Sunday, October 31, 2010

Proverbs 31 – Wisdom’s Resounding Conclusion

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

~Proverbs 31:30 (NRSV).

This final chapter of Proverbs is a masterstroke penned in the character of Wisdom herself. It comes in two main sections which are about as divergent as two entities could ever be.

The Oracle of King Lemuel’s

Verses 1-9 of chapter 31 are attributed to Lemuel’s mother; in keeping with Proverbs’ Wisdom tradition, the teachings are handed down from a parent to the child via the oral tradition.

Three separate and compounding imperatives in verse 2 cast over the king an importance in the oracle being taught; one that is never to be lost on him. These are just as important to us too.

Like other areas in Proverbs—notably chapter 23 verses 29-35—the issues of drunkenness are deplored for their weakening of us and our characters. Drink in anything close to vast portions is for neither kings nor vassals; anyone with a hope does not have a part in inebriation (verses 4-7). Now, that’s a biblical statement on drinking and drunkenness if ever there was one.

The king is to “speak out” for the justice of those without voice, of “all children of passing away,” and of those who are poor and needy. Again, the device of compounding the imperative features (verses 8-9). Justice is the king’s most crucial pawn.

The Ode for a Capable Wife

The acid may very well be on the husband as much as the wife for this section. It almost appears that the writer of this section perceives it impossible for a woman to climb these heights of character, and yet she is described.

We are best being careful how we apply these standards, especially in such a tenuous area as marriage and family. And, still, we’re to consider them.

What are the qualities of this woman—this wife of a noble man?

She is Trustworthy in verses 11-12. She is safety for him, a partner who can reliably be leaned upon, for she is sponsored by the Lord.

She is Diligent in verses 13-19, 21-22, 24 and 27. Oh how Wisdom owes a significant part of her very self to this one trait, diligence. It is only right that the writer of these proverbs considers diligence such an important characteristic for the wife of a noble man that there are at least twenty-three lines of text dedicated to it.

Willing hands are hers and the tyranny of physical distance adds no anguish to her. Rising early is a treat to such a woman, one who is not only capable but willing to work hard for her entire family, including the leadership of the servant-girls. From dawn to dusk, and then beyond, she is still working, and she is prudently purchasing both perishables and land. She is not only mentally and emotionally strong, physical strength is hers too. And above all—a learner—she’s skilled too.

She is Kind and Generous in verse 20. Even if only one verse is dedicated to her kindness it is foundational in her service to all. She reaches out passionately and unreservedly. She also teaches kindness (verse 26).

She is Full of Faith in verses 21 and 25b. This woman doesn’t fear for her household. Her diligence has served her and now she can comfortably and confidently rest in her faith.

She is Her Children’s and Husband’s Delight in verses 28-29. What a leader of the family is this wife. Many might be apt at thinking the wife is not the leader; that the husband is. This view doesn’t take into consideration the vital leadership role of the wife and mother in every family. For the Proverbs 31 woman, her most excellent deeds have “surpassed them all,” in the context of others, in the esteem of her family. They have eyes and admiration only for her. How might present-day wives respond to such single-minded and single-sighted familial devotion?

Aligning The Woman with Wisdom (Who’s Personalised as a Woman)

Many chauvinists are unable to reconcile what was laid there nearly three thousand years; Wisdom is a Woman. The final two verses of the 900 or so sayings in Proverbs provide an excellent conclusion for they take us back to the beginning—back to the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:1-7).

The woman of Proverbs 31 seems quite tightly aligned—even as a practical manifestation—with the character that is raised up in Woman Wisdom.

“Praise” seems the connecting word-concept in verses 30-31 and this wife of a noble man is both praised for her work and she’s to be praised. Again I wonder, how might our contemporary “wives” respond to such praise? How might simply that augment marriages like no other thing?

Of two final verses—speaking not only of the wife of a noble man, but now of Wisdom itself—there is now a present majesty about them.

If we gave Wisdom “a share in the fruit of [our] hands,” via the wise way we do them, how might Wisdom repay us? How might we be inadvertently praised, recalling it is how we receive our praise that determines how wise we really are? (Proverbs 27:21)

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Hurting Life – Making Even Any Sense of It

“Much learning earns you much trouble.

The more you know, the more you hurt.”

~Ecclesiastes 1:18 (Msg).

The Quester, as Eugene Peterson describes him, is the teacher of wisdom in Ecclesiastes and there is something very, very real about what he teaches. Despite some spiritual persons proclaiming their continual bark “Victory in Jesus’ name, yeah!” and “Praise the Lord!” we somehow know that this is not the life at all that Jesus identifies with.

Jesus is realer than that.

This Jesus who was persecuted all his life somehow knows the pains of life even more so than we do; it was not all “Praise the Lord!” for him. In fact, comparatively rarely was he given to such exaltation.

Dealing with a Life That’s Marked: “Calamity”

To the poor spiritual soul who has to put on their ‘church face’ to pretend they’re “Christian”—and full of the Lord’s hope, joy and peace—there’s a big incongruence with how their lives are really turning out.

No wonder they sense the church’s hypocrisy.

There are a lot of reminders of brokenness and dysfunction in the lives of these; most of us... no, all of us—without generalisation. Indeed, it’s our recognition of the hopelessness of our situation that most appeals to authenticity. That’s the real us; not Mr. or Mrs. Facko.

A good question is, does this make us poorer or disobedient Christians as we admit to having just as pointless a life as a non-believer might have, who doesn’t have the hope of Jesus in their lives?

Being Honest – This Life Hurts In Many Ways

A good question the above one may be, and it’s not a good question because it requires or engenders a lot of thought. It actually has a remarkably simple answer.

It is answered in the resounding negative.

The name “Jesus” could otherwise spell “R-E-L-I-E-F” because this Lord of Glory is just that; he’s not Relief for the pretender, but for the real person—that person wrapped up in a world, occasionally or often, in and of chaotic torment.

God is no good to us unless he relates with reality and assists us to live in this oft-messy world. Fortunately for all of us, God knows life is a cross-like reality most often. By that I mean God’s never less intimately aware of our sticky and frustrating lives than we are.

This is precisely why we’re reminded to follow the Spirit’s gospel plan—the only way life works at all is by way of picking up our crosses and bearing them honestly, purposefully, humbly. And, in that, God goes with us, and before us, paving our way... but not in our lying about our circumstances by painting over the ugly parts with some veneer that washes off at the first sign of truth.

This sort of incongruent lie is sin, nothing plainer.

This, for most of us, is the only way we make sense of a hurting life. In this “mess” is the “victory,” not because of the world, but despite it, in Jesus’ exemplary name!

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Proverbs 30 – Wondrous Humility-Confirming Mysteries

“Every word of God proves true;

he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

~Proverbs 30:5 (NRSV).

This chapter has overtones of melancholy Ecclesiastes, which is only one chapter’s jump, gently wafting right the way through it, particularly in the early going.

The following themes are certainly noteworthy:

Humble Sayings Revealing Wisdom

The Sayings of Agur, the son of Jakeh, begin somewhat contrarily, but in the best of senses. To state initially (in verses 2-3) that he’s “the most ignorant of men” and that he has no “knowledge of the Holy One,” is at least a healthy pinch of humility for what directly follows, in verses 4-9 and throughout the whole chapter.

Agreeing with Ecclesiastes 12:12 and Revelation 22:18 is verse 6. Wisdom will reveal us as liars for adding to the words spoken, inspired of God, as written in the Bible; of which all teachers of the Word of God should tremble. This is enough for everyone ‘preaching’ to forever fall back to humility (based in the moral dimension) and continually so.

Verses 7-9 hold nine lines of text in a pattern of invocation-request-feared response. The sage is fearful of falling for falsehood and vanity; balance is what he prays for. This too speaks for humility. He is acutely aware of his own propensity to sin, which is a thing we’re all blessed to have the awareness of.

This entire section has signalled for us the very wisdom of acuity of the person carrying this message.

Familial Oracles

The midsection in verses 10-17 calls us home to the vital respecting of relationships in the family, and including those in the workplace (verse 10).

Those wicked ones are described; the ones without the appropriate respect of seniors, parents and elders. These are also those who are insatiable in their desire for acquisition. Heaven only help the parents with “two [leech-like] daughters,” (or sons) who command gratuities in disrespecting and greedy fashion, “Give! Give!”

When we consider the anatomy of the leech we see it has bilateral suckers that attach themselves to the host. It is not good for parents—or society at large—that children become like this; spoiled beyond repair. Wise discipline would have been the timely answer.

Verse 17 concludes this little arrangement in power-proverb manner. It will not end well for children who “mock” a father or “scorn [the] obedience” to a mother.

Five Important Foursomes Ushering Mystery

The first foursome we’ve partially covered already. These discuss things noted as insatiable; the greedy grown child, the grave, a barren womb and fire. Each of these is abyss-like in its own way.

Four things produce wonder in the sage (verses 18-19). For these he has no answer, and all he does is marvel. Marvelling is in itself a sign of wisdom, for it appreciates there things beyond answer—for which there definitely are in life. Perhaps with this proverb couplet is verse 20 also, which provides the negative image of the know-it-all adulteress who refuses to acknowledge her vast sin and the damage caused.

This is the perfect introduction to four things that are despised (verses 21-23). These are oddities that are so perverse Wisdom would seek to spit them out of her mouth, including for interest, issues on sexual and moral infidelity.

Four more things in verses 24-28 are found wondrous as they’re diligently wise. The innovatively productive methods of ants, rock badgers, locusts and lizards are again marvelled at.

Majesty is the fifth important foursome featured (verses 29-31). This foursome is about movement; the “stately” gait.

Warnings for Those Planning Evil

Proverbs 30 concludes (in verses 32-33) with the visitation again of the ‘malicious one’ who is bent on trouble. The warning is to back out of such wickedness before it’s too late.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Awed Experience – Faith’s Best Reward

“Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about [Jesus] spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”

~Luke 7:16-17 (NRSV [adapted]).

Jesus certainly was beginning to establish a reputation. That’s a blight of a statement, however, considering this is the Son of God who’s in focus. Anything that Jesus was involved in is not really appropriately understated.

The fear that seized the people who witnessed this event is surely the same sort of reverent awe that the Israelites experienced when the glory of the Lord appeared before them after Moses and Aaron came from the tent of meeting and blessed the people (Leviticus 9:22-24).

The Western culture is not familiar, generally, with this level of pure subjugated emotion; an instinctive response of deferential wonder.

True Worship – A Response and Nothing Planned

This “face down” experience surely is where true worship is at.

There’s nothing ‘put on’ about it. It’s not contrived, designed, practised or planned.

It is pure and un-generated. It comes only to a ready heart, the heart tuned to accept God without question.

To know God and to follow the Spirit with undying willingness, to the best of our abilities, is surely rewarded mostly when we’re impacted in these ways. As a response, then, we are affected both cognitively—via our thoughts relating to God in our experience—as much as we can take them in—and emotionally.

Double Blessing in Right Worship

And when these two personal manifestations—the cognitive and the emotional—combine and fuse most wonderfully together it is a double blessing of God’s inimitable Presence there with us. We’re blessed neither dumbly nor coldly.

Intelligently and warmly we worship with God.

Is there a better reward for our faith than experiencing this glory of the Lord? I don’t think there is. Additionally, can this experience be ‘scheduled’ every Sunday or at any other time?

Well, that depends, often times, on the condition of our hearts and our willingness to go with the open flow of God’s Spirit as it tends to our beings.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Proverbs 29 – On Anger, Discipline and Sovereign Justice

“The poor and the oppressor have this in common:

the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”

~Proverbs 29:13 (NRSV).

As the collection of the proverbs copied by Hezekiah’s men—the Further Wise Sayings of Solomon—concludes here we’re again given more helpful images of the contrasts between Wisdom and Folly. Thirteen of the 27 verses are contrastive “but” proverbs.

Anger Against Wisdom

“Anger” is a key word and concept in verses 8-11 and 22-23. Mockers are known to be malicious, even against themselves, but wise people are characteristically patient. It’s not a wise idea to resolve issues with this sort of arrogant fool in court; if we did that we could as easily be entrapped to their way or feel the wrath of their reputation.

The ‘malicious one’—who we met originally in Proverbs 26:17-28—hates people with integrity. They want vengeance even if the person with integrity has done them no wrong (verse 10). The foolish, hence, cannot rein in their anger; they do not control themselves and they will feel the full weight of the punishing consequences (verse 22).

Discipline and Diligence

Familial proverbs in verses 3, 15 and 17 combine with proverbs on masters and servants in verses 19 and 21. Both subjects highlight the importance of prompt, appropriate and fair discipline—or ‘relationship management’.

We already know that the foolish growing or grown child inflicts shame on the parent, but that a wise and diligent child otherwise brings joy.

The “rod of correction” (verse 15) is important here, despite the imagery around corporal punishment. It is more important that correction is issued consistently (i.e. every time) and with consistency (i.e. method), on time and with good feedback. If parents cannot issue corporal punishment sensitively and entirely free of their own anger then they should do without it. Discipline is about teaching, not anger (though there wouldn’t be many parents who haven’t lost their temper with their children on occasion).

Likewise, “servants” (which we can call ‘employees’) need to be shown by example, so that the design for leadership intervention is modelled off innovation, and that based in due diligence (verse 19). If a leader doesn’t do this they can only blame themselves for the consequences in verse 21.

The Firm Threads of Justice

There are two tight collections of proverbs attending to justice (verses 4-7 and 24-26) as well as individual proverbs in verses 2, 12, 14 and 16. It is arguable with due cause that even verses 13 and 15 combine in this section to produce another, third, collection.

Justice is a key theme running right through Proverbs. Indeed, with righteousness and equity, the three make a triad of both wise means and ends (see also Proverbs 1:3 and 2:9).

We’ve discussed before how nations groan under oppression, but they rejoice under a proactive administration (verse 2). ‘Boomerang justice’ for the wicked is highlighted in the quatrain of verses 5-6. Sow in wickedness; reap also what the wicked reap: disaster.

The righteous get just reward for looking after the affairs of the poor and needy, including their justice (verse 7). They rule with consistency and are not found tolerating lies (verses 12 and 14). Those not ruling with such diligence are bound to have officials who follow suit (verses 12 and 16).

Good leaders, then, lead exactly how their organisations (or nations) are to become. They are building, or supporting the growth of, a productive, caring culture.

Sovereign Nuances in True Justice Based in Wisdom

We need to understand, finally, how important it is to trust in the establishment of God’s justice and God’s timing (verse 25-26). It is best to exercise patience and self-control. Godly leaders are followers after Wisdom, whether they fervently or actively follow the Lord or not, but by virtue of their actions they’d be seen as friendly to God in any event, and therefore their sense of justice is a Divinely and Sovereignly-backed justice as they abide in Wisdom—which is the way life generally works.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting Past the Swarming Doubts

“When doubts filled my mind,

your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.”

~Psalm 94:19 (NLT).

At times I have doubts. We all do. We consider the blemishes of our lives or the lack of progress that are just a little too visible in the present moment, and we stew over them, wondering why life’s not turning out as it should.

I was inspired recently watching a documentary, The Cross (2008), on the ever-durable Arthur Blessitt, a man who’d carried his twelve-foot cross all the way around the world, visiting every country, even those war-torn ones in the midst of their bloody conflicts, for instance Beirut and Northern Ireland.

Doubts Aplenty

It’s easy to bring up example after example of people like Blessitt, who are modern-day heroes of faith, and thrust them before the doubting hearts of yours and mine, to make us feel ashamed for our so-called ‘lack of faith’.

But what I was most touched about in Blessitt was his softness—not his hardness to endure the physical pain and challenges we’d find both unrelenting and impossible. This guy shed his tears, not simply of joy, but of the heartache of disappointment and despair, also, whilst on his travels.

There must have been plenty of lonely times when he’d have doubted the Lord as any prophet has.

It’s not wrong to doubt. We’re not castigated by God for doubting. If the heroes of faith doubted occasionally it’s going to be okay for you and I.

The Safe Arms of God

At doubting times, not that we can see them or feel them, those arms of the Lord are wrapped gently around our worlds. Although we don’t feel safe, we actually are.

Doubting times would be scarier but for this fact, one that we necessarily should always somehow remember, even at our lowest of ebbs—for we all have them.

Comfort is the Lord’s great fortress against hopelessness and despair.

It is ever-dependable and ever-responsive. All we need to do to tap into this great refuge is ask God into our hearts afresh, and be really honest before the Spirit.

I say again, it is normal to doubt.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Proverbs 28 – Riches, Justice and Judgment

“No one who conceals transgressions will prosper,

but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

~Proverbs 28:13 (NRSV).

Contracts and caveats are full of legal-speak and they spell out blow by blow for proponents the ‘lay of the land’ and all sense of permeations regarding default. In much the same way, Proverbs 28 gets into some of the pertinent items of note regarding riches, justice, and ultimately God’s judgment through Wisdom—which is the way life generally always works out.

This chapter also sees the return of the contrastive proverb, and with much fanfare. In fact, eighteen of the 28 proverbs are “but” proverbs showing us the sweeping differences in life that are accorded of our various acts.

Approaches to Wealth

Riches and all manner of ways of getting there or not are a commanding theme here. Firstly, it’s better to be poor but blameless than to be rich and perverse (verse 6). Getting rich at the expense of others is a slippery wealth—it will not be retained (verse 8). Some rich people attempt to put over ‘their wisdom’ on others, but even a poor person with insight sees through the ruse (verse 11).

An eagerness to grow rich in life without the willingness to collect that spoil of hard knocks is faithlessness; it will not be rewarded in the end (verse 20). The blameworthy person who brandishes perversity will fall ultimately (verse 18).

It really doesn’t pay to greedily hoard material wealth, doing so irresponsibly.

Opposite Sides of Justice

Greedy people cannot live at harmony, for peace is always somewhere ‘over there,’ in places called “envy” and “comparison” (verse 25). These live at odds with even themselves, as they’re constantly peering over the fence into others’ worlds.

Those eager to get ahead financially, and certainly against the needs of the needy, will not go without punishment in the end (verses 20 and 27). Heaven only help a nation ruled by a wicked person; they will leave nothing behind and people will scurry for cover (verses 3, 12 and 28).

The alternative route, which is one relatively few take, is the right-sized life so far as balance and equity is concerned. The wiser person is not trusting in their own resources, but in Wisdom’s (verse 26; cf. Proverbs 3:5-6). They receive for their faith a good and fair inheritance (verse 10).

It is important to note that Wisdom speaks kindly to the latter person but tersely to the former; justice abides to both according to the fruit of their attitudes and actions.

The Law and Judgment

Like many chapters and subsections in Proverbs there are catch-words and word-plays everywhere. The one of note here is the word “law,” but it is used in different ways than we’d typically find in say Psalm 119.

Continuing the theme of just and wicked rulership, the “law” proverbs give some insight into God’s justice via the hand of Wisdom—which is the way life works out, generally.

The just will resist the hand of the wicked, for they uphold the law at any cost (verse 4). A country with frail leadership will, in fact, have many leaders and they’ll pull against each other (verse 2). Those flailing the law or compromising justice will be shameful to their parents (verse 7). Further, God despises the prayers of those who are deaf to the needs and requirements of the law (verse 9).

An Overall Message

The key theme to this chapter, and it probably fits with the entire Bible, is sewn up in verse 13, which is profiled at top. Whoever is honest in life will thrive. The dishonest will fall. Seeing that we’re all found dishonest, or at least mistaken, so great is God that we have the item of penitence to fall back on.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

~Matthew 4:17b (NRSV).

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Desire for Healing

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

~1 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV).

I was accosted recently by a zealous ‘Spirit-filled’ evangelist. He asked me my interest and I mentioned I was Christian. Then he said something rather funny, after referring to ‘the tongues,’ something I didn’t expect: “Have you received the Spirit yet?” he asked. Then I thought, “That’s right, there are some Christians and denominations who believe you must speak in tongues as a manifest sign of the ‘receipt’ of the Spirit within.”

I must say that certain biblical bigotry wrangles me. It smacks of false teaching. Whilst I’ve been baptised in the Spirit at least twice (without intention mind) I haven’t of my own conscious knowledge spoken in tongues.

The Hypocrisy of this Attitude

I find it bewildering that some Christians—who do in fact have the gift to speak in tongues—think they’re special repositories of the Holy Spirit, not recognising that every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

The hypocrisy is most marked in those who take on a superior attitude in their ‘healing ministries’ in the name of the Lord, and who yet haven’t applied the same healing powers—in the name of the Lord—to heal their own lives. Their brokenness is visible to the discerning, especially in pride.

I must admit to some reticence to follow leaders of the faith who purport openly and boldly certain powers or gifts. I wonder if they’re from God at all and I’m quickly looking for evidence of the gifts. We see, it is not the Lord’s way for ministers to spruik gamely about the wares they’re peddling—actions always prove more credible than words. I believe that was the intent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:19.

The Apportionment of the Gifts

The Apostle Paul makes it very plain that the gifts are not universal.

To say tongues—or any other Spiritual gift—is the only manifestation of the receipt of the Spirit is a direct contravention of the intent of 1 Corinthians 12–14, especially, for example, verses 7-11 of chapter 12. It is the Spirit who apportions the gift—in all manner of manifestation—and the Presence of God the Holy Spirit within.

Comments to the contrary are based in Spiritual naivety.

Now, to Healing

As the title of the article suggests, the focus is on healing—the desire to be healed.

Many might be attracted to healing ministries, and those given to be gifted in healing by the Spirit certainly have a very special and needed ministry. Millions attest to the healing power in Jesus’ name, as is their experience, and no one’s defrauding them of that.

But healing by method is beyond the instantly miraculous means.

This is not saying that the instant miracle doesn’t count; it’s simply not the only way.

I truly wonder how many faith-healers are themselves ‘healed,’ and not simply physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually also.

For mine, it seems a contradiction in terms that certain people highlight physical healing as more important, or more manifest as Spiritual healing, than the other just-as-miraculous forms of healing... they just aren’t as instant in their manifestation, that’s all.

The desire for healing is the most important issue.

Whoever desires to be truly healed, and we all will need healing—even continual healing, should be healable. It is not just down to the healing ministries, however, to do it. As Paul argued, the Holy Spirit—and the healing power of the Spirit—is much bigger than we can construct or begin to understand.

The desire for healing—and to be healed, and that continually—is most important thing. There is no ‘set’ way healing works. We cannot hem the Holy Spirit in like that.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.