Friday, December 31, 2010

The Willed Sacrifice – Establishing Self-Control

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

~Titus 2:11-13 (NRSV).

The subject is self-control; the circumspect way of the Lord. And yet, it is a perennial struggle for most people—the will to sacrifice the pleasure arriving (redeemable) now for the blessings to come.

In the above passage there are a few key terms to ponder. These are: training us; to renounce; while we wait.

The Training

Self-control is not so much an acquired thing as it’s a trained thing. First, we’re motivated to be self-controlled because that’s the Father’s will for us and the Holy Spirit is empowering us to know and achieve it.

The first thing in training is motivation—why do this? There has to be a driving, practical reason why. It must attach personal meaning.

The second thing in training is practice—much practise of the practice makes us better and better. As Paul stipulates, we’re to be soldiers, athletes, farmers—with keen hands to our work, accountable and focused (2 Timothy 2:4-7). We’re in this life—now the saved existence—to train for what is coming.

The third thing in training is performance—self-control toward piety is our goal. We know when the training’s paying off because the world’s power over us is diminishing.

Renounce What?

Two key things are in sight for us to reject outright as far as we’re possibly aware, which is the role of the Holy Spirit within—to establish awareness and power us through the rejection of these things.

Impiety – the mind is cast backward to Paul’s description of ungodliness in Romans 1:18-32. Active sinfulness is repudiated. “No one sleeps their way to heaven.”

Worldly Passions – these are even more actively against self-control in the realm of this world. Materialism, excess consumption, addiction, and inordinate sexual desire... these are to be reined in, accused, and then vanquished through any power at our means. God always gives us a way to repudiate these things.

While We Wait

What we see and have here, in this life, is not all there is. But we easily forget this coming Revelation. And yet, Jesus came two millennia ago to redeem us from the power of sin:

“He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

~Titus 2:14 (NRSV).

From the negative to the positive we now come. We cannot have total reign over our desires, utilising self-control, when all is purely negative. There must be a positive power that flushes all sense of temptation clear away. Only the Holy Spirit can do this. We ask God to do it and in ruthless honesty we agree to be held to close account.

This new desire we’re to put on is the zealousness for good deeds; these are extrinsically directed but they’re intrinsically motivated. There isn’t an account for what we’re to get. There’s an account for what we’re to give. If we’re to receive it’s an accidental receipt, one serendipitously acquired, for there’s no better way to get things than via blessed receipt.

We actively give and passively receive. This is what it means to live a willed sacrifice.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: William Hendriksen, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth, 1955), pp. 370-77.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christ to the Nations – The Great Evangelical Mission

“Thus I [says the Apostle Paul] make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,

‘Those who have never been told of him shall see,

and those who have never heard of him shall understand’.”

~Romans 15:20-21 (NRSV).

Those overseas, ministering in foreign lands, may not have many of the material luxuries those in Western lands might take for granted. But it’s the lack of Christian fellowship-on-tap they may readily miss more. It is easy to forget that this was Paul’s world—out to the nations and preaching the gospel (when he wasn’t making tents).

Paul was not called to overt discipleship evangelism (though he must have engaged in this by his character as he plied his trade) but, in his context, a red-blooded and full-on evangelical approach; that for which the time dictated. None of the known world had any inkling of Christ and the message of God’s grace to the Gentiles.

Again, Paul’s Boast – The Holy Imperative

It is an inspiration to us that Paul’s boast was only in Christ Jesus—anything that was achieved in Jesus’ name via signs and wonders; he had every reason to write and preach boldly (Romans 15:14f).

It’s clear that the Apostle to the Gentiles had God-anointed standards to uphold. His patch was anywhere God called him to that had not yet been preached or reached. Captivity was the only thing keeping him for the goal: more lives for Christ. And even then the Bible records Paul speaking, singing and preaching of Christ and him crucified to guards and prisoners alike.

It’s rather humbling to think that Paul would need to explain his boldness. But, as we know from his experiences with the Corinthian church, he often copped it in the neck for not being ashamed of the gospel. Our contemporary missionaries face the same challenges.

A Brave Task

The evangelical mission abroad is a brave task. It’s only the work of the true called. Saving short-term mission trips—which are great for turning ignorant perceptions back to truth—there is great deal of gargantuan challenge in tackling the international mission field.

I’m so often ignorant of this; blind to the real struggles of those friends I know who are evangelising for God in places like South Thailand, Myanmar and Japan.

Sure, I read the newsletters and I do pray, but it’s easy to feel very inadequate. Still, that is not God’s will.

There’s the temptation to justify not being called to the international mission field, but in reality we’re either called to it or we aren’t. Still, part of the rationale in resisting something that seems totally foreign is fear. Admired, in a strange and misunderstood way, are those to be, who tackle this work in Jesus’ name.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Doing the Will of God

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

~Matthew 12:50 (NRSV).

There is a giant-sized hint about the nature of the kingdom of heaven in this short snippet. Concerning issues of self-deception, Jesus had a few chapters earlier warned of his response to those false ones claiming their salvation: “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (See Matthew 7:21-23)

This is not to say that anyone’s salvation is null and void, under threat, or anything like that. That would make false the grace of God; a thing assured for all eternity, at least until the Parousia—Christ’s second coming—for those accepting same.

The Importance of Prayer

How are we to continually discern the will of God if we’re not in constant communication with our Lord? And this type of prayer, it needs to be said, is not the spoken variety at all. It’s the matter of referring our moments to God—the inclusion of the Almighty in consideration and decision-making. Life is a series of decisions; whether to act or not act.

Continually engaging with God’s heart on matters is the revelation of the good path. The establishment of life is the retention of the path; one good decision following to another one and so forth. Good decisions are judged for their ability to help us live at general harmony with the world (though the world will never really understand the Christian prerogative). Conflict is often a sign of poor decision-making; a failure to live the path of God’s will.

The Importance of Reading the Right Material

I say “right material” here because it’s not only the Bible that has us growing. There are many things that do that. The Bible is best read daily and used as a core and not a supplement, but there is endless good material available for growth.

Let it just be the “right material” nevertheless. There is too much available that sounds okay, but in reality isn’t. I’ve never heard a person not grow (or be led astray) by reading the Bible. A Bible-reading plan is a good journey to go on.

Jesus’ Kin

Those who really want to be aligned with Jesus are. These are the ones who make it their intention to know him. They’re not leaving it to chance. Theirs is a daily journey where, though Jesus is forgotten momentarily, he comes throbbing back into mindful contention with poised regularity.

For these the Holy Spirit dwells well with the soul and there is little aberrant feeling of spiritual dissonance to counter, apart from God’s will to take us occasionally there. Theirs is heaven now; salvation is an experience that’s as much lived now as ever. For salvation is the knowledge and love of God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God Is No Stranger to Our Suffering

“Then I will pour out the Spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.”

~Zechariah 12:10 (NLT).

As I skimmed through the pages of Zechariah the word “pierced” struck my eye and compelled me into an excursus from what I was doing. My first thought was Jesus, and from Minor Prophet to Major:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

~Isaiah 53:5 (NIV, 2010).

The Suffering Servant, Grace and Messages of the End

This prophetic word of Isaiah—allusions of the Suffering Servant—is commonly claimed, at least in Christian circles, to refer to Christ’s sufferings. Indeed, we struggle to see any meaning in it other than the theological utterance of Jesus’ final day.

So, if we agree, God can ‘suffer’ in these ways. But this doesn’t help us much in our sufferings. Or does it? At first glance, there’s something weird going on between the terms “They will look on me” and “mourn for him” in the same sentence. It doesn’t read right. Oh yes it does. It reads how it’s supposed to be read.

In Zechariah’s context, “it is not the hostile nations that have pierced Yahweh.”[1] We think back to Jesus and we know how this ends. It was Jesus’ own kind—the Jews—that had him pierced. And as sinners, we did it.

Can it just be that God has authored suffering? Is it perhaps the most rarefied message to us; the Lord has ushered the beginning of the end this very way?

Certainly as the reader follows on through Zechariah 12 and into chapter 13, there’s not only matters of redemption and restoration for the “family of David,” but finality too. Suffering is the sign for the beginning of it—not ours, but God’s. And our suffering, if there is such a thing (in this context), is via the mourning of our spirits; we have killed our Saviour.

But grace carries us far past this rocking reality; we, the presumed remnant (Zechariah 13:8-9).

The Manifestation of Our Truest Suffering

Have we suffered anything like the mourning held deeply in the thought of having cast our firstborn onto a fire? In a shrieking revelation we fall upon the story of Abraham’s near-sacrificing of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).

The Lamb of God was not to be Isaac all; but Jesus. God saved Abraham the pain, just as the Lord’s saved us from the pain of sacrificing our own. But the truest suffering is to know the depth of hurt in considering Jesus’ suffering at the very hand of our sin—the piercing of his physical and Spiritual ‘flesh’.

And that is worship—the most accurate manifestation—to know our role in this suffering and the perplexing enormity of God’s respondent grace. This is to comprehend even the commencement of the truth; that God has suffered far more than we can begin to envisage. We are saved from the magnitude of this suffering, because God bore it on himself.

If this is the truth—and it resounds eternally through biblical theology—then God knows more intimately about our suffering than we will ever know.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Graphic Credit: Photograph by Jerry Worster. Sourced from: Jerry Worster’s Flickr page:

[1] Thomas E. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: Zechariah – An Exegetical & Expository Commentary (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), p. 1214.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Psalm 123 – I Lift My Eyes

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.”

~Psalm 123:3 (NRSV).

This verse above transitions the psalmist’s real intent of prayer from praise to lament. It proves a point to the relief of anyone (this would be all of us) who has ever prayed a prayer of veiled praise in order to gain relief from life’s ills.

The structure of this psalm is a simple one. Verses 1-2 focus on proclaiming conviction to God. Verses 3-4 lament the circumstance of contempt in the midst of the proud.

The general response of the psalmist is the key though.

They lift their eyes.

Lesson 1 – In Distress, Look with the Eyes to the Hand of God

Where there is more than enough reason for anguish and nothing can be done, what more is to be done than look heavenward, seeking the Lord to pour a healing torrent on the contempt being dealt with?

It is never the acceptable thing to divert our look, either pitying our own situation or angling at the perpetrator. We go to God, our Mediator.

Lesson 2 – Patience is Promised

“... so our eyes look to the Lord our God,

until he has mercy upon us.”

~Psalm 123:2c (NRSV).

If only we have the spiritual resilience and fortitude to remain as long as God asks us to remain. We don’t know the purposes the Lord has in mind for this situation that condemns and overwhelms us; all that can be done is issue and re-issue the promise to wait patiently. It almost seems like a cliché!

But, it’s endemic in the process of life; we’re all under God’s anointing. Nothing occurs without the acceding of the Lord’s will.

Lesson 3 – The Salubrious Power of Repentance

Rather than issuing worldly laments (i.e. whinging complaints) we’re destined to repent of our dismay by returning to God and seek the favour and mercy of the Almighty. This is a formula for blessing beyond our momentary comprehension.

A wondrous protection is afforded us in the instant of repentance. Nothing else can claim us as we enter the Sanctuary—the Presence of the Lord.

This is blessing for the moment, and all moments we repent.

Later blessing is bound to come, for God’s nature is to bless the repentant ones.

God seeks us first and foremost to look with our eyes unerringly to heaven; that is in disaster and triumph and all between.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Not ‘If’ But ‘When’ – The Poem

When, as you pass them by, sullen or afraid,

They spur you on in presence – laughing, mocking, disdained,

You rise upon the eagle’s wing – regal, strong, remained,

And on that brace it’s revealed, finally you’re stayed.

When time comes to pitch the ditch, holding at last for hope,

As all matters are against, probing, dispensed,

And the minute calls, it witnesses – scratch the itch, lower the scope,

Time’s they’ve come, now it stands, to blows now commenced.

When everyone around is baying for blood but merely footing the fringe,

As the calls mount – presenting as soul-extracted screams,

And the injustices clamour, rocking worlds, myriads despair the cringe,

Moments of composure stand – the possibility redeems.

When reality barely reconciles the insanity upon confounding belief,

Uncertain and anxious, abridged is the candle, flickers though still aflame,

Holds the person about through which is felt – relief,

For now it is yours, still there abouts, the victory to claim.

When thought is resigned to human frailty easy it is to give up,

As memory of failure overrides the overcoming spirit within,

And the prices of challenge surmount ever increasingly to corrupt,

Better to find the innovation of heaven-founded Spirit’s din.

When all is disposed, abrogated and perished – but still there is life,

As the muzzle is removed and teeth are borne and moments fall to the death,

And the probabilities are restrained better to manifest strife,

Beckons does the gate, it opens, toward the stoic bereft.

When finally it can be counted – battles won to cover those lost,

And whilst loss is a fountain with which tears are heaped,

And the addition of which are extracted to establish what is the cost,

Then rest is taken and knowledge is known – sown from what is later reaped.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, If.

Graphic Credit: Photograph by Lincoln Karim (AP). Available online:

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Acceptable Ministry in an Acceptable Day

“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

~2 Corinthians 6:2b-3 (NRSV).

What an exasperated mood sprinkles the letter the Apostle Paul has written, and a climax is about to be reached here. This is something worthy of reflection whenever we consider anyone in any form of ministry for God.

The Acceptable Day

Due Christ’s obedience in ushering in the New Covenant we live in entirely acceptable circumstances. It is easy to take this momentous reality for granted; grace lives. The prophets of old could not say that.

Grace is all-encompassing. It’s designed to filter through all aspects of life.

If we add this “acceptable” thing with the following, we get a beautiful and God-anointed model for Christian leadership and discipleship.

The Acceptable Ministry

Paul describes in brief what he’s put up with for the Corinthians’ spiritual growth—and this not to lament anything; just to recognise the truth. He and his company of fellow ministers hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’d been treated as if they had.

The ‘acceptable minister’ opens their heart and their lives to congregants; they expose themselves in love (within certain wise bounds). Congregants then have the responsibility—in God—to respect the space and care for the heart offered.

The trouble is none of this is obvious to the assuming attendees at church. Apt is the service model of secular life, viz., “What are we getting out of this minister?”

But God issues a different standard. This standard involves a spiritual quotient that’s discerned in grace—and only in grace. The world cannot understand grace, though it often subsumes it in deifying heroism.

God holds his ministers to special account. (And yes, that possibly extends to every Christian—for all Christians “minister”.) If this is the case—that ministers are judged to a higher standard by God—what place have we to judge beyond love?

The key thing to remember is the grace abundant in both the day and the ministry. Where the ministry is acceptable—i.e. no obstacles are set up—it should be rewarded with love, grace and compassion. This is so discouragement will not also be the obstacle to future ministry efforts, though the called will persist despite the treatment meted out. What God sets in motion is not easily stopped.

The Acceptable Acceptance

The message is simple. We should do all we can to pay appropriate tribute to all our Christian leaders who minister acceptably. We don’t take them for granted. And space is to be set up so they are not required to live up to worldly models for service delivery—though most ministers far exceed these anyway.

The acceptable acceptance is that we love our Christian leaders—as we do regarding the entire Body of Christ—without obstacle, and free is that love.

Grace is the byword of the Acceptable Day.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

‘Beliefs’ Define Our Belief

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

~John 11:25-26 (NRSV).

Is Jesus your idolatry? Without getting all up in arms at how that sounds, humour the thought. ‘Idolatry’ is the worship of anything not truly God, or of created things. The question remains: when declaring our ‘in Jesus’ name’s’ are we really acting with sincerity toward honouring Jesus’ name?

Belief – Made Manifest by Action

What is belief but a commitment to action? Faith is much more about what is done than many will think. (Belief is the cause; the action is the domino effect.)

The problem beyond spoken commitment to our Lord is any and all actions engaged upon not indwelt in truth blaspheme God’s name. Power is supposedly invoked at the utterance of God’s name, but God can’t be party to falsity—whether the name of God is used or not.

Simply, many actions bathed in non-truth come from micro belief in things opposed to God’s purposes. Put all a person’s beliefs together—the sum of their actions—and there is basis for their overall belief... Christian or not. There are many who espouse Christian belief, but do not actually live in belief (via their actions) to the Christian way.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven... I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’.”

~Matthew 7:21, 23 (NRSV).

Now, I’m not saying that people’s salvation is at jeopardy. But Jesus’ point is, “What use is ‘faith’ if God’s will is not sought and then obeyed?” It is a poor faith at best.

The Sum of Belief

Many people are so good at talking the talk whilst forgetting that walking the talk—and better, walking the walk—is the main point. It doesn’t matter what we say. It’s what we do that reveals our beliefs. All action is grounded in belief. If a belief is held that all black-coloured cars are hot, people in hot climates will not buy black-coloured cars. Dark brown-coloured cars might be more popular. It doesn’t matter if it’s the truth or not, people act in line with their beliefs. And many false beliefs pervade.

Jesus is always truth. God cannot abide in non-truth.

It is God’s will that all false belief—even innocuous beliefs, like black-coloured cars being hotter inside than dark brown ones—be exposed for what they are; lies.

Because people have the habit of aligning to beliefs (and it’s not like we can’t) it’s the Christian’s responsibility to quash any false belief held at its source. The Spirit of God reveals these to us. It’s in listening and obeying that we mature spiritually.

The sum of our beliefs—and the actions that spring from these beliefs—either supports our overall belief in God or it doesn’t. The purposes of our lives is thus to expunge the diluting effect of false belief.

Actions manifest in false belief are destined for the spiritual scrapheap. This is the will of God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Word Became Flesh – Power In His Name

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God... And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

~John 1:12, 14a (NRSV).

The Incarnation... God in flesh... a babe is born, but not just any babe. This is Immanuel, the prophesied Christ-child. He came for a purpose above all secondary purposes: to give us power in his name; the redemption path back to the Father.

Restoration was that purpose.

Jesus came and lived with us (our kind at least) to identify himself with humanity. God is always closer than we think.

Positions of Restoration

Maybe you’re restored but there’s a taint. What has once occurred may be a distant memory. God’s will is that you feel restored today. Cast your gaze heavenward. The Lord knows your prayer.

Perhaps you’ve never been restored. You’d not have the foggiest what that’s about. Search for God. Knock at Jesus’ door. As you knock and ask, you’ll end up receiving. You’ll feel like you’ve never felt. Lighter, cheerier and braver you’ll be.

Possibly you’re living ‘restored’. Wow, that is the best thing. To take in this life without an encumbrance; to witness without filters and impediments all of what God’s done and doing; to establish feet to the ground, but with mind and heart in heaven; to be able to give and receive love without blight or fanfare... you are very blessed.

You have the keys to the kingdom.

Benediction to Jesus Who Came

To God who visited and from life to death lived just as we live; who didn’t sneer at his creation but loved it that much he wanted to rub up against it and be the physical manifestation of hope... we give our thanks and praise.

For the Master... the King of kings and the Lord or lords... the Beginning and the End... the Alpha and the Omega... the One who came: glory to God in the highest, that you came, that you saw what you wished to restore. And for us power came. Power to become all we were destined to become.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Okay, God, Now What?

“But now, our God, what can we say after this?”

~Ezra 9:10a (NIV, 2010).

In context, the people of God had sinned greatly. They were aghast at their betrayal before the Lord, and they knew they were being punished less than was deserved.

We too have those times of shame before God. But, there’s a broader application of God we don’t see when we come to the end of ourselves, through all manner of fatigue.

More ‘What Now?’ Moments

Each person in life is brought to ‘what now?’ moments for benefit, not demise.

It can only be a fresh beginning at these ends. The end of ourselves is where life truly begins. It’s like the person who stops forcing their way, and instead they simply look up and pray: “God, what now... what is your will for me to do?”

The Lord loves these moments. Life has shifted to how it was meant to be. Things for that moment are in order. God’s mercy and grace are known.

The ‘what now?’ moment is seen from retrospect as the revelatory reality. It’s the moment God broke through our inner world to help.

This must have been how it was like for Ezra and his countrymen and women as they were broken on the ground before God in the sight of their country’s sin.

The Right Response to Sin

Everyone sins. Therefore, everyone has need of reparation and restoration through restitution. Making restitution is about the right response. Firstly, it’s acknowledgement upon awareness. Then it’s about vocalising or demonstrating acceptance of the fact. Instead of, “I owe you, God,” the prayer is, “Please forgive me, Lord.” Thankfully, the Lord hears.

Finally, once it’s felt we’re on the right foot to proceed with—motivated to trust and obey God again—we’re asking, “Okay, what now, God?”

Once this moment is achieved we stand again buoyed by the Spirit of God in all that is to be done, according to God’s will. With a God-satisfied certainty we stride off in the joy of knowing—just for now—we’ve pleased God in our faith to return.

There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, no not ever (Romans 8:1). When we consider that God actively seeks us to repent for our own good and not his, we suddenly get it. God is for us, never against us.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.