Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Malachi 1:7 – Help Me Keep My Offerings Pure, O LORD

Prophetic words must always be taken with reverent seriousness, as it is for anything that could be communicated by the Lord through the lips of a messenger. The messenger of the Lord is generally privileged with the heart for the message, because of the sights they are shown. Malachi, though we don’t know who he was, was such a messenger, and his messages were six-fold rhetorical disputation. In other words, Malachi does not make for light or liberating reading. It is, however, lively in terms of Judgment:
The priests of the Lord say, having been accused of profaning the Lord,
“How have we despised your name?”
The Lord responded:
“By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised.”
— Malachi 1:6b-7 (NRSV)
Offerings of things we give to our Lord,
We do such things to show who’s adored,
Our Lord, the One, who has given us life,
Is our only Hope eternal and way out of strife.
A prophet gifted in biblical intercession with a unique gift for being directed to single verses of Scripture for prophetic purposes has done it again.
We know the context of these words of God; at least we think we do. With trepidation and trembling we go forth in our observations of various contexts, hoping always we are on God’s side.
We trust and obey.
There is no other way.
But to despise the Lord,
Is to pave our own way.
To pave our own path, to go it alone, is to disrespect our Master, and that is the defamation of our name as disciples of the Lord. We cannot claim to be his when we continue to defame him; to pave our own path in whatever way or direction we see fit.
The priests in Malachi’s view, along with the people (3:6-12), were despising the Lord. They robbed God, and, worse, thought little of it. At least if we know we are robbing God we ought to be honest in his sight. That would be infinitely better than would be to shut our hearts to the revelation that quickly occurs as we read his Word.
Help me, O God of my creation,
To give before you everything that you deserve,
Not least, my honesty, so you may enable me to integrity.
Help me, O Lord, who protects me from temptation,
To be mindful, aware, and spiritually strong.
And, may God forgive me my transgressions against him!
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Isaiah 46 – The LORD Will Carry You and Save You

As far as East is to West. The Lord is in the east and idols are in the west; and vice versa. These are the words of the Lord through the ear and pen of Isaiah:
“Family of Jacob, listen to me!
All you people from Israel who are still alive, listen!
I have carried you since you were born;
I have taken care of you from your birth.
Even when you are old, I will be the same.
Even when your hair has turned gray, I will take care of you.
I made you and will take care of you.
I will carry you and save you.
— Isaiah 46:3-4 (NCV)
All those idols that apparently ‘replace’ God,
They have no power and only weigh you down,
Keep worshipping them and they’ll make for your back a rod,
Only by the living, saving God is there, for you, a crown.
God carries us from birth to our deaths. We are carried through every struggle. Until the day we meet him face-to-face we are carried.
There is no use in running from God when he has our back. There is no use turning our back on him when he will not stop running after us.
We travel a thousand miles from our Lord with our idols and then we find that God was always right there beside us.
We journey in the bondage of those trappings of our human nature, unable to break clean from those habits, hang-ups, and hurts, and we refuse to look to God. Yet, the paradox is, he was the only One who could save us and relieve us.
Even as we rejected him, he carried us. Even as we disobeyed, God was faithful.
The covenant God is inflexible on his demands that we live a godly life, but only as inflexible as his love for us is commensurate.
When will we take God at his word? If we go our own way we choose slavery, yet if we go God’s way, we choose to obey as our part of the plan of the Lord’s faithfulness.
The nature and role of God is to carry and to save.
Idols, on the other hand, which are everything and anything that seeks to hold us, holding us to ransom; idols are entirely burdensome and they pull us down.
If we live without the active hand of God fully engaged to protect us, we choose a bad outcome for ourselves.
If we live determined to live after God – loving because we can – trusting and obeying him – we will know what it is like to be carried and not burdened; saved and not pulled down like an anchor into an abyss.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What is the Source of Joy?

Joy has an antecedent. What is its source? Gratitude, or thankfulness, is what underpins joy. It’s the only thing that protects us from a self-serving attitude, which is the parent to complaining behaviour. Nobody who routinely complains can be genuinely happy with their lot in life. Ungrateful behaviour is a blight for us all to deal with – those of us living in our relative First World luxury.
What on Earth is the surest way to joy?
It’s the thing almost everyone ignores,
Gratitude is what we really must employ,
Be grateful and certainly heaven’s joy is yours!
Not everything goes our way in life, so it’s alright to not need to be grateful for the circumstances that conspire against us. How we overcome these horrendous circumstances is the simple consideration of what we have and what we don’t have.
What we have, that we so often take for granted, is so simple and so basic we lose sight of it. We have what God has given us: our bodies, our minds, our souls, our gifts, our capacities, our experiences, and our hopes. The list is unlimited and is limited only to our imaginations. What we have is huge.
What we don’t have is a whole heap of suffering that others do have.
Think about it. This is why getting out into the world, and noticing not just the suffering of the world, but the human cost, is good for us – as we make comparisons.
We most often make comparisons to people we envy. But we would never envy someone who has been dealt a hand from hell (in comparison to our experience).
What we don’t have is a raft of experiences that God has willed that we don’t have. This is not about the things we miss out on. It’s about what we ought to be genuinely grateful for.
If we make it our goal to be ruled by a God-blessed gratitude, the Lord will make it happen that we will be infused with a joy we may never have known.
Joy is worth every sacrifice to attain it.
The most wonderful thing is gratitude is its own reward.
So, to be grateful is to be blessed with joy. It’s to bless others with joy.
And the greatest joy is to be within a community of joy.
The source of joy is gratitude. As there is no limit to gratitude, there’s no limit to joy.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Voyage From Loss to Heavenly Reconciliation

October 30, 2014. That’s our deceased son’s date of birth. We never got to meet him alive.
Nathanael Marcus was of full-term gestation, but he had two major challenges: a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia which meant profound compromise on lung capacity, and he had Pallister-Killian Syndrome. The second half of my wife’s pregnancy was not only a week-by-week proposition, it was also punctuated by eight amnioreduction procedures to relieve the excess production of amniotic fluid during the pregnancy. The journey even to Nathanael’s birth was the culmination of months of grief.
It’s almost as if his stillbirth was a marker for a voyage we – as a couple, and as a family of six – began. Until Nathanael had actually passed we couldn’t embark on the voyage. He had not gone to be with God yet.
The voyage’s destination is obvious: it’s a heavenly reconciliation we seek.
So, we have set out on this voyage we didn’t want to take. And all of us are required to take such a voyage eventually.
Grief, in many senses, is a lifelong process; we just end up at ‘acceptance’ and remain there. Acceptance is still part of the grief process.
Whilst we are on this voyage we pine for the destination, yet there are still too many reasons to enjoy the voyage; family is on board and we have things to do and achieve as the waves lap at the bow of life’s ship as it plunges through the whitecaps. There is a living hope to be enjoyed.
If we count where we are at, we are really not long past the harbour markers on this voyage, if we will live to the end of our natural lives. We may not reunite with our little boy for close to fifty years (or more?). He, who is ever missed, is with God, and, whilst we know God is here with us, we cannot be with God in the same way as Nathanael is. It’s not our time. Yet, in eternity, where there is no time, our son waits without waiting.
As our vessel steams out beyond the channel markers into the open seas of the coming year (and years/decades) we hope Nathanael’s memory will grow fonder and not more distant. We hope that the hope of seeing him one day will enrich the wonder in our hearts for the coming resurrected life.
The voyage is not filled with sadness, though there are appropriate times for such sentiment. The voyage is replete, however, with significance emotionally and spiritually; as deep as the fathoms below. Each mile traversed, each month, each milestone in this life, is followed by the heavenly host as witnesses as to how life continues on for us, the living. They see what we cannot. We may one day see it all for what it truly was.
We are ever grateful for Nathanael. Had we not had him heaven would not have touched us because of his transcendence.
We are gifted with the blessing of being on a voyage toward Nathanael; the destination, ourselves, to be with God, and to be reconciled in heaven.
We all are. We are all bound there. We are all bound for death and eternity.

© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Being of True Human Value

When it comes to being of true value to the Lord, we may know the benefit we are to the Divine by the value we can be to our fellow humanity.
How can we know we are of true human value? When we are of value to others, notwithstanding the fact that, in God, we are wholly valuable despite what or what we don’t do, God helps us feel of true human value.
Let us juxtapose two methods of help that we typically provide to the person we know (and some we don’t):
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
 Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996)
It appears that being of true human value is both much easier and much harder than we first thought. If we do less, we do more, but if we insist on foisting ourselves over others’ needs then we will not only sadden them, we will frustrate ourselves. This is because all the effort we put it in is not appreciated, and we might be forgiven for feeling a little betrayed. (Not that the person we are serving, perhaps, even wanted what we had to offer in the first place!)
If we do less, we actually do more.
If we keep our help simple it’s most likely it’ll be effective.
These are the subtleties of serving others, and, if we get our motive right, we don’t have any issue understanding a person’s reaction. If our service to them is really all about them (and not ourselves) we will be genuinely grateful for their response or reaction. The feedback we get is held as highly valuable.
Of course, we will battle with our pride if we get feedback that’s difficult to bear, but we will recover if we truly wish to serve them.
We are of true human value when we provide support and encouragement to others. Most people prefer tacit support and discerning encouragement over advice, solutions or cure-alls.
Being of true human value is the skill and desire of journeying with another in their frailty.
Less is more when it comes to helping, but what we do and how we do it should always be to the pleasure of the one we serve.
If we’re committed to love our feelings, biases, and needs are pushed to the background as we engage an actively caring paradigm of thought.
To put another person first is to experience God putting us first.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Celebrating the Forgotten Saviour

They put the bunny into Easter
And tried to forget about what You’ve done,
And Santa Claus came to “Ho, ho, ho!”
So everyone could forget the Son.
Waking up on Christmas morning, even as I approach my fifties, there is still the feeling of ‘birthday’ about it. Christmas is a special morning. But I was brought up in a secular home and Christ had nothing to do with Christmas. It was all about Santa or “Father Christmas.” Until I was old enough to work it out for myself, Father Christmas brought the gifts to our home, using a chimney (even though we didn’t have one!).
Easter was no different. The bunny had been organised months earlier; eggs were stocked in the shops from January. In fact, the commercialised world had cottoned on that they could make money out of Christ (going against the very meaning of the gospel) almost year round.
Then came Christmas in July! (See where I’m heading.)
Well, now I’m Christian I can see the massive ruse that overtakes all of us. I shouldn’t be waking up thinking Christmas is like a birthday, because of the gifts I’ll get. Same for Easter and all those chocolate treats.
I should wake up on both occasions absolutely focused on the meaning of both calendar events – Christ’s birth and his crucifixion and resurrection.
If I can’t do that I shouldn’t celebrate either event, but make up what I want as a special day and then make my own meaning.
Let’s make Christmas about Jesus and Him alone, because Jesus would want us to celebrate family and love, joy and peace: these are the greatest gifts.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From ‘Disappointments’ to ‘His Appointments’

The human response to bad news is predictable: we battle with varying degrees of negative desire – to react in some way. Some situations we pat ourselves on the back because we don’t respond as badly as those do.
But life catches each of us. We each have our angry, fearful, and sad buttons – and the circumstances of life press them, eventually!
Now, we should not be so foolish as to seek out challenges and tests – that push our faith to the limits. Our role is to be ready for them; ready to receive them humbly and patiently; ready to work with God through them; ready to learn what God's destined for us to learn; and, ready to respond gracefully with others.
In my experience, the one who brashly seeks a fearful unknown can often be the one who is trounced by God in the raucousness of their pride.
Disappointments come of their own accord. Trials enter our lives whether we like it or not. Hardship is ours eventually. Let’s not hurry them.
Through the flowing stream of life, from the river’s dry and meagre origins to its thriving gush into the sea, as we travel downstream, there are the Divine appointments of life.
Truly, every moment.
And when we can see each moment not unlike the last or the next one we realise God’s in every moment just the same. From first to last – along the watery course of our lives – God never changes, nor does the nature of time, experience or circumstance.
Life is neither fair nor unfair; life is life – a thing all its own.
We may see now the trials and tribulations, delights and disappointments, hilarity and hardship all exist in the same way. We take them differently but they are the same to God.
One is destined as blessing of pleasure; the other, as the blessing of opportunity to grow.
When we see God in the disappointments of life we are not so much harmed by them as guided by them, to fully rely on God, because we would not be able to cope and thrive otherwise.
When we take our disappointments as discrete and divine appointments, seeking God in our response, we see life differently, and the challenge is transformed into an opportunity.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Father’s Bond With His Stillborn Son

The Holy Spirit encouraged me, “Write!”
So, here it is. Having a deceased child means that grief and mourning are normal. Never will it be that I’m totally adjusted and ‘satisfied’ with life without my second son. Never again, or not for a long time, will it be that I’ll enjoy family celebrations completely unencumbered. Never will it be for me that I don’t find something as significant missing from my life. But there is a bond between us – of the fabric of eternity – that I cling to, make the very most of, and celebrate.
This is not my first experience of all these things. I know that over the path of time the sting of grief in the memory – like what you’re missing out on – dissipates. It’s one of the worst things in loss: being envious of others who have what you don’t have.
But the bond with my stillborn son is what I do have.
This is how my bond developed and is subsequently maintained: I spent much time experiencing his body as much as I could through holding him, touching him, smelling his skin, kissing him, and just looking at him. Now I go regularly into a silent place, with moving music, and just embrace my deeply buried sorrow, because life feels too normal otherwise.
The bond is incredibly important and nothing that I’m scared of; indeed, it’s all I have so I must embrace it.
Going into that silent place, doing only what I can do, alone, is something truly precious and invaluable, not simply for healing, but purely as an experience.
I’ve found it so true: to embrace our grief is not only to heal, but to sincerely enjoy something beyond happiness; it’s a deeper joy to anticipate what only God can do. That is to produce a miracle each moment we enter into the cherished space where only God goes with us.
Grief is a marvel if we have the courage to throw our fear away to enter healing.
My son is, and always will be, such a precious soul to me. He is with God and I find that so hard to understand; he got there before me and he experienced nothing of this life.
I resolve to enjoy the bond with my stillborn son. It’s all I have so it’s all I need. I will be thankful for that which God provided me. I will miss no opportunity to know him.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.