Refrigerator Rights (week one) by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series this past Sunday called Refrigerator Rights. This series is designed to develop healthy relationships in the context of a network of support.

John Burke shared at the McNeil campus, and I spoke at the South Campus. Here are some of the ideas we shared:

“Who has refrigerator rights in your life? Refrigerator Rights can tell us a lot about our relational health. It’s not just about the food in your fridge, is it? It’s about more than that.

Dr. Gary Smalley says, ‘All of life is relationship—the rest are details.’  Most Americans don’t believe that, or don’t live that way. As a result, we experience angst, anxieties, addictions, feelings of emptiness, and hopelessness. Too many of us do not have even 1-2 spiritually encouraging friends that have Refrigerator Rights –  people we let not only into our homes, but our hearts.

As a church, we are perfectly designed to do something about this — together.

For most of human civilization, people pretty much stayed in the same location where they grew up. As a result, people had a community where they are known and where they know others. You might not like them, but at least you belonged. All that has changed radically with our generation, making us the most individualistic, isolated societies ever. In India, it’s different. one of our partners named Jaya explained why the divorce rate is so low. He said, ‘if my kids are having problems, we can tell, and we help them.’

Dr. Will Miller, the author of Refrigerator Rights said that ‘virtually every week I spent an afternoon with all my aunts uncles and first cousins – about 25 of us in all.’

The divorce rate increased 300% in one generation. The baby boomer generation was termed the ‘me generation’ because the values that were highest were all about me – getting the things that I want that would make me happy. The value of WE (family, community, relationship) was sold at discount prices to gain more financial success and material stuff.  Their latchkey kids grew up in a relational whirlwind with no relational roots.  Like fish growing up in muddy water, we don’t even know there’s anything different or better because it’s all around us and it’s all we’ve known.

Another challenge: 1 of 7 Americans move every year. Most of us move every 5-6 years. With our busyness and transitory nature, it takes intentionality, commitment, and a willingess to work through hurts, disappointments, and letdowns.

We all want something relationally. We know if we don’t have it, but we don’t really know what we’re missing or how to get it. We’re all confused. We’re all together, and alone. We keep betting on the values we were taught growing up: change jobs, succeed, aquire more, and retire happy. If you don’t like what you’re getting at this store, or church, leave—find one that works for you–yet it might just be that these ways keep us from getting what we really long for.

Dr. Will Miller has a personal assessment for us. Determine how many of the following are true of you:

  1. As an adult I feel like I have moved my home too many times.
  2. Other than those at work, it is hard for me to think of at least two people to whom I’m accountable.
  3. I tend to be highly self-reliant.
  4. Usually, I commute to work alone.
  5. I often feel nagging stress.
  6. I often feel a sense of dread.
  7. I often feel anxious.
  8. I often feel depressed.
  9. I have contemplated suicide.
  10. I am reluctant to share my worries with others.
  11. There are few people in my life who I trust.
  12. Other than my family, few people offer me personable affirmation.
  13. Other than family, few people offer me honest correction.
  14. I would say that I am not really emotionally close with people other than my spouse/partner and children.
  15. I expend much of my energy in pursuit of career achievement and earning money.
  16. I find my greatest satisfaction in my material possessions.
  17. Last month no one besides family members visited inside my home.
  18. I know the last names of my next-door neighbors.
  19. Outside of my workplace, I do not belong to a group that meets at least 2x/month.
  20. Most evenings, I’m too tired to think about getting together with other people and would rather “crash” at my own home.

If you agreed with 10 or more, Miller says, you’re too isolated and need new and deeper connections.

What distinguishes very happy people from less happy people? It’s not money, it’s not health, it’s not IQ, it’s not career success, in fact it’s not most of the things we think will make us happy. According to the academic Journal of Happiness Studies the one thing that makes the most difference is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships.

God made us for to know and be known, to encourage and be encouraged, to love and be loved. We need community – to know we’re not alone. God is with us, and our friends have our backs. It takes effort, it takes commitment, it takes investment, and it takes working through hurts, conflicts, and annoyances. But it’s worth it.

The Scripture says, For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus…. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:26-28 In other words what God is trying to do is tear down the differences that tend to isolate us–racial differences, socioeconomic differences, gender differences, and create a new family who learned to treat each other in new ways because we are sons and daughters of the God who is love.

Both Moses and Jesus said to Love God and Love People. God is trying to teach us to be His family, an extended family doing life with Him and each other in a way that not only helps us belong, but invites others to belong as well.

Sociologically, belonging is complex. We have different relational and sociological needs that a one-size-fits-all gathering can’t meet. Sociologist Edward Hall described the 4 relational spaces in which we operate:

Social Spaces

Jesus operated in these spaces as well:

Public Space (large gatherings like the Sermon on the Mount)

Social Space (20-70 people – the 70 – a network)

Personal Space (Family space – life group – the 12 disciples)

Intimate Space (1-3 people who know everything – Running Partners – Peter, James, and John).

What is church supposed to be according to the Scriptures?  Look at the description of the church in the time of Jesus: “They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together…All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group.  Acts 2:42-47  They came together in large public gatherings at the Temple to learn and worship, but they also gathered in each others’ homes.

The early followers of Jesus were so loving, compassionate, and inclusive toward everyone that most all of the Roman Empire started following Jesus by the 300’s. Roman Emperor Julian called Christians Atheists—cause they didn’t worship the roman/greek gods. Look what Julian said, Atheism [Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers…it is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” – Roman Emperor Julian 

That’s what we’re trying to get back to through Networks – becoming like an extended family on mission togethe, serving people around us.

‘Networks are small enough to care, but big enough to dare.’ – Mike Breen

When you have all of this, it’s amazing how the weight of life lifts and your problems don’t seem so ominous because you’re not alone in it. It’s a wonderful way to live, where together we can overcome anything, our kids grow up loved and supported by an extended family, and it changes the world around us.

We all long for the joy that a healthy relational world creates, and it comes from following God’s Spirit to create His New Family – His extended family that spreads his love and joy to a relationally hungry world.

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