Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcoming the Jesus-Work of Life

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

~Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV).

Every conscious moment subsists in works for which we’re to do, those that glorify God somehow.

This is not just about ‘work’... some works are beyond work, unto rest and the salacious revival of our spirits to become better for the Lord than we previously were.

Run back to the opposite extreme for a moment, and we find work is not to be shirked, but embraced. Not work for work’s sake; instead, effort expended in the joy of being able and willing... for many are not either. But we can be.

We Are What God Has Made Us...

There is nothing changing this reality.

It’s what it is, whether we like it or not. At many points it’s introducing us to an acceptance of the status quo, but with an important adjustment — conforming what we are to the truth of God’s Word.

Casting an enquiring eye over the vastness of planet earth helps us know the splendour-of-range in the work that’s to be done (though not all of it by us). There’s still so much — the fields are white with opportunity! (John 4:35)

The Lord of life has made us for the lives we inhabit right now; we’ll be gone in 100 or 50 or 20 years. Now is the time to work. And if we don’t work, we prepare for work.

... Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works...

The resurrection life is the reality of risen glory — mortally identified — created anew for sound reason.

Saved from the hell-of-a-life that wasn’t working, many of us have come before the throne of grace merely to say, “Now that I’m free, how can I assist this work, Lord?”

It’s a humble and grateful deed. We offer ourselves, without cost and with no burden added to anyone.

... Which God Prepared Beforehand to Be Our Way of Life

Our Lord knew our path as it was designed before we were conceived. “How can that be?” we might be led to ask.

Besides the theological answers to that question we can simply know that whatever of numerous paths we could’ve chosen, God had a planned path for us to take once we were reconciled to him. And many permeations does that path have according to our unique need. We won’t outthink God.

Anyway, our first work was to be saved — to embrace “our way of life.”

Our way of life is the thrill to be involved in the holy cacophony of work laid out like the stars. There’s no limit to what we can actively do, gleefully, for God.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blessings Granted Because of Gracious Speech

“Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech will have the kind as a friend.”

~Proverbs 22:11 (NRSV).

Some Scripture can seem lacking in today’s context. For instance, we’re caught thinking, “Who’s the ‘king’ in my life?”

There are many masters we serve, and some in quite highfalutin positions.

There are ‘kings’ all through society. Some we work for, others are in key authority, and many we’ll never meet or have the uncommon pleasure of getting nervous around.

But a promise of God’s pertains to this truth:

If we’ll invest with the Lord toward the acquisition of a true heart — one that can be relied upon — that heart of ours will be trusted in fine company. For a heart such as this will found high-accounted truths, and see them uttered faithfully; it will not be given to deception easily.

Truth is the Test

One is an outcome of the other. The pure-hearted person prefers only to speak graciously, for their heart and mind are betwixt to the truth.

The heart like this finds truth at all points. It can, and the person can, be trusted.

Only a person who is trusted will find themselves in the position of an advisor to the royals of life. This sense of privilege is as uncommon as there are truthful-to-a-point witnesses. Truth is seen, here, as a test. And we’re tested by no better means than via our speech. It’s the key performance indicator of a person’s character. Lies have us in an instant if we don’t have the skill and fibre of character to resist strongly.

Wise Ambition

We all have aspirations in our vocational lives.

These are not unhealthy if they’re kept at balance, and the yearning’s borne out of a genuine desire to serve. Who we serve, and how, are key questions.

If we cannot be king, the next best option is to serve a king, understanding that such privilege carries with it none of their kingly responsibilities. That of itself is a great relief and blessing.

Unfathomable Benefits

The spiritual blessings of high office — and this is not a quantifiable premise — are great indeed; unfathomable, in fact.

These are seen from the view of retrospect.

Sure, there are material blessings, but the spiritual blessings are the things that a person home to a pure heart really desires. They can’t be named or counted. They just are.

This is the wonderful life that God provides the morally obedient person; a life full of the best (non-material) riches, long life that’s full of experience, and appropriate honour (Proverbs 3:16).

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Adversity, God’s Strength Abides

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

~Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV).

As I strode past a century-old cathedral the sign-board resounded:

“When adversity strikes, God’s already prepared the strength to get through.”

That speaks volumes for the power of God when we most need it. It’s when we reach for God — times when we’re rocked way past our own resources to cope.

This ‘power’ is the strength to cope, to live, to endure... even a minute at a time. That strength comes from prayers that are a million notches deeper than the spoken word.

When Prayer Comes Into Its Own!

Romans 8:26-27 speaks about the guttural utterances of a heart bank-rolled to emotional bankruptcy. We’ve been there! Times like it may resurface, and, without warning.

With adversity comes weakness — an ironically blessed set of circumstances toward a total reliance on the Lord, perhaps even for the first time. Most of us won’t esteem the power of the Spirit until we reach such a fraught depth.

The empathy of the Spirit’s intercession is known. It takes us, directly, to the will of God.

Words are overstated; they’re unimportant in the Spirit’s realm.

Forget about getting the words right — God knows.

The Lord has created power ready for use, according to our complete need. It’s prepared for us to partake of.

God’s Strength – Made at the Ready Due Our Weakness

Our Lord doesn’t make strength for the strong, but for the weak, and it’s made minute by reviling minute.

There is a remarkable presence of life when we experience loss or forlornness; access to God made complete.

It’s when we connect through sad music, or with a good friend who’ll just sit there with us, or go on a long drive, or when we just find a safe place and be. These times find us so bereft of the will to go on that God thrusts his grace toward us in compelling streams of life-giving, pulsating but invisible Spiritual energy.

It’s just enough to get through and somehow we do, still we don’t know how. It’s not pretty but it’s effective.

Safety is identified in the fact that we get through one full hour, then a day. A month like this builds our faith more than a lifetime of our old belief.

If this is not living prayerfully, we don’t know what is. Now, at last, we know what prayer is really about.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The LORD’s Last Word – the Oppressed, Delivered

“Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,

and the disgrace of his people will be taken away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.”

~Isaiah 25:8 (NRSV).

This has to be every suffering believer’s wildest dream come true; that God would one eternal day come past each face in the land of heaven and wipe from beneath each and every eye the tears borne for the length and depth of life.

This will be the Lord’s last word!

The true dignity of Christian-being is far disposed from all of us; due both troubled circumstances and sin. But that dignity will soon be known.

Isaiah 25 – The Oppressed Praise God

If we feel oppressed there is good news ahead. I wonder how we feel if we aren’t oppressed. The simple fact is the oppressed are promised a higher portion of blessing in heaven. Jesus spoke many times about this, as is reported in the gospels. Maybe that makes us, for a fleeting moment, envy the oppressed... don’t worry, it won’t last long.

As Isaiah ebbs and flows there’s a leaving and then a returning to the sort of Scripture we like to read — for devotional purposes. Oracles (for instance, chapters 14–23) against ‘the nations’ are, though, not good reading. They’re full of judgment and the modern Christian wants nothing to do with it — though, truth be known, they have a purpose.

With signs for delivery, the oppressed rise to voice!

Indeed, Isaiah 25 reads just like a praise psalm. Above all, the faithful praise most the fact that the Lord’s name is vindicated. (The faithful and the oppressed are one and the same.)

Deliverance Now and To Come

As we look at the aspects of oppression, we soon learn that attempting to live a righteous, just and fair life is hard enough. Everyone who genuinely tries to do that will find themselves, at many points, oppressed — beyond specific bodily, mental or emotional oppression, for which some are unenviably scourged.

It’s biblically true — as is seen here in Isaiah 25 — that those oppressed are promised their deliverance. God, our faithful Lord, is intent on it.

It’s for us to not give up.

It’s for us to ensure the grip we have over our acumen for good is not relinquished, for the Holy Spirit favours us.

It’s for us to know that God will — in his time and plan — make good of every minor and significant indiscretion we suffered.

Best of all is the personal treatment we’re set to attain at the Lord’s grasp. Due the relational component of our New Covenant blessing, bequeathed in Jesus, God will apportion to us incredibly more than we can begin to imagine.

We must prepare to thank our faithful God for what is destined to occur.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Graphic Credit: College of the Open Bible.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Son-Light Beats Life in the Shade

“Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

~1 John 5:10-12 (NRSV).

We can be forgiven for having to re-read John because he appears repetitive, and certainly contrastive, but it’s clear such Scripture is stated like it is to make us think; to ruminate and wrestle with the text.

This little passage above is typical.

It’s the power of God that we get to meditate over simple, yet alluring, concepts to deepen our knowledge of the Lord.

The Testimony of the Heart – Son-Light

We all align to, and embark upon, a testimony. That is belief. We all believe.

Signs of God are ever-present, yet, due their own wills — that God’s provided us because of his love — many choose not to believe this testimony. This testimony is made known firstly by what God has made — evidence of, and the process of, Creation — and, secondly, by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Those who become convinced as to the reality of God in Creation and in Jesus, however, have a testimony inherent to the truth in their hearts. The truth is theirs without barrier. We can affectionately call this the “son-light”.

Rejecting The Testimony of the Truth – Life in the Shade

Shade is the metaphor of life without life — Spiritual life.

It might seem like life but it’s, in reality, a world of death because of the level of untruth that’s lived out. Life is truth; lies, or the fabricated, pretend life, are death.

The truth is God and the fact of Jesus — the Saviour of humankind.

A Sharper Truth

Probably the most translucent theological truth is this one:

Whoever has the Son — and therefore, life — has such by the way they live their lives. This is the cognisance of, and ability to live according to, the truth.

This is a sharper truth cutting into the hearts of “saved” believers, so-called, who attend church and say their prayers, but have superficial fruit to show for it; signifying the truth is no longer alive and kicking in their lives. And seasons like this come to every believer; times when we’re challenged beyond our wills to align to the truth.

This is a hard word for all.

It means that salvation is a matter to be lived out. Heaven is another reality entirely.

The Son-light or life in the shade? Truth or lies? These are our choices.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Psalm 4 – “They Have Wronged Me, LORD!”

“But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;

The Lord hears when I call to him.”

~Psalm 4:3 (NRSV).

This psalm can almost be taken as a poem of split confidences, and verses are taken out of it carte blanche for devotional purposes — particularly verses 4 and 8.

But as a whole it’s an emotional rendition to the Lord in defence of innocence, for the psalmist has found themselves awash with stain for things not of their doing!

We easily identify with this. Times have come to all of us where fairness has been blindsided for iniquity — betrayal for absolutely no reason. This can vary from the coherent aggression of someone taking aim at us via backstabbing to the implicit lack of recognition for things we deserve appreciation for.

In other words, the psalmist’s reputation lies in tatters and the claims are baseless.

Flow and Features of the Psalm

The psalm commences with a plea to God for the fact of their circumstances — a mood of, “Lord, how can this be?” becomes the psalmist.

But, room is both sought and thanked-for in receipt. Prayer is that room; the capacity to pray and the cognisance of bringing to God these matters that are confounding, for nothing else will help.

Verse 2 is a direct taunt at the people who’ve levelled the vexatious claims on the psalmist. It’s taken a bit of pluck to come at them with these accusations, for the one bringing the prayer before God is most at home at the ‘Lord’s right’. Their complaint engenders the perplexing temptation to disobey God — in their anger, though, they’re chided not to sin.

Verse 3 (profiled at top) commences a transition back to meditating on God and right thinking.

The verses ensuing are arranged in such a fashion that the ever-brightening facets of the Lord are seen outweighing this daily concern. Beyond these people’s unfaithfulness is the Lord’s faithfulness. The bigger things of life are now placed in right context.

Contemporary Meaning

The sentiment expressed in this psalm is close to all our hearts. We have all been falsely accused and have suffered damaged reputations as a result. How often are people’s perceptions of us interminably tainted because of such lies?

The psalm’s greatest attribute in our daily application is the reminder to re-focus on God after we’ve noted incidences of betrayal.

There is a rapid shift from the visceral anger of a blighted person — one innocently winged — to the calmness returning interiorly, such that peace beyond the world’s understanding is the brisk God-anointed achievement.

Beyond aspects of betrayal to all notions of disappointment, this psalm shows us once again the bona fide value of prayer as a process for transforming our hearts. A softened heart is hence informing an enlightened (renewed) mind, per Romans 12:1-3; one able to think as God requires us to think for Spiritual healing to take place.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Everything Other Than Christ, a Loss!

“But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ.”

~Philippians 3:8 (CEB).

How does the Christian fare with loss? Well, grief is the common response, but afterwards something else is possibly seen; God making meaning out of such death-felt experience.

The typical Christian — you and I — do not react like Paul has above unless we’re blessed in the Spirit to receive such unconventional wisdom, which is insight beyond anything this regular world can understand.

How else could we seriously consider everything we’ve lost as “sewer trash” on account, only, of Christ? (I believe I could get some bad press simply because I ask such a question.)

When We’re Sick ‘n’ Tired of Being Sick ‘n’ Tired – Then There is Christ

It is commonplace for a person to come to an end of themselves — especially those given to excess.

It’s easy to see what we gain for trashing our losses from this viewpoint. Everything is loss anyway. To go with God is the straightest path to gain, and the sort of gain is very specifically personal.

More people than we realise have gotten to the point of giving up on an old way of living. The pain of staying the same overwhelms us, when the pain of going with Jesus is awkward and possibly slighting, but revelatory and peace-bringing — no exaggeration, it’s new life!

When We Have It All – Then Lose It – Then Too is Christ

Many people have lost insurmountably.

Their loss(es) cannot be measured, let alone reconciled in the world’s terms. For these losses there is a God who gives empathy beyond empathy. When the words — and every emotion under the sun — give no meaning to the crushing pain, then there is God eternal.

This Jesus suffered and is best known and remembered for that fact; beyond wisdom teaching, parables, courageous acts and miracles.

Whenever We Contemplate Life – All Else – Nothing Comes Close to Christ

Building to the crescendo, then, here it is. Life: with or without the Saviour?

With Jesus we have everything; without him, nothing — nothing here and nothing in eternity.

All else is stripped away and worthless and barren.

This may seem like a rash hyperbole. It isn’t, because of the facts of life that bear themselves in every fact. We live in a created world, where everything that is, was created; even to the notions of thought, wisdom, love and every other thing.

Everything that is, was created by a Creator.

Jesus was in Creation, and remains to be, as all are subsumed in that Creation. Come to know this, now, before more of death is experienced for life.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seeking, and Setting Ourselves Upon, Christ

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

~Colossians 3:1-3 (NRSV [with emphasis added]).

These are bold words that really thrust us toward the acid that is the life lost to God. It’s much easier dreamed about than lived.

Christians are the co-resurrected; that is the theory that the Apostle Paul espouses. Of course he means it that way, because this is a conditional clause... “if...” implies a “then” before the word “seek”.

If we’re raised with Christ, then we should be seeking the things of heaven, not those of earth.

First “Seek,” Now “Set” Yourself On – Things Above

Setting our minds on things that are above is adding specificity to what Paul’s already said.

But Paul’s not repeating himself for little reason. This is the centre of a living faith right here. It’s easy to look around us to cling to the crowd, or look behind us and get depressed, or look forward and lose hope in impatience... it’s harder to remember to look up.

And the reason we look up is because we’ve died to ourselves so we can live for Christ. We no longer have a wrangling need to compete in the world, aspire inappropriately, or connect for the sake of connection; for competition, aspiration and connection are of little point without a God-anointed purpose fuelling it.

We can only know these purposes when we look up, discerning heaven’s plan for our instances.

Hidden With Christ in God

Being hidden with Christ in God could — as Rienecker suggests — be about three ideas:

1. Secrecy – where a believer’s life becomes an appropriately locked bag to the Lord, which leads to the second idea;

2. Safety – as in the ‘double protection’ of the fact that we’re now firmly God’s, leading to the third idea;

3. Identity – where there is an intrinsic connection between a risen Lord and an equally risen disciple.

These three together fuse the concept of what it means to be hidden with Christ in God. They unfurl a golden reality that brings traction to Proverbial virtues: prudence and diligence. These virtues are practical methods leading to salvation living; they deal in a practical sense with the sinful nature.

There is, therefore, less of a sinful nature divulged in the normal course of living because of this hiddenness.


We’re urged to seek the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30) and to then set ourselves toward living out this reality.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976, 1980), pp. 577-78.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Pastor’s Number One ‘Qualification’

We could very well believe an advertisement ending like this:

Position Vacant: Pastor. ...should also be highly flawed — but importantly — they must know it.

Besides this, there are more obvious credentials we’d expect to see: ministry or theology qualifications, relevant experience and excellent references.

It’s the character that sets apart ministers most of all. They can have won awards at seminary, been engaged in ministry for the Lord for years, and have been an instrument of salvation for many people, but it’s their humility to know their flaws and be unashamedly honest about them when it counts that’s most important.

Humility is the enduring image of Christian ministry (Philippians 2:5-11).

Fortunately, I’ve known several pastors who’ve made this grade — and their parishes have been blessed commensurately as a result.

Lessons from the Apostle Paul

Paul was far from perfect. Despite his ardent devotion to Jesus he was still very human and dealt with character flaws (Romans 7:14ff) and had a nasty daily blight — a “thorn” — to deal with (2 Corinthians 12:8).

Reading Paul’s letters we get the impression he was given to emotion as he implored followers to grow in the faith. He was no stranger to conflict.

Paul was flawed. Yet, we don’t often like to think of him that way.

Still, less so, do we want to see our pastors that way. They’re pillars of our spiritual community; representatives beyond to the broader populace. This is why it’s critical that they own their flaws and even glory in them, for the grace of God resident in the fact they’re even called (chosen) to lead within the Body of Christ.

The pastor is nothing if not a fool for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10). They buck that role to their peril.

Mistakes are Redeemable – Cover-ups and Badly Handled Conflicts Aren’t (Mostly)

As observers of those ministers who’ve lasted the journey as compared with those who’ve fallen, we can safely assume that a transparent humility will guard the pastor like nothing else will.

Their mistakes are repented-of. They’re hence models for the rest of their Christian community about how grace works in the midst of broken lives.

Scandalous cover-ups and unreconciled conflicts — even one — however, can harm the minister’s service (and the work for Christ) irreparably, though nobody is castigated beyond grace to rise again.

From some there’s no return; at least not to the previous heights and breadth of reach achieved. But with repentance God is glorified.

Mistakes that are admitted are the champion quality of the pastor with human leadership qualities that the secular world cannot understand, let alone replicate. The pastor knows each mistake, handled well, magnifies the grace of God.

Humility is the masterstroke qualification defining the pastor’s ministry. Success and failure rest with it.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Acknowledgement: to Pastor Bob Clark, ministry formation lecturer, who impressed the ideal of humble character on BTCWA seminary students in 2005.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Psalm 36 – Beseeching God for Continued Blessing

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your judgments are like the great deep;

you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.”

~Psalm 36:5-6 (NRSV).

There are many kinds of people whom inhabit this earth — to which their personalities, morals and disposing characters there are the colours of the rainbow.

The range of character known about the earth is revealed also in the fullness of God. We can know this by the insurmountable nature of many ethical issues. Is there a limit to the range of views that might be represented? So many wars are fought over such expansive ideals.

Such vast cultural differences provide cause for concern over safety. It’s a challenge to harmony. Psalm 36 represents fear for cognisance of such difference. The threats are noted.

Biblical Lament – Ranging Between Vast Poles

The psalmist, David, vacillates between two poles during these twelve verses, which is a feature typical of his laments.

He begins in the first four verses by highlighting, in God’s Presence, the despicability of the enemy. He finds that:

“Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts;

there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

~Psalm 36:1 (NRSV).

Such analysis of character is healthy because it gives verbal meaning — via the language of prayer — quantifying what the issues of difference are. But it easily enters the realm of complaint, and that’s ominous territory. David has clearly landed there, but his lament is balanced with calls of praise to the Lord (verses 6-9).

Our complaints, too, need to represent this balance — that we’d not shut God out from our cries for justice. Indeed, God’s to be central within our laments; a hard thing remembered in practical terms.

Ultimately a Seeking of Protection

We get the distinct sense as we read many of David’s laments — and Psalm 36 exemplifies this — that there’s a cogent vein of fear driving the language of his prayer.

The final two verses speak most visibly of this concern. David asks the Lord to protect him from the “foot of the arrogant” and the “hand of the wicked” — enunciated, here, is the fear of physical harm and of being bullied out of his rightful home.

These fears speak also of our fears. We get genuinely concerned for things that might be done to us that could bring about injury or ill-health, as well as being dispossessed — whether it be from the land we’ve acquired, a position of status or some other ‘claim’ we have identity with.

Our grandest hope in this life, whilst we have it good, is for continued blessing; for the Lord’s favour to continue to dwell with us.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.