Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Subjection and Supplication

If God’s children are living in the world, but we are not “of the world,”[1] how are we then to live in relation to the governments that rule the world?

After all, we’re facing whatever government is running the country in which we live, including decisions they make that are for the good of the world and not Jesus’ church. In some countries, the government is decidedly against Jesus’ church and is doing all they can to snuff it out. In others, like Canada and the USA, movements abound with the aim of manipulating government into doing only what is good for Worldlings, and nothing that is good for Jesus’ church.

How should we then live?

For starters, we must understand our identity. Whose we are, and who we are because of him, is the primary determinant of how we live in the world.

Lately I have been strongly influenced by the description of God’s people as, “beloved sojourners and exiles”.[2] This tells me that I am living in the world with the primary identity of a beloved child of God who lives in imitation of God as his beloved children.[3] As a sojourner, I live as one who is only here for a brief time, a mere blip compared to the eternity yet to come. As an exile, I’m living in a foreign country that is not my true home, for Jesus has gone ahead of his church to prepare a new home for us and will soon return to take us there.[4]

The two aims of the beloved sojourners and exiles of God is that we are to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” and, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”[5] The negative aim is to avoid the passions of the flesh/sark. The positive aim is to live a God-honoring life characterized by God-glorifying good deeds. This applies to everything we do in the world, and every relationship we are in.

The way this relates to our local governments is stated like this:

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (I Peter 2)

What stands out front and center is that, while God’s beloved sojourners and exiles are called to, “be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution,”[6] our identity as the beloved sojourners and exiles of God keeps us always in subjection to God above all. Woven into this paragraph are these expressions:

·  “for the Lord’s sake” = we do not move from under the Lord’s authority to the government’s authority, but we do everything for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, even when we subject ourselves to the authority of human institutions. We are the beloved sojourners and exiles of God, and so even our good behavior in the world is in submission to Jesus Christ.
·  “this is the will of God” = whatever is going on in our society, and our particular expression of government, the good we do is according to the will of our heavenly Father because we are his beloved children who are temporarily residing in this foreign country of the world.
·  “living as servants of God” = it is as servants of God that we subject ourselves to human institutions. This is what God’s servants do. It does not mean we do not seek to eradicate slavery as Wilberforce did. It does not mean we allow atrocities at the hands of governments. It does not mean that we live with the evils perpetrated by governments and do nothing to help the oppressed. It just means that we are in this world as the servants of God, and the general idea of our sojourning in the foreign countries in which we live is to live in subjection to whichever government is running the country as far as serving our Savior allows.
·  “fear God” = while we seek to honor people and governments and authorities and institutions around us, whatever is put in place to govern the foreign land in which we live, and we seek to love the brotherhood of believers as the kingdom in which we truly live, the home-away-from-home kingdom of God, and as we honor the emperor, or president, or prime minister, or monarch, or mayor, or premier, or whatever other authorities are in place, we do everything in the reverential fear of God. God is the ultimate authority and there is a way that we honor and fear his authority above all things, knowing that it is under his authority that we subject ourselves to the authorities around us.

Thankfully, what God teaches his beloved sojourners and exiles is in glorious contrast to what we see taking place in our world today with all the anarchistic movements that flood the news. It brought to mind a long-ago situation in which God’s beloved sojourners and exiles were in subjection to a government that was oppressing them with slavery. You can read about this in the book of Exodus.[7]

The over-riding thing that stood out was that, in contrast to an anarchistic movement that seeks to overthrow one government and establish another, the people of God did what was consistent with their identity as the children of God.   

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.[8]

The point for me was that the people of God groaned and cried out for help, looking to the King of their kingdom, not the government that oppressed them. Their subjection to God led to their supplication about their unfair treatment. God’s faithfulness to his covenant shone out and he began working in answer to his children’s prayers. This reminded me of the great revivals throughout history that were not brought about by Christians staging protests against their governments, but by uniting in prayers of repentance and faith that God would intervene and turn their countries back to him in a big way.[9]

As God hears the prayers of his people, and prepares the way for their deliverance, we get a wonderful example of how God’s children live in subjection to God while in subjection to a government. First, when Pharaoh commanded that the Hebrew baby boys be put to death, we are told that, the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”[10] Living in fear and subjection to God will lead us in how to disobey specific laws of a government while still living in subjection to that government. A government has no right to command the murdering of babies (prior to birth included), and so our subjection to God requires defiance of such unjust laws while continuing to live in subjection to the general laws of the land, so to speak.

As the situation unfolds, when Moses was born, and Moses’ mother protected him from the king’s law, the book of Hebrews describes it like this, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.”[11] Because Moses’ parents were living by faith, they were not afraid of an evil governmental edict even though it put them in danger of being caught and punished for disobedience. They were not boycotting, or setting up lobbyist groups, or publishing tweets and posts about the terrible Pharaoh of the land. They simply lived in subjection to God, subjecting themselves to a life of slavery, praying in supplication that God would intervene, while refusing to subject themselves to the murderous edicts of a wicked king.

Conclusion: because our primary identity in the world is as the beloved sojourners and exiles of God (not citizens of whichever country we are living in), our subjection to human institutions of government is governed by our subjection to God our Father and Jesus Christ our King. This means abstaining from the fleshly, sarky passions that would cause us to relate to worldly governments just like the Worldlings around us, and it means living such honorable lives filled with such good works that, even if people presently accuse us of being evil for not endorsing their sin, at the return of Jesus Christ they will see that the church Jesus was building has indeed revealed his glory after all.

© 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] John 17:14-16
[2] I Peter 2:11
[3] Ephesians 5:1-2
[4] John 14:1-3
[5] I Peter 2:11-12
[6] I Peter 2:13
[8] Exodus 2:23-25
[9] Here is a short audio/video clip of Duncan Campbell recounting the great story of the revival that God poured over the Hebrides Islands of Scotland between 1948-1952:
[10] Exodus 1:17
[11] Hebrews 11:23

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Beloved Who Live What We Are

Yesterday was my birthday, that annual reminder that I am aging, and life is short.

With this in mind, I began my prayer journaling this morning talking to God about the brevity of life. No matter how long we live on this earth, because God “has put eternity into man's heart,”[1] it will always feel too short. The Christian, of all people, can face this with true hope since the eternity in our hearts will be fully satisfied with the eternity of God’s presence in which there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore.[2] However, this earthly life is short, and we have so little time to make it count.

I’m now continuing in my journey through I Peter and have arrived at the section that describes the relationships of husbands and wives. However, these are applications of a foundational truth that directs how we live in a whole variety of relationships. To understand how to live as husbands and wives, we must keep in mind that it is a distinctive expression of this teaching:

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (I Peter 2)

First I noticed the three nouns that describe us who are the children of God:
·  Beloved: the people who are loved, simple as that!
·  Sojourners: sojourn means to stay somewhere for a brief period of time.
·  Exiles: those living away from their own country.

When Peter tells us to “abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and, “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,” he speaks of us in three nouns that identify who we are. How we do what we do in the relational examples that follow is based on this universal understanding of our identity. We do both the negative abstaining and the positive God-honoring because of who we are in Jesus Christ, but particularly as it applies to how we view ourselves in this present world.

How do these three identifications make us the people who can both abstain from sarky passions and glorify God?
·  Beloved: we love God because he first loves us.[3] Knowing ourselves as beloved children of God draws our hearts to turn from what is evil and pursue what is good. We are able to imitate God in his love for us because we are beloved children who have witnessed the love of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.[4]
·  Sojourners: we are in this foreign country for a brief stay and so we do not make ourselves at home! We do not indulge in the sinful activities of this foreign country, and we live in the culture of the God-glorifying kingdom even though it is totally foreign to the world in which we live. Our very identity as a brief visitor keeps us focused on living according to the things that last forever.
·  Exiles: we are so conscious that we are exiled from our homeland that we live in constant longing to be home. This makes us live by the culture of our homeland because that is who we are. We are not immigrants in the world, now seeking to make a home in a new place. We are prisoners released from the oppressive tyranny of this sinful world, living as exiles who are in this world but not of the world, and our one over-riding passion is to go home. With that in mind, we live accordingly.

I thought it was interesting to begin by talking to God about how I feel concerning the brevity of life and then have him focus this into my very identity as one of his beloved sojourners and exiles. I have a heavenly Father who loves me more than I know, and he keeps reminding me that life in this world is so brief that I am not to live like I belong here. Instead, I am to constantly express who I am as a beloved child of God who is a sojourning exile shining the light of life into the darkness of the foreign country in which I live.

Therefore, instead of letting this foreign country draw me into its darkness, I must let my “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[5] The church is the light of the world. Because we do not live and walk in the world’s darkness, and we do live and walk in the light of the Lord, we are free to shine the light of God’s life and love into the dark world in which we live.  

How does this relate to a fifty-nine year old husband relating to his wife of thirty-seven years? 

As a beloved child of God I will not love as the world loves, but will imitate the love of God in how I express my love to my wife. As a sojourner, I will look to fill our marriage with activities and relationships that have eternal value. As an exile, I will aim to nurture our marriage with the shared activity of seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and seek to bear with the troubles and trials of this earthly life with constant comforts of our coming eternal home. And, I will seek to maintain strong attachment-level love-relationships with Jesus’ church so others in the body of Christ can both help me and hold me accountable to keep growing up in these things.

© 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] Ecclesiastes 3:11
[2] Psalm 16:11
[3] I John 4:19
[4] Ephesians 5:1-2
[5] Matthew 5:16

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dear Pastor: Your Shepherd and Overseer Will Make You a Shepherd and Overseer

I have long complained to God that he has chosen to not give me in-person mentors/disciplemakers who would address my soul-condition with the deliberate aim of helping me grow up in Christ.[1]

In fact, I have had occasion to go to older pastors in my life and describe things I was dealing with only to hear them tell me they had never heard of such things and then leave me and never speak to me again.

While God has regularly addressed my lament with assurances of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, yesterday he ministered this to my soul in a profoundly comforting way. It was in a visit to this teaching of God’s word:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.[2]

This is a reminder to the church that Jesus is not only our example of enduring unjust suffering for doing good, but he is our means of enduring unjust suffering for doing good.[3] As Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[4] This includes those times when we suffer as a result of anything good we do in Jesus’ name.

What God ministered to me so personally was the deliberate expression that we have returned to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Although Jesus does work through members of his body to shepherd and oversee our souls in their use of the spiritual gifts they have been given,[5] there is always this overriding reality that it is Jesus himself who is our Shepherd and Overseer.

This means that, no matter how much we lack of members of the body of Christ personally watching over our souls, any man serving the church as a pastor has a Shepherd and Overseer who is able to give all the shepherding and overseeing we could ever need, even if he chooses to do this without the involvement of the shepherds and overseers within his body.

At the time this spoke to me I was also very mindful of Jesus’ imagery of the vine and the branches in John 15. It is as we abide in the vine that we bear much fruit. There is no experience of lack of attachment to people that can stop us from abiding in Jesus and bearing much fruit. There is no amount of unjust suffering that can diminish our relationship to Jesus as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus is the true vine, we are his branches, and even unshepherded shepherds can be all the shepherd and overseer they ought to be by abiding in the Shepherd and Overseer of our own souls.

This also connected to the glorious picture of Romans 5 in which we are told that, “hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[6] Again, this hope is in reference to suffering. As our hope is not diminished in the least when we suffer unjustly, so our experience of the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is sufficient for us to serve as shepherds and overseers of the flock.

In other words, abiding in Christ as the true vine is not hindered by bad experiences with people, or people in our lives failing to give us what their place in the body of Christ should have provided, or churches that have hurt us as pastors, or us hurting ourselves through our failures in ministry to churches, or any other personal testimony we could give of someone failing us or doing us wrong.

The message is that the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls will so shepherd and oversee every pastor who abides in him as a branch in the vine so that we can then fulfill our entire ministry as men who “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”[7]

What Jesus will do in disciplining those pastors who must give account to him of their failures in our lives is really none of our business. We cannot excuse our failures with theirs or anyone else’s.

Instead, we must look to the Shepherd and Overseer of our own souls as the true vine who will enable us to branch out and serve as shepherds and overseers of the souls of others. This will include pouring out our complaints before him when certain days make us feel so abandoned by people who should have loved us more than they did,[8] and it will include “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”[9]

While this may involve requests that God would please give us men who will shepherd and oversee our own souls, it will more be directed at asking God to please give us such an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ that his shepherding and overseeing of our souls will flow through us into our participation in shepherding and overseeing the souls of others.

For me, this has become a ministry to my soul that, whenever I am tempted to look away from Christ in some complaint, or some sarky attraction, or some sinful snare, I will find victory as I look to the Shepherd and Overseer of my soul instead.[10] As the victory of this faith strengthens and matures me in Christ, I will then see how to bless others with my personal involvement in their lives for the care of their souls.

© 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] I avail myself of the ministries and resources provided by God’s servants who seek to shepherd and oversee the church through their books, podcasts, and videos. However, I have not had this kind of in-person shepherding/overseeing ministry where someone addressed my soul-condition in the way I imagine a pastor would relate to things I have experienced throughout my life.
[2] I Peter 2:25
[3] This is what Peter addresses in I Peter 2:18-25
[4] Philippians 4:13
[5] Ephesians 4:11-16 shows Jesus’ blueprint for the way leaders equip the flock for ministry that builds up the whole body of Christ.
[6] Romans 5:5
[7] Hebrews 13:17
[8] Laying our complaint before God is expressed in such places as, Psalm 102:1; 142:2; Jeremiah 12:1. Presenting a lament about the condition of the people of God is expressed very personally in the book of Lamentations.
[9] Addressing specific complaints and laments as we pour out our hearts to God leads into the more positive focus of prayer as given by Paul in Philippians 4:4-8 in which we present everything to God in all kinds of prayers and requests, with thanksgiving, knowing that we can experience the peace of Christ through our abiding relationship with him, even while we wait to see how he will answer our prayers.
[10] I John 5:4 identifies that it is our faith that gives us victory over the world. Everything God teaches us about abiding in Jesus as the true vine, and as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, is an issue of faith. Instead of losing faith because of people who have wronged us, let us down, or failed us, Jesus is glorious enough to fill us with faith as we keep our eyes fixed on him (see Hebrews 12:1-3).