I want to invite you to reflect for a moment and think: what has made the single greatest impact on your life? What is the one thing that has done more to shape you, form you, and make you who you are today? My guess is that right now you are not thinking about a movie. You’re not reflecting on your favorite TV show, song, vacation, or job. Most of us are probably thinking about a person. If you’re not, it may be because of how I asked the question. I didn’t want to giver the answer away by saying who has had the greatest impact on your life, but the reality is that what makes the greatest impact on our lives are not the books we read, jobs we have, or trips we take, it is the people we know.
I shared last week that one of the greatest influences in my life was my Grandmother. She taught me to love nature, to be generous, to work hard, to care for others, and it was her desire for me to be a pastor. But that is just one relationship that has influenced me. My parents have been an influence as well as my sisters, the youth leaders at my church, my friends in college, and all the people in the churches I have served who have inspired me, encouraged me, and helped me become who I am today.
It is our relationships that have the greatest impact on our lives. Whether it is our family who has loved us, teachers who have inspired us, friends who have supported us, spouses who have chosen to walk with us in love, or coaches, pastors, church leaders, employers or employees, it is the relationships we have had and still have with others that make the biggest difference. Relationships aren’t just important to who we are, they are everything.
If we go back to the very beginning, we see that the world is really all about relationships. We were created by God for relationship. God chose to create the world and God chose to place us in the world because God wanted to be in a relationship with us. God wanted to experience the joy of fellowship. God wanted to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. God wanted to love and lead his people. God has always been about relationship, in fact, when we turned away in sin, God was so committed to having a relationship with us that he sent his son Jesus to forgive us and make a relationship with God possible once again. Knowing that relationship is really the key to everything in life and in faith, it makes sense that for us to grow in our faith we need to think about relationships and not rules, we need to think about personal relationships and not programs.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we can identify three primary relationships that he focused on, a relationship with God, a relationship with the Church, and a relationship with the World. Our focus on these 3 Relationships this month is not random, it is intentional. If we want to truly follow Jesus, we need to live like Jesus and focus on the things that were important to Jesus. These 3 relationships is what Jesus gave his life to. First and foremost, Jesus was in a relationship with God because he was the fullness of God in human form. He was God incarnate. Jesus said that he and the father were one and so to be like Jesus and to grow deeper in our own faith we have to commit to a deeper relationship with God.
Jesus also took the time remain connected in his relationship with God the Father. Jesus sought out times of prayer, he remained committed to the public worship of God, and he turned to God for direction and strength when it was needed. Jesus always gave himself to that primary relationship with God and did all to reveal God’s love and grace and give glory to God in all things.
Jesus’ entire public life and ministry was also devoted to the relationships he had with his disciples. The first thing Jesus did in ministry was to call Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. This was no small thing. In Jesus’ day, rabbis did not choose their followers, it was the followers who would choose the rabbi they wanted to learn from. But here it is Jesus who calls his followers. Jesus invites people to be in relationship with God and one another by following him, and he didn’t call the best students and the most promising people to be his disciples to make himself look good, Jesus chose ordinary people because he truly believed that they could be just like him.
Do you know what this means? It means that when Jesus calls us to follow him, it is because he believes we can be just like him. And let’s be clear, Jesus still chooses us today. John says that it’s not that we first loved God but that God first loved us and in that love God called us. Jesus is calling us today because he believes in us, but we have to be willing to follow, and to follow means being in relationship with God and those who walk with God – the church.
Not only did Jesus make a relationship with his disciples a priority, but when Jesus left his disciples he didn’t leave them alone, he gave them the Holy Spirit to hold them together and it is the Holy Spirit that still holds the church together, and what is the church today but a complex set of relationships centered on Jesus. In Acts 2 we get the very first picture of the church and what we see are relationships. Acts 2:42-44.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, which meant spending time with the apostles, the first followers of Jesus. It says they spent time in fellowship and breaking bread together. This probably means both worshiping together and eating together. It says they prayed together and shared what they had with one another and those in need. The church is really just a set of relationships that go deep and wide, and the more we invest in these relationships, the more we become like Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t just come to form the church and care for a small group of people, he came to make an impact in the world, and once again Jesus did that through relationships. Jesus reached out to a wide variety of people. He loved and called Jewish fisherman, but he also loved and called Gentile women. He reached out to help Roman soldiers and even a Syro-Phonecian woman, a woman whose background is in many ways a symbol of all people in the world. And then the mission Jesus gave his followers was to make disciples of all nations. Not some nations, not a few nations, but all nations – all the world. Matthew 28:18-20.
Jesus told his followers to go and baptize and teach people. He told them to go and share his life and love and story with everyone, and the best way to do this is to do what Jesus did and invest in relationships. It is our relationship with the world – a relationship focused on the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ – that is most formative in helping people learn about God. When we talk about a relationship with the world, we will not be talking about just reaching out to help those in physical need, that’s part of it, but the bigger part for us to consider will be how we can share Jesus with the world – for in so many ways it is a relationship with Jesus that is the answer to the problems we see around us.
Let me go back and ask you my first question, but in a different way. What has had the greatest impact on your faith? My guess is you are not thinking about the movie, The Passion of the Christ. You aren’t thinking about your favorite hymn or the newest song you just heard on KLOVE. And as powerful as the Bible is in our faith development, you may not even be thinking about a book or verse you know in the Bible – you are thinking about a person, a person who loved God, a person who loved Jesus, and a person who then turned around and loved you.
My parents loved God and shared that love with us by making sure we worshiped together, prayed at home together, and even did Advent devotions as a family. During the summer, my grandmother took me to a very small one room church that honestly looked like it came out of the Andy Griffith Show. Ed and Joanne Foster loved and nurtured me during High School in the youth group, Dave DeGraff prayed with me and showed me the passion, power, and joy there is following Jesus. Gene and Jackie Ross stood up in faith with me when conflict hit our church in Altoona, Bill, Linda, and Jessica helped give me the courage to stand up, and then stand up again, and work to start a new worship service in Lewisburg, and I could give you a list of people right here at Faith Church who continue to shape my life and faith and ministry.
What I learned in seminary, read in books, and hear at conferences, pales in comparison to what I have learned from God’s people, and my faith has grown because of relationships. Our faith grows through relationships and so for the next three weeks we are going to explore how to be intentional and dig deep into these three all-important relationships: God, the church, and the world.
As we begin this journey together, we want to be clear that these 3 relationships are truly a gift given to us by God. God created us for relationship with him, so having a relationship with God is a gift. Jesus is the one who calls us into relationship with him and Jesus is the one who loves and forgives us so that a relationship with God is even possible. Jesus is also the one who calls us into relationship with one another – so our relationship with the church and the world is gift give to us by God and sustained by the Holy Spirit. These relationships aren’t burdens to bear, and please hear this, it is not a program to work through so we are better Christians. These 3 relationships are truly gifts given to us when we accept the love and grace of God. They are relationships we can give ourselves to in order to be experience all the fullness of life as we become more like Jesus, our Savior.
We believe these three relationships are so important to our faith development that we want to provide everyone with the opportunity to evaluate and explore these relationships in more depth. As you know, we have many small groups that are going to discuss the importance of these three relationships and it is not too late to join one of them.
We also want to invite you to take a personal self-evaluation that can give you some markers about where you might be strong in these relationships, and where you might want to invest some time or get some help and support. The evaluation is done online, it is free, and the results are private. What is so great about the evaluation is that it will help us see where we are strong so we can expand on our strengths, as well as where we might be weak and need some help and support. Even if you are not part of a small group, we would invite you to take this self-assessment. If you need help accessing this please contact the church office.
Relationships are not the key to faith development, they are faith development itself. When God chose to come into this world to show us His love, draw us close to him, and show us how to get the most out of life, God didn’t come as a best-selling book, award winning song, hit movie, new curriculum, or 10 step program, God came as a person, a human being, a man named Jesus. God chose to come as a person because it was going to be through a personal relationship with Jesus that we would be saved and it was going to be through personal relationship with Jesus that we would be able to receive these three great gifts that will bring us life abundant and life eternal – a relationship with God, a relationship with the Church, and a relationship with the World.
3 Relationships – The Power of Relationships
● Who have been the most influential people in your life?
● Who has been important in your faith development?
● Take time this week to reach out to these people if you can and thank them for their love and influence.
Relationship with God
What do these passages tell us about Jesus’ relationship with God?
● John 1:1-14, Luke 11:1-4, Mark 1:35-37
Relationship with the Church
What do these passages tell us about Jesus’ relationship with the Church?
● John 13:1-5, Mark 6:7-13, 30-32
Relationship with the World
What do these passages tells us about Jesus’ relationship with the World?
● John 4:7-15, Mark 7:24-30
To learn more about these three relationships in your own life, and which “rhythms” (or patterns of life) can help you grow, we invite you to take the 3 Relationships Self-Assessment. It is free and your results are confidential. You can find a link to the self-assessment at bellefontefaith.com/3r.