Relationships are not efficient

I recently returned from a missions trip to Hamburg, Germany.  What a marvelous trip; it is remarkable (though not surprising) to witness first hand and participate in what God is doing through the hamburgprojekt, a young church there.  With a brother from my church we were able to mentor, train and visit with courageous brothers and sisters.  We hope to write more on that later, but there was one element that deserves mention ahead of those details: relational inefficiency.

Recently a pastor friend of mine remarked in my presence that as much as we would like to believe otherwise, relationships are just not efficient.  If you think about a favorite American past time, the “to do list,” versus relationships, we can see just how they differ.  To do list’s:

  • Are strictly controlled
  • Don’t surprise us
  • Don’t act in ways that are destructive
  • Don’t need to grow in holiness
  • Go away when we want them to
  • Don’t say stupid things
  • Can be delayed
  • Can be shortened
  • Take only as long as we want
  • Aren’t shy or guarded
  • Don’t yell at us…

You get the idea.  I guess it is no surprise why they are so popular to us.  All of this is probably clear, huh?  Relationships aren’t like to-do lists at all.  “Of course,” you say, “that stuff’s obvious.”

I think I underestimated how much I often put people in the same category as a to do list.  I wouldn’t really know that I had done so until I…well, left the country for another culture.  Now, no one that I know would suggest that Germans are inefficient!  Yet, one thing that became clear to us what that in their culture (perhaps it is just with Americans) they take a long time to “be known.”  They are cautious and guarded (yet polite and fun).  When it comes to intimacy, they take their time, or, are “inefficient.”

I think we get that real rich relationships take time to build.  But I wonder in our culture if we have mostly lost the ability and desire to make the investments.  Facebook demands nothing, Twitter demands less.  Email reveals little, text messages less.  I was listening to Christian radio the other day and the host was encouraging folks that if they wanted prayer to text, Tweet or Facebook ’em!  At what point did we think calling into a radio station asking for prayer was even a good idea?!  Do we do that because we knew that if we called a good friend he’d make us actually communicate in ways that would put us off our calendars?

It has taken four years for me to build meaningful trust and communication with my Christian siblings in Germany.  At times it was tiring (surprise).  But, what struck me on our most recent trip (last week) was the remarkable fruit and joy that came as a result of our investments in each other.  I never imagined that I’d be able to share such profound and impacting life and ministry with men and women from a totally different culture!  I believe it was due to the commitment to relational inefficiency that is present in the German culture.  There is a sweetness to the slowness.  There is a profound pay-out for the systematic investments in relationships over a long period of time.  Talk about delayed gratification!

In our culture, most often, we are serial-relaters.  We have efficient relationships, that is, ones that don’t cramp our style and that get us where we want to go.  I am glad that not every culture is as inane as ours.  I don’t intend this to be a German-grass-is-greener post as if one culture rises above all others.  But, clearly, ours is not a culture that places tremendous value on systematic and long-term relationships for their own sake.  How many Facebook friends do you have?

You with Us, We with You

I continue to be provoked by a discussion about parenting in light of eternity.  The affect it has had on me as a parent has been to clarify the things of parenting.  I will (and do!) still struggle in making mountains out of molehills and vice versa, but I definitely believe that the picture of my destination as a parent is clearer – under the specter of eternal judgment, all things are clearer.  Interestingly, Paul wrote this way in his letter to the Thessalonians (1:9, 2:16, 3:13, 4:13-17, chapter 5).

Just the other day, I found out that one of my children had been participating in mean-spiritedness against another child from our church: covenant children victimizing others, who’d have thought?  Nonetheless, once I found out I was surprised by how much more quickly we moved to handle this (Judgment day still fresh in our minds).  I whipped out the church directory, found the relevant phone number, made the call, connected with the parent and passed the phone along to my child who asked for forgiveness from the other.  The mom told me that my child had acted courageously.  I responded, “It takes courage to do the right thing.”  I might’ve said it differently, “It takes a Judgment-Day perspective to do the right thing.”

In a resource designed to help parents bring the gospel to their covenant children, I read a quote from Richard Mather, English-born American congregationalist preacher (c. 1600) in answer to the question, “What might covenant children on their way to hell say to their parents?”

All this that we here suffer is through you.  You should have taught us the things of God and did not.  You should have restrained us from sin and corrected us and you did not.  You were the means of our original corruption and guiltiness, and yet you never showed any competent care that we might be delivered from it.  Woe unto us that we had such carnal and careless parents.  And woe unto you that you had no more compassion and pity to prevent the everlasting misery of your own children.

I have said in class before that even among those of you who do not have children, your commitment to your covenantal vows at the many baptisms you witnessed in our worship obligate you to help parents with children in their tasks of parenting for Judgment Day.  I pray that in and through our faithful covenant parenting (you with us and we with you) in light of eternity, our children will have no opportunity to speak words like these.  May God grant us the grace and strength.

Pastor Gabe

Brothers and Sisters II: Audience

We have a problem in our relationships.  If you’re single, you’ve likely struggled with this problem.  If you’re married, I could show you how you have the same issue. When it comes to relational intelligence, we stink.  I’ve mentioned several reasons for this in previous posts using K-I-S-S-I-N-G as a doorway for discussion.  My most recent post (of a similar name) pointed out that our married relational problems oftentimes stem from our pre-married relational conduct.  In other words, once you’re married, you’re playing like you practiced.

Last time, we looked at the first of three aspects of living as brothers and sisters.  Authority had to do with the playbook; the rulebook.  It’s a fair question: how do you know when you’re doing it right?

Should you kiss?  How do you know?

Should you stop your hands at hers or are her other parts within the limit?  How do you know?

Should you open up your hopes and dreams to him even though you only recently met?  How do you know?

What are the answers to the “how do you know?” questions? This is authority’s question.  Many would say, “whatever both people agree on.”  That’s the standard answer, I’d agree.  What if the two parties don’t agree?  Who is right?  Does she win or does he?  How do you arbitrate?  Most often I think the answer lingers at “whatever I feel comfortable with.”  Our “default” setting is me.  What if “me” is not right?

If I choose the wrong authority, and, therefore, the wrong standards, then at least two people are in for some trouble.  Also last time, I asserted that many Christians default to this standard and in so doing basically claim that the Bible has nothing to say to us.  That’s a serious issue as well: what else are we willing to say is outside of the reach of the Bible?

Why do we do this?  Christian, why do you turn away from the Bible’s guidance in your relationships?

Audience.  I think it has to do with audience. Now, how you answer these questions of authority reflect your intended audience.  What I mean is “who are you trying to please?”  You know what I mean by this.  Have you ever done a job for a co-worker or a friend and done something similar for a boss or authority figure?  Isn’t there a slight (or more) up-tick in quality for the latter rather than the former?  Especially when bonuses are at stake?

Who are they?  The audiences, I mean.  For whom do you do what you do?  It’s pretty simple, actually.  Whoever sits on your heart’s throne – who’s opinion matters most to you – is your audience.  Whatever rule book he (she) uses, you use.  We do all things for a reason and that reason is always a person.  Who’s the person?  Who are the choices?  There’s “me,” and “God.”  That’s it.  In other words, you do what you do either for your own good, glory and gain or for God’s.

This is seen in many places:

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17)

The Two Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Royal Law (James 2:8)

The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Only-Love-Matters (Galatians 5:6)

The Act-Like Men (1 Corinthians 16:14).

In these passages we are repeatedly directed first to God and then to others; never to ourselves.  There are only three personal actors in the universe and it is strange that never are we told to act only for our own good.  But we are regularly (repeatedly) told to act for God’s and for others.

In the Bible in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that we should live in such a way (by faith: 5:7) as Christ is pleased (5:9), “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him [Christ].”  Christians know what this is like – but we all do, really.  We all live for whoever or whatever is most important to us – our treasure drives our heart (Matthew 6:21).

Christians would say that Christ is our audience.  I would believe any Christian (at first) who made this claim.  But the issue is not so simple (says Jeremiah).  Let’s backtrack a little: say you are in a relationship with a girl (guy).  Whoever is involved competes for the title “audience.”  By that I mean the one who sits on the heart’s throne.  If you’re trying to impress her, you’ll do whatever she wants because you want her to think much of you (you’re the audience).  Her approval, affection, attentiveness – whatever – is what you long for, so you’ll shape your behavior so that you’ll get what you want.

The other way to do this relationship is that God would be the audience.  It would be for His pleasure, for the good of His church, according to His plan and His rules.  This foundational commitment is found in places like 1 Corinthians 10:31 or Colossians 3:23.

How do you know for which audience you are living?  What rules are you using?  Audience starts with authority, but you already knew that.