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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

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SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.

UNPACKING CHRISTIANITY

home > Pastor's Desk > 2022 > JUNE 3rd > UNPACKING CHRISTIANITY UNPACKING CHRISTIANITY I have a thing for bags. Not shopping bags or lady’s handbags, but manly bags - functional bags. A few years back I became fed-up with the number of bags I was...