Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Approaching God with Confidence in Prayer

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”
~1 John 5:14-15 (NIV).
Is God deaf to our will? This verse above doesn’t say as much but the emphasis is on something akin to that, just flipped.
We can know that many of our prayers—in advance—will be God’s will anyway. This is why it’s always a good idea to pray for character growth and for opportunities to understand life, others, our situations et cetera better.
These types of prayers are always aligned to God’s will.
Yet, is it God’s will (ever) for us to accumulate more physical possessions? Does God take any delight in giving us more ‘stuff’? We can just imagine God bristling at our contemptuous prayers for a more comfortable life—especially if we’re already living comparatively comfortably.
Receiving God’s Blessing from Our Prayers
Should we be praying for those things we feel God will almost certainly not give us?
If God hears us—because we pray according to God’s will—whatever we ask will be done for us. So, what exactly is God’s will? And just how many of our ‘wish list’ prayers are even appropriate?
There are so many questions.
What Prayers, Then, Are Appropriate?
According to this passage there is only one way to pray—that is, according to God’s will. The longer we are Christians should mean the better our understanding is of this.
Does this mean we shouldn’t pray prayers for healing? Not at all; we believe it is God’s will to heal people. But, does this mean everyone will be healed? This is when, at times, the theology turns sour. Not all will be ‘healed’ the way we want it this side of eternity. But, our hope (and truest prayer) is in the ultimate healing in eternity.
Perhaps the safest educated assumption we can make in the midst of this significant exhortation is to abide to the knowledge of praying in a disciplined way, according to our understanding of what God’s will is.
The good thing about this is we’re focussing more and more on our understanding of God’s will—our listening to, and learning of, God—and this can only work positively in and through us via spiritual osmosis.
And growth then becomes us!—there’s nothing closer to the achievement of God’s will in that, certainly as we’re personally concerned.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: John Calvin (Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer [Eds]), 1, 2, 3 John – The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998), pp. 98-99.

Five Aspects of Forgiveness – Part 4 – Faith

“And without faith it is impossible to please God...”
~Hebrews 11:6a (NIV).
Faith is behind just about everything of worth in this life, but what we have here is the faith of God to forgive people, who, without reservation don’t deserve our forgiveness, other than one fact—God forgave us for our sins; something we did not deserve.
“The moment when you understand, compassion is born in your heart. And now it is possible for you to forgive... not before that.”
~Thich Nhat Hanb.
Understanding this fact of correct and aligning—indeed reconciling—theology helps us surmount what has possibly previously been impossible for us. That act of forgiveness that we’ve held back, incapable of mustering, suddenly is made very easily; now we understand that if God can forgive us, we can forgive anyone—indeed, God says we should.
Why Is It Still So Hard to Forgive?
Answering this question might not be easy, but we can venture one answer that might apply generally. It answers the question with a question:
Do we really believe that God has completely forgiven us, and continues to completely forgive us?
Simple isn’t it. The theology here is simple. It presents the thought that if we know we’re forgiven—and we know something of the depths of that forgiveness; Jesus on the cross and the costs to God for our atonement—we find it much easier to forgive ourselves and others who might transgress. For we know something of this insurmountable compassion on the part of God to do such a thing.
This is a masterstroke for our truest salvation.
Sustainable Forgiveness Lives in the Faith-Set
I’m unsure if people could forgive with sustaining effect, from their hearts i.e. meaning it without a single condition, without faith. Faith is the answer. Christianity is the only religion that presents us with such a faith; God forgiving us via “grace”—the undeserved favour of the Divine to stoop and love us, unconditionally.
We also cannot forgive, with powerful effect, without being prepared to stoop to our transgressors and become equal to them again, enforcing no superiority of attitude of victimisation over them.
Connecting our sin and God’s atonement, we finally ‘get’ forgiveness; a wonderful and primary mindset for living.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: A paper from www.journeyfilms.com from the motion picture, The Power of Forgiveness.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Signs Truly of the (End) Times

“Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”

~Daniel 12:10 (NIV).

I am not very passionate about eschatology (i.e. concern for the last things). I accept God’s will for these times and events, those coming or to come; that’s my general position.

I believe that what should be everyone’s position is to simply become and remain aware; so we can focus on living alertly, awake to what God might be doing (Matthew 24:42f). God wants our minds open and our hearts clean, always. God does not want us stuck in one paradigm—any paradigm—because plainly we’d be closed, then, to whatever we do not understand.

Let’s accept this: we will not understand many things—for instance, end times—and this is perfectly fine. (In fact, accepting that we do not understand the mysteries of God qualifies us for salvation. Those who think they know exactly what God’s doing—certainly as far as the end times are concerned—are ‘qualifying’ themselves as the false teachers the Bible warns us not to listen to.)


Now, the signs above call forth the nature of life as we’ve known it since the Fall. Perhaps we’ve been in “end times” since then.

What Daniel 12:10 Means for How We Are To View Life

The wicked will go on doing what wicked people do; they have no recourse to God in this life. For those of us who have responded to God, trying to live aright, contending with those who reject the things of God makes life for us in some or many ways an abhorrent experience—yet we’re called by God to persist to our call; to persevere beyond the will of the ungodly. We do this in faith that God’s will is finally to be done.

Here we’re blessed to accept what we cannot change—that is the ‘will to power’ of those who’ll never come to God, for as it’s always been many will not turn. Yet, it’s not for us to predict who will or who won’t.

What This Means for Evangelism

Good evangelism is wise evangelism.

It directs its thought and effort to the ones most likely to receive the Word and Spirit of God, but in ways all can hear, if they want to. It’s those humble individuals we’re careful to minister to... the types Jesus ministered with and for.

Satan loves nothing more than godly people chasing their tales. And, still, out of all this, God is patient. And God wants us to be eternally patient too. We will chase our tales every now and then, in our quest for souls to enter the kingdom of God before it’s altogether too late.

It’s up to God and the movement of the Spirit at the end of the day.

Be encouraged—wickedness may reign in certain envelopes of life, but it will not have the final say. We’re to be focused on our own purification, and to the augmentation of the purification—so far as we’re concerned with them—of those others who seek God who are near us.

WARNING: This is a warning to all of us. Something grips me chillingly when I get ‘mail’ or other feedback from false teachers—many of whom sit squarely in the end times set.

There is a horrible feeling inside as if the Spirit within is ringing the alarm bells. It doesn’t feel like God at all. It’s as if the Spirit is fleeing, fast and away from these ‘preachers’ as we’re ‘present’ with them. We should be quickly wary of anyone who has an unbalanced, unpracticed or impractical (from the lived sense) theology.

We don’t listen to them and we run the other way.

Could it just be that the “wicked” proclaimed in Daniel 12:10 (and elsewhere in Daniel) are categorically the self-proclaimed scholars who are frightening the gullible believer with lies about the end times?[1]

About End Times – Circumstances and Timing

We’re blessed to do our research, investigating in places like Daniel and Revelation, but we must always balance our views with the rest of the God-scape... it’s not all about end times.

And as far as the circumstances and timing are concerned...

God knows. Only God truly knows. This is an exhortation to trust God and only God; a reminder never to place our entire faith in a teacher—any teacher.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] John Phillips, Exploring the Book of Daniel – An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004), p. 221.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Temples and Awe of the Holy Spirit

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
~1 Corinthians 6:19 (NIV [part]).
This verse above is set to a special context and yet its truth contains a cataclysmic theological principle—the Spirit of God cannot be housed in some temple humankind have made.
And this is the point that Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr, made in his longwinded history-lesson-of-a-speech before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:1-53. Neither did the patriarchs worship God in one spot, nor did Moses (i.e. his meeting God at the burning bush and elsewhere), nor did Israel during the post-Exodus wanderings, and nor, finally, did the Jews worship God alone in the temple Solomon built.[1]
God is Spirit and Spirit is not containable; except, for example, as it remains within the human being. But there’s more to it.
Temples, Bodies, Anything
God is certainly using our bodies as temples for the Holy Spirit, but that’s not all. God fills the space of every thing in this world, simultaneously. This means we can be with God anywhere. The Spirit’s never absent.
And this is important, for we are so very apt at declaring our allegiances, and placing our trust, in many things other than God.
This is a problem for us in reaching our true Spirituality.
The Need of ‘Emptying’
The wisdom of God is such that to find the Spirit we must empty ourselves of these false allegiances—be they physical places, items we own, activities that consume us, and even people we look inordinately up to.
And this is truly freedom for us—the only true freedom; we are shackled to no thing if we’re in God.
This God of glory is beyond ‘the thing’—any thing—and is so indescribable and inscrutable we cannot truthfully do much else than be in sheer awe.
So, it’s in this that we reach a place of right worship. God is simply to be awed—everything else flows from the sensible cognition of this fact.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Michael Green, 30 Years That Changed the World – A Fresh Look at the Book of Acts (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993, 2002), p. 99.

The Remarkable Kindness of Jesus

“[The leprous man said] ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.”
~Luke 5:12b-13 (NIV).
There is nothing more astounding in the kindness of Jesus than his many gospel-recorded miracles, and the pre and post state of the subjects of these miracles. Never is Jesus found healing someone from bankruptcy—Jesus touches lepers and heals cripples. Jesus is healing people in afflictions 1) well beyond their own making, and 2) because they’re truly needy.
And this is good news for us in our needs for healing, because despite our best efforts we still need the kindness of God’s grace to bring us through.
Unpacking the Virtue of Kindness
As we sweep through our Bibles, taking in the fifty or sixty or so times the word “kindness” is used, we notice immediately that it’s about acts of grace—the undeserved favour that is issued without a moment’s compunction.
Kindness comes out of the many stories in the Old Testament, and God’s kindness is spoken about frequently in the psalms. Certainly God’s kindness was never better illustrated than via the “incomparable riches of his grace” in giving Jesus over to death, for us and our sin—that we might be saved from eternal death (Ephesians 2:7).
We quickly find at our ticket-stop tour of ‘kindness’ that it’s very indicatively a visible matter out of the heart close to God’s own heart.
Jesus’ Kindness (and Compassion) and Ours
Jesus was nothing if not kind. We’ve noted that his miracles were all vaunted with kindness—the response of a compassionate man.
And perhaps this is a good way to view kindness in terms of compassion... we act kindly from a compassionate heart. A person who’s concerned about a particular other person’s plight will not feel vindicated, personally, unless or until they act in kindness toward them.
Here we see compassion as the root of the kindness, for kindness without genuine compassion driving it would be Pharisaic kindness—a dispassionate kindness; one that would be reprehensible in God’s sight.
This does take us back to compassion—the heart that’s torn by the plight of less-well-off others, or better, by the real needs of others.
Jesus, again, was the master of intercession in terms of the practical help the needy needed. Where is our intercession at? Is it a term we use about a particular form of prayer and that’s all?
Real intercession makes its way out of our prayer life.
We’re called to be kind, and we cannot be authentically kind without being compassionate. Let this be the prayer of our hearts; that God’s compassion would take up loose space in ours.
Kindness always has about it the ability to reduce the burdens of others. Let this be our test as to the gauge we use in alleviating the burdens of those within our circle of influence.
(This was the second article of a five-part series to look at the ‘clothing of love’ so far as Jesus is concerned out of Colossians 3:12-14. The first was on Jesus’ compassion. Further articles in the series will look at Jesus’ humility, gentleness and patience.)
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Copious Lashings of Encouragement for Everyone

The good news defeating every discouragement is this:
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
~Romans 5:19 (NIV).
What one man broke another has restored.
Hence, we’re justified (made right) by our faith in Christ Jesus.
The very thing that Satan thought so smugly about—the deception in the Garden of Eden—engineering the complete derailing of the whole scape of humanity, against the will and purposes of God, was the very most poignant precipice ushering the Saviour into physical being; so he could die for us.
In the turning-out of Satan’s will was—as it happened, eventually—the very ushering of God’s love in Jesus. How that must drive the Accuser to eternal and maddening distraction.
Such was the simple wisdom of God rooted in love and virtue it totally bamboozled the father of lies.
Application to ‘Discouragement’
This very same father of lies, a.k.a. Satan, is the master of disillusionment, discouragement, disappointment and despair.
There are times when we’re legitimately disappointed, sure, but the vast majority of times we’ll be listening to this lying spirit informing us wrongly.
And yet, what one man broke another has restored.
Or still... what Satan has broken, God has restored.
This is the very nature of life. We’re resurrected by God’s Spirit in our resilient responses to life situations and the rejection of our own negative self-talk etc.
Every Person’s Encouragement
Enlightenment, encouragement, euphoric enjoyment and expectation—against their opposite’s: disillusionment, discouragement, disappointment and despair—are entirely God’s dominion and the enemy, that father of lies, has absolutely no control or authority over these situations where we wilfully choose enlightenment, encouragement, euphoric enjoyment and expectation.
It really is so often that simple! God has assured it.
God has fixed what Satan broke. Any sense we have of enlightenment, encouragement, euphoric enjoyment and expectation—even when life is full of challenges—is from God.
In every challenge we can receive this encouragement of God’s.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Holy to the LORD

“On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar.”
~Zechariah 14:20 (NIV).
Imagine the picture before us of a life where holiness and the things of God pervade the entire envelope of existence. Pretend for a moment that God has finally eradicated all sense of the common, and all sense of evil; all things profane and impure have found their rightful place—in annihilation.
This Is Possible
The very prospect of holiness absolutely saturating the known earth is only possible because of a Saviour. This Saviour, Jesus, came to show us the way to live life, to live a sacrificial death, and to live forever in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
We are purified through him. Life under the New Covenant is issued through him.
The historically-backed fact of the sinless Jesus promotes the very concept of the possibility of Zechariah’s prophesy coming forth in reality.
Living In ‘This Image’ of the World, Now
It is possible for us to live this vision of Zechariah’s right now. It belongs in our minds and it lives in our hearts.
We only need a firm and stand-fast image of what holy to the Lord means, and specifically what it means to us.
There are so many ‘versions’ of God that have been promoted over the ages, and there are even surprisingly ‘versions’ of the holy Lord—the God of Spirit, Word, holy revelation, all-creation and Wisdom—that are promoted making God out to be some emotional and scattily angry deity that we cannot trust.
Let’s get one thing straight. God’s inherent nature does not and cannot change, ever.
The purity of Zechariah’s image for us confirms the unchangeable nature of God—an even-handed God that does not favour one over another, and cannot be fazed ‘emotionally’.
Living ‘in’ God now is about living firmly in God’s reality—so far hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) that the external world matters so much less, to even those who might contort God to their own measures; those false teachers.
This image of God, the holy to the Lord life, understands that God already owns everything. God’s dominion maybe shaded only momentarily by the ‘prince of this world’ (Satan) who counterfeits the vestiges of faith. Never mind the battles once in the heavens and now over the earth—the war’s already won.
This Life Now
Zechariah calls forth to a time in the future; there is perhaps no doubt about that. But for every mirage we see coming on the horizon we have an image, in God, for today.
This ‘image’ is the Presence of the Almighty God, the Saviour or the World, the One who came to preserve us and redeem us in our sin, so that our sins ultimately matter no more.
For this life—the one that is purged of the eternal punishment for sin—we are in holy to the Lord territory. We are holy to the Lord. And this is how we shall live, pure in God’s sight and thankful for God’s eternal and ever-abundant grace.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
General Credit: Thomas McComiskey, The Minor Prophets Vol. 3 – Zechariah – An Exegetical & Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), p. 1244.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Christian’s Respect – 1 Peter 3:15-17

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
~1 Peter 3:15b-17 (TNIV).
There is a lot in this passage but it is set around a certain context.
Notwithstanding the context there are some broader issues that beckon to us some real reflection.
Just some thoughts...
I’m not sure we think of this much, but we should. We should be working out our salvation in fear and trembling as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:12. I think this is also what Peter is getting at. This is not about being ‘scared’ of God, but it is about being in a state of awed respect for not only God, but for the life—and the responsibilities—that we have due our salvation (if we’re saved).
When we’re coming from this position of awed respect of God and life and our responsibilities, we take things in a more circumspect seriousness and we’re very personally accountable.
This is where God wants us... maturing, accountable, respectful, and able to suffer some inconvenience and discomfort for others to do well.
We do this and we have our conscience set so clearly, it gleams—and our commensurate confidence (or “boast”) is in God and nothing else.
It doesn’t matter what other people say about us; our very respectful responses will have them seen as a laughingstock. But we’re not interested in that at all. We want one thing and one thing only; the truth of God to be known, in and through us.
When we’re in this frame, suffering is hardly the point. The pain of suffering matters less.
What matters more, certainly, is gentleness (the beautiful notion of the Greek: epieikes) and respect.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

ZERO WORRY – Toward That Halcyon State

“All our steps are directed by the Lord;
how then can we understand our own ways?”
~Proverbs 20:24 (NRSV).
In the safety profession I’m involved in the term “Zero Harm” often comes up. It’s a visionary phrase that companies aspire to reach—not hurting one single person, piece of equipment or the environment; not one single time.
“Zero Worry” is a similar thing; it’s an aspiration for us to strive for.
Grappling With An At-Times Confused Life
We cannot help be confused and confounded by life. Contending in a world that often leaves us blank for a response quite simply underscores the meaning in the above proverb.
God is in control and we can only go along with the plan of God as it’s revealed to us.
This doesn’t place us in a powerless position as much as it seems. It merely hones us into the fact that worry is pointless—we cannot change a hair or one thousandth of an inch beyond the will of God.
It doesn’t allay our need to take responsibility; it encourages us to take responsibility for our lives. We have our wills and when they’re joined to God’s we’re agreeing with the mystery of life. And what point is there in not agreeing with it? Life is a mystery, point blank.
The Worry-Free Life
This life is about affirmative action and it doesn’t come overnight.
If we’re beyond the scaling mess of life and we almost expect the bad to come with the good, and we’re still optimistic and future-focused, we can live more realistically and courageously, making the absolute most of our opportunities to plan and prepare for whatever we can foresee that might come. We’re simply being as proactive as we can be.
We’ll still be surprised. We’ll still have bad days. But these things won’t knock us off course as much as they once did. We’ll live more confidently and resiliently and day after day and month after month of this life will see us grow exponentially in our faith.
Then living with Zero Worry may not seem like such a pipedream after all.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Resting Confidently in God’s Assurance

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’
~Acts 18:9-10 (NIV).
Paul received this vision in Corinth—only a few verses earlier he’d dealt with, again, a number of abusive Jews. Much opposition was following Paul from within certain sectors of the society wherever he went.
Persecution is certainly still known toward the church and Christians today—and perhaps it might always be. And, still, we have this comfort of the Lord in the above vision, which is appreciably written for us today as much as it was for Paul back in the First Century.
Yes, Assurance, For Us Today
We might not have a lot of foes, or perhaps we do... perhaps our circumstances are against us... no matter; the assurance of God’s enabling Presence is with us. It is with us ‘wherever’ we are. God is with us, inside of us, via the Holy Spirit.
Where we might be attacked, certainly emotionally, God’s felt Presence is reminding us that we’re not harmed—it may feel bad right now, but God is enacting healing over us, even as we ponder these events in Spiritual reflection; as we rest humbly in God’s inimitable Presence.
God’s got many more people believing in these things of the Spirit than we even know—brothers and sisters of good arms everywhere. We are indeed surrounded by friends, and certainly God’s angels, not the other way around. Perhaps like you, they don’t advertise it as much as they feel they should. But, they are there!
And, again, so is God.
The assurance of the Lord is confidence for today. Live life well knowing God is for us and not against us. God is helping us, even now.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.