Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Friendship of Joy and Contentment

          What is the connection between, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,”[1] and, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”[2]?
          Let me explain it like this: Whatever we consider most valuable in life will be the thing that gives us joy, and that joy will make us content. As long as we have the thing that gives us joy, we have constant joy, hence constant contentment.
          When people consider anything of the world or the flesh to be their greatest treasure, they will look to that thing as the source of their joy. The degree to which people attain what they treasure will be the degree to which they feel anything resembling joy, and the determining factor in how content they feel.
          Since money is what the world so often chases after, let me use this example. Let’s say that someone treasures money above all things. They see it as the way to feel significant, the way to create security, and the way to win people’s acceptance. With this worldview, they set out to attain money.
          When such a person is successful in attaining enough money that they feel their significance is recognized, their security is assured, and their acceptance with the in-crowd is guaranteed, they then feel something resembling joy. At least they feel as good as they ever feel. At the same time, in those interludes where they are not coveting what they do not already own, they may have as close to a feeling of contentment as a money-lover can ever experience.
          However, for all those people who can never get enough money to feel that they are significant in their wealth, or secure through all their years of retirement, or winning acceptance from people with their financial prowess, they are never able to feel this facsimile of joy, and can never feel content with what they have because of what they don’t have. And, of course, we all know that there is so much financial insecurity all around us that even the Haves are rarely more content than the Have-nots.
          Now, consider the person who knows Jesus Christ as their greatest treasure. Why is it that this relationship is the source of both their joy and their contentment?
          The reason is that when we receive Jesus Christ as our greatest treasure, his constancy of value gives us a constant source of joy. He is always more valuable than anything else in life, so we never lose our joy in him. Because he satisfies us with joy, we can then be content in every situation we go through since we still have Christ all the time, in everything, no matter what.
          Jesus himself told us this parable to draw our attention to the joy that is experienced by those who consider him their greatest treasure. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”[3]
          Notice this, that the kingdom of heaven, of which Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords,[4] is “like treasure hidden in a field.” How valuable is this treasure compared to anything else we own? It is so valuable that the one who finds it will do anything to have it.
          In the words of the parable, the man who found this inestimable treasure covers it up so no one will take it from him, sells all that he already has because it no longer holds any comparable worth to him, and buys the field so he can have the treasure.
          However, note the feeling that drove this man to make such a life-changing decision. It says, “Then IN HIS JOY he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Just finding the treasure in the field caused the man such joy that he is filled with joy as he gathers up all that he had previously valued, sells it, gets rid of it, and buys the field as his own.
          When Paul teaches the church to “rejoice in the Lord always,” he is speaking of his own life-experience in which he had one day found that Jesus Christ and his kingdom was the treasure hidden in the field of life. This was a treasure so well hidden that Jesus had to speak from heaven in a flash of lightning that blinded Paul to all he had ever held dear, and forced him to hear the voice of the shepherd who had found him and was saving him from his sin.[5]
          Paul’s testimony after the fact is that, if anyone had reason to hold on to earthly status or possessions it was him. He wrote,
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.[6]
          The point here is that Paul wants us to know that he did not come to Christ as someone thoroughly disenchanted with life and turning to Christianity as a crutch. Rather, he found this treasure hidden in a field as a man who had everything he could ever have hoped to find by his own effort.
          However, as soon as Paul found this treasure hidden in the field, everything changed. He describes it like this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.[7]
          This is what it looks like when someone finds that treasure hidden in the field. What they already had, whatever we once considered “gain” in life, that which was of greatest value, suddenly becomes like a loss to us. It is not that what we have suddenly loses the value it really had, but that it cannot compare to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  
          In other words, when Paul rejoiced in the Lord, it was not an example of some amazing religious zealot who gave up everything of value to show his great character in living in abject poverty. Paul’s example was of a man who had personally found the highest and best things anyone could experience, and then discovered this other treasure hidden in the field of life. Once he found this treasure of great value, everything else was a loss. As a self-righteous zealot he did not “count them as rubbish” to act like a good religious person. But when he found the treasure hidden in the field, he suddenly knew they were rubbish compared to what he had discovered in Christ.
          When Paul exhorted us to rejoice in the Lord always, and then told us how to be content in all circumstances, he was modeling what it was like to consider Jesus Christ our treasure. Because Jesus never decreases in value, and there is never a time he will stop being with us,[8] if he is the one in whom we rejoice, we always have him with us as our joy. Since he is always with us, and we are always rejoicing in him, there is no circumstance that takes away our source of joy, hence we never lose our source of contentment. We can be content in all the various experiences of life, good or bad, because Jesus is our source of joy, and he is with us to the end of the age.
          Anyone who struggles to feel contentment in the midst of all circumstances because we struggle to rejoice in the Lord always, is being shown something about our hearts. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[9] If your heart is not able to rejoice in the Lord always, it is because your heart is somewhere else, rejoicing in something of the world and the flesh, and feeling the insecurity that comes from trusting in things so transient and empty.
          If you recognize this, that you suffer recurring periods of discontent because of an inability to rejoice in Jesus above all other things, turn your heart to God in prayer, make supplication for yourself as you express your keenly felt need to know what it is like to rejoice in Jesus, thank God that today is a day he is inviting you to know Jesus like this for yourself, and present your request to God that he would lead you into this experience of Jesus Christ for your good, and for his good pleasure.[10]
          God’s word assures us that he delights to answer such prayers that are so clearly according to his good, acceptable, and perfect will.[11]

© 2015 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] Philippians 4:4
[2] Philippians 4:11
[3] Matthew 13:44
[4] Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 17:14; 19:16
[5] Acts 9:1-19
[6] Philippians 3:4-6
[7] Philippians 3:7-8
[8] Matthew 28:20
[9] Matthew 6:21
[10] This comes from lessons our home church has been learning from Philippians 2:12-13, and Philippians 4:4-9
[11] Romans 12:2; I John 5:14

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Learning That Brings Knowing

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.[1]
          A new week brings me to a another section of God’s book, and immediately some very challenging and encouraging lessons from my heavenly Father.
          In this section, Paul speaks to his brothers in Christ about the issue of contentment. He was writing from prison because of his preaching about Jesus Christ. He knew that these fellow believers were concerned for him, and so he takes great care to assure them of his well-being.
          As Paul brings his encouraging letter to a conclusion, he wants his brothers to know that there is a “secret” to being content. He has just told them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,”[2]so his secret of contentment is clearly not his alone, but one he wants them to practice as well.
          What encouraged me this morning was that what Paul knew about being content “in any and every circumstance,” was something he had learned. He knew how to be content because he had learned the secret.
          The reason I see so much encouragement in this is that it both tells us there is a way we can know contentment in every circumstance today, and it tells us there is a journey of learning that will get us there. The fact of such a destination encourages us with the hope of what we can experience in Christ, and the fact that it is a learning process encourages us that God will lead us there as a Father guiding his little children.
          I believe this is of huge significance because of the common tendency to read the encouragements of Scripture as though God expects immediate capability. However, when we receive Paul’s example through the gospel of God’s grace, and understand that God is working into us the very things he wants us to know and experience,[3] we can look at Paul’s example as an extremely hopeful experience of our own.
          If God is working into us both to have the will to know this secret of contentment, and to experience the work of this secret of contentment, and he assures us that this is something that is learned, not immediately demanded, we can then look at how to work out our salvation on a daily basis so we can apply Paul’s secret to the circumstances we are presently facing. As we put aside anxiety about what we are going through, and present our requests to God with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving,[4] we discover how God makes us feel content in one specific circumstance. The next thing we face, we continue to “rejoice in the Lord always,”[5] and let our “reasonableness be known to everyone.”[6] We address the sark’s temptation to anxiety once again by presenting all our requests about our immediate circumstance to God with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. As we continue to walk with him in this way, we learn how God causes us to feel content in another circumstance. Soon we can join with Paul and say, “I have learned the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance.”
          No matter what we are facing today, God’s book presents these two things we can bring to God in the form of requests. He offers us the experience of knowing the secret of contentment, so we can request that he would bring us to know contentment in whatever we are going through.
          God also shows us that we come to know the secret of contentment through a process of learning, so we can request that he would show us the immediate lessons of contentment in what we are facing at the moment, wherever we are starting from today. We have asked him for the destination, so we also ask him for an unhindered journey to get us there.
          I praise God for weaving together the thoughts of his word in ways that give glory to the work of his Holy Spirit teaching us all things, and reminding us of things we have already learned.[7] He once again brings to mind this glorious Scripture, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[8]
          This gives me so much hope because the daily transformation from one degree of glory to another is a process. It is a journey. It is God’s gift of hope to all his children that, if he says we can know the secret of contentment, and calls us to learn this for ourselves, we can expect to learn it in a daily increase of glory that is measured by the ability of the Holy Spirit, not the ability of the children of God.
          After all, the secret of contentment is, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[9] If that is the secret of contentment, it makes sense that it is also the means of learning the secret for ourselves.
          What am I going to expect today? That God will turn the page on his textbook of contentment and hand me a lesson bigger than I have encountered before so I can learn something new about contentment. Yesterday’s lessons were good for yesterday. If I am going to learn to be like Paul, or, in an even greater way, if I am going to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ my Savior, I certainly better expect daily lessons that call me into a new level of trust in Jesus’ strength. That means that I will see things that feel even more impossible than the last lesson, but will teach me an even greater experience of contentment than I have known.
          My heavenly Father says I can know contentment in every situation, and the Holy Spirit is at work to teach me these things. They are working this into me, to both will and to work for their good pleasure. I accept the calling to work this out with fear and trembling from wherever I really am starting from today, in whatever I am facing, because I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.

© 2015 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] Philippians 4:11-12
[2] Philippians 4:9
[3] Our main theme of Philippians 2:12-13
[4] Philippians 4:6-7
[5] Philippians 4:4
[6] Philippians 4:5
[7] John 14:26
[8] II Corinthians 3:18
[9] Philippians 4:13

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pastoral Panoramic Ponderings ~ The Mindset of Philippians 4:4-9

          As I was preparing to share God’s word in our home church this morning, I could see very plainly that God was forcing me to merge what he was speaking through his word with what I was facing in my life. This is a characteristic of spending time with God each morning that gives me such comfort in God’s love. He never fails to teach me things that apply directly to whatever I am going through as an individual child of God, and what we are going through in the body of Christ.
          What settled into my heart and mind was that the particular passage of Philippians 4:8-9 was not isolated from the immediate context. While there is huge value in traveling through God’s word from one verse to the next, we also need to remind ourselves that these verses are not a whole series of disconnected stepping-stones that get us through the treacherous rivers of life-difficulties. They are more like individual jigsaw puzzle pieces that must be understood for their own life-giving declarations, and put into the picture alongside all the other pieces of the puzzle at the same time. They both add something to the picture, and are understood more fully because of the picture.
          With that in mind, I took a step back at the section I have been in for a while and saw a larger description of a mindset that God is working into his church for his good pleasure and our complete joy. The present focus on what we think about is an integral partner with how we pray, what we express, and how we feel. Each distinctive focus of these two paragraphs of teaching belongs together in one mindset. We are not called to cycle through these things one at a time, but to live them out all at the same time.
          It is similar to what we see when we study light. What we mostly see with our eyes is the fullness of light. It shines, and so all around us is illuminated. However, when we put light through a prism, we see that light is made up of seven distinct colors. We first see this in the beautiful expression of God’s rainbow after a downpour. In school, we see this in science class when we shine light through a prism. We understand that the single thing we call light is made up of distinctive colors that are all shining together at the same time. We can look at them one at a time, but we also know that each one contributes something distinctive to give us the completeness of light.
          Here is a quick look at how the qualities Paul teaches in Philippians 4:4-9 call us to live out each of the characteristics he describes as the individual colors of the spectrum of the Christian life, and how they are combined to give a way of life that meets everything we face with both joy and peace. 
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
          Rejoicing is both a distinctive expression of our lives, and a characteristic of everything else we do. Whatever else Paul teaches us in these two paragraphs, and whatever else he teaches us about the comprehensive mindset of our life in Christ, rejoicing in Jesus Christ is a constant. Once it is in place, it continues through everything else. 
5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
          Our reasonableness towards everyone is conditioned by where we focus our need for joy. When we give in to the sarky temptation to find our joy in people, we become irritable and demanding that people give us the joy we need. However, when we so abide in Jesus Christ that he is the source of our joy, hence the one in whom we rejoice always, our joy in Christ is expressed in reasonableness towards everyone else. It is truly amazing how free we are in our relationships to others when we don’t need them to make us happy. When our hearts are already filled with the joy of the Lord as our strength,[1] we find that our strength in the Lord Jesus Christ[2] expresses itself in sweet reasonableness towards others. 
5 …The Lord is at hand;
          Whether this primarily motivates us in why we ought to show reasonableness to everyone, or why we should not be anxious about anything, when we put this into the jigsaw puzzle it appears to help us with both. We live the life we live, whether it be in expressing reasonableness to all, or refusing to be anxious about anything, because Jesus Christ our Lord is always at hand. He is always nearby. He is always “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”[3]We do not need to choose which parts of our walk with God this most encourages; we let this encourage everything about our lives, all the time.  
6 do not be anxious about anything,
          This is a distinctive characteristic of life in Christ we can obey, but it is also impossible to obey without obeying what is all around it. The church receives this as the negative side of positive things. In order to do the positive things that will fill the church with peace, and to continue the focus on Christ that fills us with joy, we must agree together that there be no room given to anxiety. 
6 …but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
          Even the connecting “but” shows us that the distinctive color of the spectrum of not being anxious sits side-by-side with the positive activity of prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving, as the means of presenting our requests to God. While consciously rejecting the sark’s encouragement to be anxious,[4] we also consciously turn from those feelings to the activity of presenting our requests to God. Instead of worrying in that gnawing-on-a-bone way, we turn our anxious thoughts into prayer requests. In so doing, we do not deny any of the problems the sark wants to be anxious about, but present all those same problems to God in prayer, making supplication for our most keenly felt needs, while giving thanks to God in the midst of all we are going through. 
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
          As though making an addendum to encourage us in making requests to God rather than wasting time and thought on anxiety, Paul reminds us that the fruit of praying in the Spirit[5] is that God’s peace guards our hearts and our minds. We know that this NEVER happens when we give in to anxiety, but it ALWAYS happens when we unite to pray in the Spirit, so here is the encouragement we need to keep our focus on rejoicing in the Lord as the person to whom, and through whom, we pour out our hearts in prayer to our heavenly Father. 
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
          I do not have space to define each of the descriptive terms Paul uses here. However, the emphasis is, “think about these things.” Paul has told the rejoicing church that we are to handle our anxieties with prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requests. But, what do we do when we can’t stop to pray? What do we do after a prayer meeting where we did pray about everything that was tempting us to anxiety, but now we go home to the same relationship problems, the same work concerns, the same inner heartaches and sorrows, and the same crushing world events?
          Paul’s answer is that the rejoicing-in-the-Lord church that gives no room for anxiety because it presents all its requests to God in prayer, focuses its thought-life on righteous things. We handle our anxiety-tempting circumstances in prayer, and when we are done praying, we direct our thoughts to spend all their time on excellent and praiseworthy things. Anxious thoughts are not handled by thinking about them, but praying about them.
          The thought-life of the church is described here. When we are having trouble doing this, we return to the prayer-life of the church. When the prayer-life of the church handles things as described, and the thought-life of the church handles things in its corresponding way, everything is covered. 
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things,
          Not only do we have wonderful teachings from Paul and the other apostles, and not only do we have these wonderful evidences that these men “were carried along by the Holy Spirit”[6]in the Scriptures they wrote to the churches,[7] but we also have their resounding example of how to rejoice in the Lord always, how to let our reasonableness be known to all, how to replace anxiety with prayers and intercessions, and how to think of what is excellent and praiseworthy.
          Through the apostles’ letters to the churches, and the book of Acts showing us the Spirit’s work through the apostles, we can look at specific examples that we can follow. The apostles did so many things that help us see how to put into practice the things they teach. Even when we have no other mentors helping us grow in the Lord, the apostles continue to minister to our lives through the things we have “learned and received and heard and seen” in them. 
9 …and the God of peace will be with you.
          As Paul encouraged us in our praying with the promise that the “peace of God” would guard our hearts and our minds, he now encourages us in what we think and do with the promise that “the God of peace” will be with us. In this comprehensive mindset, with all its spectrum of glorious colors binding together to lead us in that which fills the church with joy and peace, the “peace of God” and the “God of peace” are with us. The peace that is in God is in us because the God of peace is with us.

          Now, while we may initially feel that all these qualities are an impossible juggling act requiring us to keep everything in the air at the same time, they are really more like the fruit that grows in the church that focuses on this one thing, abiding in Jesus Christ.[8] When we abide, or remain, in fellowship with Jesus Christ at all times, these things Paul writes about are the colors contained in the light that he shines in us and through us.
          We do not stop abiding in him in order to try to replicate these qualities in our churches. Rather, as we make everything about us working out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure,[9] Paul reminds us of the distinctive qualities we can expect to see in our lives because of our fellowship with God. God is already working these things into us both to will and to work them for his good pleasure; we simply join his work by working out our own salvation with the humility of hearts that walk in the fear of the Lord.[10]
          Please look at my blog for other posts I have presented on this journey through Philippians 4:4-9, and watch for when I upload my video message of sharing these things with our home church.[11] We are assured that we can have lives and churches that are saturated with both the joy and peace of God, so let us help each other set our minds on these things.[12] They are, after all, the mindset of the people who have the mind of Christ.[13]

© 2015 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] Nehemiah 8:10
[2] Ephesians 6:10-20 show us what it looks like to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ, putting on the whole armor of God, and taking our stand against the evil one. Such victory in Jesus Christ sets us free to be reasonable in all our dealings with others.
[3] Psalm 46:1
[4] Just a reminder that “sark” is a transliteration of the Greek word our English Bibles translate as “the flesh”.
[5] Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20 speak of “praying in the Spirit.” I believe that this is contrasted with praying in the sark, or the flesh. It is not a reference to praying in tongues, something gifted only to some believers, but to praying in fellowship with the Spirit, with our minds set on the Spirit, something available to all believers.
[6] II Peter 1:21
[7] II Timothy 3:16-17; II Peter 3:16 (the point here is that Peter identified Paul’s writing as scripture)
[8] John 15:1-11 is Jesus’ beautiful imagery of our abiding relationship in him.
[9] Philippians 2:12-13 have been a main theme of our home church’s journey through Philippians.
[11] I will add the link here when it is available.
[12] Colossians 3:2; Romans 8:5
[13] I Corinthians 2:16

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pastoral Pings ~ Better Things to Think About

          This morning, something stood out to me in one of those why-didn’t-I-see-that-already kind of ways. I was praying about the bad news filling cyberspace, and found my mind tempted by news stories to focus on how terrible the world is getting. Suddenly, I realized another measure of significance to God’s directive, “think about these things.”[1]
          With the ease by which we receive news of the ugliness perpetrated against humanity in general, and God’s children in particular, arriving from all around the world in varying degrees of interest and concern, it is easy to become caught up in debating every wrong statement, publicizing every wrong decision, or collaborating against every wrong movement. Before long, it is cyberspace that directs what we think about.
          God calls his children to think about things that are characteristic of light, rather than the characteristics of darkness. It is the nature of light to shine. It does not work at dissipating darkness, but simply expresses itself as what it is.
          Jesus told his brothers that the church is the light of the world. He said,

 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[2]

          The identity of the church is, “you are the light of the world.” The work of the church is “let your light shine before others.” The means of doing this work is, “your good works.” The light of Christ shines in, through, and from, the church by the church doing the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[3]
          Just prior to telling the church to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, God calls us to this high and noble expression of light shining in the darkness, “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”[4]
          This verse covers how we can bring all the terrible world events to God in prayer, rejecting anxiety and distraction as the means by which we handle what is going on. With prayer, including presenting all our needs to God in supplication, immersed in a mindset of thanksgiving, we can present all our requests to God, asking him for specific applications of how his will could be done on earth as it is done in heaven.[5]
          However, once we have presented to God whatever is in our hearts, whatever troubles us, whatever causes us anger against Satan and his destruction of God’s creation, we then seek to live in this dark world as light shining in ever-darkening places. What God’s word said a long time ago is just as applicable a call to prayerful thought as ever: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”[6]
          Jesus has come. He was the light shining in a dark place. He was the one who fulfilled the prophecy that, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”[7] He now sends his brothers into the dark world, not to let the darkness dictate what we think about, but to so fix our hearts and minds on him, and his excellent and praiseworthy thoughts, that all we want to do is arise and shine.
          If we begin our day in the word of God, prayerfully listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches,[8] and then go to God with constant prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requests, we will have things on our minds that will direct us to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
          Facebook, Youtube, and other social media will suggest all kinds of things to think about. Let’s make sure that our minds are free to “think about these things” God describes in his word. Since, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6), let’s be careful what we think about.

© 2015 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] Philippians 4:8
[2] Matthew 5:14-16
[3] Ephesians 2:10
[4] Philippians 4:6
[5] Matthew 6:10
[6] Isaiah 60:1
[7] Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16
[8] A 7-times repeated expression in Revelation 2-3

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Absolute Security in Today’s Absolutely Insecure World

          No matter what happens in the world today, and no matter how much threat and action is expressed against Jesus’ brothers, here is how my Heavenly Father ministered hope to my heart today. It began with jigsaw puzzle pieces coming to mind one-by-one, and ended with such a glorious picture of God’s unfailing plans and purposes for our good and his glory, that it is literally impossible for God’s enemies to succeed, or for God to fail.

Puzzle Piece One

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.[1]

          No matter what else happens in history, the world will hear story after story of the church of Jesus Christ charging out through the pages of history and turning lost and broken sinners into “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”[2]While the news stories of death and destruction increase, there are also many stories of people turning to Jesus Christ in genuine faith as they see the life that is in God’s Son.

Puzzle Piece Two

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.[3]

          The church Jesus is building will prevail. The church Jesus is building does not require buildings, so it isn’t a defeat when buildings are taken away. We aren’t here to establish denominations, so it isn’t going to hinder Jesus’ church when a denomination turns away from God. The church doesn’t have any other name, so the names of Christian groups that come and go does not mean the church comes and goes. The church doesn’t have earthly foundations, but it moves with the Spirit who blows wherever he wishes,[4] so it is no surprise that the church is able to move and grow around the earth, gathering people from certain places in one generation, and moving on to gather people from other nations in other generations.
          Because Jesus is the one building his own church, and the gates of hell “shall not prevail against it,” it will grow as this living, spiritual, body of people who are redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will one day stand around the throne of God in glory,[5] shining back to God the glory of his work in us.

Puzzle Piece Three

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”[6]
          Jesus’ church will end up standing before the throne of the living God, right where that throne is, with the church right where we should be. No one will move God’s throne, or remove God from his throne. No one will stop the church that Jesus is building from saving souls from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages of the earth.
          This glorious picture of the multitude of people who are redeemed out of every nation and people and group we could imagine tells us that Satan is thoroughly defeated in his attempt to keep God from having a people in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.[7] Satan lured Eve into being like him, and thinking like him, and acting like him, and so she helped Adam bring sin into the world.[8] For all intents and purposes, Satan thought he had destroyed God’s work of making a people in his own image and likeness.
          Left that way, with Satan bringing all of humanity into sin beginning with the first two people God created, we would have had a world in which someone had been victorious over God. God had a will about something, but Satan appeared to thwart God’s will. God set out to do something, but Satan made it impossible for God to have what he set out to do.
          One reason that Scripture gives such beautiful details of God working out the plan of salvation before he began to create the world,[9] was to reveal to us that God had Satan defeated before the beginning of time. God had a plan to outsmart Satan’s attempt to outsmart God, and now that plan of salvation from God rings out to every tribe and nation, bringing people into the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in this great and glorious multitude surrounding the throne with the thankful song that salvation belongs to God and the Lamb. Salvation comes from the throne of God, through the Lamb who stands before the throne, looking as though he had been slain,[10] opening the seven seals until all the will of God is accomplished.[11]
          While Satan has had great success in destroying lives, he has not defeated God. While God has allowed the world to see how evil Satan is, and to let Satan vent his full fury against God in every way imaginable,[12] God glorifies himself by showing that he has saved completely every single person who comes to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus receives every person who is given to him by the Father. Everyone who is appointed by God to receive and experience eternal life receives and experiences eternal life because Satan cannot win against God.[13]

The Glorious Picture

          This is the eternal hope of the believer in Jesus Christ. While we may cringe with grief and confusion at the evils Satan is able to perpetrate in the world, we see this glorious picture of God fulfilling all his plans and purposes in Jesus Christ. If God has saved us at all, he has saved us forever. If we have come to God by faith in Jesus Christ, we will one-day stand before God in the image and likeness of his Son.
          God “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,”[14]and there is nothing Satan can do to stop him. God who is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,”[15]is able to fulfill all his plans, purposes, and promises, no matter how hard Satan works to stop him.
          Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”[16]This means that the lost and spiritually dead people who are Jesus’ lost sheep will hear Jesus’ voice when he calls them into his salvation. They will come to Jesus through the power of the gospel. They will be saved. Jesus will take them into his hands forever. No one will ever snatch us away from him. No matter how much Satan is able to damage and demoralize churches and Christians, he cannot take us away from our Savior. Ever!
          So, Jesus adds why it is impossible for Satan to succeed in stealing sheep from the flock of God. He says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”[17]The Father is greater than Satan, and all Satan’s minions, so when the Father has given us to his Son, working to make his Son the firstborn among many brothers,[18]he is greater than all, so no one is able to snatch us out of the Father’s hand.
          Satan gave it his best shot to stop God from having a people in the image and likeness of his Son, and God has completely defeated him. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Jesus Christ).”[19]This is why Jesus, “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”[20]
          This is also why God “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”[21]He is able. Satan cannot stop God who sits on the highest throne, who has the greatest name, who wields unstoppable power, because God is able to save those who come near to him through Jesus Christ, and he will fulfill his plan of having those people in his own image and likeness forever.
          When we see that glorious picture of the “great multitude that no one could number,” crying out before the throne of God, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” we understand why God’s servant would conclude, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”[22] God’s children can declare such blessed news because it is the way things will be when God decides enough is enough.
          So, yes, even in today’s awful tragedies, with the world flexing its muscles under Satan’s direction and deception, there is a heavenly Father who sits on the throne, and a Lamb looking as though he had been slain standing fully alive before the throne of his Father. There is a scroll of divine will that cannot be opened by anyone except the Son of God who was slain. As he opens each of the seals on the scroll, God’s judgment unfolds upon the world in increments of grace, giving people time to repent and leave the deadly folly of Satan’s will, his work, and his ways.
          When all is said and done, the trumpets are blown, the bowls of wrath are poured out, there will be this “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
          Even while we hear further stories of the heartbreaking tragedies, torture, and death perpetrated against God’s people, the rest of the story is that God himself is adding to that joyful multitude that will stand around the throne in full and complete joy over the salvation they have received in the Lord Jesus Christ.
          There is still time to settle that we will be in that multitude.

© 2015 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 6:1-2
[2] Romans 8:37
[3] Matthew 16:18
[4] John 3:5-8
[5] Romans 8:28-30 shows this glorious work of God from its foundation in eternity, its present work of working everything for good, and its promised completion when we are fully conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, glorified in his glory.
[6] Revelation 7:9-10
[7] Genesis 1:26-27
[8] Genesis 3
[9] Ephesians 1:3-14 is one such example.
[10] Revelation 5:6
[11] Revelation 5:7-14
[12] Revelation 12:12
[13] Acts 13:48
[14] Philippians 1:6
[15] Ephesians 3:20
[16] John 10:27-28
[17] John 10:29
[18] Romans 8:29
[19] Colossians 2:15
[20] Hebrews 7:25
[21] Jude 1:24
[22] Jude 1:25