Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today, Paradise... Yes, Today!

“‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’

~Luke 23:42-43 (NIV).

These sentences usher in for us a tremendous living and saving truth. Paradise is assured for the life to come in those who believe Jesus is the Son of God. The truth is this criminal had more faith than all of Jesus’ followers put together.[1]

Yet, what is it about the desperation in this criminal that sparks a ‘just-in-time’ repentance? Spiritually bereft, indeed ‘poor of spirit,’ people are forced from within themselves to reflect over the meaning of life, and certainly in this criminal’s case, death also.

Death sorts most of us out. We only have to give it a little more than a passing thought and we’re sold on the idea, that end-life spirituality—and the truth that God is behind all spirituality that’s based in truth—is a cogent, inescapable reality.

Paradise, of course, has both a ‘now’ and a ‘to come’ aspect about it. Once the God-fearer-in-Jesus dies they can fully expect to live with him in paradise. Certainly when his kingdom truly comes, they will live forever in a paradise beyond conception; perhaps this could be imagined as a Garden of Eden—if that’s even conceivable.

But as we inevitably draw toward Easter in our advancing Lenten reflections, we note especially the mysterious and unfathomable power of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The narrative never wears thin. It is even more miraculous and incredible than the other feats and teaching of Jesus—it’s the Spirit’s crescendo, exiting the world it came to, part of the Divine plan of cosmic redemption.

But, what of Jesus’ grace to grant passage? And what of God’s purpose for placing Jesus between such divergent-in-response criminals? This part of the narrative of Jesus’ Passion is such a profound illustration of the sinner saved and the sinner self-condemned, not to mention the purity (a.k.a. holiness) of the grace of God.

The condemned man rejected the truth, that could’ve saved him, right to the very end—foolish, arrogant pride got him nowhere except from a vast, lonely and desolate eternity, with no hope of God in sight—ever.

The saved man, fearing God just-in-time, acknowledged the truth and lived it even if that lasted only minutes. He lived the truth. He could see Jesus as the innocent man; in effect, he repented when it would’ve been easier to go with the flow until the bitter end—after all, he was dying anyway. By his statement, though, he believed in the Son of God and his forgiveness was hence instantaneous.

And so it is for us. The meaning of life and of death stands before us, beckoning our most critical decision.

Jesus came to save our souls from eternal damnation—all we can do is accept this; ultimately and daily. And part of our reward for recognising the truth in faith is we open up to the possibilities of spiritual fruitfulness in this life.

The Christian life of truth in the Spirit is the very best of life. It is superior in every way.

Peace, hope and joy are ours in a moment and they can last the rest of our lives, contingent only on our felt Presence of God—if we choose.

God loves us so much he forces this decision on no one. Be wise, make it (or make it afresh) today.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] NIV Life Application Study Bible by Zondervan – Notes beneath text, p. 1860.

Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord

“Pour out Your power and love, as we sing, holy, holy holy...

Holy, holy, holy...”

~Paul Baloche, Open the Eyes of My Heart, 1997.

This song is such a powerful song of prayerful worship as we seek to come into the very Holy of Holies—the indwelt Presence of God; his Holy Spirit. We want to “see” him at these times. We want to see as he sees, our hearts opened and broken afresh to the things he’s broken for—rampant sin and injustice in the world; his will for our lives in response to what we now see through him.

And it’s a sweet worship song. Focussing on the holiness of God we sing our song and somehow the Presence of the Holy Spirit anoints our worship and thankful praise for the holiness we’re in awe of and simply seek.

Prayerful worship such as this is a great thing to do, for it seeks the right thing in prayer and not the wrong thing. The right things to pray for are those things that form and conform our characters to the Christ. More and more with each passing day we’re becoming like him when we sing this sort of prayerful worship song with wilful intent.

In our hearts we want our Lord to be ‘high and lifted up, shining in the light of his glory,’ for it is his glory that shines from us when we place the Lord appropriately from our personal standpoints. Yet, if we do not place him at the heights of our desires and wills, who is God to us? He’s made of no personal effect or power when, of course, he easily could be.

Besides the high place belongs to God, not ourselves. We take ourselves off the high place and place him there. It’s our nature to need to do this over and again.

We’re perfectly emotional when we worship with the intent of this type of song at heart. By that I mean our thoughts are aligned with where God wants us and our thoughts are informing, correctly, our feelings. This, in perfect fruition, can generally only lead to right actions.

This is the very point and goal of Christian discipleship.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Draw Me Close to You

“So, then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you; draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

~James 4:7-8a (NRSV).

There are certain times when I just feel a depth of loneliness that’s hard to describe; I know we all feel this way sometimes. When I miss family members, for instance, or I get some bad news or some indifferent feedback; the world is awfully estranging at these times. Yet, that’s the world!

James is very pragmatic in his wisdom gospel. He contends it is simple cause and effect, this faith-deal. Resist the evil one and firmly cling to God—that’s his advice.

When I have those horribly lonely times of heart, I do quickly run to God in my spirit. And he is so refreshing. Cleansing tears envelope my eyes, ears and cheeks as I pour my heart out to him who knows me so well.

There is a song that Michael W. Smith sings on a CD I own. It’s called, Draw Me Close, by Kelly Carpenter. The lyrics and music speak so much of that personal time with God when we’ll cry out to him.

In life there’s always choice—we cannot get away with choosing the middle ground. A choice not for God is a choice for the world and enmity with God; however, a choice for God is enmity (when it counts) with the world, and the prince of this world.

When we’re lonely, sad or depressed, equally we have the above choice. Take the lukewarm approach with God i.e. the world’s way (and that of the enemy’s) and we stand to get little or no spiritual or emotional relief. On the other hand, where we draw close to God he is sure to draw close to us. Peace is available as a result.

I have found this is not only a habit we get into—the choice, I mean—but it also necessarily springs from desire. We must cultivate that inner desire to want him. This desire is to be second to none. Do this and you’ll soon see why. God is amazingly faithful. He gently but most assuredly affirms us, very personally.

When I’m feeling low, and as I write I do feel that way, I’m comforted in my knowledge that God is with me and if I wanted to cry out to him, he’s there. Indeed, I feel his loving reassurance now. It’s like nothing else.

We can’t help feel lonely and helpless sometimes. That is a great reason to draw close to God; only he can truly help us with our spiritual ills—the soul-sickness everyone gets.

This Jesus-balm is ever-healing and ever-renewing.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

He is Holy – He is Our Holiness – Psalm 99

“Exalt the Lord our God

and worship at his holy mountain,

for the Lord our God is holy.”

~Psalm 99:9 (NIV).

The Lord reigns! Indeed...

I often find myself reflecting over my faults, sins and inadequacies—not in a condemning way, but in a way that I’m so thankful of God’s resplendent holiness. He so reliably and faithfully picks me up and cleans me off time and again and makes me holy in his Presence, through Jesus Christ, my personal Lord and Saviour.

I’m a sane man and I believe. I believe that this one and only living God is perfectly holy; that he is more than sufficient in his power and grace to provide for me and protect me against the “elements” of life.

God is just and responsive to all our needs. As we read those words, we probably thought, ‘Is he?’ I know I have. Shreds of doubt are okay. They’re normal. God knows it’s our nature to flail occasionally (or even often) in our faith. He forgives this.

But, it’s true—he avenges us and he even rescues us somewhat when we’ve made errors of judgment, though we’ll not be protected against the consequences. They’re there to be learned from. But, when we call upon the Lord—as Moses, Aaron and Samuel did—he answers us (verses 6b and 8a).

And almost certainly does he chase us, to love us back to him. He desires that we are made holy and clean and vibrantly new, through him normally via repentance, or alignment back to him. Only in that state can we truly approach anything close to temporary holiness—yet, it’s not through us at all, but through Jesus’ broken body and his shed blood on the cross of Golgotha, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, that we’re sanctified clean. Holiness for us is felt peace and joy—heavenly congruence.

There are hardly more serenely divine and regal psalms than this one, and for a genre—the Psalms—that is high praise indeed, but it is praise due this psalm.

Holy is the Lord—entirely perfect and faithful in every way. His character is faultlessly righteous and just—God rules this way; his equity, based entirely on ‘ethical norms,’ is the inward and intrinsic basis of perfect righteousness and justice.

Only the Lord is trustworthy. Only he is entirely to be trusted or wholly worthy, though in God, we can trust and propound his worth. His trust and worth—based centrally on the aspect of his holiness—are moral commodities we both enjoy and extend. We’re compelled in love.

Fortunate are those on the receiving end of the godly; the godly are ambassadors of holiness.

For this and many other things, let us indeed worship the Lord.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.


W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Psalms – A Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms (Vol. 2) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1978, 1995), pp. 293-97.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The LORD Our Righteousness

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time

I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;

he will do what is just and right in the land.

In those days Judah will be saved

and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which [he] will be called:

The Lord Our Righteousness.’”

~Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NIV).

This is the prophesy of the coming Messiah, fulfilled in Jesus. It also calls forth to another day—the second coming or Parousia.

It is a frustratingly sad reality for Jeremiah to see the kingly Davidic line and the city of Jerusalem continue to go to rack and ruin—yet, the future hope in this part of Jeremiah is compelling. It takes us back to 23:5-6; indeed, this section above is more or less a repeat of that one. The City for whom no one cared (Jer. 30:17) is now (then) destined to have an eternal Carer.

The prophesy of Christ, in Jeremiah’s context, should always be read with the backdrop of the then present calamities in mind. Monarchs like Zedekiah failed ingloriously, but Jeremiah sees a day when the Lord will raise up a Davidic king—in Isaiah, a king for all humankind (66:21)—who “will never fail” (Jer. 33:17).

We can draw two things at least from the passage above with regard to, “The Lord Our Righteousness”:

1. At this time—which for us is both a present and future reality—we can and will be saved. This is wonderful news for us that we can hardly celebrate enough.

2. We own rights to the name Righteousness, for the linkages made to the Lord, even though it is not fully our own. God, in Jesus, is guarantor of the Spiritually-saving transaction and relationship. Without God we’re not in the least bit righteous; with him, we are and can be in deed.

Perhaps most of all this prophesy sets forth a vision for the true King to take reign; to reclaim his creation—as was originally designed.

Leadership: looking both back to Jeremiah’s time and then forward to now we see all throughout history examples replete in both good and bad. The good rulers always led with a strong moral front. Morality and leadership go hand in hand. For Jeremiah there was nothing to write home about; even for us, our leaders mightn’t inspire much hope in us at times. But, we have a great Leader in Jesus. He is in control. In this we can see our futures are not so bleak.

The true King, Our Righteousness, gives us the keys to real success—on God’s terms—and we love being beneficiaries where we can live in safety; where justice and righteousness reign. And that occurs to a certain degree—even at times to a great extent—in this world.

How much greater again then will it be when Jesus comes for the second and final time?

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.


Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah – The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p. 114-15.

J. Andrew Dearman, Jeremiah-Lamentations – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 218-23; 304-07.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ashamed of the Gospel?

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

~Romans 16a, 17 (NIV).

For many years I professed to be a Christian and never lived that way. Sure, I had more than a passing interest in the Bible and I prayed—at meals we even said grace. But that was about it as far as living the Christian faith was concerned.

Then a fantastic thing happened: my world as I knew it fell apart. And as a result of this I fell interminably into the arms of God—the true God, Jesus who died and became resurrected, and who ascended into heaven; he saved me—about thirteen years after I had originally been “saved.”

This ‘fantastic thing’ that happened to me, I didn’t know at the time, really. All I was doing—though I didn’t think of it at the time—was living by faith for the first time in my “saved” life. I was actually living like a saved person should. For, the righteous, as Paul says, will live by faith.

And when we know the miraculous saving power of God’s undying grace to forgive and restore, we’re anything but ashamed of the reality of our saving—of being ‘born again’ of the Spirit. We want everyone to know and to experience this wonderful power of God.

For the dynamism of God’s power is so multi-dimensional we cannot grasp it. It’s the very power each of us needs to solve the very problems each of us has—or at least to explain the problem to us in ways that makes sense. God is a healer, a provider, a guide; but that’s not all. He is so much more. He is even different in manifestation from one person to the next—this is why he’s a personal, relational God. He reveals himself to us in personal ways.

We’re defined as “righteous” by means of our living by faith. Many people confuse the term “righteous”—it is not the proud self-righteousness you could be thinking it is. Indeed, it is something totally different.

Righteousness, as far as humanity is concerned, is simply about placing our lives in God’s hands by faith—to walk humbly with him. This, when placed on a notional pride-humility continuum, is at the rank opposite end to self-righteousness, for it is surrender—but only to God’s Spirit and will and power. Faith is surrender to God in order that through him our best is finally realised.

And God is faithful to our faith, which is similar to one believer being faithful to another in their faith. Faith is the divine connection, linking the action of the gospel—in righteousness—to the ever-Present power of God. Faith from first to last holds us in our growth in God, assuring it—it exists through and through.[1]

I know what people experience when they hesitate in witnessing to their faith—I did too. But no more. I don’t care what I look like or what others might think of me when the subject of Jesus comes up—so long as God is glorified, for there are many ways that God is not glorified if we’re not prudent. All people should know that God is the power for salvation for everyone who believes.

He saves us daily—if we will only live by faith and thus be called righteous (by God’s grace, a believer).

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Romans – The Bible Speaks Today series (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 60.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Goal – Spiritual Progress unto Perfection

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold for me.”

~Philippians 3:12 (NIV).

Paul has here, not reached perfection, but Christ Jesus has. This is an important juncture of the Spiritual premise we attain and always come back to.

The goal is what makes this venture of ours perfect, not our actuality. We take an awed-filled humble pride in the fact that Jesus completed something for us we couldn’t touch. Nothing can touch this Divine thing in any other way—yet we’ve been given the ‘keys to the City’—the City of God.

Seeing the goal of perfection is a very real standpoint we’re to approach and take on-board, though critically we know, perfection is not ours until we pass into eternity.

Ours is the goal. His is the Perfection. Never the twain shall meet.

But the heavenly expectation, now that we have the keys to the City, is we “strain” toward what is ahead, leaving the darkness and shackles of sin firmly behind us. Pressing on to the goal is gazing ever heavenward as these feet of ours remain firmly grounded in ‘the now.’ We’re transformed perfectly in this transaction that sees us set on the goal.

Like when we synchronise watches, we stay in-time with the Lord our God on this; the goal is our perfection.

And this is joy for us. For we keep in step with God this way. We please him in our faith (Hebrews 11:6) to abide to the goal. And the goal is maturity (1 Corinthians 13:11). We’re in training to one day be ready to take the mantle for which we’ve been forever destined.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Song of Emphatic, Gut-Rending Praise – Psalm 150

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

~Psalm 150:6a (NIV).

The final lap of a NASCAR race is much the same as the first, with a few exceptions—not the least of which, the adrenalin pumps whilst the leading pack of drivers try to remain poised. It is hardly relevant to mention they’re going absolutely flat out!

This helps us understand Psalm 150—a race to the very end.

Destination: God.

Vehicle: Praise!

What a topsy-turvy journey the Psalms are. Though over a third are laments, the progression is positive—the crescendo of praise is noted, building from Psalm 146 onwards, concluding with a heavenly crackle of choral praise in this psalm, where no less than thirteen times are the words, hillel (Hebrew verb for “praise”) and hallelujah (‘praise the Lord’) used; praise starts every line bar one—the one above—and this line ends with it!

The real message is the building imperative toward a concluding trumpeting command—praise the Lord!

According to Mays, “The act of praising the Lord is lifted up as [both] possibility and responsibility. The responsibility is given to all for whom it is a possibility, all who have breath.”[1]

It is due us, if we breathe air, to ascribe volleying harmonies of praise to our living God; the One who gives life and that abundantly.

All in a tizz we are enraptured for the Lord our God, for all the foregoing (psalms) and for the goodness and greatness of God.

Psalm 150 is actually a pretty awkward place to start or to pick-up-from. Its role is conclusion, when things are already at a deafening fever pitch. It is, however, our call to fervently align with the mood chastened forth. We’re to love God so passionately that our very fingers, toes and tongue move and sing with praise to the One who was, and is, and is to come!—the great ‘I AM.’

As both races finish—the NASCAR race and the race for a life praising God—perfection is founded; the crux of performance at the moment of truth.

Praise is first and last for God and about God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 450.

Who is a God Like You?

“Who is a God like you,

who pardons sin and forgives transgression

of the remnant of his inheritance?

“You do not stay angry forever

but delight to show mercy.

“You will again have compassion on us;

you will tread our sins underfoot

and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

~Micah 7:18-19 (NIV).

So great is God that he understands and accepts our human failings—our propensity to change our minds. He accepts that we have moods and sometimes either deliberately do bad things or simply make mistakes. He made us; he was there, too, when we fell.

Think of God’s forgiveness in the many and varied sins we’re routinely forgiven for, by way of no consequence for our actions. This happens so much we can’t even begin to calculate it. God allows us our “playground” trial-and-error life, for the most part.

The times when there is a consequence it is for our own good; it can be seen that we’re being “disciplined” appropriately. And God is not forever unsatisfied with us—indeed, I get the distinct impression these days that God’s forgiveness is light-speed more rapid than my very own. Don’t we condemn ourselves too much?

Whichever way we look at it, God compels his mercy toward us as if to say, ‘Do not let this barrier that was once between us hold you back. I see you’re sorry and wish to repent. And if you aren’t, I’m causing you to be sorry—if you’re wise enough to see that. Now that you see you’re wrong and wish to make amends, I’ve forgiven you already!’

He hurls our transgressions toward him—for all sin is an attack at God—away into the sea with great velocity, hardly to be seen again, certainly not in view of God. Others might re-hash our sins but when God forgives he’s put the matter to bed entirely.

And this is one blistering reason why having a relationship with the living God is most fundamentally critical:

He helps us to forgive ourselves. He makes living in our skins bearable. Life suddenly begins to make sense in the light of God’s forgiving revelations.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Longer Me, But Him!

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

~Galatians 2:20 (NIV).

This is a big call—or seems like it. The apostle Paul advocated this as part of his hostile counsel with the apostle Peter; he certainly seemed to live it—give or take. But, what about us?

Wait up; not so soon do we take this leap. We might love the ring of this verse, but context helps.

According to Longenecker, we’re often swept up enthusiastically in responses to attacks on legalism in Galatians, but Paul is just as fervently for nomism—a “response of faith to a God who has acted on one’s behalf by living a life governed by Torah.”[1] Of course, Paul is exhorting one step further—that we’re free entirely of ‘the Law’; free to love beyond the Law—the Law not limiting, condemning or constraining us.

And without getting into an extended theological discussion, we should know Paul’s purpose: placing a caricature of Grace before the Galatians, so they might see that Jesus had smashed the Old Way, ushering in the fabulous New Covenant. The reality: a world of “met” Old Testament prophesy—the much-promised and much-cherished Messiah is Jesus.

And nomism seems pretty close to what we’re about, actually. We can’t add a thing to this “thing” that God has done for us in Christ, but we can trust and obey—faith! We do have much moral “code” to live by—the Spirit marshals this into our psyches. And we’re glad.

What does all this mean from a practical, living viewpoint?

It helps us to know, indeed it is an enormous comfort, that the grace of God travels with us—in our faith—and somehow softens the hardness of our humanity, making it easier to trust and walk humbly. I’m constantly reminded as I begin to overstep the mark in life; these are opportunities to amend my ungodly actions before they take place. And this is possible where I’m intent on God. Unfortunately, I often let ‘the side’ down too.

When we do overstep, it is this grace that works in us—never condemning—but positively compelling us to actually make amends; to repent. And we’re glad because finally truth and justice is working within our lives. It’s the way we always felt we should live, but prior to salvation we just didn’t know how. And this is why grace is beyond knowledge—God’s grace is perfectly inexplicable! These are everyday miracles of grace we’re an eye-witness to.

A genuine spiritual alignment with the cross of Christ always sets us apart, forever more. The cross does something in us, at a deep visceral level, touching us at our very spirits—for the Holy Spirit has taken up active residence; all to the glory of God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Richard N. Longedecker, Galatians – Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 45) (Dallas, Texas: Word, Inc., 2002), S. 95.