Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Praying the Gospel

Over my years of pastoral ministry I have often seen people languishing in a self-centered bubble of hopelessness. It is as though this is all they know. They believe they are worthless, have no hope of that ever changing, and their years of trying to handle this in self-protection is falling apart. Childhood systems of self-care do not work in the real-life world. Even the thought of praying about such things sounds just as hopeless as what is already inside.

How does the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ affect our praying about such things?

When Jesus came, “proclaiming the gospel of God,” he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) This gives us what we need to pray about anything, including the worthlessness and hopelessness we feel in our selves. There is something totally different we can feel in Christ.

The time is fulfilled

We do not need to pray like God still must do something redemptive in order to help us. The time is already fulfilled. The time of salvation has come. What was promised has arrived. There is no further waiting for the gift of God to enter out world and do what God promised. We must pray like the time is fulfilled, and all that God said he would do has been provided for us in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God is at hand

No matter what we think, feel, or believe, the kingdom of God is at hand to do in our lives all that God provides for his people in his kingdom. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), so this righteousness, joy, and peace, are at hand, waiting for us to fully enter in and experience and enjoy all that God has provided. In every way we know we are not yet experiencing something to do with God’s kingdom, it is at hand, waiting for us to take hold of it by faith. Pray for it.


Agree with God that you are willing to turn away from anything to do with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Tell God that you will leave sin, sark, and self-protection, because they have all let you down just as he said would happen, and you now want to see God’s ways instead of your own. No matter what struggles we have in letting go of our sinful and self-dependent thinking and living, we must pray our way through this, that we want to cut ties with our own ways, in order to have what God can do far better than anyone at all.

Believe in the gospel

What we need is in the grace of God that brings us to faith in Jesus Christ. In prayer, we ask God for this freedom. When we hear Jesus passing by, we cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” In all our struggles we pray, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Whatever ugly expressions of unbelief rise up within us like our worst nightmares of fear, cry it out to God in prayer and believe that he will do all the gospel promises. He will raise us from the dead, he will forgive our sins, he will heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds, he will give sight to our blind eyes, he will release us from our prisons, and deliver us from our oppression. The year of jubilee has come; let us believe and pray that God will keep doing in us the impossible things he has already done in our redemption.

And, don’t go it alone. The kingdom of God Jesus spoke about is a place where all believers come together to live as the adopted sons of God. We need each other. If you can’t even pray the gospel for yourself, meet with the praying people of your church and ask them to pray this for you. Tell them you want to believe that God can take you from where you are, and transform you into the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ, because he has promised to do so, and nothing he has decided is impossible for him.

I have seen the worthlessness and hopelessness of the human soul as up close and personal as anyone. I have also seen the truth of God’s word liberate the captives and set them free. God has not only filled his words with truth that will give us faith; he has also filled his word with the truth we can pray when our faith fails us in the deepest places of our souls. And, if you can’t pray those things for yourself, I know God will give you someone who would love to pray the truth of God’s gospel over your life.

© 2016 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.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Better Label for ODD Behavior

Because the world must erase God from any of its explanations of life, or what is wrong with us humans, it has to perform some significant contortions to come up with descriptions of what is going on with us.

One of my favorites is the label ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This is the world having to deal with people who oppose and defy parents and other authorities. They can’t make it sound like the person is responsible for what they are doing, because that would sound too much like the way God describes it. It would also force loved ones to deal with how someone they care about is capable of purposefully treating them in such ways.

So, instead, the person has to have a disorder, something that is unexplainably wrong with them, that is not their fault, and that leaves everyone around them having to tiptoe around their disorder rather than confront their true soul-condition.

The real name for ODD is SIN, Selfish Independent Naughtiness. They are being selfish, thinking of no one but themselves. They are acting independent, as if what they want trumps what anyone else wants. And, they are being naughty, bad, mean, disobedient, cruel, unloving, and… well… SINFUL! Yes, just like God describes it. Let’s consider this more closely.

God makes very clear that our central problem is with sin.[1] He explains how he created all things, crowning his creative display by making man in his own image and likeness.[2] He describes the paradise he created for the first man and woman, and how they could enjoy everything he had created for them.[3] There was only one thing they could not do, and that was eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because then they would die.[4]

Short story: they ate of that tree, sinning against their Creator, and brought sin and death into the world.[5] From then on, just as we inherit our humanity from them, we inherit our sin from them as well. We are indeed “born that way” just as the world admits, born as sinners in love with sin.

While I am being a bit restrictive with my description of SIN as Selfish Independent Naughtiness (Naughtiness is a bit mild for some of the sins human beings carry out against one another), it gives me an acronym to work with that helps make the point, that the world is giving people the wrong label to their oppositional and defiant propensities, and we need to turn to God’s label for our problem so we can open our hearts to his cure. Yes, there is a complete cure to our SIN problem, but it begins with an admission that we are dealing with SIN, not just ODD behavior.

Considering, then, that SIN is Selfish Independent Naughtiness (with all the worst of its synonyms), let’s look at how every human being deserves the label of SINner.


God describes the sinful condition of humanity with the distinctive characteristic that “people will be lovers of self”.[6] We hear this constantly in people’s demand that whole nations do things their way. The pluralistic attitude of our North American society is each person saying I have a right to do things my own way, and you have to respect that, and tolerate it, and agree with it, no matter how stupid, or wrong, or contrary, it appears to you.

Everything humanity is able to do to other human beings is because we love ourselves more than we love anyone else. In our sinful hearts and minds that justifies whatever we do since our one aim is to please ourselves. Pick any sin, any act of defiance, and it is a display of human selfishness demanding the right to trample anyone else under foot as long as the ODD people get their own way.


While God created us to be like him, both being loving towards others, and seeking to live in love-relationship with others, the sinful heart of man constantly desires to do what is independent from God. We can form all kinds of pseudo-bonds, and pseudo-societies, as long as God is kept out of the picture. Like disobedient little children, we stomp our feet and demand that things go our way otherwise we will… oh, I don’t know… pick something that comes to mind!

God’s Book describes our sinful independence like this: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”.[7] Yes, “all”, and “every one” means just that. This was written over two-and-a-half millennia ago. Yes, MILLENNIA! No matter how ODDly we choose to label it today, God has told us what our problem is, and no amount of mislabeling will convince him to treat us any differently than sheep who have selfishly gone astray to do things our own way, independent of our Creator.


Of course, I picked the synonym “naughtiness” to make the acronym for SIN, but it is really a fairly mild term in relation to others that describe our sinful condition. Sin includes every evil, wicked, cruel, corrupt, immoral, unkind, malicious thing the human heart can imagine.

God describes this naughtiness with an indefensible list of synonymous and corresponding qualities of the sinful heart. Along with describing us as “lovers of self,” he continues with,

lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.[8]

In another part of his Book he writes it like this,

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[9]

So, while “naughty” fits the acronym for SIN, we must see sin for what it is, the quintessential label for all our expressions of self-centered, independent, and unrighteous attitudes and behaviors.

God’s Solution

Yes, God has the solution to our sin-problem (the only solution since all the other ones are selfish and independent expressions of naughtiness). I will present it in summary form, and encourage everyone who admits that God’s description of the human predicament is true to bring this prescription form to the divine pharmacy and receive God’s life-giving gift to our deadly sinful condition.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.[10]

Yes, “all have sinned,” and even the world’s scrambling to find a selfish and independent label for our ODD behavior admits that this is true.

Yes, in our universal sinfulness we have all fallen short of the glory of God. God created our world as an expression of his glory; he created man in his own glorious image and likeness, and we brought sin into the world to ruin everything. We have fallen short of what is glory in the eyes of our Creator.


There is a work of God called, “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” in which sinful human beings can be “justified by his grace as a gift”. Because Jesus provided redemption, and it is offered as a free gift, sinful human beings who are under the condemnation our sins deserve can be justified, pardoned, forgiven, and so cleansed of unrighteousness and naughtiness that God can receive us as righteous, and adopt us as his sons.[11]

This gift of justification by God’s grace is because God himself “put forward” his Son “as a propitiation by his blood”. In other words, the only way God could find a human being who could die for the sins of other human beings was if he gave us his Son, the Word of God becoming human flesh[12] so he could redeem sinful flesh and restore us to the image and likeness of God.

I hope you have arrived this far with an interest in learning new words. The word “propitiation” may not be common to most of us, but it is a beautiful word, and one we will come to treasure once we receive the good news of redemption.

The word “propitiation” means to secure the freedom of a guilty person by someone else bearing all the justice, and condemnation, and wrath against that person’s sins so that their debt is so fully paid that they can be justified, forgiven of their sin and guilt.

Simply put, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[13] The wages, the thing we earn through our SIN, is death, the exact condemnation God promised would come upon humanity if we ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All have sinned, so all are guilty, and all are under the sentence of death.

However, “the free gift of God is eternal life”. How could God do that? If he is a sinless and perfect judge, how can he give eternal life to people who are guilty of sin, condemned to death?

There is only one way, and it is, “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Meaning, in Christ Jesus our Lord shedding his own blood for our sins, becoming the propitiation for our sins, the person who took all our punishment on himself, God can forgive all who come to him since their punishment has been paid. God is now just to justify us since everything we have ever done wrong, no matter how mildly naughty or strongly wicked those sins may be, has been fully paid by his Son.

All we need to turn from SINners who are under condemnation for our sin, to Sons who are forgiven and adopted into God’s family, is to respond to God’s gift in the only way we can experience it, which is, “to be received by faith.”

Yes, that is the simplicity and the difficulty of this gift. The simplicity is that we receive God’s gift by faith, not by changing our behavior. It is when we receive God’s gift by faith that he changes us; he gives us a new life in his Son; he gives us a new relationship with him as his sons. It is as we come to him in faith, trusting him in all he has promised his children, that we receive the rights of adoption into his family.

When God confronts us with his description of humanity that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,”[14] we can keep playing around with the world’s ODD labels, or we can admit to the SINfulness of our hearts, and turn to God to save us.

Labeling SIN as nothing more than ODD behavior both secures people in their sinfulness, and holds them under the condemnation their sins deserve.[15] Confessing our sins to God, and receiving his gift of redemption by faith, delivers us out of our sin, and into our salvation.

Or, as God describes it, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”[16] This is ours if we want it. We just have to stop saying we are ODD and admit we are SINful. Because, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[17]

© 2016 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] Here is a link to mentions of sin in the Bible. The hundreds of references alone says something about how significant this is to God, and to us. Each reference describes something of the nature, effects, and consequences of sin, and why it is so important for us to deal with sin as sin, not as some kind of quirky ODD behavior.
[2] Genesis 1-2, with Genesis 1:26-27 the description of God creating man in his own image and likeness, and Genesis 2 elaborating on how he created man as both male and female.
[3] Genesis 2
[4] Genesis 2:17
[5] Genesis 3 describes the historical event, and Romans 5:12-21 gives a precise description of what this did to us (along with the gift of God that fixes the problem, of course).
[6] II Timothy 3:2
[7] Isaiah 53:6
[8] II Timothy 3:1-5
[9] Romans 1:28-32
[10] Romans 3:23-25
[11] Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:5
[12] John 1:14
[13] Romans 6:23
[14] Romans 3:10-12
[15] John 3:18, 36
[16] Colossians 1:13-14
[17] I John 1:8-9

Monday, November 28, 2016

Home Church Videos: Miraculous Spiritual Gifts - Part 1

It has been quite a journey for me to travel from my first introduction to the topic of spiritual gifts, to where I am now in seeking to live by the whole counsel of God about these things. Yes, I’m sure I was always trying to live by the whole counsel of God, but the very nature of the disagreements on the issue made me uncertain what that actually involved.

From my starting place in complete ignorance of the gifts, through my first introduction to the Cessationist viewpoint in Bible College, through many viewpoints along the journey where the view of Scripture didn’t match what was written in the Cessationist brochure, to personal struggles with the weirdness of the Charismaniac alternative, to the realization that the two extremes of the pendulum had hidden a third option, the plumbline of just living by what is written (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), I have discovered that the biggest struggles have not been with what Scripture plainly says, but with fears of having to disagree with big-name preachers and losing friends/brothers because of this.

The result of studying the Scriptures to be clear on what God breathed-out about spiritual gifts,[1] seeking to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,[2] and to admit to the whole counsel of God on the matter,[3] while avoiding every temptation to go beyond what is written,[4] and accepting where big-name preachers have used eisegetical reasoning (reading their own thoughts into Scripture) rather than exegetical revelation (reading out of Scripture only what God has revealed in his own words), is the conclusion that God is far clearer on his will than the pendulum-swingers claim.

We have taken our time going through these things, not because God’s word is unclear, but because the false-teachings about spiritual gifts have both muddied the waters of truth, and created fear-based responses in people who need the spiritual gifts in operation in order to experience healing and freedom in Christ. Jesus has much he wants to do through his body, but must convince his body to humble ourselves and receive the work of the Spirit for the common good.

Note: While I want to make every effort to avoid following human teachers in the way Paul rebuked in I Corinthians,[5] there are some well-known teachers of God’s word who expound on living by the words of God on spiritual gifts instead of denying what God has written to the church, or exaggerating what God has written into a circus side-show. I say this only to clarify that I am not presenting this as some new revelation of some maverick home church pastor who thinks he has found something no one else has ever noticed.

Rather, there are others who also agree that the most biblical way of looking at spiritual gifts is to take all the Scriptures about gifts as God breathed-them out, neither denying nor exaggerating anything God says, and treat them with the same obedient faith as all the rest of the New Testament teachings to the church. 

When Jesus returns, the living Word will replace the written word, and no spiritual gifts will be required to enjoy the paradise and pleasures of God’s eternal presence. Until then, join us in seeking to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

© 2016 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] II Timothy 3:16-17
[2] Matthew 4:4
[3] Acts 20:27
[4] I Corinthians 4:6
[5] I Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-4

Unity Among the Mature

My exploration of what are commonly referred to as the miraculous spiritual gifts has reminded me of an often neglected passage of Scripture. It reads:

“Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:15-16).

1.  The “mature” in the church (our age does not necessarily match our maturity level!), should be able to unite in what we believe, and how we work through disagreements. We should not be surprised that immature believers will struggle with doctrinal things, although we may be surprised by how many immature people are in our churches. Paul’s concern was to get the mature on the same page because they are the ones who can then break things down and teach them to the immature.

2.  There is a “this way” that all the mature should “think”. Paul saw plenty of division in the church even in the first century, but he sought to correct this by teaching what everyone in the church ought to think about everything God breathed-out in his own words. Everything we are given in the New Testament has the same expectation that “those of us who are mature” should “think this way”.

3.  However, “if in anything you think otherwise,” addresses a very real possibility. The likelihood of everyone in the church agreeing with what is taught in the New Testament seems quite rare. There must be a plan for handling situations where people “think otherwise,” either thinking differently than what Paul taught, or differently from what other believers think Paul taught. God has such a plan.

4.  God’s solution to our “otherwise” thinking is just that, God’s solution! Paul says, “God will reveal that also to you.” Seems clear. We have “otherwise” thinking going on in the church, disagreements with what the apostles wrote (both Cessationists and Charismaniacs disagree with apostolic instructions on spiritual gifts), and disagreements with each other on how we interpret what is written. God’s solution is, come together and seek God to “reveal” the truth that would unite us once again. Of course, I mean this just as Paul meant it (insert smiley face here).

5.  The “only” gives us another characteristic of the unity-plan by insisting that there is something else we must do while waiting for God to reveal the unifying solution to our “otherwise” thinking. Here it is, almost with the longing of, “if only” churches would do this!

6.  While waiting for God to reveal our otherwises into unity, we are to “hold true to what we have attained.” Instead of letting the disagreement drive us to head off and start our own new denominations to idolize our distinctive understanding of what is written, what God’s word tells us to do is “hold true” to what we have already attained.

This holding “true” to present attainments would include what we have attained in our unified understanding of Scripture, and what we have attained in the personal experience of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In other words, don’t separate over what you disagree about when you have already attained so much agreement on other things. And, don’t separate from the level of fellowship we had prior to the disagreement when we need to maintain that level of fellowship in order to stay together and see how God reveals the unifying truth about the issue at hand.

I have often wondered what would have happened in so many situations where people started raising questions about the miraculous gifts and, instead of separating into the denominations that already held the divergent viewpoints, they stayed together and asked God to reveal his unifying solution.

Actually, I guess I’m secretly (or not) hoping that raising questions about the miraculous spiritual gifts in our Cyberspace Fellowships will give us opportunity to maintain the level of agreement in doctrine and fellowship that already exists, and humbly ask God to bring us together to all see things his way.

Yes, even though we all have stories of this working negatively in the past, with some people arrogantly demanding that their way is God’s way, I still think God can handle even such situations as this so we are able to mature in our fellowship, and come to greater agreement in what God’s breathed-out words want us mature Christians to think together.

The same things. All at the same time. Sounds kinda weird in a rather refreshing and hopeful way.

© 2016 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.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Church That Rocks

No, I’m not pandering to the seeker-sensitive, culturally-acceptable, contemporarily-appealing, rockin’-n’-holy-rollin’, worldly-mirage of anything-goes Christianity.

Rather, I have a few thoughts about the rock-solid realities of the church Jesus is building, and want to share my encouragement with you. I will share some wonderful reminders of things God’s Book says about Jesus’ church, and invite you to consider what this gives to us who are in Christ Jesus, and also what it calls us to live in Jesus’ name. 

The Three Part Church

The church is made of three parts. Paul describes it like this:

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.[1]

The three parts of the church are its cornerstone, its foundation, and its building. Let’s consider each one, and how we see ourselves in relation to the whole structure.

The Rock-solid Cornerstone of the Church

“Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”

When we think of ourselves as Jesus’ church, we begin with Jesus as the cornerstone of the building. He sets the church true, and everything is built on him, and in connection with him. The Psalm-writers used the imagery of Jesus as our rock in many places, but here is one example to help us consider the absolute dependability, and faithfulness, and unshakable reality of Jesus’ securing his church as “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”[2]

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.[3]

The Psalmists understood the rock-solid faithfulness of God; we now understand that God, our rock, is the cornerstone of the church, and the reason that we will never be shaken.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,[4]

When we think of Jesus as the cornerstone of the church, we are not honoring some fallen hero from the past. Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave, and he is a living cornerstone. Although we use the imagery of rocks and stones to help us understand the security we have in the church, we are to see that everything is alive in Christ Jesus, and there is life in the structure Jesus is building as his everlasting church.

6 For it stands in Scripture:“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,    a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”[5]

God spoke in advance of what he would do to give us Jesus Christ, his Son, as our cornerstone. He was chosen by God as the means of our eternal salvation, and he is precious, not like a common piece of granite dragged out of a quarry, but as a precious gem, the quintessential precious stone, as though every other gem was a mere color in the spectrum of Jesus’ glory.

We now look back on both the prophetic declaration of what God would do for us in his Son, and the eye-witness testimony and breathed-out words of God telling us how Jesus secured our salvation. We lay our faith on this cornerstone knowing that, no matter how bad things look in this world, we are the ones who will not be put to shame at the appearing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

The Rock-solid Foundation of the Church

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,”

Jesus himself is the cornerstone of the church, the rock first set in place to make the whole rest of the structure true and strong. The rest of the foundation is found in the men who served the early church as the apostles and prophets. Both what they did at that time, serving the church in their distinctive capacities, and what they give us now through the New Testament letters to the churches, give us the foundation of the church. In what the apostles and prophets did, and what they wrote, we know everything required to build our lives on this rock-solid foundation.

When Jesus told his disciples about the church he was building, he stated,

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.[6]

There have been many arguments about Peter’s place in the building of Jesus’ church, and what is meant by “this rock”. However, since God breathed-out his description of the church as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, we can get the picture, that Jesus would build his church on the rock of the apostles and prophets. When we, the church, join Jesus in his church building program, we will always find everything we need to know how to live and grow by receiving all the apostles and prophets have left for us in the sacred pages of Scripture.

The Rock-solid Building of the Church

“in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

We who believe in Jesus Christ are “the whole structure”, that which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as our cornerstone. Seeing ourselves in this way gives us a huge measure of direction in how we live as believers in Jesus Christ. Peter added to Paul’s description with these words:

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[7]

When we consider ourselves as the structure that is built on the foundation and cornerstone, we are to see ourselves as “living stones”. We are not assimilated into a singular piece of rock where we all lose our identities and become some unified divine consciousness. We are each a living stone, a member of the body of Christ, a part of this structure that Jesus calls the church he is building.

If you consider the descriptions given by both Paul and Peter, everything in the church is about coming together in the one building Jesus is making. By that, we do not mean one earthly building, or one earthly location, or one earthly time. We mean that, Jesus is only building one church, and all who believe in him are part of this building, what Peter calls “a spiritual house”.

Paul says that the only way we can live our Christian life is as those who are “being joined together”. He says we are “being built together”, just as Peter says we are “being built up”. We do not see the church as a field full of stones for people to trip over. Rather, we are a structure full of living stones that can only be what we are when built together, and built on Christ and the apostles and prophets.

Our identity as this structure is that we are “a holy temple in the Lord… a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Peter adds that we are “a spiritual house,” synonymous with Paul’s description of the holy temple. Peter also adds that we are “a holy priesthood,” with the specific calling, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

All of this tells us who we are in Jesus Christ. We are living stones being built together into a holy temple. We understand both our place and our function by seeing ourselves in this structure. We look to the word of God, particularly the New Testament writings, because the apostles and prophets are our foundation, and we grow up as Jesus’ church by following their instructions.

We get all our security from our relationship with Jesus Christ because he is our life, our salvation,  our rock, our cornerstone, and he will keep us safe and secure until the day of his return, at which time he will usher us into a new heavens, and a new earth, where we will be safe and joyful forevermore.

It is no wonder that the writer of Hebrews would exhort us:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.[8]

When God’s servant exhorts us to be grateful that the kingdom we are receiving “cannot be shaken”, we are to picture this rock-solid structure of the church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself our unmovable cornerstone.

What this means from us is that we, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”[9] We have the cornerstone and foundation to give us our firm standing, and we have the architect and builder of the church doing the construction work. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith,”[10] and we can safely and securely build our lives on him.

Even Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”[11] We now join him in this faith, but as those who are part of the church that has a rock solid foundation, with Jesus continuing to build the church he designed. What Jesus is building here on earth is a constant reminder of what is waiting for us in heaven.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.[12]

© 2016 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] Ephesians 2:20-22 (the larger context is Ephesians 2:11-22, but my focus here is on Paul’s description of the components of the church structure)
[2] Romans 8:37
[3] Psalm 18:2
[4] I Peter 2:4
[5] I Peter 2:6
[6] Matthew 16:18
[7] I Peter 2:5
[8] Hebrews 12:28-29
[9] I Corinthians 16:13
[10] Hebrews 12:2
[11] Hebrews 11:10
[12] Philippians 2:12-13

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Curing Worry With a Not-so-secret Peace

Let me share some thoughts about how curing worry and experiencing peace are two sides of the same coin. Curing worry is the negative side since worry is the thing we want to stop happening in our lives; experiencing peace is the positive side, the thing we want to have in our lives every day, all the time, no matter what we are facing. This passage from God’s book shows how to flip from one side of the coin to the other.

Focus: how to respond to any situation that would promote worry so we are able to experience victory in peace.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

When our rejoicing is in the Lord Jesus Christ, we always have reason to rejoice, hence the exhortation to do so at all times. Remember, this was Paul writing a church to assure them that it was well with his soul even though he was in prison for the sake of the gospel.[1] Paul still had the Lord, so he still had constant reason to rejoice.

5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.

William Hendriksen translates “reasonableness” as “big-heartedness”. He writes: “For big-heartedness one may substitute any of the following: forbearance, yieldedness, geniality, kindliness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, magnanimity, generosity. All of these qualities are combined in the adjective-noun that is used in the original. Taken together they show the real meaning. When each of these would-be-English-equivalents is taken by itself alone, it becomes clear that there is not a single word in the English language that fully expresses the meaning of the original.”[2]

The point is that, when we are focused on the Lord, and rejoicing in him, we are able to put aside the slights and mistreatments of others because we are more interested in their eternal well-being than our temporal comforts. Paul, of course, writing from prison, showed this in a very picturesque and exemplary way. No matter what people did to him, he sought their salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord is at hand;

The Christian is to look at Jesus’ return as so close that, whether we complete our life on earth before he returns, it still was such a brief blip in history that it will seem like he was at hand in the most immediate of ways, or whether Jesus returns during our lifetime, even should it be near death’s door for some of us, the time-frame in relation to eternity was so miniscule that we could only think of him as being at hand the whole time we lived here, and even the whole time between his first and second comings. When we live like the greatest thing that matters is the return of our Savior, it does condition us to quit focusing on worry, and to seek both our own peace with God,[3] and to be peacemakers in all the world around us.[4]

6 do not be anxious about anything,

This is simple: no matter what we are facing, there is zero place for anxiety. This does not mean we won’t face scary situations; it means that, when we are focused on rejoicing in the Lord, our attentiveness to him removes any grounds for anxiety about what we are facing or going through.

but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

While worry would consume all our thoughts about what could possibly go wrong with our lives, and keep us in bondage to anxiety, with all its corresponding fears and pains, rejoicing in the Lord gives us the positive opportunity to lay absolutely everything before our God in prayer. Our minds will be active either way; but rejecting anxiety completely, and immersing ourselves completely in prayers and requests to God, will have a far different effect than dwelling on fear. This is why the Psalm-writer would pray, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”,[5] and Peter declare, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”[6]

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This works because it is “the peace of God”, not our own peace. The reason our sarks cannot figure this out is because God’s peace “surpasses all understanding”. It is real, but hugely beyond the limits of our fleshly comprehension, therefore, we are not to limit our thoughts to our own understanding.[7] It is not that we try to guard our own hearts and minds, but that we entrust all our cares and concerns to our Father. The result is that God’s peace comes and guards our hearts and minds in our Savior.

The scary thing here is that so many church-going people would rather guard their hearts and minds with their own sarky self-protection than have the peace of God guard our hearts and minds because we have set our hearts and minds on him. God clearly would like to help us with this by giving us what is far better, his own peace.

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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4)

8 Finally, brothers,

There is a point to what the apostles write in their letters. As we process what they teach us, it shows up in our lives in specific applications. Here Paul is going to make it very easy for us to understand how to apply what he has taught in his letter.

whatever is true,

Anxiety dwells on things that are not true, sometimes by misrepresenting how specific scenarios look in contrast to what God says about them. This applies to what so many of us think about ourselves based on sarky things from the past, old beliefs that were taught to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil. These old beliefs keep many Christians in bondage to fear and self-protection. We must set our minds on what is true about ourselves in Christ in order to experience things in our relationship with God we can never experience in relationship to our flesh/sarks.

whatever is honorable,

Even though surrounded by kazillions of dishonorable things in the world in our own flesh and the works of the evil one, we have mega-kazillions of honorable things in our God and Father, and far more reason to dwell on those things than the works and ways of our evil enemies.

whatever is just,

The world, the flesh, and the devil, surround us with things that are unfair, and unrighteous. We have already seen laws put into place that give sinners advantage over the church. Christians are put out of business because the world favors its own, and will encourage and support every imaginable injustice against God’s children as long as Worldlings feel so good about getting their own way that they are blinded to the glory of God that is in the face of Jesus Christ.[8] While these injustices can threaten to become all-consuming, Paul wants our focus on what is just, the things God is doing, the righteousness, and peace, and joy of the kingdom of God.[9]

whatever is pure,

When we are tempted to worry, it brings to our minds a certain impurity where we are mixing fears and anxieties with faith and trust. We are double-minded because we are trying to trust God while letting our minds worry about everything going on around us.[10] The world will hand us no end of impurities to consider all life long, but God presents us what is pure, what is holy, what is righteous, and we are to set our minds on these things. A mind settled on God in all things, purely, will find rest in him. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”.[11] A pure mind stays on God because it has nowhere else to go.[12]

whatever is lovely,

Lovely means that which is beautiful in God’s sight. Again, the world, the flesh, and the devil, entice us with things that are outrightly ugly, and things that are masquerading as light when they are putrid with darkness. We will know that we are setting our minds on what is lovely and beautiful when we focus on what is lovely and beautiful to our heavenly Father.

whatever is commendable,

Jesus makes it easy for his church to know what is commendable. In both the letters to the churches written down by the apostles, and the seven letters to the church in the book of Revelation,[13] Jesus speaks of what he commends and what he condemns. He only wants our attention on what he condemns in order to bring us to repentance for any involvement in those things. His real focus is what he commends, to encourage us to fix our hearts there.

if there is any excellence,

This takes away any of our sarky ideas of mediocrity in any of this. Our aim is excellence, not as though we achieve this through good behavior, but that our Father is constantly drawing our hearts to his excellence, and so we should gladly and willingly set our minds on such things.

The “any” in relation to the excellence means there will always be something excellent for us to focus on. We don’t need to know or remember everything in God’s mind that would qualify as excellent. There is something we can think of now, so even having only one excellent thing to consider is enough for us to set our minds there instead of elsewhere.

if there is anything worthy of praise,

In other words, although the world is full of things that are worthy of condemnation, the child of God knows there are so many things worthy of praise. While our sarks appeal to us to please sit down and worry for a while because it gives such a pseudo-sense of figuring out what to do, God calls his children to dwell on the things that are worthy of praise.

think about these things.

In the same way as we deny our sarky anxieties and present everything to God in faith, so we deny all the things the world, the flesh, and the devil want us to think about, and think about those things that please our heavenly Father.

A clarification I would make is that, this isn’t saying that if we are struggling with memories of childhood trauma we shouldn’t think about those things because they get us down, and they are filled with fear, and guilt, and shame. Rather, it is telling us that whatever is going on in our lives, whether losses, or heartaches, or shocking situations, or painful memories, instead of handling those things in our sarks by ruminating over them in those all-consuming thoughts of hopelessness, we can bring all the same things to God in prayer. We can look at these things through the obvious ways our sarks have taught us about them for ages, or we can take these things to God and tell him we want to know how to rejoice instead of grieve; we want his garments of praise instead of our spirit of despair.[14] We can be as honest as we know how about what we are feeling, what we have experienced, and what we see staring us in the face, but we take it to God with every kind of prayer, and supplication, and thanksgiving, and request we can imagine, and then take every truth of Scripture that tells us who we are in Jesus Christ, and dwell on those things instead of what people and our sarks have told us.

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things,

To make this super practical, and helpful, and to take away all our excuses, Paul says he has already taught us, and shared with us, and spoken of these things in his own life, so we can “practice these things” by following his example.

In other words, don’t just go around imagining that if we pray enough, and think enough about the right things, we’re free to act however we please. No, the call is to pray in faith, and think in faith, and act in faith. There are things to put into practice from both the teachings and the examples of the apostles, the men who laid the foundation for the church, and we are to build our lives on their teachings and examples, not as individuals alone, but as members of the one new man that is the church, the body of Christ, the holy temple in our Lord.[15]

and the God of peace will be with you.

We are always surrounded by the work of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we can give our minds to them to consume us, to steal, kill, and destroy whatever God is working into our lives,[16] or we can fix our minds on the things that build and maintain attachment with God. If we give our minds to our enemies, we must expect that they will play around with our fears and phobias like a merciless cat tormenting the poor little mouse (think wolf with sheep for the parallel). If we give our minds to our God and Father,[17] and set our minds on things above,[18] and fix our eyes on Jesus, and consider him,[19] and set our minds on the Spirit,[20] God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds because the God of peace is with us, fellowshipping with us, leading us by his Spirit.

God’s word says that, “the kingdom of God is… of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[21] God calls us to set our minds on the Spirit in order to fully experience that righteousness, peace, and joy, no matter what the world, the flesh, and the devil, are doing in their efforts to destroy us. We are more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ,[22] so let us direct our minds to our Savior for the victory that overcomes the world, our faith![23]

© 2016 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 1 includes a focus on how Paul wanted the church to think of his imprisonment for the gospel.
[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, p. 193). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
[3] Romans 5:1
[4] Matthew 5:9
[5] Psalm 56:3
[6] I Peter 5:6-7
[7] The familiar passage of Proverbs 3:5-6 says something quite similar.
[8] II Corinthians 4:4 (II Corinthians 4:1-6 as context).
[9] Romans 14:17
[10] James 1:5-8 speaks of the double-minded man.
[11] Isaiah 26:3
[12] John 6:68
[13] Revelation 2-3
[14] Isaiah 61:1-4; cf Luke 4:16-21
[15] Ephesians 2:14-22
[16] John 10:10 speaks of the thief whose purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.
[17] Matthew 16:23; Romans 12:2
[18] Colossians 3:2
[19] Hebrews 12:1-3
[20] Romans 8:5-6
[21] Romans 14:17
[22] Romans 8:37
[23] I John 5:4