Emotionally Healthy Relationships: Community Temperature Reading
10/15/2017 2:35:35 PM
“Emotionally Healthy Relationships: Community Temperature Reading”
Oct 8, 2017
Scripture: Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:1-3; 1 Pe 1:1-2; 2 Jn 1; Jude 2
Peace is more than the absence of violence. Silence is not peace. Avoidance is not peace. These things are a ceasefire, not peace.
[pic] Last week, we talked about North Korea and how hard it would be to grow up there. South Korea, by contrast, is a wealthy, open country with a strong Christian presence and influence. The two countries are very different!
Between these two nations is a strip of land 4 km wide called the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ for short. It runs across the entire Korean peninsula and serves as a buffer between the two nations. It was established at the end of hostilities during the Korean War in the 1950’s. Technically, that war still hasn’t ended because no peace agreement has been reached. There was an “armistice” agreement, but not a full peace agreement. As part of the armistice agreement, all the troops from both sides had to withdraw 2 km from their current positions on the front line. Both sides withdrawing 2km created a 4 km zone between them. There are strict rules about what soldiers can enter the DMZ and soldiers from either side are not allowed to cross the centre line, 2 km in.
[pic] Within the DMZ there are thousands of landmines. Soldiers patrol on high alert. There have been over 750 casualties within the DMZ over the years. The hostilities between north and south are still high.
There is a DMZ between the two countries, there has not been outright fighting for over 60 years, but there is no peace between North and South Korea.
[pic] In many of our relationships there is a DMZ, but no peace. Many of us, even in church, even Christians, have settled on an armistice, but not a peace agreement. There may not be open fighting, no violence, but there is no peace either. Sometimes these peaceless relationships are at work. Sometimes they are at church. Sometimes they are even in our families and in our homes.
There may not be violence in these relationships, but there is a brittle silence. There is no peace.
Why is this sometimes the case? Why are our relationships not immediately fixed when we accept Jesus? Why do churches, friendships and even Christian families split?
The answer is that even when we accept Jesus, we are still sinful people. We are still broken, even when we find release from the eternal consequences of sin. Jesus immediately saves us from the eternal consequences of our sin when we accept him as Lord, but it takes the Spirit time to work in us to free us from the indwelling power of sin that resides in our hearts.
That is why in the early church the apostles’ wish for the people in their congregations was “grace and peace to you.” We are going to take a look at this in a variety of texts in a few moments. But let me point out that even Christians need grace and peace. Our series on Emotionally Healthy Relationships is about developing tools we can use in our relationships that help us grow in grace and peace when these tools are used in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. These skills will help us develop the ability to have difficult discussions, to voice concerns in a healthy way and to speak up for ourselves while having the other person’s well-being in mind as well.
The skill we are going to learn about today, and go into more detail and start to practice on Tuesday, is called “Community Temperature Reading.” It is the first skill and forms the foundation for what follows. This is the first step, or the baby step, in learning how to inquire of others, to take an interest in their well-being. This skill, when developed into a habit, helps develop our attitude or orientation of being “other centred.” And as you know, agape love, our goal, Jesus’ command to his disciples, is about being other centred! So let’s take a look at a few examples of texts that contain the theological principle we are exploring today. Then we will take a look at the skill we want to learn to develop that principle in our own hearts and minds.
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 1. If you don’t have a Bible, but would like to read along, please raise your hand so our ushers can bring one to you.
We have a number of texts today, each of them short, but I want to show the breadth of this idea
throughout the NT. We are going to begin with Romans and then flip through a number of letters or epistles in the NT from a variety of authors. If you get lost, I have the passages in a chart on the screen with the page numbers.
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
1 Peter 1:1-2
2 John 1
We have read a sampling of the letters in the NT. Trust me that all of Paul’s other letters open with this greeting, or wish “grace and peace to you.” In his letters to Timothy, he adds “mercy” to the greeting. Both of Peter’s letters include the greeting “grace and peace.” 1 of John’s 3 letters has it, which we read. Even Revelation includes the greeting, “grace and peace to you.” Only Hebrews and James are missing a similar greeting, although Jude has mercy, peace and love instead of grace.
What It Says
So what does this say? We’ve seen how 3 of the apostles include a prayer for, or a blessing of “grace and peace” to their readers. They are all writing to Christians they know. They are writing to churches they are familiar with (with the exception of Paul and Romans). What does it mean to wish somebody “grace and peace”?
One of the cool things happening here is that we have a mixing of two cultural greetings. Grace and peace blends together Greek and Hebrew greetings. Grace comes from the Greek greeting, and peace came from the Hebrew greeting. [Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 34] This is significant because the early church was made up of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. This was often a point of friction in the church! How Jewish did the Gentiles have to become to be followers of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus? Blending the Greek and Hebrew greetings into one greeting, “grace and peace” was a constant reminder of the diversity within the church and the unity that Jesus brings to diverse groups when they submit to him!
But what do the words themselves mean? In the Hellenistic, or “Greek” part of the world, people greeting one another with the word “chairein” which means “rejoice”! It came to mean just “greetings” in common use. But in the NT, with Peter, John and Paul, we see a change. Instead of saying, “rejoice” or “chairein” to one another, Christians said “charis.” This is a related word, but it means “grace.” [Fee, p. 34]
Grace has two aspects to it, sheer beauty or charm and undeserved favour. Even today, when we speak of a charismatic person, we mean charming and charismatic comes from Geek charis. The Christian life, filled with grace, should have a beauty and charm to it. [William Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians, p. 11]
The second aspect of grace, undeserved favour, is the one we most often talk about in Christian circles. Grace means underserved generosity that cannot be earned. We’ve been talking recently about the fact that the appropriate response to generosity is not guilt but gratitude. Grace is undeserved generosity.
“The sum total of all God’s activity toward his human creatures is found in the word ‘grace,’ God has given himself to them mercifully and bountifully in Christ.” [Fee, p. 34] It is by grace, by God’s undeserved generosity, that we are saved. When Paul, Peter and John wish grace on people, they are praying, “May the beauty of the undeserved love of God be on you, so that it will make your life lovely.” [Barclay, p. 12]
That’s the Greek side of this blessing or greeting. What is the Hebrew side? “Peace” in this context finds its roots in the Hebrew idea of “Shalom.” Even though the greeting was given in Greek, the concept behind it was Jewish. Shalom means more than the absence of trouble. [Barclay, p. 12] Shalom means “everything which is to our highest good, everything which will make the mind pure, the will resolute and the heart glad.” [Barclay, p. 12] Peace flows out of grace, grace flows out of God. [Fee, p. 35] Out of God’s grace flows all that we need for our well-being; that is all that is found when we have peace.
What It Means
Out of God’s grace, we gain peace with God. That peace with God extends, then, to peace with one another. Being reconciled to God through grace necessarily leads to reconciliation with the people around us. When the early Christians were wishing “grace and peace” upon one another, they were wishing for the other person to experience beautiful, undeserved generosity that lead to them having everything necessary for their
entire well-being. Yes, this begins with them experiencing grace and peace from God, but when we bless another with the words “grace and peace” we are also extending an offer that they experience undeserved generosity and full well-being from us too.
The vertical relationship aspects of grace and peace lead to horizontal relationships of grace and peace. That is what EHR is all about- learning how to build emotionally healthy relationships with one another that flow out of our relationship with God. It is precisely because we have experienced grace and peace from God, and that the Holy Spirit is at work within us, that we are able to extend grace and peace to one another.
This horizontal aspect of grace and peace, this horizontal aspect to our Christianity is something we need to emphasize again these days. Western Evangelicalism has done a good job emphasizing the need for individuals to experience God’s grace and peace themselves. That is vital! We must submit to God’s loving generosity, accept the grace extended in Jesus’ atoning for our sin on the cross and find reconciliation and peace with God. That is of paramount importance! It counters the error of thinking that just because you go to church you are a Christians. It counters the error of thinking that just because you live in a Christian country or come from a Christian family that you are a Christian. The vertical part of grace and peace is of primary importance.
But in emphasizing the vertical, I believe we have too often left out the horizontal. Too often we forget that our relationship with God must be seen in our relationships with one another. We are quick to accept God’s beautiful generosity for our well-being, but we are slow to extend similar generosity to others for their well-being. Our relationships in church, at work and in our homes do not reflect the grace and peace we have found from God. They do not reflect the grace and peace that is preached from the pulpit as so necessary to our salvation.
So, into that gap, into that neglect of the horizontal aspects of grace and peace, we are inserting EHR. We are doing deliberate training on how we begin to exercise grace and peace and our interpersonal relationships so that our relationships are characterized by agape love. We must remember that our ability to show Christ-like grace and peace to others is based upon our own experience of grace and peace from Jesus. This is not something we can generate in ourselves through positive thinking or lots of effort. If you don’t know Jesus, you can mimic the skills we are teaching, but they will not be tools of the Holy Spirit used to shape you to be more like Jesus. They will not be exercises in agape love. They will not lead to Christ-like relationships with those around you. Having found grace and peace with God through Jesus gives us both the motivation and the power to show grace and peace to one another. That grace and peace will infuse the skills we learn in EHR and be tools in shaping our character to be more like Christ.
One way to wrap our heads around this subtlety is to think of music. Any great musician can play a worship song or hymn beautifully and with skill. Hearing it may even bring tears to our eyes. But if the musician does not have a relationship with God through Jesus, the song is just a song, it is not worship. So, too, we can learn the EHR skills without knowing God through Jesus, and our relationships may see improvement when we do, but without the grace and peace of God working in us, the relationships will not be Christ-like relationships and will not be agape love.
So what is this first skill? What is one way we can start applying this idea of our horizontal relationships reflecting the grace and peace we have experienced from God? What do we do?
The first skill is called “Community Temperature Reading.” This can be applied to any group you are regularly a part of. You can do this with your family at home, for instance around the dinner table. Or you can do it at work, you could begin each team meeting with it. You can use it at church, whenever you gather with a small group, or gather to serve like a food fellowship team or the worship team. And it doesn’t have to be a group, it can be 2 individuals. You can do it with your spouse or significant other. You can do it with a son or daughter. It is a simple skill you can use in any relationship setting.
Basically, you take turns asking and answering a series of questions. The first is “I appreciate…” You all take turns naming something you appreciate about another person in the group. For instance, it may be, “I appreciate that you always clear your dishes after dinner without having to be asked.” Or, at work, you may say, “I appreciate that Tom always formats his reports the way he does. It makes them much easier to read and understand.”
These statements of appreciation make positive deposits in our relationship bank account. They build the other person up. Often we think things we appreciate, but we don’t often express those appreciations. Sometimes we will tell another person, a third party, what we appreciate about someone, but we don’t tell the person themselves. I know I’ve fallen into this at church. I will be talking with one person about how much we appreciate somebody at the church, about what they do, or how they serve, or their attitude with others. But we forget to tell the person we appreciate directly!
The second statement we make when taking a community temperature reading is puzzles, worries or concerns. We say something like, “I am puzzled that” somebody in the group does something. For instance, “I’m puzzled that you didn’t reply to my email,” or “I’m puzzled that you haven’t finished that project you said you would do.”
The key to this second one, the puzzle statement, is that we are training ourselves not to jump to conclusions. We could easily conclude why somebody’s behaviour is other than we expected. We can and often assume we know the motives behind behaviour we don’t like. When we use the CTR, though, we exercise self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit! We control our desire or urge to assign motive or reason for a person’s actions. Instead, we express what puzzles us and allow them to speak for themselves. Maybe they are unaware of the activity. Maybe they are unaware of why they do it. Maybe there is a really good reason for what they do that we don’t know! Whatever it is, we allow them to speak for themselves, we resist the urge to assume we know why they do the thing that puzzles or confuses us.
Let me give you an example from my life. Amy and I take turns reading to Megan at night after dinner and before bed. We also share the kitchen work in that whoever doesn’t make dinner (usually me because Amy does most of the cooking) cleans up the dishes after dinner. Amy has asked me that when she’s reading to Megan and it’s my turn to clean up the dishes, that I do it while she’s reading to Megan instead of leaving it for after we are done putting Megan down. That’s fine.
However, a few weeks ago, there were a couple times Amy came downstairs and found the traps in the sinks were dirty. She asked me each time to please clean the traps when I finished cleaning up the kitchen. At the time, in the moment she asked me, I didn’t know why I left the garbage in the traps. I just said, “OK, I will try.”
Then, on the third night, I was washing the dishes and conscious of my need to empty the traps when I was done. Then, Amy called me upstairs to brush Megan’s teeth. I hadn’t finished washing the dishes, but it was more important that I come brush Megan’s teeth so we could get her to bed on time. It dawned on me that this was why I wasn’t cleaning the traps in the sink- I was having to leave the job before I was done! Now I understood.
If we had known the skill of CTR at the time, Amy could have said, “Dave, I’m puzzled as to why you haven’t been cleaning the sink traps when you do the dishes.” Once I figured out why, I could answer, “I haven’t been able to finish cleaning up before it’s time for me to brush Megan’s teeth. Since I drop what I’m doing to come help put her to bed, I don’t finish cleaning the sink traps.” Problem solved!
The third category is expressing complaints. Sometimes these will sound like candidates for puzzles. There will be some overlap. But the important part of the skill with expressing complaints is that you don’t just express the complaint. You express the compliant with a possible solution. You don’t just complain, you also offer what you prefer. “I notice that… I prefer….”
Here’s an example. My Dad’s last church had a couple of people who liked to complain. The wife often complained about how cool the sanctuary was during the summer. Their church building, however, was one of the few in the area with central air! It was actually a blessing not to be sweltering in the heat. But all she did was complain, “It’s always freezing in here!” Instead, in an EHR, using the CTR, she would have phrased it differently. She would have said, “I notice that the temperature in the sanctuary is pretty low. It’s too low for me. Could we turn it up a degree or two please?”
Complaining is easy. We are all good at it. But in the CTR, the person with the complaint also takes responsibility to come up with a potential solution to the problem. When you’re the person with the complaint, it makes you stop and think for a while. It puts you in the shoes of the person you’re complaining to for a moment thinking about how they will need to address your complaint. By taking responsibility for coming up with a possible solution, you turn the complaint into an opportunity to solve the problem together.
Now, one thing to remember about complaints at this stage is to keep them comparatively light and
simple. You don’t bring up big issues here. There’s a skill for that later on called “clean fighting.” But for small things, light things, this skill helps us stop grumbling and, in relationship, start to work towards a solution. It helps nip in the bud backbiting, gossip and slander. We learn to express things we don’t like in a respectful way.
Fourth in a CTR is expressing new information. Our relationships cannot grow if we don’t know what’s going on with each other. For instance, you might share, “Oh, my appointment tomorrow got cancelled. I can run that errand we need run.” Or “The lawn mower is smoking, I need to take it into the shop.” It doesn’t have to be big, but the act of sharing helps keep people from being surprised and gives insight into what is happening in your life.
Finally, the fifth category is hopes and wishes. This gives the other people doing the CTR “a window into a person’s soul.” You learn about the person’s motives, goals, likes and dreams. Here we really are showing care for the other person by listening to what they want in the big picture. Maybe it’s something like, “I really hope this sermon series goes well,” or “Someday I would like to be a manager.” Whatever it is, by opening up opportunities to let a person share a hope or dream, you are showing that their hopes and dreams matter. That is a way to honour the other person and see them are something more than just what their role is in your relationship.
All five of these categories give us opportunity to show that we care about the people we are in relationship with. The CTR helps things not to fester. It helps clear the air. It demonstrates that we care about the people we are with. In some families, and some cultures, appreciation is never spoken out loud! Imagine the life giving experience of sharing an appreciation in those relationships every day, or every week or however often you do the CTR.
In some families, complaints are not allowed to be voiced. “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” Or, sometimes, one person’s complaints are the only ones heard, the only ones that matter. Other families are just filled with criticism and a critical atmosphere. The CTR helps alleviate these problems because it allows all voices to be heard, but not purely as complaints. Maybe the issue is expressed as a puzzle, giving the person opportunity to explain their behaviour. Even if it is expressed as a complaint, possible solutions must always be offered. This brings the two people into a collaborative stance, trying to solve the problem together, rather than an adversarial stance of complaining and defending.
Expressing hopes and dreams allows the relationship to transcend the current circumstances. It lifts the gaze of the relationship up, above the immediate things in front of it, to see a hoped for future. It reminds the people in the relationship of a bigger picture and allows for the expression of something intangible.
You don’t have to do all 5 every time you gather. Maybe you can ask, “Does anybody have an appreciation, puzzle, complaint, new information or hope and dream?” If the group is in a tough spot, if there are difficulties going on, you can skip the complaint component. But by regularly using this exercise, you solidify and broaden the foundation of your relationships with other people.
Why do we do this? We do this because relationships matter. Our relationships with one another matter deeply. They matter to us and they matter to God. Jesus said the whole OT was summed up in 2 principles, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” That means all of the Law is about relationships. Jesus’ new command he gave his disciples was “Love one another.” That’s a relationship command. Relationships matter!
As a church, we believe relationships matter here too. We want to develop and foster emotionally healthy, loving relationships as a church community too. We are all part of the NFJ and in the NFJ we need to learn how to have good relationships with one another, especially with people who are different from us, or with people with whom we do not naturally get along. The reality of what God has done for us in Jesus is most radically demonstrated in how we relate to one another! Relationships matter. And learning how to use the CTR is a first step towards learning how to have loving, God honouring, Christ-like relationships with one another. It’s not the only skill, the only tool, but it is a solid first step along the way. And, frankly, if you can’t learn how to put into practice the steps of a CTR, the following steps will be way out of reach!
And, as I mentioned earlier, the power of the CTR is not just in the questions we ask or the statements we make. The power of a CTR comes from our attitude while we do it. The power lies in having experienced the grace and peace of God in Christ Jesus. Having experienced that grace and peace, we then use the CTR to extend grace and peace to one another. If you come into the CTR treating it as a gimmick, or treating it as yet another
item on an agenda, it won’t be effective. But if you come into it saying to yourself, “I have experienced God’s beautiful generosity to me in Christ and that has led to my experiencing so much for my whole well-being, I am going to use the CTR to be generous to the people around me and to show my concern for their well-being too,” it can be a powerful tool for building people up and building up your relationships with them. In this way, we will contribute to seeing broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ and the Spirit-filled transformation of our city. Amen
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