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Archive for August, 2014

It is a common response among some Christians these days to say that their faith is not a religion as the other belief systems have it but a relationship with the Creator and Savior. I heartily agree with this distinction  because God has initiated relationship with us through the saving blood of His Son, Jesus. Other faith systems are religions whereby the adherent attempts to acquire some semblance of relationship with a deity by acts of ritual. Therefore, religion is marked by ritual, most notably rituals of appeasement. Any casual observer as well as the skeptic will be quick to point out that Christianity also has ritual. A little reflection will quickly reveal that most of that ritual is human generated. But even apart from that there is the prescribed ritual of the Lord’s Supper and  Baptism. So how is it that I am claiming that  Christianity is different? 

In many respects related to the topic at hand I must confess that it is no different though it is supposed to be. What I ambitiously desire to do in a few words is describe how it should be different, how it is not, and how it may regularly be transformed into different when it falters into same ‘ole, same ‘ole. My thesis is that unbelievers among the skeptic, disinterested, and nominal Christian, as well as the carnal Christian and devoted believer are constantly in danger of practicing religion through ritual because they are deceived (some as a persistent condition and others as a periodic pitfall) into believing that we must appease the gods or God in order to gain their or His favor.

True relationship must have forms and norms, which may be seen as ritual, but the point is not the ritual or any attempt at controlling or appeasing the one with whom you are interacting (for if it is the relationship has problems which will appear now or later). For instance, we say hello and good-bye, shake hands or hug, address our elders as Mister or Missis, and any number of things to be polite and show respect as demonstrations of love in order to build up the relationship.  Formalities keep relationships appropriate and prevent misunderstanding and hurt.

As regards relationship with God, we must approach Him in reverence and in appropriate ways both because He is worthy and because He is not to be trifled with at peril to ourselves. But He has initiated the relationship and provides all that is needed to maintain and grow it. We can do neither and should cease trying both because we never can and because it is an affront to His provision of grace, an act of unbelief.

So as it should look, the Lord’s Supper or Baptism are relationship building activities that draw us and onlookers closer to God, not through appeasement but by focus on Him, listening to what He communicates to us through prayer, and His word and what we communicate to Him through worship and obedience. Other forms of worship like listening to the Word preached, singing or hearing singing, musing on His Word or His beauty as revealed in Creation, confessing sin, interacting with others about the things of God in fellowship are forms for getting to know God better, telling others about Jesus, and serving others.

Here is where the ritual may creep in or always be present. At any point we believe the lie that we must appease or control God or get lazy (complacency!), we counterfeit relationship by doing ritual. The activities we are involved in may be the very ones God commands and may be the very ones that brought blessing by growing our relationship with God last week or yesterday, but we have fallen back on the way that is easier for the flesh, that old sinful nature within, going through the motions- ritual! The unbeliever knows no other way; the carnal believer knows too little of the blessing of relationship with God; the devoted follower is blind-sided by inattention to the things he knows to do and avoid that build or destroy intimacy with God, respectively.

The solution for all comers is the same. Repent! Your sin is unbelief. No amount of ritual will ever draw you closer to God. If you do not know Him, then meet Him through the introduction of faith in what Jesus did on the cross to forgive you for your sin. Getting to know Him is wonderful. If you know Him already quit trying to manipulate the relationship by performing ritual; repent and again seek to know Him. It will bring peace to your beleaguered soul.

Then be alert for the Lie that you can make a go of it on your own, a lie nearly as old as the Garden of Eden where Satan proposed it. Better to pause from spiritual activity rather than continue in ritualistic persistence. Don’t use this as an excuse to continue in an undisciplined way, not pursuing relationship with God. Pause instead to regain passion for the pursuit through the prayer of repentance. Then seek the ancient paths that Jeremiah speaks of  to follow after your God.

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“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued,” quoted my pastor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Paul declared,But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

As we get nearer to Christ through years of devotion and repetition of trials, we discover more His value and less the worth of all that we held so dearly without cause. The pastor’s quote drove me immediately to a quote of another Christian who had drawn close to the Savior just before his death: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot (This may actually be a quote he had memorized after reading the English nonconformist preacher, Philip Henry, though it is not possible to know.) Elliott was willing to put all of his fears and desires on hold to reach for eternal gain.

Is there a pattern here? Do we value more that which is valuable as we gain a greater glimpse of Him who is valuable? Does that relate closely to the time of our home-going (heavenward, I mean)?

“If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting alone with God and embracing Him, sharing His cares and His burdens, weeping and rejoicing with Him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in His presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!” Keith Green

Bonhoeffer’s and Elliot’s lives were cut short directly as a result of pursuing Gospel-centered lives and Green’s while focusing on spreading the Gospel. It seems that this pursuit of God is dangerous. But perhaps that perspective of saying that it is dangerous is still that of one afraid to totally let go and serve God. Maybe that pursuit of God is really exciting and the seemingly early demise of these believers is the reward of hot pursuit of their goal. If your appointed, that is God ordained, assignment is complete your demise is neither untimely nor problematic, though I am not ignoring the hurt and discomfort it causes loved ones.

We could also quote other saints who outlived most everyone around them while seeking God with all their heart: “If I had a thousand pounds China should have it—if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him? Can we do enough for such a precious Saviour?” Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

Still, there is some truth to the difficulty of living for Christ which Taylor, Judson, Carey, and many others would quickly attest. But so did Paul: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” II Timothy 3:12 And G.K. Chesterton confers: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Watchman Nee was one of those exceptions of the type I am quoting here, “And it is through conflict that God induces the believer to seek and to grasp total triumph in Christ.” (1903-1972; died in prison for his faith)

What are we “normal folk”, Christians not called to foreign lands or extreme conditions, to do? There is much instruction about “ordinary living” but here are verses that show that it too is ordained by God for His glory: But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” I Thessalonians 4:10-12 The quiet life is not the undisturbed life. If you witness to your neighbors and live in purity before God, someone will notice and be irritated enough to bother you. Recall the II Timothy 3:12 verse above. And no one is a stranger to difficulty in this fallen world. Not for the sake of “some action” in the persecution arena or difficulty district but for the purpose of knowing your Savior and enjoying Him far more than now, don’t be afraid to count what is eternally rubbish as loss to gain what is eternally priceless, knowledge and intimacy with Christ. May God enable you and me to so do, rejoicing in the process and the outcome.

 

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