Seven Tips for Restoring Relationships

When God saves us, He never leaves us where He finds us. He provides for our transformation and healing by the Holy Spirit. Often it is a messy process.

Full disclosure: My healing process has been messy, and I have hurt others dear to me in my attempt to find wholeness.

The last ten years have been intense as the Holy Spirit has revealed broken places in my soul and walked with me in transformation. My eyes were open to the extent of trauma in both my childhood and adulthood, experiences I had sought to minimize and dismiss. In my desperation to find healing, without warning I dumped an ugly load of pain in the path of my loved ones, hoping they would graciously sort through all the garbage with me. I admit this was an unwise and unfair approach.

I am grateful to the Lord for His lovingkindness and grace. I am in a far better space today, but Jesus and I are not done yet. I am in awe, that in spite of myself, Jesus has restored my significant relationships. I FaceTime with my mom twice a month and have meaningful conversations. This week I had a wonderful visit with my dad and stepmom, two people incredibly dear to my heart. Throughout our time together, I marveled at the healing work of God. Every moment spent with them was a gift.

I can’t go back in time, but I can be more aware going forward.

Here are some tips I have gleaned about seeking to restore relationships. It takes both parties for restoration. If both parties are not willing, restoration is not possible, but you can still find peace through Christ.

Be patient. Restoration is a process. It takes time to rebuild trust. Also, heart change is a work of the Holy Spirit. God’s timing is not our timing. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a NIV).

Take responsibility for yourself. You are only in control of yourself. Talk about your feelings, perceptions, and experiences. Do not assume the worst or blame others. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12a).

Forgive. Just as you have been forgiven in Christ, extend forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive again. Every time feelings of hurt or offense arise, remind yourself that you have chosen to forgive. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Listen well. As Stephen Covey recommends, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listen to learn and understand. Put yourself in the other’s shoes. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Walk in love. Read and meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Model the example of Jesus regardless of the response you receive. Some issues just need to be dropped. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Remember that life is short. Each day is a gift from God. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. I certainly don’t want a loved one to pass away, knowing that I didn’t do my part to work toward restoration. We don’t have the luxury of withholding forgiveness. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Proverbs 90:12 NLT).

Friends, our God delights in restoring relationships. We thrive in life and leadership, as we keep our hearts open to restoration with others.     

The Trust that Gets God’s Attention

His name was Jonathan. We were in the same first grade class. One day I made him angry by winning a race in PE, dethroning him as the fastest runner in first grade. Jonathan threatened to beat me up after school. Every day as soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot out of the classroom. Jonathan and his cohort were close behind me, shouting threats of what they would do when they caught me. After a couple weeks of arriving home breathless and quaking with fear, my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her, she became quite indignant. She spoke with Jonathan’s dad, a pastor of a local church. He was apologetic and assured my mom that I would never be bullied by his son again. I never found out what unpleasant consequences Jonathan faced, but that was the end of our adversarial relationship. By the end of the school year, we had become recess buddies.

My experience with bullying pales in comparison with King Hezekiah’s encounter with an enemy of his kingdom. Hezekiah is one of my Old Testament heroes. Although he was far from perfect, in Second Kings 18 and 19, Hezekiah’s response to devastating threats was exemplary.

In 722 B.C.E, Assyria conquered Israel. Centuries earlier Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was defeated and taken into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah was spared. Twenty years later, Assyria decided to expand their conquest. Tiny Judah would be no match for their might.

At first, Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, by paying tribute. Sennacherib accepted the tribute and proceeded to attack Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, anyway. Then the threats and taunting started.

What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me?

With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:21, 22, 24, 25 NLT).

Sennacherib and his army tried to strike fear into the hearts of Judah. Not only did he boast of his superior strength, but he also cast doubt on their faith. After all, “God Himself” had instructed Assyria to destroy them.

Hezekiah had done everything he could do. Still, he faced a formidable foe with impossible odds. Clearly, there was no winning this battle.

Look at Hezekiah’s response. After he received the letter from the enemy and read it, “he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). First, Hezekiah declared the greatness and power of God, as the ruler of every kingdom and the creator of the heavens and the earth. Then, he acknowledged the threatening situation for the people of Judah. Finally, he cried out for deliverance. “Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (v. 19).

Hezekiah’s response was a demonstration of trust. He could have thrown up his hands in despair and surrendered to Sennacherib. He could have formulated an escape plan. Instead, he trusted the Lord and got His attention.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah with a remarkable message from God. The Lord had heard Hezekiah’s prayer. He promised a good future for Judah with bountiful crops. Not only that, the Lord would cause the king to “return to his own country by the same road on which he came. He [would] not enter [the] city” (v. 33). God assured Hezekiah, “For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend this city and protect it” (v. 34).

God did exactly that.

The angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there (v. 35-36).

What a miraculous victory! God promised to deliver Judah, and Hezekiah didn’t even lift a finger. God took care of Judah’s bullies and the Assyrians never returned.

How will we respond when we encounter overwhelming obstacles in our lives? Will we panic or despair because the situation is so much bigger than ourselves? Or will we go to the Lord, spread out the problem before Him, and declare our trust in Him?

Let’s choose to trust. As New Testament believers, we can have confidence in God’s care for us.

Romans 8:28 promises:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

We may not know how. We may not know when. But we can have one hundred percent certainty that God will work everything together for our good. Trust the Lord and get His attention.

The Beauty of Diversity

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to a fabulous sermon series on diversity. It has expressed what I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Yes, diversity is important, but it is deeper than making sure that we are politically and socially correct. This goes beyond hiring different ethnicities and genders to ensure there is equal representation in the workplace. It is much more than being satisfied that your church, small group, or service club has a few people who are different skin color than the majority. As God’s dearly loved children, we are to embrace diversity, realizing that true love of others can be messy, confusing, and sometimes just plain hard work. But it is God’s will for His Church, and unity among diversity greatly pleases Him.

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I was born in the 1960s to a Caucasian-American mother and a Chinese-Canadian father. Being half Caucasian and half Chinese set me in a rare category back then. I felt that there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” Caucasian people didn’t accept me either because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and Caucasian. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly, we moved a couple years later to a predominantly Caucasian city where a person of color would turn heads.

Because of my childhood experiences, I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and that every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual attraction, gender identity, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.

Today people often inquire about my kids’ background. One son, in particular, is frequently asked if he is Mexican (which makes sense because we live in an area that is 50 percent Hispanic). When he mentions that he is actually part Chinese, the person laughs, thinking it is a joke. Why is that so funny? Then they find out it is not a joke and things feel awkward for a bit.

My kids are grown, and I have seven amazing grandkids. Some of them are half Mexican-American. All of them are one-eighth Chinese. Each of them is delightful and has captivated my heart! I am also blessed to be unofficially adopted as “Nana” to a sixth-month-old boy of a Congolese couple. His smile is my undoing. There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.

Racism is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. Racism is ever-present and affects the way we look at the world. Left unchecked it leads to prejudice and discrimination. We judge others based on our own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Subtler forms of racism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate us. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” It interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. As servant leaders, we must avoid racism and love all the people following our lead.

In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
~Revelation 7:9-10

Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Will we be people that love others and include them? Will we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we”? People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead, we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will genuinely embrace them as “we.”

All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. ~Psalm 86:9

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

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“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).

ALL Human Life is Sacred: The Leader’s Call

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Since 1984 the month of January has been set aside to promote the Sanctity of Human Life. President Ronald Reagan established January 22 as the official day, and churches observe it on the Sunday closest to that. However, as time has gone on, the entire month of January is dedicated to focusing on the sacredness of all human life.

Society values life according to the quality of life and the contributions one can provide. Certain segments of the population value a particular skin color, ethnicity, lifestyle, or political affiliation as worth more than others. If someone doesn’t conform, they are discriminated against, ostracized, or treated with violence.

God’s standards are different than society’s standards. God loves all human life. Every human being is sacred, created in the LORD’s image.  

We can go back to the beginning of creation to some of the earliest Sunday school lessons in Genesis chapter one. On the sixth day, God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (v. 26a, NLT). (The words “us” and “our” reference the relationship of the Trinity.)

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (v. 27).

At the end of the sixth day, “God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (v. 31, emphasis mine). At the end of the first five days of creation, God saw that it was good. But this day with the creation of human beings in God’s own image, it was very good.

Just two chapters later, the first human beings fell from God’s original intention. They opened the door to disobedience and all its consequences. Thankfully, Jesus came to redeem us and give us new life. The fall may have marred humanity; nevertheless, every person is still created in the image of God. As a result, all life—from conception until death—is sacred and worthy of respect, dignity, and protection. All human life matters to God; what matters to God must matter to us.

Psalm 139 provides beautiful imagery of God’s loving, abiding presence. He is constantly thinking about us with precious thoughts that cannot be numbered. Verse 13-16 depict the caring, skillful craftsmanship of the pre-born baby in the womb. While the words were written by David, they describe God’s relationship with every person.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Every human being is sacred and priceless. God loves each and every one of us. Nothing can diminish a person’s worth—not age, sickness, disability, hardship, oppression, or any other barrier.

With that in mind, we must embrace the beauty of life. Life becomes even more beautiful when we surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow Him to transform us.

Nobody is exempt from the beauty of life. In the Book of Revelation, we get a glimpse into heaven.

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9, NIV).

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When we pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), we ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven establishes the pattern to follow. Heaven has a great multitude of Jesus-followers from every nation, tribe, people and language. Here on earth, despite the ugliness, messiness, and brokenness people may encounter, life is still sacred, it is still beautiful, and it has breath-taking variety.

As Christians and servant leaders, we must consider every person as created in the image of God, and we must look at them through the lens of God’s love and potential. Then, we will be prepared to truly love our neighbors—all of them.

Note: I made the words “all” and “every” bold to accentuate the point that no person is excluded from being treated as sacred and valued.