During his time on earth, Jesus offended a lot of people. Why? The reasons varied, but the responses were similar. Those that became offended either turned away from relationship with Him, or they attacked Him. Eventually a mob called for his death...and all this about a perfect, sinless man.
John 6:66 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible to me, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." How do you think it felt to Jesus to be abandoned by some in whom he'd invested time and given His love? Remember, he was fully human. How does it feel to you when someone you love or someone you've served turns away from you?
Scripture doesn't say it, but is is fair to infer that Jesus grieved as He watched former followers walk away. After all, he wept when informed of Lazarus's death.
But then the following verses in John (6:67,68) provide some consolation for the abandonment. Some remained faithful, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Jesus still invites everyone to intimacy, but it isn't the romanticized Hollywood version of closeness that smacks of conflict-free infatuation; relationships in which there are no offenses, no hurt feelings, no broken promises or unmet expectations. No, the kind of intimacy to which Jesus invites us to is the kind where long-suffering is the rule, where truth is spoken in love, where mercy, grace and forgiveness lubricate, repair and ultimately sustain relationships that were about to be permanently fractured.
As 2010 begins, Jill and I embark on our 25th year of marriage with a new organization in addition to Grace and Truth; Great Relationships, Inc. is a not for profit dedicated to inspiring and equipping as many people as possible as well as possible for a GREAT RELATIONSHIP with God and each other (especially marriages and families). And as we focus on facilitating Great Relationships for others, we will endeavor to nurture our own marriage, family, extended family and friendships.
Will 2010 be without disappointments, hurts, frustrations, offenses? No, but invitations to intimacy will never be without these because openness about our honest thoughts, feelings and desires in relationship are bound to conflict with those of others. Misunderstandings will occur, angry words will be impulsively spoken, and immature responses will fuel the fires of brokenness. BUT, the great hope in all of this is in a man who was quite familiar with relational abandonment and disappointment; Jesus.
What did Christ do in response to the departure of many disciples? Did He change his method of operation by refusing to speak truth in love? "I can't do that any more. The other disciples might leave me and there where will I be?" No. He continued as a man full of grace and truth to invite and accept invitations to intimacy, and as difficulties occurred he modeled reconciliation.
Is relational restoration modeled any better than between Jesus and Peter? Betrayed in his hour of need by the impetuous fisherman, Jesus opened himself to further hurt and disappointment by looking on and speaking to his previously bold, now embarrassed and humbled follower...the same man who boldly stated the words above, "To whom shall we go?"
As the New Year begins, I'm sure of two things:
1. That the risk of intimacy, real risky and potentially life-giving intimacy in relationships is worth it.
2. There will be relational rejection and disappointment that I'll be able to do little about.
Some people don't want closeness. They hold you at arm's length, not wanting you to get close enough to see and feel their struggles and shame. That's what I've heard from the Lord this week; that sometimes what seems to be relational abandonment is really about fear, shame and embarrassment. So, my question is, how to be full of grace and truth in Christ-like balance such that I can have a clear conscience that any relational brokenness of which I am a part isn't due to my sin? Well, that's a tall order and probably impossible, but humility gets close to the answer, I think.
Just today Jill and I exhorted two partners in marriage to search themselves before the Lord and to ask His enlightenment regarding the portion of problem they bring to the relationship. It's easy to point fingers and to register complaints, but maturity in relationships seems to require the humility to examine oneself and to make the changes indicated when problems are discovered.
Here's a toast to more authentic and satisfying intimacy for you in 2010! I hope you will risk openness and honesty with others in a way that invites a similar response, and that some of your invitations and efforts are reciprocated by efforts of others to hear, hold and appreciate what's in your heart!
God bless, Jeff
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