Tuesday, February 25, 2014

J.C. Ryle’s 10 Signs of the Spirit

We may learn a lot from history, or nothing at all – it all depends on what we respect. We may pay too much credence to modern teaching, when the teaching of the ancients like the Early Church Fathers might have stood a better test of time. It’s good to be influenced by and to leverage off those who have long since been taken to heaven.
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), first Anglican Archbishop of Liverpool, suggests there are 10 signs of the Spirit in the heart of the believer. These are outlined below, along with my commentary:
1. The Spirit awakens a person’s heart.
New to belief in Jesus Christ, the scales fall from our eyes, and we begin to see the truths and loves of God. Once our hearts have been awakened we are able to think mindfully about all sorts of things in and of the kingdom of God. Only the Spirit can open a person’s heart.
2. The Spirit teaches a person’s mind.
Now that the heart is no longer a barrier to belief, the Spirit teaches the person’s mind. The concepts of truth and love are both foreseeable and alluring. Only the Spirit can enliven a passion for truth and love.
3. The Spirit leads to the Word.
There is a particular type of passion that has emerged in the believer to read their Bible. It is a very real source of life to them, and they may quickly struggle without it. Only the Spirit can incline us to the Word and make that Word come alive as we ruminate over it and digest its goodness. Its truth awakens the heart and mind as a unit.
4. The Spirit convinces of sin.
The acquisition of knowledge about one’s sinfulness is a strange but no less pivotal sign of the Spirit’s sanctifying work in us. This is where we begin to acknowledge the vastness of the chasm of holiness that exists between God and humanity. Our sin does not condemn us any longer, however. Indeed, it polarises the power of grace all the more. Only by the Spirit are we convicted of our sin and convinced of the power in grace to overcome our guilt and more thoroughly thank our Father for Christ.
5. The Spirit draws to Christ.
As the unity in the Godhead could never be more unified, we too are drawn by the Spirit into Christ. Conversion therefore means full devotion. We have no other gods before us. This is enough to make us ponder; have we acquired same? Only the Spirit can free us of the bonds we have made for ourselves by our sinful natures.
6. The Spirit sanctifies.
Only the Spirit can make us holy at accord with our deeds, even though we are made holy through our plain belief in the Lord Jesus. Without the Spirit’s help, though we may do impressive works, we do not grow one iota.
7. The Spirit makes a person spiritually minded.
In the transformation of the believer there is the letting go of the material world. They would much rather let go of the pathetic grip for acquiring and accede to God in the surrendering. The mindset is turned toward the things of the Spirit and away from the world. Ambition is gone. Only the Spirit can convert us from materialism to spiritualism.
8. The Spirit produces inward conflict.
Living the authentic Christian life is no bed of roses. There is much inward conflict as the Spirit wrangles with us toward repentance. But the believer will know that the Christian life is a true life that is destined, and necessary, for every human being. Only the Spirit can inspire this truth in us.
9. The Spirit makes a person love the brethren.
A very salient proof: that we love our neighbour as ourselves, routinely and consistently, though not perfectly. We take very seriously what Jesus commanded us to do. It is the second most important commandment within the New Covenant. Only the Spirit can humble us and deal with our pride when we would struggle otherwise to forgive.
10. The Spirit teaches a person to pray.
Transcending all the legalistic rules of prayer, the Spirit teaches a believer to pray in the faith, knowing God’s Presence is immediately at hand. Prayers transcend words, just as prayers can be felt. Only the Spirit can teach us how to pray.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gaining Your Life Once and For All and Every Single Day

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
— Luke 9:24 (NRSV)
What we associate as pain,
To sacrifice ourselves to love,
Is the ironical way to gain,
This life that comes from above.
When we lose our lives we save them,
As Jesus said it was so,
In becoming His women and men,
We sacrifice ourselves to grow.
Only can this upside-down life be experienced in order that we see its truth: as we love another without self-regard we stand open to be blessed by God. But this blessing of God’s isn’t to be our motivation. It’s a beautiful byproduct of our faith to sow seeds of love.
It’s possibly the greatest matter of trust: to give ourselves over to God for his use and glory. It takes great faith to learn to do it consistently. It proves our belief – that this One who demonstrated the life we are to lead, to the exemplification of perfection, is so worthy of being followed. We follow Jesus this way and we need not follow another in ways of giving our allegiance. But we will want to love others and that will mean there is the appearance of following; this ‘following’ is, however, a choice.
It is a grand life that does not care for itself to the extent that it lives for others.
This is a life that would appear not to care but for the case of it loving all it can – all human beings – because they are made in the image of God. Because we are to care so much for our fellow human beings, we care for their pets, their possessions, and their world – to our entire creation. Damaging anything has a relational concern about it. We ought to care about everything, except where we care selfishly about our own concerns and not trust or allow God to provide.
When we sacrifice in loving, choosing ways, we show we understand Jesus. We take him at his word. We require nothing of God when we give ourselves to him, knowing that such bouts of trust are repaid, even in ways of multiplication.
It is a grand life that does not care for itself to the extent that it lives for others. That’s our living challenge. Placing others before ourselves, because we are trusting in God, means our own contentedness is supplied by God’s Spirit within us.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Brokenness, His Love, My Healing

“And in the end, we were all just humans... drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)
Only one fix remains,
In all of what brokenness contains,
Only one thing will do,
It’s what we hold to be true.
Love is that thing that’s truthfully real,
It’s what we know will always heal,
So brokenness need not be despair,
Because the Son of God does care.
Love is personified in the historical tradition and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ – God the Father’s Son.
If we wish to be healed – to have our brokenness reconciled – we ought to fall in love with a Saviour who fell in love with us to the point of dying on a cross. And grace does more! Although we cannot live a life of redeemed perfection, yet, we are forgiven and understood as we live our broken lives. God knows it’s not our fault. We are what we are and we are who we are.
As we journey with the Lord Christ into our brokenness, we decide to accept ourselves for whom and what we are. We give up trying to be better. We decide that God must know. We know that God knew what he was doing in being crucified. Acceptance for the facts we have accepted by faith is a grand blessing. It sees to it that there is an abiding peace we enjoy from within. God planned us to be redeemed, broken and doubting and unlovable, but redeemed in the same breath – accepted and dearly loved.
Love will address our ills and it will fix us, but what matters most is Personification of love – that Jesus is the actual Author and Producer and Finisher of this love that sacrifices itself. And healing unto wholeness is a blessing granted to the person who has been gifted access to love, precisely because they have chosen for it. They opted for life out of death.
Love comes into our lives freely and enthusiastically when we welcome it.
To say that we can seek to love and seek to be loved is the manifest evidence of the healing touch of God.
We can know in our brokenness that love works by knowledge of things past, as well as those things future, by the way we handle the present. We ease into feelings of joyful acceptance, where they are possible, in our grief, and in times of advancement we ponder reflectfully.
The only ‘fix’ for the brokenness of the inner self – the vessel that needs God – is the only one that works. But we must praise God there is one way – Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6).
Brokenness is what makes salvation the beautiful contemplative experience it is. Just muse over it now! We have need of a Saviour. We knew it by the way he loved humanity enough to die for it; for each and every single one.
Jesus heals the broken, in this life by the knowledge that God cares enough to love us into redemption, and in the next life by providing us room to be with him so that we finally transcend our brokenness in the fabulous reality of resurrected perfection.
We can be ever fascinated by God’s love, that, he who stooped and scooped us up, has accepted our worst and has believed in our best.
There is something infinitely helpful in the brokenness of the inner self. It is Christ’s finished and redemptive work of the cross. Redemption into God has seen us delivered where we were once vanquished, pardoned by the Judge of all judges, and restored to more life than we can comprehend.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bearing One Another’s Brokenness

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
— Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)
The sins of others,
Those I can see,
That of sisters and brothers,
With brokenness like me.
Sin explains something,
Something gorgeously Divine,
That sin’s just a thing,
To make God’s forgiveness mine.
When I see brokenness in others it reminds me of my own brokenness. We are all so wonderfully fallible. That is the inducement into the very heart of God, a day by day journey.
But there is an equivalent reality for the person given to a dark attitude, a disposition of annoyance, and a manner of speech ensuing – “shouting” and “abusive”. Recalling a recent case of road rage enacted on a highway, a 60s male driver in one hell of a rush, there was no convincing him to slow down and take it easy, as he barked and threw his arms about furiously. Something had riled him and his brokenness had taken him into a dark destination manifest to crimes against fellow road users. We could only get out of his way and pray.
There are vast dichotomies of attitude, disposition, and manner of behavior. Ours is to bear one another’s brokenness.
Forgiveness – Understood In Context of Brokenness
The road rage perpetrator couldn’t be reasoned with – but he is still a member of society. When we understand there is a dark source of brokenness within each of us – resonating the need we each have for a holy God to be Lord over our lives – we can wrestle safely with the dark forces engaged within another person. Their brokenness is obvious only because ours is, too.
He needed help. We all do. We should pray all the more that our warm and empathic genuineness might occasionally melt these secondary emotions of anger and rage.
When we reconcile what brokenness is – that the insufficiency and damage of a person’s biology, life experience, and personality explain them – we can grasp God’s sight on matters. Forgiveness is not so hard then. There is an explanation.
Embracing Humanity’s Wonderful Fallibility
What is still so strangely negative – that we are fallen, broken vessels for use – is an astounding encouragement when we recognize what God has done for us in Christ. Our sin propounds God’s grace all the more. It means we are not finished in our sin; that God has had the final, hope-filled word.
As we embrace our own sinful natures, we quicken in embracing the not-so-glorious imperfections of others. Their ugly attitudes and behaviors simply convince us of our ever personal need for a holy God as Lord over all of life.
Bearing one another’s brokenness is a resplendent privilege of each of us who knows the Lord our God. Not only are we commanded to love one another – even in thick of encroaching sin – but we are called to bear these things with a forgiving instinctiveness, as Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
And because we are capable of such forgiving instinctiveness we are enabled to do it, upon surrender, and then see it in all its redemptive power. This is when the Holy Spirit’s power comes right into its own, as bonds of hate, fear, and transgression are broken down, block by ugly block.
We were saved from engaging in sin to the extent that we might truly marvel at God’s forgiving grace and exemplify it. We still get it wrong, but every broken moment can be redeemed if we wish. Bearing one another’s brokenness may well be the most important task leading to forgiveness.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Is God’s Will for Prayer?

“Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.”
— A.W. Tozer (1897–1963)
The effectual and influential pastor of the 20th century, Tozer, made this comment above in the context of revival – spiritual revival. His point was that there was nothing wrong about praying for revival, so long as we would connect with that prayer the will to do something in alignment with the prayer. We might pray for revival – aligning ourselves with the heart of God – and then ten minutes later be cursing our neighbour. That’s just being disobedient. Our prayer has not changed us. That disobedience has made a mockery of our prayer. It disrespects God.
None of us wants to be a false witness, yet when we pray in ways where we don’t follow through we become just that. It cannot be glorifying to God.
God’s will for prayer is possibly many things, but it must include his will to grow us and therefore change us. As we pray for somebody else, we invite the Holy Spirit to lead us into doing something practical; something of love. This is not about substituting God’s miraculous intervention with our own; it’s about being used by God to bring a little hope into another person’s life. Most of the time people are touched by God through what others do – when others are God in skin.
God’s will for prayer is that we experience him rather than expecting to be delivered. Indeed, to experience him is to be delivered. There is a subtle, yet spiritual, difference. But this subtle difference makes all the difference in the world.
God’s will for prayer is that we are connected to obedience via trust. The simple matter of prayer is trust, but when we pray selfishly there is no trust, just conceit.
God honours obedience. God will see to it that there is blessing on our path because of our obedience. Trust is always rewarded, but we cannot give up trusting just because we haven’t experienced the reward. It is still some time off, perhaps.
We must have faith that we are obeying not for a reward, but because it is right. We are putting God in the right place; not as someone who can be used for our gain, but as our Lord who deserves our worship.
Prayer and obedience fit together. Prayer without obedience is an abomination. Likewise, prayer changes us and not we it. God will bless our obedience, but this is not why we obey. We obey because it is the right thing to do. We leave blessing entirely in the hands of the Lord.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Experiencing God In the Web of Your Being

We think we know God
Then it happens in a haste,
He makes himself known
And we get more than a taste!
Experiencing God
Is intrinsic delight to the senses,
Then this is our reality:
God will break down all defenses.
There’s a big difference between what you think you know about God versus an experience with Him.”
― Sy Rogers
‘Knowing God’ occurs in various forms, but mostly in two main ways: 1. Our experience is we know lots about God, or 2. We know lots about our experience of God. There is both a subtle and profound difference. The first relies on us just picking up God at any point, thinking we are on the right track by learning copious knowledge. The second relies on us first having an encounter with God and going on from there. We often don’t ‘get’ God in the first knowing, but via the second way our lives are being transformed – fruit emerges from the branches of our lives. We are able to love others consistently and sacrificially. But the first way is more about knowing information about God – which can be completely anti-relational at times.
This is where the Pharisees come in. There are Pharisees, here, today, everywhere in and about life, calling themselves Christian and devout by many other flavours of religion. They know lots about God and they are devoted to their doctrine. They argue it back and forth and have honed precise meaning for religious knowledge. They have formularized their faith. With the vast majority of their doctrine they have neat answers all worked out, so they are ready to dispense advice to all comers. And they are convincing in the arguments they have worked out and by their use of rhetoric. They reason and speak impressively.
On the other hand, there is the person who has transcended knowledge. Unless they are a biblical scholar – and have a societal role to that effect – they tend not to haggle and argue over doctrine. They tend more to keep their faith real – in the moment, and in context with their relationships – and in connection with God. They are deeply concerned with loving God’s people (read, every single human being). They are secure in the knowledge of God’s love, because God has made himself personally relatable to them. Therefore, they have no need for set rules and their modus operandi is virtue, so patience and compassion and kindness have been honed as instinctive qualities.
Our experience is we know lots about God or we know lots about our experience of God. Which would you prefer? One is a lesser experience of faith, whereas the other transcends legalism and abounds to love. Blessed is the person who experiences God in the web of their being.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For You, the God of Grace

No matter the evils we face,
For us is the God of grace.
By the grace of God the God of grace is for you and not against you.
It can seem as life’s circumstances swarm against us, and against the flow of rational sensibility, that we have a divine adversary. It may be true that we are under spiritual attack, but the grace of God is more than sufficient to cover every battle that makes its way against us.
This grace of God is gentle, yet powerful. Its power is in love, and not in what the world associates to power. This grace of God is palpably consistent; God never lets go, but his grace is effortless in the realm of the Divine.
For you is the grace of God whenever you choose to discern and do the will of him who empowers you in the spiritual realm. Obedience is the key, and obedience flows from trust, and trust is begotten of faith, and faith is fuelled by the reserves of purpose in hope.
Hope is our contribution in cooperation with the grace of God. And the dichotomy is this: when we feel hopeless and forlorn, we are to seek the resurrection afresh – believing that the Spirit of Christ can raise us in our affliction and take us into an invisible hope that generates the momentum of faith and the compulsion to trust and the ability to obey the will of him who we believe.
The God of grace is for us. The grace of God underpins our being when we obey God’s will, because we have trusted, because we have applied faith, because our hope is real in him who resurrects us.
Drinking Deeply of Hope
This is surely the key: hope.
Hope is the key to being resurrected. Whenever we access hope, afresh, out of the midst of hopelessness, we are, as a fact, resurrected. In this moment we live the resurrection of Jesus; we experience it. And having experienced it only a few times, and sometimes only once, it’s enough to believe it can happen again and again and again.
Suddenly there is purpose in hopelessness. We have our clear way out of it and now nothing can completely defeat us.
Drinking deeply of hope is about the search.
When we are beleaguered we must search. We must fight back. But we fight back through the gentleness of grace. There is no aggression in this fight. The search is full of faith to know that we have to keep searching. When we keep searching and knocking on God’s door, he will soon open that door and provide the way. Don’t give up.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Selfishness and the Secret of Life

Perhaps we all seek the meaning of life,
That way of being beyond all strife,
The secret to life is to give it away,
To live for God and others every single day.
The human urge is to profit by sin,
We struggle with selfishness in our kin,
But when we rid ourselves of vanity,
We regain a vital sanity.
With selfishness rid once and for all,
Because at Christ’s cross we do fall,
We stand to gain what we can’t lose,
It’s this love of God’s we can’t refuse.
“Go to the cross of Christ, all you that want to be delivered from the power of selfishness.”
— J.C. Ryle (1816–1900)
ASTOUNDING is the power of much truth and the power resplendent in this truth is electrifying: the cross reproves all selfishness. It is impossible to kneel at the cross – with minds and hearts turned toward the Saviour – and not be transformed and nauseated by the sin that is selfishness.
We might ask ourselves “why retain that which is ultimately lost; the quest of selfishness?” We should stand aghast at the truth. We will not get out of selfish situations alive. We ought to grow angry with our selfishness, but we should equally grow very patient with others’ selfishness. Only as we stand before the cross of Christ can we understand this personal and interpersonal dichotomy.
The power in standing, figuratively, of course, before the cross is unparalleled. Suddenly we see the offence of our sin against God, but not in any condemning way. We are powerfully motivated to rid ourselves of pathetic vanity. We begin to view ourselves as one before the throne of God, and that sight is enough to never be interested in the sin and selfishness of others ever again. But it is ever conditional on remaining in that position at the foot of the cross.
Selfishness is a power, but it is not to be compared with the rites of passage earned upon salvation – to turn back to the cross and keep turning with rigorous routine. We must develop a healthy hatred of our own beleaguering selfishness.
Once we hate our selfishness we will never love it again. It doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with temptation, but at least we become hyperaware of these vanities that are but a chasing of the wind.
With selfishness rid once and for all,
Because at Christ’s cross we do fall,
We stand to gain what we can’t lose,
It’s this love of God’s we can’t refuse.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Happiness of God

As God gives through his only Son,
And we receive what he has done,
Because we stand saved-at-peace,
We know now God’s sweet release.
This happiness of the eternal Lord,
Is nothing of our own we could afford,
What he’s done he did for all,
To answer the Father’s eternal call.
Now we may stand simply impressed,
Clothed in his love we are dressed,
But our cherished happiness isn’t the point,
God does ‘happiness’ when he does anoint.
“When Christ bought us at the cost of his own blood, it wasn’t first and foremost for our happiness – though to be saved by him will mean happiness itself.
N.T. Wright
EVERYONE wants to be happy and everyone deserves to be happy, but we inevitably miss the point when it comes to a sustainable happiness.
God wants us to be happy, just as our families want us to be happy, but happiness will ever elude us if we cannot still see the point of life. Happiness cannot just come. Just like our purpose, and other imagined gifts, none of this comes without a search. Those who would diligently search will uncover what it is God is anointing them to do.
Notwithstanding the above, there is an art to being happy, and that is about focusing on the simple truths of life. The simpler the truth the more powerful is our experience of joy, like the intrinsic fascination of observing the universe, a sunset, the machinery of a biological cell, and a frog bounding into a pond.
When we understand that the capacity to perceive happiness is the invitation to explore and find it, then we explore indeed, and we do eventually find what we have always been seeking. The key is what God is anointing us for. God has given us experiences and gifts and personalities and passions – all for the using. We can only truly be happy when we are using our God-given gifts in areas of our passion, by the utilisation of our experiences, which are complemented by our personalities.
Happiness is something God will give us if we truly give ourselves to God. The key is our salvation, for the true salvation experience is happiness itself.
The true salvation experience is happiness itself. We cannot be saved in Jesus Christ and not experience a wellspring of happiness, which is a down payment for the rest of our lives. Happiness does not follow the Christian life unless we have sunken our very purpose for living into the purposes of the kingdom of God itself.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.