Friday, August 31, 2012

Hated By the World, the Begotten of God

“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.”
—John 15:19 (NRSV)
These red-lettered words written above are written in the blood of truth. We will not find many friends in the world—in our culture. Only those who resonate with the truth—fellow lovers of the truth—will we befriend.
This can be an isolating knowledge.
This fact, that we are isolated like aliens in the world, means our strength must come from God alone, by faith, and especially through the support of genuine Christian fellowship. To gain strength in the Lord we must rally with those who love the truth.
Preparing for Danger in This World
I wonder if we’ve ever noticed how dark and bizarre the world actually is. We are all sucked into its culture with aberrant effect. We are tempted in sin and seduced into making the Gospel message ‘relevant’, ‘pleasing’, even enticing. But if the world knew what the Gospel consisted of—the true Gospel, which requires us to bear our crosses—it would hate us all the more. Only those ready to proceed into the Kingdom will receive it in joy.
It’s not God’s will for us to get down about the world. Jesus has overcome the world. We often fail in forgetting this.
We can accept our world as crooked, yet still be on the lookout for those open to the truth. We are to live within optimistic realism. It is better by far for us, in preparing for danger in this world, to congregate around some of the like-minded; those who love truth. Being around these kind, enjoying godly fellowship, augments optimistic realism where truth and intimacy between people may flourish. In such an environment we can grow—by pushing each other on, in truth.
Danger in This World Is a Precursor for Faith
God has given us the perfect tool in dealing with our world: Faith.
When we approach life in the Spirit’s strength, proving our personal weakness as valid for faithful living, we are able to climb over many temptations of anger, envy, and pride, etc. This is how we will know the presence of God in our lives: our selfish priorities and simplistic order of logic vanish into the distance, for the surpassing knowledge of faith. That is, that we begin to believe in those things we hope for, but cannot yet see.
This is why the world hates us. It does not understand. It seems illogical. They see us fight for the truth against even our own agendas. Because the world doesn’t understand it cannot trust us.
And to one extent this is good news...
Living in the world actually does us a favour. Conflict is fuel for the firing of faith:
“Faith must be tested, because it can only be turned into a personal possession through conflict.”
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
We will never understand true Christian living until we realise the world hates us. The world cannot trust a logic it doesn’t understand. The world’s hatred should not offend Christians. We should understand.
When we understand that faith is the method to get us through all circumstances, then we have strength; the matchless, immutable strength of the Lord. Faith can get us through all circumstances of conflict. By faith, alone, we are begotten of God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nullifying Satan’s Myriad Deceptions

“Satan is no fool. In fact, the Bible, from this perspective, chronicles a savvy enemy, lying in wait specifically for men, capitalizing on their ignorance of his proximity and presence to take them down.”
—Kenny Luck, Sleeping Giant
The enemy, Satan, kills off many good things, not by mortal wounding, but by inflicting blows to effectiveness. He is depicted as a sniper, cunningly identifying the target and shooting in such a way as to create maximum organ damage without actually making the kill. As a result, he disarms and disables many otherwise willing servants of God.
But the reality is even starker.
Satan often wounds his enemy—potentially passionate and otherwise devoted Christian followers of Christ—before they even begin ministry in the kingdom of God. And the thesis for men, here, regarding specifically the church, is even grimmer.
Seeing men as leaders—which is what they are—Satan goes even harder in his hunt to discourage, discredit, and disable them, especially within each man’s own mind. Women in ministry are targeted also. But in reality, Satan seems more content that the Church has thriving women’s ministries than men’s ministries. This is because Satan knows that men can mobilise and form into evangelistic armies that can make big differences in our world, culturally, for God.
Satan knows that if the Church gets the man it also gets his family.
The truth we are brought to here is the fact: women-in-ministry, and there are many powerful women’s ministries, is only part of the power of the kingdom of God. The church desperately needs men to stand up, to speak up, to be energised to enact a vision God has already given them.
But men and women alike need to be aware of the wiles of Satan.
The Many Colours and Shades of the Enemy
Satan’s power to steal, kill and destroy is largely invisible. The mode of Satan’s ministry is stealth. We never expect it unless we are deliberately wary. This enemy works in the fashion of lies—by garments of deception that we tell ourselves, by negative and isolating self-talk, and that we propagate through gossip because of pride and envy. The enemy works masterfully, like a chameleon, by distorting and counterfeiting otherwise good things.
The actual threat is a comprehensive wardrobe filled with all colours and styles of camouflage; replete with every shade of the seven deadly sins. Whenever we least expect it, there Satan may strike, coming in the appearance of something innocuous or, possibly worse, something attractive.
We may be more interested in how Satan can wreak havoc in our personal lives. Well, the truth is, wherever he attacks us in ministry there is always a spill-over into our personal lives. Satan aims to make no friendly kill. His interest is in overwhelming us.
But, and this is encouraging, Satan’s presence among us as individuals, small groups, and fellowships is fuel for the firing of faith:
“Faith must be tested, because it can only be turned into a personal possession through conflict.”
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
The wise Christian is aware of the wiles of Satan and is aware of the enemy’s presence. But they are just as aware that God is infinitely more powerful. If there was ever a need to pray we would pray for protection from Satan, whilst praising God that The Battle has already been won at the cross and in our Saviour’s resurrection.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shutting the Door on Shame

“O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”
—Psalm 25:20 (NRSV)
The cost of our connection with sin is inevitably shame. And in the complex world of relationships there enters a complex interdependence of shame between souls relating with one another. Sometimes we don’t know whose shame we are feeling, ours or theirs. Sometimes as we protect other people we, in fact, protect ourselves. Yet sometimes when we protect other people we are embarrassed for them, as we could imagine them being embarrassed for us in the same circumstance. Sometimes we feel shame for others’ sin—for the affect it’s had on us (e.g. abuse or neglect).
Shame is an incredibly relational subject. Maybe it’s only when we have fallen short within our connections with others that we feel emotions like guilt and shame.
But apart from a godly shame that draws us into repentance for sins committed, God wants us to shut the door on shame; to instead draw daily on the forgiveness in grace.
Grace, of course, is God’s gift to humankind so spiritual freedom is accessible. Otherwise sin would forever set us apart from God.
Overcoming the Burden of Shame
I’ve been thinking a long time now about how universal traits for shame are. And whether people consciously admit their shame or they drive it down deeper into their psyches it doesn’t really matter.
Because shame is intrinsically connected with sin—the inward and outward manifestation of the disconnect with ourselves, let alone God—we, as thinking and feeling human beings, particularly if we consider ourselves ‘moral’, struggle when we fall short. Then we experience shame.
Our consciences are implicated.
And for this, I’m sure, grace came about. Because we could never, ever, reconcile our sin, and still these days are thwarted by its presence, God stepped in and made a way for us to live, heads held high, even as we are—sinners.
Shutting the door on shame is possibly as simple as instituting habitual and instinctual repentance at the foot of our sin. In other words, immediately having sinned we confess it and step forth on the path toward repentance. Our shame is hence relieved. And in instances of having not sinned we step into thankfulness for the wisdom implicit in grace that kept us clear of temptation and kept us, for that moment at least, true.
Shutting the door on shame is as simple as honest confession and movement toward repentance. The quicker and more efficient we do this the more effective our absolution at the conscience level is. When our shame comes as a result of what’s occurred to us—beyond our sin—we confess this too, seeking God’s healing.
God wants us to live free with our heads held high, having dealt with our shame at the cross. Because shame is connected with sin we need to draw on grace, each day, in learning to live shame-free.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Conversation with God

A thoroughly awe-inspiring prospect in life is conversing with God, yet we hardly do it. Only when we dip to the bottom of the barrel do we often pray. How amazing it is that we can take God’s hand at any time and enjoy a healing conversation.
Let’s just imagine what the conversation with God might sound like:
Come with me on this trip, my child,
And you’ll be free to see,
How I can transform your problems to mild,
Happier you’ll never be.
I want to take you by the hand,
Just for a short excursion,
Visions of warm welcoming sand,
And seas of healing immersion.
I want to lead you by the heart,
To play among the field,
The fondness with which we can start,
Intimacy created and sealed.
I want to restore you deep in mind,
In order to communicate,
Many things in this world are kind,
With these I want you to relate.
I want to establish you deep in your soul,
In touch with your brightening relief,
Then it is you’ll know your role,
Intrinsically part of belief.
Then you will come to understand,
Welcoming the means to an end,
Realising now I put faith in your hand,
Souls are mine to mend.
If ever we want the edge taken off our problems we go see God, spend some time, and spiritually things get better.
Using the imagination we go to a far away land in our minds—a calming beach scene or a beautifully furnished field. These images imply serenity and rest.
It’s in these times that our investment in intimacy with God is richly blessed. We take our willingness to the Almighty and the Lord seals our wish.
God wants to restore the mindset of positivity. Of the many things of virtue perhaps we have polarised to those of vice. It is all too easy to forget the positive and only note the negative; there is, however, much kindness in the world. God wants us to relate with these.
Deeper even still God will take us, if we will allow, and suddenly revelation breaks through our awareness—our belief is buoyed.
Finally, the recognition of hope is felt deep in the conscious mind; our souls are God’s to mend.
God wants to take us far away from the sharpness of our problems, and just a little obedient time with our Lord will restore us for the battle.
Conversations with God are a universal need. It’s in these that God heals our heads, hearts and souls. Before long we’re ready to launch back into the throes of life.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Necessary Momentary Relief

“We have to take the first step as though there were no God. It is no use to wait for God to help us, He will not: but immediately we arise we find He is there.”
—Oswald Chambers
Faith acts in silence and in blindness, without so much as the necessary fundaments to achieve the said task. It advances as if not knowing, taking advice from hope, and not counsel from despair. Its eyes are fixed on Jesus, and they do not waver to dither in the darkness surrounding.
The invisibilities of God are stark sometimes, as if our Lord had removed his presence from us. Intellectually we know that is not possible. Our Bible knowledge tells us so—and we, of course, choose to believe. Just because God feels absent in the struggle just now doesn’t mean one iota that he is. We just want to feel his steady encouragement, his relieving hand, his reassuring touch.
Advancing in Faith
Faith cannot be faith until we advance. Faith, like love, is action-oriented. It cannot do us any good unless we observe what is good in life via our action in agreement.
As soon as we leap into something, something good, God makes his presence known. We know this by the momentary relief we feel to know that we acted in faith. We allow ourselves access to receive the presence, the confirmation, of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit wants us confident and alive and ready for service. From this first action of obedience comes the spiritual confirmation that we are on track. Our fuel tanks for confidence have been filled above just ether. We have enough now to make the next move.
Advancing in faith needs to happen out of knowledge the first time, and any time we re-engage. If we have no confidence, we move forward as if we had it.
If sheer terror fills our gait we use our minds to calm us down enough to make one step. Then we reflect on that step enough to draw confidence for the next step. One step, one hour at a time, and we receive our necessary momentary relief.
Enjoying the Benefit of Relief
Plain relief should never be underestimated. It is the spiritual peace of knowing God’s presence. All we can take is a moment’s worth. Indeed, it’s all we need. We enjoy its benefits.
Accessing our necessary momentary relief is a key tool of the trade for us who struggle. Struggling is no bad thing; it proves we are human and in need of God. Through faith to step we have our necessary momentary relief.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Engaging the Will to Fight

“Fight the good fight of the faith.”
—1 Timothy 6:12a (NRSV)
Particularly when depression and anxiety strike, the evolvement of many random or sudden dark imaginings, we are given to submission—the damaging kind. We submit out of ignorance, weakness, or for the situational lack of resilience. Generally afterwards we can see how we went wrong.
We don’t often think of engaging the will to fight; not the will to endure so much, but the will to fight. The weapon of fighting the good fight of the faith is hope.
If we can find our way to hope—whatever that passage is; however we can claim it—our fight has been a conquest. We have restored our spiritual equilibrium.
Engaging the will to fight occurs in the mind—to become aware, to make room, to expand our consciousness.
And if we find ourselves on a blue day, without such hope, and we don’t feel we have the strength, that is okay. But there are days when we can push ourselves; other days when we can take a risk.
Taking up the Task of Finding Hope
Finding hope is a key in fighting the good fight of the faith.
Within the darkness there is a void of hope. We find ourselves doing things we don’t accept. Things get on top of us. We lose our bearings for goodness. We feel overwhelmed and patently sad. And though these occasions may be fleeting they mark us as being without sense for hope.
Having lost our hope we survive to a certain degree, and for a time undetected. Then the lack becomes more pronounced. We notice we are struggling and others may notice too.
We have a very practical task in front of us; to find that hope that preachers and pop psychologists spruik about. We may have had a sharp connection with it. But our sense for it has diminished, perhaps even evaporated.
Finding our hope needs, therefore, to become our highest priority.
As we venture on the road toward this hope we hear about but hardly experience, our task is one of research and discovery. We begin with a blank page and fill it in as we go. Of course, we know that hope ends in God; it begins there too.
When life is dark hope is gone. Engaging the will to fight the good fight of the faith is the way we restore our hope. And hope finds its end in God; it begins there too.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Psalm 135 – Trust God’s Universal Power

“For I know that the Lord is great;    
our Lord is above all gods.     
Whatever the Lord pleases he does,     
in heaven and on earth,    
in the seas and all deeps.”     
~Psalm 135:5-6 (NRSV).     
There are some things that can be relied upon to never change, ever.  The Lord, the God and Origin of all creation, has been intimately involved in the creative works of history, from beginning to end — as if time could be used as a worthy descriptor of history, a.k.a., ‘his story’.  Nothing happens without God’s say-so.
As far as we’re all concerned, God’s acts will continue to endure (Psalm 135:13).
God of The Exodus
Like very many of the psalms there’s a short ode to the classic redemptive works of the Lord.  Allusion is made of the Ten Plagues from Exodus 7–12 and of historical delivery of the Israelites throughout the pre-Christian era (verses 8-12).
Bridging contexts in teleported style, we can readily see that the Lord is the God of our exoduses too.  Yes, we too have been delivered, and we continue to be delivered.  Each breath we take is, of a form, a delivery of its own.
The Meteorological God
We can ‘blame’ God for the weather, truly.  God makes all this (verse 7).  But God is more; much more — our very meteorological God indicates something far bigger.
God’s creating something bigger than clouds, lightning and rain, yet these summon the glory of a God we’re wholly dependent upon for a living environment that will sustain us.  What a fine balance the Lord provides via our climate in this earthly life.
The Facts of a ‘BIG’ God
We human beings don’t tend to think in terms of instinctual truth — or certainly not at the level of the Divine.  And this is one truth we miss all the time.  It’s normal for us to think small, egocentrically and internally.  We miss so much of life from this limited spiritual aspect.
But so often we think our way is right, and often — in fact — we’re wrong.  The more ‘right’ we are tends more to the grossness of our assumptions.
Putting our problems alongside this big God of ours, and the weight of the problem soon de-materialises and transforms.
Praise – Beginning and End
As do many of the psalms, this one commences with reminiscences of Israel’s praise and it ends with a renewed call to praise this wondrous God.
Anytime we’re found in a mood of praise we’re necessarily thankful, and thankfulness — via Cicero — is the parent of all virtue.  God is virtue as much as love.  Even better for us to be thankful, praising God, for the wonderful things he’s given us, and for just who this Divine Being is.
This psalm is one that has much pungent substance.  This pungent substance is used as a hinge during the body of the psalm.  The introduction and the conclusion of the psalm are adding their attribution of praise for the goodness and greatness of God, via the Divine acts and the mind-blowing nature of the God Most High.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Further Reading: Allan M. Harman, A Commentary on the Psalms – A Mentor Commentary (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), pp. 422-24.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dedicating Our Suffering to God

“God may wish you to learn to bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to Him so you may become more humble through suffering.”
—Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471)
These are castigating words, and it’s a scolding theme, but it nevertheless holds true in some circumstances. In such a mood, such a concept takes us, with a godly purpose, into the time of trial.
Some trials are self-induced, like the consequences of foolishness, and some aren’t, like a tragic loss or conquest against us seemingly beyond our control. However they come about, we suffer.
The choice we have is how do we suffer? Do we languish or flourish? Given the choice, that’s not much of a choice.
To Languish Or Flourish? – That Is The Question
The default of suffering is to languish. With our minds disengaged, or engaged toward an irreconcilable anger, we are swallowed through the sinkhole of enduring and repetitive resentment.
This is a normal response. But it isn’t a helpful response.
By far more helpful is the option to flourish—which is just as easy amid the mode of suffering, when we fix our minds on the interminable target of the Lord Jesus—our Blessed Hope.
Many might argue that flourishing requires much more effort than languishing. It might require a little more effort initially, which is manifest in humility, but it saves us the corrosive emotional energy divested when we realise we are heading towards helplessness and hopelessness because our resentment finds us languishing.
Again, it’s not much of a choice—but that’s good!
We don’t want to be given the choice. The point of suffering is getting through. There can be no other point. Where is the sense in getting stuck?
But our final lesson, the compelling motivation, is dedicating our suffering to God.
Giving All to God
When we are enamoured to our suffering we have the perfect opportunity to lay all our laments at the foot of the cross, dedicating them to the Lord Jesus, who suffered more than anyone could suffer again.
Opportunity is the key word. God is always blessing us with opportunities, but we are apt at looking this gift horse in the mouth.
As we experience the stench of suffering, the assault of lament, the offence of cursing, our practice needs to be to give our situations to the only One that can fuel us with the power to eventually flourish. Only God can do that. And God will do that if we make a habit of it.
There is only one sensible way through suffering: to go right through; to give our laments to God, dedicating them at the cross of our suffering. Given to God, our laments come back to us transformed, and we are renewed.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On the Rocky Road to Humility

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited...”
—Philippians 2:5-6 (NRSV)
Impotence is a concept thick with meaning for a man; it qualifies him as comprehensively humiliated. He stands there beaten and all but destroyed. But this man has a predecessor, as we all do. It is God, no less. Jesus, who had no place with humiliation, was humiliated on the cross.
When we are on the road to humility, humiliation is a somewhat necessary speed hump. How we handle such a barrier to movement is our testimony.
Humiliation is not the end, as Jesus showed. But it feels like the end.
As Jesus was resurrected, having been found in perfect humility, we too will experience a kind of resurrection if we can emulate our Saviour’s humility. But we must have faith.
Humility’s Prerequisite
If we cannot be humbled we cannot grow in humility. When our pride or lack of discernment is shown for what it is, and usually graciously, we need to suck in big gulps of humiliation to learn the lesson God invites us to learn.
This is not bad. But it does seem bad. We need to remember: God doesn’t waste a hurt if we won’t.
And this is where faith is involved—to take the risk to accept the humiliation of our pride, especially at the reprise of rebuke. We all make errors of judgment. We all get carried away. Well, the vast majority of us anyway. We all need feedback.
Humiliation reminds us of our humanity; of our brokenness. What a God we have in Jesus that he exemplifies the much desired response to humiliation: humility—to in no way insist that he deserved better. And, of course, he did deserve better. And even if we deserve better, there is much more to be gained from humiliation than a self-serving justice.
We prove we are qualified as humble by how we take our everyday humiliations.
How We Grow In Humility
Again in faith, we grow when we accept the full brunt of embarrassment without needing to run or fight. This is a difficult test that we’re likely to fail at more often than not; at least initially.
We grow when we can realise that God means it for our eventual best when we take a blow and learn whatever we can from it.
This is real strength—to not melt under the heat of humiliation; but instead we wait patiently through the terrible day, for a better, more blessed day is surely coming.
Satan wants to beat us down when we are humiliated. God, on the other hand, wants to raise us as true sons and daughters of Spirit through our humility—that which Jesus mastered on our behalf. Humility, however, is a rocky road. Patience and gentleness with ourselves is our key.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Note: My use of “humiliation” is not intended to refer to the sort of humiliation that comes from being belittled—though we may still feel belittled. My context for humiliation is the standard human response when our pride takes a knock, and not from the humiliation that occurs when we are abused or neglected.