This is Mikey, a Romanian dog, described by my friends as short, stubby legs, plump body and as cowardly as can be ! And they named it after me !!
Am I offended ? Not at all as I feel it is quite an affectionate thing to do. Strange thinking you might say, but my reasoning is that Alex and Heather could only take the mickey (!!) out of me because of the friendship that has developed over the years. When I first went to Romania in 2008 the relationship was different; they didn`t know me and didn`t know whether I would take to the living conditions, the language, the family and so on. Alex and Heather didn`t know even how much they could trust me but after a couple of years they were able to banter and tease me to my delight.
That’s the thing about relationships isn’t it ? The deeper a relationship is, the more that people begin to feel comfortable, then the deeper that things of real importance can be shared.
AND yet as Christians we still expect people to walk through our doors without any relationship at all. This morning our window cleaner came without any expectation of anything more than doing his job. I didn`t expect him to walk into the house unannounced and nor did he expect to; however after he had finished we were able to have a few minutes chat about football; the relationship has begun.
But we expect folk to walk into our Churches and sometimes when they do we still don`t attempt to establish any real relationship with them at all. The success of discipleship courses such as Alpha, Essence has been built not on the teaching alone but on the friendships built up over the meal, the discussion and the fellowship. As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I become more and more convinced that evangelism is not going to achieve real success unless there is a relationship involved. The old-fashioned Billy Graham rallies began in relationship as Billy would urge his followers to invite family and friends, people they could relate to, and then he would expect an ongoing relationship after conversion. Why ? Because evangelism isn`t just about numbers, bums on seats mentality; No, it’s about building a community as Jesus first intended. Notice he walked for three years with the same people. Even though he must have been frustrated and disappointed in them at times, he stood by them and gradually began to change them until the time was right for the final disclosure of the Holy Spirit.
Much of the current Fresh Expression movement is about relationships as well. Relationships built in café`s, in messy Church, Forest Church and so on; people coming together, learning together and sharing the Lord Jesus with one another. Trouble is it requires a lot of patience, tolerance, understanding on the part of the Christians who are encouraging others (and also on their part in dealing with us, often !)
So what is the key ? Well, those who know me and have known me for a number of years will already know my answer to this question, because for me the only thing that really forges relationships to a Godly level is when the love of Jesus is present. If we truly love our Lord and Saviour then we must continuously ask the Holy Spirit to nurture our love for other people; we must seek the heart of Jesus in all our relationships, see people as he would see them and love them non-judgementaly but simply as fellow travellers. Jesus may not have liked the lifestyles of people, he may have condemned the sin but he NEVER rejected people (read the scriptures and it was usually the other people turning their back on Jesus that broke the relationship). We too must not be judgemental rejectionists, but need to be people of love and find ways of building relationships with people so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
So who are you in relationship with and are there any bridges you need to build in order to show that love ?