Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The God Who Returns His Children to Joy

 For quite some time now, we have related to our daycare Littles through the mindset of returning children to joy. We can’t always protect children from getting hurt, and we can’t help addressing when they do something hurtful to their playmates. But we can do things that end each difficult situation with joyful attachment that leaves everyone with good memories of our time together.

 Alongside our maturing in this lifestyle, I have been growing in my attachment to God as the Father who loves to return his children to joy. I did not grow up knowing him as a joyful person, let alone joyful when he looked at me.

 However, I can now look back at a lifetime of lessons and realize that God has had joy in having me as his child that goes back to a decision made in eternity before time even began.[1] He set about to create a world in which he would one day have me as a son even though it would cost him the life of his Son to purchase my adoption.

 One of my major themes in life now is to join God in his work of returning people to joy. I am convinced that it does not matter one little bit how joyless someone is when they feel God awakening their hearts to him. His joyfulness is more than enough to return any of us to joy, and he is working in his children right now to lead us there.

 The starting place in opening our hearts to God’s joy-returning work is to look at him as the joyful person he is. It may be difficult for us to appreciate that God is joyful in himself, and to such an extent that his joy overcomes our joylessness, but it is clearly revealed in his Book, and it is constantly offered to all who believe.

 A central revelation in this regard is expressed like this:

You make known to me the path of life;

    in your presence there is fullness of joy;

    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.[2]

 I will never tire of sharing this verse with God’s children. He is the one who makes known to us the path of life. The reason for so much joylessness among church-folk is because we want God to join us on our self-protective journeys instead of following him onto the path of life.

 But what happens if we, “come into his presence,” as they say?

 We will find that, “in your presence there is fullness of joy.”

 Now, consider that God’s word invites us to, “come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!”[3] If in his presence there is fullness of joy, wouldn’t his children feel thanksgiving, joy and praise as we come into that presence?

 Or, consider this invitation to, “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”[4] Are not the gladness and joyful singing expressions of children responding to the gladness and joy in their heavenly Father?

 Even the way Jesus wept over Jerusalem was an expression of his sorrow that he had offered them the opportunity to return to joy in the Messiah God had promised, but, “you were not willing!”[5]

 Why did that grieve Jesus so much? Because he could have led them to, “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”[6] but they were unwilling to receive it.

 He had already described this very scenario centuries earlier, “For thus said the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling…”[7] God would have loved to save his people instead of discipline them, and strengthen them instead of leaving them helpless against their enemies. However, they simply were not willing to let him take care of them in that way, and so they experienced the fruit of their choices instead of the blessing of his joy.

 The key to a relationship with God in which he constantly returns us to joy is something called, “abiding in Christ”. Jesus described this in the imagery of a branch abiding in a vine.[8] It is easy to understand this whether we’re talking about a branch attached to a grape vine or a branch attached to a fruit tree. The life is in the vine, or the trunk, and when that life flows through the branches, the branches are enlivened to bear much fruit.

 After explaining how this all works, Jesus gives this statement of his intent in the matter, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[9] What an unthinkable thing to a joyless person who can’t even imagine God loving them, let alone being joyful with them. And yet Jesus wants to send his own joy into us like sap flowing into a branch, and he wants his joy to bring our joy to the full so that we are just as joyful as he is.

 Now remember that Jesus was teaching his disciples these things immediately before his arrest, kangaroo-court of a trial, flogging and crucifixion. For three days it would appear that he had failed, and yet he talked as though abiding in him would be an ongoing experience. Even before the most grief-causing experience of their lives, Jesus was already setting the stage to return them to joy.

 At the end of this conversation, Jesus told them, “‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’”[10] Our peace with God is the reason for our joy. As long as we are in the world, we will have tribulation because the world will hate us like it hates our Savior. But we are to take heart, or remain confident and filled with hope, because Jesus had already overcome the world by entering into it, and was about to establish his victory in space, time and matter with his impending crucifixion.

 One of the biggest clues to this activity of God to return his children to joy was the way his angel announced the birth of his Son to some lowly shepherd. His Book records the event like this: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”[11]

 The reason there is “good news of great joy” for us today is that a Savior has been born, and that Savior is Jesus Christ the Lord. Many people can’t see this joy because they misunderstand the call of the gospel as a command to be good Christians.

 But the people who encountered Jesus and went away rejoicing were people who had no hope of ever being good enough for God, but believed that Jesus was good enough for them to get the help they longed for. When we see the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, and the deaf hear, and the dead raised, we see what God does for sinners to return us to joy when we come to him to be saved.

 The good news of great joy that Jesus preached while he was here is the same good news of great joy that is offered to you today. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”[12] Nothing more needs to be done for God to have both the legal right and the personal delight to return us to joy. His kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”[13] is at hand, nearby, ready to bless us.

 All we need to do in response to this is repent, or change our minds, of whatever sinful, selfish and self-protective things we are presently doing to handle things in our own strength, and to believe in the good news that a Savior has already been given to us to return us to joy.

 The right of every child of God is described like this: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”[14]

 And, if that does not describe your experience of the good news, the Holy Spirit is standing by to return you to joy.

© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Ephesians 1:3-10 makes clear how much God had settled before he even began creating the world.
[2] Psalm 16:11
[3] Psalm 95:2
[4] Psalm 100:2
[5] Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; See also Luke 19:41-44
[6] I Peter 1:8
[7] Isaiah 30:15
[8] John 15:1-17
[9] John 15:11
[10] John 16:33
[11] Luke 2:10-11
[12] Mark 1:14-15
[13] Romans 14:17
[14] I Peter 1:8-9

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Joyful Increase of Relational Joy

Yesterday morning, I watched a video message from John Piper in which he gave his testimony regarding how God led him into a life of joy in God.[1] One of the things that stood out the most for me was the experience of relational joy that increases when it brings others to attach to it.

I could see how the Triune God are relationally joyful persons. It is not that each person of the Godhead is so joyful in their individual selves that the other two have no influence over them. When we see Jesus on the cross crying out, “’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”,[2] he was not only fulfilling a prophecy about him from a thousand years earlier,[3] but was expressing the effect of the only time ever that he was out of fellowship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. It clearly was a terrible experience for him.

This idea that the Triune God finds joy in each other, and that they have loved one another forever, brings us to how they relate to us as creatures deliberately made in their own image and likeness.

This is what is so mindbogglingly wonderful to me. The Triune God, knowing that we would do this most horrible thing of choosing sin instead of them, had such a desire to express themselves in a way that would delight us with “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”[4] that they would orchestrate everything we know as “the way of salvation”,[5] in order to bring us into their “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”.[6]

When Jesus told the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son,[7] he deliberately described what was happening in heaven in terms of relational joy.

When the shepherd of the first parable finds his lost sheep, “he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”[8] The shepherd, clearly expressing Jesus coming into the world to find repentant tax collectors and sinners, calls for others to “rejoice with me”. And his application is, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”[9]

What is so significant is the relational joy in this. The shepherd is joyful when he finds his lost sheep. The shepherd wants others to rejoice with him when he tells them that he has found his lost sheep. In heaven, the joy that suddenly erupts “over one sinner who repents,” is very clearly a relational joy showing God himself affected with joy when a lost soul receives the “good news of great joy” that a Savior has come to them.[10]

In the next parable, when the woman finds her lost coin, the relational quality of kingdom-of-God joy is clearly revealed. “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”[11] The woman is joyful in relation to finding her coin, but then she wants her friends and neighbors to increase the experience of joy by rejoicing with her in what she has found.

Jesus makes very clear that the relational joy was happening in heaven with God when he says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”[12] Now we have Jesus rejoicing in relation to finding a lost sinner, we have Jesus inviting people to share his joy with him instead of grumbling at what was taking place, and we have Jesus telling us that God was expressing his joy in the presence of his holy angels in direct relation to “one sinner who repents.”

The third parable is the most detailed, but the story is the same: A father loses one of his sons to terribly sinful living that breaks their relationship completely. The religious elite should have had no difficulty attaching to that picture in relation to the tax collectors and sinners they disdained.

However, when the sinful son comes home, hoping only for the place of a hired servant in his father’s household, the word-picture of the father in relation to this sinner is mind-blowing. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”[13]

There is no doubt what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of the joy that was taking place in heaven when one sinner changed his or her mind and came home. Even while the sinner was “still a long way off,” the father was already having a joyful reaction to him. Seeing this broken child coming along the road to home caused a response of compassion that moved the father to run out to greet his son, embrace him and kiss him in the most relational expression of joy we could ever imagine.

Even when the son recited his planned speech of, “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’”,[14] the father’s joy would never lower itself to something so inferior to what he desired. Instead of accepting the limitations of his son’s expectations (to be a hired hand), he expressed the richness of his joy by telling his servants, “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.’”[15]

This call to celebrate together was an invitation for his household, servants included, to share together in a joyous event. When the Father explained, “‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found,’” everyone “began to celebrate,”[16] meaning, to share their joy with one another.

When we put all this in the context that Jesus was explaining to the “Pharisees and scribes” what was really going on when “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him,”[17] there is no doubt that Jesus was deliberately communicating the joy that God experienced in direct relation to “one sinner who repents”.

And, when Jesus adds that the father of the lost son noticed that the older brother was grumbling against his joyful response to his sinful brother,[18] he showed how he was even then and there longing to have these religious hypocrites share in the joy that everyone else was feeling as lost sinners were coming home.

Why is this so significant to me?

Because, in my six decades of church life, I know very few church-folk who talk about their experience of coming to Christ as an attachment to “good news of great joy.” I don’t need more than one hand to name the professing Christians who, when I began to relate to the deepest condition of their souls, I found them filled with, “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” because of how they felt about “obtaining the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls.”[19]

In my own life, discovering how relationally joyful God is has been transforming to me. My predominant mindset growing up was that people had every right to get angry at me because there was always something wrong with anything I tried to do. And, if that was true of people, then how much more did God have every right to be angry at me since he was clearly the one person who always knew I was not good enough!

To then realize that God had so deliberately breathed out word after word of joy to show me how joyful he is when sinners like myself repent, has been filling me with joy in God in a way that keeps growing and maturing as the years go by.

What do I want to see happen in any church groups I have attachment to?

That we would experience the gospel of the kingdom as “good news of great joy”. I want to see people experience the kingdom itself as a place of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[20] I want to be among a people who can, “rejoice with those who rejoice,” while they also, “weep with those who weep”[21] in totally relational attachment to returning everyone to joy.

I will end with Paul’s expression of appreciation to a man named Philemon who was “a beloved fellow worker” in the kingdom-activity of God.[22] Paul wrote, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”[23]

Do you see all the relational joy in that? The hearts of the saints had been refreshed through Philemon’s place in their lives. Paul received comfort from the love Philemon expressed to everyone because he was affected by the good news of how the other believers were refreshed. Paul is then blessing Philemon by expressing his gratitude and appreciation so that his friend can be encouraged, and the fact that God wanted this recorded into Scripture increases the picture so that, every time these words add joy to our lives, there is joyful connection with God who has orchestrated the whole joyful symphony.

As the world continues its hopeless slide from bad to worse, we will always hear something terrible going on, often with a very sad element of attacks against God’s children. We will always have someone in our churches who is only just beginning to come to terms with how broken they are on the inside, and how childhood trauma is only now coming out of the dark to feel the love of our Savior.

But we can join Paul in his very relational expression that, “we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”[24]

We can all start by letting God’s word work with us for our own joy, and then share what we experience of God’s joy with others. Even if we do not immediately see a joyful response from people (sometimes they are simply too wounded and self-protective to meet us there), we can still keep growing in our own relational experience of God’s joy, and keep sharing our joy with others in that agapè-love that enjoys seeking their good.

And, on those days when we can’t seem to get anyone to attach to us in the joy we felt in our time with God, and we are tempted to give up our joy for a pity-party, remember the call of Scripture that we are, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”[25] On the cross, Jesus did not feel relational joy with anyone, but he looked at “the joy that was set before him,” that the end result of his sacrifice would be the relational joy he felt with us.

And so, we “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,”[26] and ask God to show us someone who needs to hear the encouragement of our joy. Who knows how many people God will return to joy through us joining him in his joyful work.  

© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[2] Matthew 27:46
[3] Psalm 22:1
[4] I Peter 1:8 (in the context of I Peter 1:3-9)
[5] Acts 16:17
[6] Psalm 16:11
[7] Luke 15:1-32
[8] Luke 15:6
[9] Luke 15:7
[10] Luke 2:10-11
[11] Luke 15:9
[12] Luke 15:10
[13] Luke 15:20
[14] Luke 15:21
[15] Luke 15:22-23
[16] Luke 15:24
[17] Luke 15:1-2
[18] This is shown in the rest of the parable from Luke 15:25-32
[19] I Peter 1:8-9
[20] Romans 14:17
[21] Romans 12:15
[22] Philemon 1:1
[23] Philemon 1:7 (Paul’s letter to Philemon is only 25 verses long, Philemon 1:1-25).
[24] II Corinthians 1:24
[25] Hebrews 12:2
[26] Hebrews 12:3

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Love-Relationship That Cures Addiction

The above quote is my best summary of what I understand about addiction. It is always a replacement for God, we know that. But it is distinctly a replacement for the joy we are not experiencing in relationship with God.

God is the most joyful person. Period. He just is. In his presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (which just happens to be where Jesus is sitting!).[1]

God is also the most loving person. It’s who he is.[2] He is a person filled with desires for the greatest of good things in and for his children. He can’t desire anything less than the best.

When God created man in his own image and likeness,[3] it included this quality, that he made us to be joyfully beloved. Feeling loved by God should make us joyful beyond our wildest imaginings (hence Satan’s constant attacks on whether God is a loving person). Feeling joyful can only reach its highest fulfillment when it is how we feel because of how we are loved by our heavenly Father.

In the past three decades, a key component of my walk with God has been exploring why church-folk are so committed to self-protection instead of knowing and doing the will of God. Along the way I have been learning about the terrible trauma that has left so many of God’s children believing they are worthless and feeling hopeless that this condition will ever change.

Which has brought me to see how much of church-life is ruled by people’s addictions rather than their attachments to God and his people. After all, religious addictions are often the most difficult to admit.

Now that I can accept that this is a legitimate and serious problem in the church, it makes me all the more excited about the thing we call “the gospel”. From its very first announcement, it is a message of, “good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[4]

Why do so many church-folk who say they believe this good news live as if they have never experienced this great joy? If everyone who believes in Jesus should be able to, “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”[5] why is there so little joy when people talk about their relationship with God?

It seems that the proliferation of traumatic experiences imprison church-folk from admitting they are sinners in need of a Savior. Satan has blinded their eyes with the belief that God couldn’t love someone like them, and because they can’t believe the essential reality of the good news that, “God so loved the world that he gave,”[6] they can’t let themselves believe that there is a Savior for them as much as anyone else (even when they have a basic belief that the Bible is true).

Into this mess of wrong beliefs, as though knowing we would think them, God has already written that he, “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[7]

How do messed up people come to believe that God our Creator could possibly love us? By looking at the cross. In the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, all God’s children see how much he loved us while we were still sinners. When we become his children through repentance and faith, we are on a journey of discovering that we were loved even before the beginning of time.[8]

Jesus describes for us a relationship in which he is the true vine and we are the branches.[9] We are invited to abide in him the way branches receive their sustenance from the vine to which they are attached. Why does he want us living in love-relationship with him like that?

Here is the answer in his own words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[10] Jesus told us to abide in him as branches in a vine because it is that relationship that would cause his joy to flow into us, and our joy to be brought into its fullness.

It is not surprising that so many addiction recovery groups begin with some kind of declaration that we are powerless, and a greater power needs to help us. God has not left us to face our powerlessness alone, nor to create a higher power in our own image and likeness.

Instead, he who created us in his image and likeness comes to his powerless children and calls us to come home and find everything we need in him. He will replace our demoralizing addiction to temporary happiness with the experience of his everlasting love and eternal joy.

Jesus said that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[11]

The evil one has stolen, killed and destroyed so much in our lives with his snares, enticements, and addictions. Jesus laid down his life to give us life, and it is ours for the having if we will receive him. Anyone who will bring the real messed-up condition of their souls to Jesus will find that he delights to return us to joy no matter how joyless our present condition.

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]

© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 16:11
[2] I John 4:8, 16
[3] Genesis 1:26-27
[4] Luke 2:10-11
[5] I Peter 1:8
[6] John 3:16
[7] Romans 5:8
[8] Ephesians 1:4-6 (the beautiful context is Ephesians 1:1-14)
[9] John 15:1-11
[10] John 15:11
[11] John 10:10
[12] Matthew 11:28-30