relationships with other followers of Jesus.

Develop Deep-Rooted Relationships With God and With Each Other

“So often, it’s others around us who can see where God wants to grow us even before we see it ourselves.”  – James MacDonald,

I believe the old adage is correct that says: The five most important words are “you did a good job.” The four most important words are, “what is your opinion?” The three most important words are, “let’s work together” The two most important words are, “thank you” and the single most important word is, “we.” Yes, this is another pastoral request that you join a Northstar Group if you have not already done so.

In Acts, the Bible tells us we need to be in relationships for our personal and spiritual growth. Paul and the early Christians taught and received teaching from house to house. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:42) “…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Why did they do this? Because they needed a way and place to do as Christ modeled and taught them, the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches so that God’s Kingdom will be built and glorified. And they needed a way to be connected.

You may be thinking that was great for them, but not so good for me. They didn’t have my schedule. A schedule that is overfilled with the things I am responsible for in life. I do understand and we have talked about that subject often at Northstar. We all struggle with the demands of our career and all of the frustrations and stress resulting from goals, deadlines, work flow and trying to get ahead. Then there are the family obligations, taking the kids to school, picking them up here and there, dealing with all of their activities and needs. Maybe you are already volunteering at Northstar. Add all of those together and it is hard to find an additional minute to invest in anything else.  There is simply no margin. But here is the irony. If you are the person I just outlined, then you are the person who needs to be in a small group the most.   

I know you think I have slipped my moorings a bit. Yes, it does sound counter intuitive. But, don’t stop reading for another minute or so and let me explain my logic. It is God’s plan for you to be in quality relationships to Him and then to others within the confines of a loving community. Because, we all need a place to belong and work through the issues of life, to be loved and to give our love. As a Christian, our primary goal is to know and grow in Christ. How can this be accomplished when all aspects of our life are riddled with stress? The answer is…by learning spiritual disciplines and receiving the discipleship, relationships and encouragement that small groups offer. We need a place to grow and we grow best in community with people who love and care for you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Small groups are the perfect place to understand and practice authentic relationships to feel a part of God’s family. Agree or disagree?
  2. Small groups are the perfect place for spiritual growth to make God’s truth come to life in our lives. Agree or disagree?
  3. Small groups are the perfect place to unwind, release your stress and reprioritize your life. Agree or disagree?
  4. Small groups are the perfect place to have our needs met and dealt with and fulfill those burdens with others in a stable community. In this way we can handle stress, crisis, changes and the pressures of life better.  Agree or disagree?
  5. Small groups are the perfect place to develop our skills, leadership and ministry so we can be better servants of our God. Agree or disagree?
  6. Please take the initiative and get yourself plugged into a group.

The Devil Made Me Do It

“ Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.””  Job 1:6-11.

More than thirty years ago Flip Wilson kept America in stitches with his television characters “Reverend Leroy,” the friendly, pompous pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now,” and “Geraldine Jones,” the sassy woman in a miniskirt. Whenever Geraldine would do anything wrong she would excuse her actions by uttering the line she made famous, “The devil made me do it!”

America laughed and “The devil made me do it,” became the rage all over the country. Of course, we all know that the devil wants us to sin, and it is convenient to have someone to blame it on. If we are honest, we have to admit that we have been blaming others for our actions and sins going all the way back to the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  Adam blamed his wife, but then confessed, “I ate.” Eve blamed the serpent, but then confessed, “I ate.” It’s always easier to point the finger at someone or something else when we sin. But, blaming someone else does not wash the sin away. The devil wants us to do something that will weaken our walk and relationship with God. 

But in reality, the devil doesn’t make us do anything. We make the choices. We choose to go the opposite direction and we love to shift the blame on others, including the devil, to escape having to take responsibility for our own actions.       

On the moment of temptation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil.  Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God…The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness.  The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.” 

So what shall we do?  Romans 13:10 states it this way: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” The term “make no provision for the flesh” is our goal. Make no provision is to immediately show the enemy the door. It is saying you are not welcome; you are not staying; in fact, you are leaving now; and don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Whether it is receiving or giving gossip about someone you know, or a second longer look at the opposite sex; lowering your ethical standards to finalize a deal; reacting in anger with your children; a sarcastic remark supposedly made in jest; listening or viewing something on your computer that is not uplifting. The list is endless. Whatever it is, whenever it is, if it does not glorify God, then show it the door of your eyes, mind or heart. This way, the devil will not get a foothold or start you down a path you don’t want to go.

So the next time something comes your way that is going to harm your relationship with God, remember to show it the door immediately as though you had just found a poisonous snake inside your house. Do not let it get comfortable or take root. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What have your thoughts about the devil been? How does the Bible’s description of him differ with your assumptions? Ultimately, which is right?
  2. What is the difference between sin and temptation?
  3. The enemy will tempt you when you can be effective for God. The enemy will tempt you when you are vulnerable. The enemy will tempt you in a way that’s customized to you. In what ways has the devil tempted you?
  4. Read Romans 8:37–39. The passage says that nothing will be able to separate you from God’s love? Why is that mentioned in this passage?
  5. How can you start opposing Satan this week?