Monday, December 31, 2012

Peace, Hope and a Good Future

“I know the plans that I have you,” declares the Lord. “They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.”
— Jeremiah 29:11 (GW)
Plans are a thing we are constantly engaging in. No matter how disorganised our lives are we are found scheming about the next minute, hour, or day. And how much do we skip ahead of the day, planning either diligently or anxiously? We hardly need to mention how we plan in reverse; that is, the review of our plans and our thoughts as to whether they worked out or not.
We spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and the past. Not all of this is worthy of our time. But, by instinct it seems, we get concerned by what has been or what could be.
In our planning we always seek something better, particularly when hard times have struck. We never can tell when a harder time might strike, but it does us more good to think in ways where we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to deliver us up on good plans.
It is best, always, to believe God’s plan to prosper us and not harm us; to give us a hope and a future.
But with this belief—and it is a biblical belief—the belief of a Christ-believer—we must add a very important component. Indeed, this component is a necessity.
In alignment with other like-Scriptures (I’m thinking about Psalm 37:4 and Matthew 6:33), Jeremiah 29:11, in context with what follows in verses 12-14, is heavily reliant on putting our faith in God first—seeking the Lord with all our hearts.
Seek the LORD
Sometimes we use Jeremiah 29:11 out of place.
We consider it an unconditional promise to anybody who even tacitly believes in God. Well, even demons believe in God, as James tells us (2:19). Our ‘belief’ must be more than what we say.
Our faith must be set apart by our obedience.
Faith without obedience is not faith. Faith without obedience is just disobedience. But a proper faith, based in the portents of truth and love and myriad virtue, to trust in God beyond sight, to live by faith, is manifest by continually seeking the Lord.
When we seek the Lord with all our hearts, God will be found by us. That is the promise of Jeremiah 29:13. Of course, as soon as we note the faithfulness of God we do tend to seek him with all our hearts. Faithfulness usually presents as a miracle, and miracles always encourage the faithful to look to God.
It is good for us to align God’s promise to give us a hope and a future with our faithfulness to seek him. We should not expect God to be faithful to us when we are not faithful initially or by response.
We should not doubt that God has a good plan for our lives; for peace, a hope, and a prosperous future. Let us honour the Lord by seeking Jesus with all our hearts.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Believer’s Response To Bad News

Recalling Joseph of Genesis, and the fact he was wrought many a cruel blow, yet he suffered such indignities stoically, we are reminded of the believer’s response to bad news.
Of course, there are three archetypal responses to bad news; two are negative and damaging if they aren’t arrested, with only one a satisfactory response—the positive one—even out the grip of pain.
Let’s cover these in reverse order—the negative ones first.
1. Bad News Is Taken As a Crushing Blow
Perhaps we might see this response as the submissive one.
We’ve all felt like reacting this way: the unexpected bad news deals us an unchallengeable body blow and we are reeling. The terms which have been dealt cannot be handled right now, if ever.
This is a sinkhole response; with time things don’t get better, they get worse. Such bad news has been the catalyst toward sending us into a self-absorbing bout of anxiety-riddled depression.
2. Bad News Generates Anger and Blame
If the above is seen as the submissive response, this one is the aggressive response—we should know that only assertive responses are ultimately desirable.
Yet, to the reception of bad news comes instinctive anger. What was never expected has now come to pass, and the only way to respond right now is in a fit of rage, whether expressed or not, because from within there is unremitting panic. Fear swarms and the way we battle is to fight.
Like the above reaction, however, this too is a sinkhole response; unless we get over our anger and travel on to the third response (below) the anger will see us bitter and never better for the experience because, quite frankly, we cannot bear the truth right now.
Only when we can bear the truth can we entertain the third option of response.
Before going on to the third response, however, it is important to note that initial reactions in the vein of the first and second responses are completely normal and forgivable; but, we need to turn these responses over to the response below to win our day.
3. Bad News Invites The Question – “Okay, What Now?”
This is the Joseph response.
Whether he was cast into a pit, or rejected by his brothers, or convicted innocently and thrown into jail, or for any other reason, we suspect Joseph had basically the same response each time: “Okay, (Lord) what now?”
This is the healthiest of the three responses because neither is the bad news ultimately a crushing blow nor something to derail life at the quest of blame. No, bad news is simply the revelation that there is a longer, more arduous, way than expected to the goal of finishing the race of life well. This is no doubt disappointing, even heartbreaking in some situations, but the believer in such cases takes a situation like this, affording some despondency and irrationality, and they react with eventual resilience. It proves inspiring.
Despite what they might feel they will act in faith and continue along the path that has been started, not giving up. Very soon they find the temptation to give up was the false veneer of hopelessness in plain view from any bad event.
Only after such an act of faith can this lie be seen for what it is.
The believer keeps going despite their disappointment.
It bears repeating: the believer keeps going despite their disappointment.
They know with gritted teeth and a smile all the crushed expectations in the world mean little if they have the true grit to continue on. They keep their goal firmly in sight and they eventually achieve it, which makes life only more satisfying.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Measures of God’s Faithfulness

“‘Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!’
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
‘Great is Thy faithfulness,’ Lord unto me!”
— Thomas O. Chisholm (1866–1960)
Out of the shadowy chasm of the exile—the people of God rushed out of their homeland and into secular and wicked Babylon—comes the book of Lamentations, which we presume Jeremiah wrote. The Scripture in this Old Testament book of seven Hebraic acrostics (hinged by three in chapter 3) takes us to a dearth of human experience. Can we imagine the sorrow in the people of God for the thought that Zion had been annihilated?—that the Lord was ‘no more’. We would struggle in our culture to understand the magnitude and depths of loss that that community had suffered.
Out of this grim backdrop comes an ode to God—verse 3:23 of Lamentations—for remembrances of God’s consummate faithfulness to carry the people of God through many bitter torments.
The Measures of God’s Faithfulness
We know that God’s faithfulness is great—so great we cannot measure it. That is, God’s general faithfulness through the provision and sustenance of creation.
But then God’s faithfulness gets personal.
We live and breathe because of God. In creation we have our reasons for existence—some of which are determined through science and others of which are still a mystery to humankind. This is a measure of God’s greatness.
Notwithstanding how difficult our lives often are, there are still many varieties of compassion that God has blessed us with. The nature of God, and the many blessings of God, all attest to the fact that these compassions fail not. God never changes; in the Lord is the nature of faithfulness. This is a measure of God’s greatness.
Despite the changing seasons, God never changes. The system of the cosmos runs like clockwork, seemingly so well-designed it requires no divine maintenance, yet its complexity is mind blowing.
And when all measures of God’s faithfulness are drawn together, the top of the crop is this “pardon for sin” which profits us to a peace that endures. This peace is strength for today; a bright hope for tomorrow.
The measures of God’s faithfulness are incomprehensible and awesome. When we consider such things as God’s faithfulness from creation to our interpersonal and personal lives, we gain even more of a grasp on how little we can grasp.
Possession of divine knowledge is a worthy acquisition. The beginning of this knowledge is the consummate faithfulness of the Lord throughout eternity. And to think that God would lower himself to become one of us, to save us through his death no less, and bring us new life through his resurrection, is the principal faithfulness.
Truly, great is God’s faithfulness—a measure beyond measure.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Prayer In The Moment’s Need

Prayer may be thought of as a Plea Requesting Assistance; a Yearning for Encouragement and Respite. The moment of prayer is a sacred one; a moment between one human being and their God.
And this is to be remembered, each time, for all time: whenever there is need, there is need of prayer. What could reach out for the moment better than a word of pleading toward one’s Creator?
No, nothing is more appropriate.
P.R.A.Y.E.R. Meets The Needs Of The Moment
There are needs all about, whether we consider the definitiveness of our personal lives, or the incomprehensible size of global need; this thing of need is so massive, to sincerely consider it possibly wears us down.
But the moment of prayer avails for us, peace; not despair.
As we pause, even in the midst of resolute action, the mind resolving to be with its God, we attain a destined oneness that possibly sees the incongruence of reality as it is; however unacceptable that might be.
As we grapple with the moment, a convolution of emotion spilling over from within, prayer steadies us. It affords the instant of escape, even by the cause of an irrepressible reality that imposes itself upon us. It is a moment of survival that can be joined, each moment at a time with each other, to produce a season for survival.
Prayer meets the needs of the moment, without explanation, and where there is no reason there is also no complaint, just praise, for that sense of peace redeemed.
P.R.A.Y.E.R. Is A Worthy Acronym
Again, we might favourably consider prayer as a Plea Requesting Assistance; a Yearning for Encouragement and Respite.
Such an acronym, compartmentalised into the psyche for the moment’s need, can be a great blessing; to think that God, by divine wisdom, has designed such a tool for progression through trial is a true marvel. Again, we know we are not left alone in difficulties, distress, or despairing—even from a waking moment! God is with us as we pray.
Prayer may be many more things than a Plea Requesting Assistance; a Yearning for Encouragement and Respite, but contained within the moment’s need little truly matters more than divine provision of a safe house in the cold of night.
In that moment of need, let us prove worthy of this sensibility: make the Plea Requesting Assistance; a Yearning for Encouragement and Respite, for the Lord will help.
Know that God has proven once, if not infinite times, worthy of the plea made requesting assistance beyond personal capability; that yearning for encouragement and respite beyond personal grasp without such prayer.
Prayer is the help we all desire.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Postscript: this is a partner article to the biblically-based, Every Temptation, Need to Pray

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Confession, Forgiveness and Healing

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
— James 5:16 (NRSV)
There we are, called to stand,
With one’s forgiveness now at hand,
All’s required is our honest confession,
Then healing is ours; that’s the lesson.
Whilst it looks like James may have been linking the presence of sickness with the predisposition of sin, per the rabbinic tradition (when sick: pray for the forgiveness of sins to then expect healing), I am preferring, in this article, the Western approach to this verse. There is great power in confession before friends, for where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there the Lord is with us also.
Rather than taking the physical approach, per the rabbinic tradition (above), I am preferring, in this article, the spiritual approach, where our sicknesses are sicknesses of the soul. This is where confession of our sins will alleviate the direct burden on our minds and hearts. When we confess our sins, and are neither judged nor condemned, but are understood, God’s path for healing is opened up.
Confession before a small group of trusted, wise friends in the Lord is powerful for healing, and mighty for the saving.
The Manifestation of God’s Forgiveness In Fellowship
Where we trust a small group fellowship of up to 4-8 well-respected individuals in the faith, we are blessed by God’s forgiveness through them. We may not, up until that point, have experienced God’s forgiveness. But God will confirm his light touch of favour on us through the honest and bold confession of our sins before those we can trust.
The emphasis is on their character of trustworthiness and exemplification of grace.
If they are people of God who hear our confessions they will not judge or condemn, but they will give quiet affirming voice, upon hearing remorse and a desire to repent, to us as we are spiritually afflicted in guilt and shame. Encouragement will replace discouragement.
Confession ought not to occur without due consequences for our sin, but we should experience freedom from guilt and shame, whilst facing our consequences with diligence.
When we have been courageous enough to be honest, having confessed our sin, we receive God’s grace through those who listen, and through communal prayers for forgiveness to the Spirit of God as we pray for each other, presuming others have also confessed their sin.
In our confessions and prayers our hearts are healed of the ongoing spiritual burden of our sins. Such prayerful honesty doesn’t alleviate the consequences, but it does alleviate the burden of guilt and shame.
We are strengthened when we share our burdens, because we understand, so far as sin is concerned, there’s nothing new under the sun.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A 6-Point Program for Repentance

Recognise the lack and need of God’s power.
Earnestly seek God, surrendering up the self-will.
Promise to journey with God, one day at a time.
Engineer and execute a Holy Spirit-informed plan.
Negotiate the moments.
Thank God continually, through grateful utterances of action.
We all need repentance as the way of improving our spiritual prospects in life. Such a thing was designed by God to reconnect us with the transforming power for life through his Spirit. Without this power, and we all know this weakness, we have no hope of spiritual contentment.
The above six-point plan is an acrostic that can help us remember the steps we might take in tackling our sin through the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
1. Recognise the Lack and Need of God’s Power
Whenever we run our own show, we have left the real power for living far behind. We thought, again, we could do this on our own. And it seemed to work for a time. Then we found we were mistaken.
But the repentance sequence is initiated when we have the volition to recognise our lack and need of God’s power. This power is given to us upon our surrender.
2. Earnestly Seek God, Surrendering Up Our Self-Will
Having recognised we cannot achieve this transformation on our own, we come to a critical step. We cannot go any further with God unless we surrender up our self-will. This is non-negotiable. We can’t have it both ways. As soon as we have earnestly sought God by surrendering up our self-will we are brought to the point of promising that we will faithfully journey with God as best as truly we can.
3. Promise to Journey with God, One Day at a Time
The majestic thing about ‘one day at a time’ is it works.
It has worked for millions upon millions, and continues to work today. Breaking our lives down into manageable one-day or part-day compartments we focus our spiritual energy on obeying God in the problem area. Praying to God, one day at a time, means that we are thankful at the end of each day for the faithfulness of God to give us the power to truly repent. One day is not too long to obey for.
4. Engineer and Execute a Holy Spirit-Informed Plan
Having made our humble recognition and having earnestly sought God and committed ourselves to a promise before God, the Holy Spirit will now give us, upon holy revelation, a plan for this process of repentance. In truth, the plan is a metamorphosis; it continues to change in accordance with our growth and changing needs over the months and years.
It is for us to listen to the Holy Spirit, take down the plan diligently, and then execute it as required.
5. Negotiate the Moments
This may be the hardest of all steps. This is when our resolve is tested, and our patience, and indeed our memory for the problems of old. We must pray to God for the strength and wisdom to get through each of our troubling moments.
Again, we can get through anything one moment at a time.
6. Thank God Continually, Through Grateful Utterances of Action
The biggest and best protection we have to firmly establish this plan of repentance is through thankfulness and gratitude, and these are augmented never better than by action.
We must ensure that our thankfulness and gratitude reaches the halcyon heights of love through action.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

God’s Keenest Desire

“What is ‘holy zeal’? Pure and simple, it is the heart of God beating in the heart of His people. It is a hunger for the glory of God to pour into a church and overflow into the community. It is a longing for more than a church ‘circling the wagons’ so the world won’t get in... Holy zeal is a passionate commitment to count the cost, be willing to sacrifice, and follow Jesus into His ministry of making disciples of all nations.”
— Kevin G. Harney
God’s keenest desire is that our hearts would burn with holy zeal. Having defined what one author calls it, we can see that holy zeal is something quite other-than what many Christians’ experience of church.
Church might be a radical crusade of love or nothing in this light.
An indication of typical church experience—but not a universal portrayal of evangelicals—is inward focus. Not that an inward focus is bad in itself; the people of God need to be loved and journeyed with. But it is death to the church, and a befuddling of Christ’s Great Commission, to ignore the imperative of making disciples, for many would-be disciples are ripe for the kingdom simply by their circumstances of oppression, loneliness, and hunger for meaning.
Now, the very core of this holy zeal that is bent toward evangelism—the seeking of hearts for God, and the bridging of hearts for healing, in Christ’s name—is a holy zeal for God within the individual heart of a believer. They are a disciple, first and foremost.
Perhaps the surest indicator of someone who has lost (or never had) this holy zeal is their indifferent criticism, or worse, ridicule, of that one who loves God so much they invest all their emotion toward that end. Christian spirituality is not just an intellectual exercise; it involves the totality of our beings in surrender before a holy God who will use us if only we will allow. Surrender to the Holy Spirit will cause us to consider, and be open to, unconventional thoughts toward radical actions of love in the aim of pleasing God.
Holy Zeal Is the Key to Growth in God
How are we to grow and broaden the name of Christ in our community if we do not have holy zeal? There is nothing attractive in God to non-believers unless they see the fire of God, which is love and humility and justice and mercy, in us.
Non-believers will see nothing attractive in the church unless they see growth; unless they witness miracles of transformation in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.
Why else would they need God or the church, if not to make their lives better?
Holy zeal is the key to growth in God, but just the opposite is true. As we grow and are transformed by God we exhibit this holy zeal; it is a sure and certain by-product.
Perhaps this is why people with holy zeal are often criticised by ‘more mature’ believers—here there may be the unconscious note of envy evident. Holy zeal should never be criticised. Holy zeal is confirmation of the Spirit’s sanctifying work in the believer. It is unfettered joy that ignites this holy zeal. We ought to be very careful how we handle God’s joy in a believer; it should never be quenched by human intervention.
Someone may have 40 years in ministry to speak of, with degrees and letters as long an arm, complete with great accomplishments of yesteryear, but if they have no holy zeal they are useless for the Kingdom; indeed, they are a blight on God’s glory. They ought to make way for someone with enthusiasm and passion for God, or repent before God in earnestly seeking a spiritual transformation.
The person, that lives and breathes to grow in God, to convene with God, to please God, with such zeal they may be criticised for it, is the person after God’s heart; a person God will use greatly in the redeeming of those lives who don’t know him yet.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas – God’s Faithful Act

Convening eternally before creation’s act,
God knew us, in that, for what we lacked,
Sovereign Triune God did decree,
Salvation’s plan for what it was to be!
Before, in fact, even time began,
This God of all knew the risks they ran,
Knew beforehand that Christ was needed,
Because obedience to God would go unheeded.
Now we come, this very day,
To put away stresses—them we lay,
Acknowledging the gift of the Godhead’s pact,
That beautiful, most divine; God’s faithful act.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Calling To Jesus, Who Comes Near!

“[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)
The Glory of the Lord came near in the person of Jesus Christ—God incarnate (God-in-skin)—to live as we live, to suffer as we suffer (and then some!), and to die as we die. But such a death not many of us are called to suffer; indeed, any?
Jesus came near two centuries ago, and Jesus comes near, today, this present moment, in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the living Word. And what does this matter?
It matters because we matter to Jesus.
So What If Jesus Comes Near?
It’s a logical question of the unbeliever: “So what?”
Well, we know it matters when we need to know it matters. Until then, until God can reach us in our hearts, this fact of Jesus coming near doesn’t seem to matter. But, of course, as soon as the matters, it matters!
So many of us have run our own race, not needing God, or at least we thought that. We reckoned upon life that was ‘blessed enough’ because we could make your own choices—and didn’t need God, or it least we thought that at the time.
But then the circumstances of our lives changed.
God, in a manner of circumstance and in the changing of times, came into our lives. We may have seen this as an intrusion, but such a necessary intrusion. We truly needed God. When we finally realised that Jesus had come near, then, and only then, were we ready to receive him.
When I Called on You, Jesus, You Came Near and You Continue to Do so
This is the truth of the Christian faith—a relational faith born of a God who reaches down to receive us as we receive him. Not a moment too early does Jesus come near, though as we look into our unbelieving pasts we see him there, waiting patiently for our hearts to turn.
The important issue is when we called on Jesus, he came near to us.
Jesus comes near, today.
The key question is, in our moment of need, can we come near to God by calling on our Lord? For, the Lord will take up our cause and redeem our lives; giving us a hope and a future, and revelation of a good plan we can believe in.
Jesus matters because we matter to Jesus. This incarnate Lord of lords and King of kings came near, and he comes near, today, this very moment, eternally. He comes near to each of us in our need. We matter, so God comes near, so we need not fear.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.