Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Experiencing the Hour of Darkness

A young person I know very well told me recently that they don’t live a day at a time, but mostly it’s an hour at a time.  The concept has gravity.  There was weight to the words, for it was the case of a real and present danger, a darkness lurking, where what was spoken of involved the potential that the very next moment could consume all sense of hope and rationality; a darkness descended.
I know of such hours.  I recall times when one hour felt like a whole day.  On other occasions, I remember, within one hour, feeling fine, then only to sink into a menacing spiral.
“What happened?” I’d think.  “How could my hour/day be hijacked so instantly?”
The thing is, until this happens to you, until you’re overwhelmed in a panic attack, you don’t believe it’s possible — for someone else, maybe, but not for you.  Then you experience it for the first time, and a worst type of reality is born into existence.  But such an horrendous reality is not the end of the story; it’s really a beginning of something far better, if we embark on a learning journey, though I don’t want to halt necessary descriptions of darkness just yet.
Experiencing the hour of darkness teaches us
something about the weight of life.
It teaches us about the gravity indwelt in reality.  It opens the eyes of our mind, penetrating the heart to fathoms, and makes us serious, wiser, more compassionate persons overnight.  It grabs our attention, making us ever more empathic to myriad plights in the world.
Experiencing the hour of darkness, as a swarm of spiritual heaviness hovers with fleeting swiftness, is best done still.  Nothing can be added just like nothing can be taken away.  Stay still, silent in your mind, hold the key of the moment, and do nothing silly.
For all those who’ve lived in this hourly frame, you’re not alone.  The seconds are arduous, the minutes contemptuous, the hour’s pitch darkness.
Experiencing the hour of darkness reminds us to be grateful for the return of the hour of light.
Anxiety and depression, however atrocious they are, expand our empathy, and deepen our compassion.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

God’s Presence With You, No Matter What You Face

Joseph spent a full thirteen years developing in character.  From age 17 to about 30 he faced hardship after temptation after persecution after tumult.  Like Job after him, by the time God used his life with great power, he had learned the humility that believes: “God is with me no matter what I face, and, that facing what I face like I can proves God is with me, and actually, nothing else matters.”
Whether in squander or want, whether we rejoice or weep, no matter the circumstance, God’s Presence makes the difference, in what we face.
God’s Presence reminds us, any time we wish His reassurance, we’re never alone in facing what’s overwhelming, all-consuming, or seemingly impossible.
God’s Presence is what we experience when all is not okay, but we respond as if all is okay.  Somehow we should react differently, but God’s Presence blesses us with poise when we’d otherwise fall apart.
God’s Presence is shown in and through us via our courageous response.
Sooner or later God’s Spirit brings us to this realisation: we will serve Him no matter the cost and consequences, even if and when, in serving Him, it seems His Presence is far off.
That is where God wants everyone.  It’s a place of impregnable commitment.  We may not feel unassailable, but our commitment that is easily spoken is backed up by our behaviour, and we find our lives bellow Joshua 24:15 — “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
No matter what you face, no matter how hard, trust God’s Presence, and His face will shine for you, no matter what.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Top 50 Christian Search Words – Some May Surprise You

Here are the 50 top Christian search words on the internet from 2014 research: 
1.     Love – God is love, but so then are we to exemplify love.
2.     Faith – it’s a lifelong journey to discover how to apply faith.
3.     Peace – everybody wants what they determine in their own way to be peace.  The Bible has particular forms of peace.  We have to trust God that His peace is superior to any peace we might be happy to acquire and retain.
4.     Hope – like faith, hope’s essential learning for life for everyone.
5.     Marriage – no surprise here marriage rates so high.
6.     Joy – it’s what the Christian life holds out as the perennial opportunity.
7.     Prayer – we all need to learn more about connecting with God.
8.     Strength – the real Christian life is about His strength in our weakness.
9.     Grace – juxtaposed with sin, we can never tap the fathomless caverns of grace.
10. Children – the future of the Kingdom resides in the least of these.
11. Forgiveness – we all find we have to wrestle with bitterness in learning true forgiveness, and ironically, it’s when we’ve made that journey we begin to understand the depths of mercy in God’s grace.
12. Healing – we all need it, variously and continually.
13. Holy Spirit – from where all our power comes from.
14. Salvation – we all need it, variously and continually.
15. Fear – being human is being fearful.  Faith is the antidote.
16. Trust – such an important concept, both vertically (with God) and horizontally (with people).
17. Heart – a thing that Proverbs speaks so much about — the seat of our intentions.
18. Forgive – see forgiveness at number 11.
19. Comfort – in our grief, not for materialism’s sake.
20. Pray – see prayer at number 7.
21. Worship – our number one pursuit; our living purpose.
22. Friend – Jesus.  But we also need friends who’ll be Jesus to us as well as opportunities to be Jesus to others.
23. Worry – Matthew 6:34 tells us to take life just a day at a time.
24. Light – Jesus, the light of the world, as we, too, are to be lights on a hill.
25. Patience – such a necessary virtue to learn and practice.
26. Death – the deaths of loved ones and friends, plus the inescapable reality: our own.
27. Love one another – Jesus’ final command.
28. Love is patient – it is.  1 Corinthians 13 lists patience first.
29. Truth – believers worship God in Spirit and in truth.
30. Sin – a thing with which we’re all related.  It’s ours to have such a relationship with sin that we love awareness yet repel temptation.
31. Fruit of the Spirit – definite manifestation of God’s Presence.
32. Thanksgiving – not just one day a year, but every day of the year.
33. Divorce – a perennial favourite topic for God’s people.
34. Heaven – not only where the saved are headed, but also a milieu on earth by God’s Presence.
35. Anger – juxtaposed with “patience.”  Being Christian means genuinely overcoming violence.
36. Spirit – see Holy Spirit.
37. Praise – put this together on a coin with thanksgiving.
38. Wife – interesting, no mention of husband.
39. Family.
40. Trust in the Lord – see trust.
41. Tongue – taming the tongue in James 3.
42. Work.
43. God is Love.  He is.
44. Jesus – why is Jesus rated so low in such a list?
45. Ten Commandments – there is obviously still interest in the Mosaic Law.
46. Baptism – there will always be interest in baptism when we have so many differing traditions within Christianity.
47. Encouragement – another such necessary gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit.
48. Satan – part of the arsenal of our faith is to know we’re engaged in spiritual warfare every day of our lives.  It’s good to know how the enemy operates without being freaked out by his presence.
49. Repent – is there any more valuable a concept to equip us for a saved life of service to and for God?
50. Tithe – the church needs and deserves to be resourced.
Some that surprise for being there are “comfort,” “work,” and “friend.”  Obviously, though, the Bible speaks greatly about comfort for the oppressed, as opposed to comfort in a material form.
Some that surprise for not being there are “porn” (given statistics reveal Christians are plagued in equal numbers to this sin/addiction), “addiction” (generally), “theology,” and “husband.”  “Same sex marriage” or “gay marriage” are terms we’d expect to see as well.  And given that Jesus only comes in at number 44, among others that feature higher or lower than we’d expect, we can look at any list and there are surprises which provide for our edification and entertainment.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Brother Lawrence’s Approach to Prayer

“I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which my state obliges me.”
— Brother Lawrence (1614 – 1691)
What Brother Lawrence says in the above quote is no objection to public or corporate prayer.  It’s no objection to intercessory prayer.  It’s certainly no objection to any conventional form of prayer.  It’s actually no objection to any planned devotional pursuit.  Those things we should continue to do.
But Brother Lawrence refers to something all Christians should want.
He refers to a state every human being should hunger for; a state that transcends our earthly state and circumstance, lifting us high upon heaven’s firmament, beyond pain and difficulty, even as we live this life.
It is a thing practiced; a thing never perfected; a thing that needs to be perpetual.
What I think Brother Lawrence is saying is prayer and devotion ought to move out from the will of God as it is discerned by our developed and constant God-consciousness.
Practicing the Presence of God means never being apart from the Lord in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Of course, we’re human so we’ll never be perfectly attuned, but our thoughts should be God-filtered and God-immersed.  Out of such thinking comes the wellspring of life.
And the practice of such a life will enable us to live such a life more and more.
Let us consider revising and reframing our definitions of prayer.
Rather than promise someone we’ll pray for them, and not follow through, let us ask God to make us aware when and how to pray for them, then trust Him and obey Him when He puts that person and their situation on our heart’s mind.
Rather than schedule our devotions to occur at a certain time of day, in a certain way, as if it were a task to be ticked off, let us ask God to open our eyes to His Spirit’s action in our world 24/7.  We may find our devotional practices blossom.  We certainly ought to be reading voraciously.  A disciplined approach to the devotional life is to be commended, but that approach should go with us throughout our whole day.
Let us be perpetually present with God in our thoughts.  Let us endeavour to live now as if we were in heaven.  Let us rise above distractions that are unbecoming of His Kingdom.  Let us be His person, as He is our God.  Let us, Lord, be with You, evermore, as You are evermore with us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Your Sure Defence When Under Spiritual Attack

“When the devil and the world call to you, you only have to answer: ‘You didn’t make me, you didn’t redeem me, and you won’t judge me!’”
— Paul David Washer
We hold so much stock in life, and our lives are one arm wrestle after another to wrest back to the Lord His control over our lives.  The world constantly has a piece of us.  It either lavishes upon us a myriad of idols or it ‘promises’ things to prop up our pride, which, when they don’t come through, and they almost always don’t, a fall is our dessert.
Then there’s the enemy, the father of lies.  He’ll stop at nothing to discourage and afflict.  And if the world’s temptations won’t ordinarily get to us, he will use those temptations of the world to tempt us when we least expect it.  The devil will do whatever can be done to skew our allegiance from God.
But, thankfully, neither the devil nor the world have any claim to us.
God made us, redeemed us, and will judge us.  All three dominions are out of the hands of anyone or anything other than God.
God designed us, made us fearfully and wonderfully, biologically, physiologically, anatomically, and psychologically for His purpose.
God sent His Son to live as we live, to show us how to live, and to die as we die, but with an important difference; to be raised as we, one day, will be raised.  By His resurrection, He is God, and by His cross we’re redeemed.  We’re redeemed by God.
God will, when our lives are said and done, settle the matter of our meaning for life.  We will be judged according to God’s holy standard, yet covered by grace is the believer.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ever Heard It Preached, “God Hates Divorce”?

Like any avid reader of God’s Word, I’m just thrilled when something quite remarkable comes to my attention regarding a fresh and better interpretation of the biblical text.
Two recent articles, God on Divorce, and Jesus on Divorce, by Marg Mowczko of New Life blog, came to my attention through Christian Bloggers Network on Facebook.
What Mowczko was able to show was a great encouragement to me, a remarried divorcee.  In context of Malachi 2:16 — an historical proof-text that “God hates divorce” — the biblical Word may not, and does not in fact, appear to say that at all.
What this verse says in reality is not that God hates divorce under all circumstances, but that a man, “he hates and divorces his wife” with the presumption that he divorces (lit. “sends her away”) unjustifiably (where the only justification is notionally adultery) and therefore he does violence against her.  This verse makes no sense if it says “God hates divorce,” because the second half of the verse is talking directly about the man who divorces his wife.  The bulk of Malachi 2:16 is a conditional “if… then” sentence.  The protasis (if…) and apodosis (… then) always have the same context.
I wish to draw your attention to the graphic above, so you can contrast the differences in the interpretation between five popular translations of the Bible.  Isn’t it staggering?  Three of those versions say something quite different to the other two (even if the NIV has a foot in both camps looking at the footnotes).
Anthony Petterson prefers, ‘“If he hates [her enough] to divorce,” says Yahweh God of Israel, “he [the husband] covers a violence on his garment.”[1]  By going about remarrying as if he were innocent, having divorced her without cause, he is concealing a violence done to her.  In fact, if either gender was to divorce (refuse to reconcile) their partner, without cause, they do a violence to that partner.  At the very least, the maligned partner would be allowed to remarry.  Douglas Stuart’s[2] rendition of Malachi 2:15b-16 is also helpful: “So watch out for your lives and do not be unfaithful to your childhood wife.  If one hates and divorces [Yahweh, Israel’s God, said], he covers his clothes with crime.” Presumably, the clothes are no longer seen on the divorcing husband’s body, only the crime (which, as a word, is said by Stuart to be vaster and more descriptive than “violence”).
“Hating” one’s wife (or husband) may still not be grounds for divorce, given that even marital unfaithfulness can, at times, be overcome.  But one ought not be “hated” for divorcing either, especially if the one divorcing is doing it for their own and their children’s safety.  Rather than be hated, criticised or condemned, that person ought to be commended for the courage they’ve taken to provide safety for themselves and their dependents.
I personally have never heard a sermon devoted to Malachi 2:16 or “God hates divorce,” but I’m sure there have been many of these sermons preached.  Such sermons would be a misuse of the biblical text at best; at worst they offer a pastoral noose with which divorced persons or victims of divorce could well hang themselves.
I’m sure God does actually hate divorce, because it severs a covenant He witnessed and ordained, but it’s unfair to say that through Malachi 2:16, simply because the text doesn’t say that.
The practical outworking of this reframing of God’s Word to challenge “God hates divorce” is extremely encouraging for many divorcees.  Many, many people are victims of divorce, and would never have chosen it, having rather remained married, if it were more appropriate or possible to do so.
Too many divorcees have been sullied by their divorces, and incorrect interpretation of Malachi 2:16 hasn’t helped their cause, because, frankly, Malachi 2:16 does not say, “God hates divorce.”
Perhaps out of all the versions shown in the above graphic, the New Living Translation (NLT) comes closest to showing that God not so much abhors divorce, but more the unfaithful treatment of the person being divorced.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

[1] Petterson, A.R. Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi – Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), p. 354.
[2] Stuart, D. Malachi – The Minor Prophets – An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Ed. McComiskey, T.E.) (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), p. 1339.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Suffering’s Greatest Encouragement

Although He was the Son of God, the living, human Jesus was not saved from suffering, and He suffered so very much, for us, as the perfect expression of God’s love, and as the Exemplar for life.
In this — His suffering, His consummation, His passion — we can surely know He was one-hundred percent human.  (This article is not about Jesus’ one-hundred percent divinity, as absolutely incarnate of God, though that, in our appraisal, is irrefutable.)
He suffered more than we could ever suffer.  He was afflicted much more, yet suffered manifestly unjustly, propounding the injustice of suffering without cause.  And hence, He learned obedience, through withstanding temptation, enduring the pain the Father allowed Him to bear, and by being willingly brought to nothing, among many other rationalities the brevity of this article just will not allow.
We could say that how could He learn obedience when He was already supposedly sinlessly perfect?
As a human being He still had to endure His suffering, and being human meant to withstand His suffering was never a fait accompli.  We might think that obedience for Jesus was easy, because He was of God.  But being fully human meant that nothing we experience as humans was alleviated from Him.  He suffered humanly.  He suffered as you and I do… just as you and I do… and suffered more… without any justification.
Jesus had to endure the suffering of His passion to be our Saviour.  He had to practice obedience to learn obedience.  And in learning obedience, by being obedient, He shows each of us in our suffering that we learn obedience by being obedient.
There is something salubrious in surrendering our will for His.
To suffer, through surrender, insisting on nothing, is to know God’s blessed Presence.  Partakers of the same obedient suffering of Jesus, makes us sufferers worthy of a crown.  That crown — in this life (because there is another crown) — is a crown of humility attuned to His obedience.
The learning of obedience is the central purpose of our lives, and we cannot learn a thing until we’ve suffered somewhat as He suffered.
So here is the encouragement:
If you suffer, you’re halfway there.  You already have His Presence.  The suffering won’t change the fact that you’re suffering.  It’s real.  It’s yours, yet you’d not wish it on another.  But in that cherished place you have a friend in Jesus — the only one, yet the all-sufficient One, who goes with you into the darkness of your present horror.
He is not only with you; He’s guiding you in how to suffer obediently; to bear humiliation like no human being could without His Presence.
Jesus loans us, via His Spirit, moment by shrill moment, the strength to bear suffering obediently.  Our reward is He teaches us how He suffered and we learn His obedience.
Then we know Him.  Then, finally, we’re able to love Him.
And lastly, this suffering I talk of is not an exclusivist thing.
We’ve all suffered enough to know Him and love Him, but have we let Him in to help us?
Jesus demands our honesty, our willing surrender of horrendous realities, our openness to His Spiritual healing.
Simply people, nothing else works.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.