Monday, April 27, 2015

A Healthy Aversion In the Midst of Temptation


PASTORS should expect to be tested, as should Christians in general.
The tests that are in scope here are those that will flush out any degree of falsehood in us and make it known to the whole world, or at least the company of angels in the heavenly host before God.
Everything we do is in that company! We might as well flout God before the world.
At every step of life we can expect evil to test us and for God — as with Job — to allow it. How else are we to know the assurance of God’s grace in us than via the Holy Spirit’s affirmation post-temptation, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
***
The tests of life,
Aren’t what we think is rife,
But they are the things,
From where death springs.
The tests of life,
Are what lead us to strife,
Where our integrity fails,
And our usefulness for God pales.
The tests of grace,
Are the seeking of God’s face;
In the normal flow of our day,
Attention to integrity we must pay.
Character is known,
In the integrity shown,
When nobody special is looking.
But if we don’t notice our Lord,
Who should be there adored,
Just who knows what evil we’re cooking?
***
So far as the tests of life are concerned, we need to know that they are character tests in sum. We cannot be tripped up entirely in mistakes and errors of competence for which systems (like training) are designed to protect. We should never stress about being found incompetent when all we need to do is practice competence through thorough planning and careful execution. Every doable thing is doable.
But character faults are different. They have the power to find us guilty as charged!
We are only, inevitably, tripped up through faux pas’ of integrity — a little lie, an omission, a little secret; any immoral act.
We should pray that a miracle of godly fear would sweep through us over temptations to addiction, infidelity, corruption and embezzlement. Better still, when we are placed in these most evil arenas, great is God’s grace to make us instinctually sick from the inside out.
It is better to have an allergically aversive reaction to a temptation than to proudly say, “This thing will never have power over me.” If we are ever foolishly proud in order to say such a thing, we might well hear the whisper of the devil, “Famous last words...”
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What Is Jesus’ Model for Servant Leadership?


SERVANT leadership is not about being treated like a servant; it’s more about seeing ourselves as servants who are ready and willing to do the work of the Kingdom in our sphere.
Servant leadership is a sleeves-rolled-up form of leadership. It’s a leadership predicated on being a model of integrity; to lead by example; to lead by serving.
Yet, when I read someone from John Piper’s Desiring God ministry say that, “Genuine servant leadership means being treated like a servant” I’m exasperated.
Nobody treats anyone like a servant in the Kingdom of God by God’s design.
But, of a leader’s own initiation, they are privileged to lower themselves as Christ did, appearing as nothing, in order that others would be lifted up. A servant leader in this way is nothing short of inspiring. A servant leader is won to love and they love at any cost.
Jesus’ magnum opus, the cross, is our firmest foundation for love that serves to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. Yet Jesus could have died on that cross devoid of love and it still would have looked like such a sacrifice. Jesus, on a strictly human level, would have avoided the cross, but on a divine level he wanted the cross — it was his destiny. He wanted the cross not only because shame and rejection was the way that God would redeem a broken humankind, he wanted to die for the least of us.
***
The essence of servant leadership is we want the best for the other person, because we trust God to deliver upon our needs. Servant leaders, therefore, are exemplars of faith. And a servant leader’s hope is buoyant enough not to worry for their own.
Servant leadership, then, is a great model of inspirational leadership.
Any secular leader that would employ servant leadership in their workplace or community will find their influence, their borders, expanding. And for the best of reasons. Their leadership is trustworthy because it ensures others are respected and safe.
It’s a no-brainer that Christian leaders are to be servant leaders. Servant leadership is a Jesus leadership. He served the ‘least of these’ and preferred serving those life had rejected than hob-knobbing it with the religious elite.
To follow Jesus is to lead as Jesus led — to exalt the ‘least of these’ and to prefer to be a quiet yet consistent and effective advocate of the outlier and rejected persons.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Blessed Death Into Eternity

“THE day of death better than the day of birth,” Ecclesiastes 7:1b tells us.
Fear is such a real, yet strange and irrepressibly evil thing. Fear is sin.
For every day of the year — a full 365 — we have a biblical injunction, “Do not fear!” The Greek is interesting. For instance, in Matthew 14:27 where walking-on-the-water Jesus said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The word for fear in Greek is set in the imperative — it is middle voice grammatically, but deponent, meaning it still has a strong, active voice. Add to it the strong negation — μη — which is the “don’t” part of the sentence. This “don’t” is not simply “don’t” but “don’t!”
Putting these two words together gives the Greek a very strong voice.
We are commanded to not fear. We are commanded, of essence, to take courage.
***
We are apt to get mad at God for ‘making’ us, or allowing us, to be fearful. It is actually the other way around. God should be mad at us! But God knows what we have to deal with; that fear is one of those things we can only conquer by faith.
We are not to fear death. We are not to fear not seeing our loved ones again. We are to have faith that God is entirely good and faithful to his Word. We do what we can do: Don’t be afraid.
Knowing the enormity of these truths is good. They smash our predilection for insipidly letting fear have its way. Fear is foreign to the Christian, but only insofar as they know its inherent inappropriateness. Of course, the Kingdom is set on plunging into fear on every scale to bring it captive to Christ.
***
Death we shall not fear,
What will happen to us once,
For what’s dawning is now so clear,
Despite the evil that hunts.
Death shall not take the soul,
Who calls on Christ their Lord,
The soul whom sees as their role,
To take loathsome life as adored.
Death has no power,
It really lacks every sting,
Let’s look forward to that hour,
When finally to the Lord we’ll cling!
And for those lost who are waiting,
In a place where waiting is joy,
They look forward without abating,
Whether they’re a little girl or boy!
***
Better is it to be born, into the rites of life, to suffer as a human being will suffer in this world, and yet to die once in order to be graced of the celestial voyage.
O God is good! Do not fear.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Salvation and the Call to Follow


TWO enjoined things are salvation and the call to follow.
The call to follow and salvation are intrinsically linked. This is because the one that seeks the answer to the question of salvation is answered by the Presence of the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus stands there, looking directly at the person who should enquire of salvation.
He needs not utter a word. As he turns to walk away, our answer is in our response. Will we follow? Will we imitate the Master’s moves? Will we become lathered in the Lord’s dust? Will we remain close enough to our Teacher to hear what he will say?
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,” says the Lord.
The presumption is that the person who asks Jesus about salvation actually pursues righteousness. Perhaps they don’t. Maybe the person asks because they fear their eternal destiny — as they should.
But the connection point for salvation is the polar opposite. Only when we have come to an end in ourselves are we ready to begin with God — to follow.
Salvation is manacled to the call. Grace is pinioned to discipleship.
This does not detract one iota from the ‘free gift’ the grace of salvation is.
We can only accept salvation if we also accept the way of the cross.
We only understand the imperative of life if we abide in Christ.
Discipleship engorges the disciple’s understanding of the immensity of grace in salvation.
The more the disciple follows with diligent surrender, all the more their experience of salvation in this life; it remains also to be seen whether that equates to a divinity of reward in the next life — but we hold this as a belief!
***
The central quality of the person who rightly asks Jesus, “Salvation?” is their sense of lack — a reprehensible and mournful moral lack.
They acknowledge the eternal shackles necessary enjoining salvation to repentance.
To turn back on the old life, because it would not work, and because it never did work, and because it gave us no hope for the future; that is the presupposition of asking for salvation in the first place. But if we ask only about salvation we have come at the wrong time.
To ask Jesus, “What should I do to be saved?” is also to be prepared to be his disciple.
Salvation is the call to follow him who our own hearts have compelled us to answer.
Salvation is about following Jesus who has called us. To follow Jesus is to be saved.
When salvation is the question, discipleship is the answer.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Bible references: Isaiah 51:1a.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

God’s Purpose In Injustice, Slander and Misrepresentation


EVIL serves the purpose of the Lord, not that the Lord wills it that way.
It is of genuine sadness that we are unjustly treated, slandered, censored, misrepresented. But it serves God’s purpose. It serves the Lord’s purpose that we are castigated by all manner of wrongdoing when we shelter under the wings of the Most High, God. We are forced to depend on God when we are brought to our knees by those who would slay our reputation.
We didn’t even want to be there. We feel angered not simply at the initial injustice, but ever more so that we have been wrongly judged. They say we are weak when we have had it confirmed by the Lord that we are weak only for his account in order to gain the only strength there is. They say these things and God is using them. Praise God!
God is using them to force us back into him.
The injustices cast against us never do us any harm at all. What does it mean if our protagonist has the wrong view, yet we are still free to serve the weak, the poor, the ailing, and the repentant sinner?
We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).
The more fatigued we are on his account, having endured many silent persecutions, the readier we are to look with glee upon him alone who can help us.
The more unjustly we are treated, the more we are tempted to cuss, but the closer we are to the grandest of divine capitulations.
***
We have the path to true greatness before us. Injustice, slander, censoriousness, misrepresentation; these are crucial antecedents of the reliance on God that we would otherwise not partake of.
To take the cross into our own unique experience is to transcend our petty human experience.
God has much more for us, yet none of it can be experienced, in the present context, devoid of suffering.
There is much, much more. We must first, however, break past our own self-conceived and self-limiting fears.
***
There is a purpose in suffering injustice, slander, censoriousness, and misrepresentation. They force us to retreat into God.
True dependence on God saves God the final say in the midst of our situation.
True dependence on God in the midst of pain is tears without words; gut-wrenching fury without action; ghoulish sorrow without ending things.
True dependence on God is the purpose of injustice, slander, censoriousness, misrepresentation.
When the Lord is teaching us true dependence we resist with all we have. It’s a wrestle. This is not ever an easy lesson. But humility is the key.
Humility conquers injustice, slander, censoriousness, and misrepresentation.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sons of Korah’s Journey Through One Dozen Psalms

PSALMS in the biblical corpus offer the reader, singer and player an expansive landscape of the human emotions for life. Everything that could viably be felt and theologically deduced is captured in these one hundred fifty eternalised sonnets.
On a recent night of lament, imprecation, reflection, praise and worship one dozen psalms were played by the Sons of Korah — a group of musicians in their twenty-first year.
The one dozen psalms were: 19, 79, 94, 42, 77, 84, 96, 92, 121, 23, 139, and 91. Although personal favourites (Psalms 35, 51, 93, and 123) weren’t played, there was such a sense of the special nature of singing these divine songs of depth.
Psalm 19 is regal in nature and never too far away from being representative of royal virtue over the entire collection.
Psalm 79 is a classic psalm of imprecation — of complaint to God for the sheer abstemiousness of Jerusalem’s suffering. “How long, O Lord?” (Verse 5a) How long will injustice rain down over God’s people?
Psalm 94 profiles God who is the Avenger of the righteous. “Shine forth!” the first verse of 23 booms. Even in such dire circumstances as command this plea there is faith enough to say, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Verse 19)
Psalm 42 is, of course, rich as a dirge to the power of life to sweep us away on a torrent that disdains our very being. When “tears have been my food day and night” (verse 3) no wonder “deep calls to deep” and our souls are “down cast.”
Psalm 77 features the very famous words, “yet your footprints were unseen.” The works of God’s mighty deeds are recalled, but it is intermingled with complaints and praises, as faithfully as many of the psalms do.
Psalm 84 refers to the Valley of Baca — the place of desolate weeping — but in a way that envisions victory if nothing else by the imagery of “springs” when springs might become the least and pettiest of our concerns. God is the carer of our souls. He really does care.
Psalm 92 — a Sabbath psalm — demonstrates the justice of being and doing that the psalmist knows (beforehand) he is blessed in the company of God.
Psalm 96 tells us that there are times when we wish to sing a new song. And the typical pattern of justice in an unjust world takes place. This psalm gives us confidence.
Psalm 121 is such a sweet psalm… “[H]e who keeps you will not slumber” gives us hope that God will never sleep or slumber.
Psalm 23 is replete with eternity in the gaze of life where God sets “a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” that, no matter what, God will be with us, “Even though [we] walk through the darkest valley.”
Psalm 139 tells us so much about how and why God created us. We are so precious in his sight. He planned us meticulously.
Psalm 91 is such an appropriate psalm to reflect upon as a blessing. But what about disasters? No disaster will befall us who would do anything to obey God. Nothing can happen that should dissuade us from God.
***
One thing worse than losing everything in life is losing everything in eternity.
Those who lose every good thing in this life will receive abundantly more in eternity.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Psalm 10 – Why Do You Seem So Absent, God?

“O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.”
— Psalm 10:17-18 (NRSV)
This lament of bitter complaint for what the wicked and unjust get away with has no superscription, and though it reads like it comes from David’s genre there is no such clue; unless we, like a lot of commentators do, link it with Psalm 9. Then it is David’s.

Those “from earth” are the many worldly ones who do what their despicable hearts conspire, denying the Sovereignty of God that will inevitably judge them. Faith has it that the psalmist, and those sympathising, can believe that ‘right’ will ultimately prevail over ‘might’.

The Distress

Verse 1 is as raw as it is powerful. If we pray this single verse aloud, with the corresponding emotion, we’ll soon learn what it feels like to pray uncomfortably, thinking, “Can we talk to God like that?” Yet, anyone who has been dealt cruel blows in life must certainly have prayed these ways.

God seems absent. And, when God seems most absent, he’s never more present.

We know it in our own experience; the Lord seems not to help when we most need it. Then, as we look back from a better place—as the Footprints poem suggests—we see that God was far from absent. But such knowledge doesn’t come to our rescue when we are deep in distress.

Descriptions of Wickedness – the Source of Lament

It might be that Psalm 9 deals with wickedness beyond Israel, or outside the church, and Psalm 10 the wickedness occurring within the nation, or inside the church. We don’t need to be sarcastic suggesting the rhetorical, “Really? Wickedness in the church?” We know it happens, because the church is full of sick and broken people just as there are sick and broken people everywhere beyond its walls.

Verses 2-11 feature a protracted description of the psalmist’s vision that perplexes them. What they see explains why they reconcile God as standing far off, hiding himself in times of trouble (verse 1).

And of course we identify with this.

We see people doing the wrong thing and getting away with it. They say what they want and are not held to account, whilst we carefully select our words and perhaps get in trouble. Some intentionally trick the “helpless,” taking advantage, and when we choose advocacy we might be implicated, somehow, in wrongdoing. The courage it takes to reverse injustice involves risk because the nasty are upset and the claws are out.

The Plea

Verses 12, 15 and 17 carry the pleading refrain. Now we begin to notice the transformation in the psalmist’s mood; distress and complaint are gradually giving way to faith-tied pleas, for that all-powerful Sovereign will of God to save those who are suffering.

The pinnacle of the final third is verse 16—a valiant statement of confidence in the Lord to restore justice.

As we consider laments like this, as well as the repetitiveness of laments in the Psalms generally, we can again rest assured that God is Sovereign, in control, and reckoning plans for Judgment, eternally.

***

God seems absent because there are often so many more reminders of evil in our world than good. Our minds polarise toward the bad we see, and away from evidence of God’s Sovereignty. The Lord is so good to have provided us the freedom to think either way we wish, but, literally, we are not thankful when thoughts tend negative.

We can always expect in our deepest trials to feel as though God is not present.

We can, however, learn the habit of knowing the Lord is always present, helping us even when we don’t see or feel it. Such knowledge is faith personified in and through us.

When God seems most absent, he is never more present. Don’t forget to take him with you into your storm. Imagine he is there and he is there!

© 2011, 2015 S. J. Wickham.


General Reference: W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Psalms: a Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms – Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1995), pp. 78-85.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 100)

JESUS as teacher. What do we make of his Sermon?
A sermon that was probably the compilation of most of his teaching — set out conveniently for us in three neat chapters of Matthew’s gospel — was the summation of his teaching ministry, an antithesis of wrongs about real faith, and the greatest contribution, ever, to the ethics corpus.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was his magnum opus. Such a teaching is our Torah — our new Law.
And what would be the effect of our focusing in on such teaching over an extended period? It would have to change us. It would have to.
If you have followed this one-hundred day series, you would have to have been challenged to some degree to change, as God’s Spirit was given charge to reveal.
I have been changed in the writing.
I have come to a place of not just a nominal recommitment to the Lord, but a recommitment that instils what we always desire from a recommitment: I am ready to change.
Only God can lead us to that Promised Land of his equipping for transformation.
Only through God’s Spirit can that metamorphosis take place.
It’s what every ardent Christian prays daily for: to be changed ever anew into the image of Christ that is, each and of itself, a miracle in every way. And that is our prayer: that Jesus’ principal sermon would divide away from us those petty ingratiations that continue to unnerve us; those immaturities of childish faith.
For such a reason Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was given: as a meditation device.
The more we draw away from our busy life and into the precious teaching of the Lord, the more we are renewed in order to make our impact for his Kingdom.
The less we accede to the devices of the world that would act their way over us, the more we are saved for the delights of common spirituality known only in God.
In essence, when we are hid with Christ in God we are happiest and most content.
The Sermon on the Mount takes us there: where we are hidden with Christ in God.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     Brainstorm the items in your desired growth inventory. Growth can seem an overwhelming task. Can you interpret God’s Spirit leading you in any one direction just now?
2.     What one section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would he have you focus on?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, April 13, 2015

100 Days on Jesus’ Sermon Mount (Day 99)


WHAT is the point of the Sermon on the Mount if it’s so impossible to obey? It seems only momentarily sustainable in obedience terms. But perhaps we are missing the point if we think too legalistically or statistically (i.e. percentage of obedience versus percentage of disobedience).
Jesus never wanted to turn us off because his teaching was ‘too hard’ to obey.
But I wonder if he wanted to teach us something we could not learn otherwise.
I wonder, when we think of the impossible — in standards for obedience — whether it simply propounds the eternal importance, significance, and countenance of grace.
In other words, to come to the end of ourselves — ‘I cannot do this without God’s help’ — is a great gift of grace, for “his grace is sufficient for you” in all our many trials.
If we couple this sense of dependence on God as the only hope we have of obeying with the right heart of obeying, we find ourselves deep centre in the mood of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) — the actual mood and heart of Jesus, himself.
Who do we picture as the blessed of the Beatitudes? Jesus himself.
If we found ourselves in the Person of the Beatitudes — that reversal, where the lowly of heart are the highly of faith — we find ourselves more of the heart of obedience to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.
Tough asks of Jesus are not really the point. We don’t say to God, “Can you not make it a little easier to obey, please, and thank you very much?”
God makes it possible for us to obey the Sermon on the Mount, but strict obedience, again, misses the central point. We don’t obey for obedience’s sake. We obey because we know it is right. We want to obey!
Can you see the heart in such a moral position?
***
God is always more interested in our heart than the quantity or quality of our obedience.
Jesus wants us to know that obedience is right, not that obedience is necessary. There is a subtle distinction there.
If we know obedience is right we will obey more than if we think that it’s necessary.
Jesus gets to the heart of matters because he is interested principally in our hearts. When the heart is won, everything else follows.
***
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1.     In what ways has the Sermon on the Mount confused you or overwhelmed you?
2.     If your heart is in something, what do you find is the result?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.