Saturday, April 30, 2016

John Knox and Our Sole Reliance On the Spirit’s Help

“… by nature we are so dead, blind, and perverse that neither can we feel when we are pricked, see the light when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is revealed, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus quickens that which is dead, removes the darkness from our minds, and bows our stubborn hearts to the obedience of His blessed will.”
— John Knox (1510 – 1572)
DARK and sinister is the material of the unregenerate soul, but the regenerate soul awakens still minutes before dawn without the Holy Spirit’s constant revelation of truth.
We don’t see truth without the Holy Spirit’s help.  We don’t perceive well.  And we cannot do the will of God without surrendering what we would otherwise want — something that must be done by intention.
In other words, Christian or not, we are damned to behave as sinners behave.  The only thing that separates the saved from the unsaved is the grace of God that has been accepted as won or rejected as lost.  Our regeneration tendered to us the gifts of the Spirit, and some sure signs of our salvation, but regeneration depends for the long haul upon reliance.  And that is faith — to surrender our strength for His strength.  Without reliance on the Holy Spirit we, the regenerate, will behave as unregenerate.
Indeed, regeneration must teach us the principal task of giving up on a daily, moment by moment, basis.  Not of giving up on life, but of giving up our will to power.
As we give up our sight for His, as we step by His light preferring not to run in our own darkness, and as we hope where there seems no hope, His Spirit lights our path.  We have to choose what only God can provide.
We owe everything we have, all we are, and everything we can be, to the Lord, who sought us from birth, who bought us by His Son, and who now seeks that we are wrought for His purposes.
When the Spirit awakens us to our darkness, God enlightens us to live by truth, which is life by faith alone.  This is the only ‘enlightenment’ with which we have access.
God’s alive in the redeemed through the redeemed person’s reliance on His Spirit.
Humility is the key to the Christian, for without humility there is no surrender, and where there is no surrender there remains only sin.
A Christian can only succeed when they rely solely on the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, this is what salvation is designed to teach us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Prayer for Bereaved Mother’s Day – May 1

God of creation and procreation,
Glory is due Your name for the blessings of children in our time.  We confess we have not always appreciated Your gift.  And we confess we have not always acknowledged those who have not received Your gift and those who have lost Your gift.
We thank You that there is now a place in our calendar that acknowledges women who have suffered loss through infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or the loss of a child of any age.
Especially for mothers who have not been blessed with a child, at this time at least, Father, we ask that Your peace, hope and comfort would be richly felt by them in a real way for their healing and wholeness.
For mothers who have been graced with a child subsequent to loss, we praise You, our Father, for Your provision in their lives, whilst acknowledging the losses they have suffered are not diminished in any way.  We thank You that every loss is equally significant to You, as is every life, and for a loss to be grieved is for a loss to be honoured in Your sight.
For mothers without a living child, we ask, our Father, that You make for them a place of honour for what they have suffered.  We ask, where possible, Father, to compensate them somehow by Your compassion that they could experience Your compassion such that they could give Your compassion to others, when and as they feel strong enough.  Make them esteemed ministers of compassion if that is their wish.
Finally, Father, we ask that You would help us all accept the mysteries of life that seem so cruel.  Help us to know that You feel ever more distraught than we could ever feel because of our losses.  Help us to trust You.
Many women cannot identify with those who dearly enjoy Mother’s Day.  Their own losses, inability to conceive, and fractured relationships with their own mothers or children are but a few reasons.
It is okay if you don’t enjoy Mother’s Day.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

So, Brokenness Has Changed and Transformed You

EASILY wrought to tears for the affect life has had on your life, you’re easily and fondly reflective regarding what God has done in you, within hellishness itself.
Through pain you’ve come through it all.
Through vagrant hope a more viable and sustainable hope was found as you endured.
Through venturing blindly by faith, obediently meek, you’ve stood the test well.
Brokenness has changed and transformed you.  Brokenness was a necessary input to wholeness.
You cry some curiously bizarre ethereal tears these days; not tears of sorrow without meaning, but of meaning eclipsing the destructiveness of the sorrow, and of meaning that has made peace with that very sorrow that once broke you.
Yes, you’ve been touched by the Saviour Himself, and His Spirit has rested indelibly in you.  You’ve been changed and transformed and you could not go back to that old life — praise God!
Yes, you’ve been broken.  And how is it that God can draw from brokenness, transformation?  Oh, God is good, alright!  So, so good.
From brokenness the very seed of transformation germinated.  Through brokenness your new life rose up and flowered.
Hell has no power over the person who permits life break them in order that heaven would restore.
Heaven stooped down and scooped you up in your brokenness.  Heaven believed in you, and by your faith you believed in heaven.  And God with His angels brought you to a place where only through your brokenness could you be truly saved.
Oh brokenness, so beautiful,
A transformation to behold,
For the miracle of being raised in glory,
Brokenness is gold!
Broken by life,
Surrendered is the soul,
The end’s not in the strife,
As God makes the broken whole!
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bonhoeffer, and the Blessed of the Beatitudes

The Cost of Discipleship is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminal work par excellence.  In this perennial work Bonhoeffer teases out the Nachfolge — German for bearing one’s cross as Christ did; an imitation of Christ, a.k.a. being a disciple.
Seemingly without peer, Bonhoeffer draws out the intensity of what being a disciple means.  There is nothing optional about it.  First of all, it’s not about how we “behave if [we] follow Jesus, but… the renunciation of self-determination and of one’s own reasoning.”
For Bonhoeffer, discipleship begins with the renunciation of cheap grace; that, we can only adhere to the tenets of costly grace — that our salvation cost our Saviour His life! — once we determine renunciation necessary.
According to John H. Yoder, here are three necessary renunciations for every Christ-disciple, according to Bonhoeffer’s discipleship ethic.  Christians are blessed in the renunciation:
1.      Of honour: Christians are to give up all craving of status and entitlement, (though the Father knows our need of recognition and acceptance and will provide).
2.      Of power: Given that some Christians are given power by virtue of their positions, they show their allegiance to Christ through their refusal to misuse that power.
3.      Of violence: Christians are to be true pacifists, which is the nonviolent activism of the brand of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi (though non-Christian).  (Power and violence are forces that are often coupled together.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) might be heard to say:
Blessed are all disciples, because they cheerfully bear the burden of others.  They don’t crave honour nor misuse power nor enter into violence.  For these who are blessed, the coming of the Kingdom is good news, not simply for how they behave, but for who they already are.
Disciples are so set apart from the world that they reveal another world to the world.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Acknowledgement: Gregor, B., & Zimmermann, J. Being Human, Becoming Human: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Social Thought [e-book].  Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 2012.  Quote taken from page 137.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

When ‘Forgiveness’ Cries Out To Be Heard

CONFLICTS arrayed in the flurry of life: that is often our context.  Not that any one side or other is any righter than the other.  Conflict, by definition, decrees no sanctity on rightness or wrongness.
Conflict is simply difference.  But it’s also insidious and carcinogenic.  It leads to terminal bitterness and resentment if it’s left untreated.
In conflict ‘Forgiveness’, if we could just personify this sacred quality, cries out to be heard.  One forgives another, and links are created in a chain of compassion.  One is self-effacing enough to lean toward the other, and it almost always requites a response.
Forgiveness has to start from one side.  One side needs to take up the cudgels of antimony and indifference and make a way for hope to intercede.
One side needs to hear the voice of Forgiveness, enter into its frame, and drive within its scaffold, to begin the process.
Hearing Forgiveness, and listening to what it says, requires humility, but just as much it requires faith, which is courage — to let go of what is held in order to embrace something transcendently better.
When Forgiveness is heard, a heart is softened, and just such a softening makes for a softening in others’ hearts.  The softness of grace is the heartbeat of Forgiveness — she is the image of the Lord’s servant (see Isaiah 42).
Forgiveness cries out in a silent voice, but when we hear, her words are compelling.
As the Lord is heard in the silence, so too is Forgiveness.  When we finally do hear the silent cry of Forgiveness, she will convict us to reflect and compel us to act.
Forgiveness works by faith on a mirage of hope to proffer forth reconciliation.
The heart of God’s gospel is reconciliation.
All healing is in the heart of Forgiveness.  Hearts are healed when Forgiveness has its way.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Fruit When Gratitude and Thankfulness Converge

The fruit of gratitude and thankfulness are joy, confidence and trust.  Before we unpack this, let’s look at the convergence of gratitude and thankfulness as they connect with joy, confidence and trust:
Gratitude exemplifies thankfulness,
Thankfulness enables joy,
Joy embraces confidence,
Confidence empowers trust,
Trust encourages gratitude.
Gratitude Exemplifies Thankfulness
These two have to be synonymous. They breed a great deal of virtue. Joy, confidence and trust follow. Joy to embrace the confidence we all lack from time to time. Confidence to do what we need to do but find at times is impossible. Trust to continue on in faith when we’re tempted to camp by disappointment and complaint.
Thankfulness Enables Joy
A thankful heart creates sparks of joy.  As privilege enables addiction, and hardship enables reflection, so thankfulness enables joy.  And once joy is propelled in the voluminousness of grateful thankfulness, it finds no rest until it emerges confident.
Joy Embraces Confidence
Joy sees confidence as a willing partner and decides to couple arms with it.  Joy views confidence as kin.  Out of confidence, joy is able to surpass tremulous doubting and go on in blissful, divine and anointed trust.  No looking back.
Confidence Empowers Trust
Trust is an outcome of a hope effused with confidence.  Trust doesn’t deny the hazards for action and inaction strewn everywhere, but decides risks are worthy of the confidence with which she is embodied.  Trust goes.  Trust is the action of faith.
Trust Encourages Gratitude
In going forth into the action or inaction of wisdom, trust is confident enough to be grateful, in advance, for the future things that are coming.  And that’s the being of gratitude.  Gratitude is a being thing.  It’s not a thinking thing, gratitude is a doing thing.
Thankfulness embodies joy, impels confidence and effuses trust, and joy, confidence and trust empower gratitude.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blessed are the Broken, For They Shall Be Restored

THERE is a gospel ethic that I and so many others write about all the time.  It runs like this: don’t be distressed if you find yourself broken… it’s not the end by any means, though it may be just the start of a beautiful beginning, when you surrender to God within healing community.
Regale with me…
Blessed are the broken who find, in community, care for their vulnerability, encouragement for their healing, and an outlet for their gifts.
Through care and encouragement, vulnerability is applauded and healing is embraced, so that the possibility of service blossoms outward of the revelation of a person’s gifting, which is central to their purpose.
And that’s when we come alive; when we find what God alone has gifted us for.  And we find through faith that He has a place for us, a season within the parameters to serve, a role with which to play, in the realisation of His Kingdom on this earth at this time.
Blessed are the broken.
In community.
Wherever we find care for our vulnerabilities, encouragement for our healing, and an outlet for our gifts, there we find restoration — a right royal purpose that drives us deeply into the meaning of life.
Only through brokenness is there restoration, for who restores the whole, and what is the purpose of restoring that which is already fine?  Only in whom those are found wanting is there cause for growth and improvement.
This is why finding ourselves in a state of brokenness is just the start of a beautiful beginning.
When we’re broken beyond measure, that’s when God works within us His treasure.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mercy In the Goodness of God

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3 (HCSB)
STRUCK with revelation’s wonder, as I perused my A.W. Tozer collection, I rediscovered this François Fénelon (1651–1715) quote that must have so equally struck one of 20th Century’s minor prophets:
Mercy is the goodness of God beholding our wickedness
 and striving to make us good… From Him alone proceeds true goodness.
There is something about mercy that covers us by God’s goodness.  And we may be assured that God does cover us with His goodness in the bequeathing of His mercy.
God takes of us who we are and makes us good in His goodness, and this is a mercy.  But more than that, as if that weren’t already very sufficient.
Mercy is always more than we deserve, but mercy is also much more than we expect.  His mercies are not only golden each morning, as they shimmer also on a moonlit evening, they’re eternal in the character and very nature of our Lord God.
The glorious goodness indwelt in His mercy — the giving and the gift itself, not to make more of the Giver — resounds in His majesty and reflects His glory.  We’re transformed from an earlier glory to an unknown and dazzling glory, a peace unbefitting yet indescribable and so welcome, because of His mercy.  Nothing can come close to comprehending it.  It is.  As a fact of our perception — the goodness of God breaking through, His breath breathing His life into us — it is.
And what does all this mean to the uninitiated?  It’s the question that begs an answer.
God is good.  His goodness is manifest in His mercy, especially when we’re beleaguered.  And such mercies are not faint blessings.  The blessings of His mercies are a multiplicity of favour.
It’s not in the Father’s nature to withhold His good gifts, and mercy is of His best.
If you’re in need today or tonight don’t despair.  If you find your hope stripped by the exhaustion of your season, watch, for a new thing is coming, and it will sweep over you, by the goodness of His grace.  Nothing more certain.
If you can but watch, because you have nothing left but surrender, rejoice and be glad, for your surrender receives His mercy.  God is good.
When death had taken Him, and when all life had looked away, it was the Father’s mercy that raised Him, from darkness to brightest day.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Leading a Life of Repentance

FOLLOWING, and not leading, should be the first word in the above title.  And to follow Jesus Christ is the single worthiest activity under the sun.  Everything begins from there — from leading a life of repentance we find the best way of following the Messiah, Jesus.
Repentance is not a once-only activity — at conversion.
Repentance is an ongoing, continual attitude and action of humility and holy fear, where every spiritual conquest depends on our turning back to God.
Repentance is a commitment to momentary self-examination in the light of Scripture, and the discernment of the Holy Spirit, within relational contexts.  And we will only know what Jesus is actually saying about justice and compassion and the admonition of the powerbroker if we know him through our gospels.
Repentance is turning back from our worldly ways, each moment of each hour, every day, and doing what is humble, which is to live as if others are more important than we think we are.  It is to live honest, and remarkably different to the rest of the world.  Then do we stand firmly in the favour of God.
Repentance is taking ourselves to task because of what the Holy Spirit said, as He convicts our hearts.  It’s living with our sin right before our eyes, and it’s living with knowledge of our sins at the forefront of our consciences so we’ll be driven by dissatisfaction to change.  It’s being driven to grow without pressure, but with passion from God.  There is no judgment nor condemnation, but we want to turn back to God.
Repentance is to stop and to look and to listen to God, alone.  It is to stop.  It’s to look truly, each moment, into the heavens; to be God-cognisant.  It’s to hear God, and take heed.
Turning back to God is a means God uses to turn us forward into His purposes and plans.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Expect Difficulty, Receive God’s Resurrection Blessing

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
— M. Scott Peck (1936 – 2005) (The Road Less Traveled)
God gave me a very helpful acronym, ED = Expect Difficulty.  Ever since, I’ve experienced a resurrection blessing.
The above quote, in the context of The Resurrection, proves the power implicit in wrestling with reality, in that God causes us to rise, to ascend above the difficulty.  Why?  Because we can.  Because when we rise to meet difficulty, the difficulty is no longer the difficulty.  It was only our perception of it.  It can only ever be.
The best organisation of a soul occurs as a result, first, of disorganisation and chaos. It’s a biblical pattern.  God disarms the ego, then restores us in reorienting us through humility.  And that’s a long process.  Difficulty is necessary.  It’s vital.  We can thank God for it, in hindsight, yes, but also in the midst of it.  And, sure, we might lag.  We might get stuck for a time, occasionally, in our disappointment.  But that’s not where it ends.  We must continue on in the journey.  If we don’t we languish, and then we need resurrecting again.  God will only resurrect us if we want it, and desire it enough to do something about it.
And we can be assured of the blessing God provides having been resurrected:
Growth is God’s compensation for patiently enduring difficulty.  Transformation is God’s reward for not giving up through grief.
This is the resurrection truth of life: life must overcome us, before we overcome it, in Jesus’ name!
Life threatens to break us, and it’s only when it does that we see we needed to be broken to learn how to overcome.
The resurrection truth of life shows we must die to what entombs us before we can be raised to life’s abundance.
We must experience the ‘death’ of difficulty patiently, expecting it, before we receive God’s resurrection blessing.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Why Loving Enemies Is Easier Than Forgiving Friends

FORGIVENESS is no easy matter in some circumstances, yet there was a time when I thought it was easy; a time when I was naïve enough to think I was particularly graced with the gift of forgiveness.  God has since shown me something.
We forgive easily when we understand someone has hurt us who doesn’t apparently have the capacity to love.  But when a person betrays us who’s earned our trust; that’s a completely different matter.
So, loving our enemies is easy, and it’s our friends that let us down we find unforgiveable.  Add to this our family.  We expect better.  But for those we don’t have any expectation of, our understanding and forgiveness is but a transaction — if, that is, we’re schooled in the powerful college of merciful grace.
How can having this knowledge help us?  Again, it’s about expectations.  When we get close enough to people to trust them, we also begin to expect they’ll respect that trust.  But if someone we don’t know harms us, we may still be upset, but their transgression is easier to forgive — they just didn’t understand.  And how could they?  They’re forgiven.
Loving our enemies is easy in comparison to forgiving our friends when we perceive that they’ve betrayed us.  How do we recover when our Christian friend has hurt us, and refuses to acknowledge it?  Can we think of a brother or sister in Christ as an enemy — surely not!  But they’re harder to forgive than the person who openly, from the get go, resists us.
None of this is downplaying what Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount.  Of course we must love and forgive our enemies.
We need Jesus’ help more in forgiving our friends who act like enemies than we do loving our enemies who have never been our friends.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Faith for When Life Doesn’t Go To Plan

LIFE’S a long series of tests, and it’s only by faith that we can hope to prosper when the difficulties and struggles come.  Many, many times we’re driven to despair, yet it’s only by faith that we continue to learn to rise again and step into the unknown future God has prepared for us.
There are four certain trials we’ll all be asked to wrestle with:
1.     The ‘Where’ Problem
God called Abraham to a Promised Land, but he had no idea where he was being led.  He gave up a wealthy life for obscurity, because he believed He had been called.  He couldn’t not go.
When a season of life has ended particularly abruptly, we’re often forced to ask “where to now, Lord?”  When we don’t know where we’re headed it’s crucial we don’t go ahead and off the line of God’s Spirit.
2.    The ‘When’ Game
When was Abraham to finally arrive in that long-desired Promised Land flowing with milk and honey?  He and his family lived in tents for decades, never having realised the promises that God had called Abraham to.  Yet the whole world is blessed because of Abraham’s obedience of faith.
“How long, O God?” screamed the psalmist in Psalm 13.  We’re all pressed in by impatience, and as hope fades our faith is tested.
Yet, what God has promised to do He will get done.  In His time and for His purposes.
3.    The ‘How’ Conundrum
Imagine Sarah and Abraham having Isaac at 90 and 100 respectively.  A barren woman conceiving at double the age of child-bearing years.  It seemed an impossible scenario, yet God had a way for Sarah to conceive, and from Isaac came the rest of the lineage of the Bible.
At times in our lives there are insurmountable problems that require a miracle.  Thankfully, God’s in the business of miracles.  We only have to obey through an openness of heart, ready to do what God requires of us.  We need to remember, we add nothing to a miracle — God doesn’t need our help.
4.    The ‘Why’ Mystery
Something that bewilders us about Abraham’s story is why he was asked to, and why he was prepared to, sacrifice his son, Isaac.  It seems nonsensical.
Certainly many losses we experience in life fall into these categories.  We’re left asking ‘why’.  Only faith holds itself open to a mystery, and when it comes to loss there’s often no explanation.  Only faith resolves not to know what cannot ever be known.
We often think when life’s not going according to our plan, that God is neither in control nor cares, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We often think that life’s not going according to plan, but our lives are always in the lap of God’s plans.
Faith accepts what our fears can only reject.  Faith keeps us in the hunt for those dreams for which we should never let go.
Faith accepts the tests of life and makes those tests the basis of real life responses.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Acknowledgement to Pastor Phil Bryant.  This article was inspired by the message he preached at Como Baptist Church on 3 April 2016.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pulled INTO the Slipstream of God’s Purposes and Will for YOUR Life

FOLLOWING Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit’s leading and guidance, is our veritable aim, as believers in Him, who lived and taught life and love, died for us, and rose again defeating deathHoH.  He is with the Father, and He intercedes for us continually and eternally.
Following, however, in our post-Christendom world, is something of a passé metaphor.  It either seems that following is antiquated, or that it’s inappropriate when we consider that the whole world’s fallen in love with ‘leadership’ — being a follower is not many people’s cup of tea.
But imagine being pulled into the slipstream of God’s wake.
Imagine a following so sublime, so joyous, so liberating that it’s a following you never want again not to follow.
That’s getting into the slipstream of God’s purposes and will for your life.
Nobody else’s.  Yours!
This means that God will show you exactly how you’re to make the difference only you can.  And don’t fall for the thinking that only ‘some people make it’.  Those who find their purpose in the will of God ‘make it’.  And so relatively few actually do that.  Yours is the opportunity to reverse the trend of lazy, purposeless humanness.
Obviously if we’re in God’s wake, being pulled along in His will, our lives will be utterly surrendered, in faith: that His purposes are good, and that where He’s leading us will be perfectly satisfactory.
There’s no better hope, no more joyous a peace, than being in the slipstream of God’s wake, for the purposes of our lives, according to His will.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.