Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fighting Off Two Forms of Spiritual Attack

The Stranger of the human soul,
Lurks maligning without ceasing,
He usurps God’s role,
And in him there is no releasing.
When we sense ourselves in fear,
Or discouraged beyond reason,
We may as well know it’s clear,
Spiritual attack may define the season.
But spiritual attack is not to be left,
Accepting as if there’s nothing to do,
The Holy Spirit is keenly deft,
To ensure that we pull through.
Two ways the devil works to convict our souls to his lies is by fear and discouragement. We may even find that one of us is more prone to fear, whilst the other is susceptible to be discouraged. Our challenge is to see the attack for what it is, being simply aware of it. It’s easy to obey God when we know what to do. When we flee the devil—by trusting and obeying God in our patient and calm responses—the devil flees us, too.
By Anxiety or Depression?
When we talk in terms of fear and discouragement—as the adjuncts to Satan debilitating us spiritually—we really are talking about anxiety and depression.
Anxiety works by fear as depression works by discouragement. And though we may be stricken with both, it’s perhaps more likely that we will be prone to one more than the other. The important question we need to ask ourselves is, are we more likely to be attacked in fear or by discouragement? Are we more prone to doubting and indecision than we are susceptible to a lack of feedback or, worse, negative feedback? Doubting and indecision are indicators of fear beneath, whilst rallying from rejection or poor feedback or a lack of control over our busy lives are indicators of our wallowing in discouragement.
We may become depressed because we have first been anxious, or we might just be sad, rendered temporarily incapable of reasonable logic-minded responses.
We can do a great deal about seasons of depression and anxiety when we understand where they come from, spiritually speaking. If we are aware of the encroachment of fear or the experience of discouragement, we can sense the enemy—the Stranger of our souls—at play. Then, we may call on the reinforcement of the Spirit.
Spiritual attack comes commonly by two forms: fear and discouragement. Such fear leads to anxiety, whereas the experience of discouragement causes us to be depressed. If we detect the presence of unexplained fear, usually fear out of control, or we are inexplicably discouraged, or prone to it, it may be that we are under spiritual attack. We fight such attacks by the weapons of patience, faith, and hope.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

People Plant, We Water, God Grows

“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
The evangelist, who lives for lives lost, lives a worthy life, but wise is he or she to leave ‘the fruit’ to the Spirit of God, for only God can grow the seed diligently planted and faithfully watered.
The Pressure on ‘Ministers’
The pressure on ministers, locally, in Paul’s time, was perhaps no different than it is today. Paul’s teaching not only corrects a very faulty theology, but it takes pressure off the minister for the results that only the Spirit of God can account for.
I am aware of the story of a para-church organisation that was held to account for ‘a lack of fruit.’ Its mission was to reach into the community in an evangelistic way and create converts to the gospel. The only problem with the mission was that it was at crossed purposes with the broader culture it was reaching into—as we would expect. Still, this organisation faithfully sowed into the work. And to be fair, there was fruit, but perhaps not really the variety of fruit the investors were after. It made lives and families better, but there were relatively few converts.
But this is the frustrating part: any church worth their salt is fervently reaching into their part of the mission of Jesus Christ—to make disciples of the nations; to evangelise the message of love, hope, and grace. And so there is a tension between the mission and the results. There always has been and always will be.
But here is the salient truth:
This tension brings too much pressure for the minister of God who faithfully plies their trade, which is a calling they cannot reject, for it is from God, not men. The right-minded minister is disgusted by a ‘groupie’ attitude that motivates some ministers, just as they are disappointed when there is a focus on key performance indicators that are the measure of God’s work and not their own.
They are called to account for something they cannot control. This is a madness.
I wonder if we are becoming too secularised in the church when we claim credit for church growth, and whether we are cheating the Spirit of God—not to mention ‘less successful’ ministers—who haven’t ‘achieved’ ‘the numbers.’
We, as the church, cannot have effective ministers if there is pressure on for numbers. Neither can we be glorifying God when we claim church growth as the work we have done.
Sure, there are strategies that God guides us to use, and, when they’re faithfully used, there may be success. Praise God. Yes, that’s an imperative.
We plant good seed and water it and hope it will grow, and we do so faithfully. But it is only the Spirit of God who can do the growing, just as it is only the Spirit of God who should get the credit for converts to the gospel or church growth.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Awareness and Action In Spiritual Attack

The enemy of God, like talons into flesh,
Is desperate to cause hateful ructions,
His desire is to enmesh,
Where spiritual friends are stretched,
And then become foes,
We all need to know,
His desire is to increase all our woes.
But when we see, what they are, the devil’s cheap designs,
We call him to account,
Along the Saviour’s saving lines.

Never underestimate the devil’s snarky designs woven into the lattice of spiritual warfare. Awareness is the key. As soon as we become aware of the attack, we call him on it; not in anger, but in the Power of the Holy Spirit; in calmness, that God’s will always prevails, knowing that God is on our side!
Ah, to recognise the wiles of Satan!
The moment of recognition, the apparition of awareness, even in that moment, to swing back to the Lord and allow God the opportunity to crush the hateful, cheap design; this is one of the most powerful blessings of God in redeeming the moment as God’s and God’s alone.
Spiritual people must know the presence of evil as it is personified through the spirit of the Accuser as he slinks back and forth, conniving as a Jezebel to cause trouble.
The more benefit we may be to the Kingdom of God the more we may realise just how annoyed the enemy of God is.
When we comprehend even a snippet of the truth regarding the heavenly realm here on earth, even in this present moment as we read, we begin to understand the contest for our spirits. The devil has this conquest with God—a forlorn conquest that was defeated 2,000 years ago—but he would rather fool us in our lack of awareness.
We see not the attack in many conflicts we are required to negotiate. Love is the way.
We see not the attack in many derisions of spiritual disharmony. Stillness is the way.
We see not the attack when we doubt God. Faith is the way.
We see not the attack when we are despairing. Hope is the way.
When we see the attack in these situations and more, and we turn, repenting in the moment, we can say, “I see what this is about, Lord. Thank you for helping me. I am yours and you are mine. Protect me at the hand of the evil one, by making me to refocus on you, on calmness, on hope amidst the torment, and peace to transcend it. I invoke the Risen Power of the Lord Jesus Christ over this, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
We receive great power when we call upon the Holy Spirit in the midst of spiritual attack. This is our act of obedience by repentance in simply turning back to God by our awareness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rallying in the Revitalising Rest of Jesus

“God restores my soul,
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.”
— PSALM 23:3 (NRSV)
Our problems and states of heart and mind,
Determine how we feel,
Yet why do we allow them to bind,
When they’re not all that’s real?
Better to gain perspective,
To take time to ask,
Better to be more reflective,
To then make rest our task.
The single biggest health pick-me-up most of us need is rest for our embattled minds, sore bodies, and weary souls. This “rest” we find nestled in the wisdom of going into God’s Presence by simplicity. There is rest in simplicity; God speaks in restful, inaudible tones when we briefly open into the expanse of simplicity. Nature, silence, a cooling breeze, trees rustling, earthen remembrances, fire’s mysterious glow, water’s uniformity, a skin massage, light soothing rain, the gentle rumble of thunder off in the distance... go there even in your mind. Go there to rest... whenever you like.
We go there in a flash, certainly not limited in actual means.
By means of the eternal grace through the undercurrent of life, we may go to God in any of our moments; to experience that rest that serves to revitalise us in truth.
Seeing a Little More Than Our Present State
There is always more to see, and when we ask God for vision of the ‘more’ reality it’s amazing just how profound a vision we can be blessed with. It goes with our obedience, for God cannot give us something we truly don’t want. How much do we want it?
Seeing a little more than our present state is important; we don’t lose sight of the plight we are in, but we do look just a bit further than the descending and darkening cumulonimbus clouding our vision.
When we see the truth for what it is—reality in all its chaotic glory—and we gain the perspective, with time, to accept it as something we cannot change—we gain also the ability to rally in the hope of Jesus.
Such a rally always works best out of rest. We gain our perspective and then we go back out into the world a little more hopeful and with a great grasp on realism.
Take this image in for a moment: in the midst of a burdened life—the knowledge that “God restores my soul” and, so, we rally in the revitalising rest of Jesus, whose yoke is easy, and burden is light. Rallying is a recovery like the mythical phoenix rising from ashes. Rally in Jesus. He never lets us down when we earnestly seek him.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sadness, Acceptance, Rest, Hope, Recovery, and God

Sadness is okay if that’s what’s true,
There’s nothing wrong at all with feeling oh so blue,
Hope’s made easier in dealing with the fact,
That we, with God, still have control over our act.
Acceptance of our state is truly blessed indeed,
Doesn’t mean we have to remain there only to bleed,
It helps us to ponder we’re trying our best,
Now best thing to do now is find space to rest.
Sadness can be a symptom of a deeper cause. It so often is. Sure, there are reasons for sorrow—real, undeniable reasons. Sometimes there are losses that smack us down for a season. Sometimes we are justified resting there, in the midst of, and in reaction to, the tragedy. Sometimes it’s all we can do.
Then there times when we choose to remain there; it’s comfortable. We desire to rebound, but maybe tomorrow. We put it off. That’s okay. If we are building toward something—a bigger vision of us—we take all the time we like.
But there is beauty and majesty and power in starting.
We sense it and we know it, even if we haven’t experienced it. We have seen evidence in others’ lives; in the lives of our heroes; we aspire for the same if not a similar thing.
Rest informs us if we’re doing it properly—yes, doing it. Remember the word “rest” is a verb. It’s a doing word. We need to secede from life to do it. We strip away every distraction and unworthy cause of thought. We get naked in it.
When we rest we learn to feel; to feel as God would have us feel.
When we feel our hearts beating in our chests and our thoughts of busyness give way to dreaming—allowing God to silently invade our consciousness—we are in that zone of zealous aloneness where the world fades and becomes, just for a moment, irrelevant. Healing takes place there.
One moment, one experience of this, and we are won to it eternally, as we live and breathe in this life, such is the immeasurable power of God.
This is power for hope. From rest—genuine rest—the activity of the antithesis of worldly activity—we have renewal, borne on the downy wings of hope.
Sadness can be the invitation to acceptance and, therefore, rest. God is involved when our rest rebuilds our hope and renewal is founded on visions of recovery. There is power in recovery. Trust it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Called to a Heavenly Citizenship

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
— PHILIPPIANS 3:20 – 4:1 (NRSV)
Having contrasted what it is for the worldly person to live on Earth, perhaps worst, the backslider, we come into this final section to receive a salvo—a 40-gun salute—of encouragement, for pressing on toward the goal of our salvation in the joy befitting privileged citizens who are never more loved.
And we need all the encouragement we can get when we observe all the so-called fun the worldly person experiences in this life. Those who warrant their own destruction, whose god is their belly (the aberrant sensual desires), who glory in the matters of shame so far as eternity is concerned, have their minds set on what seems so appealing to the vast majority.
But what is so appealing is also so destructive.
When we miss out on this earthly enjoyment, we can wonder the wisdom in missing out. But missing out isn’t the point. Or maybe it is? If we miss out on anything in terms of the worldly life we sidestep those things bringing us to a swift death. And if we focus on that citizenship that we have in that home far away, we long for our Saviour, even to the point of dedicating our lives to being sanctified and renewed today.
What is it that our Saviour, Jesus, will do for us?
Living in Expectation of the Saviour
A worldly focus negates the impact of the Coming King. A worldly focus is, therefore, an absurdity, because it chooses to believe a lie. It chooses to believe that Jesus is distant and his coming will tarry eternally. The fact is, a foretaste we know!
The key to our hope is the Blessed Hope—the coming of Christ on the clouds of heaven. But our hope is realised today in the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside our mortal beings.
When Jesus comes, our humiliation—as a composite of worldly injustices and frustrations—is transformed immediately into glory; a body of humiliation into a body of glory, instantaneously.
We are heavenly citizens, on leave with pay, exploring a life here on Earth as ambassadors of the King. We understand the concept of service and we live for it. We understand what comes with the privilege of citizenship; we consider the joy before us each day and that helps us live this life with joy today.
We Christians do not miss out in this life; on the contrary, we live our lives in the compelling light of eternity. We enjoy knowing that, because we are forgiven, we have freedom from guilt and shame. We are reconciled to God and this world is a cheap and flimsy imitation of the blessings that will soon be ours.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stuck In that Nowhere, Thankless Place

People, especially leaders, and most especially leaders in the church, are predisposed to not only being in privileged places, but they are just as predisposed to being in that lonely, nowhere, thankless place.
Recently, whilst with a bunch of other pastors, I was reminded that I’m not as good as I think I am, but I’m not as bad as I think I am, either.
A case in point is this: when, as pastors, we are given charge to create change—and, in that, express our leadership—we are destined for rocky days and nights where we will feel isolated, alone, confused about ambivalent responses, and confounded by negative reactions. Some people will see us as ogres; as those who cannot be trusted and as those who hurt them or don’t care, and we won’t have the chances we need to repeal that hurt.
The quest of leadership in taking people in a new direction, to a place envisioned by a leadership committee (and not just the leader), is lonely to the point of it being unfair.
Fortunately, we are in the business of plying our faith. But faith should direct us not only to God, but to people who will love us despite the situation—people who can love us without partiality either way.
A Poem About Loneliness In Leadership
When we come into leadership we know we can’t satisfy all,
We know it’s unreasonable to meet everyone’s needs,
To know the depth of truth that goals, for some, will be way too tall.
We know this, but, we do not know the experience of the specific situation’s pain that is ahead of us, or is just now bearing itself over us. The details can’t be anticipated.
Then in the trial we go to take our place,
As mediator and driver and facilitator too,
We do everything with integrity—the ability to keep face,
But all in all we find ourselves not possibly having a clue.
Prepared to take on the burden, but without a safety valve,
Very soon we feel quite violated in this nowhere, thankless place,
Wise we are if we can sense this and head toward a salve,
Most of all, I guess, we must shore-up our Christ-built base.
Leadership can be lonely,
Let’s not at all kid ourselves,
We need not call on Christ only,
But also utilise our loving Christian cells.
Leadership is a privilege, but it’s also an incredibly lonely, nowhere, thankless place, especially in driving change. There are unpredictable permeations that occur and they floor us. Support we thought we could count on rebounds on us and hurts. What helps most of all is to rally against isolation—to remain connected and loved is the key.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Psalm 52 – Trust God, Not Wealth

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”
— Psalm 52:8 (NRSV)
We will all meet the same end, but then again Judgment—in this life and in the next—is meted out at accord with how we actually handle, and have handled, ourselves; faithfully or faithlessly. When all is said and done, as the song goes, we must ask, did we live for truth?
This psalm endorses the faithful, by way of their honest dealing with life, whilst it denounces the wicked that seem bent on trusting on their wealth alone without account to God. The latter will see their folly eventually.
The structure of the psalm is threefold. The first four verses highlight the actual situation that David finds himself in; he deplores the ‘mighty one’ that operates via devious means. The echo of Judgment peels like thunder from verse five. The final two verses enunciate the confidence of trust that exemplifies David’s faith.
No One Gets Away From God
Of course, the psalmist highlights a truth we all know. The issue is, however, in the normal run of life, we tend to forget such a truth when our eyes consider how much favour the wicked receive, and how much they seem to get away with.
We know the theory, yet by our acts we disbelieve the theory—we get upset at injustices and seek to contort, or even pervert, the course of justice: God’s justice. Sometimes we do need to intervene, especially where we have a prime accountability.
But much of life involves simply watching on as disconnected injustices play out, knowing that God will intervene at the right time and in the right way.
Truly, no one gets away from God; from the injustices of perversion, greed, and malevolence. Everyone pays, ultimately.
Down Goes the ‘Mighty One’ Trusting in Themselves
There are people in all our lives that enjoy the privilege of influence; some have so much power it’s hard to comprehend. The important question, so far as their lives are concerned, is where do they place their trust?
It is a very basic error that many so-called wise people make in life; to trust in riches, the positions they’ve attained, et cetera.
Let us not be like that. We should pray that God will always keep us grounded in a reality that trusts in the Power behind life itself, and not in the power that seems to be ours—like comparative wealth.
Most especially, in the context of this psalm, we can know that when we are reviled, doublecrossed, and cheated—if we’re faithful to God—we will be avenged.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Prayer for Living Power (Inspired by Psalm 51)

Having woken after a horrendous night of confusion—a potential relationship conflict where there was so much lack of information—where my spirit was troubled—I sought the Lord, only to find that the Lord had already sought me. He that had bought me all those years ago—even before my time—had sought me again.
Here is my prayer:
You have risen me this morning out of my iniquity,
Having departed your Eternal Presence,
I have woken to your Majestic Touch,
That Touch that has sought me, bought me, and sought me again.
And I seek, now, your Restorative Grace.
Heal me in Jesus’ name.
And... I receive your healing.
Having owned up to my sin,
Knowing my need and the cleansing pace enshrined in repentance,
Wash me anew in your Unfathomable Power.
I receive Living Power for life. Yes, I do.
Underpinning my prayer is this mood of repentance, having departed from the Presence of God. And our Lord knows how weak we are when the pressure comes on; when confusion reigns and we know not which way to go. Doubting clouds faith.
So, in seeking the Lord to have mercy on me, because of his steadfast love, and the forgiving heart of the Almighty, I ask my Divine and Living God, “Wash me, now; make me clean from my sin.”
Can anyone know the level and depth of my transgression better than I? You do, Lord. And even though my transgressions are ever before me, you work with me, though I have sinned against you, alone.
I was born a sinner and to sin I have been raised and sin has been my Magnus Opus—despicable, as it is, to say that. And how could I stand in your Presence if not for Jesus?
You demand truth and, therefore, I wish to be instructed by your wisdom; stitch it into my deepest heart; entwine the vestiges of secret wisdom into the core of my being such that truth would be my instinctive gauge.
Purge me with the materials of cleanliness and I ask, let me at some time hear the sweetest notes of joy and gladness; let my brittle bones become soft again so they may rejoice.
O Lord, hide your face from my wicked way.
Inspire within me the freshness of heart that belongs solemnly to you, and to you alone.
Do not depart from me, O Lord, I beg of you. Consider me worthy enough of restoration. I receive it in the name of Jesus. Restore me, I beg, to the bliss of knowing eternity with you, now and to come. Give me a spirit willing to serve.
Give me living power to sow your seeds and do your deeds.
This prayer is inspired by Psalm 51.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Isaiah 5 – Justice Against the Unjust

“But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.”
— ISAIAH 5:16 (NRSV)
The iniquities of unfruitfulness and social injustice are pieced together with a prophecy for homeland invasion predicted, in this section of early Isaiah. The following three themes are present.
1. First, Judah’s National Unfruitfulness
In all of Judah’s sin there is the striking prevalence of unfruitfulness; gorgeously juicy grapes are expected by the Lord from his vineyard, but instead the yield is only wild grapes—fruit that has gone its own way, meeting no agreed minimum standard.
Likewise, Judah had borne seriously deficient fruit. The fruit borne was not only unusable and worthless, but it led to a great deal of evidence for social injustice.
Question 1: Think of forces closer to home and known in this day that resemble what is described in Isaiah 5:1-7. What is God’s expectation of his Elect, and what might be the consequences for corporate disobedience? How might God judge those who have not only been unfruitful, but evil, abusive, and neglectful?
2. The Weightiness of Woes
There are six woes (“Ah” in the NRSV) that punctuate verses 8-23 (vv. 8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). These are structured in the way of building a crescendo of judgment. Rarely anywhere else in the Old Testament is there such a weightiness of woes as in this chapter. Yahweh’s judgment is, at the time, impending. The woes are a response to the despicability of the responsible ones’ abject lack of social injustice.
Question 2: We could be forgiven for thinking the Lord is an angry God, wanting to cruel those of us who fall short. But this chapter is about gross negligence; the holy nation had neglected its privilege (to be a ‘chosen’ nation). How might we be reassured in this post-Jesus day in regard to the times we fall short of the glory of God?
3. The Consequences Waiting
Injustice bequeaths for itself the consequences of that sin. The natural laws in play today are a direct witness of the natural laws in play in Isaiah’s day 2,700 years ago.
These natural laws suggest the consistency of eternity; God is the same, yesterday, today, forever. Consequences wait for us and they are disposed to us because of our actions, like they were for the Judeans.
Question 3: Whenever people get spiritually complacent (prideful) they leave themselves exposed to the consequences of God’s judgment. Think of a time in your own life when God’s judgment spoke through you via the consequences. What was the effect and what did you do about it?
Justice is coming against the unjust and we can trust God by faith for that to occur. We are urged to be just in our dealing with others, just as we are blessed with confidence when justice prevails. Although justice seems tardy, it always translates into consequences when it eventually arrives. It’s best we work diligently for justice.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.