Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Psalm 80 – Save Us, O God

“Restore us, O God,
let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
— Psalm 80:3, 7, 19 (NRSV).  
This Song of Asaph is a heartfelt cry of the community for saving in the midst of dire distress.  The cry has been a persistent one and, in faith, it remains.
We only need think of present-day Israelis or Palestinians and we sense periods of such national stress that evoke a cultural response — one of defence for the respect of one’s basic ethnic rights; to inhabit and control the land of our ancestors.
A Song, Literally
This psalm features a very definite chorus — featured above; verses 3, 7 and 19 — and vineyard imagery, with differing ebbs and flows visible.
It’s a song of high emotion.  Anguish invokes gut-founded hysteria.
Themes of Vine and Vine-Dresser
Israel is portrayed as a vine — one transplanted by the Lord from Egypt.
Using this imagery, verses 8-15 present a compelling recount of Israel’s redemptive history — the Lord as Divine Engineer and Constructor of the Exodus.
Justice Against the Elect
It’s biblically true that God turns against his own when they stray from righteousness.  The Lord’s no favourer of persons when they sin, and Israel had sinned... yet again.
This psalm uses the abovementioned landscaping imagery to describe the plight of then-current-day Israel.
A Promise to Obey – If They’re Saved
The penultimate verses 17-18 feature Israel promising to “not turn away” from God if the Lord would just raise them up or revive them.
This is indicative for the pattern of deliverance for repentance that precedes the Lord’s favour — see Judges 2:11-23 which explains this model.  Salvation, as an experience — actual delivery from misery — comes after genuine repentance.
Lessons for Us
We all tend to be patriotic souls.  We quickly identify with the nationalism in this psalm — a lament of the community.  The World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 is a poignant example.  America grieved — as did the world.
Our lives depend on songs, and this psalm is indeed a song, as it identifies with our daily difficulties. The emotional qualities of this psalm are ever-relevant. We enjoy reading such Scripture because it’s true to life.  It’s not too ethereal.
We use the vineyard metaphor to see how inherently connected we are to God. We must desire to continue to see this operating in our lives.
Sin will get us into judgment quickly or ultimately.  Just because we are the elect of God — the church — does not save us. God cannot favour anyone with partiality.
The pattern in Judges chapter 2 is the key.
Whenever we begin to pray for the Lord to save us, repentant as we are in our way, turning back to God, God’s judgment is on us again, however this time in our favour.
Our cries to God, per this psalm, need to be persistent and regaling; time is not really the key issue.
We can trust the pattern of God’s deliverance. We can trust God’s reliability. God never changes. When we turn to God, our Lord turns to us.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

God with Us, in Our Thoughts

What is prayer if not a continual conversation with God? That’s the thread of life: to know God in our thoughts, through constant and conscious reflection.
This is a discipline of focused mindfulness, achievable for the well rested mind, and a heart devoted to the Divine. It is something to be aspirational about if we are still grappling with this notion of prayer filling our lives, when we may battle to pray at all.
But true prayer is not just the spoken variety. God’s design for prayer is a seamless line of communication where we might be consciously mindful of God in both our going out and coming home, always.
What are the features and advantages of nurturing this sense of conscious mindfulness with God we call prayer?
It’s firstly the greatest spiritual protection against the wiles of the enemy. Wherever the Light lives, darkness cannot abide.
Secondly, it is comfort to know most assuredly that God is with us, in our conflict, rejection, and embarrassments. Through prayers of repentance, forgiveness, and in receipt of God’s grace—all via the manner of continuous mental reframing—we can receive our comfort.
Thirdly, it’s about a humble confidence that we finally ‘get’ prayer. We own the injunction of 1 Thessalonians 5:17. We incorporate God in all our thinking and, therefore, we pray authentically and ceaselessly. What we once thought as an impossible thing to sustain—the ability to pray verbally, non-stop—now finally makes sense. Prayer is a constant mindful connection with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
Fourthly, in reordering our thought through the Divine filter we have access to the Spirit’s leading and, therefore, to wisdom. Not that we will know it all, or be right all the time. Far from it! But we will be more thoroughly relational, especially by our honesty to own our mistakes.
Fifthly, we have the ability to take courage by many manners of obedience as we engage in the moral mindfulness of prayer. Connected to the Spirit, we are convicted strongly to act in certain ways; our thinking is transformed; we begin to feel as God would have us feel.
Sixthly, we have intimacy with God or, otherwise, knowledge of God. We are “hid with Christ in God” through our devotedness of thought.
Seventhly, and finally, we know of blessedness by the continuity of communicative flow with the Divine. This means our intimacy with God brings us closer to having experiences of true oneness with ourselves.
Prayer is a constant mindful connection with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
The best of prayer is a continual thought life connected to God.
When we are mindful of God every waking moment we are blessed with protection, comfort, a humble confidence, the situation’s wisdom, courage to obey, intimacy with God, and oneness with ourselves.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Turning Jonah’s 4 Weaknesses Into Strengths

Topsy-turvy situations in life include the biblical paradox: where we come before the living God in our weakness we redeem strength for the moment.
Jonah, the Minor Prophet, had such a difficult time of it obeying God’s call to proclaim impending judgment to the Ninevites; he can be seen, through the text, battling four types of emotion.
These reveal four weaknesses that we, too, battle with. It depends on how we battle as to whether (or not) we draw on the Lord’s strength in getting through.
Jonah 1 – Fear
Chapter 1 of Jonah hits the ground running; the prophet runs from God in fear. Perhaps it was mortal fear for his life to preach before the heathen of Nineveh; or maybe it was religious indifference, or a lack of faith. Whatever it was, it was fear that drove him the other way.
The Lord’s calling of Jonah is plain enough; he must go immediately (verse 2). But just as immediately, Jonah sprints in the opposite direction boarding a ship from Joppa bound for Tarshish. His fearful, disobedient reaction is ‘rewarded’ by a peril worse than he can imagine—death lies there, imminent.
Jonah’s mistake was to run in fear. We make the same mistake; the instinct is to run when staying put and considering what is before us, and what God is saying, is usually the wiser choice. Obeying God is often about moving beyond the reptilian instinct, where that instinct is based in fear.
Jonah 2 – Failure
The sweetest Scripture of this short book is saved for a psalm of thanksgiving.
Within the thread of Jonah’s gratitude for the provision of a great fish, is the lament for his failure, realising how dire the circumstance was; that his disobedience almost led to his death. Whilst he is ashamed of his failure, he is thankful for the having been saved. It is impetus for obedience, leading into chapter 3.
Just as easily we, too, can reflect over our failures, utilising them as platforms for learning and future obedience.
Jonah 3 – Feelings
When the time comes to perform, we often go to water, experiencing fight or flight—the nuances of adrenaline pumping through our bodies, impacting us emotionally.
We could imagine going to a city, known for its revelry, like preaching before the mafia or the KKK; Jonah is faced with preaching an insultingly laughable message—how would they react?
Feelings-from-head-to-toe would be us if we were placed in such an intolerable situation. How do we communicate what God has laid tremulously on our hearts, but by faith?
Faith alone remits courage to do only what God can empower us to do.
Jonah 4 – Frustration
Notwithstanding the miracle of the Ninevites turning back to God in chapter 3, Jonah is found irreconcilable within a fit of anger. Preaching to the Ninevites has meant his own goals went unmet.
When we obey God, at times our needs and goals will go unmet, and we can expect feelings of frustration. Equally, though, we can expect God to reprove us, as he did Jonah, if our frustration is selfishly poised.
Jonah experienced the weaknesses of fear, failure, feelings, and frustration. We do too. We can learn a lot from, and be encouraged by, Jonah’s humanity. Be balanced in fear. Accept failure and move on. Perform despite feelings. Patiently endure frustrations.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Felt Like Jesus Lately?

“Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
— Hebrews 12:3 (NRSV)
This article is not about those who have Messiah Complexes. It’s actually about persecution—all sorts—from bullying, the cold shoulder, ridicule, dishonour, derision, to physical beatings, etc.
Have you ever suffered like Jesus,
Or can you in any way relate?
Have you ever been condemned,
Given cause to be irate?
Have you ever been despised like the Lord?
Knowing the knowledge of such hurt,
Or having been ignored,
Had your face rubbed in the dirt.
Have you ever suffered ridicule?
Not taken seriously no matter what,
That presence of feeling miniscule,
Having felt small as a dot.
Have you ever been dishonoured,
Like our Saviour on the cross?
Having given your all, despondent,
Only to be considered dross.
If you’ve suffered like Jesus,
Your suffering’s not in vain,
If you’ve managed to suffer well,
You’ve done so in order to gain.
For suffering well like Jesus,
Is like holding eternity in our hand,
No matter what we suffer,
With Jesus one day we’ll stand.
Connecting Our Personal Suffering with Jesus’
Everyone has suffering, if they are honest; even if it is simply an occasional bout of disconsolate existential anxiety—that life itself is often a confusing reality.
But there is also a suffering we all identify with.
We have an opportunity in our suffering to delve deeply in prayer with the suffering of our Saviour. Here we can make a connection. Here our suffering has purpose and meaning. Here we can look to God, knowing that by suffering well we are doing Divine bidding.
Suffering... Just Like Jesus
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
— Hebrews 12:4 (NRSV)
Yes we have suffered, but in comparison with Jesus we suffer little. Acknowledging this fact is not about undermining our suffering, but instead it encourages us that we can endure in the manner of Jesus.
The more we consider how much our suffering aligns with what Jesus suffered, the more we are acquainted with Jesus. The person of Jesus, especially as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, is the living, breathing, feeling person of the Son of God; a God always able to identify with us in our suffering.
When ever we feel lonely, condemned, ridiculed, silenced, ignored, or in any sort of pain, we have a good friend in Jesus—who suffered these and more. It’s no small consolation to be considered with God, now and in all eternity.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Kingdom-Minded Morning Prayer

Presuming we already know the eternal value of prayer, the value of recommitment through prayer—especially morning prayer—is possibly one of the most important opportunities a Christian has in re-engaging with God.
With that in mind, the 2012 Global Leadership Summit finished with a challenge to all delegates: to institute into their lives, for 30 days, a morning prayer:
My Morning Prayer
God, this is a new day. I freshly commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building your church in this world. I am awestruck again today that you include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavour. So today I joyfully offer you:
My love, my heart, my talents, my energy, my creativity, my faithfulness, my resources, and my gratitude.
I commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world. And I will “bring it” today. I will bring my best. You deserve it. Your church deserves it. It is the hope of the world. AMEN.
I prayed this prayer with my wife, Sarah, for the first time this morning. We spoke it aloud together, and, as we continue this season of seeking God regarding his plan for our ministry lives, I reflected on the following things.
The Local Church Is The Hope Of The World (Bill Hybels)
Bringing truth to bear has us recognising the above fact. If this broken and horribly-messed-up world has any sort of chance regarding a spiritual revival that will bring forth many practical revivals, the world depends on the Church. We, as bands of individuals, are the Church. We, in our little areas, denominations, and tiny spheres of influence, can have impact; an influence for God in our world.
The local church is made up of individuals, united for the cause of Christ, to go into the world to bring good news to the poor, to facilitate release of the captives, to free the oppressed, and to give sight to the blind in Jesus’ name.
Mine and Your Individual Role
It’s presumed that we have all had delusions of grandeur regarding the magnificent things we could do in the kingdom of God. But God is in the basic things. In our individual roles we can do what we can do.
Whilst God might call some to ‘ministries of impossibility’, he calls the majority to do the little they can to make the difference they can. Everyone can make their contribution.
My Morning Prayer above is a very kingdom-minded prayer. When we know Christ we become kingdom-minded—wanting everyone else to share in the good news and to commit their lives unto salvation in Jesus’ name. Our roles are to support this in any way we can. There are much more little tasks to be done than big tasks.
The best prayer is a kingdom-minded prayer; where we would commit our entire selves to realising the kingdom of God within our own lives. When we commit to developing ourselves and acting in obedience in service of other people and our world, Christ’s kingdom has become our home, as we sit before the Throne of our King.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Godly Delight in Being Tested

“What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
test them every moment?”
— Job 7:17-18 (NRSV)
Many people might find this a strange message—that God tests us. But it is my belief, which is joined with the belief of many other Christians, that God tests us, but in the opposite way to how the devil tests us. I believe God tests us in ways he knows we can succeed, and, as he wills us to succeed, we grow not only in faith, but also by the knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our lives.
To be led by the Holy Spirit is to believe that every moment of life is a test of obedience, before the audience of One. Never does life have more purpose than when we fully believe God is present, leading us by his Spirit, and urging us on in obedience to his leadership.
When everything is a positive test, and we know we can succeed, life has got great significance and holy purpose.
Acknowledging God’s Presence in All Things
Noticing coincidences, whilst it might appear we are kooky, is noticing God’s action in and through the flow of life. Quietly noticing coincidences, without orchestrating them, is acknowledging God’s Presence and giving God credit for his leadership of our lives.
We needn’t worry about God showing up, because God is already here, working in our lives, and active through all creation, at all times and in all ways.
Performing (Living) Before the King of Kings
This, here, is a critical knowledge. Truly, we must discern what is from God.
But everything can be seen from God. We can reframe our understanding back to God’s will for us—to respond as well as we can—regarding all of our life events. All we need to see is that God desires for us to look to him and respond well, so he can make good, often in the moment, and certainly eventually, out of the bad things that occur.
When we see that something is from God, and not from the devil, we feel privileged to perform at God’s court—which, in this life, is to imagine we are living both actively and passively right before God’s sight; which is true in any event.
In other words, despite pain and sadness, for which we are to be emotionally real, we can experience fleeting bouts of true joy because we are seen and approved by the King of Kings.
There’s comfort available from God when we are tested, because we have nothing less than God’s full Presence and encouraging sponsorship and leadership as we follow obediently. Nobody wants us to survive (and thrive through) our tests more than God. For this we can be delighted.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Penetrating the Crust of Legalism

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?”
— Matthew 7:3 (NRSV)
Every human being will have noticed the club mentality. At its most crude, club mentality is about inclusion and exclusion. And it always depends on protecting the needs of the club executive, but the club is based primarily in partiality. Wherever partiality exists, favouritism is rife, and injustice prevails. Breaking through the crust of legalism is about patiently restoring equity and justice.
The ruling method of club mentality is legalism. It wasn’t just in the Pharisees... it’s in us, too.
Until we recognise our own propensity toward partiality (favouritism, and therefore poor judgment) we will never understand its intricate threads, or be patient enough to penetrate the crust of legalism. As Jesus said, we must first notice the log in our own eyes before we can deal with the speck in others’.
Dealing First, and Always, With Our Own Legalism
The biggest challenge we have with legalism is our own filters of falsity and favouritism. These filters place us, instinctually, as always favouring our own ends; it’s the human predilection to protect its being. If we can’t understand this, or don’t accept it, we can’t go far in spiritual life. One good reason we need God is that, through relationship with the Divine, we may gain insight regarding a more level playing field in life. Without the Spirit of God constantly reminding us of our own legalism we would not repent and, therefore, love.
If we are committed, first and foremost, and always an ever more, to acknowledge our propensity for judgment, and our inherently skewed view on life, what is added is the additional patience we need in order to break through this crust—this veneer—of legalism.
Noticing, and Bearing With, Legalism, In Order to Gently Challenge It
Knowing the right ways to challenge legalism is wisdom. We have perhaps all tried to challenge legalistic structures in our world, only to fail time and again. What is required is patience and poised gentleness as we go.
First, we must identify where these self-reinforcing-structures exist in club mentality.
It helps if we identify what ‘clubs’ we align with, for we all have the propensity to herd into the default positions and agencies reflected by our personalities and values. If we are being honest we will see the veins of legalism for what they are. We are all implicated.
Then, and only then, are we able to respond as God would have us respond; as we see ourselves implicated within this legalism.
Second, once God has established this awareness in us, we can set about patiently digging through the crust. This is not about ructions of challenge, but more so through prayer and empathy for the system itself we are able to discern the differences we can make. These might be small or they might be few.
Penetrating the crust of legalism is first about noticing our own penchant for partiality and judgment. Only when we are honest with God can our Lord speak into our lives about the broader legalism we battle with every day.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

With God, “I Can’t” Becomes “I Can”

We all wonder why we are sent insurmountable tasks, crazy deadlines, impossible relationships, and chaotic experiences of life. “Surely it cannot be God sending these to us,” we say to ourselves.
But there is an opportunity with these circumstances of life that prove exasperating.
God is a master of taking us to various “I can’t” places, in order that we would learn how to believe, think through, and find ways of living in the “I can” place. Belief is one thing, thinking in the paradigm of possibility is another, and yet again another thing entirely is trust in God enough to live in the “I can’t” situation, in “I can” ways.
Wherever Impossibility Seems to Reign, Possibility Lurks
It may be an overused cliché that God can do the impossible, and, as a matter of fact, he does. But this idea of God taking us to various kinds of “I can’t” places, in order that we learn how to believe, think through, and find ways of living in the “I can” place is an everyday reality. Only when we are open to this does life in the hard lane begin to work.
The trouble is we bemoan or fear these “I can’t” places.
We tend to go around and around and around the same desert territory of thinking, and that condemns us to feeling discouraged and somewhat condemned. This challenge in the “I can’t” place is a thinking challenge—a thinking challenge requiring habitual and unrelenting self-discipline, resilient beyond lapses (for we all have lapses).
The moment we notice that God makes a way for possibility to lurk, where impossibility seems to reign, we invite the Spirit to open our minds to what might be done to bring about an “I can” situation of thought.
There Is Always An “I Can” Possibility At Hand
We don’t just need to be positive thinkers or people of faith to believe there is always an “I can” situation afoot. We only need to see that our thoughts, and our mental processes, are severely limited—especially as they are constrained by our perceptions.
We really are swayed by many things, including mood, fortune and misfortune, the other people we relate with, and even our hormones.
We can see that this is about perspective. And when we have God’s perspective, slowly but surely—over the weeks, months, and years—we begin to see the “I can” situations unfold. God wants us with eyes, ears, mind, and heart wide open. When all our faculties are pointing, attuned, to heaven—the broader perspective—we do begin to see, hear, think, and feel the truth, and willingly so.
God is a master of taking us to various “I can’t” places, in order that we would learn how to believe, think through, and find ways of living in the “I can” place. God doesn’t change our situations, but he gives us opportunities to adapt, to improvise, and to overcome. With God, “I can’t” can inevitably become “I can.”
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jesus Loves You, Yes It’s True

“Continue seeking God with seriousness. Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.”
— C. S. Lewis
Love never fails and Love is God. Love came first. More correctly put, God’s love came first. If not for God’s love there would be no creation. If not for God’s love there would be no you and no me.
God put us here for a reason, not least of which because he loves us.
Everyone who lives and breathes, and has ever lived and breathed, was willed into existence by this living God of love.
Because God Loves Us...
... We should love him. Because God loves us, and because we need God, we are to continue seeking him. When God is sought he reveals himself. The more we want this Lord of Eternal Glory in our lives, the more God makes his Spirit available to us, even in invisible ways.
If the love of God has extended itself from the realms of eternity, to conceive and engineer existence, and delve into creation—through the coming of Jesus—and to sustain the wonder of these mind-blowing creative works, that same love of God will not fail us. That same love of God that founded infinite things too wondrous for the human mind to contemplate is the love made ready and available in and through us.
Because God loves us, with a love so incredibly hard to fathom, so incomprehensible in its scope, our simple response is to love God back—by seeking him.
Because God loves us, and never insists on us returning our love for his, but gives us free will in order to choose our lives, we are free to love God with the love of God. A little rhetorical thought: is there possibly a higher privilege than to the love with the love of God?
When Responsibility Becomes Devotion
We could get all legalistic and state the obvious—that to love God is our responsibility in reciprocation for the love that God has bestowed so freely upon us.
But that sort of garbage is not what God is about. It is the devil’s work to make us feel guilty for not loving God, without giving us the revelation needed to respond to God’s love. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit comes to convict us of our sin, such that we would respond out of thankfulness for this love that is concerned so much for our spiritual welfare.
With the knowledge that we need God, and because we have a human responsibility to love God back, our sense of duty develops into utter devotion; but only because we really sense this love has become a personal possession.
God draws us to his heart, and our desire to know God is true only because God’s desire to know us comes first. God’s love comes first, and then our love, if we are obedient, follows.
God loves us so much that he gave the world his only Son, to perish so you and I may have life. And the Son, being obedient to willingly die for you so your sin wouldn’t count against you, has loved you with the perfection of God’s love; a love insurmountable, but inspirational to follow.
Jesus loves you, yes it’s true!
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.