Sunday, July 31, 2011

Psalm 123 – In Distress, I Lift My Eyes to You, LORD



“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,


for we have had more than enough of contempt.”


~Psalm 123:3 (NRSV).


This verse above transitions the psalmist’s real intent of prayer from praise to lament. It proves a point to the relief of anyone (this would be all of us) who has ever prayed a prayer of veiled praise in order to gain relief from life’s Trojan Horses.


The structure of this psalm is a simple one. Verses 1-2 focus on proclaiming conviction to God. Verses 3-4 lament the circumstance of contempt in the midst of the proud.


The general response of the psalmist is the key though.


They do not wallow in their grief; instead, they lift their eyes.


Lesson 1 – In Distress, Look with the Eyes to the Hand of God


Where there is more than enough reason for anguish and nothing can be done, what more is to be done than look heavenward, seeking the Lord to pour down a healing torrent on the contempt being dealt with?


It is never the acceptable thing to divert our look, either pitying our own situation or angling at the perpetrator. We go to God, our Mediator.


Lesson 2 – Patience is Promised


“... so our eyes look to the Lord our God,


until he has mercy upon us.”


~Psalm 123:2c (NRSV).


If only we have the spiritual resilience and fortitude to remain as long as God asks us to remain. We don’t know the purposes the Lord has in mind for this situation that condemns and overwhelms us; all that can be done is issue and re-issue the promise to wait patiently. It almost seems like a cliché!


But, it’s endemic in the process of life; we’re all under God’s anointing. Nothing occurs without the acceding of the Lord’s will.


As we give up our will to God’s, patience does come.


Lesson 3 – The Salubrious Power of Repentance


Rather than issuing worldly laments (i.e. whinging complaints) we’re destined to repent of our dismay by returning to God to seek the favour and mercy of the Almighty. This is a formula for blessing beyond our momentary comprehension.


A wondrous protection is afforded us in the instant of repentance. Nothing else can claim us as we enter the Sanctuary—the Presence of the Lord.


This is blessing for the moment, and all moments we repent.


Later blessing is bound to come, for God’s nature is to bless the repentant ones.


God seeks us first and foremost to look with our eyes unerringly to heaven; that is in disaster and triumph and all between.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Most Important Word in the English Language


“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’.” ~Mark 1:14-15 (NRSV).


Have you ever thought about language and its power to attempt description of life? What about words? Do they captivate you? They do me. God led me on a quest recently to discover, afresh perhaps, the most important word. It’s surprisingly simple in its integrity.


The word is “repent.”


The Amplified version of the Bible defines the word:


Have a change of mind which issues in regret for past sins and in change of conduct for the better.


Some might think “repent” lacks something for true belief in Jesus’ name; I think “repent” implies belief.


Let’s imagine ourselves: “repent” at the forefront of our daily existence. The mind blossoms with thought of closeness to God; the heart with joy of continuity in the Almighty as we’re taught step by step in obedience and disobedience.


This word has urgent daily relevance; our interaction with it (or not) will echo into eternity.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Testing, God’s Strength Is Enough




“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV).


There are times in life when we think the above verse is a lie—times we feel God’s power and Presence is unexpectedly absent. Whether it’s Satan that leads us to this or not is irrelevant to us at the time; we’ve just been pushed too far and our strength is puny.


“Testing” – in Context


The Apostle Paul, writer of 1 Corinthians, has a broader scope for the above verse than perhaps we read within it.


God does allow us to be tested for obedience’s sake. As we reflect over the earlier portion of chapter 10 of First Corinthians, we soon learn there is a vitality of spiritual compromise that we’re not to enter into. It’s dangerous territory for us. If we, for a critical moment or season, forget to consider the costs for not obeying God we’re putting at risk the very things God’s now blessing us with, as well as those still coming.


All of the preceding twelve verses of Chapter Ten build up to a marvellous promise, however, in verse 13.


The Sin That Hangs


Without forgetting our crucial context—that we live for God in the realm of the many, unto vast but basic morally-divined love-related laws—we have the opportunity to live free. Paul issues this very freedom in the context of what foods we can eat—and how, as the circumstances present—later in Chapter Ten.


The truth of life—in the perspective of obeying God—is we can all too easily become confounded and vexed by thought or effort around simply ‘not sinning’, as if that were a simple and easy choice for us.


The truth for the many is there’s sin and there’s sin; some we depart easily from. Other sin sticks to us. It’s formed in habit. Getting far from some of our sin is much easier said than it’s done in actuality. Some sin just hangs on valiantly. We all have such problems.


Verse 13, as it’s mentioned above, is the thing that bridges obedience and sin. It relents over the vast chasm, making it possible for us to please God.


There is Relief!


We can surely know as we read over and meditate upon the abovementioned verse that we have been and will be tested—to obey God. None of this is beyond what anybody else, or certainly others we’re either aware of or aren’t aware of, is tested to.


God does always provide good ways out of the messes we find ourselves in—if we have with us a heart to listen, trust and obey.


Even though we will be pushed to our brink, and perhaps many times, God is not of the character to allow testing unnecessarily. We can tell from the Old Testament allegories, that provide a good sense of exemplary warning to us, that life is life, and no one gets a distinctly better run at it than the next person does—not when all things are considered.


We will all struggle to comply with God in certain areas of our lives. God, of anyone, is patently aware of this—the Spirit of God knows our fallibility better, in fact, than we do ourselves. Recall that—due our repentance—we are forgiven.


There is relief for every single person in every single situation. It is up to us, however, to continue the search such that we may find it—that relief. We must remember always, nonetheless, that this relief is sourced in God, and no other.


Temptation to Sin or Suffering?


Lastly, we should try to never forget that this verse—1 Corinthians 10:13—is set in the guise of sin and obedience and not the bearing of ‘impossible’ suffering, as many might find. Let’s not forget the first twelve verses lead to the thirteenth.


In other words, it’s very important for us to not use this verse as a cliché-response to someone’s suffering, given that it was originally cast to encourage believers to simply discern and obey God’s will and repent from sin; that God would not allow us—in our temptation toward sin—to be marooned and left alone in our own strength, if we trust him.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.


General Reference: Craig Blomberg, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 190-201.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lamenting in the LORD



“You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life.” ~Lamentations 3:57-58 (NRSV).


Hidden, am I, with Christ in God,


No matter the trample of enemy, trod;


Enemy’s destined—lightly esteemed,


To the nightmare of my presence, I have dreamed.


Hidden, am I, from the joy of the Lord,


No matter how free, I cannot afford;


Could it be, my life consumed,


When it’s my dream this death be solemnly exhumed?


Hidden, am I, from peace, content,


Home’s my heart to riling lament;


But I will trust in the Lord, my Redeemer,


And not be revealed as an idolatrous dreamer.


Exilic encounters test our trust and obedience.


It’s the honest servant of the Lord who admits, and expresses, their lamentations. Every believer is a sinner and will experience some form of exile—the disposal from the felt Presence of the Lord. True aloneness on a scale that’s hellish.


But faithfulness is enjoined with patient trust, no matter how stark the exile seems. Faithfulness, thereabouts, gets us through... eventually.


Then we may truly attest to verses 57-58, above.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The ‘Infilling’ Gift of the Holy Spirit


“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.” ~Acts 2:38 (NRSV).


The topography of my spirit is the same as yours,


Hypocrisy and recrimination are intruders of daily intent,


The kind that – really – my spirit abhors,


The kind that only the Holy Spirit can fragment.


Hypocrisy: yes, the sin of the flesh,


Recrimination: when Satan talks to me,


Holy Spirit, help me rise – only You can refresh,


Silence the voice – so it’s only with You I agree.


***


The gift of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those continually turning back to God. We’re filled to the level at which we want. God imposes no limit.


Salvation is not a one-time thing so far as salvation living is concerned.


We must continue to draw near to God so God will draw near to us (James 4:8).


God asks today: “Do you really want the infilling of my Holy Spirit? It is my daily gift for those seeking me.”


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living the Spirit’s Power


“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you... the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” ~Isaiah 60:1, 2b (NRSV).


Neither by days nor hours,


Is our existence to be counted;


Better by the scent of the flowers,


Upon which our senses have recounted.


Neither by possessions nor toys,


Is our happiness to be secured;


Better by the significance of the joys,


That our lives have procured.


Neither by plans nor dreams,


Is our hope to be fastened;


Better by what the Spirit deems,


Than by what the enemy’s darkened.


Neither by envy nor boasting,


Are our achievements to be mounted;


Better by obedience to the Lord’s posting,


By which our lives will be accounted.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

God’s Creative Purpose



“The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind. In the latter days you will understand it clearly.” ~Jeremiah 23:20 (NRSV).


God’s creative purpose:


Dynamic expression of love,


Active in grace to redeem,


Eternal in peace from above.


God’s creative purpose:


Making wisdom known,


Truth from above the witness,


The Saviour, his Son, has shown.


God’s creative purpose:


The pursuit of interminable justice,


Arriving in an age to come,


Finally an end to darkness.


God’s creative purpose:


Reconciling a people in grace,


Love and wisdom and justice,


Worship is the final embrace.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Tree of Life



“He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” ~Genesis 3:24 (NRSV).


Hid from view; a solemn night,


The morn taken from evil intending,


Goodness, eternal, takes holy flight,


The Tree of Life unending.


Holy tree of God’s true light,


Given with tremulous accord,


Innocence is our only delight,


Obedience to the Lord.


The morn, dazzling in its God-light, is revealed only to those humbly obedient, innocent ones—innocent only by the works of their Saviour. All others: a solemn night. To them, the morn is hid; and so, the Tree of Life.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Acts – Salvation in One Name



“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” ~Acts 4:12 (NRSV).


The boldness of Peter and John before the Council at Jerusalem is quite astounding. Only would men filled with the Holy Spirit attempt such a thing as to go before a preeminent cast of pious rulers, elders and scribes to plead the case for Christ—a ‘heretical treason’ for the Jews.


It is clear that Peter and John had arrived before the Council because of the ruckus they had caused a day earlier—God used their arrest so as to put them before men of religious stature.


Evangelistic Preaching – Theme of Acts


There is hardly a clearer theme regarding the speeches of Acts than their evangelistic setting. Christ is preached, and shown, as Saviour and King—no less, Son of God with the Father (Acts 9:20; 13:33).


We could readily strip the whole Bible away, leaving Acts to stand by itself, and we would have an effective witness to the Christ story. Even Paul’s conversion alone is tantamount to the effectiveness of the Spirit’s compelling intervention to turn a self-righteous sinner into a humble saint!


Acts is a gospel account of itself; the presentation of a sound evangelistic theology, explained persuasively and constantly by the Spirit-indwelled, ‘signs and wonders’ wielding apostles.


One Name – Jesus


It goes against grain to a world seeking religious harmony—even to placation of all dissidents—that one name would be above all others. But this is the essential Christian message.


One God, one Saviour; one Lord, Priest/Sanctifier, Healer and (Coming) King.


The license of the devil is in confusion and dilution. Whom do we believe; the God of the Bible or what feels or seems nice in our own understanding of things?


Acts has a solid purpose in our theology. Whenever we feel on shaky ground, faith-wise, we ought to plunge into the story and imagery of First Century Acts.


We can be assured; Jesus is the be-all and end-all in spiritual terms. No other name, rhyme or reason is to claim our worship.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Just one man was all it took, to change the world — its pride he shook.


Only one man besides heaven’s wrath, called to end an eternal trough.


Just one man did the Father send; the will of humankind, Lord’s desire to bend.


Only one man was all it took, for humankind to understand God’s love book.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Just one man was required on that tree; what God conspired Satan did but agree.


Only one man bore the pain of the cross, Righteousness dealt eternally with our dross.


Just one man, God incarnate, drives a wedge amid the enemy’s mandate.


Only one man upset the curse, eternity righted, no need for heaven’s hearse.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Just one man bruised for me and you, this was done, all too true.


Only one man receives such worth; that man — Jesus — divine at birth.


Just one man in whom to trust, given states of faithfulness it’s a faith-held must.


Only one man did the Father use, to spell Satan’s death knell, despatching his ruse.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Just one man, ideal for all humankind, the hopes upon whom, are all defined.


Only one man beheld to know, the one we now set our hearts upon to grow.


Just one man heals our disease; earth’s sudden jolt is abounding heaven’s ease.


Only one man, Lord and King, humanity’s springboard, divine we cling.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Good is God?



“With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” ~Ephesians 1:8b-9a (NRSV).


There are very many reasons why we should feel good about life. But none of these has anything to do with the most important issue we should be thankful for—the insight of the Lord’s will; and better to do it.


That we’ve been granted the lives we have, through little self-selection of our own, is a sheer mystery. For instance—good, bad or indifferent—why did we end up with the parents we got?


The mystery of God’s will, revealed to us, is the fact that we can enjoy the full knowledge of faith, hope and love, as these combine, to enable us to live a good life.


Despite the pains of the past, we can go on with God to this full revelation: God is a wholly good. That we are made friends of God—through the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth—and our acceptance of the Lord’s substitution for our sins—is astounding.


This fact, alone, puts each of our pasts into true perspective. Nothing can defeat us; not now.


Truly, how good is God?


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Proverbs 21 – Take Care to Live Diligently


“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.” ~Proverbs 21:5 (NRSV)


When we think about life we can see we get plenty of warnings, regarding the ways to live life and ways not to. This chapter of Proverbs merely acts, then, like all the chapters of Proverbs, as a ‘gate’ to these ways; the ways to sound living via the Wisdom way.


Doing What Pleases God


One of the essential things to know, and correspondingly do, is aligning life to what pleases God. Verses 2-3 and verse 27 major on this concept. Whilst we often think our way is pure, it’s God who truly weighs our hidden, underlying motives. The Lord’s will, then, is that we’re honest with ourselves, acknowledging when our motives are founded from our brokenness.


To do what is right and just is on a different realm of pleasing God, more than merely sacrifice. The wrongly motivated sacrifice—as if we could fool God anyway—is detestable to the Lord, for we aren’t respecting God when we forget how he wishes us to answer.


How despicable is it to bring an ‘empty’ sacrifice to God that comes with the intent of shortcutting the very morality of God? How ridiculous a thought it is, we’re all quite apt at doing it in our brokenness. What good is sacrifice for selfish gain? That, of itself, is no sacrifice at all.


Shortcuts are the Long Way Around


We all suspect that with shortcuts comes re-work. Do something poorly and we have to return and do it all over—that’s three trips instead of one, which is not efficient, and there’s also the reputational costs we must bear for our unreliability.


What’s profiled in the shortcut is folly through a lack of careful diligence. Verse 5 (and to a lesser extent the bracket of verses 4-8) speaks of haste being an enemy of the truly diligent person. It just so happens that a key nuance of diligence is the part-virtue of prudence, or due care.


The carefully diligent person is mindful of preparing stocks for coming months and does not devour irresponsibly all he or she has (verse 20). The carefully diligent also know they need to work to end well, to give as much as they get, and issue control over their desirous craving (verses 25-26). The carefully diligent person is rarely rash with their words, for they know the devastating power of the tongue (verse 23; cf. see James 3:1-12).


The Lord Loves Justice


At least three proverbs (verses 12-13, 15) major on justice. God cannot abide in injustice, not ultimately. It’s not our human way to let injustice continue unabated, but it’s worse still for injustice to be believed; we need to be diligently prudent about what testimony we believe (verse 28).


God’s justice may not always be swift, but when it comes it is final.


The Lord Wins - Why Try Putting Things ‘Over’ God?


We all try this and we all fail, again and again. Wisdom is applying the theory that God knows everything and that we might as well give up all hope of ever getting the better of him. Verse 1 and verses 30-31 bookend the chapter providing a handy inclusio for those other proverbs that centre on right and wrongly-motivated sacrifice.


Why would we bother ‘submitting’ inappropriate sacrifices to God? It’s rather like knowing we’ve done a poor job at something at work and knowing it will catch up with us later, with vast reputational damage. No one with ‘good sense’ would do it, and, still, we’re often caught out doing the same thing as far as God’s concerned. We’re therefore apt at acting like God doesn’t exist. This is general human nature.


Hope for Those Pursuing “Life”


Verse 21 takes us all the way back to Proverbs 3:13-18—to the allusions of the Tree of Life, and what Wisdom holds in both her hands. How could we possibly find anything more alluring than “life, prosperity and honor”? (NIV)


And these three for the modest sum of righteousness and love.


© 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.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Do We Really Possess?


“... you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” ~Genesis 3:19c (NRSV).


A car, a house, a boat, a caravan; a mother, a father; sons, daughters; our health—what do we really possess?


All of these can be taken. Look at Job.


All we have is this miraculous, though degrading, body of ours—a ‘tent’ housing the spirit (2 Corinthians 5:1).


Yes, our spirits are, however, eternal.


Can we agree in saying:


I have nothing, and I am nothing, but spirit.


As God is Spirit, so really are we, spirit.


‘Possess’ nothing and nothing can keep us from God.


Our bodies simply enable our spirits to experience this worldly existence.


Purify the spirit by true and functional belief in Jesus, and what this Lord teaches, and when our bodies are gone our spirits will live on in an eternal heaven.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Life and Belief in the Spirit



As Jesus lovingly rebuked the disciples, he said,


“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”


~John 6:63 (NRSV).


How is it that people who don’t believe in Jesus can’t see the vast polar differences in life—the life-breeding life and the death-impelled life?


The evidences of both good and evil are plain to millions and not so for millions more, or perhaps good and evil is plain to everyone with good conscience, yet only certain hearts are open to God.


Jesus’ Conundrum


One of my favourite clichés is, “You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” And this seems to be Jesus’ eternal conundrum in getting people over the line, to life-giving faith—though he accepts the Father must ‘will’ every single one to believe upon his name (verse 65).


Every pastor knows it; so too, everyone with an evangelistic heart. So many words are lost on deaf ears. (Mind you, there are deaf ears inside the church as much as outside it.)


It must’ve been heartrending for Jesus that many of his “disciples” turned away from him, choosing the way of the flesh in presentation of the Spirit (John 6:66). He was not torn for personal hurt but for the folly of their attitudes—the easy hard way of their choice, to go down intentionally to Sheol.


Dealing with a Dualist World


Not only are we festooned with the dualist world—good and evil everywhere—we too have this deep in our hearts; the capacity for both.


We’re many times warring with our flesh. The Spirit’s our only chance for revival.


Only through a deep reliance on God can we extract more from ourselves in the Spirit and obliterate the flesh in our day-to-day. This is an intentional movement toward God every moment, not just every fresh morning.


As we awaken our moments, alive in the Spirit, we’re blessed to know the truth and abide by it—both of which are healthily co-dependent on one another.


We cannot know the truth without continually doing it, living it.


The Spiritual Reality


There is an outcome where we can almost strangle this stranglehold of the flesh, not that we won’t sin.


But the desires can be relegated, conformed and denied—but only when the Spirit has seen the abject surrender of the vessel; when the spirit within has finally given up hope of getting it right on its own (because it can’t; not sustainably or ultimately).


Life in the Spirit is belief upon Jesus—the surrender of the flesh-will for the Saviour’s will. That is belief; faith in God.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.