When Life Gets Hard

Life-Altering Circumstances, 25 November 2018

When Life Throws A Curve (Life-Altering Circumstances)
D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
Matthew 3:1-17; 14:1-12; 11:1-19

Series Overview: In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

Big Idea: Although life is full or surprises, God is good, faithful, and in control.

So it’s officially the “most wonderful time of the year.” You know, that time when people jack up their credit cards buying gifts which will end up in next year’s garage sale. The season when greedy, selfish people feel generous for dropping a quarter in the Salvation Army bucket. The season when families gather only to argue about politics and eat more food than some small countries consumer in a year.

The time when your football team…oh, never mind about that!

I love Thanksgiving.
I love Christmas.

But despite being the most wonderful time of the year, for many it’s the most depressing, frustrating, financially-draining, emotionally exhausting, lonely time of the year.

My name is Kirk and this month we’ve been in a series entitled
When Life Gets Hard. We talked about broken relationships and mental illness. Jason, our guest from Indonesia, unknowingly contributed to our series two weeks ago when we spoke on failure. On this last Sunday before Advent, we’re talking about When Life Throws A Curve.

Occasionally we have open mic times when we share about God’s faithfulness. Our next such gathering will be on New Year’s Eve.

But imagine if we had an open mic to share about life-altering circumstances. We’ve all had them…or will. It might be a car accident (like the photo) but it could be a phone call, a conversation with a doctor, a letter in the mail, or even a text message.

What do you do when you life looks nothing like you ever imagined or hoped? Perhaps even more important, how is your soul?

If you ask God one question, what would it be?

One national survey revealed the number one question people have for God is, “Why is there suffering in the world?”

Some religions deny the existence of evil, calling pain and suffering mere illusions. Jesus, however, truthfully declared,

In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33b)

An Alliance pastor once said, “It is right that things are wrong in a wrong world. It would be wrong for everything to be right in a world gone wrong.”

Our scripture reading for today tells a remarkably vivid and tragic story of John the Baptist. Like Job and Joseph and other godly people before him, John was devoted to following God. If anyone “deserved” good things in life as a reward for his obedience, it was Jesus’ cousin John. Yet he was hardly exempt from suffering.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:6-12)

It was bad enough that John was in prison…for speaking God’s truth (after Herod took his brother’s wife). I’m sure he never imagined being beheaded on account of a birthday dance! Although John went “to a better place,” it must’ve been catastrophic for his friends and family…including Jesus.

We all recognize ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God we have lived with brokenness and pain.

Great! So what now? What do we do when life throws a curve? Here are some ideas:

Recognize God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

Love always involves a choice. Free will. Entire books have been written on the subject, but suffice it to say satan chose to rebel against God and took other angels with him. From they moment, a spiritual war has been raging between good and evil, life and death. Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He may not be red with horns and a pitchfork, but we are all in the middle of a battlefield.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

It’s easy to blame God for all of the problems in the world. Some simply encounter evil, blame God…and then stop believing in God. This makes emotional sense, but not logical sense. How can you fail to believe in someone you blame? Then again, the word “believe” has been misconstrued, especially in our use of John 3:16. What I do understand are people who followed God, encountered trouble, and removed their trust in God as a result. When you encounter the effects of sin, blame satan! God did not create evil and suffering.

God can redeem suffering, using it for good.

We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Life is not about our pleasure, but God’s glory. That’s hard for me to embrace sometimes—especially when life gets hard. I want to do things my way, but Dad knows best.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This verse has been abused perhaps more than it has been used appropriately, but the fact remains. God is at work when we submit to Him. Suffering is one means the work of God is displayed.

Earlier in Romans—as we saw several weeks ago—it says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I admit I want perseverance, character, and hope in my life. But do we need suffering? I suppose I could also say I want a fit, healthy body, but do I need to watch what I eat and exercise? Obviously, we don’t choose suffering, but it’s a part of life, and it’s a tool God uses to shape us and draw us close to Him.

The worst pain I ever endured was a kidney stone. I’m told childbirth is bad, too, but you have less to show for it in the end!

A few years later, God revealed to me the purpose of my kidney stone. I was shocked, but I realized the one night of hospitalization opened up space for a conversation I had with a visitor, a conversation that greatly impacted the next twenty years of my life. Had I not been in the hospital, he never would’ve visited me and we never would’ve had that talk. It sounds odd, but I’m grateful for that kidney stone (and even more grateful I haven’t had another one!).

None of us has a complete understanding of our present reality, much less the future.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

We can pray not only for God’s will and glory, but an understanding of His perspective. The story’s not over.

Tony Campolo used to say, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!” For many of us, today is unbearable, yet tomorrow may not only be better, we may come to actually appreciate our suffering.

Our temporary suffering will pale in comparison to eternal glory.

Paul wrote of his very serious persecution,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life—and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, "How old are you?" The boy said, "Seventeen." Reid asked, "How many years have you spend in hospitals?" The boy said, "Thirteen years." The pastor said with astonishment, "And you think that is fair?" And the boy replied: "Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me."
That’s perspective! Listen to these words of encouragement:
However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” —the things God has prepared for those who love him— (1 Corinthians 2:9)

I want to return to Jesus’ words in John 16.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus knows suffering. Jesus conquered suffering and death. He has the final word!
Jesus brings peace.
Jesus brings courage.
Jesus brings presence…through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus brings hope…the promise of heaven.

Count Your Blessings

We are all so blessed. The simple fact that you can understand what I’m saying is a blessing. The freedom to have access to the Bible, to be alive, to know about Jesus, to know Jesus…

Someone once said the only thing you can control is your attitude. It could always be better, yes, but it could always be worse. Count your blessings. Last week we looked at this powerful verse which is so convicting to me:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Pray with thanksgiving. That’s appropriate after this past Thursday, right? Count your blessings!

Don’t Go Alone

Get in a small group. Attend Celebrate Recovery. Reach out to a friend. Church is not a building. Church is not a gathering. Church is a family of messy, broken people pursuing Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and the one person who understands pain, suffering, grief, and loss better than anyone.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

God created us for community. We need one another. We need to lean on one another, celebrate with one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, cry with one another, laugh with one another.

This is especially true at this time of year. The holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year for some, and the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking time for others. Family, this season is a wonderful opportunity to give and receive help, to give and receive love. Let’s rejoice—and mourn—together.

Don’t Give Up

Research has shown often people quit right before their greatest breakthrough. No matter how you are feeling, not matter the challenges you face, or the pain you are enduring, you might be days or even hours from a miracle.

Jesus himself taught us to persevere in our prayers, to not give up. He said,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

What you might not know—unless you know Greek—is this is a conditional promise. It could be literally translated, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”

Keep praying. Keep praising. Even in the storm. I can tell you from experience God is good. He can be trusted. If it doesn’t feel like it now, just wait. Don’t give up. You may be on the verge of a miracle. And even if God says wait a little longer, He is near. His ways are higher than our ways. He is faithful.

It Is Well

Horatio Spafford established a very successful legal practice in Chicago. A devout Christian, he lost his fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, shortly after his son died. He planned a much-needed rest for his remaining family in Europe in 1873. When last-minute business kept him in Chicago, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead with plans to catch up with them days later.

The ship was struck by another vessel and sank in twelve minutes. When the survivors finally landed days later in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”

On his voyage to join his wife, he penned profound lyrics as he approached the area of the ocean floor where it was believed his four daughters had sunk.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

How is your soul?

Credits: some ideas from D6, Lee Strobel, In The Midst by John Stumbo

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Depression and Anxiety, 18 November 2018

When Being Down Gets Dangerous (Depression and Anxiety)
D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
1 Kings 19; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:7; Revelation 21:4

Series Overview:
In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

Big Idea: Depression and anxiety are real…but not insurmountable with help.


He was one of the greatest, most godly people in the Bible. He had just seen God do one of the most incredible miracles in the history of the world, literally calling fire down from heaven! “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39) What a moment!

In the very next chapter, 1 Kings 19, it says

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

We’ve all had bad days, perhaps even bad months. This has been a challenging year for our church with a great many losses of various kinds. But have you ever asked God to take your life? Have you ever been so depressed you wanted to die…or even tried to die?

I want to give you—especially parents—a heads-up; our subject for today is heavy. Today as we continue our series
When Life Gets Hard, we’re going to look at the subject of anxiety and depression: when being down gets dangerous. If it seems like suicide is a growing problem in our nation, it’s because it is. The CDC reports it grew 24% between 1999 and 2014 and continues to rise. It’s the second leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24 and the third for those between 10 and 14, yet it has been growing the most among men in their fifties. And every day more than 20 veterans and active military members take their life.

Anxiety and depression do not always lead to such an extreme outcome, of course, but they can be debilitating. There are three types of people listening to me right now: those who have or are experiencing mental illness, those who are helping those with mental illness, and those who simply don’t understand it. I hope to provide biblical help and encouragement to all of you today.

Depression and anxiety
are real human experiences. The ADAA reports anxiety affects 40 million adults in the US. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9% of sufferers receive treatment. Nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. And I know it is impacting many people in this room.

Elijah certainly experienced anxiety and depression, ironically following one of the greatest triumphs of his life. Let me set the scene.

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah the prophet meets Ahab the king and accuses him and his family of abandoning the LORD and following the false prophets of Baal. Then,

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21)

Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’S prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” (1 Kings 18:22-24)

Elijah offers a challenge. He says let’s each take a bull, put it on the altar, and see whose God will set it on fire.

The people shouted for hours, dancing and calling on the name of Baal to deliver fire to the altar. Nothing happens.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:27-28)

Evening comes, Elijah gets his altar ready, has the people dump four large jars of water on the offering and on the wood. And again. And a third time. The altar is soaked. The crowd is watching and waiting. Elijah prays to God.

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39)

Elijah and the LORD are victorious, the prophets of Baal are seized, and Elijah announces the end of a famine as a heavy rain begins. The next chapter begins:

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1-2)

You have to admit, when the queen wants your head, it’s understandable to be concerned, but Elijah had just seen God’s power unleashed on Mount Carmel in front of the masses. Surely God can deal with an angry queen! This is Elijah the prophet!

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

Elijah is a godly man, yet he freaked out. His actions exasperated the situation. He literally runs away, abandoning his servant, and later meditates on his mistreatment and hides in a cave! These behaviors are not unlike those who suffer with anxiety and depression.

God has uniquely created you and me. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s masterpiece. Despite being made in His image, we all have flaws. We have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses. Although our souls are eternal, our bodies and minds have significant limitations.

Unfortunately, many have dismissed mental illness as imaginary or the result of demons. While our bodies are flawed and decaying as a result of sin, mental illness can be every bit as real as a physical issue…and can often have the same causes.

If mental illness were simply a spiritual issue, only non-Christians would struggle. Furthermore, godly men like Elijah would never even think of asking God to take their lives.

I’ve been privileged to have several friends who are Jesus-loving, Bible-based Christian counselors. I want to acknowledge some of my material today is from Eileen Sappington from Ann Arbor. Here are some important facts to consider:

- All cultures have had problems with mental illnesses.

- Mental illnesses can affect any age, race, religion, or income.

- Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing.

- In many cultures, those with a mental illness were considered the bottom of society and were often locked away in jails, back rooms, abused in Asylums, and used for entertainment.

- Christianity and mental illness is a complex issue, even for professional counselors and therapists, theologians, pastors, and Christian researchers.

As Christians, we have historically had no problem helping those suffering from heart disease and cancer, but we often blame mental illness on the patient. Many Christians have been told “If you just prayed more and developed a better attitude, you wouldn’t be so depressed.” Tell that to Elijah! He was a prayer warrior! James even wrote,

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17)

Like heart disease, mental illness can hit any of us, and can subsequently impact all of us.

Obviously our time is very limited. There’s no way in half an hour or half a day I could ever fully address all of the issues related to mental illness, but I want you to hear a story and then I want to share some next steps for all of us.

My Story: Kaytee Schultze, Celebrate Recovery assimilation coach

For those of you taking notes, I’ve already said

Depression and anxiety are real human experiences.

If you encounter someone struggling, ask how you can help. Ask how you can pray for them. Don’t try to fix them! Seek understanding. Listen.

God gives us wisdom.

This is true for the struggling, the friends, and the professionals alike. Surgeons don’t have all of the answers, therapists don’t have all of the answers, but God does. I don’t know why He says “no” or “wait” when we cry out to Him, but I do know He is good and faithful.

Our scripture reading for today says

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

I know, I don’t like trials, either, let alone consider them pure joy! However, trials have a purpose. This includes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational trials. The bottom line for every follower of Jesus is God’s glory. We might not understand our present sufferings, but someday we will. I’m not saying life is easy. I’m not saying, “Don’t worry, be happy!” But I am saying we need to lean into God…and one another. As we noted recently in the psalms, we can be real with God. Peter wrote,

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

It might not feel like it, but it’s a fact.

Often we struggle because we’re so focused on our own issues we fail to look to God. We need to seek His wisdom, His perspective. He even promises to give it!

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

Often God has used trials in my life to get my attention, to develop humility, to bring me to my knees in surrender. God never seeks to harm us, but life can hurt. As we are shaped into the image of Jesus, the potter’s tools can be uncomfortable as our pride, comfort, and selfishness are chiseled away.

If you’re struggling with mental illness, I want to offer a few simple resources:

- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is

- The Battle Ready podcast, episode 2 (mental illness), available in audio and video

- Celebrate Recovery, Wednesdays at 7 PM in the Fellowship Hall, 2214 Monroe

- Professional Counseling with Jane Ginter from
Christian Care Connection

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (not a Christian publication)

- Tell a friend, spouse, co-worker, church staff member; don’t do this alone!

- Fill your mind with the truth. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. I’m not being simplistic, but rather stating the importance of our environment, our entertainment, our minds. My wife’s favorite scripture says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

At any given moment, I can list 100 things I’d like to change about life…but also 100 things for which I’m thankful and blessed. In EVERY situation, present your requests to God…with thanksgiving! That’s a prescription for peace. It’s not a quick-fix, cure-all, but it is a timeless truth which we could probably all practice more. I know I could!!!!

God can use therapy, medication, exercise, prayer, and friendship to address emotional problems. As I said, it usually takes time and effort like most physical healing. But be encouraged.

God gives us hope.

Even while we struggle in this life, help is available. Healing is possible. Hope is real. And while I want to be careful not to be simplistic, this world is temporary, a mere speck on the timeline of eternity. Here’s what we have to look forward to:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

And finally,

God is always with us.

Again, I’m not saying it always feels like it, and I realize the valid response, “If God is with us, why doesn’t He do something about my misery?”

I don’t know.
I don’t understand why.
I have many questions for God. Many involve mental illness.

Although I have never been diagnosed with a condition, members of my family have dealt with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anorexia. When it first appeared, I was confused, troubled, and searching for answers. After years of loving family members and friends through mental illness, I’m still searching for answers. I’m still confused and troubled. But I know God is with us. That’s what Christmas is all about…Emmanuel, God with us. And since God dwells in each follower of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, that means Christians are to be Jesus with skin on, serving, listening, helping, and loving others, whether the struggle is financial, physical, relational, spiritual, or mental.

I want to share something written by someone I deeply love. I’ll protect their identity, but I was given permission to share this social media post.

I have OCD. Like, the real kind. Diagnosed at age 7. It has messed up my life more than anyone can imagine. I was diagnosed with depression at age 10. I’ve just come to accept the fact that that will always be part of my life. I’ve been hospitalized for psychiatric care. One of the worst experiences of my life. Other patients asked me what I was doing there because I seemed so “normal”.

That’s the thing about mental health. It’s the part of the iceberg you can’t see. Sometimes it’s really easy to hide. Other times, not so much. But I rarely talk about it because I’m so much more than my dysfunctional brain.

I’m a third grade teacher.
I’m a graduate student at Columbia University.
I’m a dog mom.
I’m a NYC resident.
I’m a theatre geek.

I am not my illnesses.


The struggle is real. Regardless of your present sufferings, there is help and wisdom and hope available.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalms 42:5)

Mental Illness Resources

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook
NAMI Toledo, National Alliance on Mental Illness
Christian Care Connection (counseling on our church campus)
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800.273.TALK
Celebrate Recovery, Wednesdays at 7 PM, 2214 Monroe Street, Toledo
Directory of Toledo area Christian counselors

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Broken Relationships, 4 November 2018

Why Can’t We Just Get Along? (Broken Relationships)
D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
Matthew 18:15-20

Series Overview:
In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

Big Idea: There is always hope for reconciliation when we obey God’s Word.

Life is all about relationships. Nothing can bring more joy than a deep friendship, an encouraging conversation, a loving embrace, a kind word, or a thoughtful note. Relationships are the heart of life itself. We were created for a relationship with our Creator God. We were created for relationships with one another. God’s design was for a man and woman to have an intimate relationship…knowing and being known by one another. Children are often the result of such a relationship, creating a multi-generational family, the core of any society. Extended family relationships can bring tremendous fulfillment in life, extending love, security, wisdom, and trust.

The church was also God’s design, a family rooted not in biological blood but rather the blood of Jesus Christ, reconciling us to our Heavenly Father and making us spiritual siblings with one another. Relationships are the most wonderful thing in life…except when they’re not!

Today we’re beginning a series entitled
When Life Gets Hard. While it’s true that God is good—all the time—life is not always easy. We were never promised happiness, comfort, and wealth…yet we seem so surprised when life gets hard. Jesus said,

In this world you will have trouble… (John 16:33b)

How many of you have experienced trouble in this world? All of us! It’s guaranteed. We’re all in the midst of trouble, coming out of a trial, or about to experience suffering. Why? I don’t always understand. A few weeks ago we noted how suffering produces perseverance which produces character which leads to hope, but that’s little consolation in the midst of the storm when we’re shouting, “Help!”

One thing I know for certain: we are never alone in our trials. John 16:33 continues…

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

Because relationships are so central to our existence, a broken relationship can often be far more excruciating than a broken bank account or even a broken bone. What do we do when they can’t just get along?

I’m so glad you asked!

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We’re going to get to broken relationships, but first let’s look at what God says about relationships. How are we to live as brothers and sisters? The Bible is loaded with timeless wisdom which—if followed—would transform our lives, avoid misunderstandings, quench gossip, increase harmony, and accelerate peace.

Let’s begin with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15)

Family, if we would follow this one, simple command, our church would be so much different. I admit, this is radical. Our culture says if someone treats you poorly, tell their boss, call the cops, slander them on Facebook, or tell your closest fifty friends about the indiscretion.

If I had a nickel for every time someone has brought a complaint to me about a person before they went to the accused, I’d be a rich man.

Is Jesus clear? If I offend you, first go to…me.

If someone in your small group does something in appropriate, go to…them.
If a staff member does something you don’t like, go to…them.
If a deacon or elder or anyone else is engage in sin, go to…them.

To do otherwise is…sin! It’s gossip.

Many of you are familiar with Dave Ramsey. He’s a best-selling author and media personality. He may be best known for his financial counsel, but he also runs an organization in Tennessee which is consistently rated one of the top places to work in Nashville. One feature of his business is a no-gossip policy. Listen to this excerpt from his website:

Gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem. If you’re having computer problems, and IT is slow about helping you, you don’t complain about it to the sales rep in the break room. You talk to your leader because he or she can and will do something about it.
If a team member is discovered gossiping, they receive one warning. After that they’re fired, and, yes, Dave has fired people for gossiping and will do it again to keep it out of his company.
I can’t fire volunteers at First Alliance Church for gossiping, but I wish I could! It’s sin. And it happens. Here. It’s unacceptable! It’s poison. It’s toxic. It destroys unity. It is a form of hate. Am I clear?

When I arrived at three years ago, I was told since seemingly everyone in our church is related, there’s not much gossip here. That may be true, but any gossip is too much. Proverbs says,

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. (Proverbs 26:20-22)

I know it’s hard. I know it’s more fun to talk behind their back. I know speaking ill of someone makes us feel superior. I know everyone in the world does it. One recent study revealed about 80% of our conversations are about other people and their habits! But gossip is unacceptable. If you hear even a whisper of negativity toward someone not in the conversation, please simply stop and ask these six words:

Why are you telling me this?

Have you ever played the telephone game? You tell a message to someone who tells someone else who tells someone else and after a while the original message is nowhere to be found. This is why I like prayer requests and messages in writing, by the way. You might think your intent is good in critiquing the behavior of a brother or sister, but if it goes around them, it won’t take long for lies to be spread. Let me say it one more time:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15)

In a small number of instances, speaking the truth in love to a brother or sister does not produce the desired results. Jesus continues,

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
(Matthew 18:16)

One-on-one is not always successful, especially when there is a power imbalance. God makes provision for mediators. The Alliance even has an extensive course called Peacemaking. Kendra Sankovich recently completed both sections and is a trained facilitator for such conversations. Your spouse, small group leader, or mutual friend might be useful. In some instances, a professional counselor can help. This usually works, but if not, then and only then step three and four can be executed.

If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
(Matthew 18:17)

In this case, “the church” may be the elders. These are rare and serious situations. The Bible gives instruction for church discipline and it is sometimes needed, not to kick someone out, but rather to create pathways for repentance and reconciliation.

Here’s the bottom line: if you have an issue with someone, go to them first. Gossip is a deadly cancer that has destroyed countless relationships.

Jesus adds a few words to this message about loving one another.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

That’s cool! When we are united with God and one another, we’re all working together, seeking the same thing, on the same mission, and God’s will is accomplished.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

The context is not where two or three gather to fight or gossip, but to pursue unity, truth, and understanding. Christ acts with the Church in matters of discipline. That’s a vision of how we are to do life together as family with one another, our heavenly Father, and our big brother Jesus.

Here are some related scriptures on relating with one another:

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:14-15)

We talked about grace—unmerited favor—last month. We are to be people of grace. We are to be recipients of God’s grace and conduits of it to others. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Believe the best in others. Don’t avoid conflict, but before attacking, begin with a clarifying question or one of my favorite phrases, “Help me understand.”

We have a real enemy, family, and he wants us divided, critical, negative, gossiping, backstabbing, arguing, and complaining. When we hit pause and lovingly get to the heart of the matter, he loses…and I love it when he loses!!! Peter said,

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8)

Humble people make the best friends, the best leaders, the best neighbors. In fact, we’re told,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (Philippians 2:3)

A few verses later Paul writes,

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky (Philippians 2:14-15)

Here’s a good summary of life together:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:16-18)

Sometimes we can go through all of the steps in Matthew 18 and still not find resolution. Unfortunately we cannot control the behaviors of others. It’s hard enough controlling our own!

I know many of you are living with the pain and anguish of broken relationships. I am, too. Out of respect for those involved, I’m not at liberty to provide you with details, but there are two family members I love deeply who have become estranged from other members of my family and, somewhat, to me. These are good, Christian people who love God, but have unresolved conflict. I don’t understand. I have engaged in “help me understand” conversations, but brokenness remains.

The Bible does not simply say to live at peace with everyone, but rather if it is possible, as far as it depends on you. Sometimes we need to simply step back and fall to our knees. Prayer works. It usually takes time. I’m praying for healing in my family. I’m praying for healing in many of your families, too.


I want to remind of some other words of Jesus.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We aren’t identified as Christians by our theology.
We aren’t identified as Christians by our politics.
We aren’t identified as Christians by our denomination or doctrine.
We aren’t identified as Christians by our diet or appearance or media habits.
We are identified as disciples of Jesus if we love one another.

Family, we
will hurt and offend one another, whether intentionally or accidentally. The Bible is filled with conflict. For example, Paul and Barnabus had serious issues with one another (Acts 15:37-38) but they mended their relationship (2 Timothy 4:11). We must be willing to quickly forgive, seeking restoration and reconciliation.

A popular passage of the Bible says,

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Keep short accounts. Forgive quick. No regrets. Tomorrow may be too late.

About 2000 years ago Jesus gathered his best friends together for the Passover celebration. It would become so much more as he presented himself as the sacrifice, the lamb who would be slaughtered to take away the sins of the world. You can call it the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist or Communion. It’s a time to remember Jesus, his love, his death on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection. He died to heal the brokenness in our relationship with God caused by our sin. It’s also to be done together; communion is to be done in community. Paul said,

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Perhaps Paul was thinking of these words from Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)


Quoting from a 1982 document from the World Council of Churches,

The Eucharist celebration demands reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic and political life. All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ…

Communion is about broken relationships restored.
Communion is about our sins washed white as snow.
Communion is about one imperfect family unified in grace, forgiveness, and love.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.