#150 (10/10/04)
What Matters Most in Life.. Relationships!

The Message

By: Michael Guillen, PhD

Special Guest

Kent Keith earned his bachelor of arts at Harvard, was a rhodes scholar at Oxford, and at Vaseda University in Tokyo. He holds a law degree as well as a doctorate in education. He has served in the cabinet of the Governor of Hawaii, has been an attorney and university president. He’s currently the senior vice president of development and communications for the YMCA in Honolulu. He wrote the book, “The Paradoxical Commandments”

Special Music

“Joyful, Joyful...”
" He Lives "
"I Would be True"

“Let Thy Holy Spirit”

DEVON GUTHRIE - "You Raise Me Up"
J. CHRISTOPHER PARDINI – “God of Grace, and God of Glory“
RUSS LEE – “The Living Years”

Acticle of The Message

Guest Speaker Michael Guillen, PhD, Scientist and Author

I know of a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills who seems to have everything life has to offer. A fancy home on Beverly Drive, a Mercedes Benz, a lucrative practice, even his own reality show on national TV. There's only one problem: he also has a baby daughter and a beautiful wife, who is pregnant ... but he rarely gets to spend any time with them " he is too busy working! He works from 7 AM to 11 PM every day, including weekends. He says when he does see his baby, she sometimes cries because she doesn't recognize him.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar in modern-day America. Today, millions of men " and now women too " are spending more time at work and less time with family and friends. Corporate partnerships are beating out and beating up! " personal relationships. A friend of mine from across the Atlantic Ocean put it this way: "You Yanks 'live to work' ... whereas we British 'work to live!'"

As a reformed workaholic myself, I'm here to tell you ... relationships are not only important " they not only keep us from being lonely " they are the most important thing life ... and for three reasons.

Reason #1: Relationships give meaning to our lives

I was born in East Los Angeles surrounded by lots of family and friends. Yet when it was time for me to attend grad school, I chose to abandon them all. I chose to go clear across the country to Cornell University in Upstate New York to become a physicist. That was my dream, you see " like a "wannabe" actor going to Hollywood " and I wasn't going to let anyone or anything stand in my way.

In the middle of my schooling, my mom, died of breast cancer, and I was devastated. She was only fifty years old and I had assumed she would be around for a long time " certainly long enough to watch me graduate. All those years of making me feel special, of supporting and encouraging my dream to become a scientist " and now, suddenly, she was gone.

At that oh-so-painful moment in my young life, I discovered that first lesson: Relationships are the most important thing in life because they give it meaning and purpose. Without family and friends " without loved ones to share it with " all the money, fame, and success in the world is hollow, even meaningless. I'm telling you, right here and now, I'd gladly give up my PhD if it would bring my mom or dad or grandparents back to life. They mean " they still mean " that much to me.

Reason #2: Relationships bring light to our lives

I've also noticed how different kinds of relationships give life to different parts of us. For example, I know this high-powered Hollywood lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School. He represented a long list of famous celebrities and when he is in the courtroom, trust me, you don't want to be on the opposite side " he is sharp as a tack and tough as nails. Yet, when this $500-an-hour attorney is around children, a different part of him suddenly comes to life ... just like that, he becomes sweet and cuddly. Kids will sit in his lap and play with his $300 handmade silk tie or pocket handkerchief and he'll just beam with fatherly love and tenderness. It's really something to see!

In my own case, during my studies to become a scientist, I lived a monastic existence. That is, I was your quintessential nerd " totally consumed by my studies. I had friends, of course, but nothing serious " certainly no girlfriend. Physics was the love of my life, and for years it looked as if it would always be that way. But then Laurel showed up, and suddenly, whole rooms in my life " ones that had been dark and dead until then " were suddenly lit up! First, the "boyfriend" then the "husband" in me came alive. It was astonishing!

That's the good news. The bad news is that when Laurel and I tried to have a baby, we failed over and over again. Finally, we went to the doctor and he told us we had what is called "unexplained infertility." Our reproductive systems checked out fine, but for some mysterious reason, they weren't doing what they were supposed to. For me, the news was especially devastating because I'm the last male of my family. Without a son, I knew the Guillen name would die with me forever.

At first, I reproached myself for waiting so long to get started with married life " for all those years I'd shunned relationships in favor of pursuing my obsessive ambition to become a physicist. I prayed and prayed to God to forgive me and to bless us with a child, but to no avail. As a result, Laurel and I resigned ourselves to remaining childless forever " of never knowing what it is like to be parents.

This isn't the end of our story, but before I tell you how it turned out, I want to finish my message by giving you the third and final reason why I believe relationships are the most important thing in life

Reason #3: Relationships are opportunities
to rub elbows with God

By definition, relationships " any and all relationships " are based on a loving connection between two or more people. That's a given. But what exactly do we mean by a "loving connection"?

According to modern secular society, that "loving connection" is ultimately "narcissistic" " that is, the name of competition or self-reliance, popular American culture encourages us to approach relationships armed with self-centered thoughts like:

"What's in it for me?" or

"Hey, if I don't look out for myself, then who will?" or

"Look, it's nothing personal, it's just business." Or my all-time favorite ...

"I need to learn to love myself before I can learn to love others."

In her 1985 pop hit, "Greatest Love of All," that's exactly what Whitney Houston was telling us. Listen to the lyrics:

"I never found anyone to fulfill my needs ...

So I learned to depend on me ...

I found the greatest love of all

Inside of me ...

Learning to love yourself

It is the greatest love of all."

Okay, that is one way of looking at life. Here is another: According to modern science, the "love connection" in human relationships is ultimately "Darwinistic" " that is, when push comes to shove, we inevitably favor those who carry our genes. "Family comes first" or put another way, "blood is thicker than water."

These narcissistic, Darwinistic or nepotistic ways of approaching relationships are what I call "bottom-up" relationships. That is because they are relationships built up from our own lowly self-interests. Like when we befriend somebody mainly because we think he can help our career. Or when we make excuses for our children, even when we know they've done something wrong. Or when we avoid troublesome customers after we've made the sale. At the bottom of all bottom-up relationships are our priorities, our ambitions, our genes. Bottom-up relationships are all about our interests ... our pleasure ... our profit.

By contrast, Jesus said,

"Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

In other words, God wants us to build our lives ... our relationships from the top down. First and foremost, He implores, love Him ... then everything else will follow automatically.

Please listen carefully to what I'm saying ... this is crucial ...

  • The challenge is in learning to love God more than ourselves
  • The challenge is in learning to build our relationships " including our relationship with ourselves " from the top down
  • The challenge is in learning to approach people as if they exist, not just for our purposes, our pleasure, or our profit ... but for God's purposes, God's pleasure, and God's profit.

A year ago last March, that realization hit my wife, Laurel, and I like a cold shower. I'll never forget it. It was a Sunday and we were sitting in church listening to our pastor preach from Romans 14:17. That is the passage that reads, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."

Truth is, it had been years since Laurel and I had felt the peace and joy of the Lord in our hearts. Oh sure, we went to church, read the Bible, and prayed a lot. But our hearts were agitated and frustrated by our inability to have a family.

Yet that Sunday, it hit us. For years and years, we had been approaching our desire to have a family completely upside down. We didn't just want a child; we wanted a child that had our genes, our looks, and our disposition. In other words, a "bottom-up child."

Driving home from church that day, Laurel and I looked at each other and knew exactly what the Lord wanted us to do: Right then and there we knew He wanted us to adopt. What will always be amazing to me is that Laurel and I realized it at exactly the same instant " it is what convinced us that God was talking to us.

When we got home, we were so excited that we ran upstairs, booted up our computer, and spent the rest of the day researching everything there was to know about adopting an American child in our state. We didn't eat a thing that day, and barely could sleep that night " that's how excited we were.

Very early the following morning " a Monday " we sprang out of bed and called the Department of Social Services. I don't have time to tell you everything that happened, but I can tell you this: After taking special classes for pre-adoptive parents ... filling out lengthy questionnaires ... sitting for long interviews ... and being checked out by the police ... last September, Laurel and I got a call one evening about five o'clock from a social worker ... telling us she had a four-year old boy she felt was a perfect match for us.

She e-mailed us some pictures of the little boy, and boom! I can tell you truthfully it was love at first sight. A few weeks later, we got to meet him, and from then on, our love for each other grew deeper and deeper with every visit. In fact, the whole getting-acquainted experience was nothing short of supernatural, because inside of just a few months, we felt as if we'd lived together all our lives.

Today, Laurel and I are absolutely convinced that our son was sent to us by God. When we are with him, we feel God's presence. When we look into his eyes, we see Jesus looking back at us with a large, loving smile on His face. Unbelievable, we also see ourselves. It is part of God's glorious miracle that this child looks and behaves just like us! " our friends are amazed by it. Most importantly, our new son loves God at least as much as we do -- maybe even more. That's how spiritual he is.

Looking back now on our long and painful effort to have a family, I wish we had seen the light years sooner. It would have spared Laurel all those awful injections and medical procedures that inevitably come with trying to conceive artificially. But I also understand the delay. Like so many childless couples, Laurel and I were afraid to adopt. What if the kid turns out to be a bad seed? What if the kid's biological parents come back to reclaim him someday? What if? ... What if? ... What if?

Laurel and I had to learn to overcome our fear by trusting God with every fiber of our being. It took us years, but when we did that " when we learned to love God first " I'm telling you, everything changed. Suddenly we had the courage ... and the selflessness ... and the faith ... to begin building a family, not from the bottom up, but from the top down. In effect, when we learned to love God first, our whole life was turned upside down. Hallelujah!

What about you? Are you still approaching relationships from the bottom up? Do you find yourself approaching people with a subtle yet selfish agenda? Are you afraid to reach out to certain people " the homeless, the orphan, the troubled friend " just because of how they might unsettle your life or rob you of your precious time? If so, believe me, I understand " I've been there.

After what Laurel and I went through, I'm absolutely convinced top-down relationships are God's way of getting to know us ... and us Him.

  • The old friend you haven't heard from in years who needs a favor from you.
  • The relative who didn't come to your wedding but now wants you to come to his.
  • The obnoxious boss who works you too hard and pays you too little.

These aren't relationships we are inclined to embrace " they don't serve our selfish purposes in any obvious way. Yet, just because we don't really see their purpose in our lives doesn't mean they don't have any. They do. All relationships approached from the top down have a purpose.

This morning, I believe God is speaking to you heart the way he did to Laurel's and mine on that fateful Sunday sixteen months ago. This morning, I believe God is tugging at your conscience ... bidding you to venture out of your comfort zone ... to reach out to others, the way you'd want them to reach out to you if you were lonely ... or depressed ... or in need of a family or friend.

In Hebrews 12:1-2, we are told: "Keep on loving each other as brothers [and] do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it ..."

Like the little five-year old stranger-angel who now calls me daddy. Thank you, and may God bless you. Amen.

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