Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lord, Why Won’t You Fight For Me?

CHORUS
You say you will fight for me,
You who are faithful and true,
You assure me that one day I will see,
You ask me to place my trust in you.
VERSE 1
God Almighty, fight for me,
Stop this injustice against your own,
Oh I pray you might finally agree,
Give me hope beyond my dreary moan.
CHORUS
You say you will fight for me,
You who are faithful and true,
You assure me that one day I will see,
You ask me to place my trust in you.
VERSE 2
God Almighty, make this right for me,
Begin to do what only you can put right,
Turn this situation that I might be,
Put right in my world in the day of my sight.
CHORUS
You say you will fight for me,
You who are faithful and true,
You assure me that one day I will see,
You ask me to place my trust in you.
VERSE 3
God Almighty, you won me long ago,
Now I wonder whose side you’re on,
You seem to watch on when I’m so low,
You made me weak when I need to be strong.
CHORUS
You say you will fight for me,
You who are faithful and true,
You assure me that one day I will see,
You ask me to place my trust in you.
Psalms of imprecation are bellows from the depths of our being against the injustices we’ve suffered where God appears silent. The above song is an example.
I’ve been in these situations and so have many of my friends; indeed, I really do think we’ve all been in these situations — we’ve been faithful to God in trusting him, yet things occur that are always beyond our control and seemingly beyond God’s intervention. We wonder, “Why, God… why are you so impotent?”
Then, finally, we find ourselves sitting silently when the Lord speaks up: the wrath of God, Almighty. This is the Word of the Lord in the mood of Job 38 and following, where God dresses Job and all his ‘friends’ down. “What on all the earth do you know? Did you create that which you now criticise?”
Again, we sit.
Again, we lament.
Again, we are faced with a horrible reality.
No longer is this about how impotent God is. Now it’s about how conditional our faith was on being blessed. Now it’s about us being exposed. God is vindicated and we are guilty. We realise that God is no cause-and-effect God. He cannot be coerced. We can no more bargain with God than we can bring about pleasure and ward off pain.
Then we sit. We repent. We turn back to God. We have nothing left.
Then we sing:
You say you will fight for me,
You who are faithful and true,
You assure me that one day I will see,
You ask me to place my trust in you.
Then we simply respond: “I WILL.”
A prescription for someone angry with God: have a conversation with God like Job did in chapters 38 – 41. Go and read these chapters. Understand that Job was written for people like me and you. We need to know the truth:
Faith has nothing to do with twisting God’s arm for a blessing.
Faith has everything to do with waiting on and trusting the Lord.
With time we will see that the Lord was fighting for us all along. But we will only see that reality if we have faith enough to trust.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Do What Is Right and God Will Make Right of What You Do


Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.
1 Peter 3:13-14 (NRSV)
RIGHTEOUS precedes peace. The Bible speaks of it no less than on seventeen occasions. So it is to peace that we go when we have chosen to do what is right — if we have faith that God will look after us… that blessing will follow.
If we suffer for doing what is right we know that we are blessed as our account is paid. But if we suffer and don’t do what is right, we must pay as well as suffer. Who do we pay? God, of course! If we have done what is right, even if we’ve suffered, God is pleased in heaven and we might be here on earth via his Spirit. Don’t you feel pleased when you miss out knowing you’ve done nothing wrong? I can assure you that blessing can be known in and through you when you cheerfully recognise that God knows and God commends, and that no commendation is like his!
Yet we still struggle knowing the injustice meted out is just unfair.
And this is why reading our Bibles for the encouragement they bring is so vital. We need to be reminded that we can be blessed for doing what is right under duress. We need to reclaim, afresh, the knowledge that an application of grace to others bequeaths grace all over us, like a boomerang. As we forgive in the mode of injustice, by doing what is right in any case, we are blessed with a sense of purity’s assurance — there is no self-righteousness in this, whatsoever.
We know that grace bestowed is a relational investment. For an enemy we determine cause that one day they may be a friend. What a wonderful way to love others by doing what is right in advance! We love because we can. Simple.
***
We tend to make of ourselves a very small target for others’ misuse and abuse when we try to do what is right. Mostly. Generally.
The more we do what’s right, the more life works out right.
Whilst this is no perfect rule, it’s worth applying.
Doing what is right is the chief way we learn the wisdom in life: God blesses what is blessed. He curses what is already cursed. It’s wisdom to follow what anyone can observe about the way life works.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Zechariah 5 – The LORD Will Dispose of Evil

A meditation to Zechariah 5.
TWO NIGHT VISIONS connect in Zechariah 5 to confirm what the Lord is doing.
The Lord is acquitting his faithful who have been driven into exile, and more so, he is also condemning those who have been wrongly acquitted.
In the sixth night vision, a massive flying scroll resembling a sheet is symbolic for the imposing power of God’s Word as it hovers over the earth, bringing judgment through righteousness — the faithful will be vindicated; the wicked, judged. Everyone in the vicinity on earth can see it. It’s literally “a curse over the face of all the land.” It’s a curse for covenant violators. The two crimes-of-covenant in view are 1) those who swear falsely (i.e. liars) (3rd commandment); and 2) those who steal (8th commandment). The first is a sin against Yahweh, the second is a sin against one’s neighbour. Those who seem to get away with these kinds of treachery will get away with nothing.
Proverbs tells us that the Lord detests the acquitting of the guilty and the condemning of the innocent; that the innocent deserve justice (Proverbs 17:15; 18:15; 24:24-25).
From verse 5 we see the seventh night vision unfold. The guilty are the focus here. Those who have transgressed the Lord’s covenant are designated as “Iniquity.” They are not only incarcerated (in a basket), they are also about to be carried off to Babylon — a hell of their own just desserts. There they will be set down and founded permanently. There they will receive no chance for redemption. There the judgment is damning. There is where those who sin capriciously will go. This means great hope for those who are truly endeavouring to be faithful to the Lord; the repentant.
***
What does all this mean?
There are people who wreak havoc in our lives without seeming to care. There are also times when we don’t care sufficiently. This is an encouragement to us in the first instance — those who have spelt injustices out into our lives will not get away with it. This is a challenge to us in the second instance — it’s not too late for us to go back and make things right.
God will not let the innocent suffer forever. He cannot let the guilty go free.
We are urged to tell the truth, even when it hurts (Psalm 15:4). We are also urged to steal, covet, and lust after, nothing. Faithfulness to God is honesty and contentedness.
Remember, all in his timing! “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8; cf. Psalm 90:4). Justice will come, but not today. Patience decrees we wait as if we were not waiting at all. Justice will come!
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Where the Holy Spirit Alone Leads No Person Can Persuade

EVERY now and then God reminds me of a truth that we possibly all rail against: we cannot control the direction others go in, no matter how apt — for their situation — we think our advice might be. (Please forgive, for a moment, the possible arrogance of such a position as to ‘know’ what is good for others — much of the time it’s a folly, I agree…)
It’s the very definition of frustration: to expect a result that is unreasonable to expect.
It’s unreasonable to expect another person to see what we see, to believe what we believe they should do, and to require they act how we would act if we were them.
It’s unreasonable to expect that they, too, won’t get frustrated. Frustration meets frustration, as one party frustrated frustrates another. We have to get beyond our mutual frustration. We have to stop expecting things of one another. We have to stop looking externally, and allow God to wring us out internally.
Only God Himself
If God himself won’t convict a person to an attitude or an action, we have no chance.
In that way, it’s easier to conceive someone coming up with their own ideas for change than it is for that person to listen to us.
Much of the time I’ve repented of rebellion or evil against God it’s generally been about others in my orbit being used by the Holy Spirit. But I, alone, decided. Only the Holy Spirit has the ability to cause my heart to see the truth in what others say. My pride would otherwise castigate what God intends that I hear.
Only God’s truth can convince us of that which our pride might conceal from us.
We are ruined without God’s speaking of others’ truth into our hearts. This is why we need each other.
But only God himself will ever convince us of anything. And God’s role is to humble us enough that we might simply be open to listening, in order that we might finally see the truth in what others are saying.
A Recent Example
The person who speaks most truth into my life is my wife. Yet some of the time I cannot bear to hear it; until that is I get that nudge of the Spirit, that warm wash of shame, to listen and admit my error. I’m not rebelling against her when I can’t bear her truth, I’m rebelling against God himself.
I often like to think I’m further along ‘the journey’ than I am. I can resent where God has placed me, in this season and in his perfect will. But the truth is God — in all our lives — has us exactly where we need to be.
This doesn’t mean that our lives are always great. Remember that life (from a Christian perspective) is not about our comfort and pleasure, but it’s about our character development and practice.
When Sarah reminds me what God would have me acknowledge, it’s only his Spirit that enlivens me to repent and to acknowledge it. Sarah, though I love her unconditionally, has little or no influence. It’s all the Holy Spirit in me.
***
We can’t take people where God is not leading.
We can’t take people into their Promised Land if God hasn’t yet shown them.
Helping people with their problems is about learning how and where God is leading them. Then it’s simply about affirming and challenging their theology and practice.
This seems like a worthwhile saying:
When the Holy Spirit convicts,
The person within commits.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Out of Darkness Resurrection Came

Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of a depressed day, a teary evening, comes newest morning.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of injustice begetting anger comes stillness and reflection.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of failure producing shame comes learning and fresh perseverance.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of inferiority denigrating confidence comes the faith to risk anew.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of envying comparisons comes the insight to be content.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of lonely emptiness comes the courage to engage community.
Out of darkness resurrection came.
Out of depression comes the drive to hope for joy and peace.
***
Out of darkest hell, the Lord Jesus was resurrected. He descended before he ascended. As he was resurrected at the proper time, he will resurrect us in accordance with our reliance on himself. To trust him is to wait and determine to discern and then do his will. It will be horrid for a time. But afterwards we will gather a harvest of righteousness.
The harder life becomes the more resurrection life we might ultimately experience.
These are no dark principles without basis; they are wonderfully and perfectly biblical. We may thank God not for the dark time, but because he will bring us through it. Now what is biblical also doesn’t hope to change the world, but to adapt to being happy in any event. Such happiness is joy, to know that nothing can knock us off our kilter for long. But if we cannot be happy, and many times we cannot, we ought to pray for a stillness that transcends our understanding, while we suffer. Some aid. Some aid, we pray does come. And if it doesn’t seem to, we trust that God will sanctify in us growth and protect us in the meantime. Even in complaint we prove faithful if we do not entirely give up.
We will be struck down for a time, yet not destroyed. For, if we hope in Jesus, he will vindicate us through a way out — a resurrection of his Spirit’s making because we looked to him and were guided out of it.
***
Out of darkest hell, the Lord Jesus was resurrected. He descended before he ascended. He will resurrect us in accordance with our reliance on himself.
Having descended we, too, will ascend, but only if we continue to trust him, which is no easy thing.
Let’s remember, in all our difficulties, out of darkness resurrection came.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I’m Okay Just As I Am, Thank You Very Much!

BY THE TIME we reach a certain age, having invariably learned the hard lesson once too often, we are ready to say to that one who knocks at our door, “I’m okay just as I am, thank you very much!”
The same response is applicable also for cold callers in any location; shopping malls, etc.
At such an age we learn that it’s far better to assert confidence — even if on loan — than it is to wilt under whatever perceived pressure there may be. The age we get to this stage is generally over 40, but we can arrive at such a place much earlier. There are flickers of it much younger, certainly.
There’s a healthy scepticism involved. We’ve learned that the world is generally not to be trusted. We’ve learned that if it sounds too good to be true it one-hundred-percent is too ‘good’ to be true. We’ve learned that it’s rare that we can trust people right off the bat, but it’s our maturity that wants to trust people if we feel they’ve earned it — or if we sense a genuineness in them. We are readier to trust those we sense as genuine. Yet, we’ve learned not to hold our breath in anticipation of what we want to happen; we’ve come to expect it will probably not actually happen.
We learn that we don’t need to crave any particular person’s or group’s help. We can rely on our own resources. And because we have faith in God (assuming we do!) we know that God has our back. Not that we look for God to provide car parking spaces and other banal things. We just know that God does us no harm and does us a power of good — over the longer haul. We just no longer hold God accountable for little things that we attribute against us. It’s not the way God works.
As mature persons of age we get to enjoy a life that’s a little further away from intrinsic anxiety. That’s not to say we aren’t burdened by many worries — the worries just don’t have the same destructive impact they once had.
We have been gifted into a vital life transition that only comes with age.
When we have reached this place that Robert Bly would call “eating the shadow.” We have moved through the red and white phases of development, and now, into the black. This means we can cope with darkness. And only when we can cope with darkness have we learned that we have let the light in. We can exist in the darkness and are not afraid of it anymore. Our trust in God has become endemic.
***
The aptly confident self-assurance that aged maturity gives us is a gift from God, because of, not in spite of, our life experiences. It’s God’s compensation for what we’ve been through.
When trust in God is unshakable we’re simply thankful. Many mysterious things no longer matter. We learn not to work on shutting down our fear but to rely on God.
Trust in God! By practice we’ll learn something. Overall the Lord will give us something. We’ll learn that nobody is against us like we think they are. We’ll learn that we’re cosmically alone with God — from eternity to eternity. We’ll learn that God is carrying us. And finally we’ll learn there’s nothing to fear in life other than God himself.
God is in the practice of turning our perceptions upside down in truth — fear nothing but the fear of not trusting the Lord.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Evil, Suffering, and Meaning In Your Life

FEAR abounds in a life racked with anxiety when there is a lack of meaning to life.
Evil is not the only problem in life. Good, too, betrays us when we see the evil get ‘blessed’. It happens a lot. And when ‘good’ people are blessed and we aren’t we wonder what is wrong with our variety of faithfulness. Evil causes us to experience much emotion — shock, fear, disgust, but mostly rage for what is so wrong.[1] And then there is the problem of good that does have our name on it — finally some justice — but it’s a gratuitous good; a good with too little good effect.[2]
It’s incredible to recognise that “great good often comes to us from this [suffering] evil.”[3] This is not said flippantly, although, in saying these very words, especially in the presence of injustice and suffering, we do entertain unhelpful cliché. It is clear that often all we can do is be prepared to face the evil reality bravely.[4] But inevitably this involves our free will.
What a burden to carry; God loves us so much he gives us free will, which is the “awful dignity of making real choices with real consequences.”[5] When we consider that many of our lives have gotten so messy with mental illness we truly decry life in the worst of our moments, but we consider that suicide is not an option because of the consequences left behind.[6] It doesn’t mean we don’t think about it though — or pray to God for him to come soon. We may well find that wishing our lives away was such a waste. In the end, we tend to accept life is what it is — a painful mystery.
God gives us what we need in suffering this life well. He doesn’t give us what we want, which is a life with every loss returned to us.[7]
Our opportunities for life are to believe that the world will do us good “if we see it clearly and live in it wisely.”[8] Especially as we see some live, we know that that is true, both ways. Some live especially wise lives we can envy. Others life especially foolish lives and we just want to shake sense into them. And many are just learning the lessons we, ourselves, were forced by experience to learn.
***
What do we do with the fact that God doesn’t bring justice when it seems it’s warranted? How do we respond to a life that seems nonsensical? Perhaps if we can’t control life then faith is the only way we can control our response. Because justice lags we have to find a way to act as if justice were on its way, and that’s faith.
Acting faithfully is the great challenge. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t. And we must accept humbly that our character is what God is most interested in. We find later on that God blesses us most in growth because he didn’t answer our pleas straight away.[9]
It’s all the times in our life that are hardest, loneliest, numbest, most confused, anxiety riddled, and depressed beyond description, when we somehow rose to the challenge, that we see our faith in action. We hung in there. And even where we didn’t we somehow got through.
God is interested in what we are characterised by. He is urging us toward consistent fortitude; that we would live our lives faithfully no matter the injustices we suffer.

Heaven is the last word on suffering. Evil is ended and suffering is no more. But heaven, for many of us, seems too far away. We forget we may not wake in the morning. We gloss over the fact that the number ten bus could take us out. We don’t consider that God could takes us home any time.
If we are disappointed with God let us be comforted by thought of heaven.[10] Heaven will be the ultimate compensation.
When we arrive at the fork in the road, we must decide to stay bitter or get better. And this is where true Christian faith is unbeatable. It never feels good in the moment. But later… (See Hebrews 12:11)
Stackhouse concludes that Christianity 1) feels good, 2) it works, 3) it really happened, and 4) it makes sense.[11] Against the problem of God and whether or not God can be trusted, this says Christian faith is the only good, workable, sensible answer.
“Christian religion is not finally about what we think, but whom we love… our lives demonstrate what we truly believe.”[12]
Evil is not simply ‘out there’, but our Christian faith agrees with God, it is inside us, too.[13] Somehow this is an incredibly important detail within our belief.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.



[1] Stackhouse, J.G. Jr. Can God Be Trusted: Faith and the Challenge of Evil. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 51.
[2] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 52.
[3] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 61.
[4] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 67.
[5] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 72.
[6] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 79.
[7] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 85.
[8] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 87.
[9] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 98.
[10] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 125.
[11] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 126f.
[12] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 174.
[13] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 174-75.

Friday, August 21, 2015

There Are Only Two Ways to Live a Cross-Shaped Life

DISCIPLESHIP is the name of the Christian game. Jesus said, in his last recorded commandment in the Gospel of Matthew, “Make disciples…” The word “make” is an imperative — it has the force of a command. It can be read as, “Make!”
If we are commanded as church leaders to make disciples, all Christians are commanded to be disciples. The true Christian will bow at the earliest acknowledgement to the command of their Master. Even though we live in an age where we don’t like to be told what to do, we are actually most blessed to do what Jesus tells us to do. To do what Jesus tells us to do is to be his disciple.
The simplest metaphor for discipleship is the cross; a disciple needs to live a cross-shaped life. The cross-shaped life is a well-known metaphor. As we approach the cross, we first look up, and having a vertical focus, which is to God in the heavens, we remember what he has done for us. This breeds gratitude. Then secondarily, as we arrive at the horizontal beam our Lord’s hands were nailed to, we face our relationships, horizontally, with each other, having first been oriented correctly by God’s love through gratitude, vertically.
We are ready to love. We are ready to be kind. We are ready to forgive.
We cannot love people to God’s gold standard unless God has first oriented us to his love. From my own life experience it is rare for a person to be able to love with real selflessness unless they have oriented their thinking away from themselves and onto God.
If we don’t routinely look up the vertical axis of the cross we forget what God has done for us that we could never do for ourselves. And only as we look up vertically do we see the horizontal beam as it is; truly parallel with the earth. Our humanity reminds us how similarly fallible we all are. It reminds us that grace is the truest and best perspective with which to view our fellow human beings — who are all grappling with their own issues; that they deserve compassion as we ourselves do.
First, we look up and are in awe, then we look across — to the left and to the right. We acquire the import of love. We have seen what the Lord requires of us: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.
***
There are only two ways for a Christian to live: vertically, first and foremost, and then horizontally. Vertically, our focus is on the Lord, two-thirds the way up. Only when we reach the horizontal are we correctly oriented enough on God to relate well with and truly love others.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Zechariah 4 – Not By Might or Power, But By My Spirit

A meditation to Zechariah 4.
TWO SONS OF OIL (Zechariah 4:14), for those keen on reading the Word of God, are anointed to supply God’s workers and the work of the Lord with the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Hebrew: ruach).
Who those two sons are is disputed: some say they are Zerubbabel (the prince of Judah) and Joshua (the high priest), whilst others are adamant it can only be Haggai and Zechariah (himself) — the prophets. Either way, these images of the two sons of oil are of priest, prophet and king — Christ’s famous messianic offices.
Whatever the two sons of oil do they do to empower the building of God’s temple, or, in New Testament terms, the Kingdom. They supply the Holy Spirit by an ever trickling feed of oil from the Trees of Life, earlier in Zechariah’s night vision. These two olive trees supply energy in ways that the builders cannot.
That Zechariah is “roused” as if he was asleep, to a greater sense of alertness, suggests that this is a hiatus. This is an important night vision. There is intricate detail in the menorah, the bowl above it, each of the lamps, and the olive trees presented. A great amount is to be seen, as is a great amount to be witnessed by the power of God’s Spirit. So we, today, are to be roused by the power of God’s Spirit — through the Word of the Lord. Through God’s Word we have abundance for everything good; that is, of the goodness of his will.
Foundations and completions cover the beginning and the ending of building of God’s Kingdom, and his seven eyes see everything. Everything is thorough and we cannot think that God leaves anything to chance. Of this we’re to be confident. God overcomes all obstacles. As we, too, look on as God builds his Kingdom, stone by stone, we’re caused to cry out, “Grace, grace!” By his Spirit is the manifestation of grace. And grace caters wonderfully for everything.
That there are not one, but two trees of life is significant. It tells us that the supply of God’s Spirit for what we endeavour to build in his name, by his eternal Word, is everlasting. It tells us, too, that the messianic trinity of priest, prophet and king are in the frame of God’s power by his Spirit.
***
By the Holy Spirit’s power we have all we need to commence and complete what the Lord gives us, in his Kingdom, to build. We suffer no lack of capacity, and we may know that the type of “oil” that God provides is golden and sufficient for all our need.
So long as we do not rely on our own strength or power, but on the strength and power of his Word, the Lord will supply by his Spirit.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.