Monday, January 30, 2017

The Evil of Unbelief

It doesn’t take much consideration of the gospel message about Jesus Christ to know that God has done all the work in our salvation, and we enter into the experience of this salvation by faith. Whenever the gospel goes out, our response to the gospel is some expression synonymous with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.[1]

One of the quintessential expressions of this relationship between God’s work and our belief is stated by Jesus like this, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[2] God loved and gave; we believe and live. Simple as that.

However, the other side of this is expressed in a parallel thought regarding unbelief. Jesus continued,

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[3]

While many would like to think that people believing in Jesus is just one of the many ways of thinking about God, and whoever does not believe in Jesus has no accountability to him simply because Jesus is not their thing, God makes very clear that unbelief is our choice of relationship to him, and we will be judged accordingly.

Let’s make this clear, that relationship with God is judged by our faith not our works.[4] God’s Book does not teach that those who do good works will be rewarded by God with salvation. The notion that we do our best and God does the rest is false. God has done everything, and what we do with that is measured by only two opposing choices: belief or unbelief.

One question, then, is why people would be condemned simply because of unbelief. Or, is it even fair to say “simply”? Is thinking that unbelief is a simple matter part of the problem?

It seems like we treat belief as if it is a real substance, while unbelief is simply not having that substance, no big deal. If someone believes we need peanut butter in the pantry as a source of protein, and I’m allergic to peanuts so I look to lentils for my protein, not having peanut butter in my pantry is no big deal. That’s just one way of getting nutrition, and there are other options.

However, in God’s reality (the reality by which all others are measured), both belief and unbelief are substances. It is like the difference between a bottle of water and a bottle of poison. If we have only one or the other, the effect of drinking the one we have is profoundly different. Both have a real substance to them, but one promotes life and the other death.

So too, when God says that believing in his Son saves us from condemnation and gives us eternal life, while not believing in his Son leaves us under our condemnation and secures our eternal death, he puts every human being who has ever lived in the same accountability regarding our relationship with him. No longer are unbelievers outside of his realm, so to speak, not responsible to him as the monarch over his domain since they are not in his domain. Rather, unbelievers will be judged by God as monarch since their unwillingness to enter his domain is a declaration of animosity against him.

You see, unbelief is a statement of belief about God, and about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Unbelief in God believes things about him that are not true. When people prefer the worldview of goo-to-you evolution, their unbelief in God is a declaration that they believe he did not create the world as his Book describes. When people prefer the worldview of atheism, their unbelief in Jesus Christ is a belief that God does not exist and the evidence for Jesus Christ is meaningless to them.

In the same way, when people choose their own way through life, promoting a spirituality that believes every kind of spirituality will reach God no matter how contrary it is to God’s Book, their unbelief in the God of the Book is a belief that relating to him as God is unnecessary. They might believe he does not exist, or that his standard of holiness and righteousness and purity are ridiculous, or that he is inferior to other gods and spiritualities, but there is no doubt they have a belief about him that justifies their unbelief in him.

In the past couple of days, I have grappled with the seriousness of these matters as they are expressed in this verse from God’s Book: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”[5]

What stood out the most was the partnership between an “evil” heart and an “unbelieving” heart. Why would an unbelieving heart be evil? Why would our hearts be evil to decide we don’t believe in God and what he has written about his Son?  Why can’t unbelief just be nothing, the absence of something, but with no measure by which we could be judged?

The answer is because of what our unbelief declares about God. Unbelief declares that God is unbelievable; that what he says in his word that should bring faith to life is not true. Unbelief is calling God a liar. Saying his breathed-out words are not true is calling God a liar! Yikes!

Here we are, puny specks of dust on a puny little planet that is invisible in our galaxy and solar system, let alone in the whole universe, and we approach God with our confident unbelief as if we are an authority on him and what he is like, rather than the Book he has written about himself and his Son standing as an authority over us by which we will be judged for our response.

By “not believing in the name of the only Son of God” we are not just missing out on peanut butter while enjoying our lentils. We are not simply missing out on one trail that leads to God because we are going to find him on another.

Rather, we are not only missing out on God because we have rejected Jesus as, “the way, and the truth, and the life”, calling him a liar in his claim that no one comes to the Father except through him,[6] but we are “condemned already” because every alternative way of spirituality, or atheism, or agnosticism, or religion, leaves us as sinners under the sentence of death.

God’s word is very clear that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[7] and that, “the wages of sin is death”.[8] God is also clear that, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[9] Without faith in that “name”, meaning the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, no one is saved out of their sins, and no one is freed from the condemnation against their sins.

While this is a life and death issue, it is so immersed in good news and grace that we must keep this perspective at all times. Yes, God must bless those who believe with eternal life, and condemn those who have evil hearts of unbelief. However, the two are kept side-by-side so we will never hear of condemnation alone while we live.

Yes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[10] but the good news continues with, “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.”[11] Yes, “the wages of sin is death,”[12]but God’s word completes the thought with, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[13]

God’s ongoing invitation to every unbeliever is this: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”[14]

At the same time, God gives such warnings of the deadly results of unbelief that we are without excuse in the judgment. It is as simple as, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”[15]

Struggles with unbelief are not new. Satan has been offering alternatives to God ever since God created the first two human beings.[16] However, it is not because there are life-giving alternatives to God. Sadly, all the other roads do lead to the same place, but not one of them can lead to heaven since they all require unbelief based on the belief that God is a liar. All those roads keep us in our sin, hence under the condemnation our sins deserve.

If you have come along far enough to feel the conviction that every unbelief towards God comes from an evil and unbelieving heart, call out to God in repentance and faith that you believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins, that he was buried, that he rose from the dead in victory over sin and death, and you want to live by faith in him for the rest of your life. Confess to God that your unbelief makes you the liar, not God, and that you come to the cross of Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. And confess your faith that Jesus Christ is indeed “the Christ, the Son of the living God”,[17] and for that reason you confess him as, “My Lord and my God!”[18]

And, if you want to believe, but seem sabotaged with a lifetime of experiences that have made your hurts and heartaches embitter you towards God, and hide your true self behind mine-fields of self-protection, God has graciously given us a prayer for such an occasion. In the words of another person who saw the need to believe, but struggled to do so, we are invited to pray like this, “I believe; help my unbelief!”[19]

Again, keep it simple: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[20]

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

[1] Acts 16:31
[2] John 3:16
[3] John 3:17-18
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this abundantly clear, as does the whole of the New Testament part of God’s Book.
[5] Hebrews 3:12
[6] John 14:6
[7] Romans 3:23
[8] Romans 6:23
[9] Acts 4:12
[10] Romans 3:23
[11] Romans 3:24-25
[12] Romans 6:23
[13] Romans 6:23
[14] Romans 10:9-10
[15] John 3:36
[16] Genesis 3 shows how Satan first lied to Adam and Eve, luring them into sin, and bringing death into the world through that sin. He now wants us to pick from the millions of alternative ideas about God because, if he can keep us from believing in God, he thinks he can minimize the glory God receives. Of course, God’s holiness and justice are just as much glorified in the condemnation of sinners as his holiness and justice are magnified in his salvation of sinners. The only thing is whether we are among those who glorify God by his justice against our sin, or those who glorify God as the beneficiaries of his judgment against his Son.
[17] Matthew 16:16
[18] John 20:28
[19] Mark 9:24
[20] John 3:18

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Long Journey For Broken Hearts

When I write or share from a personal testimony of walking with God through anything I have faced, it is as someone who is a member of the family of God, with distinctive experiences that could give hope and encouragement to other members of God’s family going through similar things.

I never share these thinking they are for everybody, or that they will have mass-appeal. Neither do I try to communicate that the distinctive aspects of my journey give me something so unique that I am some kind of authority on how everyone should live, or how their walk with God should develop.

God’s word is clear in both our common relationship with God as beloved children who have the exact same standing with him for the exact same reason, the power of the gospel that is for the salvation of all who believe,[1] and God’s word makes clear our individual place in the family of God where we are unique members of the body of Christ with distinctive gifts and functions that help the whole body grow to maturity in Christ.[2]

Although I consistently have wonderful things to share from God’s word, I never want to come across as though I have found some new secret message of Scripture that no one has ever been able to discover before. Rather, I share them as something God has ministered to my heart in a way I have never seen it or felt it before,[3] and I want my testimony of such things to touch the hearts of others who need the same understanding of God’s word to get them through whatever they are facing at the moment.

Of course, a lot of my sharing of these things isn’t focused on the immediate insight or treasure I have found, but on the fact that every child of God would experience the same fellowship with God through his word and his Spirit and I would love to see everyone having a daily time in God’s word and prayer to dig from the quarry of the mind of Christ whatever treasures of wisdom and knowledge our Father would like to share with us on any given day.

In this sharing I want to bring together two things, not as though they apply to every person whose heart is seeking after Jesus, but as though they apply to other people like me, people who need to know the distinctive ministry God has for them as expressed through his personal and customized ministry through another member of the body of Christ.

One half of the bull’s eye of our focus is the distinctive need of those amongst God’s children, or the orphans looking with wonder into God’s adopting home, who constantly struggle with a broken heart. For many people, such a condition underlies and influences everything else they do in life, including their efforts to get to know God and find a safe place in his family. This is familiar territory for me, so I hope this comes across to you as a friend who has shared enough of the journey to encourage you with the hope of God’s love and care for people like us.

The other half of the bull’s eye is the characteristic of a long journey. In our world of drive-thru windows and instant text-messaging, anything that takes a long time is becoming increasingly abhorrent. Even marriage as a long-time journey between a husband and wife is being replaced by live-in blips in the radar of life that end as soon as people are no longer having fun.

However, the God of eternity knows what it is like to live outside of time, and to take his time to lead us through the journey of change that not only “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,”[4] but brings us into a relationship with Jesus Christ where his joy “may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[5]His work in us will last forever, so it is no surprise that he works so strategically, and over such a long time, to make truly lasting changes in our lives.

I recall seasons in my life where I felt like I had already been a long time going through a particularly difficult struggle with life, and had no way of knowing whether I was even at the halfway point, let alone nearing the end of the valley. Many times I felt like a certain highway near our town where the climb through the mountains seemed to take so long that I’m always sure that next bend in the road must be the summit, only to round the bend and see it curves back to another bend higher up the mountainside (which is never the last one either!). If you’re going through something that connects with the “broken hearts” description, and leaves you with no bearings for how far along you are in the journey, I know what that feels like. I can also testify to the value of walking with God every step of the way.

As I now have around five decades of growing in my relationship with God, I have gained significant testimony of how some of my long journeys have come to a joyful and praiseworthy end, while deeper issues of relationship with God continue on in that lifetime work of God where we “are being transformed into the same image (as Jesus) from one degree of glory to another.”[6] While God is exceptionally gracious to describe the changes in my life as increasing degrees of glory, it often feels more like the daily chore of shoveling cow poop out of the barn to get things cleaned up for another day of pooping cows![7]

For the moment, I want to leave these two things settled in our hearts. One, that coming to God with broken hearts is one of the safest things we can ever do when we are willing to approach God the Father through faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Two, that God working through a long journey is simply the way it has to be in this lifetime, since the transformation from a sinners doing as we please,[8] to sons who will one day be just like Jesus when we see him as he is,[9] is a glorious work God is not only doing in us as individuals, but is binding together his children from around the world in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[10] Getting one sinner to be like Jesus is miraculous work enough. Getting every child of God to so fellowship together that the church would be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ,”[11] like “a bride adorned for her husband”,[12] well… how could that possibly be a short journey?!

To keep this Pondering-sized, here are a couple of passages from God’s Book that assure the brokenhearted that we are safe as we come to God in the name of his Son, followed by a couple of verses that encourage us to press on in our journey, no matter how long it seems to be, and how uncertain we are of how far along we have travelled.

Safety for the brokenhearted:

     The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.[13]

     For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”[14]

Encouragement for the long journey:

     Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.     Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.[15]

     Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.[16]

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

[1] Romans 1:15-16 is Paul’s glorious testimony to the gospel, but I include in my mind everything the New Testament teaches about every believer having the exact same relationship with God as his beloved children. Ephesians 1 shows so much of this from the viewpoint of how God has designed and orchestrated the whole work of salvation so that all his children are saved and adopted in the same way through the same means. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows how this applies to us personally, but still with that element of how salvation is the same for everyone who ever comes into the household of God. Even the division between Jews and Gentiles of that time period is resolved in the cross of Jesus Christ who makes us both into “one new man” where every believer is just as much a member of the body of Christ as anyone else (Ephesians 2:11-22).
[2] Ephesians 4:1-16 shows this one new man (the whole church) living worthy of the gospel of Christ, but with each part of the body working to build the body up in love. I Corinthians 12:1-31 is a very clear treatise on how each member of the body of Christ is both positioned and gifted to do distinctive things for the care of the whole body.
[3] Or perhaps as something I have already known, but never noticed a particular way it applies to my life.
[4] Psalm 147:3
[5] John 15:11
[6] II Corinthians 3:18
[7] Yes, I share this by personal experience in both shoveling out the barn, and feeling like the like-Jesus changes in my life didn’t seem to last very long. Of course, in the long-journey scheme of things, transformation has been taking place the whole time, for which I am increasingly thankful.
[8] Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:9-20
[9] I John 3:2
[10] Ephesians 4:3
[11] Philippians 1:10
[12] Revelation 21:2
[13] Psalm 34:18
[14] Isaiah 57:15
[15] Hebrews 12:1-3
[16] Philippians 3:12-14

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hope When Hopelessness Takes Its Toll

After a local celebrity in our small community committed suicide, I was concerned for how others, especially young people, would relate to suicide as a viable option for handling hopelessness. Ty Pozzobon was a world-renowned bull rider, famous around the rodeo circuits of North America. A number of concussions contributed to his depression and the hopelessness that led to suicide. 

Since I have been around plenty of depression in my lifetime, and have had a few occasions where people I knew were considering suicide as an option, and have been dealing with our son's brain injury since 2002, I not only empathize with the painful and difficult struggles of life, but have all the more experience in knowing Jesus Christ as the greatest hope in every kind of situation.

I wrote the following as a letter to the editor to our local paper, the Merritt Herald (in a shorter version), but they wouldn't print it, so I thought it would make a good blog post for anyone who may struggle with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, or who may be concerned for a family member or friend with such struggles. There is hope much greater than most people realize. I would like to increase that number.

Hope When Hopelessness Takes Its Toll

  I’m not writing this because I knew Ty Pozzobon personally, but because of the young people who suddenly popped into my head when I heard of his suicide. When a local celebrity gives up hope to the point of ending it all, all I can think of is whether there are others in our community who would take this as the encouragement they need to do the same.

  No matter the reason that people fall into the suicidal mindset of hopelessness, the need is the same for us all: that someone outside ourselves can give us hope. Even when the suicidal tunnel vision threatens, and people are convinced that no one would ever understand, there is one person who understands even better than ourselves, and can always do something about how we’re doing.

  Whether the reason for suicidal thoughts is that we haven’t achieved what was promised, or that achieving our wildest dreams hasn’t satisfied, or physical injuries are causing us problems we hadn’t counted on, or depression seems like the biggest giant we have ever encountered, or some form of bullying has consumed us with fear, or we just don’t measure up in one of the millions of ways the world measures such things, the fact remains that there is hope bigger than any of the above.

  Our deepest heart-issue is to know God. It’s why we feel lonely even in a room full of friends; it’s why we are always missing something even when life seems as good as it gets; it’s why success and failure always lead us to the same place of knowing there is something more and we still haven’t found it. Until we have God, our hearts are missing the biggest and best relationship we could ever experience.

  When Jesus, God’s Son, gave the ultimate description of life, he stated it like this: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” He then laid down his life for people like us so that the very worst of obstacles between us and God could be removed, and we could live in love-relationship with God forever.

  To get us back to the relationship with God we were designed to experience, Jesus presents this invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  What happens when people come to Jesus is that their deepest longing for life, and love, and joy, is now met by knowing God. It is for that reason that I quote God’s Book one more time to show what is offered to us all: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

  I encourage everyone in the Nicola Valley (and beyond), ask God to help you find someone who truly loves and follows the Lord Jesus Christ so you can learn of this hope that “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”. He has people in this community (and all around the world) who would love to be part of his answer to your prayer. 

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

When God Builds the Story

Lately, I have been considering the way God reveals himself to us through stories. I don’t mean fictional stories, as though he makes up some ingenious drama through which he illustrates something about life. I mean that he fills his Book with true stories of how he has related to people in the past, and how he has made his character known through so many real-life experiences, so we can not only know what he is like as a person, but can watch for the ways he is doing the same things in our own lives.

This is very encouraging. After all, we all have a story. Our stories will contain elements we would rather not talk about. We may have experiences that seem to so fly in the face of the will of God that we can’t imagine God doing anything good in our lives at all, let alone using that very story to help and bless other people.

But the simple fact that his Book is filled with real life stories of his work in people of every kind, in circumstances of every kind, dealing with sins of every kind, showing his grace, and mercy, and love, and power, and goodness, and sovereignty to our needy hearts, declares to us that he is quite willing and able to do the same with us.

While every child of God will have distinctive qualities to their stories, just as Moses and Jonah can tell about quite different experiences with large bodies of water,[1] there is this one universal characteristic to every story God builds: for every child of God, God works all things together for good.

God’s Book states it like this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.[2]

What stands out to me as I consider the many stories that fill God’s Book is that everything anyone went through, including any mistakes they made or terrible things that were done to them, became significant stepping stones to the story of good that God was building. Not only were there stepping stones for the participants to enter into greater experiences of knowing God, but these stories themselves now become stepping stones for our faith to trust God with our own stories.

David is introduced to us as the youngest son in his family, a shepherd to his father’s flock of sheep, having faith to take on Goliath when everyone else was quaking in fear, anointed as the second king of Israel, hated by the first king of Israel, entering into his reign as king, falling into adultery with Bathsheba, setting her husband up for death on the battle field, repenting of his terrible sins, writing many of the Psalms that have blessed millions of people over the past three millennia, and assuring thousands upon thousands of brokenhearted men that their very worst of sins cannot stop God from making them men after his own heart.[3]

Joseph was a young man who was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual misconduct, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, forgotten in prison after correctly interpreting the dreams of a couple of fellow prisoners, suddenly the only one who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, appointed to the position of Prime Minister, saves Egypt from famine, saves his family from famine, and encourages all of us today that whatever the devil means for our harm, God will work for good.[4]

How can we fully appreciate Peter’s ministry to the church without including the way his three denials of Jesus humbled him and prepared him to lead the church, and the way Jesus graciously asked him three times whether Peter really loved him, and that, even with such a story of denials, Jesus wanted Peter to go and shepherd the flock of God.[5]

How can we speak of Paul’s ministry to the world without including all the elements to his story, how his position and accomplishments as a Jewish man that puffed him up with such pride that he was persecuting Jesus’ church, approving of the imprisonment and death of Christians, became stepping stones for God to make him a powerful servant of Jesus Christ, able to tell the world to this day why good people have no cause for confidence before God, but how everyone needs to be born again by the Spirit of the living God through the salvation that is by grace through faith.[6]

One of the primary stories God used to get my attention on this was to remind me of all the different people involved in the story of Jesus’ resurrection. By the time the church began proclaiming the gospel of salvation under the filling of the Holy Spirit they had to tell a story of all kinds of disappointments, and grief, and foolish mistakes, that led them from unbelief into unstoppable faith.[7]

Some had to admit that they went to the tomb on that third day, not to celebrate the Savior who promised he would be alive that specific morning, but to apply the burial spices to his corpse because they had no concept or anticipation of his resurrection. Others had to admit that, even when some came with the incredulous story that the stone was rolled away, and the tomb was empty, and angels had appeared, and Jesus had been seen alive, still would not believe such an amazing thing could be true.[8]

But quickly God built the story to include another encounter with the resurrected Christ. He then added two men telling Jesus all about the bad things that had happened in Jerusalem when this Jesus of Nazareth man was put to death, until Jesus broke bread and they suddenly realized they had been talking to him the whole time![9]

One member of the band of disciples would go down in history as “Doubting Thomas” because his inability to believe that Jesus was alive, even when all the rest of the disciples said they had seen him for themselves. However, this became a stepping stone in the story that has helped doubters throughout the ages feel there was hope for them as well.[10]

When we bring this to ourselves, it makes me want to turn around the way we talk about the bad things that have happened to us, and agonizingly embarrassing mistakes we have made, and struggles we have experienced in our relationship with God. So often I have heard believers speak of their disappointing experiences as the reason their story with God is held back from flourishing. I have seen professing Christians completely shut down towards God and his children because there is something in their story so painful and hopeless that they simply cannot conceive of it having any good use whatsoever.

What I want to bring into my life and relationships is this wonderful truth that God is building our stories in the constant and consistent theme of working all things together for good in the lives of all his children. What people have done to our harm, God is working it for good, so let it be part of your story.

This is what Joseph told his brothers when they neared the end of the story and were afraid of what the last chapter would involve for them. Instead of Joseph adding together all the bad things they had done, and all the bad experiences they had caused, and using his authority as Prime Minister to inflict terrible punishment on them, he saw how God had built every experience of bad and good into a story in which a whole nation, and a whole family, were saved from the most severe famine they had ever witnessed. In Joseph’s own words, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[11]

My contention is that, between stories like Joseph’s, where he testified that God worked everything together for good, and the clear declaration of God’s Book that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”,[12] all of us should bring our worst and best of experiences to God as a sacrifice of praise that his glorious grace works these things for good. We should then ask God what he would do with our lives if we would surrender to his sovereign goodness instead of hiding in our hovels of self-protection because we have no hope.

Actually, if you have spent any time at all hiding in your hovel of self-protection because something has hurt so bad that you can’t imagine for one minute that any good could come from it all… guess what! That is something God is building into your story!

Now let me bring this Pondering to a close with the mention of one of my favorite stories in God’s Book. It was an interchange between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Here’s what her story includes.[13]

She grew up knowing that Jewish people hated Samaritan people. She knew the sting of Jewish men hating Samaritan women in a distinctively painful way. She had five failed marriages, and was presently living with a man, something God identifies as the shameful sin of adultery. She came out to the community well alone, not in the social gathering of the other women of her village.

When she meets this Jewish man at the well she is shocked that he speaks to her at all, let alone asks her to please give him a drink of water. She then finds herself drawn into a conversation with him in which he builds a story before her eyes that is so amazing, and gentle, and gracious, and deliberate, and to the point, and filled with hope, that she comes to the conclusion that she has just met someone who very well could be the Messiah her people had been waiting for. He even addressed the problem of her people and the Jewish people disagreeing over where God wants them to worship, declaring that God is looking for worshippers from among both the Jews and the Samaritans who will worship him in spirit and in truth no matter where they are.[14]

The story then rises into this wonderful crescendo as the lone women returns to her town bubbling over with good news. She told everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”[15] Do you see that? A Jewish man telling a Samaritan woman all that she ever did, which included uncovering the shame of her broken relationships and adulteries, was now part of the woman’s story that she may have met the Christ!

The result was that, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’”[16] How could she have told them that she had met the Messiah without this distinctive experience that he had known all that she ever did, and yet was willing to sit with her at the well, and ask her for a drink of water, and talk with her as no Jewish man had ever done in her whole life, and uncover her sins, and invite her to become a worshipper who worships God in spirit and in truth?

In other words, it was because of her specific story in relation to the most humiliating and shameful experiences of her life that she could tell her community (and us) that she had met the Messiah.

The conclusion to the story is described in God’s Book like this:

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”[17]

I believe that, because God’s Book is full of such stories, and they include this mix of people’s specific experiences leading others to know for themselves that Jesus “is indeed the Savior of the world,” that we ought to look at anything that has happened to us to our harm, anything we have done to fill our hearts with shame, and guilt, and fear, and honor God as the glorious Father who can work all these things together for good, including the good of using these stories to bring people into the kingdom of heaven.

Do you have a list of hidden and painful things you have seen as nothing more than a hindrance to your relationship with God? Why don’t you write out every one of those things as real, admitting the powerfully damaging effect they have had on you, telling God you will entrust these things to his sovereign goodness, and then leave space to write down anything God says or does when you ask him to use your story for his glory. You can be sure that, whatever God does with these painful and disappointing experiences, working them into transforming changes to make us more like our Savior “from one degree of glory to another”,[18] will also be for our very best and greatest good.

God’s Book promises, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[19] Not only has God begun a good work in his children, but he will use the very worst and best of our experiences to build his story into our lives. And, part of the glory of the story will be how he uses us to touch the lives of others with just the testimony they need to hear to know that the Savior of the world has come, and that he has come for people like them.

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

[1] Moses was walking with God when he saw God lead the people of Israel through the Red Sea (>>>); Jonah was running away from God when he was thrown into the Sea, was swallowed by a huge fish, and carried to the destination God had set for him (>>>).
[2] Romans 8:28
[3] David’s full story can be found in the historical books of first and second Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.
[4] Joseph is introduced to us in Genesis 30, and his story is found in Genesis 37-50.
[5] Peter is a central figure in Jesus’ training of his disciples so we find him mentioned all through the gospels. His denials are described in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22. Jesus questioning Peter about their love-relationship is found in John 21. We then see Peter’s leadership role in the church take center stage in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, and continue all through Acts. We also have the blessing of his two letters to the churches in first and second Peter.
[6] We are introduced to Paul as a young man (originally named Saul) in Acts 7:58 where we find him approving of the martyrdom of Stephen. From there he becomes another of the central figures of the book of Acts as we read of his conversion, and his assignment as an apostle to the Gentiles. Most of the New Testament letters to the churches were breathed-out by God through the apostle Paul. The distinctive message of salvation by grace through faith is expressed in Ephesians 2:1-10.
[7] All four of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) include the details surrounding his death, burial, resurrection, and how people related to these dramatic and confusing episodes of history.
[8] Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-31
[9] Luke 24:13-35
[10] John 20:24-29
[11] Genesis 50:20
[12] Romans 8:28
[13] John 4:1-42
[14] This leads into the very clear message of the New Testament that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is for everyone who believes, no matter what people group they are in when they hear of the Christ (see Romans 1:16-17). Revelation 7:9-17 shows us “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” (vs 9) to assure us that no one is rejected because of their ethnicity, or even religious background.
[15] John 4:29
[16] John 4:39
[17] John 4:40-42
[18] II Corinthians 3:18
[19] Philippians 1:6