Friday, 27 January 2012

Is Christianity A Religion?

"Christianity is not a religion - it's a relationship." This catch-phrase sums up how many of us view our commitment to Christ. We regard our devotion to Christ to be a delight, a privilege, a thrill because we sense Him with us guiding, protecting, instructing, and strengthening. Hardly the stuff of dead formal lifeless religion!

But notice what I just did? I qualified the the type of religion that Christianity is not (or at least should not be). What makes Christianity "dynamic" is the interaction of the Holy Spirit with the follower of Christ. He takes the Words of Scripture and powerfully uses them to shape our new lives. He speaks into our spiritual ears just at the right moment. He calms our fears with the unmistakeable presence of Christ. He takes our prayers and delivers them directly to our Heavenly Father and assures us of such a hearing. No mere religion could do any of these gloriously unique aspects of Christianity.

Because we Christians feel so strongly about Christianity's uniqueness to provide the power to know the truth, be made right with God, and give us privileged access to pray directly God, we recoil at Christianity being referred to as a mere "religion". This was the sentiment that a young believer in the USA attempted to convey in a YouTube clip he put together of a poem he wrote about WHY I HATE RELIGION BUT LOVE JESUS. This YouTube clip has gone "viral" with it being viewed by several million people in its first 24 hours.

I wish more young believers would so artistically present their faith in, and love for, Christ. Jeff Bethke is to be commended for his wonderful example to other young believers. He has so many catch-phrases cleverly woven through his poem that Christians have used to share with others why we think Christianity is so uniquely beautiful. "Religion says DO - Jesus says DONE." Amen.

However, his opening claim that Jesus came to abolish "religion" is not only unfounded, it's not right. Jesus came to abolish something (and the Apostle John tells us what this is in his first Epistle 3:8). But it wasn't "religion". Read the opening chapter of the Apostle James' Epistle and you'll see that "religion" is not the problem- it's the wrong kind of religion that's the problem!

Religion is merely the 'ordered' expression of devotion to God. 'Ordered' means that there are 'rules' about how this is done. It also involves guidelines for ceremonies, service, occasions (births, deaths, marriages memorials). Read through the New Testament and you'll notice these guidelines. Thus, Christianity is a religion in this sense that James commends in James 1. But it is not another of the merely man-made religions.

Part of the order of Christianity is that we corporately come together regularly (Hebrews 10:25) and observe an order of service where we worship through singing, prayers, observing certain "ordinances" (such as Holy Communion), giving heed to the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, and encouraging one another through mutual fellowship. Another part of the order of Christianity is that certain leaders are recognised (1Cor. 11:19; 16:18), set apart for their tasks (Acts 13:2; Rom. 1:1), and honoured in their roles (Heb. 13:7, 17). In some Church traditions, leaders may not be appointed on this basis and, as such, these leaders generally do not order their churches according to the heart of Christ for His Church. You can identify these leaders by their lack of care for people and their intense interest in their "career". To be perfectly honest, I don't hang out with these types of leaders, so I don't know many. But I hear about them and sigh. However, I have seen some "wolf" leaders (as we might call them) judged by Christ and dealt with severely. As one of my pastoral mentors, pointed out to me during one of these episodes, "Christ loves His church and jealously guards it. He will destroy anyone who destroys His church." He was of course merely citing First Corinthians 3:17. If Christ would take such strong action, is it reasonable to assume that He doesn't care about how His churches are ordered? That is, when Jeff Bethke says that Jesus came to abolish "religion", I know what he means, but I think he actually means Christ is against "wrong" or "false" religion.

In his video, it seems that Jeff Bethke criticises churches that are concerned about how they are ordered when there are so many people outside of these churches that are suffering and hungry. This commits the all-too-often-made "either / or" reduction. It assumes that if a church is ordered well (including how it is led, where it worships, how it worships) it can not concerned for the unchurched needy. To be sure, it is all too easy for churches to be too concerned about leadership structures and titles, buildings and mortgages, and what takes place in its meetings. When these things become the sole focus, churches die. But this is a false dichotomy. It's not a matter of a church being either well ordered OR concerned for the poor. In fact, most churches I'm aware of are concerned about being well ordered AND showing concern for the poor. Most.

At Legana, we certainly don't want to be focussed on the wrong things or unconcerned about the needy beyond our Church Roll. We take note of what Jeff Bethke and his fellow young generation of believers are saying about their intolerance of heartless, passionless, compromised Christianity that focusses more on its structures, buildings, administrations, performance than on Christ and the people He died for. But the solution is not the abandonment of "religion" - rather, the solution is to make sure that, as James The Just said, our religion is "pure and undefiled" (James 1:27).

Father, help us to be better representatives of Who You are. May we display our love for You with greater passion - greater devotion - greater sincerity. Give us a soft, tender, sensitive heart that responds quickly to Your Spirit's leading, correcting, and whispers. May we become who we are not yet but realise we need to be. We pray that You would enlarge our hearts to care and show that care to those who need it most. Let our hearts be inclined to serve away from the craved spotlight of others' approving looks, and serve well the one You've put before us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Andrew Corbett, 27th January 2012 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Living On The Edge Is Not Life In The Middle

Living on the edge?THE EDGE
I'm not a danger man. I generally play (everything) safe. Of course, what I call "safe", Kim calls "boring". But 'safe' doesn't have to be boring - although I can understand why some prefer to live on the "edge" because it brings an element of excitement, a different perspective, and a surge of adrenaline. When it comes to spiritual things, I'm not sure the 'edge' is the place we are most effective...
Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few..
Maybe when it comes to outdoor adventure, going up to the edge is an expected part of the experience. But the gravitationally consequential cliff-top edges usually have fences near their edges for a good reason. Jesus gave an "edgey" picture in His Sermon on the Mount (the Beattitudes) when He said that the way to (eternal) life was narrow and hard. For me, it's not too hard to imagine a not-too-far-away scene of a high mountain trail bounded by a steep cliff where many an impetuous traverser had met an untimely end. Christ's words would have painted a very graphic depiction of what spiritual peril looked like.

Living on the edgeThe old King James Version translation of this verse uses the word "strait" for the modern word "narrow". For us Tasmanians, we are very familiar with what a strait is (as distinct from something that is "straight"). It carries the idea that there is a narrow way through bounded by barriers. Jesus said that eternal life was like this. As we walk with God the path is bounded by two great barriers: 1. Love for God, and 2. Love for others. Upon closer investigation we discover that both barriers bear both barrier markings. God has bounded the path of those who follow Him with these two great safety barricades. Step over either one and the follower of Christ is no longer loving God or people. Keep as close to the middle of the strait and you can only love God and others. So who would want to live on the edge of the strait knowing that the closer to the edge you get the further away from fellowship with God you get at the same time? But is it wrong to go up to the edge? I actually think this is perfectly the wrong question. The one who wants to love God, live for Him, walk closely with Him, does not ask how close to the edge they are allowed to get before it's "wrong".
1Thess. 5:22 Abstain from every form of evil.
There are lots of things that are 'permissible' for a Christian that are also not beneficial or the best way to love God and others. Over-eating, alcohol consumption, gambling, or swearing, might be included in any such considerations.
1Cor. 10:23 ¶ "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.
Avoiding such things might invite the charge of "Legalist" (which is an ironic charge if you think about it). Legalism is not merely avoiding certain things and neither is "freedom" partaking of such edgey things.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
Outcries may come. "Grace!" they cry, "Grace allows me to live on the edge of the path of Life. Your condemnation of my edgey lifestyle is mere legalism!" But "grace" is not permission to live however you want - rather, grace is the power to live as you should (1Cor. 15:10b).

The Master Christian Essayist, F.W. Boreham, writing in 1914 about "Escapes- Not Hairbreadth" (Mountains In The Mist), makes some observations about risky up-to-the-edge living. Boreham eloquently draws on other great writers and even the recent sinking of the Titanic to set up his pastoral comments about risky-up-to-the-edge living.
"Every minister knows that there are no questions more frequently presented to him that those relating to the questionable pastimes or amusements. 'Is there any harm in this?' 'May I play at such and such a game?' "Is it right to go to such and such a place?' 'Is it wrong to take part in this, or that, or the other?' It all arises from our insensate craving for hairbreadth escapes. Even children love to walk on the edge of the kerb, to creep near the brink of a precipice, and  to lean far out of a high window." [Page 240] 
F.W. Boreham goes on to draw an analogy between risky living and spiritual indifference toward God. The man who lives with careless indifference towards the commands and heart of God and then self-confidently assumes he can escape the consequences of such living may be in for an eternal surprise. "On a memorable occasion", continues Rev. Boreham, "the late General Booth was stepping from his carriage to enter a well-known public building. As he did so a drunken man staggered stupidly towards him, and in scarcely intelligible accents exclaimed, 'Say, General, what are ye going to do with the like o' me?' The crowd gathered quickly round to hear the General's answer. The General laid his hand on the drunkard's shoulder, and replied, 'My friend, we can't do much for you; but we're after your boy !' That is a piece of very sage philosophy which I commend to all parents and teachers." (page 242)

If you're on the edge, it's not too late to come back. If you've crossed over the edge and felt the peril of it, then God's grace can also bring you back. If you're pastor pleading with edgey people, call to your people from the middle of God's strait and narrow path, not near the edge.
Father, please help me to pastor by grace to bring Your people into the fullness of Your grace for their lives. Give me the pastoral wisdom to know how I am to live in the middle of the path of Life. Please Lord, empower me with Your grace to draw more people into the middle of  Your will - not merely the edge of it. And Lord I pray that this will result in Christ being seen in us and many coming to know Him.  Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

Thursday, 12 January 2012

You've Got Three Wishes...Go

The offer has been made. The terms are simple. The Genie is waiting. Ask what you will.
1Cor. 4:21a What do you wish?
Money? Health? Happiness? Certainly these were the respective wishes of Japanese, European and American parents for their childrenaccording to a recent survey. But I have an advantage over my Japanese, European and American survey respondents. They only gotone wish. I've got three! I could trump them all and wish for all three of their wishes! But should I?

Wishes reveal hearts. Is my heart driven by money, good health, or the pursuit of happiness? Perhaps. But if it isn't, why should I wish for it? If I could, I'd somehow wish for super-time. But the Genie's already explained the preclusive terms. I must confess though, that when I consider what to wish for, I keep coming back to what I want now. After all, I want my wishes to be relevant.

Who would make irrelevant wishes? When it comes to all things beneficial, and therefore helpful, relevance should certainly be presumed. This is especially true when it comes to wishes. But it's also true when it comes to any claim of helpfulness such as churches which claim to help make life better. Any church daring to make such a bold and public claim would first have to be relevant to its claimants. 

Some churches attempt to be relevant by changing their message and the way its delivered and packaged. But this tends to make them irrelevant. Other churches feel their traditions and formal structures and proceedings are the things that make them relevant to a spiritually hungry world. The spiritually hungry hungry don't seem to agree.

Reading the opening chapters of The Book of Revelation where The Risen-Crucified-Voice speaks to the seven churches clustered in Turkey, we should be jolted to read of His Majesty telling all but one of these churches that they were irrelevant! Not irrelevant to themselves. Not irrelevant to their communities. Irrelevant to Jesus.

How might a church that despises irrelevancy (and seeks to be relevant to its own community, relevant to its city, and relevant to its Christ) demonstrate that it really can help to make life better? This is not an original question. Earlier this week someone who saw our current TV ad asked someone in our church how we could possibly make such a claim? Perhaps in their mind, churches should not advertise because churches have nothing relevant to advertise. But we actually have nearly 200 ways to answer this question. These are the stories of people who can share how a small seemingly insignificant church in Bridgenorth Road has helped. Heart-broken people have been comforted. Guilty people have found forgiveness. Despised people have been accepted. Confused people have found direction. Sick people have been healed. Despairing people have received hope. Yes, this church on the edge of the Tasmanian Bush can substantiate their advertised claim to: help make life better.

A young man wondered though. He was 'forced' to accompany his parents to church. "Irrelevant!" his body muttered. But then he witnessed his parents marriage very nearly disintegrate. Confused, despairing, fearful, he did not know what he could do to help his parents. What happened next changed his life. It was something the boring and irrelevant preacher said during one his boring and irrelevant sermons in his boring and irrelevant church that totally rescued his parents' marriage. The young man was forced to reconsider how he understood "relevant" and "irrelevant." That same young man grew up to become a preacher!

Each week I have people contact me who want help making their lives better. Some of these people turn up on a Sunday and discover that what they previously thought was irrelevant is now very relevant. From the acceptance shown by those who greet them to the love they experience from those worshiping around them to the strange sense of the transcendent as the music begins to the inner whisper of the Spirit of God they hear as the preacher speaks. Relevant and helpful.

But you must be wondering what my three wishes were? For those who criticise those of us who wish with the Pharisaical charge that wishingis unspiritual it might be worth taking a little time to do some of our own rebuking. I rest my case with the Original Genius-
John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
You don't need an Arabian Genie to offer you 3 wishes when you have a Genuis-Saviour who invites you wishcontinually. Not only do we worship a Saviour-Genuis (the French word for "genuis" is 'Genie' by the way) Who invites us to wish, He Himself wishes. (You can read of the record of His biggest wish in Second Peter 3:9.) So what were my three wishes?
Father, help us to be fresh for You. Fresh in Your Word. Fresh in Your Spirit through prayer. Fresh in Your love through fellowship. Prepare us for eternity with You by helping us to be the kind of people You want us to be. May we wish what You wish. Cause us to give our all for The Christ and His Cause. Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

Friday, 6 January 2012


When God called Abram to leave where he was, God wasn't speaking to Abram at Ur of the Chaldeans (he'd already left there) but rather at - Haran! Initially God called Terah, Abram's father, to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, along with his family - which included Abram, Sarai and Terah's Grandson, Lot. He was on a divine mission to reach Canaan. But instead, Terah compromised his mission and camped at a place he named "Haran".
Genesis 11:31 ¶ Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there.
Tragedy had hit. Terah had probably only recently lost his son, Haran, when God called him to take his family from Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon) to Canaan (Israel).
Genesis 11:28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans.
But God intervened in the midst of their grief by giving the grieving father a mission. How often does God remedy grief with such a strategy? Often it seems. Terah started well. But was it difficulty, weariness, or even comfort, that caused him to give up on his mission?

It could have been difficulty that halted Terah from completing the mission God had given him. But God would have known the mission was going to be difficult. Surely God wouldn't ask someone to do something that would be difficult for them to do? If you're hoping the answer is, "Of course God wouldn't ask someone to do something difficult!" - don't ask William Carey for his opinion! When he arrived in India in 1793 as the first British Baptist Missionary to India, he faced opposition from the British Government, the death of his young son, the nervous breakdown of his wife, and no converts for the seven years of his ministry! Carey's mission was difficult but he knew that it was also divine.

Of course Terah was around 100 years old when God called him to leave Chaldea. If anyone had a reason to be weary part way into such a long trip, surely it was Terah? But again, surely God would have known the physical toll that such an expedition would take on a man of Terah's vintage? Might God ask someone to do something that would be physically wearisome? If you hope the answer is, "Of course not!" -then don't ask James Gilmour, the 19th Century Scotish missionary to Mongolia who laboured for most of his life with very little support or reward for his efforts! And definitely do not ask Charles Simeon, the minister of Holy Trinity Cambridge who was locked out of his own church for 12 years by church members who opposed his insistence that they needed a Saviour - but he served these people for 54 years !

History has become tired of proving to the world that comfort and comfortableness are the obstacles to greatness and achievement. Becoming seduced by Comfort's mistress-call will always mean that its victims become unwilling to achieve their potential. Could it have been comfort that led to Terah abandoning his divine mission? Do a study of Christ's "Beware" statements and notice how most of these fall under the category of comfort. Terah had reached a point in his journey where he didn't want to go on any further.

Terah's late son's name was Haran. In Hebrew, this name means mountaineer. The place where Terah camped was coincidentally named Haran but in the Hebrew it is a slightly different word meaning parched.

Terah did not complete God's mission. Would God call someone to do something that He knew that they would fail at? Apparently. But I'm challenged by what I see in this Biblical episode. I don't want to fail in God's mission for my life. I know that it will be difficult. I know that there will be opposition. I know that weariness will need to be conquered. And I know that the lure of comfort will continue to be more appealing than the parched mountains that God expects me to climb over!
Gen. 12:1 ¶ Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.
Gen. 12:2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
However, even though Terah failed, God redeemed His mission. All the while He was preparing Abram. God will always see to His mission. As F.W. Boreham has written, the impossibilities of God's mission are remedied by a baby. That is, we tend to look for full-blown solutions while God nearly always provides potential solutions in the form of seeds, babies, or children.

Somehow, Terah's dream of reaching Canaan had died. The camp at Haran (later referred to as Padan Aram) as "parched" as it was, seemed more appealing to Terah than the Promise of Canaan. Sometimes our mediocre spiritual state (either individually or as a church) seems more appealing than the mountainous path yet-to-be trod to our fuller potential. Maybe it wasn't difficulty, weariness, or comfort that enticed Terah to stop? Could it have been fear? Was he afraid to proceed into theunknown when the known at least gave him some sense of security?
Gen. 11:32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
Camping at "Haran" either causes divine dreams to die or is where those who have let their divine dream die chose to camp. Let's not let the divine dream of God for our lives - to be fruitful for Him / to know Christ and make Him known / to be pillars in the church of God - die at "Haran".

What difficulties will you overcome this year in your walk with Christ? How will you deal with weariness in your service for Christ this year? How will you shun the shade of comfort for the searing heat of the track of Mount Beautiful in order to take the love of God to others? Which fears are holding you back from realising your God-appointed potential?

And even if we fail, God will raise up someone else to continue the mission He gave us. What neither Terah and possibly Abram realised was that God's mission was not merely a geographical one. Rather, it was a spiritual-territory one with eternal ramifications! And I wonder whether we realise it either? The mission God has given us a church to enthrone Him in worship, to encourage one another in our walk with Christ, to be empowered through the ministry of God's Word, and to engage others outside of the church with the Gospel of God's Love is similarly a spiritual-territory issue with dire eternal consequences. Let's not camp at "Haran" and go through the motions! Terah may have thought he only had a little time left and that there was not enough time for this 100 year old Grandfather to make it to Canaan. Sadly, Genesis 11 closes with the somber statement that Terah died at the age of 205. History may be looking Terah in the eyes and asking him why he didn't make better use of his time on earth? And if we camp at "Haran", history may well ask the same stinging question of us. With God on our side we can accomplish His mission for us in our generation. "Bye bye 'Haran'"! "Hello to the journey toward the Promised Land of fulfilling God's mission for us in 2012!"
Father, we need Your help to overcome every difficulty, obstacle, opposition, set-back, disappointment, and luring comfort. Help us, we pray, to press on in our pursuit to be Christlike and to know Him and make Him known. Help us to care for one-another. Give us enlarged hearts of compassion for the Lost. Fill our hearts and minds with fresh faith to take spiritual territory for Christ and His cause. Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew