Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Resplendent Power of Light and Truth

“... the path of righteousness is like the light of dawn,

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

~Proverbs 4:18 (NRSV).

The power in the promise and potential in the light and heat of the sun as it breaches the horizon is ever compelling. We know through our experience that a new day is dawning and we can reliably rest in that fact. God has been so good to us once more; we have another day to live; another to look forward to.

Just as well is the idea of the truth, full of light and abundance. We cannot readily be afraid of the truth, for what is made out in light is revealed, and it will never be false again.

Truth as a Promise in Faith

In the above proverb we swap righteousness for truth. Living a life wedded to truth is the faithful life and we know that faith does not deliver initially. Deliverance is issued at the appropriate time—when the full light of day has come.

Otherwise, the path of righteousness—which is devotedness to truth:

“Offers only faint light at first, but as its light increases, it offers safe passage.”[1]

Truth and faith, then, becomes a pathway to a wondrously assured thing: blessing. Truth is the path and faith is the way to staying on the right path.

Wickedness negates and battles with the truth and, sadly, it fights a war it cannot win. The ever-burgeoning light of day will have its easy victory. Just wait awhile.

Faith, we can know, is an investment for the future. As it abides to the right path and not the wrong one, it sows for itself the stuff of dreams.

Stick to the truth and continue that way. The growing light of day will be our best defence, when suddenly there is no defence at all needed. The truth will soon be self-evident.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Paul E. Koptak, The NIV Application Commentary: Proverbs (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), p. 148.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good News for Mourners

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

~Matthew 5:4 (NRSV).

The Beatitudes really turn our concept of the true spiritual life upside down. Jesus perhaps meant it this way so the New Agers and other religions—those getting part of the spiritual message—can’t get the whole deal, i.e. the blessings of God for part-obedience.

Want to know God and the blessings of God? Invest in gaining knowledge of, and living, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, is Jesus’ answer. Is there any coincidence that the Sermon on the Mount begins with such paradoxical observations?

Mourning Our Own Sinfulness

Without recourse to masochism, the entire gospel message is set in the correct understanding of the relationship between our own sinfulness and God’s ever-abiding grace.

Jesus died in order to save us from the guilt of our sins, and until we acknowledge that, living the reality of that on a beginning daily basis, we’ll never be closer to God.

The secret balance to the Christian perspective then is the acknowledgement of our sinful natures, together with the attending grace of God via the Holy Spirit to redeem us—both eternally and, as importantly, for our living moments now. Mourning our sinfulness is not so much being saddened by it as it’s living out of this truth as a continual surrender of a life before God. It’s the correct starting-off point.

Mourning the World’s Sinfulness

Just as equally we’re called to inwardly deplore the sinful nature of the world, but in a way that works with such a reality. It would be no good for us to just deplore our world for its sinfulness; there’s no light of the gospel in that.

But where it is significant is how we interact with the world and the people of the world—even to Christians behaving in worldly ways, which we’re all apt to do.

We’re not to be conformed to the ways or thinking of this world (Romans 12:2) but we’re to respond in ways that brings goodness and love out of it. We can readily accept a person whilst not approving of the sin. We just don’t draw attention to it. It soon goes away, or at least we’re not party to it, and our inaction speaks in its own powerfully respectful way. This is being appropriately and responsibly mournful.

The Skill of Mourning

Perhaps the skill of mourning is not so much a competency to be learned as it is a heart-fall to be allowed. As the truth beckons over us—and any numbers of truths attend as mournful truths—we simply allow a mood of solemnity to fill our hearts.

This is not a morbid thing.

As agreeing with God about sinfulness is moving to the side of truth, so too is agreeing with God to mourn at the appropriate moments. But, mourning takes courage in that we voluntarily feel sadness, as many people have a tremendous difficultly allowing themselves to feel properly sad; instead they get angry, confused or overwhelmed in other ways. Having said this, many times abject sorrow is inevitable.

Through mourning appropriately and adequately we’re eventually comforted. There is reward for it.

Mourning, then, is about setting the full force or weight of feeling over us and not getting angry about it. But we will get angry, for anger is normal in grief. But eventually the anger should subside for better states of mind as we adjust.

Mourning our own and the world’s sinfulness—and keeping it front of mind and deep at heart—is important, for it compels us onward on the Christian growth journey. A big part of the skill, however, is getting that superb balance between mourning the reality as impetus for victory—that we’re saved from our sinfulness.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Further Reading: Iain M. Duguid, Hero of Heroes – Seeking Christ in the Beatitudes (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: R&R Publishing, 2001), pp. 19-35.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting the God-Priority Right First

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

~Matthew 6:33 (NRSV).

We’re probably destined to continually struggle to achieve this, but striving for truth—as it appends to our lives—is crucial.

I had a time recently enough where I was—in reflection—always in two minds. It was so difficult to discern which way was the best way to go. I went the way that I thought at the time was the way of my heart. Later it was revealed to me, as I reflected, that I indeed did not have a heart passionate enough for this particular venture. As it happened God did not allow me there in any event. Even though it hurt perhaps a great deal it was for my benefit that I did not achieve what was purposed in the designs of my poorly advised mind or covetous heart.

Prepare the Mind – the Heart Will Follow

Oswald Chambers ventures into a theory so far as Moses’ forty years in the wilderness is concerned. At first, Moses is all too willing to stand in the gap for his fellow Hebrews—he perhaps thrust himself before the Lord to this end. “I am ready for this, Lord,” is perhaps what he’s saying.

God knew better.

Instead of granting Moses’ perhaps premature wish, the Lord saw fit to test Moses in the field of real life to form within him the humility required for such godly tasks.

And Moses, of course, proved faithful—so much even to the extent that he is found thinking of himself totally unworthy, even incapable, of the task; the divinely-appointed and anointed intercessor for the people of God.

It may have taken those forty years for Moses’ heart to genuinely become ready. God’s patience in this is marvellous.

God Delivers Us When Our Hearts Are Ready

The distance to the centre of our hearts is incredibly long. This of other devices is the journey to godly sincerity. God asks, “Do you really want this thing?” and secondarily, “Are you ready (really ready) for this thing?”

Our answer is always an impatient, “YES!”

God knows better—always. We cannot manufacture passion or godly commitment at a heart level. We think we can and we’re fooled to think this. God knows better—always.

Not one to betray us of every opportunity to learn all our predestined lessons in life, God’s graceful patience is astounding. For each time we approach the throne of grace prematurely, regarding the actual desires of our hearts, God is using them to refine us. Our learning is ever more solidified by these events, even though we find them untenably frustrating.

The Crux

“We have to learn that our individual effort for God is an impertinence; our individuality is to be rendered incandescent by a personal relationship to God.”

~Oswald Chambers.

Where there is even a shred of “effort” added to our service for God we will prove ourselves immature for the very thing we add the effort to.

Our efforts are then to be ‘burned off’ and made incandescent in the light of our most fervent relationship to the Son, our Lord Jesus.

Then, and only then, are we truly ready to conquer this new world in Jesus’ name.

So, let us embark on this journey all the more! God is wholly faithful in this.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Acknowledgement: Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 1935, 1993), p. October 13.

A Better Four-Lettered Word than “Love”

“Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;

and to you shall vows be performed,

O you who answer prayer!”

~Psalm 65:1-2a (NRSV).

Better than “love,” it is to give. It is a simpler thing to get our minds around.

To give is a great blessing to others and from God to us via the blessings of kind.

How best do we learn to give?

God is the Model of Giving

The Lord—the God of Psalm 65, for instance—is the God who is forever giving to all creation. It’s not until we begin to take stock of all the things we ought to be truly thankful for that we realise just how good God is—notwithstanding his greatness.

God is not this way just because it’s his nature to be good. God, and certainly Jesus, is this way also as a model for us to follow by. We’re to share in this goodness. Indeed, we’re to propagate it.

Giving is Practical Love

Love, unfortunately, has sometimes much intangibility about it. “I love you,” is many times uttered when the person in receipt of the loving words or gesture doesn’t actually feel loved. It’s therefore often flowery and it perhaps denigrates the real meaning of love, which is always action-oriented.

The practical love is a ‘given’ love.

It extends itself for the other in graciously generous acts of kindness.

It subsumes the self so the expenses of life are shared. It has no first thought for itself.

To Those Who’ve Been Given So Much...

A significant part of Psalm 65 is in the ‘harvest psalm’ genre. That is that the Lord has given us so much and the only worthy response from such a ‘harvest’ of things, and the life provided us, is thanks.

“Thanks-Giving” is therefore connected beautifully as a response to that which has been given. Thanks-giving is secondary giving.

For the person giving, ours is thanks as the reciprocal instinct. In other words, for the implicitly giving nature of God we’re rightly disposed to thank God for our abundance, and more we could not ask for.

But a better thanks than merely thanks is the gift-of-return, which is the gift of giving. Giving, therefore, puts meat onto the bones of love, making it tangible and liveable.

So it is for us. We’re to give, and by that we love. When we give, others know our love by the things we’ve done, and even though they mightn’t be able to express anything but thanks they’ll have known love through us.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Eternal Light of Jesus’ Wisdom

“And I [Solomon] applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this is also but a chasing after wind.

“For in much wisdom is much vexation,

and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”

~Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 (NRSV).

We can all too easily fall for the trap of formulising life, thinking at some point we’ve ‘made it’. It’s called pride, and we’re all susceptible. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes, however, is saying, “No matter the level of our success or acquired wisdom, we’ll never reach a point in life when all of life makes complete sense and our way is paved.”

The midlife crisis is often characteristic of this. A millionaire’s bankruptcy too.

Sometimes the more we know the more pain we feel. Wisdom is much more than knowledge and experience. It’s morally exacted. Learning is deeper than facts.

Many who have had their share of early success in life find themselves having achieved so much, but with still so many years of life to run. Some burn out. Some lose their purpose or edge. Others find that their ‘name’ doesn’t endure like they thought it would.

This is why we should be careful who we compare ourselves with—wait ten years and take another look! Life has a way of levelling out the pecking order; of bringing the leaders back to the field.

The World’s Wisdom

It’s the world’s prevailing conventional wisdom that dictates the modes, measures and meaning regarding success in this life. And for the most part the world survives very well on this—at times—crass logic, thank you very much!

This wisdom is a dog-eat-dog wisdom of competition and so-called ‘merit,’ which is partiality. It sides with empathy when—and generally only when—there is some advantage of influence or persuasion to be made from it. In other words, it uses the wiles of motivation for its own ends.

As mentioned earlier, for the most part this wisdom succeeds. It’s good enough. After all, why would the world need to always be morally genuine when it doesn’t need to be?

But, this method comes seriously unstuck eventually.

Jesus’ Wisdom is as Unconventional as It Gets

It comes as no surprise to Christians to hear the following wisdom:

“... whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

~Mark 10:43b-45 (NRSV).

This wisdom is so wise it confounds the world in both its simplicity and effectiveness. Yet, the world will not understand it because it requires authentic selflessness to extract its workings. This is a hard thing to achieve; impossible without a heart of love.

The key for the Christian person is mastering this method of unconventional wisdom—to instil a mode of surrender that covets nothing, and indeed supports others selflessly.

This is otherwise known as humility and it is set beautifully in virtuous patience.

There is eternal light in this wisdom, for it illuminates the soul who is the purveyor of it as well as the souls of others who are exposed to it.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sounds of Heaven’s Praise

“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,

your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.”

~Psalm 89:5 (NRSV).

The covenant nature of the Lord to save, redeem and heal is demonstrable to the farthest star. Heaven too attests to the wondrous praise due God.

It is humanity’s right response too.

It’s interesting that Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem elicited shouts of praise—if not from the people then it would have come from the stones! (See Luke 19:28-40)

All creation awaits the Glory of the Lord. (See Romans 8:19-22)

Imagine the Sounds Now

Finding our way through the threshold of death or rapture, then, we can only marvel now at that vision... and the sounds.

Sounds such as those of the most urgent praise will be due a God that’s altogether faithful—throughout and to the very end... from the very beginning.

Mighty is the might of heaven, but it is only a vestibule for God. Still, it’s the ‘venue’ for eternity and we’ll be there one day.

Joining the praise will be us. Selah.

When We Arrive There

We will sing like angels, our hearts indelibly gorged in praiseworthy thanks for the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yes, that will be us if we call ourselves saved into the kingdom of God.

Taking our time to soak up the thought of the atmosphere we’ll one day bear witness to is a feat of human ingenuity that attempts only what the Divine can do. But we’re not cursed for trying. It can only help our worship of God to try.

What a thought to ponder just for a minute or more just now...

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Resisting Feelings of Uselessness and Worthlessness

“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord [and the opportune time].”

~Romans 12:11 (NRSV [footnotes added]).

Even megastars experience feelings of uselessness and worthlessness.

Just the thought of having all we’ve done, or all that we’re doing, as being stripped away is usually enough to achieve this.

We are very much what we do, or how we’re seen.

Whether we like it or not, what we do is mostly attached to what we are, and how we’re seen, because we cannot usually detach our identities from these without some significant impact. This is why having our identities grounded firmly in God is a key. But, practically, this is a much harder thing to attain and maintain (for the many) than we originally suppose.

Why is this so? We live in a world of people and relationships. Our meaning to life is either attached firmly to these relationships, and therefore our self-concept is formed from how these are going, or we get our meaning from God, and so we’re impervious to the same disappointments. (More generally so, however, we fit between these two, or we vacillate between them.) The latter is a difficult place to arrive at.

But, we must strive for it.

Zealous, Ardent Responses to All Life Situations

The more we practice the zealous and ardent response to any and every given life situation the more we’ll achieve it. This is the Joseph response of Genesis 37–50.

But there are times when, like Job, we’re best to just sit and absorb the hurt and disappointment. This is not a loathing in self-pity as much as it’s allowing the full force of feeling to dwell so that it can be processed and so it doesn’t remain longer than is necessary.

So, at the right time it is always best to respond to such despondency.

‘Getting back up on the horse’ of life might be an overused cliché but it’s nonetheless very true.

Faith of the Instant

The trick is instant faith—or active-enough faith to ‘manage’ the instant. This is not so much about the time-instant as it’s describing the situational instant. So, we’re not so much under pressure to respond in ‘this’ time or ‘that’ time. But respond we’re best, generally, to do.

Wisdom is making the most of the opportune time.

Getting past our occasional feelings of uselessness and worthlessness is an exercise, then, of proper context and wisdom. It’s not running from our feelings, but it’s absorbing how we feel as a catalyst for healing the instant, and as a platform for future focus and self-development, so we’re not so prone to the same feelings in the future, if that’s possible.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Lonely at Thanksgiving

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,

for I am lonely and afflicted.”

~Psalm 25:16 (NRSV).

One of the worst times to be alive is during grief or fatiguing loneliness at a time like Thanksgiving or Christmas—anytime there is much merriment and family fellowship, and it’s where we feel we just don’t belong.

Add to this non-obvious truth the more obvious truth of the many thousands of people who don’t have such access to familial love, and Thanksgiving and other typically joyous events are never lonelier.

Yet, whether we’re lonely in room full of loved ones or whether we have no loved ones to share it with, loneliness is the pits.

The Physiology of the Ghastly

Loneliness has about it a stringentness of thought—a clinginess of persistent negativity. It’s a stench within the thinking that appends itself and hardly leaves. This negativity is in one word, “vulnerable”.

When the ghastly sense of null love does flitter off for a moment of two, a laugh can be enjoyed, but soon reality returns, the actuality of unwanted seclusion.

It’s prevailing and ‘deafening’ thought, then, that steeples does the nemesis, for this lonely heart. And loneliness has nothing to do with being around people. Indeed, being around people will merely reinforce a lonely person’s sense of deriding isolation, of being hidden to themselves.

Spare a Thought...? – No, Do More

In many cases there is nothing more we can do for people than let them know we’re there for them. Certainly this is the case for someone grieving the loss of a loved one at a key family gathering.

It is too easy to be flippant and cliché about these things, disrespecting people in the process. Some people couldn’t see loneliness in others if it stood there and smacked them repeatedly between the eyes.

It is far better to, per Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (NRSV)

Don’t just spare a thought or whisper a fleetingly insincere prayer. Genuinely feel as they feel, even for a few moments. Then we’ll feel doubly blessed, for we do not have the burdens that some presently do.

There is always someone worse off... always.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

The Vital Backdrop to a Golden, Everlasting Covenant

“In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ God has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”

~Hebrews 8:13 (NRSV).

The citing of the oracle of Jeremiah (31:31-34) in this chapter of Hebrews fits with the overall theme of Hebrews; what is better, and particularly in terms of Christ.

Any sensitive and appropriately respectful Christian is not going to downgrade the Law, a.k.a. the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments, and Mosaic and Deuteronomic Law—as well as the resplendently true Old Testament theology—are still relevant. Though they are obsolete? This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

A “Faultless” Covenant

The New Covenant, which replaces the old one, making it obsolete, is Grace. It deals with everything and explains everything in completeness. It is not insufficient as the Law was. God’s grace resplendent in the New Covenant is always sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Besides, it was Jesus’ sacrifice that forges a ‘new agreement’ between our Suzerain God and us as vassals.

Respect for ‘the Law’

But as a relic, the Law can still teach us much. Indeed, there are many who have a passionate partiality for the Old Testament for it is our roots. It’s where we came from. It’s all that Jesus, the apostles and the early church had, apart from the inspiration of the Spirit. It served them well when it was augmented with the Spirit.

It continues to serve us well in the same way.

And the Law is not ‘rewritten’ in Jesus’ broken body and blood on the cross. Jesus came as the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets and not as the abolishment of it (Matthew 5:17).

In fact, it would be blasphemous to throw out the Old Covenant, for its very presence gives us the context from which the New Covenant works. It’s a vital backdrop to the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Personal and Communal Relevance

The New Covenant is not just about personal relevance—that we’re saved by grace. In our non-communal and self-sufficient world we often forget that the entire landscape of theology was and is still purposed in the people of God, and not so much just individual persons.

But this idea is enhanced by the word “relationship”. Finally, we have what concerns us as individuals and groups that far supersedes any other belief or religion. This faith in God is about a living God who’s keenly interested in each our lives—to each particular dynamic of our lives.

It is important to remember our roots; to not denigrate ‘the obsolete’. We don’t archive it. It’s important to remember that the design of the New Covenant was about inputting within every believer a flourishing heart intent and a stoic mindfulness about a functional faith in God from within us, via the Holy Spirit.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dying to Ourselves with a Lasting Finality

The spiritual life can only truly commence when the last vestiges of pride and self-sufficiency have long been vanquished. The soul’s solemnity is now indelibly marked. Never again, it’s hoped, will a trip be made to this person darkened by propensity to circumstance.

There is hardly a more important objective for life, but to become rightly aligned with our vital Spiritual truth. Before this time we were merely spinning our wheels in the mud. Afterwards, we see life adroitly—one life splits apart from the other; a re-birth has taken place.

From that perspective we can reflect:

“How many deaths did I die before I was awakened to new life again? How many half-truths did I bear witness to ‘til the proof was disproved in the end?”

~Nichole Nordeman, Holy (2002).

The Event of Final Surrender

Many a mature Christian can locate very quickly the time they came to finally give up trying to fool themselves and God.

Like Nichole Nordeman sings about in her song, Holy, we got sick ‘n’ tired of being spiritually sick ‘n’ tired. The lies that were our lives crippled us. Something had to be done about it. The Spirit of God energised us to that end.

It is blessing, sheer blessing, to arrive at the place of ‘enough!’ and work through that dilemma such that a God-enabled change is developed and enacted upon.

Ongoing Surrender is Still, Always, Necessary

There are vestiges of sin in every mature believer. Perfection, certainly with lasting effect, is unattainable.

The pleasant irony of this fact is accepting our sinful natures, in at last agreeing with God that the ‘design for this life’ wins and we don’t have the control we might like to think we have, even over our sanctification to holiness.

It’s fine to have come to a point of dying to ourselves. The truth is, however, it’s a reality that we’ll have to continue to work out. In other words, we never become good at it.

One finality merely begets another one that has a lifetime journey about it.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanking God for the Help of Angels

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

~Matthew 4:11 (NIV, 2010).

After Jesus’ temptation by Satan, angels attend. He would’ve been aware. Yet, we’re hardly ever aware of angels’ presence and their bidding on our behalves, but it is a biblical reality that they assist us at our and God’s behest.

This is nothing about the ‘angels’ in skin that assist us in the process of living. They too do God’s bidding, justly at our stead, but what’s in sharp focus right here and right now is the supernatural host of angels, and particularly perhaps thought of guardian angels (Thomas Aquinas).

The Character of Supernatural Help

It shouldn’t surprise us to note that help from God via the angels of heaven is scores higher in efficacy of help than any worldly help. These are two different realms of value. Without doubt, we do need our worldly help, but it can’t compare with the will of God discharged supernaturally.

Faith is the instrument that truly energises this supernatural help. It is virtue melded with the unconventional way that sees us truly beckon the angels of heaven to our need.

The Allure of the Angels

Angels and heavenly beings in general capture our imagination. They cannot help but do this. Anything that’s truly other-worldly stands us up in our tracks.

Some people have seen or have even met angels, whether that be in their dreams (like Jacob in Genesis 28), or actually, via our conscious experience. Others have heard the audible voice of God or angels (in their role as messengers for God). Others still are made aware in other ways of the direct hand of God.

These are privileged experiences and truly nothing can compare with them, or prepare us for them.

Recognising the Angels’ Role in Helping

There is a great deal of hope present in the idea that we’re helped beyond the agency of the things or energies of this world.

It’s like we don’t need to worry so much about ‘engineering’ our own way, for God has plans for us, to prosper us and for our future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Being agents of God we can be assured that the love resplendent of the angels is typecast in their method. The godly angels have no motive for us but good.

Part of our role, then, is recognising when and how the angels of the Lord are present in situations—and just how the Holy Spirit is arranging life. We have two stated response behaviours. Firstly, we’re personally blessed with a piqued awareness of this fact. Secondly, we’re responding with intrinsic thanks, for no one who’s ever aware of the angels’ agency is ever going to do anything other than be awed.

We don’t thank the angels. We thank God. We thank the Divine.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Further Reading: Millard J. Erickson, “God’s Special Agents: Angels” (Chapter 21) in Christian Theology - Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998), pp. 457-75.