Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Living Attachment That Gives Rest to Souls

          I continue to be overwhelmed by my consideration of the very familiar Scripture revealing the way Jesus calls the weary and burdened to come to him for rest.[1]
          My morning began with great appreciation for a weekend break. This particular long weekend holiday[2] gives me much more time to spend alone with God in his word and prayer, a highlight of my year. With all this enjoyment of an interlude from my regular activities, I had plenty of time to enjoy the amazing connections between so many thoughts of Scripture.
          For starters, I became intrigued with this partnership between, I will give you rest,” and you will find rest for your souls.”[3] At first, it was the consciousness that Jesus was telling little children what he would do, and what we would experience. He will give rest, and we will find it, know it, live it.
          From there, it began to settle into my soul that Jesus wants to give an experience of rest that is far beyond what many of us know. He wants us to have rest inside our souls. The kind of rest he gives us produces this soul-rest the little children are looking for.
          What I realized was that, anything my sarky-soul wishes would happen for my happiness or satisfaction, is wearisome. It doesn’t matter whether I feel a need for a certain response to something I am doing, or for certain people to be in my life, or for certain things to happen in the world around me. Neither does it matter if I am trying to make sure that particular responses, people, and experiences stay out of my life. The very fact that I need those things to happen in those particular ways makes life exhausting.
          It is in such lives as this that Jesus speaks about a kind of rest he gives that causes us to find the rest we long for. He wants us to have rest for our souls. He gives us this rest. We find this rest in him. It is his gift to little children.
          Suddenly this connected to something else that had already blessed me this week, and that is the expression of God’s will that we understand and know him.[4] He does not want us boasting in our wisdom, strength, or wealth, but in this experiential reality that we understand and know him. He does not want us trying to deal with him and his Father through our own ingenuity, the ignorance of the wise and understanding, but by coming to truly understand and know him.
          This means that God wants us to understand that Jesus gives rest to little children in such a way that those little children find rest for their souls. But, it also means that Jesus wants us to know this by experience. He wants more for us than that we understand the doctrines of soul-rest in Jesus Christ. He wants us to know that soul-rest, and to know him as our soul-rest.
          This is a monumental expression of interaction between those who are dead in their trespasses and sins, and the holy and righteous God who could damn us to hell. This is the gift of God’s grace, where the Savior comes into the world, expressing holy and righteous living in the flesh of man. He comes with mercy, and justice. He stands against the wicked and evil doers, who are a different group of people than the general populace would have imagined. He treats sinners as sinners, and calls them to himself. He does not condone prostitution, or adultery, or drunkenness, or thievery, but calls sinners to repent and enter his kingdom.[5]
          I find that this whole thing about God giving us rest stands against things our sarks think we need, things we strive for, long for, wish for, and hope for. These are things that are contrary to God’s plans for us because they are an expression of our flesh, not of our new hearts in fellowship with the Spirit. There are unmet needs from childhood that will not be met by trying to relive our childhoods, or have just the right people in our lives, or fabricate a relationship with people who don’t really want to be in our lives. We cannot go back and recreate things that we lost a long time ago.
          Instead, there is this thing called, “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”[6] There is a way in which repentance is breaking our ties to every other yoke so that we can replace it with the yoke of Jesus Christ. Other yokes enslave us, because they create an impossible burden of trying to satisfy ourselves.
          In fact, the message to the little children is that every other yoke we have tried leaves us laboring and heavy laden. We are weary and burdened. We are overwhelmed with the incessant demand to keep doing things to make ourselves feel good, even to make ourselves feel good in relationship to God.
          The little children are weary and burdened because they are yoked to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The option is to take Jesus’ yoke upon us, replacing all other yokes, repenting of and renouncing all other yokes, and settling into a lifetime of learning from Jesus.
          It is interesting that it does not tell us to learn lessons, or learn knowledge, or learn information, but to learn from Jesus. This is a yoke-relationship in which little children learn from their Big Brother because they are attached to him in faith.
          Here is the problem for the wise and understanding. They cannot let go of the yoke of their own righteousness and achievement, and so they would never bear the yoke of Christ. They would never admit that they are not wise and understanding, and so they would never be able to learn from Jesus.
          Case in point is Saul, the Pharisee.[7] He saw the Church as a sect, a cult, a false religion he had to extinguish. He was filled with his own wisdom and understanding, and could not see that he was yoked to his own pride, and his own self-dependence.[8]
          When God confronted Saul on the road to Damascus,[9] Saul was on his way to express his angry and violent character upon innocent disciples of Jesus Christ.[10] He was doing what his own wisdom and understanding dictated. He had already approved of Stephen’s murder,[11] and was quite willing to participate in many more, whatever it would take for his own wisdom and understanding to be satisfied with the extinction of the Way.
          Saul was yoked to his own righteousness, and all his beliefs about righteousness, so that the only way he could feel rest was if he obliterated  Christians. It is similar to the anger and violence of present-day terrorists who want to see Christians wiped off the face of the earth. They think they would be happy if they took over this world. They are so yoked to their own wisdom and understanding that they will only be happy if they get their way, and get rid of someone, and have the government the way they want, and the rules the way they want.
          When we yoke ourselves to ourselves, which means we are yoked to something of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we can only feel rest when we get full satisfaction from whatever we are yoked to. If we are yoked to approval from peers, we can only be happy when we are doing things of which our peers approve. When we are yoked to sinful pleasures, we can only be happy when we derive all the pleasure from sin we can imagine. Prostitutes, drunks, and tax collectors were all yoked to variations of sin that gave them pleasure.
          However, there is a way in which repentance is breaking this yoke, denouncing and renouncing our yoke to sin. We cannot yoke ourselves to Christ and to sinful passions at the same time. It simply doesn’t work. We repent of whatever yokes make us weary and burdened, and welcome the yoke of Jesus Christ that gives rest to our souls.
          While the wise and understanding yoke themselves to whatever makes them feel good, whatever they decide is best for them, the little children are those who know that they are sinners in the hands of a wrathful God.[12] They are the ones who want to repent and enter Jesus’ kingdom. They want Jesus’ yoke instead of whatever they have yoked to themselves.
          The conclusion for me is simple: in whatever ways God reveals that I am not at rest because of my sarky goals and desires, I must repent of these things, renounce any yoke I have to those experiences, and yoke myself to Jesus Christ my Lord so that I can learn from him. It is that relationship that gives rest to my soul, so it is the one relationship I must have working and growing in my life.

© 2014 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] Matthew 11:25-30
[2] Labour Day weekend here in Canada
[3] Matthew 11:28-29
[4] Jeremiah 9:23-24
[5] Matthew 4:17
[6] Matthew 11:29
[7] Acts 9 shows how Saul became the apostle Paul after his conversion to Jesus Christ.
[8] Philippians 3:1-11 shows Paul’s contrast between his old desires and his new desires.
[9] Acts 9:1-2
[10] I Timothy 1:12-17 is Paul’s testimony of the kind of man he was before Christ, and what Jesus did in his life.
[11] Acts 7
[12] Hebrews 10:31

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ A Cornucopia of Encouraging Lessons

“At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, LORD of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”[1]
          A Cornucopia is a symbol for abundance. It is often demonstrated with a large horn-shaped container (sometimes of a golden-brown baked variety), overflowing with a large amount of produce to be shared with others. It is the word that came to mind when thinking of how to share the gifts of God’s grace from my morning time with him.
          Lesson One: Whatever I gain from my time with God is a gift of God’s grace to little children. It is God’s good and gracious will to let me know anything from the word whatsoever. When I wake up in the morning with such brokenness that I can’t imagine learning anything at all, and then the clouds part, and the light shines, and new lessons spring forth as gifts of undeserved favor, it is not because I am wise and understanding. It is only because God considered everything and graciously willed that he would reveal this to me as his little child.
          Lesson Two: God cannot expect me to be wise and understanding in knowing what to do with all the problems I am facing. In fact, the weariness of life comes from wanting to be wise and understanding. For some, this might be a deliberately prideful thing, that we want attention on ourselves for being the amazing problem-solvers of life. For others, like myself, there is the residue of childhood training where we learned to rely on our own wisdom and understanding because we did not know God as the Revealer in the midst of things we were going through at the time.
          Lesson Three: The reason that the wise and understanding do not receive revelation of “these things”, and the little children do receive the revelations of God, is because, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”[2] The wise and understanding do not fear the LORD, or acknowledge their need of him, and so they never gain the wisdom and knowledge that are granted to the little children who fear God.
          Lesson Four: The curse of the sark (flesh) is that we handle the things of God on our terms. We handle them as though it is up to us to figure out what to do. We handle them as though we are responsible for the wisdom and understanding, when the reality is that we are responsible to rest like children, and receive what God has revealed.
          Lesson Five: The reason that I have seen God’s work shine out most brightly when people are in the fellowship of God’s word and prayer is because that is when we are most like little children. Devotion to the word of God and prayer, both privately and corporately, rises out of the child-hearted sense of need for God. The wise and understanding are busy running programs, earning a living, figuring things out, doing their best, organizing and planning, that they are not able to see that apart from Christ we can do nothing.[3] The child-hearted cannot even guess what they should do to live for Jesus in the things they are going through that they are desperate to hear what God says in his word, to pour out their hearts to God in prayer, and to experience fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ that is doing the same thing.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[4]
          Lesson Six: There is a connection between God revealing “these things” to “little children,” and Jesus calling to him “all who labor and are heavy laden.” The “wise and understanding” think they are handling things so well that they do not need to come to Jesus. They are so stuck on themselves, and confident in their own righteousness, that they do not see themselves as little children.
          On the other hand, the little children are “weary” of relying on themselves. They cannot handle the amount of labor they need to put into trying to be good. They are “heavy laden,” burdened, weighed down, because they cannot carry the load of guilt, shame, and fear that has been assigned to them through their sin and selfishness.
          Jesus promises to give rest to the little children, not to the wise and understanding. He promises to give rest to those who labor and are heavy laden, not to those who are confident in their own righteousness.
          Lesson Seven: Not only are the wise and understanding characterized by trusting in themselves, but the other side of this is, that people who trust in themselves hold others with contempt. Here is how Jesus taught this lesson:
    He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[5]
          When I first came to this Scripture, I felt the simple realization that the wise and understanding are characterized by trusting in themselves. It was the other side of this that blew me away, that people who trust in themselves hold others with contempt. These are the “wise and understanding” who are stuck on themselves because they imagine that they are self-made, and that God is pleased with them because they are doing so well.  
          When I look at this Scripture, I realize that the one who was “wise and understanding” thought that he was better than anyone else. On one side, he trusted that he was righteous. On the other side, because he thought he was so much better than everyone else was, he looked with contempt at anyone who was not as good as he was.
          The tax collector did not trust himself, or show contempt for people who were different from him. He was broken by his sinfulness, and yet coming up to the temple to pray meant that he had faith in God, and knew where to come. What he cried out for was mercy, not justification.
          So, the Pharisee expected justification, that God would declare him to be just, and good, and right with God because he was exceptionally wise and understanding. The tax collector expected mercy, nothing more, nothing less. He was a sinner; he knew he was a sinner; he was ashamed of his sin, and cried out for mercy. He did not claim to be better. He did not promise to change. He did not tell God he would or could stop sinning. He simply cried out to God for mercy.
          Lesson Eight: Little Children do not trust in themselves, but in Jesus Christ, who gives rest to their weary and heavy laden souls, and so they do not hold people in contempt, but in compassion.
          One of my long-ago lessons about mercy came through one of my Beatitudinal journeys.[6] I realized that the first four beatitudes described the experience of mercy, while the latter four beatitudes described the expression of mercy. The first four beatitudes speak of the one who is poor in spirit, who mourns his sinful condition, who meekly acknowledges his inability to fix himself, and so hungers and thirst after the righteousness of Jesus Christ that can only be experienced by faith. When God responds to this little child with the satisfaction to his hunger and thirst for righteousness, that little child has experienced what it means for God to be merciful to him, a sinner.
          The second half of the Beatitudes speaks of this one who has now become one of the “the merciful."[1] The “wise and understanding” never become merciful because they expect everyone else to earn their way, just as they believe they have done. The poor in spirit become the merciful because they know that anything they have received from God has been by his “gracious will,” as Jesus revealed.
          Conclusion: in practical terms, my greatest experience of all these things has happened when a group of child-hearted people seek God in his word and prayer so that they hear what his word is saying, and prayerfully put it into practice. This humble responsiveness to God, as little children who receive daily insight into the things revealed in God’s word, brings people together with a sense of the mercy of God in leading a group of people to feel his work in real and tangible ways. People receive ministry and blessing from God through the body of Christ, not because anyone is wise and understanding, but because they are little children depending on God for everything, and trusting him with anything he leads them to do.
          I am quite sure God planned this cornucopia of lessons for me because he had to overwhelm any temptation towards sarky wisdom and understanding with such gifts of grace that would leave no doubt they came from him, and were entirely undeserved. The poor in spirit are blessed with mercy, and with the gracious gift of becoming the merciful. I am thankful for these gifts.

© 2014 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] Matthew 11:25-26
[2] Proverbs 9:10
[3] John 15:5
[4] Matthew 11:28-30
[5] Luke 18:9-14
[6] The Beatitudes are revealed at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ Children Who Understand and Know

          Through all my years of walking with children, I continue to marvel at how much they know and understand. Their ability to learn from listening and watching what goes on around them is often truly astounding. I learn a lot from them, and from Jesus’ referring to them as the special recipients of his grace and mercy.
          Here is the way a variety of Scriptures came together to build up my childlike faith. It began with another look at Jesus’ introduction of himself as the only source of soul-rest.[1] As he transitioned from the faithless and unrepentant hearts of the multitudes, he gave his commentary on what everyone had witnessed.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”[2]
          Much could be said about what would happen if God gave his revelations of truth to those who were wise and understanding in their own eyes. In fact, history is full of examples of what prideful people accomplish when they take God’s words into their own hands and twist them to their own desires. It is not pretty.
          On the other hand, there is this characteristic of God’s word that can only be described as God revealing his truth to those who qualify as “little children.” God’s word exhorts us to, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”[3] It then shows us this beautiful picture of God’s “gracious will,” that he reveals his ways to those who do not lean on their own understanding.
          Another Scripture that serves as a prelude to what Jesus expressed is this:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”[4]
          What I love about this is the way it mercifully turns us away from the things that block our experience of God, and graciously guides us into the best gift of all, that we can “understand and know” him. To “understand” means to have true information about him, and to “know” means to have personal relationship with him.
          This adds such glory to Jesus’ prayer, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”[5] God so loved the world that he gave us his Son, so that, through believing in his Son we would be saved from perishing in the condemnation of our sins, and would receive eternal life.[6] This eternal life, which is the gift of God’s grace, brings us to know this God who so loved the world, and know his Son who came into the world as the demonstration of God’s love.
          In other words, Jesus came so that little children could understand and know God.
          Here is one more facet of this glorious diamond of divine revelation: Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’[7]
          Here is the gracious gift of God, that Peter understood and knew Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This was not revealed to Peter by flesh and blood, neither a teacher’s ability to teach, or Peter’s ability to learn. It was revealed to him by the Father because the Father wanted Peter to understand and know him.
          It is awe-inspiring to now take another look at the praise Jesus offered up to his Father: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”[8] It was the Father’s good pleasure that he reveal “these things” to “little children” so that little children like me can understand and know God.
          Even while I need regular loving discipline from my Father to keep my mind focused on such wondrous truths,[9] I am thankful that the Lord of heaven willed to reveal these things to me. I have a feeling that he has willed that I would understand and know him even better than I do now! I suppose that is what tomorrow’s time with God will be all about.

© 2014 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] Matthew 11:28-30
[2] Matthew 11:25-26
[3] Proverbs 3:5-6
[4] Jeremiah 9:23-24
[5] John 17:3
[6] John 3:16-18
[7] Matthew 16:16-17
[8] Matthew 11:25-26
[9] Hebrews 12:6

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ One Man’s Blessing in a World of Sickness

          Once again, while looking up another passage of Scripture, something stood out in a profound way that ministered to my heart as much as I needed. I was looking up the passage where Jesus told his opponents that the reason he healed people on the Sabbath (something the religious elite believed to be a kind of “work” that was forbidden by God), was because his Father was working.[1]
          I have long been affected by Jesus’ expression of doing only what the Father was doing, and doing whatever the Father was doing. He stated it like this, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”[2] As often as I fail to follow this example, it is still something that profoundly shapes my daily walk with God.
          What stood out as a much-needed interruption (“interruption” is from my perspective, not God’s), was the contrast between “a multitude of invalids,”[3] and “one man was there.”[4]
          Jesus had entered a building that had “five roofed colonnades,”[5] all converging at a pool the people believed could heal them. This is why there was “a multitude of invalids” gathered in one place. There was no hope that they all would be healed, but only that someone would be healed each time “the water is stirred up.”[6]That faint hope made these people desperate to be the next one the water-stirring lottery chose.
          Jesus entered this place of sickness with one thing in mind, looking for whatever the Father was doing. There is no explanation for how Jesus recognized his Father’s work in one particular invalid, but he did. And, when he did, he had to join his Father in this work because his life was about doing “only” what the Father was doing, and doing “whatever” the Father was doing.
          Here is the way this encouraged me. First, that Jesus sees me, and my sickness, in the midst of a world that is just as sick as I am. Jesus’ work in my life has been one more way that he did only what he saw his Father doing, and he did whatever he saw his Father doing. I matter to the Father, so I matter to Jesus. [7]
          Second, that my quest to walk in the things God is doing will sometimes, perhaps often, look like finding one person God is saving in the midst of a multitude of people who are looking after themselves. For a long time, I have expressed my life in Christ with the faith that, if I have been led by the Spirit to testify in a particular way, that there will always be one person out there who needs this ministry of my part of the body of Christ.
          Third, if Jesus could be so satisfied in the experience of fully joining his Father in his work, even while leaving a “multitude of invalids” that did not recognize the time of his coming to them,[8] I must learn this satisfaction in my Father’s work as well.
          Fourth, I do not want to miss out on something God is doing around me because I am so intent on continuing to live the way I was already doing. While I struggle with the thought of God working in a group of people so that only one person received his gift, I also marvel that such a work of God could take place in the midst of such a multitude and not one other person asked if they could have it as well!
          When I know God is working around me, I want to be in the midst of it, getting the maximum benefit of whatever he is doing. If I hear that he is blessing someone in a certain way that I need for myself, I want to use that testimony of his work to stir up my hunger and thirst to experience the work of God for myself.
          I am sure there are many more lessons from this chapter of Scripture. I have certainly turned to this Scripture many times to remind myself of how Jesus related to his Father so that I can follow his example. However, there is a sense in which God is working through this passage today in a particular and deliberate way, and I have received the benefit of this word of God as if it had just been written for me this morning.
          I share this wondering how my experience in the body of Christ would find that one other person God is working in, and bring us to share in the life of Jesus Christ together, even if I never hear their story. The fact that God did this particular work in me, means that there is a blessing for someone else out there, even as Jesus’ ministry to that one invalid was also a ministry to me, once again.

© 2014 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] John 5:17 (read chapter for context)
[2] John 5:19
[3] John 5:3
[4] John 5:5
[5] John 5:2
[6] John 5:7
[7] Because God is the Triune, it can only be this way. However, meditating on the fact that this is so is still good for the soul.
[8] Luke 18:41-44

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ The Elijah Prophecy that John Fulfills

          As a bystander to much of the prophecy-mongering that floods the internet, I often feel like a little child who wonders what in the world is going on, and feels confident that my Father is working out everything according to his will, just as he clearly revealed in the first coming of Jesus the Christ.
          There are many times when I hear some precise interpretation of prophecy and marvel at how these people managed to get themselves into something that is not clearly stated in Scripture. I often wonder why it is so important to to pin things down in advance, when there are many exhortations to have the mindset that it is not ours to know such things.[1]
          This morning, while reading the context of another Scripture that had grabbed my attention, I was blessed with this little interruption (likely no interruption at all in the divine teacher’s plan). The interruption was found in this revelation: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”[2]
          What stood out to me was the way the prophet Malachi had spoken very specifically of the reappearance of Elijah in the latter days.[3] Reading or hearing those prophecies would lead to the natural conclusion that Elijah would appear, and that the clear revelation of Elijah the prophet would enable everyone to know that the person Elijah pointed to was the promised Messiah of God.
          However, the fulfillment of this prophecy was not the reappearance of Elijah the prophet, but the appearance of John the Baptist. When Zechariah heard the good news that his prayer for a child would be answered, the angel told him, he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.”[4]
          God’s angel was speaking to a man who knew that God had been silent since speaking through Malachi about the one who would prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah knew that he was to expect the appearance of Elijah at some point in history. What he never would have guessed was that, when God answered his prayer for a child, that his own child would be the fulfillment of that prophecy.
          This application of the Elijah-prophecy to John the Baptist was expressed in another way as well:
And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.[5]
          The simple point for me was to remind myself that prophecies may sound so precise as telling people to expect Elijah to reappear, and yet can be fulfilled in ways quite otherwise than expected. It makes me wonder how many other times this takes place. How often are people side-tracked from this characteristic of God’s ways so that they are looking for a literal Elijah, instead of watching and listening for God’s presentation of prophetic fulfillment.
          When I consider how no one ever used Old Testament prophecy to get them in the right place at the right time for anything to do with the first coming of Jesus Christ, I wonder why we are so determined to figure out ahead of time all these prophecies regarding the second coming of Christ.
          As I see it, we are supposed to be about the work of the kingdom of heaven while leaving all the issues of times and seasons in our Father’s hands. One reason for so many prophecies and fulfillments already flooding the Scriptures is not so that we will try to figure out the unfulfilled prophecies ahead of time, but will let the fulfilled prophecies assure us that all the remaining prophetic promises will be fulfilled in the same way.
          Even if that means Jesus has to tell us that John the Baptist is Elijah. Who would have thought?

© 2014 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] Acts 1:7
[2] Matthew 11:13-14
[3] Malachi 4:5-6
[4] Luke 1:17 (read Luke 1:13-17 as context)
[5] Matthew 17:10-13

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ The Whole Armor for the Whole Church

          When I consider “the whole armor of God” as an amazing metaphor of our spiritual protection in Jesus Christ, two main thoughts settle into my heart.[1] First is that the whole armor of God is just that, all the armor we need to stand firm in our Lord Jesus Christ, even in “the evil day” that comes far more often than we wish. Second is that there is one suit of armor for the one body of Christ.
          Both of these must go together. We must look at the symbolic description of the armor of God as the “whole” picture, a comprehensive and complete provision so that the church is fully surrounded with all that we need to go out “conquering, and to conquer.”[2] The whole suit of armor is a necessary part of our faith that “we (the one body of Christ) are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”[3]
          In spiritual terms, the whole armor of God means to surround ourselves with truth, to cover our hearts with righteousness, to immerse all our actions in the gospel of peace, to respond to every situation by faith, to guard our minds with the experience of our salvation, to tackle everything we face with the word of God, and hold everything together with praying in the Spirit.
          While there is obviously much more that could be said about this, my aim is to leave us confident enough in the gift of this whole armor of God that we will trust it to be our best provision for standing our ground in Jesus Christ. As we take steps of faith to put this into practice, we will become increasingly proficient at the whole-armor-of-God way of life.
          However, just as the imagery of the whole armor of God leads us to picture how to experience each of the characteristics described, we must also keep this in the context of how Paul has presented the Church previous to this exhortation. This comprehensive description of the armor of God comes at the end of the letter in which Paul has also described the church as “one new man.”[4]
          It is this “one new man” that is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”[5]This includes being, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,”[6] because there is, “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”[7]
          Paul goes on to explain how Jesus has given leaders to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”[8] and clarifies that this is so that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”[9]
          When we keep everything in this context, that Paul is talking about this “one new man” growing up “to mature manhood,” we are on our way to understanding how there is one set of the whole armor of God to go around the one body of Christ.
          When we understand that our contribution to the spiritual gifts of the church is so that “we (as one body) are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”[10] resulting in, “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love,”[11] we can then add the whole armor of God to this “one new man… whole body” experience of victory in Jesus Christ.
          Viewing the whole armor of God as one suit of protection that covers the one body of Christ may demand a lot more consideration of how we do this together. However, the unity of the church that builds itself up in love, while surrounding itself with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer-without-ceasing in the Spirit, is going to be a strong church that is a refuge to the weakest of its members.[12] I suspect that many of us face times when we need such a church. This is encouragement for us to be the church we need.

© 2014 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] Paul records his description of the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20.
[2] Revelation 6:1-2
[3] Romans 8:37
[4] Ephesians 2:15
[5] Ephesians 4:1
[6] Ephesians 4:3
[7] Ephesians 4:4-6
[8] Ephesians 4:11-12
[9] Ephesians 4:13
[10] Ephesians 4:15
[11] Ephesians 4:16 (notice that the “it” is this one new man, and the “itself” refers to all the believers working together the way Paul describes)
[12] By “members” I mean as parts of the body, not as names on a membership list.