relationships pictureThis summer we have been in a three phase series where we wanted to address three very important things.  Phase One was your mouth, and if you remember we really focused on the weight of our words and the idea that our words are actually very spiritual.  Then the series shifted to phase two where we looked at your money.  While this can be a really funny thing to talk about in church we came to the realization that our money is much more than a practical thing, that it is also a very spiritual thing.  Now today we enter phase three, today we begin talking about your relationships.  You know what, just as our words and our money are actually more spiritual than we realize, it is true of our relationships as well.  You see, if God has truly transformed your life, the proof shows up in your relationships.  You can’t fake this.  Real holiness shows up in how you treat other people.  Do you have healthy, long term, life giving relationships?  If not why would that be?  It’s because your relationships much like your money and your mouth are exposing what is really going on in your heart.

So let me ask you something, why is it that relationships are so hard?

“Now you may be thinking to yourself they aren’t hard, I have like 15,000 friends on Facebook, and people like all my pictures I post on Instagram.  I have lots of friends!”  I’m not talking about the 15,000 people you call friends because you follow each other on Instagram, I’m talking about true, deep, life giving relationships.  Yes, that is much more difficult isn’t it.  Maybe that’s why we are ok, using social media to say we have 8,000 friends when really we don’t have any truly life giving relationships.  Listen to the wise words of Solomon here:

Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. NIV

See here, Solomon is talking about real friends, true relationships, as compared to 1,000 of acquaintances.  You are better for being in healthy relationships…it’s through relationships and community that we learn a lot about who we are as people.  Check out Solomon again here…

Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. NIV

I love that verse.  We learn time and time again that through scripture that we are designed for community, that it’s in true relationships (not through Instagram followers and Facebook friends) that we are far better than we would ever be apart.  Solomon reiterates that thought towards the end of his life in Ecclesiastes…

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  NIV

You know, when we read this I think a couple of things happen.  First we all would agree that this type of friendship would make us all better people but many of us are probably thinking, “you know Sam that sounds great, but I don’t have anything like that in my life.”  Well if that is the case then the question that we need to examine is why?  Why is it that true relationships are so hard to be in and come by?  Well it’s because in the end, you are still you.

I want you to hear me say something today:

Who we are determines how we view others.  It is simply impossible for you to separate your identity from your perspective.  I guess what I’m trying to say in a nice way is that reason we struggle in relationships isn’t because of everyone else…it’s because of us.  All the way back in Genesis we see a really clear example of how we view others being determined by who we are on the inside in the interaction Cain has with God after he kills his brother Able…

Genesis 4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.  Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  NIV

So there are many things we could really go after in this story but I would like you to focus on Cain’s response to God in verse 13.  It’s incredible he assumes that everyone is a murderer because he himself is a murderer.   When I read this I am amazed at both his perspective of people, and God’s merciful reaction.  What an act of mercy to mark Cain, I believe this wasn’t to protect Cain but to give him some sort of peace of mind.  I picture God with a smile saying Cain you see things from your heart.  Because Cain was a murderer he sees others with that same perspective.

Who you are determines how we view others.

Did you ever notice the people that assume everyone is talking about them behind their back?  It’s pretty interesting, they typically are talking about people behind their back!  What is in them, becomes their reality for others…boy oh boy does that say a lot to my own heart here today.

You know, I grew up a preacher’s kid, and that definitely led to some interesting moments growing up.  I watched families grow close to my family, we would hang out, they would come to our home, and we would go to their home.  My parents would feel great about their new friends, I would get close to their children and we would become friends…and inevitably at some point they would disappear.  I would ask my parents where they were and why we didn’t hang out anymore, and they would just look at each other and shrug.  This was the pattern of the people who pushed in close to my family.  We would be great friends one minute, but at some point they would leave the church for one reason or another, typically in my mind because we offended them somehow.  So over time, it was just my parents and my brothers.  My reality was that friendships don’t last, and that at some point people who wanted to be our friends were going to bail on us.  I just assumed that people would hear us say the wrong thing, or I would do the wrong thing and they would leave offended by us or the church somehow.  So fast forward to me being young married, and trying to build relationships, what do you think my view was of others?  Every time I walked away from a time with another family, I would feel uneasy.  I would wonder if I did ok around them.  I would think about all the things I said, or didn’t say.  I would wonder if I offended them, or didn’t offend them.  Deep down, I assumed at some point I would screw up and they would leave me too.  You see in my heart was a guy that figured if I was myself I would not add up.  I wouldn’t ever have lasting relationships, and guess what…we didn’t have any, for many years.  My assumption was I was being evaluated and weighed and measured by people all the time and at some point they would realize that I’m a loser and that I’m not smart enough to say the right thing all the time.  I was typically waiting for my relationships to fail…and they often did.  What was in my heart distorted my view, and really became my reality.  Just like Cain, just like the gossip…just like me.

Do you see it?  What we see in others is determined by who we are.  It’s not what is around us that determines what we see but what is inside our hearts that determines what we see around us.

A traveler nearing a great city asked an old man seated by the road, “What are the people like in this city?”  “What were they like where you came from?” the old man asked.  “Horrible.” The traveler reported.  “Mean, untrustworthy, detestable in all respects.”  “Ah” said the old man, “you will find them the same in the city ahead.”  Scarcely had the first traveler gone on his way when another stopped to inquire about the people in the city before him.  Again the old man asked about the people in the place the traveler had just left.  “They were fine people: honest, industrious, and generous to a fault,” declared the second traveler.  “I was sorry to leave.”  The old man responded, “That is exactly how you’ll find the people here.”

What is the moral to the story?

The way we see others is a direct reflection on ourselves.  If I am a trusting person I will see others as trustworthy.  If I am a critical person I will see others as critical.  If I am a caring person, I will see others as compassionate.

Your personality comes through when you talk about others and interact with them.  If you want to know who you really are, take a moment and think about how you relate to others, and how you talk about them!

Who we are determines how we view others.  This is why we are doing a relationship series and calling it true holiness.  Because we can learn a lot about the condition of our own hearts in how we are treating and viewing others.

What is really interesting is that over our lives we have developed an idea of who we are.  This view has been determined by our attitudes, our expectations of ourselves and others…and our life experiences, our wins and losses, our hurts and interactions with others.  This view you have of yourself will not only determine how you see life, but it will also determine how you let others treat you!

Think about this, how you view yourself can determine how people treat you.  You think less of you, others will think less of you.  You feel like you aren’t worthy of respect, you actually may not get any.  Let’s go back and look at me, for years I walked through life assuming people would leave me the minute I said something dumb…and that is exactly what happened to me.  I continue to work with Traffick411, where we are doing our best to help end human trafficking.  What has always been hard for me to swallow is the young girl, who had a tough family life, she was abused, or abandoned…these are the children the traffickers prey on…why would that be?  It’s because they have a distorted view of who they are…they feel like less, and tragically these girls can come to the conclusion that they aren’t worthy of anything more than how they are being treated by these predators.  It has always crushed me to think that someone could think so little of themselves…that they would come to the conclusions that some of these children come to.

Check out this powerful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

You literally teach people how to treat you.  What you teach comes from how you see life.  How you see life comes from who you are.  Do you see why relationships are such a big deal?  The let us clearly see who we are by how we relate to and talk about and interact with others.  Yes they are difficult, because we are all people, imperfect, dealing with our own hurts and issues…but relationships are essential.  We were never made to do this alone…although it can be tempting at times can’t it?

So if who we are determines what we do, then we need to see clearly who we are.  Here are 5 of the larger things that determine who we are.

  1. Genetics:

Out of all of the things we will look at this is the one that you really can’t do anything about.  You are who you are in this respect.  You are the combination of your father and your mother.  So that probably means there are some good and some bad that each of us has had passed down from our family’s DNA…that is ok!  There are some characteristics that were passed down to you that are awesome and some that well, they just aren’t.  Really the key is being aware of them both!  The strengths and the weaknesses.

The key is when it comes to character issues work on your weaknesses.  When it comes to your talents go with your strengths!

  1. Self-Image

It’s kind of amazing but people with a negative self-image expect the worst, they damage relationships, and find others who are just as negative as they are.  You know the saying, Hurt People Hurt People.  On the other hand a person with a positive self-image expects the best for themselves and if their self-image is both positive and accurate these people are often very likely to be successful in life and they see the potential in others for greatness.  They attract and are attracted to people like them.

  1. Experiences in life

You know what people respond to what they believe and what they believe is shaped by their experiences.  I know this is true of me.  I told you I grew up watching friendships come and go.  Someone would get close to my family, and I got to a point growing up where I knew sooner or later, they would leave us too.  It became my reality, and effected relationships into my adult life…all I knew was sooner or later you Hepner’s are going to offend everyone, it shaped me.  I assumed everyone was measuring every word I said, and at some point I would say something dumb enough for them to not want to hang out with me anymore…and shockingly enough I didn’t have too many long lasting friendships as a young adult.

Our experiences in life shape us…think about it, if you had a great experience playing sports as a child I bet it became a big part of your life as you grew up.  If you grew up finding it easy to make friends you probably enjoy hanging out around people…and the opposite can be true as well.

You know what we don’t choose every experience that happens to us, but we do choose how we respond to it, which leads me to number 4.

  1. Attitude and Choices about those experiences

I have always liked encouraging people to control the controllables.  You can’t always control your experiences, but you absolutely have control over your attitude.  Your attitude will make or break you, the choice is really up to you.  This is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life, how your attitude will be towards the experiences you have been in.  Listen, it’s not the result of your birth, your circumstances, or your bank account that makes or breaks you…it is how you choose to live with each situation.  Remember this reality, you completely control your attitude over what happened in any given situation.  When you think about that, it really connects us to what James encouraged us to do in difficult times doesn’t it?

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

You can almost hear him saying there…choose to look at the trial in a different light, instead of the worst day of your life, view it differently!  Your attitude will make or break you!

  1. Friends (this includes your spouse)

“The difference between who you are today and who you will be in five years will be the people you spend time with and the books you read.”  Charlie Jones

The people that are closest to you will shape you.  We see this all the time with kids don’t we?  I know it sure was that way with me.  I would start running with a certain crowd and it didn’t take too long before I was doing what they were doing…not necessarily the other way around.  It is very important that you are hanging around with the right people.

Look, the way you view others is determined by who you are.  You just can’t get away from that truth.  If you don’t like people, that really is a statement about you and the way you look at people.  This is a difficult thing for people to hear and can be at times even harder to understand.  You need to see that the lens by which you see people is more about you and the condition of your heart than you realize.

Who we are determines how we view others.

The only way to change how we view others is to change who you are on the inside.  It starts with the condition of your heart not the condition of everyone around you.  I think a lot of people make the mistake of trying to change everyone around them to make things better without ever looking at their own heart.  If you want to engage into truly meaningful relationships it starts with you and your own heart.  You know why relationships are so hard.  It’s because many of us spend our time focused on what other people need to be doing, instead of focusing on the one thing that we can control.  Which is the condition of our own heart.  If you focus on becoming the kind of person that you desire to be, you will begin to view others in a whole new light.  This can only happen when we begin to allow God to change us from the inside out!  He can give you a new outlook on life!  It starts when we allow Him to do what only he can do with our lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17 When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!  TLB

Through Jesus we have an opportunity to be a brand new person, with a brand new view of others.  You know what, from my view point as a young pastor’s kid growing up was that the world was against me.  It felt like it was my brothers and I verse the world.  I looked at the world through this lens, that eventually everyone would leave me and relationships were very hard for me.  I would rather have not even tried to engage people because my distorted view was that everyone would eventually leave me but I have come to the understanding that the issue wasn’t everyone else!  You are going to find this hard to believe but the issue was me!  I used to leave a picnic at someone’s home going over mental notes of everything I said, and everything I may have done that would have offended the people we were just with, but I am not that person anymore.  You know why?  Because the more time I have spent with Jesus the more he continues to help me see myself differently.  I was shocked by this but it wasn’t everyone else in the rest of the world that had a problem…it was me.  In many ways I was still that hurt little boy, wondering why no one wanted to be my friend.  I was not allowing relationships to succeed and I wondered why everyone around me was so screwed up.  It wasn’t until I understood this reality, it is who I am that determines how I view others that I started to have healthy relationships again.

So why are relationships so stinking hard?  It’s because we look past our own hearts, and try to change others, when the reality is that through these relationships God is trying to show us things that we need to work on in our own hearts.  I think that is why so many of us are content with the 5,000 shallow followers we have on Facebook than to come into genuine community and engage in true relationships, because many times it reveals things in you and I that we may not want revealed.

It’s in true relationships that we learn who we are, so I leave you with this question.  When you walked in here today, and looked at the people around you how did you view them?  Does everyone in here have a glaring issue?  Maybe God is trying to show you something in your own heart here…it may not be everyone else on the planet that God needs to work on, it starts with your own heart.

Who you are determines how you view others.