Wednesday, July 12, 2017

God's Surprises For Doubting Hearts

Once we know that the Bible is the living and active word of God,[1] and that it is the sword of the Spirit[2] that the Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts to teach us the mind of Christ and remind us of things we have already been taught,[3] we receive the nudgings, and convictions, and Aha! Moments, as the gracious work of God to relate to us as a Father to his beloved children.

This morning was one of those times when I was both overtired and overanxious and found myself in the stupid and childish belief that my Deeper could never be met by God’s Higher. I don’t know if God smiles when he sees his beloved child believe such nonsense because he knows he is about to bless me with a Higher I couldn’t have imagined (his word does talk about him doing things like that), or whether he feels sad that I would doubt him once again even though he has proven himself so many times. I dare not impose my own human reactions onto the divine heart of my heavenly Father, but I do wonder nonetheless.

The Deeper that consumed me this morning had to do with fear. God was addressing a layer of fear deep within me that obviously required his special care and attention. He had already reminded me that, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”,[4] so I knew he wanted me to trust him while I was afraid, not after my fear-issues were fixed.

However, because I share with my home church the things God teaches me each day I was in a quandary. How much does a man share his personal struggles before it becomes a burden to his family in Christ? There are times when relationships are like a parent with a child where the parent knows that the child would be traumatized by knowing the depths of worries, and concerns, and fears, and doubts, that adults carry as they try to guide their little ones safely through life.

And so, in the personal way that has been familiar for a long time, I knew the Holy Spirit was reminding me of a key life-lesson he had taught me a long time ago. A man named Asaph was going through a hard time because he just couldn’t get over the way sinners seemed to prosper and God’s children seemed to suffer. He was so upset by this that he came close to slipping away from his faith in God. However, before he gave up completely he came to this much-needed conclusion: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children”.[5]

What the Holy Spirit taught me years ago, and reminded me of today, was that leaders must never speak such things as Asaph had been thinking because it would be a betrayal of the children of God. If Asaph as some kind of leader among God’s people began telling everyone that it was a waste of time to believe in God, or to deny oneself the pleasures of sin, it would have put such thoughts in the hearts and minds of others who may not have had the same capacity to take all the struggles and troubles to God in prayer, and so they would have swallowed the bait of his lying beliefs perhaps even to their eternal harm.

So, instead, Asaph got alone with God in what he called “the sanctuary” where everything became clear to him, and so he could later share his testimony that he indeed was close to succumbing to the lies of his discouraged mind, but he presented it all to God in the secret place of prayer and came to the glorious experience he described like this:

“Whom have I in heaven but you?    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”[6]

Now, this was all just the prelude to what God wanted to speak the deepest into my soul (about my very tired fears). It just seemed like he needed to remind me that part of what he was dealing with had to be kept just between him and I, while the testimony of how he ministered to me in my fear and despondency could be shared for the building up of others who might be struggling with the same things.

Part of my reason for sharing this today is that I’m quite sure there must be other people out there who are facing things that tear their hearts out because they think they must choose between sharing nothing of their struggles or sharing everything they are struggling with. I have been learning something about how to share our worst and most painful thoughts in fellowship with our heavenly Father, standing in Jesus Christ before the throne of grace, telling him everything because we know we can’t hurt or demoralize him with any of our inner burdens, and then share with our church families the testimonies of both our struggles and God’s ministry to our souls. As we do this, we will also see how God unites believers to share together in the part where we are indeed to “bear one another’s burdens”,[7] but without betraying our brothers and sisters with things we were supposed to keep between ourselves and Father.

Because I am processing this as a man (sisters in Christ, please feel free to share how God does this for you), I have a special interest in encouraging men who are elders, pastors, husbands, and dads, to consider how God invites us to come into the sanctuary of the throne of grace to pour out all our needs before him in order to receive the mercy and grace we need for whatever we are going through,[8] and then share with others the testimony of how God made himself known to us exactly (and more) as we needed through his word and his Spirit. We may wrestle with God about how much to keep private between us and him, and how much to share so people know us as men who have real feelings about life, I believe that even this God will teach us if we stay with him until he makes it clear.

I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 73 to see how Asaph gave a testimony after the fact that showed people what God helped him with, but without destroying their faith when he was at his lowest point. Here is a link to that Psalm. Pray your way through it and see who God invites you to share it with for the blessing of you both.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Hebrews 4:12
[2] Ephesians 6:17
[3] John 14:26
[4] Psalm 56:3
[5] Psalm 73:15
[6] Psalm 73:25-26
[7] Galatians 6:2
[8] Hebrews 4:14-16

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Praying For the Life of Love

My last couple of mornings in God’s word have been like a tapestry weaving before my eyes, bringing together threads of truth in all their distinctively brilliant colors, and forming them into a picture that declares loud and clear that God is working all things together for good in the lives of those who love him and have been called according to his good purposes in Jesus Christ.[1] Here’s a few of those threads that were prominently displayed today.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.[2]

Meditating on this verse, and seeing how it is the gift of God in the gospel, that Jesus came to give us eternal life,[3] makes me hunger and thirst for the certain experience of feeling like the light of life has shone into my heart and all the death and darkness are eradicated so I can live in the newness of life.[4]

and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[5]

Jesus’ life is the light of men, and that is expressed into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This verse makes me hunger and thirst to know the hope that comes not just from believing certain information, but from having the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, the most personal expression of God’s love being poured into my heart. I want to have the genuine feeling and experience that the Holy Spirit is presently within me, crying out within me, “Abba! Father!”[6] so that I can know God in his love in the innermost places.

Which brings me to the way Paul taught us to pray. In that very familiar prayer of Ephesians 3, it is very significant that Paul begins with a focus on experiencing “the Spirit in your inner being,” and, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”[7] With that in mind, knowing that we are already “rooted and grounded in love”,[8] what he asks for is that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”[9]

What’s the point? That to whatever extend our innermost being does not feel like it is filled with light and life, and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is in there crying, “Abba! Father!” and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is pouring the love of God into our hearts, and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is filling our inner being and Jesus is dwelling in our hearts, we are called to pray for what we lack of this experience (the blessing of hungering and thirsting for the experience of righteousness we do not yet enjoy).

Paul’s prayer gives us the very words that we know for certain are the will of God for the messed-up condition of our inner beings. What happens when the people living in darkness have seen the great light of Jesus’ life?[10] They cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”[11]

A very important explanation of why we so desperately need to spend time in God’s word is revealed like this: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[12] As God draws us into his word, the breathed-out words of Christ, our faith grows and matures through the hearing of his truth. It is for that reason that brother John would write:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

This is too wonderful for words, and I hope that tapestry is weaving itself around your heart and mind, and that you see how you are woven into the picture of God’s gracious activity for your new-hearted freedom in Jesus’ life and light. God’s Book is written so that we will believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and that through believing in him we will KNOW that we have eternal life.

Since this is why the Book is written, and because faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the words of this Book (the words of God breathed-out by Jesus), the more we meditate on the words of life, and pray for whatever we do not yet experience of life in Christ, the more we will see ourselves walking in the light of life, and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God even in our suffering since God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.

Let us not be despondent about the poverty-of-spirit things God shows us we are missing in our relationship with him. Let us rejoice in the Beatitudinal Valley that graciously shows us these things in order to bring us to the genuine hunger and thirst for what we do not have in our experience of Christ, joining together to pray the prayers given to us in God’s word, so God can then do things in our lives because we have honored him by coming to him in faith.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[13] Jesus is the life that is the light of men. The world, the flesh/sark, and the devil, all conspire to steal, kill, and destroy whatever we could experience of the love and life and light of Jesus. Jesus came to give us life abundantly.

Today, the tapestry of God’s glorious revelation in his Book wove this together into my heart in ways I truly needed to hear.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Romans 8:28-30
[2] John 1:4
[3] John 3:16; John 10:10
[4] This is beautifully described in Ephesians 2:1-10. The hunger and thirst for these things is founded in Jesus’ description of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 in which the blessing of seeing our poverty of spirit leads to a hunger and thirst for the righteousness we do not have, which God can then satisfy by grace through faith (his grace being the reason we have hungered and thirsted in the first place!).
[5] Romans 5:5
[6] Romans 8:15 (context: Romans 8:12-17; and Romans 8:1-39)
[7] Ephesians 3:14-21 for the whole prayer; Ephesians 3:16-17 for the focus on the Holy Spirit and Jesus living in the innermost places of our inner being.
[8] Ephesians 3:17
[9] Ephesians 3:18-19
[10] Matthew 4:16
[11] Mark 10:47
[12] Romans 10:17
[13] John 10:10

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Freedom of God’s Sovereign Goodness

The following is a response to a video message on the topic of forgiveness that drew my concern because of the teaching that God wants us to forgive everyone of everything all the time.[1] The belief is that this kind of all-encompassing forgiveness is the only way we can avoid bitterness. And, since God clearly commands us to, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice”,[2] people conclude that forgiving unrepentant people must be required by God as the only means of doing his will.

I listened to the message because it came up as part of a discussion in which I had already shared how God never tells us to forgive unrepentant people, but does give us freedom from bitterness by a different means, which is our personal faith in God’s sovereign goodness.

This is a serious matter for me partly because so many preachers assume forgiveness where God has not stated it, and because teaching traumatized people that the only means of being free of bitterness is to forgive unrepentant abusers is adding trauma to trauma. The real liberation from bitterness, including the healing of the trauma, comes by knowing God as sovereign and good. When we know him like that, we can find the healing and freedom we long for even if no one ever comes to us in repentance.

The rest of this is what I had tried to post in response to the video but could not do so because of the length of my response. However, for those who have been hurt by the unbiblical demand to forgive unrepentant people, and yet truly want freedom from the bitterness their wounds have caused, here is encouragement to take a closer look at what God’s word really does say (rather than what is added), and see how your freedom is within reach because it is all about what you do in relationship with your heavenly Father, not what you do in relationship to anyone who has wronged you.[3]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Because this is such an important issue, whether the Bible teaches us to forgive everyone of everything all the time, or to forgive those who repent and trust God’s sovereign goodness for the rest, and because the video is by a prominent pastor who makes it sound like the Bible clearly teaches forgiving everyone of everything all the time, here are some points of clarification that I make very cautiously. I do not make these as though I would challenge a respected pastor about anything at all, but only because this issue of forgiveness is consistently presented by many preachers with unbiblical and unwarranted interpretations that hide the better thing God’s word teaches. These “beyond what is written”[4] interpretations make it sound like the Bible says something it does not, putting many wounded brothers and sisters into unnecessary difficulty by suggesting only two choices when there are really three.

1.  Nowhere in Genesis 45, or the rest of the Bible, does it say that Joseph was expressing forgiveness to his brothers in this encounter. Whether or not he did, that is never stated, so it is unfair to say that this is an expression of forgiveness when the Bible never once says so. I’m not saying Joseph didn’t forgive his brothers, again, because it isn’t stated. I’m only saying that making the issue of Genesis 45 about forgiveness when it is never stated that way in the Bible is an unfair addition that makes it appear that those who disagree that this is about forgiveness are against forgiveness itself. No, we’re only against using such texts as this to teach on forgiveness when that isn’t ever stated as the topic. There is something better here than making this about forgiveness.

Sadly, by setting up the dominoes so the audience is convinced the first one is about forgiveness gives the appearance that all the dominoes fall down on the side of forgiving everyone of everything all the time. Once we see that forgiveness is not even mentioned in the text, or in any Scriptural references to this time and event, we can step back and ask ourselves what it is Joseph was really doing, and what example does that set for us today in light of what else we are taught about dealing with the harmful things people have done to us.

2.  The real issue of Genesis 45 is Joseph’s belief in God’s sovereign goodness. What Joseph did state, which we can all agree on, is that his brothers were not to “be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”[5] Without calling this forgiveness (never stated), we should be able to agree that Joseph’s declaration to his brothers was that he knew that the harm they had perpetrated against him was used by God to send him ahead of them on a life-saving mission. That Joseph could do this is nothing short of merciful, but it is still an issue of what he believed about God and his sovereign goodness.

I just want to make clear that Joseph was not consoling his brothers by telling them he forgave them. He was consoling them by directing their hearts to the same understanding of God’s sovereign and gracious goodness that he had learned himself somewhere along the way (we are never told when Joseph learned this lesson). If it was they who had sent him there, Joseph was in a position to carry out justice against their crime. If it was God who sent him there, and it was for the purpose of, “to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors,”[6] the thing that had already consoled Joseph, and was now to console his brothers (in view of their sudden discovery that their brother had the very authority over them he had once spoken of in relation to his dreams), was that God had a much greater intention in good than everything that had planned against him.

Since these are the stated words of Scripture, that this was about Joseph telling his brothers that it was God who sent him to Egypt, not them in their wrong-doing, the lesson we must give to ourselves has to be the same. When we are dealing with harm done to us by others, the thing we must learn is that God has purposes in his sovereign goodness that far exceed whatever harm anyone inflicts against us, and we will find our freedom when we get to know our Father in his sovereign goodness over everything harmful thing we have ever experienced. When we know him in this way, we will have freedom to love our enemies, pray for our abusers, bless our persecutors, and return good for whatever evils are done against us, even while leaving forgiveness in God’s hands as he determines whether that is going to be part of the picture.

3.  It is in chapter 50 of Genesis that we come to the wonderful and gracious and merciful and liberating expression of Joseph that, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[7] This is very important for the simple reason that this is not in chapter 45! Something else was happening at this time, and so we must receive this in context.

Joseph’s point was that what his brothers intended for harm, God intended for good, for the saving of many people. This is clearly what gave him his freedom, the belief that God worked all things together for good. It is also a reiteration of what he had told them at the very beginning (chapter 45), but was now required again because of a significant change of circumstances. It is my contention that it is this belief in the sovereign goodness of God that is the issue, believing that God takes what people intend for harm and turns them all into things that are for our good. Since those are the words Joseph spoke, and Paul expressed as a universal truth in Romans 8:28-30, we can tell all Christians that we will be liberated from the bitterness of all the harmful things people have done to us when we are able to relate to God our Father as taking whatever people intended for harm and turning it for good. As we look for that good instead of carrying the grudge we will find freedom in Christ.

Now, since this declaration is in Genesis 50 instead of 45, what has changed in both the circumstances and the context to lead Joseph to declare himself so succinctly? After the interaction of chapter 45, enough time has passed that Joseph’s brothers had gone to bring their father and household to Egypt, specifically to the land of Goshen. More time had passed for them all to settle into their new home under the blessing and provision of Pharaoh. Jacob’s age caught up with him, he knew it was his time to die, so he blessed his sons and prepared for his death. After his death, and after the couple of months of time passed for embalming and mourning, and the journey to bury Jacob in the same cave as his ancestors, we now come to how Joseph’s brothers felt about Dad being out of the way and Joseph Prime Minister of their land.

The significant thing to what prepares the way for Joseph’s expression of mercy, and his reminder that he believed in God’s sovereign goodness in what had happened to him, was the brothers sending a letter in which they plead for Joseph to forgive them their transgression and their sin. This is so important that we add this to the context. Even if we think this was Joseph forgiving his brothers, for that certainly is the sense of what takes place here, we are dealing with men who are pleading for forgiveness. There is no doubt that, if this is Joseph forgiving his brothers, he is forgiving brothers who are in a state of repentance, confessing that they had sinned, and done evil, and transgressed. In other words, Joseph said what he said because his brothers did what they did.

So, when Joseph declares what he did, that the evil they meant for his harm God intended it for good, it reiterates what he had said quite some time earlier, that his view of everything was what God meant for the situation, not what they meant for it.

From this I would say that, chapter 45 shows Joseph’s relationship with God (not just his doctrine). He related to God as his Lord and King who worked all things together for good, specifically the saving of many people through the terrible famine, including his own family. This was something necessary since the Messiah promised in Genesis 3 had to necessarily come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so one of Jacob’s sons (we now know was referring to Judah) had to be kept alive through the famine in order for the lineage to stay alive. The example to us is that we also view all our life-experiences, including the harm people inflict on us, as fully woven into the sovereign goodness of God in which he now has an even greater life-saving work going on than what we saw during that seven years of famine. When we can believe that the harm done to us could become a testimony that would be used by God to save people out of the domain of darkness and transfer them into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son,[8] we will then be able to rejoice in the sufferings we endure rather than live in constant bitterness and grief that life has been so hard on us.[9]

We can also see how chapter 50 shows us men who were overcome with the circumstances they were then facing, that the father of the family was gone and fears of repercussions from little brother were rising in their hearts, and the one they had abused and mistreated was now comforting them and speaking kindly to them.[10] The lesson for us is that, for us to do the same, sometimes seen in loving our enemies, or blessing our persecutors, or doing good to those who wrong us, we must have this all-encompassing knowledge of God that he is always working our life-experiences for good. It is this faith in God’s sovereign goodness that gives us freedom, including the freedom to forgive when required to do so.

4.  It is false to state that it is a myth that we can wait to forgive people until they repent since the Bible clearly shows God waiting for repentance in order for him to forgive, and teaching the church the same. While we can get stuck in an “always” or “never” focus that may be too difficult to prove either way, there are clear indications that God’s response to unrepentant people is not to forgive them, and his teaching to the church in relation to unrepentant people is also never met by a call to forgiveness, but with other things that we must do for our freedom. If we do the things that are taught, we will find freedom in Christ even while never forgiving someone who is living in unrepentant sin towards us.

In Matthew 18, when Jesus addresses the specific issue of what to do if a brother has sinned against us and does not repent, he never once says that we are to forgive the person. In each case that there is no repentance, Jesus describes the next level of confronting the sin, all the way to treating the person as an outsider.[11] When people who know that fellow believers are continuing in their sin, and are protected by other churches that will not address the wrong-doing, the biblical answer for our freedom is not that we suddenly just give in and forgive them because we don’t want to be bitter against the injustice. Rather, we hide our hearts in the love of God and seek to know his goodness in what we are going through so that we have the same peace and rest as Joseph. As we look and pray for how God is going to work even such injustices for good, we will find freedom in God’s sovereign goodness even though we are not choosing between bitterness and forgiveness. Faith in God’s sovereign goodness is what gives the freedom we need in such cases.

When Paul confronted the sinful man of I Corinthians 5, he never once told the church to just forgive him.[12] Instead, he called for church discipline. In fact, he was offended that they would treat the man as if he was forgiven instead of holding him accountable for his sin. In his second letter, when the man showed godly sorrow over what he had done, the church was then taught to fully welcome him back into the fellowship of the church.[13]

When Peter told about handling unjust suffering,[14] he again never mentioned forgiving the people causing the suffering, but stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”[15] This is the way we find our freedom even when suffering unjustly. We entrust our souls to God as our faithful Creator, and continue doing good, even to those who are doing us harm. These are wonderful things we can do even when it would be wrong to declare someone’s forgiveness because they are still walking in their sin.

5.  It is wrong to take Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”[16] as proof that Jesus forgave unrepentant people since Jesus did not say he forgave them (read it again if you need to). Instead, Jesus taught us to pray for people who wronged us,[17] and that is what he was doing. His words are not a declaration of forgiveness, but a prayer for his enemies. When we come to the place of trusting Jesus with what people have done to us, even to the point of praying that he would forgive them, we can have peace because we know that we are trusting Father with the situation, and God will only answer that prayer in ways that line up with his perfect justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

6.  It is false to say that our only choices are bitterness or forgiveness. Again, since the Bible never once tells us to forgive unrepentant people, and it also tells us to put off all bitterness, rage, and anger, its solution to bitterness in every instance is faith in God’s sovereign goodness. This is why Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”[18] When believers feel there is something that needs to be avenged, Paul did not tell them to forgive, but to “leave it to the wrath of God”.

This is the real problem, not that we won’t forgive, but that we have not trusted God enough to leave it to his wrath to decide what happens. It is not because we can’t forgive that we keep harboring vengeance and judgement and grudges, but because we don’t trust that God will carry out his vengeance however he sees fit. Again, since this goes back to Joseph’s example, we leave things to the wrath of God because we know that he takes everything that happens to us and works it for good. When seeing God glorified in doing good is greater than our fleshly desire to get immediate justice according to our limited view of our situations we will know that we will always have what we desire since God always works all things together for good.

7.  The real issue with our bitterness towards people who have harmed us is not that we haven’t forgiven them, but that we haven’t trusted God to work all things in our lives together for good. It is not what we are holding against wrongful people that is our bondage, but what we are holding against God. As soon as our justice-issues with God are settled, and we can trust him to take every instance of harm and turn it for good (the thing Joseph really did say), we will find our hearts experiencing rest because someone greater than ourselves is handling the situation and we are now free to love our enemies, pray for our abusers, bless our persecutors, return evil with good, even asking God to please forgive the people who have wronged us. It is trusting God to do what is right while we entrust ourselves to him and continue to do good that gives us freedom from carrying grudges that are based solely on the thoughts of the flesh and nothing on the mind of the Spirit.

How do we apply this to discipling people who struggle with bitterness over the harmful things that have happened to them? We direct their attention to prayerful interaction with God in his word focusing on the transforming faith that knows God is taking those hurtful and harmful circumstances and working them for good. As we unite in our congregations to help people get to know God like this, helping them hear God’s word on the matter and pray through whatever wounds need healing, their coming to know God in his sovereign goodness will free them from the old wounds so they can share their testimony of healing with others, perhaps even including some who did them harm.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[2] Ephesians 4:31
[3] I just want to note that this is specifically addressing the false notion that we are to forgive unrepentant people. Everything the Bible teaches about forgiveness towards repentant people must be carried out even when our wounds would still cry against it. I am not endorsing the idea that we can hold off forgiving a repentant person until our wounds no longer hurt us. We may need a miraculous dose of God’s grace to obey him in faith (I think all grace is miraculous, by the way), but my contention that the Bible nowhere tells us to forgive unrepentant people is partnered with my belief that we must always forgive repentant people as taught in God’s word.
[4] I Corinthians 4:6
[5] Genesis 45:5
[6] Genesis 45:7
[7] Genesis 50:20
[8] Colossians 1:13-14
[9] Romans 5:1-5
[10] Genesis 50:21
[11] Matthew 18:15-20
[12] I Corinthians 5:1-13
[13] II Corinthians 2:1-11
[14] I Peter 3:13-17; 4:12-19
[15] I Peter 4:19
[16] Luke 23:34
[17] Matthew 5:44
[18] Romans 12:19

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Scary Liberation of God’s Awesome Waves Grace

Years ago I was introduced to a song that has become a reluctant “favorite” of our home churches. The song is entitled, “Waves of Grace,” and the essential message is that we are praying for, and thanking God for, the gracious way he dismantles our inner fortresses of self-protection in order to liberate us into the freedoms of the Spirit-filled life.[1]

On one side, the song is a prayer of repentance, confessing that we have built castle walls around our hearts that have hardened us and blinded us to the freedom of living under the lordship of Jesus Christ. On the other side, it is a prayer of hope that God would destroy the self-protection we have created and lead us into the liberation of his reign over every part of our lives, inner being included.[2]

On both sides is the understanding that God’s grace washes over us like waves at the seashore, both eroding and smashing down the destructive walls we have created around our hearts, and cleansing, and soothing, and comforting, and healing us from within.

Now, while most church-going folks I have met have resisted any idea that they have hidden things behind walls of self-protection, their reaction to any work of God that aims to dismantle these walls has proven they are there. As someone who insists nothing is wrong and yet flinches every time they are touched in a certain place (applies to both physical and emotional wounds), so the person who adamantly defends against any suggestion that they have managed their way through life inside a castle of self-protection invariably leads to the inner fortresses they will either defend to the death (usually of the person who is seeking to reach them), or will humbly join in seeking to surrender to the waves of grace that are working for their liberation.

Why is this an issue for me? Is there something biblical about this that will justify admitting to the obvious? Does addressing such things require some mention of castles and fortresses of self-protection in the Scriptures, or Bible verses that directly speak to God’s grace flowing over us like relentless waves of love doing good things in our lives we couldn’t even think to ask for?

Or how about if there just seems to be this regular work of whatever Scripture we are reading that exposes to us that there are different things going on deep inside us than we admit to ourselves or others on the outside? What if we read Scriptures in the most prayerful way we know how, and sincerely ask God to help us know him in his word, and then he seems to strip away a titanium veil that has been hiding wounds and brokenness that we have spent a lifetime trying to avoid?

And what if we realize that the biblical method of talking about this is seen in the way Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes reveals that God blesses his beloved children by exposing their poverty of spirit, and leading them to mourn the true condition of their inner beings, and humbles them into the meekness where they confess they cannot fix the mess they have tried desperately to hide within, and so brings them to the place where they are free to hunger and thirst for the righteousness they do not have deep inside?[3]

And what if it is God’s work to apply the Beatitudinal blessings to our lives every time we meditate upon his word, and hear his word preached to our souls by faithful pastors, or hear Scriptural truth sung into our hearts in the corporate worship of God’s people singing out their praises to God?

What if God’s interest in us being like Jesus requires such a Beatitudinal work of transforming us from the inside out that no one will escape the gracious work of God to demolish the walls of self-protection we have built to protect our inner beings from additional hurt? What if the way Jesus spoke to the woman at the well is his normal way of ministering to broken people, gently wafting gracious waves of grace against our souls so that we see him according to truth as we have never seen before, while also seeing the true condition of our hearts more clearly than anyone has ever exposed?[4]

For the last while I have been meditating on how the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ requires a response of denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Jesus wherever he leads.[5] It has become clear that denying ourselves does not endorse the self-protective strategy of denying, or suppressing, the true condition of our inner beings. God speaks so positively of wanting intimate fellowship with us in our brokenheartedness, and speaks of us mourning the poverty of our spirits as a blessing and not a condemnation, that we must not be deceived into thinking that denying ourselves justifies our self-centered strategies of self-protection.

In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is the sarky (or fleshly) self that is the enemy to God’s liberating work of our souls, always trying to do things our own way instead of his. A broken and contrite heart has never hindered the gospel in the least. Just look at the “sinful” woman who worshipped Jesus by weeping over him in tears of love, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and not caring what any of the religious elite thought of her.[6] She showed great love because of how she had admitted to great sin, and experienced how “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”.[7]

On the other hand, the religious elite who would not admit to anything being wrong with them sat in judgment of Jesus because they had such a tiny view of their own need for forgiveness. They could not love him because they could not admit to the true condition of their souls.

Viewing the sarky-self (fleshly-self) as the enemy of God’s transforming work is what the apostles address so clearly in speaking of the “flesh” or “sark” that is the self that must be denied.[8] It is not the broken condition of our souls that must be denied (since Scripture constantly calls us to admit to the true condition of our souls), but our self-dependent strategies for handling the broken condition of our souls in our own strength and self-reliance.

The practical lesson for me is quite simple: since God is constantly at work to transform his children into the same image as Jesus Christ “from one degree of glory to another”,[9] and it is his blessing upon us when we admit to our poverty of spirit, and mourn the condition of our souls, and meekly confess that we cannot fix what is wrong with us, so that we allow our hearts to hunger and thirst for the righteousness we do not have, the very righteousness we hear offered to us in the gospel of God’s grace, the more I humble myself under the mighty hand of God, the more joyful my experience of him exalting me in due time.[10]

And, guess what this includes: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Clearly he is at work to get me to stop handling all my anxieties myself, in my own strength, and to cast them upon him instead because of how he cares for me.

It almost sounds the same as telling me to, “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[11]

Notice again that God does not merely tell us to stop being anxious, but to cast all our anxieties upon him in every kind of prayerful expression so that we can experience his peace guarding our hearts and minds (inner places) where our sarks/flesh have utterly failed to do so.

Now, I encourage you to join me in this, for I am quite hopeful that it will happen for you as it regularly occurs for me, that you and I will not only recognize the waves of grace God sends to erode and demolish our castle-walls of self-protection, but that we will welcome his liberating work no matter how much self-centeredness and self-reliance must be exposed on the downside of the Beatitudinal Valley.[12]

And, if any of us feel a struggle to know how to address such things, God has given us prayers and expressions in his word we can use to pour our hearts out to him about whatever painful, confusing, and scary things we discover inside us and see what happens when he answers our prayers. While the Psalms are full of such expressions, I will conclude with these prayerful words of hope from brother Paul’s prayer list (with special attention to what God desires for our inner beings and our hearts):

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[13]

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Waves of Grace, by David Noble

The walls are high, the walls are strong
I’ve been locked in this castle
That I’ve built for far too long
You have surrounded me, a sea on every side
The cracks are forming and I’ve got nowhere to hide

(Chorus) Now I see
The walls I’ve built are falling
And Your waves of grace are washing over me
(Repeat x2)

My heart’s been hard, I have been blind
I have often worked so hard to keep You from my mind
I have ruled my life, in a palace built on sand
I want You to reign, Lord, take me by the hand (Chorus)

Lord please reign in every part
I give my life to You, I open up my heart
I want to be like You, I want to seek Your face
O Lord please wash me in Your awesome waves of grace (Chorus)
© 1994, 1995 LITA Music/David Noble

[2] Addressing our inner being, including references to our hearts, and souls, and minds, is a favorite theme of Scripture, and something Paul dealt with explicitly in both his ministry and his prayers. Ephesians 3:16-17 expresses Paul’s prayer that God’s work would strengthen us with the Holy Spirit’s power in our inner being so we would experience Jesus Christ abiding in our hearts through faith. Typing “heart” into the search engine produced 862 references, indicating that this is God’s interest in us. We may fool each other with the roles we play on the outside, but Psalm 44:21 says that, “he knows the secrets of the heart.” For those choosing a determined life of sin and self-protection, this is not a good thing that God knows our inner secrets. However, for those who come before God with the admission of “a broken spirit” will find that, “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). In fact, God is very clear in his testimony of himself that, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), and, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15). All these simply show God’s interest in our inner being, or the deepest realities of our hearts. As we admit to our brokenness within, we come to know God in the inner places and discover we were made for this, painful as it might seem to get there.
[3] This is seen in the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus introduces the life of the Kingdom with the Beatitudes that reveal a far different view of God’s work of blessing his people than what was understood of Israel as a kingdom, and of Israel under the law (Matthew 5:1-12).
[4] If you look at Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42 you will see how he led her to both a higher view of him than she could have ever discovered on her own, and a deeper view of herself and what was going on in her life than she was used to addressing. To know Jesus in the glories of who he really is we must also welcome (or at least accept) the discovery of so many self-centered things that are in the way and must be dismantled, denied, crucified, destroyed, in order for the old to go and the new to come.
[5] Luke 9:23, with Luke 9:23-27 as immediate context, and Luke 9:18-27 as the larger context.
[6] Luke 7:36-50
[7] Romans 5:20, with Romans 5:18-21 as immediate context, and Romans 5:1-21 as larger context, leading, of course, into Romans 6:1-23 as the following context.
[8] Paul deals so extensively with the contrast between the flesh/sark and the Spirit in Romans 7 and 8 that it makes very clear that denying ourselves as taught by Jesus is parallel to dying to the flesh as taught by Paul. It is not our true personhood that must die, but our sarky, fleshly, self-centered reign over our inner beings that must be put to death so that we can live in the Spirit instead, our true selves fully alive in Jesus Christ.
[9] II Corinthians 3:18
[10] I Peter 5:6-7
[11] Philippians 4:6-7, with the broader context of Philippians 4:4-9, of course.
[12] Please note that we cannot get to the upside of the Beatitudinal Valley without first surrendering to the blessings of the downside. The downside of facing our poverty of spirit, mourning the condition of our souls, meekly confessing that we cannot fix what is wrong with us, and so hungering and thirsting after the righteousness in Christ we do not have brings us to the “rock bottom” (or, the Rock at the bottom!) where Jesus satisfies our inner beings with the righteousness that is by faith so that we then begin our journey up the upside of the valley where we are transformed into the merciful children of God whose hearts are made increasingly pure so we can live as the peacemakers who are free to rejoice even in the blessings of persecution as our hearts come to delight in the reign of Jesus Christ over our inner beings (Matthew 5:1-12).
[13] Ephesians 3:14-21