Monday, November 30, 2009

Where Exactly is Heaven and How Do I Get There?

How do we possibly describe in words something as other worldly as heaven is? Yet, we’re confused as to how complex we make the task. God has us simply conjuring the present; it’s a heaven in our midst.

Psalm 73 is a particularly special psalm, though they’re probably all special for some reason or other. It’s a lament where the psalmist is seriously questioning the validity of faith to produce a blessing from God (v. 13). But it’s verse 25 that has me most captivated, specifically as it relates to “heaven.” I have written on it previously.

“Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

—Psalm 73:25 (TNIV).

We’d expect to find God in heaven. And I wonder when part B of this verse is explored in context with part A whether we can draw the following conclusion: heaven is a place on earth (as well as being a destination to come) regarding our experiences of God here and now; and, if we desire God above all else, does that get us any closer?

What did Jesus say about heaven and eternal life? Well, we know that it’s in John’s gospel that he mentions the concept of eternal life the most, and I believe this is the best, clearest indication below:

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

—John 17:3 (NIV).

Eternal life is there defined. The key word is “know,” in the sense that knowledge is full in texture; it is “growing experience” implied through relationship.[1] And this knowledge enabled in relationship is not saved for some day post-death in the future; it’s a present-day reality—yes, even to-day if we wish it so.

‘Eternal life’ seems to mean here a relational knowledge of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, that provides a superior, even abundant, quality of life, now.[2]

So, it remains: are heaven and eternal life one and the same thing? For my simple mind it appears so. We can’t have either without actually knowing God and his Son. And this knowledge is a growing, vibrant knowledge. It’s to know God personally; Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One: God.

So, it is a logical conclusion that both eternal life and heaven exist both now and to come.

Heaven: it’s right on our doorstep. Listen up, hear the knock?

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] R. V. G. Tasker, John – An Introduction and Commentary (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1960), p. 191.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, The Gospels – The Bible Knowledge Word Study series (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Cook Communications Ministries, 2002), p. 362.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Growth: It’s the Name of the Game

[Because of the Divine power we now possess] make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”

—2 Peter 1:5-7 (TNIV).

The voyage of life, the rolling, cascading journey, has about it a purpose. Yet many live without purpose and certainly without front-of-mind goals that are visible to the outside world by virtue of that thing called “growth.”

I’ve had seasons of life when I felt the steepness of the growth curve was essentially harsh and unfair—a wishing that it would cease immediately. That type of enforced growth that God “blesses” us with is not the growth I’m referring to. The pertinent growth is that of a disciple’s chosen path; a destiny of willing and obedient development.

This is where the passage out of Second Peter comes in. It’s an urgent plea from the Rock to leave no stone unturned in our vibrant journey toward attaining moral excellence. And when we look a little closer we find there’s a process of exercising one virtue in the development of another, and so forth—the Amplified version reveals this.

Faith to Goodness

All it takes to believe is faith. Yet, to outsiders that’s beside the point. They want to know, and more—see, the difference believing in Christ actually makes. Goodness (or moral excellence) is the basic activity of right dealing with people—it’s at once noticeable in how we treat others and ourselves. Anyone can say they have faith, but it’s others who notice goodness.

Goodness to Knowledge

Once we’ve the ability of appropriate concern and it directs us toward active good, we must then build upon our knowledge. It’s critical the order here. Many skip goodness and go on in their pride toward knowledge. Let’s put it this way; any dodo can learn information—it’s how it’s applied that’s the key!

Once we’ve appropriately come to know goodness, and only then, we are then in a position to invest in our education relating to learning of the Lord Jesus: his purpose, life, ministry—his Passion, resurrection and now position at the right hand of the Father, and all things besides. Theology is a vast, magnificent topic.

Knowledge to Self-Control

Strangely, it’s knowledge of the faith and of theology that effectively informs matters of further moral development. As we engage the mind we kick start a process of research and enquiry and the patterns of thinking then begin to work in some unexpected, yet delightful, ways.

Knowledge is not the same as intellect. Good knowledge will lead us to self-control; it’s moral knowledge we’re talking about, not simply information. That’s an important distinction to make.

Self-Control to Perseverance

Herein lays the “hope” connection. We only persevere when there’s the hope of something good before us. Both self-control and perseverance have about them a longsuffering patience of waiting—the ability and the tenacity to wait.

Perseverance is going through to the bitter end; it’s the very essence of moral courage. And when effected correctly, those persevering do so out of a peaceful, accepting base, not expecting things to turn for the better. They wait for the results, patiently.

Perseverance to Godliness

What do all these virtues (thus far) lead to? The answer is godliness: “a very practical awareness of God in every aspect of life.”[1] No matter our present-day circumstances, we have over us this cloak of godliness that pervades our operations and our being.

Godliness to Mutual Affection (or Brotherly Kindness)

The outworking of godliness is a great many things, but principally it’s the desire, even longing, to live for others. Godliness, of its own, does not produce in us good works to others; we must add the effort of going into people’s lives in productive, useful ways. We’re to roundly treat entire humanity with the love of a brother or sister.

Mutual Affection to Love

The summum bonum, love. This is the supreme good. It’s an unconditional love for all people. It’s a more intense form of love than the former love; Greek: philadelphia (brotherly love). It’s the love of the Lord Jesus, pure and simple. It’s passionate love that would give of itself for another:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

—John 15:12-13 (TNIV).

Spiritual growth for the spiritual person should be the number one goal to life. It seems a gross waste to be saved only to never ‘go on’ from those infantile days, and never to walk in mature faith as seen in our relationships with God and others.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] E. M. B. Green, 2 Peter and Jude - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 79. Cited in Dick Lucas & Christopher Green, 2 Peter & Jude - The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 60.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Apology – A Godly Construct of Second Chance

“If there’s one thing I’ve worked hard to master it’s saying sorry. As a member of the human race I’ve had plenty of practise.”

This quote of mine above is something a great many people can say, and that, from direct experience in life. We’ve collectively had years of practise and provided our sorry’s have been attached to a genuine humble regret for any pain or inconvenience caused, we’re vindicated.

God’s grace is and always has been enshrined in his universal, unchangeable law. It’s the ability of apologising for wrongs committed or rights omitted. It is the power of initiation toward repentance.

Merely the fact of that Old Testament refrain, ‘God is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,’ tells us that even before the proclamation of the New Covenant in Jesus, God forgave. It is his eternal nature.

The apology is the language of the second chance; a thing everyone needs because we all make a botch of things occasionally. The apology is anyone’s way back from failure, and certainly if it’s genuine almost nobody’s going to hold the act or omission against us; we intuit God’s grace in them i.e. his grace works through them.

Being able to easily, humbly and sincerely apologise is a skill of life which covers every wrong.

It is perhaps amazing that the English word, “sorry” (itself), is only found in the New International Version Bible twice—once in Exodus 2:6 and also in 2 Corinthians 7:9.

“yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.”

—2 Corinthians 7:9a (TNIV).

Paul referred to it as “godly sorrow.” This sorrow—as opposed to worldly sorrow—leads to repentance: a “rising in godly sorrow... [an] issuing forth in earnest care, clearing of themselves [the Corinthians], indignation, fear, longing, zeal and avenging.”[1] Furthermore, “sorrow, according to God, is to see sin as God sees it.”[2]

We see the precedent truly: God’s view. We grieve, for we are beyond simple worldly sorrow.[3] We then align: we then see the justice we’ve retrieved for ourselves, in God. We stand straight again.

As we sow into the act of our sorrowful deed, God miraculously calms the waves in our own hearts—our fretting is eased. And this is good, for fretting only leads to more evil which in turn leads to even more sorrow (see Psalm 37:8) and the horrendous cycle continues.

Paul, in this Corinthian passage, also shows us another effect we have on others in our own sorrow for deeds committed or omitted: our sorrow produces for the other person justice, in vindication, which in turn causes joy to spring forth in them—an open door to reconciliation, via compassion, has been facilitated. It then becomes patently obvious to them affected how devoted we are to them and how our love grieves us for our treatment of them (2 Cor. 7:12).

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret...”

—2 Corinthians 7:10a (TNIV).

We are cleaned, renewed—from the inside out. Again, this is the light of the grace of God shed on the moment. Sorry is the wonderful, momentary response to our sin—our ‘missing of the mark.’ For those in God’s court to become proficient in this practice, there’s no denying—it’s our innate call.

Probably the hardest position for us is being on the offended side of things and issuing, as Paul did, the stimulus to repentance. This is a fine line. It’s something we can (almost cowardly) prematurely forgive, exercising “grace” in the person transgressing us, yet we do them no favours and it excises courage. And, yet, we can easily render our unconditional favour on people as that from God himself i.e. forgiving one’s enemies, for just one example.

Notwithstanding, we’re loath to shift emphases. The ability to genuinely and without hesitation say sorry is a marvel in life—a thing that facilitates the kingdom coming all over us in beautifully-majestic foul swoops.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] Handley C.G. Moule, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians – A Translation, Paraphrase, and Exposition (London, England: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1962), p. 75.

[2] Moule, Ibid, p. 75.

[3] “Worldly sorrow, then, is mere regret. Offenders regret what they have done because they have been caught or shamed. Such sorrow is merely pragmatic and does not result in a change in one’s life.” Cited from: Frank J. Matera, II Corinthians: A Commentary – The New Testament Library (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), p. 175.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stay Sharp

“It’s a knife set, isn’t it?” said the protégé. “No! It’s a command for your life! Hold fast to it, as many have failed to do that and as a result have plummeted to their spiritual deaths,” replied the sage.

This is a straight-out chilling and vicious warning for anyone on the road to spiritual—and therefore living—freedom. We start off on the right track only to have the tendency to wander into the gullies, swamps and creeks where nothing lives. This is exactly what the New Testament book of Hebrews was all about—backsliders in one word.

It’s a Y.E.T. (a.k.a. your eligible too) for both you and I. And if we doubt for a moment the veracity of this advice let’s go straight to a perfect biblical illustration:

“Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.”

—1 Kings 11:10 (NIV).

Solomon started out so well; he had the admiration of all—human and Divine. Yet, along the way he lost focus. He was tempted away. In his clamouring over the many wives and concubines he had—many of which were detestable to the LORD, being that he’d commanded the Israelites not to intermarry—he lost spiritual focus, trashed the statutes of the Lord his God, and continued a flawed tradition of kingship that was only to carry through the ages to come. (Perhaps it’s a theological and human reality that no one, except Jesus himself, could keep perfect obedient rule.)

If Kings David and Solomon, men with the spiritual stamina of lions, could come under the spell of evil, how is it that we think we can’t or won’t? It defies logic that we think we’ll be immune—indeed, it’s the trick of pride.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”

—Mark 13:32-33 (NIV).

That hour is now! I know that Jesus meant mainly the time to come, but just as important we must be watchful, vigilant and sharp—right the way through the journey.

Too many once-pious people (and I mean ‘pious’ is the purest sense) have wandered ignorantly off track through the way they’ve lived their lives—they’ve become anachronisms of the kings and have blatantly failed the LORD they’re supposed to faithfully and obediently serve. It’s just not good enough to falter on the home straight.

Yet, to any extent we all falter, even minimally. We best remember, however, the best friend of such a sinner is our Father God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

The Dirt on Tough Love

There are two ways to learn and there are two ways to love: the easy way and the hard way. The hard way to love is common ‘tough love,’ a love the world hates, but a love very effective and most necessary all the same.

Tough love chooses its victims by virtue of their own attitudes and behaviour; it deals with those suffering inordinate pride, slow learners, youth, and those also found not to be intrinsically motivated. It, by default, chooses every one of us—to the determinant of the situation.

Tough love (in relationships) could be defined as:

“[A] love that is willing to do whatever is necessary to bring about the best results.”[1]

This is an Agape[2] styled love, deep and entrenched and totally committed to the relationship; a love completely prepared to go the entire distance of life in sacrilegious caring—a world beyond mere humanity, the likes of which only Jesus truly attained. It’s a love entering pain.

Paul writes to the Corinthians in stern fashion—indeed his method to their incorrect ways based in sinful pride was tough love:

“I am not writing to embarrass you. I want to help you, just as parents help their own dear children.”

—1 Corinthians 4:14 (CEV).

We can picture Paul here almost on his hands and knees begging the arrogant Corinthians to start complying with the Word, Spirit and will of God—that which they were testified to do.

Tough love is for our own good. It’s a cruel-to-be-kind approach. It’s designed to bring us to decide on the right path in alignment with the truth, as illustrated below:

“If you live right,

you will have plenty to eat;

if you don’t live right,

you will go away empty.”

—Proverbs 13:25 (CEV).

Spoilt children flagrantly dishonour their parents but that’s only the start of the problem. The rest of society is at their whim... until, that is, they meet their matches—a fact most certain to happen. If our parents won’t love us appropriately in our disobedience, society will do it. The trouble, however, is society is being overrun with people who’ve never known love, tough or other, as defined here.

For our own now, there is nothing like tough love. It applies to us all. It’s a salve for every poor reaction, for all times of self-pity, annoyance, every bad and unnecessary thing. It’s a discipline for when we need it. It’s more necessary to the notion of respect than we had perhaps initially realised.

Praise God for tough love.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] James D. Berkley, Called into Crisis: The Nine Greatest Challenges of Pastoral Care (Carol Stream, Ill. / Dallas: Christianity Today; Distributed by Word Books, 1989 [The Leadership Library 18]), S. 191.

[2] Wesley J. Perschbacher (Ed.), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990), p. 2. Greek Agape love can be defined in many ways, but it’s a deeper love than Philo love. Agape love is “devotedness,” “be faithful towards,” and to “feel or manifest generous concern for.” Interestingly, Agape love covers a whole gamut of intense love, part of which is ‘tough love.’

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Conquerors: Come On Down!

“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

—1 John 5:5 (TNIV).

There is a game show on Australian broadcast television called, The Price is Right, and it calls for contestants to, ‘[Name of contestant], Come on down.’ It’s a trademark of the show, and I suspect it’s a throwback to the American equivalent where Wheel of Fortune’s, Vanna White almost made her first on-screen appearance.[1]

The salutation, Come on Down, is a grand invitation, perhaps custom made for television. The grandest salutation for the believer is quite different; is it simply to truly believe in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus.

The invitation is actually an invitation to an all-conquering life in his holy name. This is a key persuading premise for anyone to believe, for it is the truth and the power of God to truly live effectively under any circumstance that speaks:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

—Romans 8:35, 37 (TNIV).

There are so many very salient passages in the Bible that speak to this stoic sense of holy living. But like so many, the Stoics[2] and many others actually left—and still leave—Christ out of the picture and therefore miss(ed) the point. The truth is watered down, diluted—ineffective. They believe it to be the way, and it is—to bear strongly and faithfully under the powers that oppress. But without a basis of suffering for something like the cross, people are bound to stumble for it’s not our nature to bear painfully yet joyfully of spirit (i.e. in the Spirit).

The truth of God’s Word is this:

If we believe in the Son of God, and no matter what comes, we accept his—at times to us—outlandish will, holding the faith in burgeoning morally-straight wisdom, we are already conquerors.

And this is true. True, living faith holds out and doesn’t let go... and even when it does momentarily—that’s not the final word.

No matter what happens to us, no matter how we feel, in spite of how messed up, confused and chaotic our lives are, have been or ever become, we belong to the Holy of holies, the one and only living God—the Being beyond being and beyond every being. He (and he alone) transposes us through every harrowing muddle into his unimaginable glory.

Come hell or high water we’re invincible in the name of the Lord Jesus. Believers, come on down!

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] “Vanna White,” Wikipedia. Retrieved 8 November 2009.

[2] Considering that Stoicism preceded Christ I am suggesting that their method is correct but it’s inappropriately motivated or resourced, notwithstanding Christ’s example which had not come until the day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How God Deals with Fickle Humanity

“God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.”

—1 Samuel 6:19 (NIV).

A person clearly in the wrong strives for some sense of satisfaction from a bureaucracy, and through bitter, prolonged complaint they eventually get their way. Officialdom bows in the spirit of public relations with the threat of negative media coverage looming. Then, when all is supposed to be settled, the aggrieved party changes their mind and wants the decision overturned so they can fight it to make a little money out of the deal.

This sort of thing happens every day. It might be an extreme example, but it illustrates something we all get involved in, to greater or lesser extent. We all expect a special ‘me-only’ measure of justice (even if only rarely).

With us, God can’t win most of the time. Our satisfaction wavers to the wandering of our mood—such fickle creatures we can be.

The main reason we need God is our addictive default propensity to enter zones of living we’re told not to touch, be it a breaking of the road rules when we’re in a hurry, or a sneaky perve when we’re on the train. The 1 Samuel example above illustrates the point perfectly. We’re told not to risk yet we continue to do it—we can hardly help ourselves. (Praise God for Jesus’ obedience and the concept of New Covenant grace!)

Life, seen solely from this viewpoint, would be a blatantly depressing reality but for our belief in a delivering God who forgives us in an instant for our simple recognition of the truth. The only rider to this is the world’s default to ignore totally the forlorn human nature in favour of an attachment to things, people and situations in the world i.e. devoid of God.

We must saliently aim to be satisfied in simply being honourable about this reality; to be honourable men or women—not “good”—must be our aim. “Honourable” has about it a more tangible and accountable meaning than “good” does. Who really is good? If God is good, how do we possibly compare?

To be satisfied in life—more or less—with our own efforts as far as our own dignity and honour is concerned, in light of our relationships with God, others and self, seems to be the halcyon of existence. It’s about a genuine care (and a duty to that end) that has a tangible, real quality about it.

Yet, we wrangle with God pointlessly at times. He’s at pains when we do this as we bring his judgment—his irrevocable judgment ordained in universal law—down upon ourselves.

And when we boil it all down—all of the above—we perhaps have reason enough to strive for, attain and maintain a high-order philosophical view to life and how it deals with us.

We must endeavour to see what is plainly visible. The high-order world of living as honourably as possible is a huge part of that dimension. And for the obedience of living as God always ordained us to, we’re blessed in a very many ways. And we do so in faith.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now, In the Valley of Decision

We go to a car dealership for the final time; time’s come to sign up. We’ve test-driven the car, confirmed the deal and checked the fine print, exchanged details, had the credit checks and all’s confirmed to our satisfaction. Now for the transaction. We sign, and barring any cooling-off period, the decision is final—it’s made effective. When the pen’s in hand we’re in the valley of decision.

But, in context, it’s an ordinary transactional decision—make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world. On a more lifelike higher realm, the stakes are so much more significant:

“Multitudes, multitudes

in the valley of decision!

For the day of the LORD is near

in the valley of decision.”

—Joel 3:14 (TNIV).

We can but contemplate thousands upon thousands of confounded people trapped in a void—helpless to escape, but with a decision. Go one way—the way out—but a trap. Go the other way and the promise is equally alluring. In the context of Joel, it is the Lord’s decision; the Divine time—grace and judgment against the morally-disparate nations.[1] It is no longer the people who ponder, but it is the Lord.

God’s decision or ours: it’s all a matter of timing. So what about when the decision is made, and in time? What does that look like? Well, let’s skip forward in the Old Testament three books, over Amos and Obadiah, to Jonah—a gritty little theological success story (for the Ninevites) but a scolding mess for reticently pitiful Jonah.

There’s a lot we can learn from the Ninevites as Jesus alluded to in Matthew 12:39-41. They were shown their erroneous way and they understood straight away, and what’s more, they actually did something about it; they repented. It is a returning to God.

There is a coherent theological result in returning to God in repentance:

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”

—Jonah 3:10 (NLT).

Feelings of regret and remorse convict us to action. That is repentance. That is the holy call of the people of God—that is all people.

So, what does all this mean for us as individuals?

There is no question that the theology applying at the national levels in the Prophets and Minor Prophets is also synonymous for application to us as individuals at the personal level—grace and judgment, mercy and finality are underpinning constants in life.

Although the Ninevites were ripe for the message of Jonah and keenly turned away from their wrong (Jonah 3:5-9) it’s not the default human response. When we’re brought to our knees we generally fight it or run from it. We don’t often enough dress in sackcloth and sit in the dust!

Maddeningly, we’ll often prefer to hang in the valley of decision and the “multitudes” are not a whole nation of people, but our very own plethora of alien, disparate feelings. We’re illogical and at odds with ourselves.

Yet, the Valley of Decision awaits; indeed it’s here though we may not truly see it. In truth, we’re warned in life all the time. It takes the falling of the Divine hammer to break through our lives flushing through irrefutable change.

The Valley of Decision and the valley of decision (both valleys) are constantly before us. One is our decision for God, as per the Ninevites. The other is our decisions (plural) that carry after.

What a life it is that we could live now as in the valley of decision—aligned (or not) with God’s will.

We actually find our purpose in it—in our struggles with God. It’s the making of us.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 78.