Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How God Uses Discouragement to Grow Us

When growth seemed to elude me, in a second’s madness of exasperation, I threw my hands in the air and asked God, “What’s the use…? I can’t do it, Lord. I have not grown! I cannot please You with my growth.”
And His Holy Spirit said, “Oh, be gentle… you, however, are correct, of course. You cannot please Me with your growth… you can only please me by My growth in you.”
Subtle and significant difference.  Massive course correction.
We cannot please God with our growth;
we can only please God by His growth in us.
It occurred to me recently that there are two forms of growth in a Christian’s discipleship: 1) instant growth through a commitment to change — classic repentance; and, 2) slow, arduous, painful growth over usually two to five years — classic transformation.
Repentance begins in a moment; the outworking of repentance brings transformation.
It’s to the second form of growth we find most discouraging, having obeyed God in the first place to turn from inappropriate practices. But discouragement has its place. It’s vital. First, before we can grow, in this new area of flawdom, we need to come to the end of ourselves. God needs to crush that self-reliance out of us. Or, we need to experience the burning rage of our ‘disappointing’ God, first hand. Then He shows us our folly. Sure we’re a disappointment to Him, but not for the reason we think. God’s not disappointed by our lack of growth. He’s disappointed because we aren’t trusting Him. He’s disappointed because we regarding Him so lowly that we think that through our pride we can do what only He can do. He’s disappointed because we’ve bought into a lie.  
Our growth is not about us!
It’s about Him. It always is.
If growth was easy, and could be achieved quickly, we’d take credit for it. God doesn’t need the credit, but He knows if we don’t give Him genuine credit by hiding our acclaim, we become conceited. This is why growth is hard and takes a long time — so we don’t become conceited. We might still get conceited, but God knows how unimpressive our own perception of our growth is to all around us. Nobody believes us. It backfires. So why bother to endeavour to convince them?
Genuine growth takes years because that’s the only way others can see change in us. It’s how God works — not over the months, but the years.
It’s as if God is saying to us, “Please stop stressing so much about your growth. If you’ll allow Me to do a work in you, I will need time, because I’m working with you — a flawed human being.  So please be gentle with yourself… take the pressure down… and don’t hide behind your false humility of, I can’t do it, Lord. I have not grown! I cannot please You with my growth.  I will show you your growth over the years. Please Me simply by trusting Me. I have promised You to complete the work.[1] Trust Me to do it.”
So, in a mood of personal reprisal — a man in receipt of God’s rebuke — I commend to you what I believe God is saying to us, by way of personal example, in our frustration for a lack of growth.
To repent takes a decision,
but to grow takes thousands of them.
Discouragement in our growth in God is a sign; that we’re anticipating growth in our own power. Discouragement shows us our lack of relying on God. But growth is impossible in our own power. It’s only possible in God’s power.
May God truly bless you as you expect less of yourself and expect more of His grace,
Steve Wickham.

[1] See 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Believing in them as Jesus Believes in them

I believe in the Principle of 10 out of 10.
Believing in people as Jesus believes in them is about investing time in them as He would.  It’s not about drawing attention to their faults.  It’s about entering into the material of their lives.
Seeing others through the lens of grace is viewing persons in our midst as image bearers.
Only one image is borne upon the mind; this person, right here, with us, in living, breathing, thinking, feeling form, is a being made in the Creator’s image.  The One who created this one created everything else.  They’ve been made in His perfect image, priceless in value, inestimable in worth.
It doesn’t matter what they’ve done.  Jesus’ first interaction is encounter.  In encountering Jesus, a person sees their sin for themselves.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convey an understanding and convict a person of their wrong.  Being their Jesus, as all Christians are called to be, we focus on loving them, and there is no condemnation in love.
Believing in a person as Jesus believes in a person soon necessitates action.
Having gotten to know us, and indeed having found safe harbour, the person soon shares a fear, a vulnerability, a burden, a sin; something they feel guilty for and ashamed of.  Even then it’s not the case of giving advice.  It’s the opportunity to listen intently, to thank them for their trust, to enjoy the sign of a newfound intimacy.  To just sit there in the wonder of relational confidence.  The person won’t continue to share if they find us giving them advice.  They could get that from anyone, but never from Jesus.
Only having been convicted from within about an action they need to take can we endorse it through encouragement — “Go and do likewise.”
At all times, never is a person out of Jesus’ loving care.  We’re called to go and do likewise.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why God’s Gospel Makes More Sense In Suffering

We never wish suffering on ourselves, but suffering will take us into the heartland of the gospel, and when we suffer enough, we’re taken into the inner sanctum of maturity.
On one condition: the response that pauses, reflects, and absorbs hurt, determined not to react, but to learn unknowable lessons which can only be learned by faith.
We must participate in Christ’s sufferings[1] if we’re to ever understand and truly embrace His gospel.  It doesn’t mean we don’t or won’t get His gospel if we haven’t yet suffered, but a promise remains for us in the prelude to suffering, as we participate like Christ.
We always underestimate what Jesus will call us into so far as participation is concerned.
Horrified are we to consider the standard fare: anything from having our dreams destroyed, crimes against or the loss of loved ones, death ourselves, false accusation, defamation.  And there are a million and more lesser sufferings that plague us either in potentiality or reality.
It may seem a sadistic compensation that to come closer to God and to understand His gospel much more requires us to suffer.  But think about Jesus for a moment.  He suffered.  His teaching centred on suffering well, by taking heart; He had overcome!  He suffered the ignominy of rejection from all quarters.  His death involved the most suffering any of us can imagine.
Would we be spared from some of this?  We’re spared from almost all of it!
But we’re still called to suffer, and to glory in our sufferings.[2]
And as we do glory in our sufferings, in the hope that there’s something good going on in the process, the gospel makes abundantly more sense.
The gospel is a break-glass reality, a construct for life when life is turned upside down.  It’s a way an upside down life can be turned right way up.  Then it becomes the only true and right way we can live.[3]
As we suffer, may we give in to the mystery of Christ who uttered not a word of reprisal.  In act of being executed.  Yet, when we do react, let’s forgive ourselves as Christ forgives us.  He is perfectly patient and kind and we’re nothing like perfect.
The gospel of God as it lives in us is a reality that becomes clearer the more we suffer.
Grace of the Lord to you,
Steve Wickham.

[1] See Philippians 3:10 and 1 Peter 4:13.
[2] See, for instance, Romans 5:3-5.
[3] See John 14:6.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Says Jesus, Come Into a Faith of Trust Beyond Hope

“We can hope that God’s real our whole lives, but why not know that He’s real.”
— Kristene DiMarco
It is only my faith in God that can explain how life-shattering sorrow can be turned to a deep abiding joy.  Or, that gripping fear can flip into courage tantamount to conquest.  Or, that guilt and shame would make way for gracious forgiveness that emanates from the soul — something that could never be truer.
The faith we’re invited into is a faith that looks beyond hope, knowing that it knows that it knows, that God is real, and because He’s real, His will comes to pass.
His will is all that matters.  That’s our outlook when we really know God is real, by faith.  When God’s will is welcomed at every juncture of our lives, suddenly Scriptures like Psalm 37:4 make sense because we see them in the light of Jesus’ imperative of Matthew 6:33 — “Put first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all else will be given to you.”
Faith is that cherished attitude of self that forgets self, almost as if the hurt part of our hearts can no longer hurt, because we’ve resolved to place our self into His hands, by faith.  Such a state of being must stem from being encountered by God.
Faith is something that transcends hope, for hope is still something that must lift faith, and true faith needs no such help.
A faith that has transcended hope is a faith that has decided to follow Jesus, whatever the cost.  This is a faith that is possible, and never easier is such a faith when we know God is real.  Trust God because He is real, and the faith He supplies shatters the moment’s doubt.
Needing to hope suggests a doubt-sullied faith.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Much of the time it’s all we’ve got.  But faith that needs no reliance on hope is faith on conquest for Jesus.
Nothing better than a Jesus faith is worthy of Jesus, and in all-out surrender we ought to strive for it.  In the peerless surrender of our strength for His.  Such a faith would be reckless if it weren’t haemorrhaging in trust.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How, When Satan’s Winning, Your Victory In Christ Is Assured

Killer blows, dealt to crush us in an oblivion of pain, have their purpose in taking us up to the Precipice of Presence; of Christ at the moment of His cross.
It is always God’s intention that we be accompanied in those forlorn places of soul — the paraclete coming alongside.
There, as He was raised high and vertical, the prince of darkness leapt in conquest, yet, as Christ submitted, in submission was His triumph.  So is ours.
In submission is acceptance of humiliation; a paradoxically gospel precursor to triumph.
The Christian cannot hope to attain the victory of the resurrection without coming to their cross and dying first.  Without submission there is no success in the school of Christ.
In coming close, there is the proximity of defeat, of pain beyond compare, where the enemy is quaking with glee.
Standing at the cross, ready to be raised high and vertical, in anticipation of suffocation, the immediacy of death before us — which is death to pride, self-sufficiency, and fear of being forsaken — we stand immediately before two horizontally-opposed spirits; the spirits of defeat and of victory.
The devil anticipates victory as we’re crushed by the forces of humiliation.  Satan is powerless, however, to stop Love — rendered through submission — which makes a way for humiliation to be the catalyst in resurrection.  Can you see how important humiliation is?  In the acceptance place within humiliation we side with Christ and depart from Satan.
The embodiment of acceptance in humiliation is one tangible way we can imitate Christ, when many ways of the Lord are unique to Him alone.  Satan humiliated Christ momentarily at the cross, but Christ humiliated Satan eternally in His resurrection.  See how Christ shows us how, in accepting humiliation, we demonstrate loving submission in honouring the Father, and we bamboozle the enemy?
We’re in good company any time we feel defeated,
for as we share in Christ’s defeat we share also in His triumph.
Blessed are the crushed and humiliated, for in their submitted demeanour of response they humiliate and crush the devil at His own game.
In Christ alone, with you, the paraclete coming alongside us both,
Steve Wickham.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Three Cords to Identity – Knowing, Accepting, Embracing

Frustration is something I’ve been pondering in a season where exposure to frustration has been a cherished opportunity, yet only cherished as a product of later reflection.  Gradually God has been teaching me something about frustration through my immersion in it.  Not that I haven’t had significant immersion in frustration beforehand; just that this season has sprinkled frustration throughout my experience effervescently.
This is what God has shown me: frustration is alleviated when identity is addressed in: 1) knowing our purpose; 2) accepting it; and, 3) embracing it.
Knowing our purpose in life is crucial.  Knowing and accepting are linked, but until we know our purpose we cannot accept it.  Our purpose is more fundamental than we think: it’s being a citizen (of heaven and earth), a son or a daughter, a spouse (if blessed with a partner), a father or mother (if blessed with children), a worker contributing into the world of God’s Kingdom.  Knowing is basic, yet so many never take the time to reflect on what’s right in front of them.  Knowing ourselves is central to knowing who we are in Christ.  Knowing ourselves brings us into confrontation with our purpose.
Yet, knowing our purpose brings us to a problem: our purpose may be something with which we’re not entirely comfortable.  We may not like our lives.  We may resent our pasts.  We may not like what’s coming in our futures.  Our present moments might rekindle torment, and often.  But until we wrestle with these concepts of state, we cannot accept that which otherwise proves futile.  Accepting what we cannot change is the only platform to growth through undesirable states into something abundantly better.
Embracing what we now accept is quite a simple and joyous step.  In this space, we find it an honour to live our ordinary lives to the extraordinary glory of God.  Resilient against the wiles of thuggery that this life casts our way, our joy is able to transcend the ugly bits of our identity in joining faithfully with God’s.
What a blessing it is to get beyond the desire to escape our lives, to know, to accept, and to embrace what God’s given us freely in His grace.
Identity is a cord with three ropes: knowing who God made us to be, accepting, then embracing it for His glory.  Such a cord is strong in the identification of our bearing His image for His purpose.
Purpose and identity are entwined.  Purpose gives meaning to identity and identity propels us purposefully.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Paradox of Self in the Art of Service

God doesn’t need us, but, shudder to think, He wants to use us to build His Kingdom for His glory.  For, when His Kingdom is built, it is for His glory, which also means it’s the best result for all concerned — beautiful outcomes of love merged with truth.
The paradox of self in the art of service is two concepts, enjoined, united, complementary, together for the act of teamwork.  ‘Self’ and ‘service’ would otherwise be inanely foreign, but for the fact that when the self is stripped of all pride and self-consciousness, it’s the very agent for success in the concept of service.  See how ‘self’ and ‘service’ may be worst of enemies and best of friends, depending on whether self is full of self or emptied of self.
The paradox of self in the art of service is such that only the self is able to serve, yet the self is acting as if it were not just a self — it’s acting out of interdependence.  And only when the self chooses passionately to serve is service truly what God designed it to be; a Holy Spirit sponsored act completely devoid of selfishness.
Service is always a thing for another, and in this case, principally God, though others are directly blessed.
In the way of the Kingdom, service is something that’s known by its fruit.  It has an indelible and tangible effect.  Coming without an agenda, a person serves out of the sheer delight of being God’s emissary, ironically, without even the need to serve.
So, service is a paradox: we serve out of the delight that we can, though without feeling any pressure of the need to serve.  True service, hence, is about devotion and not about duty.
Serving God requires availability and willingness; nothing else, certainly nothing that we can ‘bring’.  Then the Holy Spirit shows us what to do.  It’s then that God shows us He’s alive, with us, in the very minute service we’re doing.
The lasting paradox of service is that God will do greatly through us what, through us, He requires no help from us on.  Only through complete reliance on His will and power will our service amount to anything Kingdom-worthy.
The best of service is done through the self, devoid of self, fully dependent on the Spirit.
Serving is the final corrective of the self.  To serve joyfully is the final subjugation of the self.
When we resolve to be open to whatever God is doing, free of need to add our competence, we’re powerful instruments of God’s grace.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When We Can Only Love Those Who Bear God’s Image

“And just as we have borne
the image of the man made of dust,
we will also bear
the image of the heavenly man.
— 1 Corinthians 15:49 (HCSB)
God showed me something at the shopping mall.  Every individual was beautiful before me; every unique soul, living a matchless life, in the service of hope, for a purpose they determined as best.  As I looked everywhere, all about me was the same image; myriads of people, all beautiful, all beloved, all bearing the same resemblance.  And as I looked, God did something in my heart; all indifference, intolerance, and cynicism ebbed away, and with it, all vanity.  Suddenly, my heart was so full of love, my mind had no space for anything else.
This experience lasted ten minutes.  Then I became my troubled self all over again.
But God proved something to me.  The more we see what is patently true in every person, the more we see what’s true within ourselves — we’re all due love.  To love and be loved.  If we can determine that another person is due love, surely we’ll ascribe the same beneficence to ourselves.
As I looked about me in the shopping mall — a menagerie of cultures, colours, and creeds to be seen — I saw the common plight of humanity: the striving of each one for a life of hope, for justice and mercy, and a life of purpose.  With purpose, all humanity can struggle through, but without purpose any privileged life is a prison.
Our personalities make it possible that we could worship and serve God.  And when we worship and serve God, we’re closest to bearing His image.  But whether we worship or serve Him or not, we still bear His image, even as we bear the image of Adam in our sin.
When we realise that every single human being is sacred, precious in God’s sight, not for what they’ve done, but for who they are, then we begin interacting with all life differently.  And, whilst we ought not to idolise another human being, we worship and serve God well when we love those who bear His image.
When our hearts of full of love, our minds have no space for indifference or hatred.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Greater the Despair, Deeper the Gospel’s Grace

“Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory.  See how really no one is against us!”
— John Chrysostom (349–407)
Such is the power of the gospel in the dross of life that even in loss there is victory, where we live as if, in that defeat, it was victory.  For only in defeat, when things are not going according to plan, do we get the compelling opportunity to show how different our lives are, living joyously for hope in spite of loss, for the sake of Christ!
This is why there is more to celebrate in despair than in hope, for in despair our attitude should rise on the wings of hope.  The more we’re thwarted, the more God is with us through a joy that overcomes that thwarting through patient perseverance.
But responding in this gospel way is so counterintuitive that it’s hard even when we know it’s God’s will that we respond that way.
Yet we only need to respond this way once, and we experience its power.
We only need to respond in this counterintuitive way once to experience Christ’s gospel power.  Likewise, we only need to cry out to God in our distress once, for one night, and finally we experience the truth of God’s promise; a joy indwelling relief that comes after an exhaustingly despairing lament, simply because we’ve knelt before God’s honour in pleasing Him.  God’s Presence in and through us, having pleased Him in surrendering to His will, becomes its own compelling evidence.  Such strength in comparative weakness to obey, not to be overcome by our own screaming desires!
This is why this gospel way works: faith goes ahead of reason, knowing that God is faithful, and, in doing what is right, faith alone is revealed as blessed — despite how we feel when things are so wrong.
The more things appear to be against us, whilst we know God is for us, the more our hope shines in spite of myriad despairs and difficulties.  Nothing is truly against us in the totality of all spiritual realms when God is for us.
Trust in His Spirit, rely on His strength, obey His Word, and all will go well, especially when there are many hardships.
Nothing else works like it in all of God’s creation: the greater our despair, the deeper is the gospel’s reach through grace into our lives.
The more we’re touched by grief and loss, the more we’re reached by grace and love.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gap Standers, Discouragement, Disillusionment and Despair

“For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed — beyond our strength — so that we even despaired of life.”
— 2 Corinthians 1:8 (HCSB)
In the antiquity of Ezekiel 22:30 it seems you’re called to stand in the gap; to bring to a person, or a people, perhaps a family or a church, and certainly a situation, to a definitive hope.
You’re an advocate.  Prepared, as called of God, to do what only you’re positioned to do.  You’re prepared, as called, to do what you feel led by God’s Spirit to do.  And it’s going to cost you.  And you know it.  It’s just you don’t know how or when or, frustratingly, why.
Advocates are always caught on the blindside.  The enemy waits until we’re least ready, yet already equipped for discouragement, ripe for disillusionment, primed for despair.
You’ve experienced the victory, and you’ve been softened by the feel-good sense of cushy pride; what you accomplished.  It was a massive conquest.  It took so much ingenuity and innovation, guts, temerity, and resources that could only be supernaturally sponsored.  God showed up!  But then, when you’ve been alone yet a little while, BAM!
Struck by a circumstance that I’m sure is orchestrated by God, we’re plunged into an abyss of desolating anguish — even despairing of life itself.  (Isn’t it heartening that even the apostle Paul was goaded many times to give up.)
It will happen.  It has happened, and it will happen again.  It’s the common destiny for those who stand in the gap.  And it’s for this reason: we need it, for we would become conceited otherwise; made a god by our own resources, blasphemously, for it’s always done in the name of the Lord.
When the winds of discouragement, disillusionment, and despair blow hauntingly through seasons of our lives we’re backwashed by how alone we feel.  We do feel betrayed of the faithfulness of the Lord.  It seems to have failed.  But God never fails.
God is in those winds that whistle with eerie silence that only we can hear.  He is there, even if it feels He’s not.  God has brought to us these winds for a reason.  We’ve been an advocate, and we’ve succeeded at that.  But that’s not all there is.  God wants more for us than that.  God wants us to know we need Him, because we do.  It’s for this reason: on a place like earth, and in living this life, we will face injustice because we’re made in God’s image, because to be made in the image of God is to think and anticipate and expect to be a god.
Yet, though we’re made in God’s image, we’ll never have claim-at-truth on being a god.  So, it is good for us that injustice occurs to us.  It reminds us we’re not God.
Now, stand in the gap, in the knowledge you’ll be struck down, and take it the best you can, knowing you’re allowed to lament through your recovery, and be patient; God’s taking you to a higher order of spiritual consciousness.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eugene Peterson, Pastoral Work and Eschatology

“Pastoral work devoid of eschatology declines into a court chaplaincy — sprinkling holy water on consumerist complacency and religious gratification.”
— Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eschatology for the uninitiated is about the end; ultimately death, judgment, destiny of soul and humankind.  But there’s a nuance of eschatology in pastoral work that Peterson identifies as crucial in the journey beyond the grips of ‘religion’ that stifles all spiritual progress.  We have to get beyond legalism, but we also need to get beyond a comfortable never-comes-the-end spirituality.
As Jonah advanced into Nineveh he was steeled in his approach: the people were shortly to be overthrown if they didn’t repent.  And his rebuke was heard even by Nineveh’s king.  He repented.  As did the whole city.  That didn’t make Jonah happy, but that’s a story for another day.
It should make every pastor’s day when he or she witnesses the repentance of a person with which they have some influence.  The Holy Spirit has convicted the person, sometimes with the pastor’s help, sometimes without.  Any change amid repentance is a miracle of God’s willing and working grace.
The people of Nineveh had forty days to mend their ways.  Purpose at the forefront.  The end in sight.  Suddenly there’s an imperative.  A cosmic size nine boot.  Immediately there’s attention given to the enormity of the work at hand.  It’s the pastor’s dream that people around them are caught in the full beam of God’s headlights — stunned from frozenness into action.
Many pastors abandon their calling because they find themselves ineffective in changing people’s lives, when that’s the Holy Spirit’s job alone.  They get burned out doing anything in their power to give the Holy Spirit a leg up.  They finish frustrated, because they still took on too much.  That’s why pastoral work can seem to be a mystery.  It’s not our effort that brings results, but we must certainly do all we can to biblically position a person’s thinking.
Peterson suggests that “Without eschatology the [fishing] line goes slack and there is nothing pulling us to the heights, to holiness, to the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.” (p. 144, Under the Unpredictable Plant)
Pastoral work must have some urgency about it.  The Christian journey is impelled better by no other force that by thought of the imminent end.
The end will come eventually; of our careers, our lives, of life.  We have now the choice.  To do God’s will, His urgent will for now, not for tomorrow.
Spiritual progress is about being uncomfortable without feeling forced; relying on God without becoming bound by rules.  That’s a balance the pastor is trying to facilitate in lives within their influence.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Content Refugee in a Willing Exile

The words of Psalm 137 are deplorably salient.
But the reality for the exiles sitting on the banks of the rivers in Babylon was ever more sorrowful than we can imagine.  Unless you’ve been exiled.  And there are plenty of veritable exiles.  By virtue of being forced into a life-tending and heart-rending situation, we experience exile.  We’re taken captive to a place, a situation, a time we’d never ever choose for ourselves.  Such a place, situation, and time is commonly called grief.
Grief is a time of exile.  What we never asked for, and never would — the loss, which is, in reality, a plethora of tangible and intangible losses — we find is such an irrepressible and irreversible lament.  We sit at the banks of that foreign place and weep.
What seems ever too real,
a sorrow all too sorrowful,
also seems all too surreal;
too unreal to feel,
yet feeling such reality is ever too hard.
Then, after a while,
what was ever too surreal,
feelings wrestled with in reality,
becomes a reality real enough to feel;
a new, acceptable reality emerges,
and hope returns.
Being exiled is designed to teach us to depend on nothing, to covet nothing, and to fear nothing, so that in fearing nothing, coveting nothing, and depending on nothing is to fear and covet only God, and to depend on Him alone.
Grief is an exile of the soul, where, for a time,
the soul is exiled from hope, joy, and peace.
When the soul is returned from exile,
or learns to live accepting its lot,
the gift of contentment is found.
The gift of contentment in exile
shows the exiled the Presence of God
transcends the exile.
God’s always present,
and the exiled learn
that’s all that matters.
Contentment is a state of soul
that hopes, and enjoys peace with life,
simply in knowing God’s Presence is enough.
One definition of maturity:
to able to sit still and be at peace in exile.
Arriving at such a peace is a lesson of strength in life,
always afforded out of surrender in our weakness.
The exile that grief is teaches us patience when life hurries at us, peace within torment, and perseverance through the perennial winter season.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Isaiah 51 – The WORD of SALVATION that Saves and Heals

“I, I am he that comforts you;
why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die,
a human being who fades like grass?”
— Isaiah 51:12 (NRSV)
This chapter of Isaiah is a stark Word from God revealing the revelation of His challenging Word to the faithful with the audacity to obey it.  Thrice there is the imperative “Listen to me(!)” and, as the words “Look” and “Rouse yourself” and “Awake, awake” punctuate the chapter, there is a concluding Word for all God’s faithful to “See” what He, the Lord, is doing — He is taking the cup of wrath away; a cup that has made the genuine believer stagger through periods of life punch-drunk from persecution.
God wants us to know that to follow Him is to follow His way, to see Him in the midst of life, to experience joy and gladness, to fear no mere mortal, and to fear only Yahweh alone.  When that life is lived we find strength (v. 9), comfort (v. 12), and a place, because we’re so God-conscious as to not fail in the seeing.
Prelude of the Eternal God (verses 1 - 6)
Ancestry suggests we were begotten, and of course that suggests that God must have begotten the first human beings.  We came from somewhere, and, because humanity will outlast even heaven and earth, the Lord has created us for a purpose beyond heaven and earth.
The eternal God is a salvation God, and God’s salvation is an eternal gift and possession, in a creation where beings are all that matter.  The environment is a means, whereas beings are the end.
God’s people will show they are His by listening to Him.  Those who listen to Him also look to Him.
Fear Nobody, for Your Salvation is Set (verses 7 – 11)
The theme of joy and gladness mentioned first in verse 3 continues in verse 11.  God’s people experience joy and gladness, for they abide to His teachings that are fixed to their hearts (v. 7).  The core of God’s teaching to this end is the assurance of God’s Presence that subsumes all inappropriate fear.
The Lord is the Vindicator and Avenger, besides, all wicked deeds amount to is a case for the prosecution; the witness of history as it’s brought to bear at the Great Judgment.
Nobody can do anything inappropriate to us without the Lord seeing it in all its unfettered glory.  Nobody gets away with anything, and we who are saved will endure eternally, and nothing can change that fact.  So, our fear of enemy means we’ve forgotten God; the moment we remember Him is the moment of inexplicable joy and gladness.
This Good News is GRACE! (verses 12 – 16)
“You are my people!” says the Lord, and He who created and formed us, who is reaching down to scoop us up and redeem us through Christ’s cross, and who is restoring us through the resurrection, is also the God who has made a way to save us.
That salvation is grace.  “You are my people,” means God would do anything to protect us and to provide for our way.  He who has hidden us from our foes by the shadow of His hand (v. 16) will not fail in protecting us for eternity’s future.  Indeed, He who hides us in the shadow of His hand doesn’t hesitate in revealing us as blameless in Christ before the Father.
Is there any fury like the Lord’s fury?  And we rest assured that that fury is set against those who set themselves against us in our obedience.
The Purpose of the ‘Cup of Wrath’ (verses 17 – 23)
This a Word that sorts the truly faithful from the fair-weather-only ‘disciple’ who fails to see the love in the cup of God’s wrath.  Jesus, Himself God of God, experienced the cup of God’s wrath, so how on earth do we think we’re saved from it?
We all have an obedience problem, and the purpose of disobedience is that, in experiencing the cup of God’s wrath, we might turn, repent, and go and sin no more.
The beauty of repentance is the mercy God bequeaths to us because of our godly sorrow.  He pleads our case! (see verse 22) Christ actually did this in the perfect sense; He did it and He continues to do it.
Another beautiful fact: the cup of God’s wrath makes us spiritually thirsty once more.  It sharpens our palate for God’s Word in our context, and a genuine fear of the Lord impels us forward in faithfulness and obedience.
Put another way, drinking the wine that is Christ’s blood doesn’t inebriate, but it heals the mind, making us more readily able to see the will of the Lord, and giving to us more of the capacity to do His will.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Isaiah 52 – The LORD’S Presence for His People

People of God, you are each, every first and last one, special to Him who created you, who has redeemed and raised you through His crucified and risen Son, and who restores you daily through His Presence, and who protects You perfectly by His Spirit.
God’s Presence is for His people.
In Isaiah 52, Yahweh is sanctifying His chosen nation, Israel.  Nothing Israel could do could ultimately separate it from their Lord.  Each of us, since Jesus, can be likened to His nation, just like each of us is integrally part of His Israel, the Church.
Yahweh is rich in His Covenant Presence, assuring His people that they are His, and He is theirs, unequivocally.  As such, this section is an oracle for what is invisibly seen in this living age, for those of us who search spiritually, as much as it’s an oracle for what is coming — when we’re all resurrected from this corrupt world.
The Freedom in THIS Redemption
God’s redemption costs us nothing.  It is free in Christ.  What is priceless in value could never be bought.  Such is the love of the Lord that He would never accept payment for what is undeniably and unfathomably ours.
Freedom From What Was, To Step Into What Is
We, the people of God, are granted to arise and shake off what we’ve worn; the dust of our pasts that have held us back whilst we were captive to the enemy.  Now that we look to God for visions and revelations for how to live our lives, He redeems us constantly in our moments.  And if any despise us, they despise Him, and oh what a foolish thing that is to do!  We’re warned here, too, that it’s contemptible to look to ‘Egypt’ for help.  We must stay out of the world as far as we possibly can, bearing within our consciousness, daily, the contempt we have for the Lord when we go the world’s way, which is more an ever-present danger now than ever.
Bringers of Good News!
Oh the honour to make public the glory of the Lord!
Freed, we go out, in the joy of God’s Presence, transformed from within, new vessels, acquitted by grace in such a way as to have cognisance for what was, but to know it as no impediment, but as a glory unto Him for what He alone has done; in accord for stepping into what is, we go!
God, Our Every Protection
We go in the knowledge inwardly known, in our soulish core, that we are His.  And with that knowledge retrofitted exactly as if custom made to our identities, we go, knowing He is before us, and our rear guard.
The enemy casts all sorts of aspersions toward us; that God can abandon His children.  But God never can, because God cannot sin against His own covenant.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.