Monday, February 28, 2011

Suffering’s Enviable Power

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death...”

~Philippians 3:10 (NRSV).

Anyone who’s truly suffered during a period of their lives—and has also leant fully on God within that tumult—knows this powerful truth of the Spirit.

Indeed, anyone who’s seen someone suffer, admirably taking up the chalice in a weird, transient joy, has probably known the envy one has in not feeling that powerful Presence of the risen Lord in and about them, as the one suffering does.

Suffering, and doing so, well, is tantamount to the untold Spiritual blessings of resurrection; growth is commended the soul that suffers—and willingly so unto God’s good will.

Living the Death of Jesus

The Apostle Paul proclaimed the valuable outcome of suffering in chapter four of Second Corinthians:

“We are... always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (vv. 8, 10)

Here suffering’s purpose is magnified; it assumes Divine worth.

The acceptance of hardship is for others’ blessing. Yet those of us who’ve experienced living this death of Jesus have not only redeemed hope and life for others—in Christ’s name—by it, but we’ve redeemed for ourselves the most acute blessing of intimacy with God.

Something happens when we willingly go along with the plan of God—according to the Lord’s will for us to suffer.

The Purpose of Suffering (One of Them At Least) Is Made Known

It might be impossible to detail all the known reasons for suffering; this alone is heartening, because we live for purpose. If suffering is to have a purpose, at least it’s for no waste.

This single purpose in sharpening focus, now, however, is the fact that suffering well—which is manifest in an unreasonable thankfulness and joyousness—is opening our minds and hearts to operating in ways we’ve never experienced before.

God’s Spirit is teaching us moral qualities such as compassion, fellowship, love and grace, all through the basis of faith which risks all for love.

These can’t be faked. Only people who mean them find them accessible.

This is why suffering is enviable—it’s because of the power laden in an individual soul’s softening; the turning to the broader purposes of God, despite the pain.

This, and This Alone, Is Life

There cannot be more life than the proximal experience of grief and loss that take us to the depth of human emotion—to the hallowed place of the Divine.

Death breeds life. The rock-bottom is the paradoxical gate-to-life.

It is little wonder that we can be jealous of others who are ‘hot for the Lord’ in their present vanquishing; we want such power.

But such power rests on the surrendered soul; one sanctified by their circumstances. We cannot have it unless God bequests it. Would we truly suffer so well?

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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The Spiritual Ease of Grace

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.”

~Romans 6:14 (NRSV).

In Romans, the Apostle Paul swims through every tributary of God’s theology of love in explaining the superiority of grace over the law. He had to. There was a fight on between the religious nemesis of false teaching and those of The Way.

Grace – Rising Above the Law

It’s not like grace comes with strings attached. But we’re fooled if we think we’re free without requirement to soar above the law.

By being free of the law, we take an obedient stance, so as not to sink in our sins, but to rise above them.

This is all a matter of Spiritual purpose—the ease of grace taking us higher, in Christ, than we could ever go otherwise.

When love fights for our side of the cause, fear is vanquished. It no longer has a role. But as we allow fear back in, our faith is denigrated, and our positional ascendency is, for a time, lost.

But that’s not the end of the story by a long stretch.

We know by the nature of life that we get many second chances—this is grace operating in and through us in the fact of freedom from condemnation. Felt condemnation is manifest through extended guilt and shame—the devil’s chief weapons.

When we’re no longer hemmed in mentally and emotionally, spiritual growth and freedom is the common result.

Freedom Breeds a Higher Standard

Suddenly there’s not so much the requirement to try harder, as we’re compelled by the Holy Spirit to simply trust the embodied Word of truth.

This is us, for the first time with our ready-to-live game-faces on.

Whenever we find our purpose in life, rising to a higher standard is inevitable. Commitment makes for something we now live and breathe.

This is the new standard that grace takes us to. We live for it because we’re so thankful to God for this extravagant gift which we could never repay. There is limitless account for love, both in receipt from God, and for growth.

So, when it comes to expelling the sins that we’ve struggled with all our lives, the Spirit achieves it through us, via our allegiance of doing what can be done each gathering minute.

Nothing has dominion over us because we’ve made the Lord Jesus Christ king over us. When God has dominion, freedom moves in, and nothing harms us.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

From Water to Wine – From Son to Saviour

“When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.”

~John 2:3-5 (NRSV).

Note the interesting family dynamics. The fly on the wall might’ve seen Jesus less than interested to bail out the hosts for insufficient planning, not to mention the sense of mild conflict between Mary and Jesus.

In the gospels, Jesus is found constantly changing the agenda—and right here—creating space for the Kingdom objective.

Always the Kingdom Objective

At this position in history—three years pre-the-cross—Jesus is coming King.

Turning again toward Cana, not only does Jesus create about one hundred fifty gallons (about seven hundred litres) of wine from the water, he implicitly changes the family dynamic—he’s no longer just Mary’s son, but her coming Saviour. Jesus is to save Mary as he will the very last one of us penitent believers.

Yet, what had changing water into wine to do with the Kingdom?—that is perhaps Jesus’ contention. Still, to honour his mother he accedes to her wishes.

From the outset—and as it’s seen here—Jesus is turning toward the cross.

Transformation – the Business of the King

As King over all creation, Jesus is the Lord over all. As Lord over the believer’s life Jesus is not like the traditional monarch. This king is after an intimate relationship with each of us—and not simply because we’re likeable.

As Jesus changed the water into wine—and there’s no rational explanation for how that occurred—so we either believe the miracle or deny it—Jesus wishes to change us.

But from what into what?

Fundamentally, the Lord sees us differently to how we see ourselves. He sees a saint where we see a sinner. He sees a cleansed lamb; one made new by the blood of the Lamb.

Jesus is into the business of transforming lives—always has been, always will be.

We come to God shattered by hellish lives, and the Spirit is straight to work to straighten us out, not that we’re not seen perfect already—God loves us just the way we are.

As Jesus transformed the water into wine, and the familial relationship with Mary, from son to Saviour, he’s transforming us and our understanding of the Spirit’s power to do all this. When we begin to realise the power in transformation—and we believe—the impossible is made possible in our minds.

Be transformed.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lord, Let Me See Again

Jesus said to the blind beggar near Jericho,

“What do you want me to do for you?” [The beggar] said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

~Luke 18:41-43 (NRSV).

This beggar had courage, but more so faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Healer. He risked abuse and shut down, even physical injury. Imagine being blind and being in such a situation—ordered to be quiet, yet with the pluck to shout out again, even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What the beggar was actually saying is, “You, Jesus, are the promised Messiah,” referring to him as Son of David.

Real Faith!

This is a little less obvious than having the faith to simply ask—anyone can ask.

No, this beggar was committing the unforgivable sin of blasphemy if he called anyone else Son of David. In the case of the Jews, they’d have crucified the man; for this is the very sin they accused and found Jesus ‘guilty’ of (Luke 22:71). The blind beggar was risking his life by a count of high treason.

But, he got it right! Such life-risking faith deserved reward. Jesus is perhaps the only one who sees the depth and splendour of this man’s faith.

Desperate to See Again

What drives someone to risk their life to gain something like sight?

We can understand, in our day, why people take little and large risks at the hand of surgeons, in being healed medically from cancers, or rare life-threatening disorders.

These risks are calculated because they stand to reap quality of life and/or years added. Situations creating desperation cause people to make the most reasoned judgments. These are life and death issues.

Yet living life is a life and death issue.

The want to ‘see again,’ even for those who’ve never been open to see spiritually, has to come as a desperate thing. Unfortunately, the many going this way do so because life has become desperate—we just aren’t needy of God until we truly need God.

Faith and Real Life

We can venture to say that life doesn’t become real until we dredge up the courage to live by faith.

If a blind beggar can risk life on several levels to see physically, can we sighted persons risk losing what we cannot keep, so as to see spiritually? It’s the only way we’ll succeed in life.

We know this by the ways we live by sight, and not by faith. We miss the mark, fail, propagate relational problems, and get despondent. This is like God saying, “Ask for, and live by, Spiritual sight—which can address your problems. Don’t rely on your physical sight alone. Life will be chaos that way.”

Living by faith means so many things that are opposite to the way we live this typical life.

Do we really want to be healed of our spiritual blindness—a day by day, lifelong process? This is a question to ask ourselves.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

The Vine of Faithfulness or Unfaithfulness?

“All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD.

I bring low the high tree,

I make high the low tree;

I dry up the green tree

and make the dry tree flourish.

I the LORD have spoken;

I will accomplish it.”

~Ezekiel 17:24 (NRSV).

The chapter that concludes with this verse can be described as prophesy in the genre of the riddle, parable and fable. There are features of all three. Ezekiel seems to wish to communicate for the Lord in ways that conceal, reveal and, finally, transpose truth into realities we might find keenly fitting.

We all enjoy a good story.

This particular allegory is fresh amid images of betrayal. A vine is planted where a cedar has been torn. It is tended to by a handsome Provider—“a great eagle,” but it leaves to be tended to by another eagle; a worthless one. It is deceived.

The obvious allusion is to unfaithful Israel that turned to other gods before being taken into exile to Babylon. But, just as obvious—in our contemporary terms, bringing it closer to home—could be marital infidelity in the presence of what might be considered a good marriage.

Behind every warrant of infidelity, under all conditions of unfaithfulness, rests a decision to go that way.

Wise and Unwise Decision-Making

The story of Ezekiel 17 is a wisdom teaching.

Wisdom is a moral annexure which is not always obvious in our foresight. But it comes home with dramatic effect in our hindsight—as we live out the consequences of decisions made, particularly poor ones.

Not all decisions carry about them key components of moral things to consider, but most of them will.

Wisdom, so far as decision-making is concerned, can be seen as that guiding portent advising us to remain faithful—to ourselves, to others in our midst, to our partners in life, and ultimately to God.

The Lord Will Be Known

Those contemptuous ones, remitting toward life consternation in the manner of their decisions against logical reason, go fanatically against their very selves.

Yet, we’ve all known it—times we’ve gone our way, despite the facts of reason screaming at us to, “Stay!”

Those ‘trees’—fable equivalents for human beings—who rebel against the Provider will be brought low. Those low trees, appositely, are to be exalted in God’s very sight.

Beside our decisions rests our eventual fates. Let’s acknowledge how well we, as vines, are feed and nourished by God and works of faithfulness. Let’s stay ‘low,’ and faithful, in our decision-making that we might be favoured evermore.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999), pp. 222-31.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Consolation of God

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”

~2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NRSV).

We, in our cultures, might not think much of the word “consolation” as we attach to it the receipt of prizes. Everyone wants first place, not the consolation prize. But God’s consolation is worlds different. It’s everything to the lowly.

Consolation is also a basis for belief, for how much better a sign of God’s love is this comfort that the Spirit offers? It’s the very reason many of us believe, or came to believe, in the first place.

God is made real by the solace we experience in our problems, issues and hellish realities.

But this consolation has a more definitive purpose.

Consolation of Others

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” says the Apostle Paul, elsewhere, in Romans 12:15 (NRSV).

One of the bases of our belief in God is that the relief we experience is to be experienced by others in their plights.

We’re to be open to people who suffer, so we might deliver for them copious portions of the genuine compassion of Jesus—no matter where they find themselves. The imperative of Romans 12:15 is not conditional; it’s how we’re to operate as disciples of Christ.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with evangelisation. Compassion has no strings.

The Empathy of Consolation

One of the incredibly difficult contrasts of faith is empathy. Someone who’s never needed this consolation of God—who hasn’t experienced that deep comfort—cannot possibly know the depth of it, so as to offer it through themselves via the Holy Spirit to someone else.

This is the blessing that suffering delivers to those who’ve suffered, for they’ve lived the compassion of God. It’s become visceral to who they are.

For those who’ve not suffered to such a vast extent—and these too are fortunate—should not feel bad for not knowing that depth of empathy; theirs is a different call. They can still be compassionate, but at accord with their experience, for everyone should be authentic to whom they are.

If you’ve suffered it’s for this reason; to help others. You know this.

If you’re suffering, there’s a purpose to it; one that in time you’ll be supremely thankful for.

The consolation of God becomes the foundation from which all of the rest of our lives springs from. It really is Spiritual gold.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Respect at a Kingdom Level

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil.”

~Romans 14:16 (NRSV).

Eating is the ancient context, but we can apply this principle to anything we do that has influence, and namely negative influence. The Apostle Paul is saying, don’t expose a good thing we might want to do, so it will gain ill-repute because of insensitive timing or application, which is not love.

Love finds good basis in respecting what others believe, besides what we believe.

It is not good to do anything that causes grief—no matter how pure, or sincerely meant, it is in our eyes. This way, we gravitate for, and toward, the weaker (situational) one. The person in the more vulnerable situation is never to be disadvantaged.

This is respect at a Kingdom (of God) level; to place another’s philosophy—for the period of contact we have with them—ahead of our own.

Respect at a Kingdom level is love.

The Good Must Be Protected

The good we do is only good if it remains good.

If we send fresh bread out into the rain it’ll be ruined in a short time; good for no further use than garbage. So, instead, why don’t we keep it stored where we can come back to it tomorrow and enjoy it as food then?

What we do, or have to offer, has little use in the wrong situations or at untimed events. It would be better to keep it inside and out of harms way until it can be positioned correctly.

Love – the Binding Agent for Life

Love is the supreme test for everything. It doesn’t matter what use a thing or concept is if it’s devoid of love. This was Paul’s point to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12–14.

Without love, the good things we do, brought into being without thought for others, are soaked in the extreme downpour of worthlessness.

What we do will always be judged as it applies to our situations, not of our intentions.

This is because love is what makes the ingredients of life bind together to make good bread in the first place. Without love, the mix doesn’t develop and when it’s exposed to the oven to be baked, it’s going to make a nasty tasting bread that won’t rise.

Respect – A Form of Love

When we meet with others and have the sensitivity to shelve what in other situations would be fitting, but in this case not, we deal them a personal respect that remits love, for their thoughts and feelings are within our heart.

Being in the belly of God’s will is considering others’ requirements first.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why Does My Adult Child Feel ‘Judged’ By Me?

“What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

~2 Corinthians 2:10b-11 (NRSV).

In the original context, there is rather a story to tell that concludes with the above passage. One in the fellowship had done something wrong, and in Paul’s previous “tearful letter” he commanded the church at Corinth to expel this person for a time, until repentance was made.

The problem was, this person had since repented, but they were still not welcome in the church there. The discipline had been taken too far.

Paul was remedying this blight on Christ’s name by stating the fact that, if they didn’t forgive the man quickly and unconditionally, they might lose him to Satan forever.

When we hold back our forgiveness or don’t make it plain, our relationships can be damaged; tough love can backfire if pushed too far.

One Application in Our Present Context

I don’t think it’s twisting the narrative too much to extend our application to a common problem.

As Christians, we’re susceptible to others having the attribution that we ‘judge’, after all, that’s what the world sees a lot of the time: Christians judging.

It’s a bad situation made worse when we consider the aspect of Christian parenting. Besides whether our children have grown up in the church or not, faith can polarise parents and their growing or grown children, particularly around issues of ethics and morality.

Many children not walking with the Lord may see that they’re not living up to their parents’ standard, and that can bring a swath of emotional responses, from guilt to shame, and condemnation, to disdain for the parent(s). The latter is made worse by perceptions of hypocrisy on the side of the grown child toward the parent.

The application of the verse is this: if we don’t explicitly ‘forgive’ them for whatever they do (to us, or via the way they choose to live, which might affect us), reinforcing our love in significant ways, we may implicitly judge them... it’s just how it can be seen.

What’s not said in an overt sense can be left to interpretation. This is part of Satan’s “design” to bring havoc to the family. The family is one of the evil one’s chief targets.

Indeed, any non-Christian relative can feel judged if we’re not overt in our issuing of grace toward them.

For Parents – Issuing Unconditional Grace (Love) Despite Children’s Acts

We need to reach a position where we’re both: 1) not diluting our Christian principles, and, 2) actively freeing others—namely, our grown children—to live completely as they choose... and, get this, free of any sense of condemnation from us.

This can be done quite easily when we understand, and accept without reservation, that each is accountable, in their own way, to God.

No one can live someone else’s life. Per Job 1:21, we come into the world alone and alone we’ll leave—to be judged by God for what we did. We don’t need to own another person’s failure to meet Christ’s standard—we’ll have more than enough work to do of our own before the Judgment Seat.

This is a good thing. Alone and free are we to please God.

Our children we pray for and we hope they run the way of the Lord. But what matter is it of ours whether they do or not? We can afford to—and we need to—love them unconditionally for who they are, no matter what path they take.

Seeking Forgiveness and Forgiving Ourselves

It goes without saying that we’ll all have transgressed the ideals mentioned above. Therefore, it’s incumbent on us to seek forgiveness and, indeed, to forgive ourselves.

The constant tension that lies within our hearts as we both abide to Christ and issue grace beyond our own adherence to these standards can be perplexing.

God does not expect perfection from us. The Lord knows we’ll get it wrong.

From this viewpoint we can see God’s already forgiven us. So what would we be waiting for in forgiving ourselves? There shouldn’t be a moment’s hesitation.

Back to the original context, we see the importance of full and frank forgiveness, and the matters of swift apology, so Satan doesn’t get an opportunity to mess about with our families.

For Christian parents it’s even more vital that we live the sinner’s humility—the fact of frequent mistakes and transgressions. Done appropriately and adequately we’ll be seen as nothing like judging in our demeanour; actually, it’ll be quite the opposite.

This, against our pride, has to be constantly learned and practiced—mainly because it’s against the human nature. It’s the human nature that judges, not the Spiritual nature.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finishing on a Positive Note – Jude

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

~Jude 24-25 (NRSV).

One thing we have to love about the latter New Testament writing is it’s earnestness for truth and lambasting of false teaching.

Jude is a letter of harsh warning; he doesn’t mince his words, and many have found them too unpalatable to bear, besides its proximity to Revelation.

But the warnings here are as rich as they are real.

Watchful are we to be for insurgences into the holy dwelling called “the church,” for what has been set aside as sacrosanct should be protected from dilution, disease and dissolution.

The Big Message

We’re to contend quietly, still persistently, in our faith, which is entrusted to us—once for all (Jude 3). We do this beyond the decadently shrill yelps of those around us with different ideas; this is done in cheerfulness and patience.

We’re entrusted with the big thing of life—the message of the Gospel—and we do not dilute it, subject it to communicable foreign bodies, or ban people from being part of it.

Jude’s Personal Benediction

Those in the true family of God—which is not some exclusive club as the false teacher might portray it—find sanctuary in the concluding words of Jude. He’s already dealt with the scum who slate the Gospel, or bend it, for their own purposes. They do not believe. They’re dreamers and philanderers of the spiritual life.

Jude finishes on a constructive note, carrying forward the strains of earlier, as he prays that the readers won’t fall—that they’ll properly depend on Christ and the Spirit’s power.

Jude holds the Godhead up above all things in these final words, recognising both the saving and eternal nature of the Almighty.

Perhaps most of all, Jude shows us that though there are many things not right with our world, we can always conclude in a note of thanks and praise for all that God is, was, and will be, forever.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Good Soldier’s Aim

“No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.”

~2 Timothy 2:4 (NRSV).

Worldly affairs may always intrigue us, but we’re to know where the line’s drawn for engagement. Only the undisciplined soldier—one not adhering to their training, despising the cavalry tradition—takes umbrage with their Commanding Officer. That soldier is the shame of regiment.

Every Christian—female and male, old and young, capable and infirmed—is a foot soldier for the Lord Jesus Christ.

“What does this mean?” you might say. It speaks thoroughly of Spiritual discipline.

Don’t Become Entangled

If we imagined the notional soldier off at battle, serving Sovereign and country, we gain a grasp of where the Apostle Paul is heading at this point in his pastoral letter to Timothy.

So, as this soldier ventures into battle one day, they come to a lapse in thinking and suddenly the rifle they running with is caught in their uniform. They trip and are left prone in a messy heap on the ground. Not only are they unable to fire their weapon at the encroaching enemy, they cannot even get up.

This is the Christian who meddles in the ungodly affairs of the world; neither can they actively do what the Holy Spirit asks them, nor can they defend themselves against the enemy’s attacks. They can be assured; the enemy will strike a series of thunderous blows.

Be Pleased to Listen for, and Take, Orders

The Christian is to learn how to discern the Spirit’s voice—a voice of substantive truth—and they’re to be pleased to obey. This is their clear and simple aim. For no other purpose are they in this infantry of Spiritual incarnation.

To accurately hear, and therefore be enabled to heed, these orders, they must study the Word of God with sharp and diligent intent. It’s this process that teaches them to hear for truth; and, that love is the sturdiest test of such truth.

Great pleasure is taken in noting personal evidence of obedience. This is the honour that the good soldier prides their identity in.

From such honour, strength goes from God onto this faithful servant, and with power.

They’re strengthened in Spiritual resolve day by day to battle until the sun sets on the last magnificent one; yes, until their victory is sure—the journey surmounted.

Unbending and never denying, they’re purposed headlong to hear the words of their Commanding Officer:

“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

~Matthew 25:21 (NRSV).

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Graphic Credit: Archives of Ontario.