Wednesday, April 1, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 84)


Jesus said, “You will recognize [false prophets] by the fruit they bear. Surely people don’t pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles, do they?”
— Matthew 7:16 (USC)
Previously we have covered the idea that any of us can become one given to propagating Satan’s work — most often vicariously! This is the reason we have to remain vigilant and accountable to wise advisors who have such an accountable reasonableness about them. Heaven help us!
This verse carries on the theme: there are those bad shepherds about who have no concern at all for the sheep of God’s pasture.
The sheep (the Body of Christ — his magnificent Church) are his. They are the Pastor’s sheep — not the pastor’s. This is no subtle difference. There are those who would wantonly carry unknown persons or an entire congregation over the precipice into an idolatrous abyss. And this is how we shall know them...
We will know them by their fruit.
What they bear as their vintage will be the knowing of them. No good shepherd tends their flock for many years, caring for all his or her relations with them, and is not known for his or her care. Their care is their fruit. No good shepherd is unknown. They are being made known by the Lord, and, one day, he will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This is a good shepherd’s only delight.
Likewise, no bad shepherd is unknown, either. He or she are well known — to those they hurt. And they are being made known by the Lord. God will make them known by the odious fruit they produce — works of disguise, deceit, and delinquency. They only get away with their wrongdoing for so long. God is soon bringing their case before the court of human judgment. Their demise is a fait accompli.
***
What about us? Where do we stand? Again, heaven help us if we are one their number; a bad shepherd. Our goal is to be an eternal enquirer of ourselves — to have God search us to know our innermost persuasions to temptation and wrongdoing (Psalm 139:23-24).
***
The tasting of the vintage is coming soon everywhere,
The ripening of the fruit — the works of all laid bare,
Good shepherd or bad — time’s coming when all will see,
The good test of time is the only test there’ll be.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     Many of us have experienced both good shepherds and bad. What is it about both, for you, that sets them apart so far as their fruit is concerned?
2.     Do you have an issue with a bad shepherd of your past — a ‘false prophet’? How successfully have you been able to lay that at your Saviour’s feet?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 83)

Jesus said, “Be on your guard against false prophets, who come to you dressed like sheep, but on the inside are ravenous wolves.”
— Matthew 7:15 (USC)
There have been, are, and will remain many false ‘Christs’ (antichrists).
The key is, personally speaking, not to be one or become one, for it is a fearful thing to come so close to the living Saviour, eternal Lord, and King of kings with so much potential to run astray.
To be propagators of the living God, and have the potential to run astray — whilst holding a position in his Church — that is a terrible thought!
As a leader in his Church I must hold my position(s) ever so lightly, whilst clinging to him with all my daily awareness.
This is the truth: we all — all Christian leaders, all servants of the living God — have the potential to be ravenous wolves! The day we have no fear for that eventuality is the day we are so dangerously close to becoming one.
We live and serve our King with due diligence only because we are constantly and uniformly allowing the Holy Spirit to crucify our flesh — that desire to want to come first and to replace Christ on the altar.
Who are the false prophets we need to be most vary of? Our selves.
Aligning with the key verses 1–5 of this chapter, we must readily sling out of our own eye that enormous beam so we might see clearly enough to see the heresy in another’s eye. But the fact is we must be so busy in our own beam removal that there will be little opportunity to scrape the fleck from theirs.
***
There is the responsibility to stand for Christ, however, being his Spirit’s agent, and advocate for the flock.
As a leader in his Church — as a good shepherd in keeping with the Good Shepherd — we have the solemn duty of protecting the sheep of his pasture. Our human duty is to extend this role to the universal church.
***
Not everyone can be trusted who leads our way,
And some may verily lead us astray,
So let’s be on guard by showing we care,
We need to be God’s helper everywhere.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     The inner reflection of our own depravity — whilst not being a popular concept in this day — is helpful in keeping us faithful to God’s purpose. What strategies do you have in place to ensure you don’t become a false prophet?
2.     What will you do if you become aware that you or someone you know is entrapped in something sinister, supposedly in God’s name?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Monday, March 30, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 82)

Jesus said, “How narrow is the gate and how constricted the path that leads to life, and there are only a few who discover it.”
— Matthew 7:14 (USC)
Only a few are given the grace that leads them to life. Only a few make their own determination of wisdom and chase it with all they have. These are the ones who have been scourged of their old life to the point nothing remains; they, verily, have lost their lives and, so, have had space made for Christ to save them. They have first been purged of themselves.
We might otherwise not know how to know God.
Unless by wicked chance God makes himself known to us — like, “In your peril, I am saving you, for you have no help or hope otherwise” — we don’t know how to know God. We can only know of him.
The narrow gate is the instance of suffering; that, coming with overwhelming power, which we cannot hope to comprehend. Only then, in a collapsed state, do we truly learn to depend on God.
So we don’t detest that wicked circumstance of the grandeur of injustice that has been foisted upon us — a cruel cross to bear! (Was any cross crueller than Christ’s?)
No, we see that cruelty as a kindness of God — to take us deeply into himself.
The true knowledge of God — to know him — is contingent on surrender, first and foremost, and then surrender as a way of life.
***
But if we cannot see the kindness in this cruelty, we will baulk at the gate, resist our pain, and refuse to enter in, rejecting it.
We reject our pain, we reject our Saviour. We reject what we must go through and we reject what he went through.
We, instead, imagine ourselves on the road to Golgotha with him.
Indeed, this may be the first and only time we can genuinely identify with him who suffered more indecently than anyone can imagine.
So, there is only one way.
***
There is only one way — Jesus, the way, the truth, the life. Life has been born out of our cruel circumstance — suffered with God.
In our coming to know our pain, God makes it possible that we can know him.
In knowing him we come to be enlightened into the passage of all insight.
The passage of all insight is the possibility of faith. And only through faith may we please God.
***
The narrow gate leads all the way to life,
It’s the only way we’ll stay out of strife,
So be that one; be one of the few,
Only through the narrow gate are we held true.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     Can you now but see, the very point of suffering? In your own words, portray the meaning of your suffering.
2.     The gospel message is a reversal of life... those who wish to save their lives must first lose their very lives. How much does this principle of reversal operate in life — how much of wisdom operates according to this principle?
3.     Have you entered through the narrow gate? How can you know? Specify how your identification with Jesus in your suffering happened and reflect over it.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 81)


Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate, because the path leading to destruction is a broad one and has a wide gate, and there are many who go through it.”
— Matthew 7:13 (USC)
Commonality of purpose aligns us more than we imagine. Our human purpose is of sophistry when God’s purpose is goodness in everything we do. Our purpose aligns with our default and we act in all manner of idolatry, or our purpose is conformed to God by the transformation of the Spirit.
The latter has gone the narrow gate; few go that way.
The disciple’s journey is that of the narrow way. They cannot and will not displease their Lord. They understand that a willing obedience, without thought, is the best obedience. They mortify their will so as to succour God’s will through the Holy Spirit.
Is there a plainer way of saying this?
Because their life is no longer their own, because they have taken up their cross, the disciple is ready to bear their own passion. Their passion is their own God-appointed and God-anointed suffering. Suffering and passion are synonymous. Because they no longer think in terms of themselves as islands; they are individuals for God. They are beyond external peer pressures; or they need be.
As verse 13 follows the magnum opus of the Sermon in verse 12 — treat others as you would wish them to treat you — there is the imputation of a Kingdom mindset.
Most people do not treat others as they would wish to be treated. Just the same, most people — yes, even most Christians — do not enter through the narrow gate to journey in the narrow way. Some do, most don’t. Life must take us to a place where we are ready to give up our lives in order to save them.
It is rare that life does this. Rarer still is it that a person responds truly in bearing their cross. Still much rarer, again, is it that a person would mortify their flesh without the purging providence of God initiating such a passion.
***
Blessed are those who enter the narrow gate to go the narrow way, for they will embark on their passion as Jesus did. Conviction of heart will see them through their suffering.
Those who enter the narrow gate do so because they are convinced by the Spirit. They are blessed, for their faith comes from the urgency of obedience.
***
The narrow gate leads to the narrow way,
It’s the only way through God we stay,
So choose the hard way; the wisdom of grief,
And God in his grace will give you sure relief.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     There are times in all our lives when we have resisted entering the narrow gate. Recall one of these times. What were the consequences of missing God’s mark?
2.     What is the experience of entering into the narrow path? How are we ‘blessed’?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 80)


Jesus said, “So in all the ways you would like people to treat you, you are to treat them. For that is the Law and the Prophetic Writings.”
— Matthew 7:12 (USC)
Overall themes are something we all want to understand as we read any biblical text. And as we consider the entire Sermon on the Mount as the Matthean synoptist has written it for us, we can easily come to this actual verse above, in unison with Matthew 5:17, and land on two facts:
1.     Jesus came not to abolish what is specified in the Old Testament; he came as its fulfilment! The ‘Law’ is seriously misunderstood. A heart of obedience to his Law is what God seeks.
2.     In context of our relationships, everything relies on us treating others as we would have them treat us. This reframes our entire worldview and existence. No longer is selfishness going to cut it.
Jesus is challenging the very ideas that are popular in our age. Grace doesn’t seek to free us from the Law — it’s the very power behind the Law. We cannot hope to obey God without relying on his grace; by his grace we have the heart to want to obey. The Law will finally come into its own when we see why is should be obeyed.
When we understand that Jesus came as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophetic Writings we no longer have a problem with the Law. We see it as once and for all, God’s.
Then we are able to see the relational imperative in the Law’s achievement.
Life can only sensibly work when we have committed to treated others as we would like them to treat us. We don’t ever want to be hurt. We don’t ever desire to be rejected. We always want to be respected. We always want to be considered. Yet, when others are the same way we see them being unreasonable; a human disparity.
In other words, we need to be loved perfectly, so we need to love others perfectly.
Not that we’ll ever get there; and where we fall short, we always have the recovery of apology, within the multiple ‘languages’ of apology. Because we can see how impossible it is to love others perfectly, we are convinced of the grace that should exude from us toward others in the form of forgiveness. We find it hard to love people, yet we are horrified that others find it hard to love us. These are crucial truths that need necessarily to be dwelt upon. Meditate on these and we are blessed with empathy for the human condition — theirs and ours. We forgive them and us more readily.
The more we understand grace as a free gift of God — that we are forgiven! That we have done nothing to deserve grace — the more we understand the reciprocal invocation of God: “love others as I have loved you; forgive others as I have forgiven you. As you want me, through grace, to love you,” says the Lord, “that’s how I want you to treat others.”
***
There is nothing more fundamental to justice in life than to love others as we love God to love us.
If we have experienced God’s merciful grace — his forgiveness — we are convinced of the value of extending his grace to others. We forgive them. And it is no big deal.
But if we haven’t experienced the forgiveness of God we are less likely to give to another what we haven’t ourselves ever known.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     How hard is it for you to love someone who ‘doesn’t deserve it’? Have you asked yourself recently, “Have I got a problem with my own being forgiven by God?”
2.     Do you feel forgiven? Have you experienced God’s grace? What connection is there between our personal experience of grace and our ‘ability’ to forgive another person?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Friday, March 27, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 79)

Jesus said, “So in all the ways you would like people to treat you, you are to treat them. For that is the Law and the Prophetic Writings.”
— Matthew 7:12 (USC)
For. That. Is. The. Law. And. The. Prophetic Writings.
Jesus sums up the gospel way of living in just a few words.
He began by specifying the extraordinary standards of the Kingdom in chapter 5 — not the abolishment of the Law and the Prophetic Writings, but their veritable fulfilment — through him. Jesus comes not to overturn what the chief priests and Pharisees had ardently insisted upon. He comes to insist not only the Law and the Prophetic Writings — the Old Testament truth — be upheld, but that the heart behind the Law and the Prophetic Writings be the underpinning basis of obedience to the Law and Prophetic Writings—the want to obey the Law and the Prophetic Writings. The chief priests and Pharisees were masters of obeying for obedience’s sake, but they completely misread God’s mood regarding why the Law and the Prophetic Writings were to be honoured.
Jesus continued his Sermon in Matthew chapter 6 by highlighting just how important humility of character is in doing deeds of the Kingdom. Again, it’s the heart that Jesus is after; a heart to obey for the right reasons (Matthew 6:33) — a heart after the Lord. The heart to obey doesn’t look for favour from the world. It just gets on with God’s agenda.
Chapter 5 is about the disciplines of engagement or virtue — letting our light shine — whereas chapter 6 is about the disciplines of abstinence or asceticism — to not allow the left hand to know what the right hand is up to.
Matthew 7:12 is now the summary of the foregoing in chapter 7. And this is what Jesus is summing up:
1.     We are to judge ourselves through God’s revelatory Word as we reflect on it before we judge another. And may we never finish, for receiving God’s Word as it personally applies is our very discipleship. (Refer to verses 7:1-5)
2.     We are to take good care to discern who we will give our good gifts of energy and resources to. We do not want to prejudice those who need us — who God has put in our way to help — because we are ‘helping’ those who will disdain our help as nuisance. (Refer to verse 7:6)
3.     We are to diligently work at building God’s kingdom; to ask, to search, and to knock at doors boldly. (Refer to verses 7-11)
The impact of Jesus’ conclusion in chapter 7 is upon our relationships and our faith — how we are to treat people and how we are to trust God. If we will treat others how we like to be treated, we then have the way to fulfil the Law and the Prophetic Writings to the letter — for the right reason.
***
If we will treat others how we like to be treated, we have learned to trust God.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     This verse helps us see how Jesus simplifies faith to make it manageable. Can you see the wisdom in training yourself (with the Holy Spirit’s empowering) toward treating others entirely as you’d wish to be treated, whilst honouring Matthew 7:1-11 (particularly verses 1-5)?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 78)


Jesus said, “So if you — who are evil — know that you are to give gifts that are good to your children, how much more will your Father, who is in the heavens, give good things to those who ask him!”
— Matthew 7:11 (USC)
We are good for our children. Yes, we are. Yet, just look at the chasm between the holy otherness of God and our own frailty which serves our children yet also often fails them.
An astute person might say, “God doesn’t give us every ‘good’ thing.” It all depends on what we determine is good. If we determine what is good by our own ‘evil’ standard (Jesus calls us ‘evil’, not I), we are likely to be eternally disappointed.
There is a better way. Of course there’s a better way.
The key is in our daily return to Matthew 6:33 and its surrounds. God is our Provider; in Matthew 7:7-11 as well as in Matthew 6:25-34. Do you see the large islands of Scripture making up a nation of praise for the Providence of God?
God provides. There is now no need to worry. There is now need to doubt God’s provision — if we put God and his Kingdom and righteousness first.
This is the way to peace: to jettison our own rather pathetic wishes in favour of the wishes of God, which are always a more satisfactory result as we are personally concerned. I speak from experience, having experienced the glorious blessings of God for selecting repentance over resentment, praise over complaint, and diligence of faith over a doubting that circles nowhere-land incessantly.
Preferring God’s wishes requires faith, and faith always risks what is seen and manageable for the hope of what is unseen and to be managed by God alone.
We think we can get ourselves good things. God can get us supreme things — supreme because they’re emergent of his Kingdom. They are eternal prizes far exceeding what is fleeting and sorrowful in this life. Yes, the things we hanker for in this life are sorrowful in comparison to the eternal riches laid up for us in the heavens!
What is laid up in eternity is accessible to joy here on earth. This is the peace that transcends our understanding.
***
Prayers to God for help and hope are well founded if they’re founded on his Kingdom and righteousness in our lives.
God truly is our only help and hope in the midst of burnishing trial. He, alone, can help. He, alone, is hope. Hope today for his help in your suffering.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     Compare your experiences of when God did provide what you needed with when he apparently didn’t. Was it true that you put his Kingdom and his righteousness first in the first instance, but didn’t do so in the second?
2.     Reflect over the requirements of faith outbound of trust — the need to trust God. What could God be saying to you about your faith; your trust in him?
3.     What is God’s will for your life in the midst of your struggles now?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 77)


Jesus said, “Or look at it this way: suppose someone’s son were to ask them for a bread-roll; surely there’s not a person among you who would give him a stone, is there? Or if he were to ask for a fish, they wouldn’t give him a snake, would they?”
— Matthew 7:9-10 (USC)
We are good, aren’t we, for our children?
That is a very controversial statement. In actuality, it’s an aspiration for many, an achievement for some, and just a faint hope for others. But everyone who loves wishes the best for their children. Not a single parent who loves their child knowingly allows ill in their lives, unless to do so would be to respect boundaries i.e. the approach to adult children.
We are good, aren’t we? We want the best for our kids, don’t we? Don’t we give to them what they want or need? We don’t like to allow pain in their lives. Even if to withhold from them what they want, their railing against it causes us pain, though we pretend it not. We are embarrassed in public. We get frustrated in private.
If there is anything that will make responsible persons of us it is to have a child. Our love for our children and grandchildren coerces us into growing up. And if we don’t grow up the task is made harder and our children risk dereliction.
As responsible adults we are charged with the opportunity of giving someone what they need or want. We cannot always do such a thing. If such a thing isn’t good for them at the time, we withhold. Sometimes we have no power over the giving or withholding and the decision is easier.
Jesus’ point is made in the pure nature of humanity’s interest in its progeny. We cannot be uninvolved with our offspring and hope that our lives will work out well.
And these two verses are purely the precursor to the next verse (day 78).
We might say we are good, but on a heavenly standard we are evil. But more on that in the next instalment. This is not to say our evil is ‘evil’, but to say how abundantly good is God’s good?
***
We would never think of giving our loved ones something bad for them. But we are so far from the goodness of God that the good things we do give pale into insignificance compared the resplendent majesty in God’s good gifts.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     We have faith in ‘good’ people, but why is it so hard to trust God who is ‘good’ on an entirely higher plane?
2.     What is it that you’ve given your children or those that depend on you, and they’ve seen a stone or a snake? How did it feel? What did you do differently in response?
3.     Where do you think Jesus is heading in the ensuing verse 11?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 76)

Jesus said, “For anyone who asks receives, and the person who searches for something finds it, and to the person who is knocking the door will be opened.”
— Matthew 7:8 (USC)
Hope is the truest beacon for life.
It is hope that transcends the given complexities, anxieties, and tumults of the day; what is hoped for is something altogether beautiful and we survive the grind, the dilemma, the pain of loss, and the chiding sense of frustration when we hope upon the hope we have. Hope is what takes us through the Badlands.
In context, Jesus speaks about the greatest hope; to be saved of God; to enjoy the truth as it is quickened to our souls; to magnify the hope to which all humanity — deeper down — clings. We may endeavour to resist God all we want in this life, but God will get our attention one way or other.
When we consider that hope is the truest beacon for life, we need, necessarily, to include truth as the contingency on that hope — for hope based on untruth is a bad faith.
But a good hope looks like this: to ask in the expectation of being answered; to search for something in the expectation of finding it; to knock with the expectation that the door will swing open. But a more fundamental promise lies dormant in the truth that, when we put God’s kingdom and his righteousness first, all these expectations will come to be realised in their own time!
The nature of life is that we will hope and hope and hope. Despair is the sign of real hope, for, in despair, we still have the vibrancy of hope — a hope that is grieving. When we are beyond despair — when we have given up — there is no hope and, therefore, no vision. We might as well barrel on without a single purpose.
Hope gets us through that despair we face. It forces us to get up in the morning for fear of missing out on the promised fulfilment. Who knows, it could be today!
How does God know he’s got a diligent and real disciple? Besides the fact he knows how we will react, we still have the outworking of our faith-path to accomplish; we prove ourselves worthy to ourselves of our calling.
One day we will stand crowned. One day all our hope in sum will be realised. One day we will be furnished by the corrections of justice — a beautiful but fearful day! But there is nothing to fear in the hopes we wait upon now; those we don’t give up on. Because, that final day will be their realisation!
Still, hope now. For there are many things we do not yet have that one day soon, in this life, we will have.
***
The presence of unrealised hope in this life is the assurance of hope’s fulfilment in eternity.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     What is the boldest expression of faith? What would it look like in your life?
2.     Think on a desire or need that you’ve long been patient for; how is God preparing you for eternity in your ‘patience’ of waiting?
3.     Think about a thing that you long hoped for that was realised. Think about another. Do you see the faithfulness of God in the delivery of those hopes?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Note: USC version is Under the Southern Cross, The New Testament in Australian English (2014). This translation was painstakingly developed by Dr Richard Moore, a NT Greek scholar, over nearly thirty years.