Thursday, June 30, 2011

Proverbs 11 – Direction to God and for Life

“With their mouths the godless would destroy their neighbors, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” ~Proverbs 11:9 (NRSV)

As the contrastive proverbs continue on from Proverbs 10, there’s a sense of the wonder in Proverbs’ imagery coming to life again. Gold rings in pigs ears (verse 22), the tree of life (verse 30), and weighing scales (verse 1) season Proverbs 11 nicely.

Integrity’s a Must

Woven through Proverbs is the idea of integrity, and in the case of latter Proverbs 10 and all of chapter 11, the subject of righteousness.

Righteousness at some points gets a bad report simply because many people perceive it as ‘self-righteous’ which is pride run awry. Instead, these proverbs provide a picture of the character of true righteousness, which is the humility of integrity within the interactions of life.

This is one of the beauties of the contrastive proverb—it shows us both positive and negative consequences for our actions.

Direction for the Path to Life

“Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” ~Proverbs 11:14 (Msg)

Most find the path to life and to God through obscure and even oblique means. It’s no straightforward adventure, this thing called life. In theory it is, but it’s easier studied than lived out.

The way life is it’s pointing us to God.

One means for us to know God’s will and way for ourselves, within our own affairs, is to have the integrity of humility to rely on trusted others for their input as it pertains to our lives.

The diligent seeker is seeking not the approval of others, but confirmation that their plans and actions are favoured (verse 27). Looking for confirmation of the good way delivered is not the same as seeking approval.

Reaching the Spiritual Precipice

When we consider that the way to a rightful spirituality is via the avenue of others, and how our interactions with others (and with God) are contending in parallel with our personal journey, we’re at last motivated to invest freely in each of our interactions. This is acknowledging that resentment gets us nowhere.

We see here that integrity, righteousness and humility are only tested in the midst of our relationships with others and the turning of life’s wheel. Tough as that is at times, it’s often true.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

This article is an excerpt from my book, Grow In GOD. All author proceeds from this book go to Compassion Australia to help some of the world’s neediest children and families.

The Mind of 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, June 29, 2011

Out With Legalism, In With Grace

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

~Galatians 5:1 (NRSV).

Old habits die hard. So it was for the Galatians, and also it is for us in our lands of compulsion.

Legalism is veiled religiosity, basically for the sake of fear. It’s vapid regarding love.

What is Legalism?

From the Gospel’s viewpoint, legalism is the ‘undoing’ of grace by works devoid of love. It’s the basis of a law for the law’s sake alone, where meaning is stripped away.

When we argue a case well, but it’s the wrong premise and will never be the right one, we can be close to legalism. Legalistic activity tends to have the way of wicked motivation.

Legalism, within the realm of Christianity, wants to look like pleasing God without the heart to achieve it. It’s invidious hypocrisy, and Pharisees like this are known throughout the world and within every page of history written. No corner of humanity is saved from it.

Legalism is adding something to the Gospel (even when that can’t be done) to the point that its actions produce the belief that God needs us.

Grace, on the other hand, understands that God doesn’t need us, but engaged in the process of Creation out of holy and wholesome love. God wants us and this goes some way to helping us understand the difference between grace and legalism.

Grace is both offers and options where legalism would be rigid requirement. Humanity loves the former and loathes the latter.

A Closer Look at the Perfection of Love in Grace

When we look at grace with eyes concerned for truth we cannot actually see it being undone. It’s too perfect. Grace is endured via love—the two concepts intertwined. And we know, also, that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Grace is free of condemnation.

It cannot hold a thing against anyone or anything and it offers copious portions of space and time for love to come in and cohabit.

What Wins Our Day?

This life requires us to choose, and to know what to embrace and what to let go of is vast wisdom.

We can live in love—issuing the freedom the Gospel espouses—or we can return to the harder and less attractive manner enshrined in fear.

Grace or legalism is a moment-by-moment choice; to go with God or go with our own quirky ideas of what’s right; yes, proffered in pride.

The moment, therefore, holds its metaphorical breath. Which way will we go?

Will it be forgiveness or condemnation and ‘conditions’ for wrongs against us?* Will it be allowing people the freedom to decide how they’ll live their lives, or will it be dogmatic and legislated requirement—a standard spelt out to the letter with no freedom or flexibility for expression?

Will we love unencumbered by the past, freed for the future?

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

*Disclaimer: There are times when forgiveness can coexist in conditions—forgiveness is not always trust. By forgiving people we do not place ourselves in situations of ongoing vulnerability to abuse.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Heaven As On Earth

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” ~Matthew 16:18-19 (NRSV).

The church has a stern responsibility.

Jesus, above, has charged it — at Peter’s initial control — with the destiny of eternity. The theory being, that whatever the church would allow here on earth, God will continue in heaven.

It is easy to see where this discussion is heading; we think about the variety of modern compromises the church is now making, or has made; we can see where we’re going wrong.

The church involves custodianship for a generation. That’s our task as we receive the baton from elders in the church of God before handing it on those seceding from us, our race ran. The length of our task is finite. The mission of the church is, however, eternal.

What Kind of Heaven Do We Want?

We normally think in the reverse. As Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer:

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” ~Matthew 6:10 (NRSV).

We think how God must desire things, and we convert things here in accord with what we discern God would want. In effect, we truly wish to bring heaven here, perhaps never realising that by allowing or not allowing certain things we actually define heaven for all humankind.

Any non-believing person could safely make the assumption that the church resembles heaven and that heaven resembles the church — if they’re so interested.

Heaven is an abstract concept. Yet, the church is the means to that end.

Heaven Then versus Heaven Now

Whenever Jesus mentions heaven in the gospels he never normally means a single dimensional heaven; no, heaven is normally quite a dynamic Spiritual location.

Of course, whilst we’re here, heaven will always mean something wholly incomprehensible to us.

We cannot grasp what heaven will be like, and we only ever get glimpses of it in this life — that is to live eternally via the knowledge of God (John 17:3).

We’re only beginning to understand heaven when we consider it as a place here and to come. That’s twin-dimensional. But surely our vast and infinite God has more in mind for something so marvellous. We can be sure this is true.

And still, we have the ability to design heaven as we live it here and now.

This is Jesus’ point. Like any good husband, Christ is offering His bride, the Church, full capacity to function (Ephesians 5:21-33). Yet, will she be faithful? Will she bind the right things? Will the right things be loosed?

Only each pastor, priest, church fellowship and denomination can answer that one for themselves, for their generation.

But again, it’s a stern responsibility for everyone in leadership. We will need to be ready to give a proper account of ourselves (Hebrews 4:13; 13:17), and why we may’ve bound or loosed things that previous generations did not.

We can begin to see, here, that the charge for the church is an eternal one. Nothing changes as far as truth and love and wisdom are concerned. We do not live in a special age — other than via technological advance that outstrips all previous ages. Virtue, however, remains unchanged. So, why would we make the compromises that are currently being made?

Are we happy to live in a heaven (to come) resembling the earth as it is heaven (now) today?

We may find that the two are more linked than we realise.

What sort of heaven are we, personally, prepared to settle for?

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Psalm 72 – God’s Anointed Ruler – The Just King

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.” ~Psalm 72:1 (NSRV).

When we pray for our pastor and pastoral leadership team at our churches, we utter the very same appellative plea as the psalmist does here. If we’re remotely interested in the cohesion and connectedness of our churches and our nations then we call aloud to God, wanting those charged with the responsibility of running the show to be blessed with the wherewithal to succeed for the people they lead.

The structure of this psalm is loosely based around a series of “may they” wishes; from verses 2-17 the character of kingship is thus set forth. These are the attributes of the blessed kingdom’s charge.

Attributes of the Just King (or Good/Great Leader)

Any good to great leader is foremost a righteous judge (verse 2). They have a temperate spirit about them, as they winnow the competitive proud from humble servants that accede to kingdom cohesiveness.

Great leaders defend the needs of the poor, needy and defenceless (Verse 4).

Through faith, they are of abided provision — the material wealth that will sustain the kingdom or organisation that they run. Added to faith is wisdom to discern the needs and to decide appropriately.

Righteousness and peace are linked in verse 7, much as they are elsewhere in the Bible (for good instance, see Isaiah 32:17).

The dominion of peace accords itself to righteousness; justice is the underpinning gauge. A people group, church or organisation somehow implicitly know when they’re being duped; there’s a justice-sense that’s wrangled untidily within the spirit of these.

Because this ‘just king’ or good leader has earned the trust of the people they lead, much respect is returned to them. They may even feel they don’t deserve such adulation. But such is the blessing warranted of this situation. Both king and subjects, or leader and followers, give to each other at accord with more than expected. Blessings of community are had.

Because the people have been saved by this king or leader — most times individually — they’ve learned the character of salvation in the manner of actual life. People naturally love working for someone like this.

Worshipping the God of the King

The final few verses of this psalm revert to higher ground; it’s one thing to make appeals on behalf of the king, it’s entirely another to lift up the True King of all: God.

This psalm ends the second book of Psalms; many of ‘David’s prayers’ are now ended (verse 20).

This psalm teaches us appropriateness of divine/authority structure; support for and allegiance to the sovereign or head-of-state and the legal systems they reign over, but not before worship of God.

Let’s give thanks for just leadership, and even more due to the Sovereign God providing such means for safe community.

The key point of this Psalm-of-Solomon — in detailing kingly attributes — is its ability to look beyond frail human kingship to the Divine, eternally sure, kingship of the Messiah, Jesus.

Our leaders deserve our respect, but our worshipful devotion should be saved for God.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Desiring a Heart of Integrity

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”

~Proverbs 11:3 (NIV).

Paul Koptak places before us some indelible imagery in his NIV Life Application Commentary on Proverbs, with which to explain integrity:

“[This proverb] imagines roads filled with dangers or rushing white water rivers filled with treacherous rocks. One would be glad to have a guide in such situations, and integrity promises to be that guide.”

And, of course, we all relate. Life is full of snares and tests; of our patience, our courage, our honesty, our love, our faith... the list goes on. Integrity is important to have stowed — a requisite strength — because we often don’t perceive the tests of life until they’ve just passed us; our vision is so limited.

We just don’t ‘see’ most of the time. Integrity arms us to live more faithfully.

An Analysis of ‘Integrity’

Integrity is the means to an upright (or righteous) end — it’s the very basis of righteousness. It is like a ‘break-glass’ alarm; we don’t care for integrity until we find ourselves on that thin glacier, trembling for dear life. Then we must have it!

It is important to make the three-way connection between the heart, integrity and righteousness — for the Bible does not easily separate these (see, for instance, 1 Kings 9:4; 1 Chronicles 29:17; Psalms 25:21; 78:72). The heart is the seat of our intentions — from which everything inside of us comes (Matt. 12:34). If we have integrity we have a solid, reliable heart — we’re upright. It is notable in Proverbs that the heart and mouth are intrinsically linked; the negative angle suggests a weak heart converts to coarse and duplicitous speech.

Duplicity is harrowingly easy — we’ve all tasted it; routinely if we’re honest. Integrity and duplicity are, of course, rank opposites.

If holiness is the domain of God, integrity is the domain of the person after God. Integrity is functional trust-worthiness; it is the basis of an effective response, a moment at a time, when the rubber hits the road of life. Integrity is who we are when no one else is looking. It’s the negation and rejection of falsity.

Our Challenge – Harnessing the Present Fortified with Integrity

When we deduce all of the foregoing our screed is simply ‘choice.’ “Choices set us on a trajectory toward good or trouble.”[1]

It is never more important to be people of integrity now; for history is just that — history. We can only ever make good with what we have now. Now is where it counts.

For when our ‘now’s’ are treated to a heart of integrity, history will inevitably honour us, and we by it, will honour our Lord — all the glory going to Him.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Paul E. Koptak, Proverbs – NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), p. 334. The earlier quote at top was from page 317.

All Walls of Materialism Are Scaleable

“The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;

they imagine it an unscalable wall.”

~Proverbs 18:11 (NIV).

As I strode to the beach recently I marvelled at the huge retaining walls of the nearby properties, thinking how secure and impressive they looked. Then I thought for a moment longer; the Spirit checking my thinking... it occurred to me afresh... nothing is unscaleable. That was a profound reflection as I then reflected over the above proverb.

There is an equivalent proverb for the poor... ‘Poverty is their ruin’ (Proverbs 10:15). So, whilst riches can be fleeting and can’t be guaranteed, they’re much better than a ‘present’ poverty.

Sad Stories – Bad ‘Investments’

I also recalled recently the very sad story of a colleague who was once incarcerated (and for some time too I might add). Without getting into reason or rationale, I considered it so very sad that someone could lose their freedom, and to this, all their significant possessions and relationships.

Many people, especially in this age and in Western society, put much emphasis and value on their riches, the amount and quality of the “toys” they possess; their property, cars etc. It’s through these material assets that we — if we’re not careful — can derive much of our identity and significance and meaning in life.

Yet, it’s a dangerous position to set ourselves up from.

Material Reward – Never Impenetrable

Even though diligence warrants material rewards, say ninety percent of the time, it’s absolutely no guarantee. The best way to view life in the context of material possessions is to be thankful for them, but also be perfectly willing to lose these ‘things’ subject to God’s perfect will — which we often will not understand, but must trust implicitly in faithfulness.

No matter how safely we appear to be positioned, life, we should know, can turn like a hairpin — and, at times, with quite a nudge of finality. Why would we in our right minds get devastatingly despondent if we were to lose the material possessions? Sure, a time of re-adjustment would be required, but how would we resolve this semi-Joban situation?

I mean, what lessons have we met and hence internalised from Job?

Moth and rust destroy the material things (Matthew 6:19-20) whereas spiritual things are eternal. We can never really lose them.

How high are our walls? High enough? Is the height that important?

Our security is best placed in those things of eternal value.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Overcoming 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 best 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.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Psalm 47 – The King Has Ascended

“God has gone up with the shout,

the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.”

~Psalm 47:5 (NRSV).

Several things surrounding victory come together in this nine-verse psalm. The liturgy of praise and a celebration of faith to remain still when hemmed-in build together due cause for hopeful reflection.

It celebrates a king ascended; Christians find it a natural assertion of prophesy regarding Jesus’ ascension to be with the Father at Pentecost.

The Psalm Historically

Both Psalm 46 and 47 link historically with 2 Kings 18:12–19:37 and Isaiah 37:21-38. The forlorn conquest of Assyria’s King Sennacherib against Judah is both foretold and enacted here.

Judah’s king, Hezekiah, is commended by Isaiah to remain steadfast; he is gifted this insight of the Lord because the King came to pray about matters of stress instead of taking matters into his own cowardly hands. He was advised to be still; the Lord would drive Sennacherib away (Isaiah 37:29).

Isaiah’s words only led Hezekiah into comfort regarding his nation’s future because Hezekiah’s faith became practical; considered thought and prayer paved the way for considered action — in this case, to not panic.

The Lord (and Jesus) – King of ‘the Nations’

Of course, the great hope of the nation of Judah — in the psalm’s contemporary sight — is that one day all nations will call Judah’s God, their God.

This is also the Christian hope; that Islam-ruled countries, among others, will ultimately turn toward the Lord.

Connecting the history with the psalm’s ascension motif we can see how the Lord rose up to defend Judah. The Lord also defends us in our faith.

This is how God is known victoriously; via faith placed.

The Faith Answer

Just as Hezekiah resolved to lean on the Lord in prayer, warranting action not from his own understanding, but from revelation (Proverbs 3:5-6), we too are commended for running with the faith answer when perplexed and cornered by life.

The great message of this psalm is that faith is eventually vindicated; that one day (even every day) such faith will be the precursor to seeing the hand of God active in our lives; and beyond, to where all nations, tribes and tongues will see, finally, that faith is the way to God.

Faith, in the final analysis, is the composure of prayer, and the resilience of trust, to remain firm when all about is panicked and awry. Faith is the stuff of battle, not peace. Who needs faith when things are good?

Psalms like this one give us a tangible confidence in the faithfulness of God.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

God’s Got Something Better In Mind!

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” ~Romans 8:25 (NRSV).

Have you ever had one of those times when you felt God whisper to you in your disappointment, “Don’t worry, I’ve got something better in mind for you,” and believed it?

Well, we shouldn’t make a practice of doubting this sort of ‘Word’ from God. But, sometimes in our biggest disappointments God’s somewhere in the background of it all saying this very thing. “Don’t worry, you’ll see!” will perhaps be the broad message as we’re advised to enfold faith around our circumstances.

God’s Leading Us There

Of those challenges we fail against, those ones we’ve not been prepared for, or those that are currently beyond us, have we ever thought that God’s exposing us to these to take us beyond where we think we can currently get to?

It’s an absorbing question.

Many believers will think that God’s not putting them up against challenges in life that are too much for them. Could it be, however, that the nature of this God-willed life, as it’s revealed to us day by day, is to coax us to new heights and new endeavours?

It’s threateningly new.

It’s okay to fail.

Indeed, it’s a revelation to fail and to come to a sudden realisation that we’ve survived it. We brush ourselves off from our fall in the dirt and we inspect for scrapes and worse. Yet, apart from a hurting heart — which we can soothe with the gentle, logical mind — we’ve come out of it basically unscathed and, additionally, we’ve actually learnt something.

A Vision Months, Years and Decades Away

Most people reading this have years to live, even possibly multiple decades. Whether we like it or not, God’s plan for the totality of our lives means some things we covet now we will not attain yet, or perhaps ever.

There are things also that God has in mind for us, but we’ll have absolutely no conception of them. And we’re not supposed to.

If we really believe we’ve heard from God, that call to our hearts, the passion that’s inherent in just who we are and who we’re becoming, then it’s incumbent on us to carry through with this vision indefinitely — even to the point of never losing hope.

The Occasional Disappointment

Being let down every now and again is normal in life. The amount of times we see these disappointments as blessings-in-disguise is rare, however.

But, perhaps that’s our challenge — to see more potential for the bigger, brassier handled doors that are opening to us in the midst of those that are slammed shut against our faces.

If we cannot yet see what we hope for, faith’s required. God has a plan. Believe.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.