Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Stone and Spirit Differences From One Covenant to Another

          I am so convinced of the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit that when my first thought of the morning is to marvel at the differences between the old and new covenants, I take it personally!
          In yesterday’s post, I talked about the first “by this” of I John, which states, ”And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”[1] I attempted to clarify that Jesus’ commandments are not the Ten Commandments because the Ten Commandments belong to the Mosaic covenant, while Jesus gives his own commandments that belong to the new covenant in his blood.
          This morning I expected to carry on into the second “by this.” Yesterday’s beginning has made me eager to see what will happen to look at all eleven declarations together. I can hardly wait.
          However, today’s delay, or detour, or whatever else it may look like from the outside, is really the next thing I need. The rest for my soul that is promised in Jesus Christ[2] is applied to my life through the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”[3]
          What, then, do souls like me need to learn through meditating on the differences between the old and new covenants? It is likely that my next growth spurt “into the same image” as Jesus “from one degree of glory to another,”[4] requires some further appreciation of the grace-based experience given to us through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
          As I set out to consider the awesome differences between the old covenant given through Moses on Mount Sinai, and the new covenant given through Jesus on Golgotha, I found that the magnificence of the contrast must be framed within the clarification of the comparisons. In other words, the things that both covenants attempt to deal with glorify the new covenant in Jesus’ blood for what it alone could accomplish.

1.  Similarities Between the First and Second Covenants

          Here are some things that are the same about both covenants.

A.  Relationship between God and his people

          Both covenants are about relationship between God and his people. Both are given to a group of people who are distinct from all the rest of the people on earth. The first covenant was a relationship between God and the nation of Israel, the new covenant is the relationship between God and the spiritual Israel, the Church.

B.  Both covenants deal with sin

          The problem between God and man is our sin. The sin that Adam and Eve brought into the Garden of Eden cursed man, and brought death into our relationship with God.[5] God cannot have a people of his very own as long as sin is unresolved. Both covenants show God dealing with sin, the first in a way that rests on man, the second in a way that rests on God.

C.  Both covenants deal with righteousness

          The first covenant shows what would be required of man if sinners becoming righteous depended on our works. The new covenant shows what things look like when our righteousness after sin depends on God’s works. The first covenant shows us righteousness by law (along with the failure of law to produce righteousness); the second covenant shows us righteousness by faith.

D.  Both covenants rely on a sacrificial system

          The first covenant had an extensive list of sacrifices the people had to perform in order to deal with any manifestation of sin (while never giving us the freedom from sin we long for). The new covenant provides the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the complete and perfect solution to sin, cleansing God’s children of sin, and making us righteous in his sight.

2.  Differences Between the First and Second Covenants

A.  Plan B returns to plan A

          Plan A was for God to provide a Savior. This was promised when God declared to the serpent that the offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s authority through his own suffering.[6] It was then promised to Abraham when God declared, “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”[7] Paul clarified what God meant by this when he explained, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”[8]
          What we call the first covenant was really a temporary Plan B. It was given four centuries after Abraham, not as a replacement to the promises God made to him, but as a temporary measure to guide the children of God into righteousness until Plan A could be finalized. As Paul explained, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.”[9] The law was “added” because transgressions needed to be managed. However, this was only “until” Plan A could be fulfilled.
          When Paul writes that the law was only in place “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made,” he makes very clear that the law was a temporary measure, and that it was only in place until the promise made to Abraham could be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
          My point is that, even though we speak of the first covenant through Moses, and the second covenant through Christ, the second covenant is more a connection to the promise to Abraham given four centuries earlier than the law through Moses. Part of the glory of this picture is that the second covenant fulfills both the promise and the law. It gives us the offspring promised to Abraham, and the complete and perfect satisfaction to the law given to Moses. Jesus fulfilled the whole law, giving us the offspring of Abraham, born of woman just as God told the serpent in the Garden.
          This is as far as I got in my meditation on God’s word this morning. I have not had time to write down what can be learned from the differences between Moses and Jesus, between Mount Sinai and Golgotha, between the people at the base of Mount Sinai, and those at the base of the cross of Jesus Christ.
          For the moment, it is enough to enjoy the thanksgiving that comes through God’s word, and through his Spirit. When we are told to keep Jesus’ commandments, we are not led back to Sinai, to commandments carved on stone tablets (what Paul called “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone”[10]). We are led to the new covenant in Jesus’ blood where the Spirit of God writes the words of God into our hearts. As Paul wrote, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”[11]
          That is what the new covenant can do for us that the old covenant could never accomplish. No wonder “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[12] He’s been working on this from before time began!

© 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] I John 2:3
[2] Matthew 11:28-30 is one example.
[3] II Corinthians 3:17
[4] II Corinthians 3:18
[5] Genesis 3
[6] Genesis 3:15
[7] Genesis 22:18
[8] Galatians 3:16
[9] Galatians 3:19
[10] II Corinthians 3:7
[11] II Corinthians 3:3
[12] Philippians 1:6

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The “By This” of Ultimate Assurance

          It all began by considering the beautiful picture of the great multitude of Revelation 7.[1] It is such a picture of comfort to God’s children that I felt an urgent longing to help all the people in my church know for certain that they will be part of that gathering of believers in heaven as represented by this vision.
          That took me to the book of I John where I was captivated by the phrase, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him...”[2]I wanted my church then, and readers now, to know that they are “of the truth”, and to know this with such assurance that all of us can “reassure our heart before him” that this is the case.
          My longing to clarify these things included the awareness that the coming judgment presents only two possibilities for every human being. Either we will hear some variation of, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,”[3] or we will hear something like, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”[4]The difference between these two possibilities is so extreme that the opportunity to know now where we will stand then is desperately necessary.
          With that in mind, I set out on a journey of connecting the eleven “by this” phrases from the book of I John. To read them one after the other gave me such a blessing in realizing God’s determination to lead us into this assurance that I immediately wanted everyone to see these eleven phrases in one package. And, I knew I would need to meditate on each one individually in order to draw out as much assurance and encouragement that any one day in the quarry of Scripture would yield.
          Here is what it looks like to read all eleven assurances together. Following that is our first step in meditating further on the wonders of this gift from God.

1.  “And by this we know that we have come to know him” (2:3)
2.  “By this we may know that we are in him” (2:5)
3.  “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil” (3:10)
4.  “By this we know love” (3:16)
5.  “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (3:19)
6.  “And by this we know that he abides in us” (3:24)
7.  “By this you know the Spirit of God” (4:2)
8.  “By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (4:6)
9.  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us” (4:13)
10.  “By this is love perfected with us” (4:17)
11.  “By this we know that we love the children of God” (5:2)

1.  “And by this we know that we have come to know him” (I John 2:3)
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (I John 2)
          First, this tells me that God wants his children to know that we have come to know him. After listing all eleven of the “by this” phrases from I John, this is extremely clear, that God wants us to know him, and he wants us to know that we have come to know him.
          In John’s gospel he wrote, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”[5] Eternal life is to know God, and I John is God’s gift to us so that we can know that we know him now. We don’t need to wait until the judgment to find out whether we really knew him, or he really knew us. We can know now, and God himself has given us an amazing checklist of spiritual realities to give us the opportunity to know that we know him, and to live the rest of our lives in this assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
          This also connects wonderfully with Paul’s description of the difference between now and then. He writes for our encouragement, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”[6]
          Paul tells us that, in the present time, we can see those distant realities “dimly,” and, “in part”. In the future, when we stand before Jesus in the judgment, we shall see “face to face,” and we “shall know fully.” In fact, our knowing fully will be consistent with the way that we “have been fully known.”
          These thoughts settle into my soul with a sense of wonder that cannot be contained in mere words. While God is working to assure me that I can “know that we have come to know him,” he also wants me to know that, from his viewpoint, I “have been fully known.” My experience of coming to know that I know him is not the same thing that is taking place from the divine perspective. Mine is a journey to know that I know; God’s is a continuation of what he settled before time began.
          Secondly, the condition of us knowing that we have come to know God is, “if we keep his commandments.” Now, if God is talking about the Ten Commandments, or keeping all the commandments of the Mosaic Law, this takes our hope down a considerable number of notches. It almost sounds like we are back under the hopelessness of good works, where we can only know we have come to know God if we are now keeping that law we could never keep before knowing Christ. 
          The short answer to this (which is the same as the long answer) is that, the “him” is Jesus, and the “his” is Jesus’ commandments, meaning we are not talking about the Mosaic Law.[7]
          John had already indicated what he meant by Jesus’ commandments in his gospel record. On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus had told his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”[8] He then stated, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,”[9] and, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide,”[10] concluding, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”[11]
          The point is simply that, when John talks to us about keeping Jesus’ commandments, he is not speaking of the Ten Commandments, but his command that we are to love one another in the same way that he has loved us. In other words, we can know that we know him if we act like him. We can know that his love has come into us if his love is going out from us.
          Thirdly, to clarify the positive message that when we see ourselves keeping Jesus’ commandments we have assurance that we have come to know him, John states the same thing in a negative way. In the positive, those who keep Jesus’ commandments know that they know Jesus; in the negative, those who do not keep Jesus’ commandments do not know Jesus, and are liars for claiming they do. It is only the one who “keeps his word,” that has the assurance that “in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
          God wants us to know that we have come to know Jesus. He wants us to understand that the evidence that we have come to know Jesus is that we keep Jesus’ commands. He also wants us to understand that Jesus did not save us so that he could help us keep the law, but he saved us through his own keeping of the law so that we could now live by faith,[12] following the law of love.[13]
          This is why Paul would write that the thing that counts is not that we keep the law, but only that we have “faith working through love.”[14] Jesus’ commands are all about how our faith works through love. Instead of us thinking that we show that we know God by how well we keep the Ten Commandments, earning God’s approval with our good works, we walk in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ showing that we really do have his love.
          In a way, when we wonder if our lives show any reality of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we just need to look at what is coming out of us. Is there a growing expression of love that can only be explained by a growing experience of the love of Jesus Christ? Then that is how we know that we have come to know him. If what is becoming stronger in our lives is that we are becoming more loving after the way that Jesus has loved us, that expression of a love we never had in our hearts before meeting Jesus is the evidence that we have met him, and that he is changing us through the renewal of our minds.
          Another way of saying it would be, if we see that the love coming out of us is more like Jesus now than when we started, and that it is changing us into the image of Jesus our Savior “from one degree of glory to another,”[15]and that we find ourselves choosing the loving thing in situations where people are not loving towards us, and we can factor in that we likely aren’t as mature as we would like to think, and that we are still experiencing healing from soul-wounds that have made it difficult for us to show the love we have had difficulty receiving, then the life of love that is happening, immature as it may be, shows us that “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[16]
          And, as the apostle Peter wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”[17]
          If you have even a mustard seedling of love growing out of a mustard seed of faith, the evidence that you are joining with other believers to love one another as Jesus loved us shows that you have come to know him who is love.
© 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] Revelation 7:9-17
[2] I John 3:19-20
[3] Matthew 7:23
[4] Matthew 25:23
[5] John 17:3
[6] I Corinthians 13:12
[7] II Corinthians 3 is one place that shows that the Ten Commandments are no longer the commandments we live by. The whole book of Galatians is Paul’s argument against any efforts to merge the old covenant law, including the Ten Commandments, with the gospel of grace. This in no way means that we are free to be less righteous than what the Ten Commandments describe, only that our righteous is now by faith, not by law, and so we grow in this righteousness differently under the gospel than people tried to do under the Mosaic law.
[8] John 15:10
[9] John 15:12
[10] John 15:16
[11] John 15:17
[12] Romans 1:17
[13] Romans 13:10
[14] Galatians 5:6
[15] II Corinthians 3:18
[16] Romans 5:5
[17] I Peter 1:22-23

Considerations ~ Eleven Assurances from Older Brother John

Eleven Assurances from Older Brother John

1.  “And by this we know that we have come to know him” (I John 2:3)

2.  “By this we may know that we are in him” (I John 2:5)

3.  “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil” (I John 3:10)

4.  “By this we know love” (I John 3:16)

5.  “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (I John 3:19)

6.  “And by this we know that he abides in us” (I John 3:24)

7.  “By this you know the Spirit of God” (I John 4:2)

8.  “By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I John 4:6)

9.  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us” (I John 4:13)

10.  “By this is love perfected with us” (I John 4:17)

11.  “By this we know that we love the children of God” (I John 5:2)

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Comfort of Knowing We are Known

          One of the greatest comforts to me begins with one of the scariest things to me. One of the scariest things that people will face when they stand before God is described like this:
(Jesus speaking) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”[1]
          These people thought they were doing the more-good-works-than-bad-works routine. They were convinced they had passed the test. However, the fact they were strangers and enemies to Jesus, gives cause for the most serious, objective, introspective examination.
          Now, here is the wonderful comfort from my heavenly Father:
“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”[2]
          This tells me that:
·         My heavenly Father wants me to know that I am “of the truth” now.
·         My heavenly Father instructs me in how I can “reassure” my own heart about where I stand with him.
·         My heavenly Father shows me how my heart can be reassured “before him,” the greatest judge in the world, even though many in the world around me would challenge my assurance.
·         My heavenly Father tells me that he is quite aware of the tendency of my heart to condemn me. It has been trained well, and he knows it.
·         My heavenly Father wants me to know how much “greater” he is “than my heart,” so I will listen to what he has to say about me, rather than what my heart has to say about me.
·         My heavenly Father wants me to know that “he knows everything,” so I will acknowledge that it is who he knows in the judgment that really matters, that it is what he knows about my sin that really matters, and what he knows about his work of saving me out of my sin that really matters.
·         My heavenly Father wants me to know that it is “by this” that I can know I am in the truth, and reassure my heart in his presence whenever that heart-condemnation kicks in. Since there is a way to know, he tells me what the “by this” is, so that we also can know we are in the truth.
·         My heavenly Father wants me to know that, if the one who knows everything knows what the “by this we shall know” is, then he is the one we look to, no matter who else is saying anything else.
·         The “by this” refers to the immediately preceding context that the evidence that we know the love of God is that we show love to the brotherhood of believers.[3]
          Putting this all together, my conclusion goes something like this: If the love of God that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit[4] is flowing out of us in love for the brotherhood of believers,[5] we know we are of the truth.[6] Whenever our hearts condemn us, which is usually because we aren’t as good as we wish we were, we renew our minds with the truth that God is greater than our hearts. He knows both the bad that we do, and the completeness of the work of redemption in his Son, and so we can reassure our hearts in God’s presence, not with any list of all the good things we have done for him, but with the evidence that the great love with which God has loved us is overflowing from us into the lives of others.
          Another way of saying this would be, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”[7] The evidence that we are the “beloved children” of God is that we imitate God in his love for us. The evidence that we have come to experience the salvation of Jesus Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us,” is that we “walk in love”, loving one another as he loves us.[8]
          When the apostle Paul wanted to summarize his argument that we are not saved by religious activity or good works, even including things once required by the law given to Israel through Moses, he said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”[9]
          Anyone who has genuine faith in Jesus Christ, working through the love they express to others, has the assurance that they are already known by God now, and will remain known by God forever.

© 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 7:21-23
[2] I John 3:19-20
[3] I John 3:16-18, plus many others
[4] Romans 5:5
[5] I Peter 2:17
[6] Cf I Peter 1:22
[7] Ephesians 5:1-2
[8] John 13:34; 15:12
[9] Galatians 5:6

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dear Pastor: Pastor Before Program

          Scenario: someone in our church tells us there is something seriously broken inside them. We want to help. However, they are using a program or resource that we can’t fully endorse because some of the content conflicts with our understanding of sound doctrine. What do we do next, fix the program, or shepherd the person?
          Answer: We are pastors to our people before we are judges of programs. By that I do not mean that we don’t care what programs our people are involved with as they seek to deal with things in their lives. It is more like the, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins,” idea.[1] A pastor’s shepherdly love covers over a multitude of flaws in a program, while we show our people better ways to experience the healing of God in the traumas they carry.
          In other words, even if someone is in a program I cannot endorse, or reading a book I cannot approve, or listening to a preacher who teaches unsound doctrine, I can still be a pastor to that person first, and then help them discover what is better than what they are using.
          I should also say that, in my encounters with the Psychology Police, I have never heard these people describe how they would minister to the need an individual is dealing with in a better way than the program or resource they are condemning. A pastor must certainly aim to bring all ministries of the church up to the standard of what accords with wound doctrine,[2] but sometimes that means shepherding the person in their heartache, pain, grief, trauma, before we have time or opportunity to fix the program they have already been using.
          Now, let me take this to the extreme. Let’s just say someone comes to me who is working through painful emotional issues, and tells me how much they have benefited from a book that contains what can only be described as false doctrine. We discover that the book leads people on a journey through intense soul pain, and that it has attracted Christians who have never found anyone in their church fellowships who would help them face such things in their own lives.
          For those people who know they are hurting, have bottled up painful experiences, often from childhood, and now find that someone claiming to be a Christian talks about the same intensity of brokenheartedness as they live with every day, the dishonest descriptions of God may not be enough for them to deny the opportunity to cry their way through an honest journey of healing.
          I know that there is a far better way of traveling through emotional trauma than misrepresenting God. I know that the nature of God revealed in Scripture is the very thing people need to see in order to experience the healing for the brokenhearted that the God revealed in Scripture promises to give them. I know that it is this God, in the words, phrases, and descriptions breathed-out in Scripture, who calls people to pour out their hearts to him with every manner of brokenness and pain that is inside them.
          I also know that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are coming out of experiences in the world where the evil one has blinded people’s minds “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[3] I know that pastoral work includes leading people into the truth of God’s word, and the ministry of the Spirit of truth, so that they see the light of the glory of Christ shining out through the gospel, and they understand what God is like, and what the image of God is like. Part of freedom ministry includes proclaiming “sight to the blind,”[4] so that they can see what it is like for God to shine “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[5]
          I understand the necessity of preaching the word of God “in season and out of season.”[6] I know this is because the word of God is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”[7] which requires pastors to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”[8] I also regretfully accept that some people “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”[9] Yes, I get that.
          However, I contend that I can be a pastor to any of God’s children no matter where they are starting their journey. I can empathize and sympathize with them in their weakness, just as sound doctrine about my Savior reveals.[10] And I can be so filled with the grace of God, according to the sound doctrine revealed in Scripture, that people would feel confident in coming to me out of their weakness, pain, fear, and confusion, because they know my fellowship with Jesus Christ is such that I will make sure they “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”[11]
          This mercy and grace come from the “throne of grace,” with Jesus alone as the great high priest who has opened the way to this gift.[12] However, as Jesus has given pastors and teachers to the church,[13] and made them shepherds of the flock,[14] there has to be a way that us under-shepherds relate to God’s people in the same shepherdly way as our Savior. We should make our people feel encouraged to approach the throne of grace with confidence because we minister to them in a similar way to any encouragement they get directly from Jesus.
          Not only should the whole body of Christ aim to imitate the love of God in our expressions to one another,[15] meaning that people in our churches should feel that our love for them is very similar to God’s love for them, but pastors have all the more accountability to be “examples to the flock,”[16] so that people in our churches feel we are showing them what it looks like to live the sound doctrine they read in God’s word.
          I should also point out that, in the New Testament, according to sound doctrine, the church of a city was led by a fellowship of elders all working together, sharing the duties of shepherdly care over the flock. There were even distinctions in what each elder offered in ministry, with all the elders called to “rule,” while some of the elders were identified as “those who labor in preaching and teaching.”[17]
          I say this to clarify that pastors are supposed to work together in the care of the flock since no one pastor is a sufficient example of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything I am sharing here is to promote togetherness in shepherding the flock, not the solitary pastor image that is so prominent. I trust that me writing this, and you reading this, gives some of that fellowship we need.
          Within this context of a church fellowship where there are many people in the church doing various kinds of ministry to the many people needing help to grow up in Christ, pastors must be pastors before they are Program Police. We must care more about our love covering over a multitude of sins, or weaknesses in a program, than leaving people with the impression that we can only love them if they are without sin, or in a flawless program.
          I admit that this has been difficult for me, since my modus operandi in handling my childhood pain was to try to do everything just right. The less people could find fault with me, the less pain I would experience. Of course, I wasn’t that old when I began to realize that my plan wasn’t working, had never worked, and was never going to work. I also discovered that when a child grows up trying to be good in order to avoid pain, he becomes an adult who expects everyone else to be good in order for us to get along with each other. That mindset certainly did not promote the gracious character that Jesus expressed.
          By immersing me in a fellowship of broken people who could not perform the good my self-protective coping mechanisms thrived on,[18] God began (or continued) humbling me, healing me, transforming me, changing me, until I could see that everything was about how good he is to help his people by grace, not how good we are to impress him with our works. I now contend that pastors must show so much grace and mercy to broken people that they would never feel we can’t be there for them because we think there is too much psychology in the program that is helping them.
          In fact, I would say this: when someone in our churches testifies that they are dealing with unresolved trauma, and we are concerned that the program they are using has too many elements we cannot endorse, to the degree we do not like the program they are using, we should expend every effort to lead them into something better.
          Instead of thinking we need to begin by throwing out the one thing that is helping them, rotten crutch that it may be, let’s think about how we can overwhelm these people with the glories of our hope and faith in Jesus Christ so they are able to let go of the teddy bears they have relied on for comfort. These crutches and teddy bears were necessary comforts when trauma came knocking at the door and no real human being was there for them. Let's meet them at their starting place and show them a better way.
          I am not talking about the kind of so-called hope that is a denial of what people are going through. I am always trying to hold in our minds the kind of hope that fully acknowledges what people are going through (just as is repeatedly revealed in the Psalms), humbles itself to meet these people where they are,[19] and then leads them into the experience of fulfilled promises of God in ways that make people feel they are safe and secure little lambs under the care of men who are “gentle and lowly in heart” like Jesus.[20]
          As people experience us relating to them like Jesus, they will follow our example in that transforming lifestyle that makes us more and more like Jesus “from one degree of glory to another.”[21]If we meet people where they are, and lead them to be daily transformed by the renewal of their mind,[22] we will see less and less reliance on the psychological explanations that were once necessary to describe where they were starting from.
          I would say to pastors, do not allow the Psychology Police to make you like Peter who stopped eating with the Gentile believers, and started restricting his fellowship to the Jewish believers. We should come across to everyone as the friend of sinners who will fellowship with anyone who wants to experience the fullness of the gospel that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[23]
          Keep in mind that references to the use of psychology are only for the purpose of helping people understand practical issues to do with where they are starting from (just like a medical doctor describes the practical issues related to someone’s recovery from physical injury or disease). The treatment and cure to broken souls is Jesus Christ, with all his gifts of grace administered through the ministry of the body of Christ.
          When we can accept descriptions of where people are starting from, with confidence in where Jesus is taking them, we can fearlessly enter into the most confusing of soul conditions, provide the fullest soul care we can give “with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,”[24]and lead people into the complete soul provision of Jesus Christ to give rest to their souls.[25]Joining people where they are in their pain, so we can bring them to where we are in our freedom in Christ, makes us the branches through which Jesus heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,[26] revives the hearts of the contrite,[27] and all the other promises of sound doctrine that the mature in Christ grasp much better and stronger than those who need our help.
          Now, in conclusion, if God can hear the sound of his brokenhearted children crying out to him in their slavery, remember his covenant with Abraham that required him to lead these people into the Promised Land, and connect with these enslaved people through a man like Moses who was terrified of what God required of him, is it possible that God could connect his covenant promises for his church to the traumatized souls among us through men like us who are very insecure about what to do next?[28]
          And, if God could come to his people at that time, knowing where he was going to take them into his blessing, knowing his power to save, heal, and restore them to the glory they had once known under Prime Minister Joseph some centuries earlier, and to establish them in the land he promised to Abraham; if he could patiently reveal himself to both his people, and the enemies of his people, through a lengthy and systematic process of the ten plagues, and could bear with his people’s unfounded fears and unbelief on the way to the Promised Land, never failing to lead them towards the things his covenant promised, could we not join the people of God in whatever slavery they are experiencing? Could we not bear with any cultural expressions of psychology that have helped our people understand where they are and how they are doing, while testifying to them of the wonders and hopes of healing and wholeness in Jesus, until they feel such a hunger and thirst for the righteousness that is theirs by faith in Christ that they follow us as we lead them into the Promised Land of freedom in God our Savior?
          The apostle Paul did this by including the distinctive characteristic of becoming all things to all people. He said, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”[29] What a wonderful mindset to guide us in our ministry! People come to us with some trauma they are not free of, and we can tell ourselves that we are “free from all.”[30] We can make ourselves a servant to all, including these traumatized people who struggle with things that are no longer a problem to us. We can serve these people in love, no matter how much psychological baggage we think they are carrying, with the heartfelt pastoral desire that we “might win more of them.” If we think someone needs to be won out of a psychology-dependent program, join them where they are starting from (since you are free of both the bondage, and the dependence on psychology to address that bondage), and lead them where your faith tells you they should be in Christ.
          Where do I place my hope and faith for people overcoming pain and trauma from the past? In Jesus Christ setting them free. It is that hope and faith that enables me to join people wherever they are starting from. I know that he will lead us through any wilderness, even one that is covered with the unnecessary rubble of psychological explanations of what people are experiencing. If I, as a pastor, will go where the sheep are, Jesus will help me lead them to where he is. Simple as that (not easy, of course, just simple).

© 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] I Peter 4:8
[2] Titus 2:1
[3] II Corinthians 4:4
[4] Luke 4:18
[5] II Corinthians 4:6
[6] II Timothy 4:1-2
[7] II Timothy 3:16-17
[8] II Timothy 4:2
[9] II Timothy 4:3-4
[10] Hebrews 4:15
[11] Hebrews 4:16 (I only mean this in the way that under-shepherds lead people to know the great shepherd, Jesus Christ)
[12] Hebrews 4:14. All believers are a “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6), so none of us ever act as a priest that people need to come to in order to come to God. All believers have the same access to God through Jesus Christ. Pastors simply shepherd people who need help getting there.
[13] Ephesians 4:11-16
[14] I Peter 5:1-3
[15] Ephesians 5:1-2
[16] I Peter 5:3
[17] I Timothy 5:17
[18] Yes, “self-protection” and “coping mechanisms” would commonly be denounced by the Psychology Police, but they are wonderfully concise descriptions of behaviors that are far too prominent in churches.
[19] Philippians 2:1-11 explains how this should work in the church, obviously exemplified by all the elders, pastors, teachers.
[20] Matthew 11:28-30 tells us what Jesus promises to do, and reveals his gentle and lowly character towards those who “labor and are heavy laden.” Pastors should be the front line examples of what this looks like in real life.
[21] II Corinthians 3:18
[22] Romans 12:2
[23] Romans 1:16
[24] Colossians 1:29
[25] Matthew 11:28-30
[26] Psalm 147:3; John 15:1-17
[27] Isaiah 57:15
[28] The first chapters of Exodus introduce us to Moses and the initial stages of God delivering his people out of their Egyptian slavery. From there through to the book of Joshua we see how much God bore with his people on the way to leading them safely into the covenant promises of the land of Canaan.
[29] I Corinthians 9:19
[30] This, of course, requires that we have already experienced the freedom we believe Jesus will give to all his disciples.