Saturday, July 31, 2010

Joy in the Continuity of Prayer – Part 1

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!”

~Philippians 4:4-5 (Msg).

Is there a more comprehensive parcel of utter joy in the whole Bible—one more convincing—than this section right here, for Paul, to the Philippians? I’m sure there is not.

This above is only the first part of the section I want to explore. It’s so rich we’ll leave the second couple of verses for later. This will satisfy our appetites for the time being.

There is a thread in this thinking of Paul’s that is so perfectly alluring in the heavenly realm. And it’s rooted and established in the Presence of God, manifest in the continuity of everlasting prayer—a language of subliminal utterance to the Lord our God.

The product of such prayer is total harmony in relations with people; a life of a compendium of peace.

Is Total Harmony With All People Achievable?

Some might think it utter hogwash, and of course, we cannot control what people think of us; they, like we, are completely given to their own choices.

But we’re fools for not taking this passage seriously enough, or for not reading in it the power of God for the peace we can have in our lives, simply in living practically what The Message calls being “on their side”. This is compelling stuff. Just imagine for a moment tackling life so positively in the Lord that nothing sways us from our prayer—to the doing, always, of God’s will, in relation to others. This is to love at all costs. It’s a pipedream maybe, but it’s an ideal we can only grow to love, for all fear and negativity falls away, and it’s only peace and more joy that can result. Only goodness remains under these enthralling conditions.

We all admire people like Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi don’t we? They both proved that love can be the predominant way for a human being.

Paul is broaching an earth-swelling joy to the ending of conflict; it is basically impossible to fight with people when we simply want to smother our situations with them in God’s love—and it’s the joy of the Lord that produces this instinctual love. Imagine people trying to fight with us under these conditions—how could they contend against our fearless love?

We’re Expectant – Guess Who’s About to Arrive?

As we live each day—expectant in hope—for the Lord to arrive, if not afresh in our hearts, but more visibly before us, we’re inspired to want Jesus living and breathing through us so all can see.

Let’s not worry about the times we’ve failed God by falling short in our ruptured rapport at the workplace, in the home, at church, or in the community. We’re learning each day how to love after all.

Today is here. Today we walk out of our unconsciousness and out into a fresh reality of the joy we have in gentleness; to be God’s anointed.

And, again, the way we stay in this state of being—under God’s joyful anointedness—is via a smooth harmony of prayer, never letting go of God’s grip over our going out and coming home and all between.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Jesus’ Love – Alive and Burning Within

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
~Luke 24:32 (NIV).
Jesus is always discovered in this sort of way of hindsight. We’ve all had our own ‘road to Emmaus’ experiences to tell about in being saved into the kingdom of God. This is not the limit to our revelations, however. We continue to be sparked along—hearts aflame—when we’re plugged into God.
The Spirit of God is alive in us. We know this, of course, many of us do.
And still, there are many who will scratch their heads and not connect with this Spiritual ‘feeling,’ thinking they’re missing out on something other believers might be getting.
I recognise this feeling; whenever someone qualifies speaking in tongues as the only manifestation of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, for instance, I start to feel apart from the exclusive club some Christians are set on designing themselves for. Tongues and the Spirit’s Baptism are just one example of a false and legalistic belief that with one comes directly the other; these people often don’t realise how far the things of God are beyond our rationale.
There is hardly a more contentious issue in the faith than that of the manifestation of the ‘gifts,’ and the Apostle Paul spoke directly to this issue in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Love, of course, transcends all arguments—love is more important than gifting; it’s the critical platform of gifting.
God’s Spirit – There Whether We ‘Feel’ It or Not
One of the beauties of this serendipitous find of the followers of Jesus above is they didn’t realise until long afterward that God’s very Presence was with them!
It’s no different for us.
Most of the time—to a vast percentage of time—we’ll not feel the Presence or the ‘anointing’ of God. And we might only feel somehow inferior, then, when discussing same with those so-called ‘blessed’ persons who feel God’s Presence all the time—well, there’s not the love of humility to brandish this before other believers in a separatist way.
They’re actually abusing the Lord’s blessing in this way if they use it in a superior way over us, as if to say, “The Lord favours me over you”. God does not ‘favour’ one over the other in these ways, and certainly not for any of us to spruik about it.
Gifts these may be, but they’re never to be exploited to the detriment of other believers, or anyone else for that matter.
Jesus ‘Burns’ Within Us (All of Us) All the Time
We may not feel it right now, like the two men on the road to Emmaus, but we do have God’s Spirit burning within us right now, if we believe Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected so that we too could be.
Let us never forget the Person of Jesus; he was never a separatist of those truly needy souls. He is the master of humility and directs us to have an inclusive fellowship with all humanity. And he wants us to know that he is with us (personally); he is for us, and never against us.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Building a Workable Identity

“Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers in the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.”
~James 1:9-11 (NRSV).
This is a marvellous hope for the ordinary man or woman in this life, battling against the successes of the less moral ‘rich’ person. The morality-life, then, seems to elude all good-doers and their foregoing of just reward... until at last the truth is finally revealed.
And this, I guess, is what the many hope for: justice.
The Broader Message – One Not To Miss
The lowly believer, perhaps the one not materially rich or especially blessed, is granted passage—per James—to sow into a better reality; that of identity.
The overall goal of the Christian life, so far as the destiny of maturity in the Lord is concerned, is to reach the status of peace within the self to the availing stream of joy resplendent of hope and the strength of meandering surrender, to God, in faith.
This is an opportunity not granted the rich and the especially successful, for they frankly do not ‘get’ the trials common to life on the ‘lowly’ stage; they float on a winsomely fake cloud headed for the abyss.
Those Rich and ‘Well-Off’ are Having ‘Their’ Time Now
The rich and successful who do not continually sow like poor and lowly people are being slowly scorched in the field of their busyness and quite comparatively foolish successes, certainly as compared with the riches of those eternal things that will last a lifetime and beyond.
Jesus says in commendation of this—of those getting their just desserts now:
“Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
~Matthew 6:2b (NRSV).
And yet, the lowly are being raised up”. They, therefore, can afford to (quietly) boast, which is probably best put as a humble though assured confidence that—as we speak—they’re being raised up... it’s otherwise a thing that is certainly happening.
The Construction of Viable Identity
The viable identity, which we’ve said is the very path of the believer, is about the assuredness of peace. This is a peace beyond the making of this world i.e. via material gain or otherwise ‘success’ which cannot provide such peace.
Until we reach that continual ‘more-or-less’ flow of peace our practical identities are not fixed; for it’s in the fixed identity that the soul finds its acceptable peace.
The very apex of identity is this: it is serving without fear, selflessly, and finding the serenity of rest in, and of, our deeds for God.
An identity that’s hence “workable” is then serviceable; serving us as we venture with our endeavours in the world. Building and construction are the ideal metaphors, then, because we’re constructing our identities, commissioning them for work, and then we’re maintaining them. We’re otherwise shading them—and ourselves—from that scorching sun.
The lowly have this to boast in: theirs is an iron-clad fixed identity in the righteousness of faith, to work for God who is raising them, even today!
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Letting Go – Letting God

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?”
~Job 40:2 (NIV).
Bang, crash and fathom! God concludes the case of inconsolable proportions, contending with Job here, putting it back to Job to answer. And Job does come around. If we’re wise, we do too!
The theory of “contending with the Almighty” is kicking against the pricks of life—to the lamenting of things that happen ‘to’ us, without the raw acceptance of same; admittedly, a very hard thing in many cases.
There is no use fretting about anything in life.
This, however, sounds like a huge call, and an impossible one at that.
When Our ‘Dominions’ are Trampled
I find one area I’m certainly tempted to “contend with the Almighty” is when people in the workplace or at home trample the rightful dominion given to me by God—by this I mean, when people usurp the roles I’ve been given; those for which I’m charged of the responsibility for.
It riles us within to begin to imagine that some might even do these things deliberately to push us off balance. But the character test of God in all of this is still the same; in these instances, we must simply accept what’s happened and make mature reparation through the keeping of account if, and where, possible. Otherwise our restraint lets the issue go.
None of us like our turf being trampled, but we must establish ways of contending for God’s will against our own strident sense of momentary hurt. We’re thrown into a hurt child state in an instant. For this the maturity of resilience is our eternal ally.
Be Still – Knowing That God is God
What a tremendous blessing it is for the believer in Jesus Christ to know that, in him, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
This means that the grace that Jesus showed in dying on the cross for our sin, and the grace of the Father to allow his own Son to be scourged for humanity follows us, and via the Holy Spirit we gain access to the remarkably fantabulous resources of this grace for our very selves.
In this, we’re able to forgive, and that, instantly via the fervent Presence of the Holy Spirit fuelling us, to the stabilising of our emotions, from a peace that transcends all human understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).
For those who struggle for acceptance, forgiveness and letting go, there’s no fear here.
We just compel the truth toward you; it is available and ‘it’s coming to a theatre near you!’
When we consider this, one of my most favourite quotes below, nothing can truly come against us, when we’re obediently in God:
“Yet those [people and circumstances] that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us the causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, so that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one [or nothing] is against us!”
~Chrysostom (Italics added for emphasis).
This is our earth-bending truth.
Our response to let go and let God, really and very simply, removes every last micron of evil power over us. We very soon experience power beyond ourselves and this is the blessing of the Presence of the Holy Spirit commending us for contending for the Almighty.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Catechising Conversation with Jesus

“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you’.”
~John 21:17 (NIV).
What is possibly going on here? Is Jesus hard of hearing, trying to make a point or just going on like a broken record? The second point is true it seems.
And what of Peter? The Lord he’d only just recently betrayed; now this Lord he loves is making him feel really guilty for denying knowing him three times? Is this some sadistic joke? Enough already!
The Grace of God Manifest in Eternal Patience
God never gets angry with us in our failures-of-effort to keep to the holy standard.
Jesus can be seen here humbly making his point without the faintest desire of impatience. He must make his point, impressing on Peter a most crucial missional charge: “Feed my lambs...”
Apart from the method of God—to get through to us patiently; never giving up—we see here how important this little interchange between Messiah and Apostle is. The very destiny of the Church, as far as human hands is concerned, depends on this little and loyal conversation.
Back to those infernal questions... Once is okay. Twice is getting us to question. Three times is repetition and the tedium begs within us: why?
There is a purpose in Jesus’ repetitive questioning. It not only shows his patience—a core quality of the teacher—and it wasn’t only an imperative for the future of the Church, but indeed, it was for Peter’s restoration that Jesus takes him through a personal lesson of grace.
Repentance and Restoration
What is restoration about if not the ability to make right wrongs?
Peter had clearly repented; increasingly as this conversation continued the stakes are raised, Jesus honing in upon Peter’s heart, and Peter responds each time in congruence, as if to say, “I love nobody or nothing like I love you, Lord.”
But repentance is always incomplete without the ability to actually implement what we desire to do. Jesus was not only seeking to restore Peter, he was charging him with the most important job ever—to construct, in God’s name, an order for the Christianising of the entire world.
What a restorative call that was!
And, for us, where does it leave us?
We’re never to forget the patience of love in the Lord our God; to address our faults patiently and tenderly—to give us opportunities to not only repent, but to be restored through cheerful service in the name, and to the glory, of God.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Sowing and Reaping – Giving and Giving the Best Gift

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
~2 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV).
Are there many ‘tithing’ sermons where this verse isn’t used? And yet, it is has such a broader application, notwithstanding tithing. (We’re loath to ever forget though that churches need money to survive, and to minister effectively, not to mention, putting bread on their ministers’ tables!)
As I write I consider one servant of God—a woman advanced in years, with her husband, both financially comfortable and of ‘grandparent age’. This woman entered my life at the very beginning of my active ministry. It was during one of those ‘Forty Days of Purpose’ campaigns. I’ve never seen a person more generously committed—in all manners of speaking—than her.
This Woman Gave and Gave and Gave
She gave of her money via cash when people needed it, or through the buying of time-worthy gifts—those gifts ‘in good season’. She gave of her incredibly talented abilities and her spiritual experience. She became a leader of note overnight; brought into bat by the Lord. She worked tirelessly for several years before slinking away when others were suddenly able to take on what she’d started, and she even skilfully dodged the fanfare normally accorded people of such generous valour.
This woman gave, almost best of all, always when it seemed from hindsight to be just the right time.
Giving the Best Gift
The most generous giver gives first to themselves... that might seem a little strange and out of place here. “Are you sure that’s right?” I might imagine you’re thinking.
The best lesson a good observation from this woman provided was her ability to rejuvenate herself, even though it appeared often as if she might be actually burning out. One thing she never lost was this radiant joy in her smile and laugh; both appearing spontaneously like rooster cracks at dawn. In all of this was her resilience, but more so, her ability to know when the right time was to withdraw.
The best gift a giver can give is to rest when required so such a lovely and blessed life can continue doing same, until the life therein breathes no more. It is little good burning out by doing good. Even worse is it to begin to do works of good faith without love, as if we were compelled to do so. There is no generous heart in that, only compulsion, and Paul commends us to give only from the heart (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The best gift is to give back to self so the generous giver can keep on giving.
Here we must save sufficiently of ourselves—just enough of safe proportion—that we don’t threaten the longevity of our mission for God. This is a time-held wisdom; an eternal truth.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

God – the God of Both the Old and New Testaments

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
~Ephesians 2:6 (NIV).
Some might erroneously believe, and therefore think, that God is somehow different from the Old Testament to the New. I hear it in some circles, especially in lauding the ‘power of Jesus,’ which is correct of course, but it’s often founded out of the wrong context.
Miracles – ‘Old’ and ‘New’
I rediscovered this recently as I grazed through the early part of Second Kings. A question:
Were the miracles of Jesus any more impressive than the miracles of Elijah and Elisha?
This is a rhetorical question, of course. Jesus’ miracles were no more profound than those done by God in the Old Testament—indeed many miracles have been known since Jesus’ death, and these merely prove that God’s miraculous works are eternal; the best miracles of which are the changed hearts of those against God now contending for the living Lord.
Teaching – ‘Old’ and ‘New’
Secondly, let’s consider teaching.
Was Jesus’ teaching any different really compared with Moses’?
Some might argue persuasively that Jesus attends the heart issues behind the commandments of God initially propounded by Moses. But Moses still taught the things of God just as capably as Jesus did, albeit perhaps not so parabolically.
The Cross – ‘New’ Only
The main thing that separates the Old Testament from the New is the cross—promised at some points in the Old, but not seen; it’s realised in the writing and landscape of the New Testament as suddenly the apostles and gospel writers had access to the key of God’s final redemptive work.
And still redeeming sacrifices were made and atonement was had in the Old Testament. It was only that the way, or the mediation, was different. The New Testament is not so much about the mediation process, but a Mediator.
Still, it stands for us as the only cataclysmic difference: grace. In and through Jesus—belief in his death and resurrection, to the healing of the sin of the world—we’re granted the highest access to the courts of God; the personal relationship and presence with God.
The nexus of Christianity—and the difference between the Old and New Testaments—rests on this premise of the work of the cross; that and that alone.
God—the eternal God—is unchanging. The work of God’s plan, however, is still unfolding.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Checklists of the Almighty

The Apostle Paul says,
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”
~Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV).
I’m no stranger to the double-life that sat astride these two: life by the Spirit and the sinful nature. It was a hell-of-a-life, truth be told. I’d defy anyone attempting to live both to find even a semblance of lasting peace and contentment. And when God executed judgment over my life, repealing my former way of living, a choice needed to be made.
The best of life is making this choice—to go one way or the other; not both. Obviously, the supreme way is making the choice to live by the Spirit, the sinful nature hardly contending.
God’s Checklists
A ‘checklist’ can actually begin to sound rather legalistic. However, the lists that Paul provides in Galatians chapter 5 relating to the vices of the sinful nature as opposed to the virtue in and of the Spirit are really differentiating how polar opposite one life is over the other.
Again, we cannot dabble in both. Well, we can try but it’ll do us no good at all and we’ll be terrible failures at both!
The Vice List
This list in Galatians 5:19-21 is moderately longer than the list of virtue and it’s nowhere near as famous as the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ verses, perhaps for obvious reasons.
The difference with this list as opposed to the virtue list, however, is we’ll continually fight to negate these vices—because we have a sinful nature we’re all predisposed to these. For some the struggle is with sexual immorality; for others it’s greed; others again will have anger problems... most of us have several of these vices to contend with, or even traces of all them.
But this is not our focus.
The Virtue List
The Fruit of the Spirit verses in Galatians 5:22-23 are, by far, more powerful for us to focus upon. We’re, by design, creatures of comfort—working better with the positive things; those things that work on, and build, our confidence.
We submerge the pull of the sinful nature by engaging in the fruits of the Spirit, which are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we refuse to gratify our vagrant desires (remembering that many desires are still good and healthy) we attract more fruit of the Spirit; for instance, self-control. But even more so, when we focus on the fruit of the Spirit without thought at all of the sinful nature, we explode in healthy Spiritual growth.
We’re both real (i.e. honest) about the issues of sin in our lives and we don’t focus on them, giving them the upper hand. We go on beyond the sin, far above it, in our focus on the fruit of Character as manifest in our works of good faith.
And we never stop building; never. It’s all about where our focus is.
A continued and sustained focus on the Fruit of the Spirit, to the love and worship of God, is the greatest favour we can ever continue to do for ourselves.
If this is our way, the sky’s the limit.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Psalm 61 – A Pilgrim’s Vow to God

“Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
~Psalm 61:1-2 (NIV).
This psalm begins quite desperately. The psalmist is lamenting their personal situation and imploring God for help; just to get to that slightly higher place where the confines of this living Sheol seem not so entrapping.
I guess we’ve all been there. This is one reason the Bible is a glowing encouragement to us always; it never ceases to give voice to our more haranguing questions, especially the lament psalms.
In two verses of the second half of Psalm 61 (vss. 5a, 8b) mention is made of vows. These verses ‘bookend’ this part of the psalm and lead us to thought around it. They, indeed, lead us to consider the foregoing four verses, as we ask the question, “What did the psalmist vow?”
Firstly, let’s answer an obvious question.
Aren’t Vows a Little Like ‘Oaths,’ i.e. Aren’t They Bad?
Jesus discussed ‘oaths’ in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:33-37. In this, Jesus is contemplating for us consideration of the fear of the Lord (rightful respect of God as Almighty Judge) before we do or say something silly.
The concept here is we all have to live with the prospect of our promises coming home to roost; with every promise comes the time to deliver on the promise. We think of the story of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:30-40 as the consequences of rash vows and we know now the very real issues that come into play when we too make rash promises.
But the psalmist’s promise—his vow—is not rash. It is founded on the promise to, “dwell in [God’s] tent forever [and to] take refuge in the shelter of [the Lord’s] wings” (verse 4).
This is a safe vow. It’s an appropriate oath. It’s not an oath that’s going to backfire in any way. Indeed, the psalmist—and it is likely David—is arranging an iron-clad pact here with God in verses 5b-7.
Our Pacts with God
We’ve all heard the term, “Equal Opportunity,” and know where it’s heading. It’s equity for all. But equity is not always equal, however balanced it sounds.
Equity in this relationship with God is a great arrangement, however.
Although we’ll never be equal to God, we enjoy the favour of God in our pilgrimage to and with the Spirit, as God enjoys our love and faithfulness—certainly under grace.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Hope Never Disappoints

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
~Romans 5:5 (NIV).
Like love, which never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8), hope sustains us. Paul writes of hope, in this section of Romans, as a product of many character growth processes underpinning it—necessarily, hope is required before, during and after.
It’s difficult to conjure a world of any good without hope.
It seems to me, from my reflections on life, that so much rides on hope. Hope is a construct made and predestined for humanity by a wholly-loving God. Building the human unit with the capacity for thought and emotion has necessitated the need for a backdrop of safety. This is hope.
Without teasing out the nuances of the interplay of faith, hope and love, it is sound to say that hope is at least the antecedent quality most obvious to the triad of Christian virtue. If we struggle, it’s our lack of hope that screams loudest. Behind it, sure, there’s a doubting faith, but hope is most resplendent in our living of life, to the positive or negative.
God Alone Engorges Hope
For the Deity, hope stands between us and living the salvation life. Hope is what comprises the resurrected life certainly in the ‘felt’ realm.
Hope—true hope—is not really available beyond, or without, God. The good news, however, is God’s Spirit simply awaits our invitation now, to enter or re-enter our hearts (in a ‘felt’ way—because the Spirit never leaves), augmenting the mind—fixing our erroneous thinking.
The really pleasant thing about hope is the track to it can become so well worn we find ourselves jumping back upon it easier and easier as we practice this process with God more and more.
The Holy Spirit was not given to us temporarily. The Spirit is now a permanent fixture within us. This Holy Spirit is our hope.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.