Friday, May 26, 2017

God's Kindness for Our Repentance

I am in one of those transition times where I have finished up a survey of the book of Hebrews and I’m wondering where to settle in next. Should I continue our home church’s journey through the weapons of our warfare, and consider how the full armor of God will help us take our stand against the evil one? Is there value in continuing through Revelation even though it is full of so many uncertainties (to me) that I can’t preach through it with confidence? Do I want to focus on a book like Romans that could take us years to complete, or one of the gospels to help us be unashamed in the gospel? I haven’t really done a survey through Old Testament books to any great extent, so maybe we need a good dose of the historical foundation of our faith, or some prophetic reminders of how seriously sin affects our relationship with God, or a poetic journey through emotions that need to learn how to attach to God as the psalm-writers expressed.

What has been on my heart all this week has been the poverty-of-spirit response to Paul’s expression that he was not ashamed of the gospel.[1] This has brought up the issue of how we avoid facing the shamefulness of our sin, which then minimizes our experience of the magnificence of our salvation, and so leaves us trying to be good Christians rather than rejoicing that God saves sinners, including the worst of us.[2]

So, here’s where that continues on for today:

To get to the place where we are not ashamed of the gospel we must experience the gospel dealing with our sin in redemption, not in honoring our good works.[3] This requires a genuine experience of repentance and faith, repentance fully dealing with what we have done in our sin, and faith fully dealing with what Jesus has done in our salvation.[4]

Since I am not sure how much God wants us dealing with our sin privately, confessing all our sins to him with a comprehensive kind of clarity, and how much we need to confess our sins together as the church, I am drawn to some of the ways that God’s people confessed their sins together in the Old Testament. The New Testament presents us with the challenge of, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”[5] I’m sure we can gain some help in how he wants us to repent from these Old Testament examples. So, here is the one that I’m looking at first:

“Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”[6]

Okay, I wrote the above part before jumping in to some prayerful meditation on all these Scriptures. When I began narrowing my focus on talking to Father about these things, something became very clear. It also seems to answer some of the question about how much we can confess our sins together, admitting to our need of God, and repenting that “we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God”, however it applies to us both individually and corporately.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1)

If this is not true in my heart-of-hearts, it is not because there is less power in the gospel for my salvation than for anyone else. This is a package deal. If I do not have Paul’s experience of not being ashamed of the gospel, it is because I have not had Paul’s experience of the power of God for salvation, and this is because I have not had Paul’s experience of believing.[7]

Which means that, if we cannot revel in the righteousness of God it is because we are not attached to its revelation that it comes “from faith”, and so we cannot feel its power working in us “for faith”, and so we are not attached to the life-experience of the righteous living “by faith”.

That ties very much into what John Piper wrote about our connection to hating sin and loving righteousness.[8] Yes, we are to “flee youthful passions”, and we are to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”[9] But it is all based on our experience of the gospel that is the power of God to save us, and to satisfy us with the righteousness that is by grace through faith, the genuine experience of God’s righteousness that is from faith, for faith, and by faith.

Which brings me back to, “everyone who believes”. I recall dealing with the sin of unbelief recently.

“And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”[10]
“And he marveled because of their unbelief.”[11]
“So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”[12]
“some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation…”[13]

These examples make it clear that God’s work is restricted by unbelief. It is not that God is restricted, but that his grace working through faith requires faith before it can continue what grace is doing. It is almost like grace is doing the spiritual CPR that will raise us from the dead, and, until we are awakened by faith, grace can do no more in our lives than we could do with a corpse. Grace will continue working to bring us to faith, but that faith is necessary for all the rest that grace will do in our lives. As soon as we are attached to Father in faith, the conduit for grace to continue working is opened, and we can then experience the from-faith, for-faith, by-faith, life of righteousness.

Thankfully, God has taken his people through such a variety of experiences where their expressions of repentance and faith become helps to us in our Beatitudinal Journey to living by faith.[14] The one that stands out the most at the moment is that of the distressed Father who had already experienced Jesus’ disciples failing to deliver his son from demonic attack.[15] When Jesus confronted him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes”, the man’s response was, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”[16]

This is what we need for our home church, and I am sure for many of God’s children who read this, enough faith and desperation to cry out with the faith that we do have, asking for help with the faith we do not have. If we have enough of this mixture of belief and unbelief to earnestly cry out to God with this prayer, he will surely answer us as Jesus did for that father and his son.

© 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 1:16-17
[2] I Timothy 1:12-17
[3] Colossians 1:13-14
[4] Mark 1:15; Acts 20:17-21 (vs 21 in particular); Hebrews 6:1
[5] Romans 2:4
[6] Jeremiah 3:25
[7] I do not mean by this that we are not saved just because our experience of unashamed joy in the gospel is not as rich as brother Paul’s. Rather, I mean that some believers have clearly not experienced salvation to the depths of our inner being as Paul did. Just as paramedics can bring an injured person back to life, but with that person now needing intense medical treatment to return to good health, so we may need intense ministry from God to heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3) even though we are now fully alive in Jesus Christ. Paul’s personal experience was so powerful, complete with profound revelations of the person and work of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 12:1-10), that his unashamed joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ was a hugely settled issue, necessary for him to be an apostle to us Gentiles with the mystery of the gospel, which is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
[9] II Timothy 2:22
[10] Matthew 13:58
[11] Mark 6:6
[12] Hebrews 3:19
[13] Acts 19:9
[14] By “Beatitudinal Journey” I mean the gracious work of God to transform us through the experiences Jesus’ described in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12.
[15] Mark 9:14-29
[16] Mark 9:23-24

Thursday, May 18, 2017

God’s Credentials That Certify His Continuing Work

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.[1]

Yesterday my focus was on the glorious blessing of God’s grace that HE is the one who is working to equip us, and that this working is not some mediocre expression of reluctance, but to the measure of what is pleasing in his sight (it should be a huge relief to us that God does what is pleasing in his sight instead of what our sarks think is pleasing in our sight).

Today the focus turned to God’s credentials that certify that the things he is presently doing, and that he has promised to do throughout the remaining course of time, and the grand conclusion of his work in our new eternal home, are not only assured by the fact that he has already fulfilled a host of promises to prove his faithfulness, but that the fulfillment of these promises has given us this new covenant in Jesus’ blood, with Jesus himself as the guarantor of this new covenant, securing our eternal life both now and forevermore.

Let us look at the things God shows us about himself, and about us who know him as Father, so we can build each other up in our most holy faith.

God’s Credentials

the God of peace

POINT: By very nature God is the God of peace, so his ability to bring his beloved children to have peace with him is settled. Not even the prince of darkness can keep him from saving and keeping all he has chosen for his eternal inheritance.

who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus

POINT: Because sin has ruined our peace with God, securing the necessity of divine wrath against our sin, and the penalty of death both separating us from God forever, and securing our eternal condemnation, God created a covenant in which the death of his Son would give us peace, and his resurrection from the dead would give us the eternal mediator, the eternal guarantor of this new covenant.

the great shepherd of the sheep

POINT: Through the law, God showed us how the sheep could never have peace with him if the covenant required something from them to guarantee their standing with him. In the new covenant, everything is secured by Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, who not only laid down his life for the saving of his sheep, but is alive to shepherd his sheep in all the blessings of the new covenant.

by the blood of the eternal covenant

POINT: The fact that the eternal covenant is in Jesus’ blood makes certain our eternal salvation, for Jesus’ death has secured this covenant without any need for good works on our side. All that God has intended to do in his beloved children will be done on the merits of Jesus’ person and work, and the eternal nature of the covenant, completely finished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, assures our hearts today that all the remaining aspects of the covenant will be accomplished because “it is finished”.

God’s Continuing Work

equip you with everything good that you may do his will,

POINT: It is of great encouragement to us who are the children of God that God is the one who equips us. This is especially significant for me after focusing last Sunday’s message on how the leaders are to equip the saints for the works of ministry.[2] I have often bemoaned that there has been such a famine of anyone wanting to equip me for ministry, and God’s answer to me is that he will equip me, and he will equip us. This means that all the equipping I need for my ministry as a leader will come from him whether he ever chooses to do that through other members of the body of Christ or not (he has done this through men from a distance, but not through men in person). This also means that my own weaknesses and failures will not keep him from equipping his church for everything good for doing his will since, even in my involvement in people’s lives, it is still him equipping us for his will and his work.

working in us that which is pleasing in his sight,

POINT: It is God’s work to equip us by an ongoing relationship of working things into our lives, things that are pleasing to him. Not only should it be a huge relief to us that his standard of working in us is his own good pleasure, but it should be a huge encouragement that he is constantly working these things into our lives. The fact that he will bring his work to completion at the day of Christ assures us all the more that the end result of his work will be a people who are fully restored to the image and likeness of his Son, able to enjoy what is pleasing in his sight. It is actually overwhelming to think of what it will be like to stand in the divine presence and see our Father looking at us with PLEASURE in us, as was shared earlier this week, exulting over us with loud singing!

through Jesus Christ

POINT: Not only has God secured the eternal covenant through Jesus Christ, but what he continues to do in us to equip us, working into us that which is pleasing in his sight, is through personal relationship with his Son. This is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so essential, because it is in this fellowship with Jesus by his Spirit that God works everything into our lives. Even his constant confronting of our sarkiness is what he is doing through Jesus Christ to lead us into the joy of living out of our new hearts, in fellowship with his Spirit, in the righteousness, peace, and joy, of the kingdom of heaven.

Joining God’s Continuing Work

Now may…

POINT: Since the human writer of this letter, carried along by the Holy Spirit, expresses the desire of his own heart in this grand crescendo of revelation, we know that this ought to be the longing and prayer of our own hearts. We join God in his work by desiring and praying for this very same thing, not as though everything begins with us and God will do nothing unless we pray, but that prayer is one of the means by which we join God in what he is doing. He brings us alongside him in his work by working in us both to will and to do what is pleasing in his sight, and so this involves graciously tuning our desires to him until we find ourselves asking for the very things we read and hear in his words.

by the blood of the eternal covenant

POINT: Since the eternal covenant in Jesus’ blood is the only means by which sinners can come to God, we respond to the provision of this new covenant by coming to God with hearts full of faith in what God has done, what he is doing, and what he will do to complete the promises of this covenant. We join God’s work in this covenant through the repentance and faith that marks our experience of resurrection in Jesus Christ, and then by living as children of the kingdom of God, standing in the grace of God that has saved us, and growing up in the life of faith that is the only way of relating to God in covenant relationship.

equip you with everything good that you may do his will

POINT: if God is doing the equipping, we must join his workout program; and, if he chooses to equip and help others through us, we must see our work as resting on his work in and through us, never what we do independent of him in our own strength. We join him in our own equipping by submitting to whatever he is doing to train us every day (Beatitudinal as that may be), and we join him in equipping the church by fully engaging with him in our ministry to others to build them up in Christ and possibly equip them for their ministry in building up the body of Christ.

working in us that which is pleasing in his sight

POINT: Since God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure, we join his work by working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. [3] This is not only about the past work of Christ completed on the cross, but also the continuing work of God that, “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”[4] Since God is working on us by degrees, we seek to join him in his work with full and joyful submission to his will.

© 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 13:20-21
[2] See Ephesians 4:11-16 (context: Ephesians 4:1-16
[3] Philippians 2:12-13
[4] II Corinthians 3:18

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Peacefulness of God's Triune Peace

“Now may the God of peace…”[1]

As soon as I read this I knew that Father wanted me to know him like this. His summary of what he has written in this letter about his new covenant is that we are to think of him as the God of peace.

I immediately connected this to knowing Jesus as the “Prince of peace”,[2] and then to the ministry of the Holy Spirit that is “life and peace”.[3]

The wonder-filled thought is that the whole Triunity of God is peace, a wonderful peace of identity and relationship that is too mind-boggling to package up into a neat little box. It can only be understood in the picture of a wonderfully overflowing river of peace that God has done everything required to pour into our lives so that our cup overflows.[4]

Which, of course, begs the question of why any believer in Jesus Christ would not have peace. However, instead of wasting time bemoaning the problem, I believe the invitation of God is to the solution, that our experience of peace with God is in the God of peace, and the more we know him by the Holy Spirit, the more we will know his peace.

After pasting a whole list of Scriptures into my prayer-journaling for this week, all focused on the Triunity of God in peace, and what that means for us as his children, one that stood out is this familiar passage:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.[5]

In the first paragraph, as we pour our hearts out to God, “the peace of God” guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In the second passage, as we both think and act according to what the God of peace has revealed in his Book, “the God of peace will be with you.” The God of peace blesses us with the peace of God. Wonderful!

I love that fellowship between the God of peace and the peace of God. God acts the way he does because of who he is. We can count on his peace because it is who he is, and it is expressed in all three persons of the Godhead. They seek our peace, and provide for our peace, because it is who they are by very nature.

What do we do with this (and there are MANY more verses that express the Triunity of God in his peace, and their ministry to their children to bring us to peace with him)?

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8)

If nothing else, the more we practice setting our minds on the Spirit, the more we will enjoy the ramifications of the life and peace that is ours in Jesus Christ, God’s gift from the Father.

I have often been comforted that, even though churches regularly ignore the “two or three witnesses” rule of Scripture in both the old and new testaments, it is still the way God operates. So, we not only have the witness of two or three Scriptures that tell us that God is the God of peace, and Jesus brings us to peace with God, and the Spirit administers this peace in our lives by drawing us into fellowship with him, but we have the three witnesses of the Triune God testifying to their pleasure in leading us to have peace with them. They are unanimous in their peace, and their desire for us to fellowship with them in peace. Jesus has secured our peace through his redemptive work on the cross, so we are invited to enjoy and experience that peace with minds set on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

We just have to keep in mind that this is through the wonders of grace in the new covenant, not the laborious burden of trying to keep the old covenant. This is why, in the same sentence in Hebrews I am praying through, the writer reminds us that our experience of peace is by the blood of the eternal covenant,” not by the duties of the temporary covenant given to Moses. By Jesus’ blood we have peace with God. Our calling is to relate to him in peace no matter how much growing up in Jesus is still required for us to be like him.

© 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 13:20
[2] Isaiah 9:6
[3] Romans 8:6
[4] Isaiah 66:12; John 4:14; I Timothy 1:14; Revelation 7:17
[5] Philippians 4:4-9

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When God’s Word Changes Our Minds About Church

One of the difficult adjustments of home church life has been the discovery that, “Hold it a minute, that’s not what God’s word teaches!”

I have regularly had to adjust long-standing beliefs I had learned in denominational churches of the institutional mindset and reconsider what the New Testament writers were teaching the church of the first century, and what that required of me if I was determined to let the breathed-out words of God teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me in righteousness.[1]

I want to clarify that this journey in Jesus Christ has not moved me to the contemporary trend of accommodating sin in the church that the apostles would never have dreamed would happen so far ahead in the future. This has not led me to a man-centered interpretation of Scriptures that allow for us to believe whatever we want to believe as it suits our fancy, tickles or ears, or makes us comfortable in something God clearly rebukes. Neither have I come up with any fancy schemes of prophecy, or end times-events-timetables, or new packages of systematic theology. I have not merged aspects of the old covenant with the new, or isolated any particular Scriptures into a doctrinal mindset that requires the denial of other teachings of God’s word. I do not claim perfection in anything I believe or do, but still must identify that growing up in Christ with a heart to live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”,[2] has confronted me with things I already believed and did that were often not at all required by Scripture, and, at times, were in direct contradiction of God’s breathed-out words.

Stepping out from the manmade restrictions of denominational thinking and institutional organizing has allowed me to listen for what the Spirit is saying to the churches with a heart ready to walk in what the apostle Paul called, “the obedience of faith”.[3] I often discovered that I was not only dealing with the need to adjust my thinking and beliefs, but also that I was far more immature in my Christlikeness than I had ever imagined, and the need to grow up in my Savior was glaring in its expectations.

There has been no doubt that, in a quest to submit to the teachings of God’s word in faith, both beliefs and practices have been reproved, or shown to be wrong. This acceptance that I have been wrong prepared the way for whatever correction the Holy Spirit was working into my life through the living and active word of God.[4] These adjustments to belief and practice contributed to my training in the righteousness of faith,[5] that ongoing work of God to transform me into the same image as Jesus Christ “from one degree of glory to another”.[6]

I’m writing this today for the simple reason that I was once again confronted with something that was a challenge to the remnants of denominational/institutional belief and practice, and I had to open my heart to prayerfully meditate on what I was reading with as much openness to hear what the Spirit was saying to the churches at that time, and a willingness to adjust to what this means for the churches at this time.

It began with the next phrase I was praying through in the book of Hebrews, “Obey your leaders and submit to them...”[7] No matter how foreign obedience and submission may seem in the contemporary church,[8] it is not difficult to understand the definitions of the words “obey” and “submit”. They are parallel thoughts that indicate the way churches are to let the leaders lead by letting the followers follow.[9] In the same ways as shepherds lead and guide a flock and the sheep follow wherever they are led, so the care of the flock of God requires some to be leaders, and the rest to follow as they are led. This, of course, is with the understanding that Jesus Christ is head of his church, and we are all seeking to live as his people, his church, his body, his holy temple, growing up in him as the new covenant teaches.[10]
As I considered what it meant to obey and submit to our leaders in the church I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s detailed teaching on this in Ephesians.[11] While the whole passage deserves our humble attention, I can only focus on his description of leadership in the church in order to get some sense of who these leaders are we are to obey and follow. In other words, what did the apostles picture when they instructed the church to follow its leaders?

Paul explained, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”.[12] The “saints” refers to all the believers in the church, all those who have been set apart unto God as holy and righteous by grace through faith. This is synonymous with “the body of Christ”. The saints, all members of the body of Christ, are to obey and submit to their leaders.

The leaders are listed as, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers”. Again, for at least the semblance of brevity, I will not define each term, for I think they are understood sufficiently to allow us to consider what this group of men looked like to the earliest gatherings of the body of Christ.[13] My focus is on the simple fact that, when the writer of Hebrews told the church to obey and submit to its leaders, he meant exactly what had already been taught, this plurality of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.

I hope we will all agree that at this time in history the apostles who taught these things had no sense of either denominations nor church buildings. Perhaps we would be surprised by how much such practices condition what we believe when the apostles had never even heard of such things. In other words, they were NOT saying, obey and submit to the leaders of your denomination in general, and the leaders of the local church that meets in your specific building in particular. There were no denominations or buildings for that to apply! If we interpret Scripture by these boxes we are not free to go back in time and sit at the feet of the apostles to first know what they were talking about, and then honestly and sincerely see what that requires in our application (weird and difficult as that may be).

When we consider the layers of leadership in Paul’s list I think it is fair to begin with the idea that apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church,[14] so they are just as much the foundation of the church today for us who have only their writings as for those in the early church who also had their personal contributions. Our obedience and submission to the leaders involves a readiness to obey and submit to whatever is given us in the New Testament writings no matter whether there is any evangelist, pastor, or teacher, around to tell us what to do. And, all the present day leaders of the church must work to teach and apply all that has been given through the apostles and prophets so that every generation of the church is led to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.[15]

Evangelists in the early church were men gifted to proclaim the gospel wherever they went, drawing new believers together into the churches that could begin growing in each particular location. They were at the frontlines of Jesus’ mandate to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing those who confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and then beginning the teaching of all things Jesus commanded so that these disciples would follow their Savior as he continued building his church.[16] The ongoing teaching of obedient faith would then fall on the pastors and teachers appointed in the church to continue this ministry.

Shepherds, or pastors, were those men appointed by the apostles,[17] or by their representatives like Timothy and Titus,[18] to shepherd the flock of God after the heart and mind of the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ.[19] As alluded to earlier, we cannot picture shepherds as individual denominational men over an institutional local church that meets in one building exclusive of the rest of the believers in a given community. That’s not what the church was like in the first century, so we cannot impose such a limitation on God’s word. In the early church, all the believers in a whole city were referred to as the church of that city,[20] and the shepherds were those men in that city who had the qualifications to shepherd the flock of God in what they were taught from the apostles and prophets who had laid the church’s foundation, and the evangelists who had preached it into its early stages of growth.

Teachers, whether a sub-group of the pastors, or men who could teach but without necessarily having the gifting to shepherd,[21] were given the place of teaching the things that were given to them from the apostles. We see this when Paul told Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”[22] Paul as an apostle was instructing his disciple-son Timothy in how the church would continue teaching the whole counsel of God from beginning to end. Timothy would take what he heard from Paul (representative of what all the apostles taught the churches), entrust all this teaching to men Timothy deemed faithful, but also with the qualification that those men could teach others as well. In this way the apostolic teaching, now contained in the written words of Scripture, would remain the foundation of the church throughout all of time. Every generation would see faithful men receiving what they have been given, passing it on to the next generations of the church, with the church obeying and submitting to this brotherhood of leaders who were watching over their souls.[23]

I cannot develop this further at the moment, but I leave this with you for your own exploration of how much or little your church’s view of leaders follows that given in the New Testament, and how much or little your church obeys and submits to its leaders in the comprehensive way taught by the apostles. I obviously do not have an answer to how to live this out to the fullest when the majority of Christians in our communities prefer the autonomy of their denominational group that meets in a specific building week after week. However, I know that God’s word still applies today as it did when it was breathed-out by Father, so there are shepherds and teachers who are over the flock of God as broadly as Jesus means it, and we know what he wants us to do when any of these leaders seek to shepherd our souls into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his church.

© 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] II Timothy 3:16-17
[2] Matthew 4:4
[3] Romans 1:5; 16:26. In each of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 Jesus concludes with the statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22).
[4] Hebrews 4:12
[5] Romans 1:16-17
[6] II Corinthians 3:18
[7] Hebrews 13:17
[8] We likely know how Satan loves to stir up bad and hurtful experiences with church leadership in order to manage our hurts and fears into unbelief and disobedience. Both pastors and churches have been hurt by each other, and hurt feelings have a way of demanding authority over our beliefs and actions, so it is not difficult for the evil one to lead people who are already tending towards self-protective systems into one more expression of justifying why we simple aren’t ready or able to walk in the obedience of faith.
[9] In such a short presentation I cannot deal with all the “exceptions” of when people should not be leaders, or how they might be leading in their own ways instead of those of the word of God. I am not thinking of a specific leader who has come to mind for you since I cannot judge whether that leader is or is not walking in God’s will. My aim is to begin with what God’s word teaches, agree that we want to hide God’s word in our hearts so we will not sin against him, and then apply the words of Scripture to our situations so that, no matter what anyone else is doing, we are obeying what is written in faith, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us in how to follow the leaders within Jesus’ church.
[10] Everything I am sharing here is with the understanding that we are talking about the leaders of the church who know that the church belongs to Jesus (his church), and that we are seeking to become all he is working into us for his glory. Even when the apostles called the church to follow its leaders, they also identified the kind of men who were wolves and false teachers, making clear that we are to stay away from such men. However, no matter how often or how deeply we have been burned by bad leadership, Jesus is still head of his church, and he is still presenting men to lead his people, and the people are to obey and submit to these men who are working together to lead the church.
[11] I am thinking specifically of the paragraph of Ephesians 4:11-16, with the larger context of Ephesians 4:1-16. All that is taught in Ephesians balances on the doctrine taught in the first three chapters, and the application of how to live this faith as described in the last three chapters. God has given us all we need to grow up in Jesus Christ, and that includes the brotherhood of shepherds who lead the flock that follows its leaders.
[12] Ephesians 4:11-12
[13] Yes, the words “group” and “men” are intentional. It may seem foreign to our traditions to think of leaders as a group of men rather than all the individual pastors of all the denominational expressions of local churches. I have more often heard people refer to “my pastor” than “our pastors”. And, of course, the rejection of God’s design of man in the image of God as male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) has led to many unnecessary disagreements over how to live as men and women in Jesus Christ both in the church and in the family. While limiting what I share to what the Bible teaches might reduce my circle of fellowship, I hope that those who disagree will at least enter into the same diligence to understand the mind of the Spirit as revealed in the God-breathed words of Scripture with a willingness to change our minds on anything we carry contrary to God’s revelation.
[14] Ephesians 2:20 (context: Ephesians 2:11-22).
[15] Matthew 4:4
[16] Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18), and instructed his apostles in what is commonly known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
[17] Acts 14:23 (context: Acts 14:19-23)
[18] Titus 1:5; I Timothy 3:1-7 puts the qualifications for elders on Timothy (an outsider), not on a board within the local congregations that had formed through the preaching of the gospel.
[19] I Peter 5:2 (context: I Peter 5:1-4). I cannot develop this into my Pondering at the moment, but it is significant that elders, those we understand to be, or include, the pastors and teachers of the church, were not chosen by the congregations, but by the apostles and their representatives. Every denominational/institutional church I have been in has demanded the autonomy for the congregation to choose an “outsider” to come in and lead them, when the early church had “outsiders” come in and appoint elders from the men who were already in the church! And yet, to suggest such a thing is often considered almost blasphemous, even though the denominational, institutional, autonomous local churches that meet in individual specific buildings is completely foreign to Scripture.
[20] Again, that is the way Jesus spoke of things in his letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, that each city he addressed had only the one church in that city, no matter how many home churches were required to care for that one church. Each of the letters to the churches in the rest of the new testament also affirm that when the apostles wrote the church of a city they only had the one church in mind, that local expression of the body of Christ.
[21] There is reason to believe that some shepherds were gifted to shepherd the flock, but not necessarily at teaching.
[22] II Timothy 2:1-2
[23] A key component of the exhortation in Hebrews 13:17 is that the church obeys and submits to leaders who are watching over their souls for their growth and maturity in Jesus Christ. While it may seem foreign to think of leaders as all the men in a community who ought to be working together in this care of the church, and it might seem strange that Jesus would expect his church to obey and submit to this brotherhood of leaders even in a day when culture decries any suggestion of submission to authority whatsoever, it is often the case that it is strangely foreign to the local gatherings of the body of Christ that leaders are interested in the care of people’s souls rather than the operation of a denominational institution. However, our love for Jesus as head of the church he is building still opens our hearts to seek the reality of what he teaches in his word, and to live all it means to be members of his church, his body, whether we quietly lead in unknown gatherings of his brothers, or accept that God has given men to lead us even from a distance. We simply accept that this notion of the church obeying and submitting to a brotherhood of men who are caring for the souls of God’s people is a pure and wonderful expression of the greatest possible fellowship in the world (hence why it is so incessantly attacked by the world, the flesh, and the devil), and so we open our hearts to God to pray for this to happen wherever we are, and to increase the maturity of every aspect of this relationship between God and man no matter what difficulties we may be facing. Even the most impossible situations call us to pray for what is written in God’s word, and to submit to every expression of God’s answer to our prayers. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

When the Hindrance to Prayer is the Help to Prayer

I often have people tell me that the reason they didn’t pray at prayer meeting was that they didn’t have anything to pray about. Or, they will tell me that they aren’t praying in private because they can never think of what to pray.

My response is that the very thing they say is their reason not to pray is actually their reason to pray. When we hit a place where we don’t know what to pray, we NEED to pray and let God give us what to pray. Even in fellowship-prayer with another believer, or our prayer group, or our church prayer meeting, as scary as it might be, when there is that quiet moment that we could begin praying, and our minds seem empty of any possible thing to pray for, we should learn to begin praying anyway so that God can give us something to pray about.

I know our sarky self-protection cannot imagine this, that we would dare to enter into such an unsafe scenario as opening our mouths when we have nothing to pray, but consider what the faith-based heart of a beloved child sees when the opportunity to pray comes before him or her and no immediate thought of something to pray or praise is evident.

When a beloved child knows there is something between him or her and Father, and it grieves their heart that they are not as close to Father as they wish, and there is some nebulous fog of contrariness within them that keeps telling them they have nothing to pray about, and yet not praying is preventing the fellowship with the Spirit they long for, then the reasons not to pray become the things to pray for with reckless abandon.

We know how children can pester us with something they want, asking repeatedly the exact same question because we still haven’t given them the answer they are looking for. Even when we answer, if the answer is contrary to their desire, they will continue asking in the belief that there has to be a match between their request and our reply.

Now, what about when the child of God believes that the reason he or she is not praying to Father is because they cannot think of what to pray, and yet they know that not praying is hindering their growth in fellowship with Father? Does the awareness of the problem lead the child to conclude that they will not approach Father because they cannot think of what to pray? Is this the way we relate to others, that we will avoid them because we haven’t thought through what we would say to them if we were together? Do we not meet with many people in many different scenarios where we haven’t given any thought to what to say but just start talking because we are happy to see them?

Perhaps we do not know Father’s heart for us that he reveals himself as the beloved Father who takes his children in his arms and carries them close to his heart.[1] Perhaps we do not know that it is okay to approach Father with nothing to say because he has plenty to say to us and its okay to rest in him and listen to him speak through his word, and through his Spirit, so that we feel our souls feeding on every word that comes from the mouth of God.[2]

Some of us may be surprised to discover that, if we would meet with God on a daily basis where we first tell him where we’re at, how we’re doing, what we’re thinking and feeling, like a little child admitting his or her neediness to Father, and then open the word to hear what the Spirit has to teach us and remind us about that day,[3] that we would then discover that Father speaks so profoundly personally to whatever we are going through that we would have more to talk to him about than we had imagined.

Because the Scriptures we have in God’s Book are the breathed-out words of God, and they are able to teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us in righteousness,[4] presenting our hearts to God in the prayerful meditation of his word will ALWAYS give us things to pray about.

Using the scenario at hand, that we come to God struggling to know what to pray to him, and we begin by telling him all about that in humble contrition, and then we read in his word and see that the Spirit is seeking to speak something into our hearts, we will have something to pray back to Father in relation to whatever his words are teaching us. Simply because we put our heart before Father, and then listened to what he had to say, and discovered that his Spirit was now teaching us whatever we need to hear, gives us something to pray about, that we would experience whatever the words of Christ are instructing us to have in our lives.

At times, the ministry of the words of Christ will work to reprove us, or to address things in our lives that are wrong with us. At times this will feel like a loving Father showing his beloved child that there is sin hindering our relationship with him, perhaps the underlying reason we can’t pray. After all, when we’re in love with some sin, isn’t Father the last person we would want to talk to since we know he will do something to help us stop sinning? So, when we give in to the Spirit’s invitation to pour out our hearts in the divine presence, we must not be surprised when the words of Christ reprove us for the sin that is not only a hindrance to prayer, but a hindrance to everything to do with our fellowship with God and his people.

Other times the reproof of God in his words may address wrong beliefs and thinking in relation to other people’s sins against us. The words of Christ may confront how wrong we are to harbor a self-protective stance against God because we don’t trust him with our hurts and heartaches and so we just avoid him. If we get as far as telling Father where we are starting from, and then listening to his word for anything he has to say to us that day, we can be sure that he will address our mistaken choice to rely on ourselves for the care of our wounds rather than come to him in that small mustard seed of faith that believes there has to be some truth to the revelation that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.[5] While fear nags at our souls that this couldn’t be true because it has never happened before, faith urges us to accept the reproof of the words of Christ and come boldly into the divine presence to receive the help we so desperately need.

Whenever God’s words reprove us of things that are wrong in our lives, even if it just feels like a doctor making a diagnosis of our soul-condition as he or she would of our bodies, the reproof is never the expression of divine judgment against sinners. When God adopts us as his children, something he does for every person who receives the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord, and God, and Savior, he always follows up a reproof with the correction of his loving discipline.[6]

In other words, if Father shows us there is something wrong within us, it is always so he can address it for our ongoing transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another.[7] He must follow a rebuke of what is wrong with a correction into what is right. This might include him reproving us for doubting him about whatever we have hidden beneath our layers of self-protection, and correcting us into the kind of humble faith that would express trust in him of the, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”, variety.[8] Whatever the case, we must expect that our times in the word of God will sometimes have to correct a wrong notion, or a wrong action, and, when Father shows us the correct way of thinking about our problem, even our struggle to pray, we will discover that he had a way to help us after all!

The over-riding ministry of God’s word is that Father uses his word to train us in righteousness. Even the righteousness of prayer can be trained into us. In fact, people join sports’ teams all the time without having the skills to play, but with a desire to be trained to play. Kids start sports at young ages where they can barely skate, or kick a ball, and yet they get out there on the ice, or on the field, and accept the training that will help them grow up to do well.

In an even greater way, when we consider that the words of Christ will train us in righteousness, we are right back to the starting place of believing that whatever is a hindrance is actually a help. That unrighteousness in our hearts is not a hindrance to approaching God, but a help to know how to pray. And, we pray about the unrighteousness in our lives, and things Father shows us in his word of what righteousness looks like, because we know the very words of God in the hands of the Holy Spirit will train us in righteousness without fail.[9]

All of this gives us plenty of reason to pray when we don’t know what to pray. If we will pray to Father that we don’t know what to pray, tell him how we feel about that, and whatever else pours out of our hearts once we open the prayer-faucet, and then open his word knowing that faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes from the words of Christ,[10] we can be sure that Father will give us something in his word that will build up our faith so we know what to pray. We just have to start praying!

Now, I suspect that if any of us have never tried this before that giving it our first shot in a public prayer meeting might seem so insurmountable that we would not even imagine trying. Well, guess what! That’s what our private and secret prayer-life is for!

Before your church’s next prayer meeting, or your next prayer group, or your next visit with any believer who might consider praying with you, get alone with God and begin praying out your struggles with willingness for the Spirit of Jesus Christ to lead you into prayer. Begin with an expression of your dependence on your heavenly Father to teach you to pray, confessing whatever inabilities and inadequacies are staring you in the face, and settle your heart into the Holy Spirit’s work of helping you cry out, “Abba! Father!”[11]

And don’t stop because you still believe you have nothing to pray. Once we settle that every thought or belief that causes us to conclude we ought not to pray is really the very thing we should pray about, our struggle becomes a help to prayer rather than a hindrance to prayer.

And, once that hindrance to prayer is removed, the one where we keep concluding we should stop praying just because we have nothing in our minds to pray, we will discover that it is rather easy to pray without ceasing when we just keep starting with every thought in our heads that tells us we have nothing to pray. Get those things poured out before the throne of grace and we will discover that God has plenty of grace and mercy to help us in our time of need, and will lead us into more things to pray about than we can possibly fit in.[12]

© 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] Isaiah 40:11
[2] Matthew 4:4
[3] John 14:26
[4] II Timothy 3:16-17
[5] Psalm 147:3
[6] Hebrews 12:6
[7] II Corinthians 3:18
[8] Psalm 56:3
[9] A beautiful expression of this is in Titus 2:11-14
[10] Romans 10:17
[11] Romans 8:15
[12] Hebrews 4:14-16