(Some of you who were at Camp Reunion, or who missed some of the talks had asked for notes of the talks. Here's the text of each of them. For those who weren't, and who haven't a clue what I'm talking about - these are three talks I gave at a young people's weekend on Keeping Christ the focus of our lives.)
Christ and our Relationships
Sometimes we can view Jesus as a measles jab. You get the jab and then you can get on with life.
Sometimes we can view Jesus as a burden, like a brother or a sister who is always watching you ready to report back on everything you do.
That is not how the Bible portrays the Christian life. If all we needed was a measles jab to vaccinate us against sin, God would have sent a giant syringe. If all we needed was to be watched - well he could do that anyway. But he sent his son, who became a human being. Why did he do that? Not just to identify with us which is important, and vital, but to let us know that God wants us to relate to him. You can't relate to an idea, or to a force, or to a syringe. But you can relate to a person. Ands that what we have with Jesus - a relationship. And I think that this is one area that we miss out on. We are so conditioned to think of becoming a Christian as a step, but it's a journey. We think of it as a starting point followed by a list of rules, but it isn't. It's a whole new relationship - with God the Son.
Read Phil 3:10-14
Paul's great longing was to know Jesus. Jesus had saved him and now he wants to know him. What I have as a Christian is a relationship with almighty God. This is for me a whole new way of looking at Jesus. It gives us a different perspective on our quiet time. On worship. On obedience. On relationships.
Lets look at the passage
Our relationship with Christ is the central thing in our lives
I'm not going to go over what we did on Friday evening - you'll remember how we saw that everything in the universe revolves around Christ Jesus. And if we are Christians we need to make sure our lives revolve around him too.
But Paul goes further than that. Many people's lives revolve around one thing - football, soaps, computer. Everything they do is focused on this. But Paul is different, it wasn't just that Christ's kingdom was at the heart of all Paul did. What Paul did was, in a sense, by the way. Paul's life wasn't driven by doing things for Jesus' sake, it was driven by a desire to get to know Jesus. Do you see the difference. Sometimes it is easy to be busy doing things for Jesus, or because of Jesus, or out of gratitude to Jesus, but in all the busyness we actually move further away from Jesus.
So often when we are involved on mission teams etc, what is the one thing that suffers? Our daily time with Jesus!
Not so with Paul. Listen to these words:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Everything is focused on his relationship with Jesus. He wants, he longs to know him.
Look at verse 12:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Start at the end of the sentence and work backwards. Jesus took hold of Paul. He took hold of him for a reason - "for which". That reason is something that Paul wants to see in himself, come to fruition. And so he presses on to get this thing for which Jesus has taken hold of him. What is it? He tells us in the opening words, "Although I am a Christian, I haven't got this completely yet." What is the 'this' he is referring to? All that he has just said it the previous verses. - "I want to know Christ, and the power and the fellowship and become like him."
That's what Paul wants, and that's why Jesus took hold of him on that Damascus road - so that Paul could enjoy a relationship with the Lord Jesus. And that's why Jesus has taken hold of you - that's the reason, so that you can know him. And you will never know him fully, but he has called you into relationship with him so that you can grow closer and closer to him.
This is what you have been saved for.
In v14 we see it again:
14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
NIV not so clear here - but it seems best to take it that the prize is Christ. The call is a call heavenwards to know Christ, for whose sake all things have been counted loss.
And that ties in with the rest of scripture. The predominant New Testament description of heaven is being with Jesus.
Christ assured his disciples that 'I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am' (John 14:3). He also says in John 17:3, "This is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
Heaven is being with Jesus. Heaven is relating to Jesus. And our relationship with Christ is the start of Heaven. We can experience a slice of Heaven on earth. This is our key relationship.
What's your relationship with Jesus like? Is it key to you? Is your relationship something that you cherish and delight in? Is he someone you cherish and delight in?
It's hard to do that with a person you can't see. But Paul gives us three things we can do in v13,14:
Make it Key - "One thing I do" v13
Paul did many things in his life, and with his life. You have many different aspects to your lives. School, sport, work, studies. But for Paul, one thing took absolute priority. His relationship with Jesus. It was guarded and nourished at all costs. If he had only one thing he was allowed to do this would have been it. One thing I do. And at this stage he was fairly limited to one thing. He was imprisoned. But he was still free to do the one thing that really mattered.
Where is Christ on your list of priorities?
Where is spending time with Christ on your list of priorities? - Tell about my week.
Is it something to be squeezed in at the end of the day? Is it something to be hurried over at he start of the day?
Here is the one thing you need to do with your life - develop your relationship with Christ as much and as far as you can.
And we will never do this if we continue to think of meeting Jesus as some sort of duty that we have to fulfil. We need to change our mindset completely. We talk about 'quiet time' or 'daily Bible reading'. Both of those terms remove Jesus and replace him with silence and a task to be done.
Its time with Jesus, and sometimes it will be anything but quiet - it will be delightful, and we'll want to sing and praise him, and tell him how much he means to us. Its not time with our Bibles. Its not even time with God's word - its time with Jesus.
When you go to meet with your girlfriend would you take someone else along with you, and let them whisper in your ear, while your trying to talk with your girlfriend? No! If we believe that Jesus is going to communicate with us - why do we always take other people with us into that private conversation? We take commentaries and notes etc. These have their use, but first lets just spend time with our Bibles and our saviour and read the passage and praise him, and pray about sins we're convicted of. And ask him for help with lessons we need to put into practice. Then have a look at what someone else has to say.
If we're going to make it key and keep it key we need to see Jesus as the great lover of our souls. Our greatest and closest friend. And already that starts to change how we think about spending time with him. But here is something we can look forward to, not Bible reading and prayer. Talking and listening to Jesus.
We need to make our relationship with Jesus key.
George Mueller. George Müller lived from 1805 to 1898 and is famous for establishing numerous orphanages and relying on God for help in remarkable ways. Listen to his testimony about how and why to meditate on Scripture.
"I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished.
Now I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord."
Don't be satisfied - "Forgetting what is behind"
Paul has come towards the end of his life - he has achieved much. He has preached the Gospel in Jerusalem, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Crete, and now in Rome. He has established churches, ordained elders, trained ministers and missionaries.
"Forgetting what is behind" he says. He says, I am not satisfied with where I am spiritually. I want to know more. There is a sense that as Christians we are to be dissatisfied with our lives. We are to be satisfied, content with what we have materially. But there is another sense in which we aren't to be satisfied.
Paul writes, "I want to know Christ… not that I have attained this already, I press on".
He had met Christ in a vision, he had been swept up to Heaven, he had glimpsed the wonders of glory, and still he wanted more of Christ. To experience even closer fellowship. What does that tell us about this relationship - it just keeps getting better.
Some of you have been Christians for some time. Don't sit back on your laurels. Don't look at those around you and think to yourself, I'm not too bad. When you talk to other Christians, and you are talking about what you're reading and learning, and you mentally measure yourself against them - don't do that.
Paul doesn't look at himself and think that he has made it as a Christian. His relationship with Jesus means so much to him that he always wants more. That's the hallmark of great Christians.
Have you a hunger and a longing to know Christ more. Are you satisfied with where you are at. What we could have is always so much better than what we do have. Don't measure yourself with others, measure yourself against Christ - see how much more he has to give. Illustration - if we gave out a free book to you all, some of you would be looking past me, and looking at he warehouse of books, and wanting more and more, walking out of here with armfuls of books. Some of you would be content with one. But that's only books. With Christ it is real riches of the soul.
Don't let anything get in the way - "Straining, I press on"
Devotion - one thing I do. Dissatisfaction - forgetting what is behind. Determination - "Straining towards what is ahead, I press on"
Literally - "I pursue." Picture of a charioteer bearing down on the finishing line, straining at the edge of the chariot, leaning out over. Pushing himself to the limits. Giving it all that he's got.
Do you drive yourself in your relationship with Christ? Yes there will be times when our souls will be bogged down in the mire of lack of enthusiasm and reluctance. And we don't feel like reading or praying, or developing.
And we will have to drive through our feelings, and seek to spend time with Christ. Sometimes we need to take our emotions in a headlock and drag them with us, like a child who wants to play truant from school. Takes discipline. It takes determination. We wont only read or pray when we feel like it. Paul wasn't a 'feel like it' man. Being with Christ, knowing Christ was everything to him.
It was everything to him because Jesus is everything, he is so utterly glorious so wonderfully majestic, that we just can't describe him.
Play "My King" clip - SM Lockridge
Don't let anything get in the way of knowing him.
Our other relationships
Let's apply this. This relationship is our greatest relationship. Its the one that is key. It is the relationship that everything else revolves around.
In other words, if you get this relationship right, every other relationship will fall into place.
Remember Marriage is only a Picture
There is one thing that can consume much of our waking moments - whom will I marry? Help I'm not in a relationship and I'm nearly 17. And sometimes the whole thing becomes an idol.
Do not make marriage, or being in a relationship your goal. Listen to Paul, "I want to know Christ" "I long to depart and be with Christ which is better by far." Don't make a relationship your goal; make Christ your goal.
Very simple reason for this. Let me illustrate it. All his life John has longed to see the Niagara falls. He has heard all about them. And one day a friend sent him a postcard of the falls. And often John would take out his postcard and look at the falls, and imagine what they must be like. Eventually after many years John found himself staying in a hotel right beside the falls, and as he sat there at his window overlooking the thunderous roar of the crashing torrents, he took out his postcard and sat and looked at it instead. He then took it and stuck it to the window so that he couldn't actually see the falls clearly because the postcard spoiled the view.
Friends, marriage is only a postcard, a signpost, to tell us about the reality of the relationship between Christ and his people. Paul writes in Ephesians about how Christ is the bridegroom for the church, and how marriage between man and woman is based on this, and a picture of this. The relationship with Christ is the reality. Marriage is only an illustration.
Marriage isn't a goal it's a picture. That's why in heaven there will be no marrying or giving in marriage - there is no need for postcards when you live by the falls.
Some of you may never marry. But you have Christ, you have the reality. And what's more, if your Saviour permits you to remain single, it is because he intends to provide for you, and he has a task for you that is only possible if you aren't married. Marriage and its joys are only a pale reflection of the joys that are available in Christ.
Some of you will marry, but you don't have Christ - how sad, to have the picture on the wall and never know the true value.
Some of you will marry, and are Christians - don't ever forget that marriage is only an illustration of your much greater relationship. Don't make it an idol. Don't let your postcard get in the way of the view.
All your friends may be in relationships, the world tells us that we are not complete unless we are in a relationship. And that is true - 100%. You are not complete unless you are in a relationship. But that relationship isn't with a boy or a girl. Its with Christ. That's the relationship that makes us complete.
Life is not about getting a boyfriend or a girlfriend, its about getting Christ.
There is another reason not to make marriage or relationships more than they are - if you think that marriage is the greatest thing on earth you will be disappointed. If you think that if only you were married all your problems would be over, you're fooling yourself. Marriage has problems - it has twice as many problems as single life. Two different people's worth of problems, 2 sinful people trying to get along day in day out.
Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ
Some of you are in relationships.
Some of your aren't and desperately wish you were
Some of you aren't and aren't terribly worried.
No matter where you are - your relationship with Christ is what is central. Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ. Seek to become the man or woman Christ wants you to be. Concentrate on being the man or woman God's wants you to be, not on finding the man or woman God has for you.
And the wonderful thing is this: Be Christ-like and Christ will provide. "Delight yourself in God and he will give you the desire of your heart."
I will not promise that he will provide a partner. Scripture doesn't promise that. But I can guarantee that he will provide.
Sometimes we can be in too much of a hurry to get into a relationship. All our friends have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and we feel left out. Sometimes we can start into relationships too early before we have grown much as Christians, and things happen in the relationship, words are said, things are done, not necessarily sexual sin, but sinful things nevertheless that we will look back on with even an extra years maturity as a Christian and say, "I wish we were only starting now. I wasn't mature enough."
I'll be honest - this is where many of you are. You have a few years of school, or university left. During these years you will lay down many of the foundations for your later life. This is a time to be concentrating on Christ, and not on relationships. When a builder is pouring the foundation, he isn't thinking about the people who will live in the house. He thinks about the foundation, and getting it right, because if he gets it right the people will be safe.
Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ. That way you'll become the sort of man or woman that others will want to marry, that they will look at and say, "she'll be good for me".
Blokes - Don't pour your energies into impressing the girls, pour your energies into godliness.
Girls - Don't pour your energies into worrying about how you look, or is he looking at me, or worrying that you're the only one who doesn't have a boyfriend - be godly.
That's what your life should be about. That is God's will for you. So often we scratch our heads about is it God's will that I go out with so and so. Be godly - that's God's will at its clearest.
Some of you may worry about finding the right person. Don't! If you pour your energies into your relationship with Christ, you will be able to see the real treasures in people, and you will be guided to someone who is perfect for you.
And if you are in a relationship the best thing you can be to the other is Christ-like. Don't neglect your quiet time because of late night phone-calls to your beloved.
I can promise you - be godly and you will have the best marriage imaginable. You will lay a foundation that will last, and bring delight and joy to yourselves, to your children and to your grandchildren. Your husband /wife will thank God for your Christian character. Your children will, your grandchildren will. This is a legacy that lasts.
Only go out with or marry someone who will be good for your relationship with Christ
Two sides to this coin
· Do not enter into a relationship that will hurt your relationship with Christ
If Christ means the world to you, then how should you feel about someone who thinks so little of Christ's death that he can't be bothered to seek salvation? If someone despised your parents, and ignored them you wouldn't have much time for them - Christ is no different.
Perhaps some of you are going out with non-Christians at present. What are you saying to Jesus who died for you? Does he mean so little to you that you would disobey him and jeopardise your relationship with him for a boyfriend/girlfriend? Would it not break your heart for the rest of your life to be married to someone who is going to Hell, knowing that you could do nothing about it? And banking on the Jesus that you slap in the face, to save them? If you are prepared to treat Jesus so lightly you need to look at whether you are a Christian at all.
Perhaps some of you know of someone who married a non-Christian and God has graciously saved them. Just because God did that doesn't make it any less of a sin, and doesn't give any guarantee to you.
Girls - 'no man' is better than an ungodly man.
Men - 'No woman' is better than an unconverted girl
· Only enter into a relationship that will promote your relationship with Christ
But there is another aspect to this. Sometimes amongst blokes there's still the lingering effects of sinful thinking. And the thinking goes something like this - girls I'm sorry to reveal how shallow we can be - "Well I know I've got to pick a Christian, so I'll pick the best looking one." Or I suspect that a girl may think the same way, "Well at least he's a Christian, and we get on so well anyway.."
Being a Christian is not enough of a qualification. God's word commands us to be wise.
All Christians are not equal. Some are more Christ-like than others.
A man may well be a fine specimen of manhood, and a Christian, but as a Christian he is weak and frail and tottering, and unsure and liable to fall into error. He may like a little toddler - immature and childish. What will it do to your walk with Christ to join yourself to such a man?
A girl may be beautiful, but in spiritual terms - she may be wizened and malnourished, and stunted.
And some of you may be setting your sights on shrivelled nobodies and sickly toddlers. And in thirty years time some of us will be talking and we'll say, do you remember so-and-so - and there'll be a shake of the head - "She's gone nowhere, he's gone nowhere.
Guys - Look for someone who will be an asset to you in your walk with Christ.
Girls - Look for someone who will be an asset to you in your walk with Christ.
Be on the look out for people who speak naturally about spiritual matters, where you can see that they have a real walk with God.
If our relationship with Christ means as much to us as it should we will look for someone who is positively going to be good for us in our walk with Christ.
And that leads us to our fourth principle
Encourage Christ-likeness in others
In your relationships be the sort of person who encourages your partner to spend time with Christ. Be someone who will challenge sinful areas in their lives.
Pray for the other that they will grow in godliness, and that their daily walk with Jesus will be a real blessing.
Guys this is something you need to take the lead in. You should be suggesting that you do a Bible study together, that you pray together.
Your relationship with Christ is your key relationship. Keep that one right and all the rest will fall into place.