Friday, April 28, 2017

The Faith That Follows Grace

Okay, so I’m not sure whether to call this an epiphany, Aha! Moment, or lightbulb experience, but something spiritually “clicked” for me this morning in one of those surprising ways that comforts at the same time as it convicts simply because the conviction exposes something wrong in my heart that is immediately set right in the Spirit.

(Commercial) some of us are so afraid of even asking God what is going on with us because we are so afraid of what will happen, how long we will be messed-up, yada, yada, yada. My experience has consistently been that God comforts those who mourn much more quickly than we imagine,[1] and the languishing in misery is primarily because we are resisting the mourning, not because we are mourning the things wrong within us. (Now, back to regular programming.)

Today’s lesson was stunningly and painfully simple. It came after yesterday morning’s Higher, when God ministered to me wonderfully about the riches of his grace towards me, and last night’s Deeper, when my wife led me in cleaning up my desk and it triggered the kind of headaches people talk about getting on Prayer Meeting nights.[2]

This set the stage for something so obvious in its truth, and yet so contrary to some deep experience of my sarky mindset, that it felt like it is going to have a much more profound help to me in the days and years ahead than only whatever God has in mind for this today.

God’s gift of grace to me was this: faith follows grace; grace does NOT follow faith.[3] Let me explain.  

First I was hit with the negative side of this: faith is never a good work we do in order to get God to graciously do things in our lives way beyond anything we could deserve.

Yes, I discovered there is at least some nuance of this messed-up thinking, the idea that if I just would have enough faith, God would respond to my faith with gracious things I don’t deserve. Twisted, right? What a deception!

And yet it rang true as something that hinders, perhaps cripples, my faith. If I could just be a good enough Christian to have lots and lots of faith, God would reward me with gracious blessings I don’t deserve. As wrong as this is, because I am very aware that I am seeking God’s grace, knowing that grace means God’s active blessings above anything we could deserve, I have missed this cancerous thread in the tapestry, that trying to earn God’s grace through faith is such a counterfeit of what God’s word teaches that it is not “grace through faith” at all.[4] It is actually “grace because of faith”, which is poisonously WRONG!!!

I am presently meditating on this phrase, “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace,”[5] and considering how our hearts experience this gift of God in everyday life. Other Scriptures are acting as wonderful commentaries to this gracious thought of God strengthening our hearts by grace.

I am reminded how God’s redemptive work in our lives is “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight”.[6] The thought that God’s grace can only be understood as “riches”, and his pouring out of his grace on our lives as “lavished upon us”, and all according to the eternal and infinite glory of God’s absolute and complete wisdom and insight, convicts my soul of any small thoughts I have of his grace (a Deeper), and urges me to think, act, and pray according to the measure of the riches of God’s grace (a Higher).

God’s word also leads me to see that God is “rich in mercy”, relating to us out of “great love”, because he wants to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”[7] Again, the revelation is that adjectives like rich, great, and immeasurable, all tell me that God’s mercy, love, and grace, are huge in their glory, not miniscule as the world, the flesh, and the devil accuse.

God’s instruction to his sons is that, instead of being “carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability,” we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[8] God’s gracious gift to me this morning was to clarify that even my faith is not a good work I must do in order to “get” him to do something for me. Faith can only be the trusting response of his child to something God is already doing by grace.

Even this understanding that my faith-relationship with God has been contaminated by a sarky idea that I can influence how gracious God is by controlling how faith-filled I am is a gift of grace, something I did not know I needed, and something God did out of the riches of his glorious grace and love and mercy. For the rest of my life I will grow in this, not because I am working hard at it and God is rewarding my with grace, but that God is already graciously and actively working in me to work and to will according to his good pleasure, and my faith-response to this is to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.[9]

I know that God will be just as rich in his grace towards me tomorrow, but not because of the faith I had today. It will still be because he is superabundantly rich in grace by the very nature of his being, and he delights to bring us to know him in his grace every day better than we have ever known him before. For me today, that meant clarifying that I do not need to be a good-boy in faith in order to experience more grace.

Rather, it is a liberated faith that comes to greater enjoyment of the wonderful expressions of God’s grace that are already working in my life. Yours as well?

© 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] Matthew 5:4 makes it abundantly clear that God comforting those who mourn is a PROMISE! Other Scriptures reveal and substantiate this so clearly that our fears, no matter how real in experience of life, are absolutely unfounded in relationship with God.
[2]           I first saw this pattern of what I now call the “Higher and Deeper” ministry of God to our souls when I was praying through the account of the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus’ ministry to this woman was given special attention in the record of God’s word (one of the longest records of Jesus having a conversation with someone he was ministering to), and so I noted the way he was talking to her. My quest was to recognize how he may speak to me in similar ways through his word, and how this may direct me in how to join his work when he is doing ministry to others.
            What I noticed was that each thing Jesus said to the woman seemed to reveal something new about him she never could have known, which seemed like a Higher thought or understanding of him, and this was followed by her seeing something deficient or limiting within herself, which seemed like a Deeper thought or understanding of her own soul. This way of relating to this woman went back-and-forth in such a distinctive consistency, with Jesus forcing her to see Higher things about him, and Deeper things about herself, that it struck me that this was the way he ministered to me every morning as I sought him in his word and prayer, and that pointing these things out to others as they shared things they were learning in their time with God might help them make sense of why one morning they could be very excited about something they learned about God, while the next day they faced despondency because they were confronted with some negative thing about themselves that, at first, seemed like a huge contradiction of what they thought God was ministering to them the day before.
            As we saw how these things work together, and how the Deepers were necessary for the Highers to work in our lives (that includes the Beatitudinal Journey side of things, but that is a whole other story and a bit too much for this footnote!), we could welcome both as the equally important work of God, and trust that God would do for us something as enlivening as what he did in the Samaritan woman and the people of her community.
[3] I don’t mean by this that once we respond to God’s grace through faith that we never see any further evidence of God’s grace in our lives. Rather, I mean that our faith is ALWAYS a response to grace, and grace is NEVER something God does because of our faith. Grace always and only does what grace is, and faith is always and only the way by which God’s initiating draws us to respond to his grace. As we keep responding to God in faith we keep seeing expanding ripples of grace in our lives and in our churches, but never because we have earned more grace through the good works of our faith. Grace is always doing what grace does, and we keep enjoying the gracious favors of God only by faith, never by any sense that our good works have earned us something that God now does for us as a reward for good faith-behavior.
[4] The truth that all the work of God in our lives is his grace operating through our responsiveness of faith is a foundational reality of the new covenant and is graciously expressed in Ephesians 2:8-9 in a most clear and comforting statement of this relationship.
[5] Hebrews 13:9
[6] Ephesians 1:7-8
[7] Ephesians 2:4-7
[8] II Peter 3:17-18
[9] Philippians 2:12-13

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Beatitudinal Prayer List

Prayer is not only a battle for the individual believer in Jesus Christ, but all the more when believers seek to gather in Jesus’ name to pray for the glory of God to be revealed through our lives.

A battle does not mean we give in before even trying. Rather, knowing that the world, the flesh, and the devil, are all conspiring against us to shut down our corporate gatherings to pray in the Spirit,[1] we rise up to seek the mind of Christ so that we can pray through even the most discouraging thoughts and debilitating feelings, presenting all our prayers and requests to our Father with thanksgiving, and experiencing the peace of God that transcends all our understanding.[2]

Because the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount have become so central to my understanding of how God transforms us through the renewal of our minds,[3] here is a sampling of how to pray through the Beatitudes in order to present ourselves to God. If you have nothing else on your prayer list for your church’s prayer meeting, open up to the Beatitudes and pray through them one at a time, attaching to your heavenly Father over ways he is working these things into your life. Not only will your praying lift up the incense of your prayers before the throne of grace so that you can receive mercy and grace to help you in your time of need,[4] but your praying these things in fellowship with other believers, seeking to pray in the Spirit as instructed,[5] may also encourage your brothers to pray more earnestly for difficult things in their own lives.

Here, then, are some thoughts on praying through the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In this we find that the blessing of God is upon those who are poor in spirit, not those who are proud in spirit. Because of this, we pray that God would enable us to humble ourselves before him and see ourselves as we really are in our poverty. Where we have been struggling in relationship with him because we keep trusting our flesh instead of relying on the Spirit, we admit to God our difficulties, our poverty of being able to do his will.

If we pray this way both privately and corporately, we can let our private times with God admit to the most intimate issues of poverty and bankruptcy and helplessness and inability and failure, and then use our corporate times to pray about these things as would be beneficial for all who have gathered, addressing things that it would be good for others to know we struggle with, while trusting that God is hearing and answering our prayers even when we are not able to say in front of others what we are able to say to Father in secret.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

This makes clear that God’s will for us, his desire in blessing us, is that we would mourn things that are wrong with us, not suppress them in self-protective denial, or minimize them so we won’t feel so bad, or defend them because things have happened to us that justify the poverty of our souls. When we allow our hearts to mourn what is wrong with us, even though pouring it out with greater personal intensity in private than we are able to do in public, we present our hearts to God for the experience of his comfort, something that cannot happen when we are trying to hide our broken condition from him and our church. Since Father is waiting to comfort those who mourn, the more willing we are to mourn honestly in his presence, the more we will experience his comfort working in us individually, and uniting our prayer fellowships in the comforts of the Holy Spirit.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

As we seek to join God’s blessing of meekness in prayer, we address that fleshly propensity to handle things in our own strength. We know God is working to get us to admit we cannot fix our poverty of spirit ourselves. We know he wants us to know the liberation of coming before him without any merit of our own to convince him to like us. We meekly accept our helplessness, and pray about each bankrupt area of our lives like little children who have run out of all our energy to try making our lives better. We admit we are helpless in every problem we are facing. Whatever comes up, whatever fears, and sins, and traumas, and hopelessness we are facing, we present it to God like little children who know we can neither fix the mess we have made of our lives by handling things in the flesh, nor make ourselves righteous in any of these areas in which we are failing. We pray about the impoverished issues of our souls in helplessness, admitting to how desperately we need our Father.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

Now we turn from praying about how helpless we are in our impoverished areas, to expressing to God our longings to be righteous like Jesus. As we have admitted to our utter helplessness to make anything right with God, we are now free to come pray for things that could only happen by grace through faith. No matter how often we ourselves have failed to attain righteousness through good works, we look at the riches of God’s kindness and mercy and tell God what we wish we were like in Christ. Anything God has told us in his word we could be like in Christ, we ask for it knowing that one hundred percent of having it would be because God does it by grace, and we rejoice in his work by faith.

There is a tendency for church-folk to become discouraged about asking God for impossible things because our flesh has trained our minds to think only in terms of what we ourselves can do. The Beatitudinal way of praying frees us from any sense of what we can do to consider what God can and will do in our lives by the riches of God’s glory attaching to us in grace, and our impoverished souls attaching to him in faith. The more we can pray for impossibly wonderful things to happen because the riches of God’s grace is supremely glorious over all our helplessness, the more we will feel the satisfaction of God doing things in us that would never happen as long as we are in the way trying to do them ourselves.[6]

And, be assured that, if we will try praying like this in private, pouring our hearts out to God with every longing for the experience of the righteousness of faith, we will also be prepared to pray similar things in our public gatherings of prayer. We then join God in a work that he can do in all those who are gathered as everyone finds greater encouragement to pray for things that only the grace of God could do for us rather than what we would pray while thinking of the limitations of what we could ever do for Father.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

When we pray to be “the merciful”, leaving it for this point in the Beatitudes, we are protected from praying for us to be the good Christians who are merciful, reducing this to another works-based, self-dependent expression of religious Christianity that sets us up for failure.

Instead, we pray to be the merciful as those who have experienced the mercy of God as already prayed in the first four Beatitudes. When we present our poverty of spirit to God in prayer, and we mourn our impoverished condition to God in prayer, and we confess our utter meekness to God in prayer, admitting that we cannot possible fix all the impoverished things that are wrong with us, and we express to God all the longings of our heart to be like Jesus, and then we feel God satisfying us with the riches of his glorious mercy and grace, we then feel such a joy in the mercy of God that we can become the merciful by transformation, not by good works.

Therefore, when we pray about being merciful, we pray as those who have been immersed in so much mercy and grace from God for impoverished sinners like ourselves, that our prayers for other sinners are merciful prayers. We do not pray according to the law, that God would make people be good, or he would make people do the right thing towards us. We do not pray that God would make people confess their sins to us. We pray for the blessings of God to fall upon the lives of everyone, no matter what they have done to us or anyone else. Our prayers are now mercy-minded because our minds have been saturated by the mercies of God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

When it comes to praying for the purest experience of purity of heart we are no longer thinking of good works, what we ourselves can do to be good Christians. Instead, we are praying as the impoverished sinners who have mourned our sinful condition, meekly accepted we cannot change how poorly we are doing, hungered and thirsted for the righteousness we cannot fabricate on our own, and experienced the grace of God transforming us as we fellowship with Father by faith. We know that we do not become pure by relying on ourselves since that self-reliance contaminates our purity!

Instead, we pray for pure hearts as children who long to be so single-mindedly devoted to Jesus Christ our Lord, so constantly and purely filled with the Holy Spirit of the living God, so simply attached to Father by grace through faith, that all we want is to be in fellowship with the Triune.

At the same time, as we mature in this purity of heart, we pray for things that are always according to the will of God. We pray as those seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of God in everything. We have seen how impossible it is for us to do this ourselves, and now our hearts are pure in trusting God and his will for everything, so our praying reflects things we would never pray for when we are relying on our flesh, but must pray for now that we only want to be in intimate fellowship with God by grace through faith.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

As we pray from a pure heart that we could be peacemakers like our Savior, we are asking God to give us grace to lead other people to have peace with God.[7] Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and our pure hearts long to be part of this work. We know that sinners all around us are under the condemnation for their sins, soon to face the wrath of God without any recourse to salvation, and so we pray now, praying that God would graciously lead us and our church to lead people to have peace with him through the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only do we pray that God would make us peacemakers, but, as peacemakers, we pray for people to find peace with God. Our greatest desire in the lives of those we pray for is that they would come to have genuine peace with God through the gospel. While there may be many temporal needs to pray for, our longing is that everyone would know the Beatitudinal blessings of coming to have peace with our heavenly Father through faith in his Son.

Our peacemaking prayers, seeking that all around us would have peace with God, include both salvation prayers as we seek God to bring sinners to have peace with him, but also sanctification prayers as we consider those among us who struggle with worries and anxieties over problems in their lives. Our peacemaking prayers aim to present all our church’s anxieties to God in prayer, casting all our anxieties upon him because he cares for us, and trusting that the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.[8] To whatever extent we or anyone in our church is lacking this peace, we seek Father’s heart that he would do whatever Beatitudinal things are required to lead us into this experience of peace.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

We know from God’s word that peacemakers get into trouble. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, got into trouble for seeking to lead prostitutes, and drunks, and tax collectors, and sinners of all kinds, to have peace with God through his glorious gospel of the kingdom. He also told us that we would get into trouble in the same ways since the world that hated him would hate us as well.

When we then pray as the peacemakers of God, we pray about our own willingness to suffer disgrace for the sake of Christ, and we pray that we would bear these things joyfully. We pray from pure hearts that want nothing to do with minimizing our ministries out of fear of persecution, but what to constantly and sincerely have a front-lines ministry of leading people to have peace with God no matter who, how, or how often, we get into trouble for doing so.

At the same time as we pray for ourselves and our church fellowships that we will be the poor-in-spirit, pure-hearted, peacemakers of the kingdom, we are mindful of the brotherhood of believers that is suffering throughout the world.[9] Our hunger and thirst for righteousness includes seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of God, and so we pray for all believers who are suffering for this righteousness of faith. We pray for those who are imprisoned for their faith, those who are being mistreated for their faith, and seek to share in their sufferings through prayer, just as willing to suffer persecution where we are as they are willing to glorify Christ in their persecution wherever they are.[10]


It is impossible for me to consider everything the Spirit would have you and I pray out of the Beatitudes. The point is not to memorize all the things we ought to pray, but to have the Beatitudes before us in our prayers so we can apply Beatitudinal praying as needed. It may be that someone in a prayer fellowship prays about something in a sense of despondency that you recognize as the fruit of self-reliance, and so you begin praying about our mutual and corporate poverty of spirit in doing anything about this, but then jump immediately into hope-filled prayers of the hunger and thirst for righteousness that you know will be answered because God promises to satisfy the hearts of those who hunger for him.

The point is to find some way of keeping the Beatitudes in your mind as you pray, and as you unite with other believers in what they are praying. This could be by opening your Bibles to Matthew 5:1-12 before prayer-time starts so you can remind yourself of what to pray. At your next prayer meeting you may want to pray through each of the Beatitudes, presenting only one of them to God in your prayers for that “turn”, and then going on to the next one for your next turn.

It may not work to pray through each one in your particular prayer meeting, so you may continue on praying through the Beatitudes the next time your church gets together for prayer. The more you pray these things in private, the more you are ready for the Spirit to move you in praying these things in public.

As a help, if you would like to print out the Beatitudes on a card to keep in your Bible as a prayer-primer, you can print out a 4x6 inch version here,[11] or a 3x5 inch version here.[12] Once you have the Beatitudes memorized, at least in thought even if not in exact word, you will find your mind regularly bringing one or all of the Beatitudes into your praying for yourself and others.

And, you will find your heavenly Father blessing you richly as you do! He promised!

© 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] My understanding of praying in the Spirit (Jude 1:20-21) is that it continues Paul’s extensive lessons on the difference between doing things in the flesh (sark) and doing things in the Spirit. Instead of praying in the flesh, focusing on selfish things independent of God, we pray in the Spirit, seeking the mind of Christ about everything, with the aim of submitting and surrendering to the whole will of God as we pray.
[2] Philippians 4:4-7
[3] The Beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:1-12. Romans 12:1-2 directs us in how to join God in his transforming work.
[4] Hebrews 4:14-16 teaches us to come before our merciful and sympathetic High Priest, Jesus Christ, in order to experience his grace and mercy working in our lives. The imagery of our prayers rising before God as incense is revealed in Psalm 141:3; Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4.
[5] Romans 8:26; 15:30; Ephesians 6:18 (context: Ephesians 6:10-20); Jude 1:20-21
[6] In Paul’s prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21, he specifically prayed for things that were according to the riches of God’s glory (vs 16), not for things that were according to the limitations of his flesh.
[7] Romans 5:1 shows what we have in Christ, and we want others to have the same peace with God.
[8] Referring again to Philippians 4:4-7
[9] I Peter 5:9 (context: I Peter 5:6-11).
[10] Hebrews 13:1-3 refers to hospitality, visiting prisoners, and fellowship with mistreated brothers as things that often accompany seasons of persecution. Peacemakers know that persecution follows the work of Christ, and so we fellowship with one another in these hard times even though it may exacerbate our difficulties.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Why We Play With Words

Okay, sometimes a play-on-words is just too much to resist.

This morning I made one of my usual spelling mistakes of a word that was still spelled correctly but not the word I was typing. In this case, where I was intending to type “mighty work”, I typed “might work”.

The change in meaning and effect from the intended expression to the one that made it into print was huge. It also made me consider the irony of what was missing.

What I mean is that, speaking of God in relation to his “mighty work” in giving Jesus Christ to die for our sins and be raised from the dead, identifies something we know with confidence, something very clearly affirmed by many witnesses, something that would have a profound effect on us now because of the mighty work God did then.

On the other hand, if we talk about things God intends to do with the idea that they “might work”, we are looking at God and his purposes from a far different perspective. Not only does “mighty work” focus on what God has already done in the past, while “might work” looks ahead at possibilities for the future, but the emphasis of speaking of God’s “mighty work” has a note of confidence, while “might work” has a note of uncertainty.

The missing letter in the latter phrase rings with a very common reason that people lack confidence in God’s “mighty work”. It is because they imagine that God has not answered “y” (or “why”) any of this matters. Like a little child who does not want to do what he has been told tries to distract a parent with kazillions of “why” questions, so the rebellious heart of man thinks it has the right to doubt God’s mighty works by making the “whys” a focus of their own, keeping all the attention away from what God has already done in history, and leaving the false sense of doubt, that God “might work” (and might not), as the pseudo-reason for rejecting Jesus the Christ.

As always, an illustration is just an illustration, and this play-on-words may be pushing even the limits of illustrations. However, it is an opportunity to consider whether you have adopted a “might work” view of God rather than confidence in the “mighty work” of God just because your “why” questions seem so incredibly real to you that your unfamiliarity with the realities of God leaves you suffering in unbelief.

Would you like to know what prompted these play-on-words thoughts this morning? I was looking at this phrase in preparation for my teaching time on Easter Sunday: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—“.[1]

God attested and affirmed Jesus to us “with mighty works”. The mighty works he has already performed in creation and salvation invite us to join him in his work of creating a people in the image and likeness of his Son. There is no doubt that, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[2] The only question is whether you are one of the people to whom this applies, or if you are missing out because of your “whys”.

© 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 2:22
[2] Philippians 1:6

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Reason For the Easter Weekend

A four day weekend for the Easter Bunny? I don’t think so.
Actually, the reason for Easter weekend is something for greater. You would like me to explain? I would love to!
Let’s start here: If you had been suffering in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War, and your life had become a depressing fog of hopelessness as people suffered and died all around you, and along came the Allied forces to deliver you out of that prison camp, tell you the war was over, and you were now free to go home, THAT would be a good reason to have an annual celebration of the event.

The Easter Bunny? Not so much.
Now, what if the suffering in a Nazi concentration camp had a spiritual counterpart that applied to all people who had ever lived? And, what if this deadly concentration camp held every human being captive, with every one of them dying in misery and hopelessness?
And, what if, at some time in history, something happened that had the capability of saving any person out of that horror camp so that they could have their life back and return home?
And what if the person who designed and created this rescue mission was still offering humanity the opportunity to be saved from this prison camp, and continuously gave his gift to all who would receive it? 
Let’s add to this.  

What if there was a very distinctive reason that the celebration had to include a Friday and a Sunday? What if the rescue mission involved a most unusual and powerful event on a Friday, and an equally unusual and powerful event on a Sunday, and people who wanted to commemorate and celebrate what was done for them needed a longer-than-usual weekend to express their love and appreciation to the one who provided for their rescue?

Would you concede that, if something impossibly and horrifyingly wonderful happened on a particular Friday, and something impossibly and excitingly wonderful happened on a particular Sunday, that a long weekend celebration might very well be a very good way of continuing the joyful memorial?

Now, let’s speak of this in terms of the details of the rescue mission. The real prison camp is the powerful and deadly world of sin and death that ruins lives everywhere and always. Sin is the powerful tyrant that enslaves every human being to its whims and wishes, cursing us all with its cancerous poison, and guaranteeing a deadly and horrifying and hopeless end to all our lives, no matter how good or bad they have been.[1]

In the way that a torturous and abusive and murderous prison camp steals people away from their homes and homeland and enslaves them to its cruel punishments, sin takes us away from the Father who created us to be his children, ruins our relationship with him through lies, soul-torture, and propaganda, and secures our eternal condemnation to the horrors of hell.[2]

As in all wars, there is a price to pay to liberate POW’s. In this case, the wages of sin is death.[3] Therefore, the price required to liberate souls from sinful condemnation was the death of one who was not among the prisoners. This also had to be one who could die for more than one person. He would need a human nature in order to die for human prisoners, and he would need a divine nature in order to apply his death to numerous people, whoever wanted his gift of Freedom.[4]

Since God was determined that he would have children in fellowship and friendship with him, he designed and enacted a plan in which his only true Son, sharing the same divine nature as his Father, would enter our world as a human being, fully retaining his nature as God, in order that he could both die for human beings, and die for all human beings who would receive his gift.[5]

As this Son of God came into our world in the person known as Jesus the Christ, God could then provide an eternal person and a human person who could die for lost, forsaken, sin-poisoned prisoners of war in a way that would save as many as would receive his rescue mission.

In historical terms, because Jesus’ death for sin took place on a Friday, people commemorate that gift by observing a day called “Good Friday”. While death itself is not a good thing, the fact that God’s Son would die for our liberation was the goodest thing that has ever been done for us.

However, that is not the end of the story. On the third day after his death, Jesus was raised from the dead to complete the plan of rescue. People would not only have someone who paid for their sins, but someone who was alive to share the newness of life that was now available.[6]

Do you think that someone dying for you, rising again for you, living for you now, and promising you the assurance of life after death, would constitute a fairly good reason to have a whole long weekend to celebrate?

At the very least, that is a far better reason than an Easter Bunny!

© 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.)

Editor’s note: This was originally written as a way to share about Jesus’ death and resurrection with some young friends and I present it for your encouragement as well. A printable quarter-fold version can be found at the link in the footnote if you would like to share it with others.[7]

[1] Romans 3:23 declares that all people have sinned; Romans 6:23 declares that the wages we earn from our sin is death. Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us how hopeless this deadly condition is. John 3:18 tells us that everyone who does not believe in Jesus is condemned already, and John 3:36 says that this includes the wrath of God remaining on them because they are guilty of all their sins.
[2] John 10:10 shows that Jesus came to give life, but the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy any hope of us coming to Jesus and receiving his life. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus describes hell as a place where both soul and body are destroyed.
[3] Romans 6:23
[4] The fact of Jesus being both divine and human is revealed in passages such as these: Matthew 1:23 speaks of the birth of the Christ child and explains his name as “God with us”; John 1:14 says that “the word”, meaning Jesus the eternal Son of God, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us”; Colossians 2:9 says that “the whole fullness of deity dwells in him bodily”.
[5] Ephesians 1:3-14 gives a beautiful description of God’s determination to adopt us as his children, and what he provided in Jesus Christ for this to happen. I Timothy 1:15 states that Christ Jesus came into the world for the express purpose of saving sinners. John 1:9-13 speaks of how Jesus came into the world, but the world neither recognized him nor received him. However, those who did receive him are given the right to adoption as the children of God.
[6] The gospel records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all give details of Jesus death and resurrection. Romans 1:1-6 introduces this to us in summary form, as does I Peter 1:3.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Good Covenant For Bad Kids

Having nothing to offer God is only a bad thing if the covenant between God and man requires something from me. There was a covenant like that; a covenant aimed to show that we could never be right with God if God related to us on the basis of us having to contribute something to the relationship.

On the other hand, if there is a covenant between God and man that requires God to do everything to satisfy every nuance of relationship between Creator and creature, and we stand before him with nothing in our hands, the only issue is whether our pride can both admit to our utter and complete failure to bring anything to the table, and can accept the glorious and gracious gift that God has provided.

Because I grew up trying to be the good boy who never got into trouble (outbursts of anger traumatized me), it has been an exceptionally difficult journey for me to admit to my absolute and complete inability to do anything good enough to earn right relationship with God through my own good works.

I don’t mean that I didn’t understand the gospel from a young age, and that we are all sinners, and that the wages of sin is death, and only Jesus dying for our sins gives us life with God. Rather, it has been a long and gracious work of God to bring me to feel the love God has for sinners, for people who have utterly failed to bring any good thing to the table.

What happens when God seems to drive the glory of his grace deeper into my heart than I have ever felt it before, and it makes me so conscious of how sinful I am in myself, without any thought that I can blame anyone at all for the sins and failures of my soul?

It makes me feel more love and accepted in Jesus Christ than I ever felt when trying to hide my badness under a mirage of good works.

It is not that God loves me more when I admit to being a sinner than when I am trying to show him how good I am (this has come to appear very familiar as I consider the toddler stage of maturity with the many children who have gone through our daycare).

Rather, it is simply that there is a dimension of God so loving the world that we can only appreciate when we know how sinful we were when he loved us and gave his Son for us. There is something of knowing the love of God that becomes experientially real only when we are in the very midst of an undeniable moment of guilt, and shame, and fear, and we suddenly get it that God demonstrated his love to us through the cross while we were still sinners.

Which then brings us to enjoy the childlike wonder of this new covenant in Jesus Christ in which all the requirements of relationship with God are fulfilled on God’s side of the table, and our side of the table only requires us to respond with the faith that receives the gift.

As God’s Book says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What God has done by grace, we can receive by faith. And, while this removes any right to boast, it liberates us into the childlike delight of expressing our wonder at having such a great and glorious Father who has loved us before he even began creating the world, and did everything required to have us as his own. Forever.

© 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.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Real Climate Shake-up

I am keenly interested in the arguments and debates regarding climate change since this topic exposes the contrast between the evolutionary we-don’t-want-God-in-the-picture worldview and the God-has-told-us-what-is-going-on-in-his-Book worldview.

Those who believe the universe is millions of years old invariably conclude that today’s climate changes are so rapid and sudden that we must be doing something terribly wrong with our environment and we need to put on our capes and super-powers to do something about it (lots of taxes included).

On the other hand, those who believe what God’s Book describes of his genius expressed in Creation, the “very good” world becoming cursed by our sin, and the catastrophic changes that took place during the worldwide flood, also know that present climate changes, along with any disasters that are taking place, fit both God’s description of what our sin has done to the world, and what he says will happen as he leads all space, time, and matter, to its catastrophic and glorious end.

This morning, one of the things God ministered to my soul was centered on this expression from his Book,

“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”[1]

What did this tell me? That the greatest threat against our planet is not climate change, but God. When God promises something, and this is a promise, there is no one who can stop what he has promised, not Al Gore, or Bruce Willis, or any combination or collection of super heroes we can imagine.

When God promises that he will “shake” both the earth and the heavens, and that this will involve “the removal of all things that are shaken”, and that the things that can be shaken are the “things that have been made”, it means the whole universe of space, time, and matter, that which God made in the six days of creation, will be shaken, removed, destroyed.

As is stated elsewhere, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”[2]

In describing the, “coming of the day of God,” God’s Book continues, “because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”[3] A bit beyond climate change, wouldn’t you say?

Now, while climate change celebrities make big bucks off of their hyped up promises to save the planet, and us common folk endure the struggle of additional taxes to pay for their plans, what is the real hope in relation to this impending threat of God’s promise? Well, another promise, of course!

It is stated like this: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”[4] This is the true hope for the children of God. We do not see any hope for this present planet, or this present creation that is cursed and corrupted by sin.[5] No matter how many evolutionists deny God’s right to his creation, God has given ample warning in his Book of what our sin has done both to our relationship with him, and to the creation in which we live. God promises to destroy what we have corrupted in order to replace it with a new heavens and a new earth that the world, the flesh, and the devil, can never destroy.

I am troubled by the way our world is deteriorating. I grieve at the way so many countries abuse God’s children simply because they love the Lord Jesus Christ and love the Book God has given us. I grieve the way North American has changed in my lifetime to such a love of godlessness and the fulfillment of God’s prophetic word that people would be lovers of evil, applauding those who invent new ways of expressing their evil hearts.[6]

But I find great comfort in knowing that the world’s greatest threat is not climate change, or what God’s enemies try to do to Jesus’ church, but what God will do at the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus will gather all his brothers to be with him forever, pour out God’s wrath against all sin and sinners who have rejected his so great salvation, and then cleanse the whole universe of sin, replacing what can be shaken with what cannot be shaken.

Why is this of great comfort to me? Partly because God personally ministered it to my heart this morning through the abiding presence of his Holy Spirit, and partly because I know that I belong to Jesus and he is presently preparing a home for me in my Father’s House.[7]

What would make this comforting to you? The knowledge and certainty that you have come to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ so that you can experience God delivering you out of this domain of darkness and transferring you into the kingdom of his beloved Son.[8]

For anyone who views the return of Jesus with skepticism, and considers the idea of God creating the new heavens and the new earth just as unbelievable as him creating the first heavens and the first earth, I urge you to explore the amazing evidences for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, his death on behalf of sinners, his resurrection from the dead that was not only witnessed publicly, but all the early preachers of Jesus’ resurrection were so sure it happened that they were willing to be martyred for what they witnessed. All the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming attest to the absolute reliability of God’s prophecies about Jesus’ second coming.

Not only this, but contrary to the loud claims of the evolutionary religion, science has proven the impossibility of life coming from non-living things, hence the impossibility of humanity evolving out of pond-scum. Everything in life, including what is continuously learned in the study of the human genome, affirms the claim of God in his Book, that he created everything through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and so his recreation of the world is also assured, terrifying as that may be for some.[9]

My concern is to invite people out of the domain of darkness that will be destroyed in God’s true cleanup of the sinful environment of this planet, and enter into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son through the redemption God has secured on behalf of all his children.[10] As Jesus already said, either we fit the, “whoever believes in him is not condemned,” or we fit the, “but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[11] Those who are not condemned will live forever with Jesus in his new heavens and new earth, the home he is preparing for his brothers; those who are already condemned will then receive the full measure of their condemnation, including their destruction in God’s final act of judgment against sin.

For now, Jesus’ invitation remains, “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.”[12]

Whoever receives this invitation, we are told, “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.”[13]

Yes, our God is a consuming fire who will destroy all that is contaminated with sin, and perfect a home of righteousness that will be the eternal joy of all his children. Come to Jesus for your share in such a promise.

© 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] Hebrews 12:26-27
[2] II Peter 3:10
[3] II Peter 3:12
[4] II Peter 3:13
[5] This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be good stewards of God’s creation, only that we can’t put our hope in saving the planet from what our sin has already done to curse what God has made. He will make a new creation that can never be cursed by sin again.
[6] Romans 1:18-32; II Timothy 3:1-5
[7] John 14:1-6
[8] Colossians 1:13-14
[9] John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17
[10] Romans 1:16-17; Romans 10:9-10
[11] John 3:18
[12] Matthew 11:28-30
[13] Hebrews 12:28-29