Thursday, January 31, 2013

When We Owe Nothing We Give Everything


Despite inevitable feelings of guilt, we really don’t owe anyone anything.  All our debts-of-conscience were paid for two millennia ago.  
We must understand this if we’re to live, and let’s not underplay this; we’re too apt to succumb to guilt.  
Guilt is most often love contorted, bruised, mugged and hidden.  
There is always love a little beyond the feelings of guilt.  We therefore endeavour to get beyond this sordidness.
The fullest measure of love wants no part in others feeling guilty for what they did or didn’t do to or for us.  And this love is of God.
Love is God.  Love wants us to know there’s nothing to feel guilty for.  Love wants us reminded that apart from the momentary guilt that motivates repentance—a loving proactive action—there’s no good purpose in it.
When we grasp that God really wants us to know this guilt-freeing love we won’t have a problem feeling less guilty, and fuller and freer in our joy.
God’s done it all at the cross.  Accept to be free.
***
We accept Jesus to gain our freedom, because a sinless man died to wear upon his back the stripes of our contempt. Righteousness became unrighteousness enough to descend into a hellish abyss, to greet what we deserved all along so we wouldn’t have to.
Because we owe nothing, having accepted the beautiful gift of salvation, living free of the guilt that would otherwise impinge, we look forwardly.
When we have nothing to lose we live in a way where we have much to gain in the way we wish to give.
Could there be a better thought regarding life than owing nothing, disregarding the power and size of our debt? And although we do not deny this calamitous reality, God does not continue to thrust it into our faces to make us feel less than we ought to.
God’s true desire is that we will acknowledge the truth that, in the Lord, is our only chance at true life. Only by living a life true to ourselves are we to come to understand how appropriate it is that we owe nothing.
We owe nothing such that we would feel we owe nothing, taking the Lord at his Word.
Jesus didn’t suffer that horrendous death so that we would creep around all our lives guilty and ashamed. He died that we would be freed, and put back together in partnership with God, with the ability to approach life on life’s exacting terms. And not just that! Now we owe nothing we are free to give everything of ourselves to God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Saying “Yes” To Jesus


Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
— Matthew 16:24 (NRSV)
This appears as a tough Word. Even the most self-accountable of us will shudder at this radical concept of discipleship, according to Jesus. But if we are to be disciples of Jesus, followers of the Messiah, to abide as branches connected to the Vine, our lives are not just about taking up our crosses; they are about transformation, also.
But note the connection: to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is to become transformed. Discipleship is blessing as it is a blessing to know that, regarding discipleship, transformation in Jesus’ name is the only true blessing. We know God by transformation.
How then might we know such a transformation?
We must live our faith.
Not only should we read our Bibles and pray and spend time with other Christians along life’s journey, but we should also actively participate in the Kingdom. By this, we are Jesus’ disciples and we are transformed, and we have stories of transformation to tell.
What Are the Catalysts For Transformation?
Let’s look at some cogent examples that will extrapolate our sense of transformation, whilst they bless God’s kingdom:
  1. We do something tangible for the poor or marginalised in our backyard. We don’t shun them or ignore the tug of the Spirit as we walk past. We stop and help. We are transformed.
  2. When we are confronted with a workplace situation where someone is struggling, we go beyond what would be expected and express true empathy. Who knows, the opportunity to pray for somebody might arise.
  3. We take God seriously in our families. We commit to becoming better, more patient and gentle fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We love like we never have done before.
  4. We take the sins in our lives with earnest seriousness. We agree with God to repent, and we add to that commitment the courage to confess it before God in someone else’s presence. Such a turning point is a catalyst for action.
  5. We give something that is of value to us away. Upon the leading of God we think nothing of it as we put it up for someone else to have who needs it; who would truly value it. And we refuse to regret it.
  6. Admitting that we are dispassionate about hospitality, we invite another family over for a meal; a family who might need it or need the love, just now, that we could provide. We sacrifice our time, money and effort for someone else’s gain, and we don’t seek to be thanked—but we accept their thanks graciously.
  7. We find something we are good at and we give something back to our church; and to our society. We serve, and in our serving we are transformed.
  8. Finally, how many of us truly allow the Word of God or prayer to penetrate us and ignite transformation? How long has it been since we read one of the gospels all through in one sitting? We could not read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John all the way through and not be transformed.
These are but eight examples. The list is endless. There are no limits to love, just as there are no limits to how we might follow God. We look for evidence of transformation. Above all, we prayerfully consider how we might take up our crosses, and we even set achievable goals.
***
Being a disciple of Jesus’ is a daily, moment-by-moment commitment to take up our crosses and follow him. We look for evidence of transformation in our lives to determine our willingness and obedience to follow.
Saying “yes” to Jesus is about being a disciple of our Saviour and putting him up as our unabridged Lord and King. Saying “yes” to Jesus is agreeing we want to be transformed. Saying “yes” to Jesus is taking up our cross and following him precisely where his Spirit leads us. Saying “yes” to Jesus is the wisest thing we could do.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Spiritual Life’s Greatest Enemy

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.”  
— Henri Nouwen (1932–1996)
There is no condemnation more mysteriously or tenuously dangerous than the condemnation we inflict upon ourselves. Sure, we are rejected a lot in this life, but we only feel rejected when we reject ourselves. If we were to, otherwise, refuse the impact of others’ rejections of us, we would enjoy much more inner peace, because presumably our thinking would divert us onto much more productive thoughts.
Self-rejection, or the hating of oneself, because we believe another person and their view more than our own (which is normal), is a regrettable act—we are given to it when we deal in life without God’s help.
Even many Christians still suppose a faith in God that allows such self-condemnation. They may have never learned that, in salvation, they are freed of this, to the very extent that they acknowledge they have been delivered from this very thing. But, we all feel rejected from time to time.
It’s up to us to live a life free of feeling rejected.
God will force us to do nothing. By divine grace we have been saved, but the healing is up to us; we must approach it, desire it, and take every road in order to get there.
Being saved is no guarantee of healing. And healing of the propensity to deal in self-rejection is an ongoing need. We may need to be continually reminded.
Acknowledging Something So Deep in Our Identities
Woven into the fabric of the identities that cling to our beings is this felt sense of inner shame at each bout of rejection we have dealt with—the thousands of those.
The phenomenon of existence involves rejection and being alive qualifies us. It’s a morbid fact.
Rarely do people learn by themselves that such rejections are neither helpful nor right; by the way they make us feel.
Ideally we should be resilient enough to cope with things that go against us without feeling rejected. And it’s important to do this, for feeling rejected is impetus toward self-rejection. When we note the damage this causes us, spiritually, we repel such feelings by noting what God has said.
Due Jesus’ obedience on the cross we no longer condemned. Knowing this, even in the midst of many failures, helps us to not take rejections too harshly, or even harshly at all.
***
Rejecting the self, because we’ve been rejected, is a spiritual travesty. God deems us Beloved. The Father gave up the Son so that we, the forgiven, could live free of the strains of rejection. Whoever God has accepted should never be condemned.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Salvation, Discipleship and Repentance

“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)
Spiritual growth is a passion of mine for the very reason that I never really ‘got’ Christianity for nearly the first 13 years I was a Christian. I had been baptised, but not discipled. I could try to lob the blame onto the pastors of that day, but there was a reason I was uninterested. I hadn’t really understood the real need of grace in my life. I probably understood the role of sin in my life, but I didn’t understand how much it distanced me from God when I engaged in it, because I took grace for granted.
I had been forgiven! But my understanding of grace was it was a very cheap thing.
I hadn’t made the connection, not truly, that Jesus had been pinned to the cross on my behalf. My sin put him there, yet Jesus put himself there that I may be forgiven.
Perhaps I wasn’t ready to truly receive Christ until I was ready. And when I was ready, when I prayed tearfully that Saturday morning, completely bereft of hope; then my need of Christ was suddenly truly real. Then, and only then, was discipleship a natural extension of salvation.
Could we then suppose that those who have experienced the transaction of salvation are validated or invalidated by their willingness (or lack thereof) to engage in discipleship, in becoming more like Jesus? True believers will want to be discipled. True believers will want to grow. True believers will want to please God. These things are evidence of the transformation of salvation; that the saving effect has been made.
Linking Salvation and Discipleship With Repentance
I see that salvation is the upstream transformation in God, whereby the downstream transformation is via discipleship—the intentional process of growing into Christ-likeness. These two—salvation and discipleship—are critically linked.
Grace ought never to be cheapened by a faked salvation or vacuous discipleship. And, at the end of the day, our true status in Christ will be adjudged by the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
Both salvation and discipleship are characterised by our repentance; by our initial and subsequent turning back to God, from the first time through the rest of our history.
A life without a throbbing heartbeat of repentance is an unbeliever’s life, for there is no recognition of the work of God’s grace in that life, and therefore no power.
***
God is power for our lives through Christ crucified and the grace begotten us to be saved. There is power in salvation and through discipleship, but only through repentance. Only through repentance do we attribute the right price to grace. It cost our Saviour his life; at the very least grace should inspire us to repent.
To be a disciple is to repent in an ongoing sense.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Psalm 111 – The Beginning of Wisdom

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.”  
— Psalm 111:10 (NRSV)
What makes us thankful, praiseworthy, and utterly humbled before God? It is wisdom. In the company of young and old, fellow or foe, whose name do we hold high? If it’s the Lord’s, we’re comparatively wise.
If we know the only righteous one is God, we own a significant piece of life’s essence; the beginning of wisdom. If we understand every provision—yes, of our estimation, both good and bad—comes from the Almighty we’re streets ahead of the next person who does not believe.
A Wisdom Psalm
Psalm 111 is a wisdom hymn. It catapults upon our understanding the basic truths of God; of the fortunes of the righteous and the wicked in the mode of life. Such wisdom hymns call us to the black-and-white nature of the biblical life—obedience versus rebellion.
Wisdom is the moral imperative against an immoral world backdrop.
The black-and-white nature of the biblical life means, that once the Divine light is kindled within our hearts, and suddenly we think differently, we can never go back. True salvation, as both an experience and a state, is irreversible. The old life cannot be re-got.
A Wisdom Psalm like this affirms our belief. It gives us confidence when we’re respectful and mindful of God.
The Qualities In God
The body of this Psalm lauds the qualities of our ever just, righteous, faithful God.
These are the redemptive qualities that call us to the Hope in new life. In his dealings with us God is gracious and ever merciful. He is the Great Provider and the Keeper of the Covenant. The statutes of the Lord are immovable; nothing is more steadfast than God. In a changing world, God is the only thing that’s changeless.
Knowledge of these things makes a vast difference to us.
When we can see these qualities in God, we see them working for us, despite how easy or hard our lives are. Just the simple fact that we acknowledge the qualities in God is hope for us. In bearing the truth, however difficult, we align with wisdom; our knowledge is correctly based; so, too, is our faith.
***
The beginning of wisdom is the beginning of life. And the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. This is no ordinary fear. It is about simply understanding the truth of God. Everything else then follows from that correct standpoint. Our perspective is righted.
When we understand God in the midst of life we accept the unacceptable much more readily; we understand there’s a purpose in all things; we understand that visible and obvious things are not all there is. We can claim hope as ours. And peace too.
Such a wisdom as the knowledge of God is the beginning of all wisdom. Such a thing is solid, ever reliable, lauded for its trustworthiness.
Blessed be the name of the Lord. His praise endures forever.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Blessedness In Waiting

“Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)
The title of this article, in the context of the pain we endure for waiting upon the Lord, seems out of keeping with joy; with that blessedness we associate with a God who gives good things and gives with abundance.
There is a divide between life; those who can wait and those who cannot. If we are true to ourselves we resonate with both ideas. Some things we have waited for, whilst others we could not wait.
Blessing followed us for our waiting, but we made our own consequences for not.
Consequences of Not Waiting
The truth is, not everyone can wait. Not everyone is prepared to endure what it takes to patiently distract oneself in the ‘eternal’ meantime between a promise and that promise’s delivery.
The difference is, does the propensity not to wait characterise us at the moment?
These are always quite personal questions. We know what we are waiting for. It’s not like we can get away from it. If we are waiting it’s probably because the thing we are waiting for is hounding us. We somehow have an inkling that if we give in by getting what we want before time, or by giving up before time, the consequences will be dire.
Though it pains us to wait, and for all we’re worth we may not be able to understand why we need to, our logical minds advise:
1) don’t give up;
2) don’t give in by forcing the pace or forcing God’s hand (as if it could be forced!);
3) don’t go near regrettable territory.
Learning to Bear the Burden of Hope
Carrying within us the restlessness of a distant hope seems easy for others; but let’s not be tricked. It is a difficult journey for everyone. Everyone has hopes that in some part are realised and in other parts are dashed. Everyone hears the resounding “NO” of God, just as everyone hears the Divine “YES,” and everyone, also, has unanswered prayers.
The wondrous opportunity we have is to grow to full maturity regarding the bearing of burdens.
This is a wondrous opportunity, because, no matter where we go or what we do in life, God will ask us to wait—either upon an answer to prayer, or upon the actual delivery to or from something by prayer.
***
Better to wait for our prayers to be answered and not rush headlong ahead of God. And, better still, it’s better to accept God’s final word than allow resentment to mount.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Prayer of Joy, Wonder and Thankfulness

The longest times of waiting precede the highest times of joy, wonder, and thankfulness in God’s faithfulness, resplendent in the delivery of what was always hoped for.
This is my prayer today:
My Father in Heaven,
You have journeyed with me from days before my birth, knitting me together in my mother’s womb. You have seen the worst of my sin, but I have never been forsaken. You have been patient with me even when I have been impatient with myself. Your Grace upholds me and delivers me life and the opportunity at abundance.
I confess before you, O Lord, that I am unworthy without Christ; that if not for your Son’s sacrifice I would be the lowest of low. Yet, because of the Messiah’s sacrifice, and because you saw fit to raise him, I live. This salvation is real; it’s life-transforming, and I love you for it. I confess before you, O Lord, as you well know, my patience has been stretched, and sometimes beyond my capacity to cope, but you have helped me as I have relied on your abounding strength. I confess my weakness, but you know that already. Still, you are blessed that I know; that I understand; that I do not deny it.
There are no words to describe how thankful I feel, and the joy in my heart, this very day. I cried out to you and you answered me in this way; a perfect scenario in order to serve you and your blessed church. I am so thankful that serving brings me joy, and this is not of me; this miracle you have moulded into my heart is a miracle of you. I love you that you have saved me from myself. And I am therefore thrilled in awe and wonder at how powerful and sweeping your Grace is. You have given me a place to belong, so that I might help others to feel they belong. This is a beautifully urgent purpose you have thrust into my heart. It is becoming my very being.
I ask you most humbly, O God, to give me the courage to serve and to lead well, with discernment. Give me the grace to support my senior; help me learn from him; help me understand exactly what it is I can do to support him. Give me, O Lord, the capacities and wherewithal to serve the church, each member and each attender, that each may grow to be more like you; to say “yes” to Jesus more and more, bringing glory to you. Above all, my God, give me the ability and tenacious desire to do this thing below... to:
“Pray without ceasing.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NRSV)
I am praying all believe things in the Name above All Names, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus. AMEN.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.




Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Father’s Gracious Will

Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
— Matthew 11:25-26 (NRSV)
Life is the great equaliser.
Whenever we get too far ahead of ourselves,
We seem to be pulled up by life,
Whether by humorous embarrassment
Or by a shame that cuts like a knife.
Perhaps the grand truth is this: we never advance so much past our contemporaries that we can see ourselves as superior to them. The so-called wise, the learned, the intelligent, are all graced by situational blessing.
It’s no guarantee for blessing beyond the present moment in their specialist field.
Instead, those who would normally be considered disadvantaged are given access to the love and knowledge of God in ways that are spiritually proud are not.
The Father’s Gracious Design
Despite what we might think, the Father favours not one person over another. This is qualified by the fact that, over a significant time period, certainly over a lifetime, lives are levelled and equalled.
The disciplined are blessed. The diligent are granted progress. The prudent move slowly and surely forward. But the lazy are found out. The arrogant turn people off and God, too. The person who has a superiority complex is coming quickly to their end.
God is reversing the trend of human will; those taking in life have life taken from them; those who give in life are given life.
The Father is fair. The Father levels the playing field. The Father’s wisdom is gracious. It is the provision of his will.
God takes the person who is insignificant in the world’s eyes and elevates them, much as the tortoise beats the hare. This is good news to anyone who would be tempted otherwise to envy.
Instead of envy, the truly wise wait on the Lord. They understand that those who are presently blessed are only as blessed at their literal yesterday.
The Graciousness of the Hidden and Revealed Will of the Father
The truly poor of spirit are blessed by the revelation of God’s will for their situations and lives. But those who have a cocky sense of self-sufficient spirit will soon fall, because the will of God is hidden from them. They refuse to search for and see it.
Life is all about guidance. Where we are guided by God’s Spirit, where we see the flow of divine grace, we have an incredible advantage. This is one of the reasons we are blessed to be humble. The world, let alone God, admires the humble, but pride generally disgusts the world. The world’s heroes are humble.
***
The Father’s gracious will favours the patient and humble person, not getting ahead of themselves. God’s will is revealed to the patiently humble person, but it is hidden from those who are spiritually proud.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sweet Revival of the Soul


“True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome. True hope responds to the real world, to real life; it is an active effort.”
— Walter Anderson
Struggling souls depend on hope for revival. That hope is awakened by faith-held action—to go on in the hopeless, helpless moment, beyond the negative pale, redeeming the positive.
To be sung in the first person, here is a poem, for you, if your mood descends to the blue:
Swimming against the tide of abandonment, I remind myself of divine enchantment. (For, I am won to the Saviour who descended for me.)
Tumbling in the mix of desolating confusion, I remind myself of the Presence of No Illusion. (God, no less.)
Flattened by the reticence of goals, I remind myself of the Resurrector of souls. (We are raised by request, yet again, by the Son.)
Numbed at the gapingly vacant soul-mood, there is cherished remembrance of nourishing divine food. (Jesus is the Bread of Life.)
When We Feel Abandoned
Rejection is the lowest form of emotion we can experience, for it has trusted in love and unfaithfulness has failed it.
When we feel abandoned we ought to remember the Son scooped and won us. Abandonment has no victory over the soul revived, afresh, by the Holy Spirit.
When We Feel Confused
Chaotic thinking and anxiety abounding, there are times like these where our hearts cannot make sense of our heads.
When we feel confused we ought to remember the Foundation—that Presence of No Illusion is there, in our midst, calming the flailing mind, urging us to take self-respite. The busied mind must take its space.
When We Feel Like A Failure
Whilst the goal of life is to hit the target, whatever that is, we frequently miss. Hope tells us that failure cannot ever define us, unless by choice; to succumb to the inaction of fear when going on in action—the opposite of how we feel—would be the right and better thing to do.
When we feel like a failure we ought to remember there is a Resurrector of souls we call upon in moments like these—to lift us into modes of learning-despite-humiliation and into that raised state of trying again.
When We Feel Empty And Numb
Numbness is possibly the most hopeless of states; yet, it, of itself, is not beyond hope.
When we feel empty and numb we ought to remember to be gentle with ourselves; to go to the divine feeding trough, to the Bread of Life, and eat for rest.
***
Whether we feel abandoned, confused, like a failure, or empty and numb, sweet revival of the soul is but the vision of hope away. Hope believes because it can, especially when all of life is against it. Hope remembers the vision far off and feels the Presence of God near.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Hope In the Dungeon of Despair


HOW IRONIC it is that I can look back now in the moments of my worst grief, where life made no sense at all (apart from what the Bible said, which I clung to), and see those times, now, with pleasantness of heart. These were the times that I now recognise I was closest to God. And though it seemed I was helpless in that condition, now I see how much hope God infused through my spirit at such a time. He grew me.
There always comes a time when we look back at our brokenness, cherishing those memories. We were close to ourselves and ever close to God. There was no room for fabrication, no time to be inauthentic, and no energy for lies or half-truths.
We were solidified in our spiritual integrity, because it was all we had; and all we were.
When our anguish has swamped us, and the tears do run, in the mixture of emotions comes God. But so often God comes in the shape of another human being; someone to just be there, not to offer answers or plastic platitudes or things that sound good.
Hope in the dungeon of despair that the soul treads—the coldness of the stone floor—is the only thing that matters. Hope is all that matters.
Preaching Ourselves a Good Message of Hope
What more do we have to remind ourselves, from God’s Good Word, of hope than Hope itself?
In low places we need to be preaching to ourselves simple, yet encouraging Words of the Lord. We must hope in God. This is a very practical exercise.
When we have energy we search and search and search—for sources of spiritual encouragement. When we lack energy, we are gentle with ourselves, allowing ourselves the rest we need, and we don’t judge ourselves for taking time out. But we can still remind ourselves that we are good people going through a hard time. We need to remind ourselves.
Almost as if we were encouraging another person, we encourage ourselves.
We reach out to others who can help, and we don’t feel guilty for doing that. Others are blessed to be in a position to help, and just to be asked to help, because it involves trust, and everyone loves to be trusted. To be trusted is reward enough for anyone to help.
When we preach ourselves a message of hope we stand to be surprised by how God can turn things around. We never expect it, but deliverance may be surprisingly close.
Faith in God When We Have No Energy and No Joy
Very truly the greatest faith comes to bear when we are at our lowest ebb. When hopelessness abounds, and the disappointments swarm, when hope is truly invisible, then is our greatest challenge of faith.
This is cold comfort right now. We can be told that such tests are growing our faith and growing us toward maturity, but we just want things back the way they were, or at least just to have a peaceable life.
We must hold onto this thought. There is coming a time when we will reflect over the present hardship and look back over it with fondness; pleased with ourselves that we trusted God when we could have wandered off the track into some horrendous spiritual abyss we may never have come out of.
***
It’s excruciatingly hard to see hope in hopelessness, but God shows us such times so we can understand the true strength of his Presence. Times will not always be like this. And a time will come when we will look back on such a dungeon of despair experience with fondness. It was there and then that we fully relied on God and pleased God by our obedience.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.