Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Does It Mean to ‘Live Forever?’

“And the world and [the desire for it] are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

~1 John 2:17 (NRSV).

This is not a hard truth to understand but it’s a hard truth to live, particularly in this ultra-modern, high-tech, post-information age. Only recently there was an exposé screened on television depicting the modern gaming phenomenon. One new product had made its manufacturer $200 million on the first day of its release. It’s easy to fall in love with our gadgets and gismos.

Or perhaps it’s the substances of life that have gripped us; oh how we love them. Further still is the sports field, the halls of fame, the music, any host of worldly joy.

We all love something(s) in this life—the creation and not the Creator.

The Limits of Those Grips

There comes a time when we best release the grip these things have over us—if our love has gone beyond the upper reaches of reason.

The enemy just loves it when we go to the edge and, without so much as knowing it, plummet to our spiritual demise into an abyss apart from God in that aspect of life. His objective is achieved. He rests satisfied that he’s diluted the power resplendent in the Spirit of God, for that moment in time.

Whenever we see ourselves falling for this trick and losing our self-control over things in this life we’re best blessed to resist the devil, turn about face and repent.

Those Living Forever

These are the ones who are not won to anything particularly, barring the will of God, which is bound to be quite a different living reality for the fly upon the wall to observe. These are different people. They, like Jesus, don’t always run how we’d expect them to run. But there is generally always the wisdom of God about them.

They live forever not because of heaven or anything like that—besides that they’re saved for heaven at physical death—but because they’re living free and in harmony with God’s will now.

“Now” is the applicable word. They’re ‘living forever’ now. They live the eternal life that Jesus spoke about in John 17:3—the true knowledge of God is eternal life. The knowledge of God has us attuned to his will.

Being Honest with Ourselves

Every single one of us has handles with which the devil can but easily grip and manipulate, taking us further and further from the guiding Spirit of God. Our key task is to be honestly humble about these inherent weaknesses.

God’s not condemning us for them, and if we’ll allow God, he’s turning these things into trophies of his grace whereby we’re freed of the bondage a day at a time.

More honesty means more humility, which is then securing more praise for God’s wondrously abundant grace, and this brings us dearly to the life that was always promised us: the eternal perspective.

With this perspective firmly in our sights the world honestly doesn’t stack up... it really is laughable.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Psalms 42 & 43 – Revive Me Again, O LORD

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help, and my God.”

~Psalm 43:5 (NRSV).

Beyond at times our own messy sense stands God. Why the Lord would remain—to us—at this distance, only heaven truly knows.

But God is known to reward those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Still, when we’re languishing in the pit of our incomprehensible despair we barely have sight of this, but the reminder from loving believers—“hold on!”

Psalms 42 and 43

Both of these psalms are often viewed together; as a package. For instance, there is a remarkable sameness to the final verses in each psalm (Psalm 42:11; 43:5). Indeed, the abovementioned verse appears to be the mantra, perhaps which led the psalmist to hold on in their distress as it’s also featured in Psalm 42:5-6. Psalm 43 might be considered an encore to Psalm 42, a mere embellishing of the pungency in mood started previously.

When Deep Calls to Deep

We do thirst and cry out for God most especially when we’re distressed and alone. Our desperation becomes even plainer when we actually think God’s somehow absent as we cry out to the Spirit that once not long back moved us.

There is a perplexing yet salient paradox in this issue of God’s supposed vacancy in the realm of our distress; it has real ministry value.

Think that if the psalmist—and notionally King David fits that mould—could be so deeply afflicted—and Jesus too (Matthew 26:38 and John 12:27) then we can also. We’re not in sad company at all!

There are times when the Dark Night of the Soul encapsulates us—God’s waves and billows, or those of life, wash over us again and again (Psalm 42:7). It is, for that time, insurmountable.

God ‘Allows’ Such Downcast Mood

It is a fantastic thought that such downcast moods are welcome hardly anywhere, but they find their home of homes in the Bible. God’s never one to gloss over the stinking interior of our lives. God wishes us to live truthfully before him; to cry out our prayers when we struggle to feel his Presence.

Such therapy the psalms and Job are, amongst other similar Scripture, that we can come to a place, at any time, where our downcast moods are matched by some of the greatest biblical characters... King David... Jesus.

God is there with us even if we don’t feel the Presence within. God speaks to us through the psalmist—even the psalmist who did not seem to find the light.

But the light is still there.

We are rewarded for the very fact of our earnestly seeking God. Little do we know, realise or even care at the time, but we’re growing in God never more assuredly than during these very times.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who But God?

“Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord

or instructed him as his adviser?

Whom did he consult?

Who gave him understanding?

Who taught him the right way?

Who taught him knowledge?

Who informed him about the way of understanding?”

~Isaiah 40:13-14 (GW).

The classic schoolyard ‘theological’ debate takes place...

“I believe in God, do you?” enquires one little girl. A boy of the same age quips, “No such thing!” “Is too,” she snaps, “No way,” he says... and so it goes on for several interchanges.

The girl then changes tack. “Okay, then who made your Dad?” she says. Thinking more intently he says, “Well... my grandma and grandad, of course... silly!” [She thinks, “Got you!”] “Well who made them, then, smartypants?”

Check mate.

It’s the age-old question... “Who made God?”

Re-Starting Isaiah

Isaiah re-commences at chapter 40, which is affectionately known as ‘the Book of Comfort’.

The section that this above passage comes from is rather reminiscent of Job 28 and Proverbs 8 where the writer muses about the mysteries of life, wisdom and God—in sum, the source of it all.

It’s not until we start to really think on these questions above that we really start to deduce the magnificence of this wondrous mystery of creation’s initiation and propagation—how it keeps going. And God’s behind it all. What an incredible Divine being God must be.

Rediscovering God

The way Isaiah chapter 40 finishes it leaves us thinking that going back to the source of life and wisdom leads us to God—the Saviour of the world who masterminds resurrection from any situation and status in response to our faith.

It is sincerely the most astonishing truth. God is victory.

Only did we get here from understanding initially that God is first, foremost, and utterly beginningless.

God was, always. Comprehend that.

The sort of convoluted messes we get into as we cogitate at length in the wrong direction about God proves how confounding it is to fight God on the facts of his nature. Some people running the opposite agenda will say, “Well, what difference does it all make?” They strip the profoundest point of life completely bare of meaning.

But it’s those who can hold the great wonders of life in tension—acknowledging it must be God, beginning and end—who live the reconciled life; the life of peace.

Rediscovering God is the biggest blessing anyone can travel to. To reach that place, high on the peak, to enjoy God, to have no more questions of doubt, to be thrilled in the Spirit... this is the majestic life.

Will we let this reality escape us? Or will we “taste and see that the Lord is good,” as the psalmist compels us in Psalm 34:8?

Discoverable afresh... that is our eternally open invocation to, and of, the Lord.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

The Example of Jesus to Endure

“Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you many not grow weary or lose heart.”

~Hebrews 12:3 (NRSV).

I recall The Passion of the Christ (2004) and those scenes where Jesus (played by James Caviezel) was flogged heinously prior to his execution on the cross. I saw that film in its premiere season no less than seven times, as at that time I was journeying through my own Gethsemane experience.

The emotional pain played out in the flogging scene was felt by everyone who watched it, I’m sure. But did Jesus not also endure many different sorts of pains during his entire lifetime, particularly as he cast his compassionate eye over a wayward humanity?

When we focus on the verse above—perhaps stricken in our own calamitous tumults—we will see Jesus there, in our midst, suffering again as if for the first time... to give us this salvation life, which is life—and a way of thinking—to get us through these present difficulties.

Perhaps we will see Jesus empathising with us, travelling with us, like no one ever could or would.

Jesus—this very personal Jesus—endured so we too could have the exemplification of endurance, and this is not Stoic endurance. It is the endurance to rely in trust on God our Father.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Faith Has Saved You

“And [Jesus] said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.”

~Luke 7:50 (NRSV).

The gospels show that Jesus is right at home putting people politely back in their humble place where it’s necessary, and that’s perhaps exactly how Simon the Pharisee must’ve felt after this little interlude where Jesus is anointed and foot-bathed by the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50).

The woman had sinned much and hence gave much to receive the Lord’s mercy; a concept clearly beyond the Pharisee.

The Jesus-connection occurs many levels below the piousness of the self-righteous, those not known to uncommon compassion.

This is something we ought never to forget. The Jesus-agenda cuts to ribbons our linear justice. Jesus’ justice is dynamic, all-knowing, omniscient justice. It convinces, compels and convicts; our hearts opened in radically pungent truth.

Grace Known + Faith Shown = Salvation

Is God’s grace available to the proud sinner who’s not convinced, compelled or convicted to repent? “Not yet,” might be the best answer. Grace certainly is available to all, at all times. But, it’s only any good if the soul that approaches is ready.

And, still, grace alone is no good without faith:

“For by grace you have been saved though faith.”

~Ephesians 2:8a (NRSV).

We see here that whilst God must bring something to the table of salvation (i.e. grace) we must also bring something to the table of salvation—our faith. And that to live for God by taking risks for God through actions we’d not take otherwise.

That sinful woman who was forgiven much, though her sins were great, took an extraordinary risk to do what she did. If it hadn’t have been someone like Jesus there she’d have been likely thrown out and roundly abused.

We Can Afford Risks With God

Though faith involves risk, what we don’t have to risk is the response of God. God always honours our faith-enacted deeds. Never do we get into trouble with God for showing faith. Indeed, we know it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).

Still, we don’t risk enough, though we recall times when we perhaps did risk and back then we often risked a lot.

It beckons us, doesn’t it, to stretch out our hand for our forgiveness, for God’s mercy. The grace remains, meeting acceptance via faith.

Only faith can save us, and sure, we might already be ‘saved’ but how saved (from a ‘lived reality’ perspective) are we today? Is our faith alive, relevant, humming, out-spoken, demonstrative, exigent, active?

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Four Roles of Satan Against Us

“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.”

~Job 1:6 (NRSV).

For every exhortation to bring our praises and thanksgiving before the Lord of Glory there is the opposite charge to condemn the rites of Satan. This is an encumbrance upon every Christian—not to be afraid of the father of lies, but to strongly resist him, never underestimating the lengths this heavenly rogue will go to in knocking us off balance.

The scene that is Job chapter 1 shows us four roles of Satan as he interacts with the world against God. These things we should know about. Forearmed is forewarned. (This chapter is thick with theological enigmas that are beyond my present scope.)

Satan is The Accuser

We should not be in doubt about this fact: there is literally no goodness in Satan. He is against any and all purposes of God. He accuses God in our minds and our hearts—“God doesn’t care... God’s silent... God’s weak...” (all of which are untrue) and he also accuses us directly, to our faces and through others; getting us or them to believe lies.

The Lord is the opposite reality; great in goodness.

God is our confirmer. Never accusing, only confirming, God is steadfast and sure, always trustworthy and true. We trust God’s Spirit to cause us to reflect—confirmed of what we need do to engage further with God’s will.

Satan is The Wanderer

Satan roams and scowls. David McKenna says, “Satan epitomizes the ultimate of evil, when alienation, aimlessness, and anxiety—the essence of hell—obsess the soul.” Wherever Satan goes he’s up to no good and there is no intent beyond havoc.

The Lord is the opposite reality; God roams only with intention. There is a purpose to everything so far as God’s concerned. We can know this personally via the purposes God’s placed in our hearts.

Satan is The Cynic

Doubt is a key weapon of the liar. It is Satan’s job to challenge truth and to cast doubt even on the incontrovertible. Satan’s cynicism is based on his innate and insidiously powerful jealousy. He’s setting himself against God and every person set on good. Satan hates good and anyone involved in good. Cynicism is a chief weapon he also gets others to use to undermine good.

The Lord is the opposite reality; God is the quintessential advocate. He believes in us and loves us with a love that actively believes in us. When we begin to count our blessings we very quickly see this.

Satan is The Tormenter

Ordinarily, in comparison to God, Satan’s impotent and not omnipotent like the Lord. Ever scheming to make up for this lack, however, Satan’s scraping the bottom of the moral barrel—he’s doing anything that will create chaos, dissonance, madness and insanity. Interestingly, God allows Satan (literally, “hassatan” or “the satan”) a role in the testing of Job. Otherwise, Satan had no power.

The Lord is the opposite reality; God is our peace. God never has any motive to trick us or cause us pain. God is healing—if we follow his will.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Derek Thomas, The Storm Breaks – Job Simply Explained (Welwyn Commentary Series) (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1995), pp. 29-32.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Authoring Peace

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace...”

~1 Corinthians 14:33a (KJV).

Without God we are chieftains of disorder and confusion. This is no better illustrated than in the original Corinthian context; the running of their ‘humble’ church services. Things easily ran awry as tongues and prophesy were two things of note that split the congregations. It’s no different for us; people seek another church if they see too much humanity and not enough God evident during services. And who could blame them?

Besides, any sense of disorganisation within church services fills those attending them with very little confidence in the leaders organising a meeting for praises to be collected and issued to God.

A Broader Application

We can safely assume God is a God of consensus regarding community and the harmoniousness of life together. We can even picture Jesus in the midst of a church squabble shaking his head quietly, his Spirit wishing to say, “Work together, people.”

Opportunities to Share

One of the downsides of the very opposite problem the Corinthians faced—the highly organised church—is there’s perhaps little or certainly less opportunity for congregants to share something that God has placed on their hearts, publically, before the throng. Our ‘orders of service’ are at times too well organised. There needs to be a balance struck between formality and felt community.

Hints at Ungodliness

Could it be that any and every derailed event that ought to have been more organised was vacant of God? Perhaps there are exceptions. It’s seems plain, however, that wherever God’s involved, consulted and listened to, that people would work together and for God’s true purposes.

It is easy, then, to make an extension here to the link between teamwork and godliness, for those who submit to a higher cause—which is the group interest (besides overtures to groupthink and the like)—are acting in the spirit of humility, for which the Spirit of God finds thoroughly commendable.

This almost always naturally leads to peaceful outcomes.

God of Peace

We all should know the outcome of virtue is peace.

And God authors not only peace, but virtue. We are to exemplify both. Every good thing leads to peace and Christians sensitive to God’s Spirit and leading will not miss opportunities to promote every action toward that end. Without just about every exception, peace is most often more important than lesser issues.

Peace is the mark of maturity; that one group of people can live in harmony with another—even to entire nations or cultures cohabiting in harmony—or that separate individuals can relegate their own needs for the collective need.

Peace is the communal imperative. God is not only our personal God, but as important, our communal God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Inside That Refiner’s Fire

“Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire, is to be holy, set apart for you, Lord.”

Brian Doerksen, Refiner’s Fire.

As we steady ourselves in the midst of God’s holy Presence, pure gold is our vision, beyond the trembling.

The solemnity of worship sees us throw up our choruses to our Father, to the Saviour who bought us, to the Spirit that rides with us, daily.

The Refiner’s fire is a holy place and circumstance, something not to be resentful of, an intricate piece of the Master’s jigsaw puzzle for us.

When we come to this place, willingly—even in an enthusiastic humility, we find the grace of Jesus basted all over us... the sensation of God’s inimitable Presence soaking through us.

As we sit there or stand, eyes closed, kept to God and not a single soul other, we speak deeply, a sensual conversation with our Lord beyond words; pure love is all it can be.

Pure Gold – Precious Silver

It’s our destination. God’s got designs for our development and we have vision of God’s plan as we worship, singing this very holy song.

So keenly interested in each of our lives is God, the Spirit will not prevent our pain or blinding discomfort. It is how we will grow.

Deep within is the engine room of our development; our heart, the nerve centre. The pain and discomfort work there way there and refining commences.

As we take this life as our learning ground we agree with God that the will of the Lord is best for us. We agree that being refined is not only God’s will it meets with our own. Suddenly we’re now unconquerable. Out of the blue we’re overcoming; living the essence of John 16:33; Romans 8:37; Philippians 4:13.

In this we’re steadily becoming more precious by becoming less precious (in our responses to life). Our purity is becoming more defined and the opposite correlation is we’re less interested in how we look; our vision on the vision God has for us, that one more firmly in our sights now.

And Life Begins...

Something unexpected occurs in this process of purification.

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

~Matthew 6:33 (NRSV).

When we begin or continue to look after the basic things—trusting and obeying our Lord—things are added under us. Once our focus shifts off us and our problems, and onto where we’re headed in the realm of God, we’re being blessed then in an instant. And though further blessing tarries it is surely also coming (Habakkuk 2:3).

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Chase for God’s Wisdom

“But where can wisdom be found?

Where does understanding dwell?”

~Job 28:12 (NIV).

“Unless you become familiar with the wisdom of God you cannot make much real progress in the Christian life.”

~Sinclair Ferguson, A Heart for God, 1987.

The mysteries of God enfold themselves throughout life creating many perplexing problems we simply cannot resolve. When we arrive at the end of ourselves—in the mix of all the confusion—then there is God. God, and the wisdom of God, commences where the very best efforts of humanity, and our understanding, end.

This is seen very dramatically in Job. Even at the end of such a paralysingly mystical book we still have little idea of the justice afforded Job. There’s no real hint of the cause and effect correlation we’d expect for straight-forward justice.

Job 28 – the Mystery that Is God’s Wisdom

God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise. The only capable response we as humanity have to this world that God has thrust us into is to fear God, which is to know God; which is to know that God’s wisdom is a mystery—and to accept same as we go about life, living as faithfully as we can.

The whys and wherefores of life are so utterly beyond us, as are the theories, and the acts of our fellow human beings, indeed of ourselves, and finally of God.

Our Very Best Investment – Into the Wisdom of God

Going back now to the Sinclair Ferguson quote, we can readily see that until we begin grappling with, and accepting without resentment, this wisdom of God’s—which is the way this world works as God wills it in connection with us—we will not actually progress to fruitfulness, for we’ll forever be held back on the basics.

Hebrews 6:1-8 majors on this theme. What good are the basic things if we never go beyond them?

Wisdom is what stands between us and the prize we’re beckoned by God toward. Wisdom is those sets of hurdles on the sprint of life. It’s that thing that when we’re undone in life picks us back up and dusts us off ready for a more resilient tilt next time.

Perhaps without much doubt the best thing any of us can do—as an input to gaining wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord (Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10)—is regularly take up our portions of wisdom, for which intentional, in-depth studies of Proverbs and the like are marvellous.

The most precious indication of our wisdom aligning with God’s will always be, however, how well integrated we are to the motion of life so far as God has it, and how harmoniously—from an emotional and spiritual viewpoint—we’re relating with our world.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Derek Thomas, The Storm Breaks – Job Simply Explained (Welwyn Commentary Series) (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1995), pp. 214-15.

The Biblical Safeguard - Message Preached Loud and Clear

“Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.”

~Philippians 3:1 (NRSV).

I’ll often wonder if I’m covering the same old ground ad nauseam. And this was Paul’s point. The gospel preached well is the repeating of the same message—a message we need reinforced each day, with substance enough to keep us growing.

Even though I’m tempted to cringe at the oft-sameness of my writing I know I’m in God’s will to continue ‘as is’ and simply find as many angles as I can to hit this ministry of God from.

I’m liable to think you and I don’t need the safeguard—but we so often very much do.

The Wisdom Being Safeguarded

This safeguard of preaching and hearing the gospel is good, but when it’s heard ‘repetitively’—to the temptation of wearing out our welcome and perhaps getting bored of it all—we see the devil’s trick. In our right and wise minds we listen with obedient intent, clamouring past the thought of how at times ho-hum it is.

Obedience has about it the wisdom of acknowledging what we don’t always know; those things we’re told we should trust.

Safeguarding is important to all who are liable to going off course, into the nether regions of spiritual apostasy. That’s essentially all of us.

Once Safeguarded, Time to Rejoice

So, instead, we rejoice in the Lord. We thank God that we can have access to Paul’s message and the messages too of thousands of spiritual descendents through the ages, carrying the eternal flame of the gospel into each of our living rooms, head phones and book shelves.

Though we, at times, tire of the same old words—living and active words that are speaking to our temporarily dead spirits—these very same words are reviving us even now, even whilst we quietly blaspheme them within our thoughts via our momentary reticence to obey God.

Soon, despite our current spiritual languor, we will again be rejoicing in the Lord, for we will have been once again safeguarded in the Spirit; buffeted again by the wind of God’s eternal Spirit under our flailing wings.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Union ‘IN’ the True Vine of God

“Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

~John 15:4 (TEV).

The vineyard imagery is thick with meaning. Essentially we’re reliant on God if we hope to live a fruitful life. This verse of Scripture might be more a reminder against idolatry—which is our virulently foolish way of walking away from God even for a moment—than anything else.

God – the Source

The life that comes from God’s Spirit into our lives is a source of sustenance that we were never meant to be without. Sure, we can fill our lives with all manner of ‘stuff’ and we go moments, days, weeks, months, years, and entire lifetimes without even taking a moment to genuinely pause and challenge ourselves to this—if we want to.

God gives us the choice.

Emptiness is one sign; busyness another. Still further, an absence of feeling or a reticence to feel; feelings like these rejected because of their innate awkwardness. The more vacancy we feel the more, ironically, we run from God—the only One that can address our spiritual vacancy.

We All Walk Away

This is as much a problem for the believer as it is for the non-believer of God. Truly, it’s every bit as much, without a skerrick of exaggeration. Humbling reality, isn’t it?

The believer might believe in God, but if they don’t place their lived-out faith in this Spirit raising sons and daughters to royalty—the want for a noble life of giving—they won’t draw on God’s power for life. This is staying unified in the Vine; a daily, moment-by-moment re-commitment to trusting God by obeying him.

The Way Back Home

Jesus knew that we’d walk away. He was reminded many times how strangely incoherent his own disciples were. We too are strangely incoherent. It’s okay. God knows it’s our nature. God knows we need unification to the Vine.

God always promises to draw in toward us as a response to our drawing close to God (James 4:8). This is immediately beneficial to both us and ultimately for others too.

Not only are we reliant on the Vine of God for our spiritual security and wellbeing we also are reliant on this vital connection for our further fruitfulness, which is blessing unto others’ lives. And we can only ever feel truly very good about ourselves when we’re developing ourselves and selflessly giving to others, and doing these for God and from no other motive at all—as far as that’s achievable for us.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.