An 80 year old woman bumped into an 80 year old man in their assisted living facility. She smiled and said, 'You look like my 5th husband.' Taken back the older guy replied, 'How many times have you been married?' She winked at him and said, 'Four.' We all have a desire to be engaged in relationships, but sometimes they don't last. Often, they're not as satisfying as we hoped they would be. Some people make them look easier than they really are. But as the Facebook profile relationship option admits, 'It's complicated.' Building healthy and satisfying relationships can be tricky.
This series of messages is all about successfully navigating the long and winding road to satisfying relational connections. The Bible, God's Word, lays out the path for us....and of course, it begins with the cross of Jesus!
Let's begin by asking the question, 'What is a 'healthy' relationship?' If I asked you that question, how would you respond? I asked my daughter (who was on the phone with my wife as I began this chapter) how she would define a 'healthy relationship' and she said that it would be a 'relationship based on trust, respect and love.' Smart kid! Good thing she listened to her mother growing up! I asked Joni the same question and she smiled and said, 'Just do what I tell you, honey!' I probably should have ended the message there....but I marched on!
According to Genesis 1 and 2 God created human beings and this thing we call a relationship, so I thought it would be wise to see if he offered any ideas on the subject. In Genesis 2 God made Adam, gave him a job (taking care of the garden of Eden) and let him name all the animals. But none of those creatures would make a suitable companion for the new guy and God didn't want Adam to be lonely....so, he put him into a deep sleep, extracted a rib from his side, and used it to make a woman (a human companion) for him. Adam gratefully received God's gift (vs.23) so, Eve satisfied his need for companionship. This tells us that a 'healthy relationship' is satisfying. The two became one flesh (vs.24). They were intimate. A 'healthy relationship' has an appropriate level of intimacy. They were both naked and they felt no shame (vs.25). Adam and Eve were comfortable with each other. A 'healthy relationship' is comfortable.
There are two more attributes of a 'healthy relationship', but we discover them in Genesis 3, so we need to read on. Genesis 3:8 seems to indicate that God took a form (likely human) and walked with his children/new creatures on a regular basis. God created humans for relationship with him. He would eventually teach his kids to call him 'Father.' But Adam and Eve disobeyed God's one rule (not to eat the forbidden fruit - Genesis 2:16, 17) because the serpent (Satan) deceived them. They were made to leave the garden and were, thus, cut off from God's presence, that is, they became spiritually disconnected. So, we were created for relationship with God, first and foremost! Only when we are connected with him can all of our other relationships be healthy. When God approached them in Genesis 3:8 they hid from him and covered themselves up. They were afraid and ashamed because they were guilty of disobeying him. They felt unsafe. Using a bit of reverse logic that tells us that a 'healthy relationship' is one that is safe.
So, there we have it. A 'healthy relationship' is one that is satisfying, intimate, comfortable, safe and, most importantly, connected with/in/through God.
Let's return to Adam and Eve's 'broken connection' with God. We, often, experience 'dropped calls' using our cell phones. We hit a dead zone and the connection is lost. We may continue talking, but what we say isn't heard. So, the words can't produce any relational effect. During the COVID-19 pandemic churches have done a lot of congregating online. But that is only as effective as the internet connection allows it to be. In a similar way, the broken connection with God proved devastating for human relationships. If people don't have a genuine connection with God, they have to (relationall
y) 'make it up on their own' as they go along. In Genesis 4 Cain killed his brother Abel because of envy. One of Cain's descendants, Lamech, married two women instead of one. Then he fought with another man and killed him and bragged about his power. Humanity quickly descended into violence, dysfunction and relational dissatisfaction. Pretty much what we still see in the collapsing world around us!
So, how did God restore the broken connection? Well, where God had created one perfect world there were now two worlds, one perfect, the other deeply flawed. This fallen world of sin and rebellion and God's perfect realm (kingdom) of light and love. The problem being, that once of person is in the fallen world of sin (a sinner - Romans 3:23), there is no way for them to escape on their own, because only those who are perfect and sinless can live in God's realm of light and love. He/she is lost....dead in their sins! (Ephesians 2:1, 2)
Jesus entered this fallen realm of sin and rebellion to rescue God's lost. (Mark 10:45) He did for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) Jesus lived the life of perfect obedience to God's law and will that we could not live. (John 6:46; Hebrews 4:15) Then, as the one perfect human being who ever lived, he gave his life in exchange for our lives. He died the death on the cross that we all deserved to die! (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21) So, that when we put our trust in Jesus (by believing in him - John 3:16, confessing our faith in him - Romans 10:9, 10, and repenting of our sins and being baptized in his name - Acts 2:38) to save us from God's wrath, all our sin is nailed to the cross of Jesus and his perfect righteousness becomes our garment. (Galatians 3:27) That's how God will see us in judgment. Innocent in Jesus! The cross of Christ is our 'love bridge!' Through it we are restored into right relationship with God (the spiritual connection we must have) and now able to build healthy, satisfying relationships with each other!
The practice of baptism shows us how that happens. Romans 6 teaches us that we are 'buried with Jesus in baptism and raised to a new life in him.' We were dead in this fallen world of rebellion. Baptism pictures us being buried with Jesus (put beneath the water) and raised up with him in God's realm of light and life! Transferred from one world to another. As Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3), 'born again!' Whenever you witness someone being baptized, be reminded of what God did for you by his 'love bridge....the cross of Jesus.'
One of my favorite scenes from the New Testament is the interaction (relationship) between Jesus and the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:32-43) Jesus was hung between two thieves to frame him as a criminal. One of the thieves joined in the mockery of God's Son. But, somehow, the other thief looked at Jesus (and the bizarre situation) and he saw a king! He rebuked his fellow crook, 'Don't you fear God?! This man has done nothing wrong.' (vs.40, 41) Then he appealed to the dying king, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.' (vs.43) He was restored in right relationship to his God. And before that day was out, he knew what Adam and Eve had lost.