Thursday, May 31, 2012

Psalm 118 – Each Day is the LORD’S

“This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
~Psalm 118:24 (NRSV)
In a life of oft-struggle to make effective headway, and despite the blinding rays and beating waves of tumult and indifference, God has provided us with encouragement when hope fades.
Psalm 118 is such a bright word brimming with confidence-building truth, but it is not without its testimony of distress. It commends to all who would read it: “This is the day that the Lord has made—let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
We have nothing else, ultimately, than the day... the present moment.
When insurmountable challenges, and the weight of life itself, threaten to condemn our spirits to the abyss, we may have gotten ahead of ourselves. We only have the present challenge—and that is easily turned to opportunity when there is no fear for failure.
Why would we fear the world or humanity when, in the rationality of God’s truth as revealed by his Word, we are only to be rightly fearful of God?
Refocusing On The Right Outlook
It is easy to be confused and overwhelmed in life, and if we don’t have enemies in person it can seem circumstances or our environments conspire against us—even intermittently. We call it bad luck or misfortune.
The psalmist, of course, identifies, and we can with him—God’s Word attests to the difficulties; to the enemies of environment and circumstance. The Bible brims with emotional responses of real people throughout.
But the psalmist has learned something about life that compels attention. He has discovered that everything shifts on the outlook; he has discerned the right outlook for true success.
Take Refuge In The LORD
This psalm’s structure plays like a motion picture that features the flowing confidence of celebration (verses 1-4), before stepping back in time when life ebbed in distress, and faith was ordered to rely on the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6) and, so, not fail for the horridness of human counsel not disposed to Divine wisdom (verses 5-18).
Such wisdom got the psalmist through the middle, intervening years. The fact they were “encompassed” (verses 11-12) by evil compounded their need of faith all the more. And on the day of recognition that faith redeems the day, that day is sanctified to freedom for the psalmist, in the Lord.
Making Today The Lord’s Day
Even though today, and all days, are eternally God’s, they can only be the Lord’s Day for us if we choose for the freedom that the Lord’s Day provides.
When we, by choice, make today the Lord’s Day—by aligning to that Divine truth—we agree we want, and will take and enjoy, the best and godliest of outlooks, because we know who sponsors our efforts. We know we are blessed.
When we agree today, and every day, is the Lord’s Day we live with the best of hope for freedom. Joy is ours at faith to take God’s counsel over humanity’s. Our confidence is founded in the truth of God’s steadfast love.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Beyond All Shame

Beyond all shame—the grace of God,
Beyond all shame—is Divinity’s Nod,
Beyond all shame—is the sweetest peace,
Beyond all shame—is comprehensive release.
No matter what people think of God, whether they believe or not, there is the irrefutable fact that there is no shame beyond the reach of God’s grace. Because of what the Saviour, Jesus, has done, no sin known to humankind puts humanity out of the scope of redemption.
Nothing we have done, or do, or will do puts us beyond hope. In God’s eyes we are never hopeless. This is one thing we ought to never forget: shame is just as easily converted into godly grief.
Godly grief, as the apostle Paul put it, sets our shame apart from hopelessness and reconciles it back to God via plain repentance.
The Induction Of Godly Grief
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief brings death.”
~2 Corinthians 7:10 (NRSV)
Repentance is the vehicle that takes us from utter personal contempt, even to that which we transfer onto others in anger, or that which has us cowering, and projects us into the geography of grace. What that means in plain terms is peace becomes us, purely because we were authentic, before God and before humanity.
The induction of godly grief is the moral portion of honesty, targeted personally, that honours the truth and finds its way back into the realm of life.
Godly grief is the despicable moment pushing us toward repentance. It compels us to face our denial. It makes us face up to what is, essentially, our fault. There is no shame in being at fault, and as soon as we admit our fault, which was engineered by godly grief, we begin to experience the peace of grace meandering through our spirits.
The Experience Of Salvation
Out of definitive scope, presently, is the fact of salvation, though it equally applies. In scope is the experience of salvation: to experience the forgiveness of God that comes in a felt peace. When God forgives us, no peace compares.
The fact of salvation is that it occurs once: saved once, saved for all time. The experience of salvation, however, is more about feeling saved.
What is needed more and more in life, by all of us, is the experience of salvation—to know God can and does forgive every mortal sin.
There is no shame beyond grace. Grace covers all human lack—if we will let it.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cultivating Fruit of the Spirit

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control... If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
~Galatians 5:22, 23a, 25 (NRSV)
There is one summarising protection against the corruption of the flesh: the power of the Spirit. There is but one way of cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: we must be guided by the Spirit.
Guided In Love
The love of God is our guide and it must be our superintendent. Obeying the command to love means we voluntarily submit in the practical nuances of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
Guided For Joy
Living joyfully is not living a fake happy life when we are unhappy. Joy is founded in the hope of salvation. Like peace, spiritual joy is often a little beyond comprehension. We are to surrender to joy; to be available to experience joy at any time of God’s choosing.
Guided By Peace
Peace is our hope for the new life, one unconstrained by every barrier set up by the world, the flesh, and the evil one. To be guided by peace is, again, about surrender. Peace must be bigger than us, personally. When we are smaller than peace, peace can have its way.
Guided To Enjoy Kindness
Being kind is one thing, which is not altogether too difficult if we are guided by love. But to enjoy kindness is another thing separately. We know we are truly cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit when our guidance helps us enjoy the experience. To enjoy the giving and receipt of kindness is an experience of heaven on earth.
Guided To Be Generous
Carrying on from kindness, our guidance to be generous is action-oriented. That is when we know our guidance is true: that our acts are generous. And generosity is such a wonderful testimony of the simplicity in love.
Guided By Faithfulness
Is there a better thing to be guided in than faithfulness? Loyalty to God unto the sanctification of holiness, a condition of discipleship, is our aim. When we are thinking of other people just as much as we are thinking of ourselves we are becoming more faithful. How much more can we, consequently, think of God?
Guided To Be Gentle
Those who are gentle on themselves are able to be gentle on others. When we are guided to be gentle, life is harmonious; a sanctuary.
Guided To Exhibit Self-Control
Such a necessary Fruit, nowadays, is the exhibition of self-control. But self-control needs to be nurtured in non-covetous ways. Will we be bonded to anything and be apart from God?
Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit is about being guided in the Spirit. It requires surrender before God and, therefore, life. We grow or recede; only one or the other.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

A Harsh Reality of Wisdom

“For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”
~Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NRSV)
This, on the surface, may appear to be a very depressing subject. We could be forgiven for believing that growing in Wisdom is a futile search retrieving only sorrow.
Of course, the nurture of Wisdom promises much more. But with maturity—another word for wisdom—comes the greater appreciation of the range of common and uncommon experience known to human life. The wiser we get, spiritually speaking, and the more access we have to both our primal and sophisticated feelings, the more we will feel. And that is a dire reality for the uninitiated.
The wise actually make a mission for themselves. Had they known earlier on, perhaps they may not have ventured. Wisdom, like the journey of faith, lures us and only when we have committed does she begin to press in on us. Wisdom, like the journey of faith, appears easy to begin with. Only later does it get hard. That is discipleship.
What we must take on, as this committed journey continues, are the scrapings of moral courage. Only when Wisdom transforms itself in courage can we enter in.
When Wisdom Is Courage To Enter In
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.”
~Jeremiah 8:18 (NRSV)
The Prophet’s sentiment is humanly common. He repents for his people, and perhaps knows more acutely than anyone the national distress we know, historically, that was Judah’s to come.
Jeremiah is the image of depressed wisdom from stark knowledge. More knowledge has not necessarily done him good and attracted him favour, apart from in God’s eyes.
But Wisdom is truth. The longer our journey on the path toward Wisdom, the more truth we will be confronted by. Courage is a necessity of survival.
The Ambit Of Wisdom
The true conquest of Wisdom is harrowing and, indeed, sorrowful. No one genuinely setting out on Wisdom’s path does so, enduring the journey, with blinkers left on.
The ambit of Wisdom is the divinity of humiliation; the equanimity of nothingness; the preparedness to be stripped of all we bring, for God needs nothing that God does not already have.
But just as the acclamation of Wisdom is a sadistically unique conquest, it drives us headlong into life—life as God designed us to live. Wisdom is a divine idea for the actualisation of humanity. But such an actualisation will require more of us than we can yet perceive.
Wisdom is a double-edged sword. It brings us life, but also sorrow. Yet, it’s God will that we work on our learning and grow in Wisdom, abiding in the truth.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Experience of Hope and Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
~Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)
In a world seeking signs,
Evidence of the physical,
Hope forever shines,
In the shape of a miracle.
We, persons of the ordinary human variety, so easily run with the world’s way. It’s our biological and learned tendency. And as we look for evidence of the physical, we tend to leave hope on the shelf. All the potential of hope is useless to us; this because we preferred to pass up on faith.
Yet, we can as easily invest in Divine fortune.
The Interdependence Of Faith And Hope
Faith and hope are products of the same process; they are sibling sisters with the same intent; they are brothers in arms.
They both work in the reverse to logic—the human sense. They are ideas from God. They are gifts of the Divine, engorged with possibility and swelling with all things truly spiritual. As they intertwine in process they add up to the power of love.
The interdependence of faith and hope presents in much the same way as the chicken-and-the-egg situation does.
What comes first? Faith presumably. But an expression of faith is powered by hope, for what sensible action of faith is devoid of hope? But hope, as a state of being, cannot be unless it is expressed: faith is a verb. It must be enacted.
Faith needs hope just as hope needs faith—and the lived life needs them both.
Making The Most Of Faith And Hope
Neither of these is particularly easy. To express our faith, which relies on our hope, both of which are sponsored by God, requires a risk seemingly against ourselves. We see not what we hope for. We are actually acting against the evidence. It seems futile to the external observer, and maybe even to us.
But faith has the patience of hope about it. It wrangles with the sensation of hopelessness and entertains the possibility, many times, that the miracle hoped-for will not come. But it still proceeds, in spite of the minds lies and the weakness of our doubting hearts. It knows that faith in a hope is the only true reward.
Making the most of faith and hope is simply trusting in a good future. There is no simple way to do that except patiently endure.
Faith is the agency toward hope, which is about believing in miracles. And hope isn’t disappointed. Because it doesn’t give up, hope prefers to invest in faith. And hope and faith meander on until the miracle comes, at last, into view.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

LORD, Forgive Me

When Jesus was led off to be crucified, he said:
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
~Luke 23:34 (NRSV)
We will all struggle for forgiveness. Not that God limits our forgiveness, but our guilt and our shame, and our preconceptions of our wrongness, interminably hold us back. We don’t imagine grace being enough. We tend to limit grace.
Then, in the instant of experiencing a fuller measure of this abundantly merciful grace, we at last grasp that there are no conditions to it, other than our full commitment to repent.
But often we will come back to it—this limiting of grace—because we don’t know what we are doing. In moments of being deceived, and all of us are prone, we need to be forgiven for that which we do not, momentarily, know.
The Fullness Of God’s Forgiveness
For those who have been forgiven once by God, that forgiveness applies eternally. There is no limiting of the fullness of God’s forgiveness. And this is fortunate for us, especially for those times when we are out of our Christian minds. Many are those.
But the facts of forgiveness and the experience of forgiveness are two separate things.
Despite our doubting and comprehensibility of the facts of our forgiveness, we also need to feel forgiven. Our experience must match the fact. This is one of the reasons why prayer is so effective. By prayer we can rest in the knowledge that the fact is the fact.
We can pray, “Lord, forgive me,” any time we wish. Then we experience forgiveness. The fact of forgiveness is reinforced.
And this is merely paying credence to the fact that any sin relating to another human being, or a sin against ourselves for that matter, is a sin against God, primarily. But God’s grace covers all repented-for sin.
Knowing We Have Sinned And Seeking Forgiveness
We rarely intentionally sin without feeling guilty about it. But we often sin unintentionally, and only realise as we later reflect—as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. We still feel guilty, and if we don’t think of forgiveness we may continue to feel guilty.
But when we think of forgiveness we think almost immediately of restitution—of making things right, as much as we can. That’s the point of forgiveness: to compel us to think, feel and then repent.
Knowledge of transgression is a powerful thing. There is the poignancy of shame, but there is, equally, the absolutism of God’s mercy to help us feel and know we are forgiven.
A most important spiritual state is to know what we are doing. Mindfulness is our best weapon against spiritual warfare. Mindfulness can bring us back to understand the abundance in God’s grace; that the experience of forgiveness is just one prayer away.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Sidmak.

Stop Trying, Start Training

“Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
~1 Timothy 4:7b-8 (NRSV)
I recall times, in earlier life, where I would try so hard to be a moral and dignified person. What I ended up doing was projecting a ‘good Christian’ fa├žade—but I was fooling no one, least of all myself. I had nurtured a beautifully productive double life. I had the best of both worlds, apparently. I lived unregenerate six days a week, yet on Sundays, and before ‘good people’, I was a different person. But I wanted to be that person, the latter person, all the time. My problem was, ironically, I was trying too hard.
That was nearly 10 years ago now.
When my world fell apart, and I suddenly needed God more than ever, I began to learn the most basic lesson. It was a lesson I hadn’t exposed myself to in those nearly 13 years since my baptism.
Christian Endeavour Is Not About Trying
We could be forgiven for getting it wrong, and who hasn’t tried this—to try so hard to be the good Christian?
But trying is fatiguing, frustrating, and, ultimately, hypocritical.
Trying comes from the school of external motivation; of wanting to behave in a certain way to fit in; to present a certain image. Yet, what comes from outside rarely feels right from inside. We may know what’s right but we don’t quite get how to institutionalise the approach from within.
Trying, as an example, to lose weight is ultimately futile. More often than not the weight gradually piles back on again, and there are arguments that we may put even more weight on. It would be better to train ourselves into new habits. It would be better to work on a new lifestyle. We might cut out animal fats and sugars and eating after 7 PM and exercise at least three times a week. Over six or twelve months we would lose a better quality of weight.
Similarly, when it comes to our Christian faith, we are far better off training ourselves in micro components of the moral life; to work on our patience in particular situations where our impatience has got us into trouble; to work on thinking more hopefully during tough times; to be more prayerful in simple ways, like setting reminders to get into the habit. Some habits cannot be broken without confession, and a program to assist. Our full commitment is required.
Christian discipleship is best broken down into little digestible components where we can measure our growth.
We achieve much more lasting change when we focus less on trying and begin to focus more on training. Training ourselves in godliness is the key to a better faith life.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jeremiah’s Prayer for Refuge

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved;
for you are my praise.”
~Jeremiah 17:14 (NRSV)
We, like Jeremiah, have all felt persecuted—at the whim of bullying, having been targeted through the derision of a group against us; we, as one person. It felt unfair. It felt even as if we had been abandoned; worst of all it appeared God had abandoned us.
This is the mood of Jeremiah’s prayer. He seeks relief. He implores God for refuge that only the Lord may provide.
Dealing With Attacks And Innuendos
Whether we are attacked or the butt of innuendo, or not, it can often seem like we are at odds with our world. It’s hard enough shutting off the inner dialogue such that we might actually perceive what is going on.
But then there are the real threats that turn us about and hedge us in.
These situations may not be part of our present predicament, but we recognise the threat of subversive protagonists from the past. They made our lives hell. Every conscious moment was absorbed in fear and self-consciousness. It happened a lot in our school environments, perhaps. Even again within our families, maybe.
But then there are those, perhaps us just now, who rally against an element subverting a good cause so a dastardly venture would gain traction. We imagine, just now, like Jeremiah, the struggles we have with the seditious group and its ringleader(s).
But then, again, for most of us these seem like fragmented panic-worthy moments scattered between the good ones.
Taking On The Role Of Advocate
When we are pressed in and about and have nowhere to go, we go to the Advocate, as Jeremiah did, to seek our solace. We go to our Refuge.
But when it is others who are in receipt of subversive treatment we have the role, if we should choose, to become advocates. We bat for their cause in ways not to rescue, but to expose truth. We are fair-minded, and can remain emotionally balanced. Balance is the idea of advocacy. Balance is what is sorely needed within the experience of persecution, as justice is sought and so the truth may prevail.
Life hardly gets worse than when we are caught between typhoons of skulduggery; such bullying leaves us expecting horrid abuse when we least expect it. Every moment is scarred by potential for mayhem. We never need God more than in these situations.
Our pleas for the defence of God never go to waste. When we seek to be healed and saved, we do so by seeking refuge.
As we come before the Advocate, and pray at our time of need, we ought to join our faith to pray with our faith to patiently bear the present situation. God will come. When we seek Divine Refuge, with all our heart, we enjoy Divine Refuge.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pleasing the Relational LORD

“I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.”
~Jeremiah 17:10 (NRSV)
The way of the Lord is relational—there are no ifs or buts about it.
The judgments of God, as they are personally felt, occur through the ministries of the Holy Spirit as they act on our hearts and minds. For a believer to refuse this testing and searching attribute of the Spirit of God is the negation of belief, because belief in the Christian God is reliant upon relationship.
Our relationships with God hinge on our preparedness to receive this testing and searching to the accord of truth—despite our more comfortable stance.
We cannot abide with the living and holy God in wilful flouting of divine introspection. We cannot gain the blessing of God if we are not prepared to do the work required of us of God. We are to submit ourselves to testing and searching by the Holy Spirit. No one can help us here, but ourselves.
By our testing and searching we are hence approved. To the degree that we are approved we are given blessings in apportionment—according to the fruit of our doings.
Real fruit is contingent, wholly and solely, on our submission before God for testing and searching. Our service for God, our ministry, is secondary. We are commended more for our submission before God—in God’s eyes—than we are for the power, effectiveness, and expanse of our ministry.
When The Spirit Speaks – Who Listens?
As the Spirit of God tests our minds and searches our hearts, and we agree by what is communicated to us through our minds and hearts at truth, we receive blessings according to that which we feel are appropriate. These are different blessings to tangible, material blessings.
What must be congruent is the acuity of our momentary rapport with the Spirit. If our honestly-appraised consciences approve us as obedient, including provision for a suitable repentance as it applies, and it generally does, we feel at peace with God.
Feeling at peace with God is the crucial condition of favour; the holy extension of grace as it can be felt in and through us.
When the Spirit speaks, and we may be continually able to listen, we learn by subjugation to God alone. Understanding the perfect will of God is our goal and aim. We will fall short of it, but that isn’t the point. We remain in relationship, and, by that, we may always be redeemed through our repentance.
The Lord tests and searches us, because God is relational. God is far more interested in us relating with him honestly than he is impressed by our works, or our biblical knowledge, or our ministries. There is just one way to life: to live honest and open before God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.