Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Build Me an Ark!

“Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.”

~Genesis 6:14 (NRSV).

Whenever I think of this verse I think of the movie Evan Almighty (2007). But, seriously, the most important issue in the whole context of Noah building his ark for the Lord was that his actions centred on the obedience of faith. What he did was what God asked of him—in other words, he pleased God.

A Memorable Thing

Do you ever recall a time in your life where you received a tract or some other freebie from a Christian group before you became a Christian, but you kept it anyway?

I was ‘saved’ at 23, but a few years beforehand I was given such a tract, put it in my wallet, and basically forgot about it. It’s called, “The Man That Was Warned,” and it was about Noah’s obedience, and I still have it. (We have to love those things that have travelled with us long. They sort of characterise us in some ways.)

Noah’s Faith

By the fact of his building of the ark, Noah had “condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.” ~Hebrews 11:7b (NRSV).

Noah expressed faith in God, the faith of righteousness, and didn’t waste his faith on the then dying world—a faith that was, and still is, based in falsity and wickedness.

We see in this, that we all have faith—even the atheist and agnostic have faith. We all must choose something or someone to believe in. We all give expression to our faith. If we don’t believe in God, we have set our faith on something other than God. Christians, however, have seen ‘the light’ and follow the Lord Jesus unswervingly—or that is at least the hope!

Noah’s faith was like this; perhaps there might have been doubts—particularly in the presence of ridicule—but it didn’t affect him adversely enough to change his mind or plans.

Faith demands that we make a choice—even if only it’s a momentary choice. Where our allegiance lies so too does our faith.

Exacting Instructions

Noah was given tangible coordinates with which to follow. Perhaps his ‘kit’ didn’t involve the somewhat pre-cut click-clack elements of the ark in Evan Almighty, but God directed Noah to build him a purpose-designed vessel for the saving of creation—for another tilt at life—and Noah did just that.

Noah followed the instructions that were given to him.

Per the other heroes of faith in Hebrews 11—without a shadow of a doubt—we can only imagine it was their unshakable sense of obedience that propelled them to their eventual success; the outcomes that none of them could see beforehand!

Our obedience comes in the form of this very same exactness. How closely are we truly following God regarding the plans he’s placed into our hearts? We know, of course, that we will have to account for them.

He legislates—according to his nature; we hear, according to his nature, and then comply. It becomes pretty black ‘n’ white when we look at it, obedience.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grace – Older that the Old Testament

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter [of justification by faith]? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

~Romans 4:1-3 (NIV [context added]).

In one foul swoop the Law-only position is crushed, even before it stands. Paul points out as poignantly as anyone could—right here—how inherently flawed a works justification is, and ever was.

Recoiling the time right back to Genesis 15:6 we cannot possibly remain only there—we have to trek further back into time well before even Abraham. If, in fact, Abraham was called by such a grace as purported so truly here, it existed even before he was conceived.

We can only surmise that grace existed before, or at the initiation of, creation. It has to be backed by our understanding, now, of God’s unparalleled loving character—a concept we could only marvel at in attempting to comprehend it.

Abraham Believed

Abraham trusted. That’s as simple as it gets. He trusted God. He is the father of belief in God, even before the fact of his own circumcision and other external signs of justification (Romans 4:11).

Belief, alone, qualified Abraham entirely to meet and gain the prize of grace in God, with no correspondence to be entered into.

God Credited Abraham’s Belief

Yahweh, here, reckoned “Abraham’s faith in the promise as righteousness.”[1]

Abraham’s trust assures God of his belief and God trusts directly back (if that can be conceived) by offering grace—the totality of righteousness, in our terms, the ‘keys to the city.’

By faith we also are “credited,” as we believe wholeheartedly that God placed his own Son on the cross to redeem us all from our sin and return us back into an inimitable covenant-strength partnership with God Almighty.

This concept of being “credited”—via trust—is resplendently captivating in both its simplicity and its absolute unconditional transactional value. Comprehension, again, is tremendously difficult in such polar terms of mutual simplicity with earth-bending power.

It Was Credited to Abraham AS Righteousness

Abraham was made right by virtue, alone, of his belief; his trust.

To think that the standard of God, unto an obedience set forever too high for us in actual terms—for instance, see Psalm 15—exists, yet via straight belief in the Jesus of the cross we’re forever saved from the condemnation of getting the smallest bit of the Law wrong. Of course, we hack away haphazardly large cavernous slices of actual righteousness, but it is not ever held over us; not a spot. Not a blemish remains.

This is us made right, when we could never get even close to it, of ourselves.

Trust in God >>> Justification by Faith >>> ‘Made’ Righteous

Even under the law, i.e. before Jesus came, there existed a way to God by faith.

Jesus’ obedience on the cross only propounded this truth, God making a cataclysmic statement of his unequivocal love for humankind—which we reckon as grace.

In Jesus, God overwhelms us in the bond-strength of his love for us.

Jesus on the cross, his life, resurrection and ascension are fantastically transactional in our understanding of the New Covenant—a theology founded and existent to the very dawn of creation.

Jesus, and the historical event of the cross, proves the grace of God as ushered in initially under Abraham.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), p. 242. This is a marvellous source. I also credit other areas of this article to this author’s work.

Stripped Naked – Waiting for God

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,

I wait for God my Savior;

my God will hear me.”

~Micah 7:7 (NIV).

The Word of the Lord comes to us—affirmed and confirmed—in many ways. This has been a Word of confirmation and affirmation for two friends in recent days, and that’s how God works in so many ways!

There are so many passages in God’s Word that speak of waiting on God, and it seems these come to facilitate, in their own way, seasonal forbearance in our lives. The words leap from the page—so to speak—into our hearts and we carry them with us, clutched as close to the heart as possible.

A Change of Heart

Not unlike the psalmists, in the subset of Micah 7:1-7, Micah here seems to have rapidly departed from his previous melancholic mode to present one single concluding verse of hope and trust in God.[1]

And this newly heralded theme is continued through many of the verses following—the next section—to the end of the book.

We, too, have many opportunities to change our own hearts for good and choose to wait patiently on the Lord.

Faith and Faithfulness

Having faith and presenting that in ways that is faithful implies the sentiment of Micah. Trust is due the awesome Lord God. We can afford to trust him because God has never let us down.

The enemy, of course, is so personally apt at accusing God—and lest our own hearts—and we’re debunked in a second, at times, it seems.

And, still, we can choose quite easily to trust the nature and character of God—who loves us perfectly; ‘on time, on budget.’

Waiting for Something We Hope for

“Waiting is an expression of personal inability to bring about progress in the situation, and an expression of God’s ability to hear and help.”[2]

As we wait, we acknowledge we have no choice but to wait—it’s out of our hands. This is a resigned sense of acceptance, which is never usually a bad thing, as we understand we must simply get out of our own way and let God do ‘the talking,’ via one or more ways within his many modes of life-delivering action.

And as we wait, we know that God will hear us; indeed, he does hear us. He has heard us.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, Micah – The Minor Prophets – An Exegetical & Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1993), p. 751.

[2] John L. Mackay, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah – Focus on the Bible (Fearn, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), p. 129.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fighting Our Way to a Meaningful Reality

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’

says the Teacher.

‘Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.’”

~Ecclesiastes 1:1 (NIV).

Qoheleth, the teacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes, is famed for the above refrain. It is awkward how such a pessimistic book of wisdom ever found its way into the Holy Scriptures but there are some sound reasons. These reasons speak to the heart of life itself.

For a longer exposé on Ecclesiastes, and whether life’s actually meaningless or not in the thought of Qoheleth, go to the following link: Life Meaningless?

The Realness of Reality

No one gets by, enjoying life, without actually living a real life, though many intrepidly try denial and are inevitably bitten by a sting of powerfully harming lies.

If ever there was a book that squared off face to face with reality it is Ecclesiastes.

Whenever we’re tired of the ‘praise and thanksgiving’ set of God—and we’ve all felt this way if we’re being honest—we can go to a book like Ecclesiastes and God ministers to us in a fresh, direct way through it.

Reality is almost too real at times. Sure, we’re sucked into self-pity at a moment’s notice at times, but reality is cheap, glaring and too cruel all too often. Reality proves God isn’t partial, favouring no one above the next—certainly not in a way we can formularise in any event. This is how we can tell that reality is real: there is no formula to it; nothing can be predicted or ‘worked out’ with any degree of actual certainty in life. ‘Death and taxes’; you know the deal.

Emptiness and searching are common fare in life it seems. So, how do we respond? We must accept these whilst still trying to enjoy our lives.

Enjoy Life

Out of the trip away from ourselves, then, venturing stoically into the starkest of reality, we ironically endeavour back through the door of meaning, having rejected our clamouring of it.

We are so often trying our darnedest to meet life in ways of gaining happiness, we’re commonly apt at totally missing it, heading off-path almost as common as we approach it. Happiness, as they say, is elusive.

And still, Qoheleth’s ancient invocation is simple, yet abundantly powerful in its raw truth.

We are to enjoy life in its simplicity. We’re to work hard, but only enough. Then we rest. We rest and ‘enjoy’ reflecting over our work—work that is meaningful to us. For work is supposed to be meaningful. We eat and drink and we enjoy consuming these things, but only in moderation, for excess too is meaningless.

In other words, we don’t attempt to draw too much from life.

The key to Ecclesiastes, in terms of enjoying life is simply to bear the following passage in mind in living it out:

“People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

“To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

~Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (TNIV).

It really does not pay to fund materialism industriously. This is a rancid proclamation: enjoy life appropriately. Divine your reality and then simply live it. And take nothing for granted to redouble the joy that rides aback reality.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The True Vine

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

~John 15:7-8 (NIV).

Promises, promises. “Ask whatever you wish...” If we haven’t ever ‘read’ anything into this statement for ourselves personally, in passages like the above—and Psalm 37:4—we’re probably not human. I know I have, quite a few times if I’m honest.

But we’re loath to miss the real context. Putting God first realigns our wishes (Matthew 6:33).

The classical invocation in this portion of Jesus’ final charges to the disciples in that fateful final week, before Gethsemane and Golgotha, is Remain in me; remain in my Word.”

The Process of ‘Pruning’

Two outcomes are shown earlier in John 15. Some of the more unproductive (unfruitful) branches of the Vine are cut off or burned, having missed their mark, whilst the productive (fruitful) branches are pruned, i.e. they’re improved, so they can become even better.

Although God’s mercy is incalculable, he is the perfect manager; God is never satisfied to leave us in our growth. He will engineer the circumstances so we do grow; that or diminish, if that’s our choice.

Life—with or without God—contains this truth: we must grow or die; physically, spiritually, mentally, cognitively, emotionally etc. There is no standing still in life.

Beginning with a Noble Objective

The noblest objective truly is to glorify God and to see all we do, including all our growth, as a direct reflection on God and our relationship with Jesus.

The Christian—by taking the faith at its root—ostensibly holds to the teaching of Jesus, for his Word is primary. It always has been and always will be.

The Word of God, as installed in our lives, together with the Presence of God’s Spirit as we abide, will lead quite implicitly to the glorification of the Father.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

White-Hot God

“It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;

The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

~Psalm 69:9 (NRSV).

We find it irrepressibly unconscionable that the Lord would be zealous, or worse ‘jealous,’ for his creation.

But, it is a fact.

Our imaginations are stretched at this, but as J. I. Packer puts it, God’s jealousy is a biblical fact—as John Calvin put it, it’s on “public record” no less.[1]

We invest far too much of our own hearts into the being of God, anthropomorphically, as we’re apt in doing—merely following the Bible’s lead. And, still, we forget that God’s jealously is little like ours. For starters, our jealousy is so very often fuelled in vice—such a motive is impossibly inconceivable to God’s character and nature.

God’s Burning Jealousy

Yet, we can grasp this righteous and unapologetic jealousy of God—in fact, it’s very easy.

Think for a moment about the sanctity of marriage.

Would we be so comfortable if another man or woman walked into our homes and immediately set to engage sexually with our spouses—them both approving—and that, in full view of us? Any person who would stand ‘solemnly’ by, simply accepting this, would be patently immoral, “lacking in moral perception.”[2]

This jealousy is an indignant variety of defence over the dominions that God has placed us in charge of. He expects us to fight for them.

Lessons from Hosea

Think back to Hosea, the 8th Century B.C.E. prophet to Israel, and his context—the mouthpiece of God to the morally bereft nation of God under Jeroboam II—his initial ministry. He was instructed by the Lord to marry an adulteress, Gomer (Hosea 1:3).

She, in her infidelity, was merely a defining chimera and tiny human-shaped replica for the nation, and later and more broadly, to the nature of unfaithful humanity throughout the ages; a penchant for rejecting its God.

And God is to stand by and not care, like the husband who has had his wife taken into ravenous extramarital sexual haste? Hardly! That concept is laughable. We can begin to see now the zeal that God has for each person, to the very last one.

Our Zeal

It’s the same for us. We’re the Bride of Christ—betrothed as we are to this Saviour, the One who swooned us into his grand bosom.

We have a difficult mission to imbue grace in our endeavours whilst steadfastly mirroring the zeal for God’s house which must consume us.

It is nonetheless a necessary balance we must strike in resisting the smallest ambivalence. A leaf out of Paul’s book is appropriate at this poignant juncture:

“Paul was a zealous man, single-minded and at full stretch for his Lord.”[3]

We must also be so single-minded, focused and at full stretch for this Jesus of God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God – 3rd Ed. (London, Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973, 1993, 2004), p. 188.

[2] Packer, Ibid, p. 192.

[3] Packer, Ibid, p. 197.

Grace for the Day – The ‘Knowledge of God’

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

~Hosea 6:6 (NRSV).

We’re so apt at thinking on the first part of this verse we often forget the second clause.

The ‘knowledge of God’ is fundamental to our right walk with the Divine Being, for if we don’t truly know God—a momentary knowledge of his Presence with us toward his will for us, now—we’ll flounder to truly understand the simplest of God-measures in terms of how they pertain to our personal lives and the lives of others in our midst.

Knowledge of God – That’s Grace

To know God is to know what the Spirit came (and comes) for—to create, fellowship with, and ultimately, redeem us. Ever reaching, ever contending, the God of all creation seeks you and me—with more fervour than we can readily run away from; but, alas, many still do get away and this breaks God’s heart.

The presently-placed knowledge of God is the abiding peace that comes from alliance and fellowship with the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a deep study all its own!

Knowledge of God in this way is also abiding to the grace of repentance—even that we have a way back when we’ve transgressed, which we so often do. How marvellous a thought!

How awesome that God is accepting us back even as we turn back to him, never condemning us, withholding grace not a millisecond longer than we can receive his forgiveness.

Grace, so far as the knowledge of God is concerned, is what we need to truly exist in this life—by way of its original design. Until we know this grace firsthand we’re forever confused as to the actual meaning of life.

Grace for This Day

Most of all I think God wants every last person to know of his graciousness, in and through the Person of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

This historical event—the Christ on the cross—might’ve happened 1,980 years ago now, but the resurrection power of the concept of the cross is as real this very moment as ever.

And it is experienced personally; God’s power effused through us, via his Word, even cutting and dividing, always in good ways as we look back (see Hebrews 4:12-13).

Grace is the fact of momentary resurrection: from reconciled sin; by revelation; in miraculous providence; and, by view of life... to name just a few.

This is True Love

Even if we’ve never known true love, as contained in a human being’s care of us, we can relate with the love of God, the One who can never hurt or harm us.

If we ask, seek and knock at heaven’s door—a heart to receive—heaven itself will not fail to answer us by the love of God.

To invest in the reading of one gospel—the Messianic path of Jesus in Matthew; the story of Jesus in Mark; Jesus’ compassion and historically-traced record in Luke; or, the Christological mystery unravelled in John—we cannot help but ‘see’ this love of God manifest in Jesus; a love redeeming us, even—and especially—now.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Each Person’s Gift – Each is Special

“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us...”

~Romans 12:6a (NRSV).

How special a God do we have that he’s placed us here—in our unique and situational circumstances—and brought us here to serve, and that, in special very ‘us’ ways!

God’s grace is never partial. God cannot favour one more than another; he blesses us equally, though we often cannot see that, especially when we see another serving in a capacity we so long to serve in.

Our Gifting Can Make Us Feel Pretty Special

Many people set their entire identity in their gifting and, of course, this is okay. The problem we have is keeping our egos in check regarding our gifting and how blessed we are. We can very easily begin to delude ourselves and this does tangible and intangible damage to the kingdom of God.

God wants us to feel special—beyond the gifting—to his Presence in our lives. It’s about him and not the gifting, which is but simply a concrete manifestation of his love.

If we love the gift more than the Giver of the gift—and we do this when the use of the gift outstrips our worship—we fall into idolatry.

Envying Another’s Gift or the Portion of Their Contribution

It is normal for the flesh to wrangle with the Spirit’s will—wishing another well at the use of their gift. It reveals a fear of personal lack and certainly of love prised from the grip of the threatened one.

When we envy by looking over the fence at what another has—wanting it—we feel abjectly unloved for that moment, disregarding all the love we may actually have. It doesn’t seem enough; it’s not as important as the love ‘over there.’

And this is our challenge; to seize the enviousness and conform it, in God’s love, to the truth: we are all abundantly gifted. We’re all loved equally by God.

Our Own Place – Our Very Own Gift – Used Magnificently

Perhaps when we feel envious, i.e. personally goal- or gift-threatened, we haven’t yet found our ‘sweet spot,’ or our very own niche, for the Lord yet.

This is okay. The best is still obviously yet to come.

Some of the most interesting people struggle most of their lives to find ‘what’ it is about them that’s so special for God. The point is, we don’t need to find this to be special to him, but we do need to find it so God can help us feel special about ourselves—that’s normal.

When we do find this place—and we inevitably will if we’re looking and praying with open ears, eyes and heart—we will have found the very meaning of life, as God attends, and the humdrum will give way to a smooth drive that sees us equally through the personal trials and triumphs. Life will start to make more sense.

Paul’s Point – Humility and Gifting

Paul uses the phrase, “sober judgment,” in this passage (Romans 12:1-8).

Although we will at times, we are to withhold thinking of ourselves more highly or lowly than the next person, especially, in this context, as far as the gifts are concerned. Comparisons in this way are not healthy and they lead us off God’s holy path for us.

The gift is secondary at best. Let us strive to never forget what is primary.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.