home > Pastor’s Desk

RELATIONALLY VITAL RELIGION

One of the dire warnings that Jesus gave to those who would be His followers was that the time would come when people would live like those during the “days of Noah” when people were oblivious to God (Luke 17:26-27) and went about their daily routines — eating, drinking, marrying, raising a family — without regard for God or His commands. Even though it was couched in surprisingly mundane descriptions perhaps leaving the original hearers to wonder why Christ would be so concerned about this, as we read on in this passage we discover that Christ is warning that it is when such ‘ordinary’ activities are done without regard to God and His commands, we are in eternal peril. Even such routine things as eating and drinking, the apostle Paul later stated, should be done “to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). When such cares of this life consume all of our attention and hinder us from gazing upon the face of Christ (2Cor. 3:18; 4:6) and end up distorting our priorities (Matt. 6:33) we are in divine peril. This peril is even greater for those who are nominally religious because chances are they are completely unaware of the risk they are taking and Christ’s dire warnings to avoid it. The answer is not to be more religious but to be truly religious by embracing what Christ taught about a relationally vital religion… 

 

WHICH PART OF THE WHEEL IS YOUR RELIGION?

If we were to think of our lives as being a bicycle wheel and each spoke represented an aspect of our life, which part of that wheel would be dedicated to God? The kind of Christianity that Jesus described, to use the wheel metaphor, involved a commitment to Him being represented as the hub and the rim of the wheel. In that way, every spoke flows out of Him to Him.  

And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17

For those nominally religious people whose “Christianity” is just a spoke in their life-wheel, God is largely irrelevant, the bible is a largely unfamiliar book, and church attendance is just an occasional (and optional) duty. This concept of religion is known as formal Christianity. It’s referred to in Second Timothy 3:5 – having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. ‘Formal Christianity’ stands in complete contradistinction to the way of life that Jesus called His followers to.

¶ Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
Matthew 16:24

VITALIS

This concept of Christianity as described by Jesus is known as ‘vital’ (from the Latin vitalis meaning “life”) Christianity. Because this is so starkly different to formal Christianity these followers of Christ often shy away from describing their vital Christianity as a religion and prefer to describe it as a relationship. This preferential description may baffle a formal ‘Christian’ who has little idea why anyone would describe their religion as a relationship. This is because they are probably unfamiliar with the biblical exhortations to refer to God in prayer as Abba” – Daddy (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Jesus actually stated in a prayer to His Father that the only way that someone could truly be His follower was to know Him and His Father (John 17:3), and apostle Paul described this relationship as his highest pursuit – 

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3:7-8

Timothy Keller distinguishes formal Christianity from vital Christianity preferring instead to use the words religion and gospel. This is how he sees the distinction:

This is a particularly helpful distinction for those who have been deceived into thinking that formal Christianity is actually Christianity. Understanding what Keller calls Gospel Christianity should lead a person to see that Christianity is both a relationship (with God and His people) and a vital religion. It should also change the way a person understood life and their place in this world. 

 

HOW THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS EMBLEMS THE VERTICAL & HORIZONTAL ASPECTS OF RELATIONAL CHRISTIANITY

The emblem of Christianity is the Cross. It reminds us that God reached down to us in love through giving mankind not just His written Word — but also through His Living embodied Word — His Son. Christ taught us that peace with God was a vertical relationship with the Father made possible because of the Cross (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20). The evidence of a person in a vertical relationship with God is their horizontal relationship with their church family. The vertical and horizontal aspects of being a vital Christian are expressed in Matthew 22:37-40.

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
First John 2:10

 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
First John 3:10

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
First John 3:14

 

TRUE RELIGION

True, vital Christianity is indeed a relationship, it has a power religious element to it as well. As Keller has pointed out, we do not become religious to get right with God — we become religious because we have been made right with God by God (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible prescribes that the child of God exhibits “true religion”.

¶ If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,
and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:26-27

True, vital, religion is grounded in a delightful devotion to God through Christ (Rom. 16:27). It is active, relational and heartfelt. It takes seriously both of the two greatest commands of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40. Thus, obeying Hebrews 10:25 is a sacrifice they are more than willing to make. This sacrifice is gladly made when they meet together with God’s people to worship God (Heb. 13:15) give heed to the preaching of God’s Word (Rom. 16:25), going into their closet to pray for their brothers and sisters and the lost (1Tim. 2:1-3); and continually seeking the Kingdom of God as their first priority (Matt. 6:33). These are all the reasons why biblical Christianity is a  relationally vital religion.

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

2 Comments

  1. LYDIA

    Vertical and horizontal. Its been many many years since I have heard that analogy. Relational Christianity. It stuck with me then and it was great to see and read it now. If we remove either part then we have nothing. If the one isn’t right the other cannot flourish. Thanks for putting that picture back into my mind Andrew.

    Reply
  2. Archibald Norman Macdonald

    In a word , challenging.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

AMAZING ACCESS

Anyone who has attended a large event such as the recent Will Graham Outreach event that was held at the Launceston Silverdome would be familiar with the varying levels of access that are provided to staff and volunteers associated with this type of event. The security system used included identification in the form of different coloured shirts, prayer volunteer cards, and all access cards that permitted access to the entire venue with no questions asked by security personnel. This is like the access level that God has to our lives. Being omnipresent, He has unhindered access to every aspect of our lives. He knows our innermost thoughts, sees all that we do, hears all that we say. God has the ultimate ‘all access’ card.

WHY FINDING TRUTH MATTERS

How can we determine whether a claim is true or false? Some people think there are different kinds of truth — my truth, their truth, and your truth. But how do they know that their assessment of truth is true? After all, their assessment – that there is my/their/your truth might just be based on their truth rather than the truth. Truth has certain qualities that distinguishes it from what is false-
 Truth corresponds to reality.
 Truth is verifiable (that is, if it is true, it can be evidentially shown to be so).
 Truth is falsifiable (that is, if it is false, it can be evidentially shown to be so).
 Truth is sometimes testable (that is, claims that are experiential can be tested by experience – including scientific claims, historic claims, and existential claims).
We have good reasons for the believing that the Bible is true because it is the divinely inspired, reliable and authoritative Word of God which has been superintendedly preserved by the Holy Spirit (read more about this).

THE 5 MOST IMPORTANT YEARS OF ANYONE’S LIFE

Parents, Kids Church leaders, and Christian school teachers should be intentional about shaping children to be fully devoted followers of Christ who have reasons for believing Christianity is true – which shapes them into virtuous contributors to society and to find their role in God’s Kingdom. This will be one of the necessary and indispensable means for the Church to fulfil the Great Commission of Christ.

TIME- YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT – BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT

We live in a fast paced world. We expect things to happen quickly. None of us like to be kept waiting. Even when we order something online we expect it delivered straight away. Some of us having to work two or even three jobs just to be able to pay the bills. We describe ourselves as time-poor. Yet, we all get twenty-four-hours in a day. Sixty-minutes in an hour. And sixty-seconds in a minute. Most of us need to adjust how we see, understand, and treat our time. This will involve, what will be for some, adopting a foreign and largely unaccustomed view of time that involves worship, sabbath, and deepening relationships. From this biblical perspective we will come to see time as a gift from God, not a curse, or source of frustration. Within this gift of time God teaches us how to worship in those times when it is difficult to do so. Rather than thinking this divine gift of time is ours to do with what ever we want, God uses this gift to teach us that we should gift it back to Him beginning with (but not limited to) treating Sunday as a sabbath to come together to recommit our hearts, voices, minds, and presence with God’s people, back to God. God gives us passing time to learn to deepen relationships – especially with our kin, and our friends. Time is meant for relationship building. 

I AM WHO I AM BUT I AM NOT WHO I USED TO BE BUT I AM NOT YET WHO I WILL BE

One of the greatest lies that the would-be enemy of all our souls attempts to perpetuate is that we are what we are and we can never change. This lie is whispered into the ears of many people’s invisible ears so imperceptibly that they actually think it originated with them. “You were born this way – and you can never change”, “This is who you really are – and you can never change”, “There’s no hope of anything ever changing for better – so you might as well just kill yourself” and so on. But these sly alien voices inside the heads of the vulnerable are lies. People can change. People do change. Some circumstances were always going to be temporary and were always going to change. I know this is true because I am living proof. I am who I am but I am not who I used to be and I am not yet who I will be.

WHO DOES THIS EPHESIANS FELLA THINK HE IS?!

It may well still be the best-selling book of all time – and continues year-by-year to be so – but certainly is not the best-read of our current times! If there was ever any doubt about this, the events this week in Hobart, at St. Mary’s (Catholic) College Girl’s School, should remove all doubt! A furore erupted over the news that the prescribed Scripture reading for the year-end graduation celebration, which incorporated a Mass, was “Wives submit to your husbands” taken from Ephesians. Callers into ABC radio’s breakfast program decried this assault against women – especially young, vulnerable girls. One caller, responding to the news that the text being used was a citation from Ephesians, denounced Ephesians and apparently demanded, “Just who does this Ephesians bloke think he is?!” Another caller stated, “Why are they quoting ancient Roman philosophers in the twenty-first century?!” And yet another caller somehow linked all religious wars to passages like this one in the Bible! He remarked, “I’m an atheist. All wars are started by those who are religious! No war was ever started by atheists!” (Perhaps he had never heard of Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Vladimir Putin, who were collectively responsible for the deaths of over 20,000,000?) This furore led to the Archbishop conceding that the Ephesians passage did not have to be used at the graduation ceremony. But this furore has highlighted just how unaware many Tasmanians are about what the Bible is, what is actually says, and why it says it. And I am now about to correct this deficiency.  

THE LORD IS MY ROCK

Of the many tributes paid to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was the often noted reflection that during her reign the world underwent a series of rapid changes that were dramatic and unprecedented in human history. There were technological inventions that revolutionised the way people could access international travel options enabling them to be virtually anywhere in the world within a matter of hours. New forms of communication emerged with the development of a global satellite communications network enabling people to watch Neil Armstrong take his one giant leap Live on their black-and-white TV screens (as I did in the corridors of Corio Primary School in 1969). Space exploration, the stuff previously just in the realm of science fiction writers, became a reality with manned and unmanned voyages to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But the past one hundred years have also been a time of great upheaval with empires crumbling, governments toppled, wars waged, genocides committed, pandemics raging, nations birthed, rulers assassinated, and massive refugee movements from oppressive Islamic and Communist regimes. Added to this has been the demise of professional journalism and the rise of internet-citizen-journalism where it is now common for TV News reports to feature footage taken from someone’s cell-phone which was posted on social media rather than the more expensive option of sending their own film crew there. And while we’re mentioning the internet, let’s not forget to mention – the internet. This alone has possibly been the most monumental change in the way people communicate, work, learn, and shop. But while it was noted that the Queen had witnessed all of these many changes, it was also noted that the Queen herself was an unchanging constant during all these upheavals who brought about a sense of stability, peace and reassurance. To millions of people around the world, she was their rock in a world of turmoil and change. Yet this was only possible because she herself had an immovable, dependable rock upon which she had built her life.

WHO BUILDS A CITY ON A HILL?

home > Pastor's Desk > 2022 > October 7th > Who Builds A City On A HillFor those who don’t know, I was born in Geelong, and have always been fan of the Geelong Football Club. But I’m not just a fan, I’m a paid-up member of the Club. In fact, I’m a student...

5 INDISPENSABLE GUIDELINES FOR NEW PARENTS

This is not for everyone. If you are already a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my other more abstract Pastor’s Desk articles. If you are not a parent and have no intention of ever being a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my more weighty articles on FindingTruthMatters.org. If you are not yet a parent and one day hope to become a parent, this is for you. Find a quiet place, take the next six minutes thirteen seconds and use the reading of this article as an investment into your future parenting strategies. I did not invent these guidelines. Like many parents who have also discovered the value of these guidelines, once discovered, they seem obvious. These successful parents probably grew up with own parents who inculcated these guidelines almost intuitively. However, my suspicion is that this is becoming increasingly rarer. As with all true guidelines they are adaptable, flexible, and are not a guarantee of parental success — but if ignored they become the point in the mathematical problem solving where you can see you made an error in your working out. In other words, while these guidelines may not guarantee success, if ignored their neglect almost certainly leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are five indispensable guidelines for every prospective new parent.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR ATHEIST & MAGICIAN PENN JILLETTE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?

I’ve been praying for Penn Jillette for some time now. It began when I first heard him ridicule the Bible and Christianity. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, has been due to my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. There are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers). I seek to learn from magicians about how to keep an audience’s attention, how to tell a story, and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to uphold truth in an honest way.