Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Art of Deception, Cleverness... Wisdom

Watching Batman Begins for the first time I recall what it felt like as a boy playing espionage games with friends. All the gadgetry and training, the skill, artifice and sudden twists; these bring an excited sense of wanting that sort of role and stimulus in real life as the imagination strokes into overdrive.

And we feel this implicitly, each of us--it’s a normal human response and Hollywood knows this. We too know the name of the game of life. It is to live well; right, just and fair. This is why the good guy always wins in the end at the movies.

Life is somewhat a matter of smoke and mirrors. The wise get wiser in spite of this reality of deception. They grow to appreciate the deception and get clever with it, using it to their advantage. They learn to predict, avoid, counter and adapt.

Wisdom is not available for the grossly naive. We must get past that and know that it is necessary, in the wisdom tradition, to ‘be as cautious, shrewd and cunning as snakes and as gentle, harmless and innocent as doves,’[1] in order to achieve the objectives that are placed before us.

There are wolves in sheep’s clothing all about, notwithstanding the plainly obnoxious, yet it doesn’t deter us. We accept the territory and advance within it bearing this knowledge, tempered by it.

We are to be pure to an inch--and kept that way. Prudence and purity are the magnum opus of spiritual fortitude.

We survive the close calls and thrive on the winds of change. We know when and how to be elusive; when to commit and when to abstain. And it’s for survival. To live to fight the good fight yet another day.

We’re bound for confoundation. We will be required to be fired through the bellows of a furnace, refined and lightened in the process--capable in the end for the work ahead.

For this was our purpose from the beginning as soldiers of light.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] This is a compilation of Matthew 10:16.

The “Person” of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs

The Bible is so intimate about God it’s not surprising that Wisdom is framed as a person; a woman to be precise. Over and again in Proverbs, she speaks or is referred to. She is presented in ways for us to understand. Wisdom is hence personalised.

In Proverbs 2:1-4, Wisdom is put up as the true gift from God, “but paradoxically one must pray to receive her.”[1] Wisdom does not simply come to the whimsical. We must seek her diligently and ongoingly, truly wanting this ‘gift.’

When we read Job 28 (ref. verses 12, 20, 24) and the description on wisdom, we find Wisdom is inscrutable but that is all the more reason to avidly search for her.[2] No amount of searching can ultimately plumb her depths--but, oh, what a depth of life-living resources she can provide along that way!

Wisdom has an intimacy to YHWH (God) that is beyond any other intimacy. She is a ‘surrogate for YHWH’ or a “self-revelation of creation.”[3] She embodies truth and reality. She is in fact the “daughter of YHWH.”[4] There is no one and nothing closer to the Triune God.

Wisdom must make repeated, impassioned advances through the father who speaks in Proverbs 1-9 to counter the ‘honeyed words’ of Woman Folly[5] who hearkens the mistaken and naive youth to taste things like ‘stolen water’ and ‘bread eaten in secret.’ Woman Folly introduces the mistaken youth to hell if he dares--ignorantly or otherwise.

Quite simply, the rewards are eternal for following Woman Wisdom; she protects, provides, nurtures, and enriches. Follow her, living aright and we will truly live.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs – Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), p. 281.
[2] Murphy, Ibid, p. 279.
[3] Murphy, Ibid, p. 279.
[4] Murphy, Ibid, p. 282. Ref. Proverbs 8:22-25(f) which mentions Wisdom’s birth.
[5] Both Folly and Wisdom (and also the “Strange Woman”) are personified by women in Proverbs.

Delivering Bad News Sensitively

Life is almost all about psychology i.e. the psyche. Is that fair? It’s just that I find that relationships and communication--the crux of life--reveal this all the time. Life is all about people and how we interact with each other, within the context of the stimuli and responses of our internal and external worlds.

We’d like to be ‘nice’ with people and effective in all our relationships, but that’s not the way of life is it?--it’s not always possible. With so many divergent priorities, goals, tasks and consequences in life we inevitably have to break bad news at some point or other.

This disappoints people. And there are some people we naturally don’t like to disappoint. (In fact, like many people, I don’t like disappointing anyone.) Is there a way we can do this and soften the blow?

I’ve found the following method helpful.

First, I pray. So--what’s that? I find that thinking about what I have to say and visualising how I’ll say it and how the person might respond, whilst asking for God’s help, gives me unique insight that often helps me remain sensitive so I can hopefully avoid hurting the person’s feelings.

Second, I try to say what I need to say concisely and empathically and then just leave them with it. It’s always helpful for people to be free to react emotionally without having the burden of fighting what they’re feeling i.e. anger, confusion, embarrassment etc with us still present. People crowding can complicate things.

If it is obvious that staying to support would help, then stay, but just ‘sit Shiva’--a Jewish term of mourning for the dead by giving silent but encouraging support i.e. it’s just being there present with them.

Thirdly, given some time to adjust, people can then learn to cope with the new, unwelcome reality in their own way--there’s less pressure. When breaking bad news it’s always a good thing to give people time (hours to weeks) to adjust.

It’s amazing how resilient the average person is when given this opportunity i.e. the time to adjust. Most people can cope really quite well with an unpleasant reality provided they have the time to adjust their mental and emotional stance.

But it never gets easier does it. That’s the wonderful, awful, entrancing power of the psyche that we can’t escape; that’s central to life.

Acceptance of an undesirable reality is often a journey and not merely a destination.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Habit of Prayer

When I went to the dentist recently the hygienist remarked that I needed to floss more as I had some gingivitis; it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing it, I just wasn’t doing it regularly enough. I was doing it weekly. The recommendation was that I needed to floss every other day. I suggested that I could do it every night as this was the only way I felt I could make it a habit--and I needed to make it habit.

It’s no different with prayer. Prayer, like most things in life, needs to become habit to work for us. (After all, it's also our primary act of worship to God.)

It seems to take a lot of effort for us to establish patterns where things like prayer become can habit. I confess that I don’t actually pray aloud that much, but I do converse with God on a fairly continual basis, in my day-to-day. So prayer is not always about having our eyes closed and heavenward and speaking aloud.

But it is about seeking God’s will through a conversation with him. Eugene Peterson says regarding his morning routine, “When I leave my study, that’s when I begin. I feel like [that morning time] is the stretching and calisthenics you do before you run a race. Then you are in the world and that’s when the praying starts--grappling with life in Jesus’ name.”[1] If praying is sensible at quiet times, it’s critical in the throes of life.

Being mindful of praying during our day to day is vital, and again, it’s about habit. Peterson echoes this. ‘Praying [really] starts… in the world,’ is what he’s saying. That’s really when we need to be sensitive to God’s will and be obedient to it. That’s when we need to respond to all life situations, to and through God, in praise.

Habits take a number of weeks to institute and then it’s a matter of maintaining the early hard work continually through the ensuing months and years--not easy but it is very achievable if we’re committed enough.

It is best to get into some routines around prayer, like times to become still and focus on God, but again, we need to simply ensure we have some system for being in continual conversation with God; that is God speaking to us and we ourselves listening and obeying as much as it is us speaking to him.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Sheridan Voysey, Open House Broadcast and transcribed into The Advocate, January 2007. Available at

Friday, January 30, 2009

Addiction and God

From M. Scott Peck’s Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Towards Spiritual Growth comes the following wisdom:

“Addicts are people who have a more powerful calling than most to the spirit, to God, but they simply have the directions of the journey mixed up.”[1]

This is certainly true from my life experience; if those who develop dependencies and addictions need something or someone, it’s God--and it is God and only God who can get them out of the entangled slavish mess that has become their lives. (Suits, reputations and flash possessions can’t hide the truth. Addiction can touch anyone. Troubled lives unravel suddenly without warning.)

These unfortunates seek a revelation or an escape from the pains of life, or both. Both of these things are available in God. He helps us see the revelation and gives us strength to cope with the day-to-day as well as the troublesome in the whole of our lives.

He deals with our brokenness lovingly, gracefully... perfectly.

Perhaps there is also the role here for Satan in mixing up the mind of the addict so they are positively confounded in their search for God and truth. They’re blinded by the Liar.

Addicts and those dependent on substances are more passionate and polarised in their views than almost everyone else. Passion is not lost on God; in fact, passion to worship and serve God is the elixir of true life. I’ve seen dozens of turned-addicts and those who’ve left dependency become fervent, powerful spokespeople for God. There are millions who’ve been raised literally from the dead or dying, having taken this path. God is the only Saviour.

The fact that chemical addicts crave the experiences that most resemble a spiritual awakening is compelling in itself. Spiritual experiences that are felt in worship can closely resemble the euphoria of drug and alcohol use, but the source is so pure, the experience so purely loving. It can be believed in truth.

Addiction and God truly go together but not at the same time.

There has to be a ‘jumping off point’ for the addict or dependent person. They cannot travel with God until they take this ‘leap of faith.’ It’s a sure and certain fact. This step demands a brutal, total honesty with no holding back--a frank admission of the depth of the problem and that salvation is wholly dependent on God.

The king of liars is the one, however, who will tell the addict or dependent person that it’s okay to seek God paralysed in inebriation. Satan will seek to keep this person as blind as a bat!

Don’t listen to the lie, addict. Go alone with God; trust him alone; find new and true, faithful friends who know how to deal with your condition and do what they say, and you will make it.

And freedom will at last and finally be yours. Then you must keep it. Once you get a taste of this real freedom you will want more, and that will keep you straight.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Towards Spiritual Growth (New York, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 137.

Some Telephone Calls are Hard to Make

Recently I had to make a difficult call. I had to ring an estranged relative who was dying and let them know I was thinking of them and praying for them. He was going to be quite down, and there’s nothing quite like trying to empathise with a dying person or a person who’s very recently lost someone. Added to this, I was unsure what terms I’d be greeted with; the last interaction we had was acrimonious.

These sorts of calls are always hard to make no matter how confident we are on the phone. Imagine how hard it is for those who shrink at even the thought of using a phone--you might be one of these people. Well, take heart. Everyone finds this sort of call difficult.

We’ll fumble over what we’ll say and how we’ll say it. We also get worried about the response we’ll receive. The best thing to do is simply 1) plan the call, and 2) make the call.

When preparing for the call:

~~ I took some notes; just some simple bullet points really, of what I wanted to say.

~~ I prepared myself to be especially humble.

~~ I planned it to occur when I’d be about as relaxed and care-free as possible so I could focus.

~~ I envisioned the conversation going well and I also prepared myself emotionally if it didn’t go so well i.e. I would commend myself for making the effort in spite of the response.

Making the call is a decision of the will; just do it. Pick up the receiver and dial the number and be ready.

Often we’re pleasantly surprised regarding how our call eventually turns out. Our courage is more often than not rewarded. There’s the trepidation we felt and how relieved we felt when this proved erroneous. If it wasn’t a positive experience our self-esteem can hopefully encourage us--we made the effort and did what was right.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Resisting the Urge to Splurge

Notwithstanding our spending behaviour, we characteristically suffer the temptation to give in to our impulses--if it’s not spending hysterically it’s simply another manner of malady. We fight and at times win over the temptation, but at others it wins over us.

I have to resist panicking at times. Just recently the worst thought (something almost inconceivable) crossed my mind and next thing I’m in a flurry. The worst of it was a loved one was in the way of this particular mini-hurricane, and an unnecessary conversation took place--after which an unconditional apology ensued. How regrettable.

Times like this we simply don’t think. We go on some awkward autopilot of a trip to anywhere but reason. We go off track; four-wheel driving on a scooter, and no wonder we’re bogged in no time.

What to do?

We back out at the earliest sign of impetuosity. We must or the forlorn awaits. Splurging like this, out of control, whether it’s eating, spending, or raging or any number of other maladaptive responses is a broken road.

Self-discipline is the order of the day, and self-discipline is a pattern, a routine, a rhythm. It requires inertia and momentum. It is at its core, in the M. Scott Peck tradition, the ability to delay gratification, accept responsibility, apply truth and find balance, resolving intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts.

Let’s face it, life is difficult. We get stressed and do things we are later to regret. It needn’t be like this as much. Growing up and learning how to cope positively with what life throws at us is one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves.

We can actually resist the urge to splurge--and it gets easier with practise.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Illegitimi non carborundum

Do you remember the TV show Porridge? This BBC production was screened on ABC years ago and featured Ronnie Barker as the hardened but comical felon, Norman Stanley Fletcher, fellow prisoner, Lennie Godber, and two quite different natured prison guards, Mr Mackay and Mr Barraclough, in Pentridge Prison.

One of the signature sequences of this production was the following:

Barrowclough: You're writing a book?
Fletch: Yeah - a sort of inside guide to prison life. But don't worry, I've not overlooked you boys in blue - I will be dealing just as much with your issues as those of our fellow felons.
Barrowclough: Oh, good. And what are you going to call this book?
Fletch: Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down.

There’s a love/hate relationship here. The show’s characterised by relational friction within the genre of comedy.

But here’s the turn.

Have you ever had one of those days when people are the main problem? The phrase ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ (this is the meaning of the ‘broken latin’ article title, Illegitimi non carborundum) is synonymous with this sentiment, and it’s something to be borne in mind when dealing with people who habitually cause problems.

Folklore has it that General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell used it as a motto during World War II. It’s also a play on the word for the ‘bastard file’ which removes the rough material before a smooth file is used.

I had one of these days recently. I dealt with complaints ranging from the colour of furniture to the choice of one word over another in a document to seeking some elementary help that was not forthcoming. It was both damning and perplexing.

Yet, then I had the phrase come to mind, and Barker’s voice, ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down,’ for I am sure this is their general objective--to totally thwart the person who wishes to simply and fairly traverse life. Some are fervently bent toward frustrating the efforts of good people, for they have nothing better to do.

For some, there are only problems--they beset good people and inundate them.

Is this vexatious person to wear the good person out, who, by their nature is simply trying to do a decent job? No. We must resist the problematic person by dodging out of their way or by patiently enduring them. Let the problematic person attract yet another problematic person, and together may they get entirely frustrated--together. May they cause no interruption to real progress.

The good person, by virtue of their acts of doing good work, is to avoid the problematic person wherever conveniently possible; for there’s wisdom in that. Even more critical than this is to remain as patient, tolerant and as calm as possible in the midst of such madness.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Toward Peace and Happiness... Being Reconciled to Life?

Happy as can be? Truly? There’ve been millions of people in every age who’ve sought the elusive goal of happiness. Happiness, of course, is linked inextricably with peace. Peace could be defined as a healthy acceptance of the reality and demands of life, on life’s terms; not our own.

It helps if we peel this down. What are these realities and demands? And, what do we need to do about them?

People – our relationships. This is the single-most trying area. How often are we in irresolvable conflict with others? Are we getting our relationships right? Can we accept people’s views on things that we don’t understand? Are we seeking to understand? We must bring a ‘lightness’ to our world of interaction.

Time – our tasks. Are we trying to get too much from life by doing too many things at once? Are we too busy? This is self-defeating if we’re trying to achieve happiness through peace. At times we find it hard to say ‘no’ but to achieve all the contentment we can, we have to say ‘no’ occasionally--exercising discretion.

Money – our things and what we do. Be honest. Where does money come for you? Are you, in a sense, driven by working so hard to provide a ‘lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed’? This is not the way to peace. Peace and money are antithetical.

Health – our respect for body, mind and soul. This is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, not simply physical. This is about balance and ensuring time for health, and the right behaviours to support health.

The law – our place in the world in accepting and obeying the rules of life. Having an acceptance of the law and obeying the prevailing laws is essentially a key test of our peace, presently and to come. Aligned closely with politics, law issues must be resolved in the mind with an allowance that others have different views.

Work – our vocation. Whether it’s paid or not, we gain the best sense of peace when we’re diligent. In our workplaces, we need to be both relational and also task-focused.

Family – our most important relationships; the loop back to our foundation. Peace and happiness within the familial context is surely the highest goal. If this cannot be attained, can happiness?

Does anything hold you but life itself? If something or someone does hold us, or many things, we, like a washing machine on a ‘spin-dry’ cycle, will be thrown out of balance. Peace would be near-on impossible to achieve given this set of circumstances.

Peace in all aspects of life is the key to happiness.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Dream Life Turned Hell

Jennifer Capriati was a genuine tennis champion and wonder-kid. At 13 years of age she became, for a short time, the youngest player to win the French Open junior title. Three weeks before her 14th birthday she turned professional--a young person with the world at her feet it seemed.

Sadly, the journey for Capriati was to turn sour with depression and crime well before she eventually fought back to claim the Women’s World Number One Singles title briefly in 2001 having won the Australian and French Opens that year. She also successfully defended her Australian Open title in 2002.

Her ‘comeback career’ is amazing considering the feats she’s managed. In her crowning moment, her third Grand Slam title, she saved four Championship points during the final--a world record for a player who eventually won the match. That demonstrates her spirit!

Unfortunately, she’s not been as successful with life as she’s been with her tennis. Quoted in a recent newspaper feature she lamented being trapped.

“I’ve only known one speed--100 miles per hour--and now I feel stuck in this place where I can’t move.”[1]

Jennifer Capriati reminds me of Michael Jackson. Both knew nothing of a normal childhood, and their talent was honed and milked as the world stood in awe of both these child prodigies.

It seems that life is harder to live than most think. Once the career of stardom is over, when then? Capriati continues:

“When I stopped playing, that’s when all this came crumbling down. If I don’t have [tennis], who am I? What am I? I was just alive because of this. I’ve had to ask, ‘Well, who is Jennifer? What if this is gone now?’ I can’t live off of this the rest of my life.”[2]

This poor child of a girl, still old enough to compete at thirty two, has no idea how to live life because without tennis she’s a nobody--at least to herself.

It’s reflecting on these things I feel extremely fortunate to have had a ‘normal,’ even banal life in comparison. For anyone who’s felt sorry for themselves for not having reached the dizzy heights of their chosen sport or profession, they can take some solace at mediocrity in comparison to the Capriati example.

I pray she finds her feet sooner rather than later.

[1] The West Australian, Saturday 24 January, 2009.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Beating Violence Simply and Creatively

Charles W. Colson, reformed Watergate politician and founder of Prison Fellowship, writes in a convicted fashion about many of his significant life lessons in Life Sentence.

He tells of being targeted by various members of the press for many political reasons. He writes about a young man, a gay rights activist, who interviewed him in San Francisco and then promptly ‘served him’ a chocolate meringue pie in quite painful fashion. His instinctive reaction was to punch him in the nose.

However, having read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship the previous day, the lingering words, “Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter violence,” echoed in his mind.[1] Pressured to lay charges, he resisted, preferring to laugh it off.

On another occasion he was asked if his father’s death was attributable to his own sin. He was strongly tempted to fire back; but resisted the temptation, answering rather innocuously in the end. A few months later, this reporter died of a heart attack--had Colson retorted as he’d been tempted to, he would’ve regretted it for the rest of his life.[2]

When we suffer persecution gladly we defeat violence instantly each time. “Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance.”[3]

The problem we have is we need practise in getting used to responding like this. And perhaps this is one reason we are persecuted, pushed, picked-on, and bullied? Let’s face it, we don’t respond this way naturally. They’re learning opportunities to apply counter-violence.

This is quite a challenge for every single person; we’re caught out so often, offended before we even realise, and defeated in the heart so quickly.

We have to work on it each day to become eventually ‘inoffendable.’ One proverb is perfectly appropriate here; out of the TNIV:

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
–Proverbs 19:11.

Patience, even when it seems illogical, is the appropriate response to all our problems. Hard perhaps, yet it is found to be ironically and surprisingly simple.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Charles W. Colson, Life Sentence (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), p. 195.
[2] Colson, Ibid, p. 199.
[3] Colson, Ibid, p. 195. This is another direct quote from Bonhoeffer’s, The Cost of Discipleship.

“Preaching” the Gospel – the Practical Way

Attending a 21st birthday is always a treasured experience. There’s always a sense of enthusiastic youthfulness that accompanies the mood at such a traditional coming-of-age celebration. The twenty first I attended today however, describes an organisation, not a person, and the actual birth date of the organisation--a radio station--could have been thirty years previously. That’s certainly when the beginning foundations were laid.

One of the key messages out of this particular celebration is the practical mission of 98.5 Sonshine FM.

General Manager, Barry Grosser, quoted some early criticism from dissonant supporters of the station who wanted the gospel “preached,” and who said, “You’re not preaching the gospel,” to which Barry replied, “You’re right... we’re living it; that’s a fraction harder.”

It called me back to the following words:

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
Saint Francis of Assisi (allegedly).[1]

The obvious meaning is preaching the gospel, most of the time, has nothing to do with words. Gospel meaning is translated in action (love being a verb) far more powerfully than words.

In fact, words (alone) most often destroy the gospel meaning. People who preach using only words i.e. without the gospel permeating their values, character and actions, stifle God’s work in their hypocrisy. Jesus constantly called the Pharisees on this.

Perhaps the Peace Prayer traditionally attributed to St. Francis accurately epitomises the spirit of preaching the gospel in the practical sense; in a sense that every single person in the world can relate with:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Actually preaching the gospel via our action can often lead God to a coup in the spirit of a person who’s lost their way, and if not, they can only remain open to the Spirit where love and peace saturate the relationship.

‘Preaching the gospel’ is an errant and overrated term in its traditional context. Thinking about it, preaching via our actions and not our words is worlds harder to achieve than simply spruiking, because it requires a honed character capable of systematic submission to God to achieve it.

Thank God Sonshine FM and their Careline have got it right over the years. They certainly played their part to get this particular ‘little black duck’ over the line in their transforming ministry of love. For that, I will forever be grateful to God for them.

Not preaching the gospel, indeed!?

[1] The following site cites reason for doubting St. Francis actually said this: - apparently it is not in his writings. However, he had been known to say to his Friars (who were without proper instruction on how to preach), “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”

The Quickest Way to True Happiness – Deal with the Dross

Anyone who sees what I write knows I think a lot about refinement; I see opportunities all the time for advancing my character and I like to share these because, quite frankly, I can’t be that unique!

As I sat in a church service just recently, I felt the Spirit whisper three words a short space apart from each other. These words were redundancy--waste--dross. And this was all in the one image. The image was the adipose on someone’s upper arm. The meaning of the image was there’s no purpose to it. It was a redundancy, a waste, not necessary; pure dross.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us that ‘dross’ is essentially impurity: “the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal; waste or foreign matter; something that is base, trivial, or inferior.”

Dross gets burned off, or skimmed from the top of that molten metal. There’s no use to it.

The thought was, the purpose of life must be about ‘expunging’ this redundancy, waste and dross in our lives. The Spirit told me to write about ‘expunging it.’ And that’s what I do.

Life is a process of perfecting what we’ve been given; our bodies, minds and souls. It’s identifying dross in our lives and dealing with it... banishing it.

The quickest way to true happiness is ironically the hardest, but it is worth every bit of the journey.

The purest sense of happiness, I believe, is found in purifying ourselves of our dross:

“As the refining pot for silver and the furnace for gold [bring forth all the impurities of the metal], so let a man be in his trial of praise [ridding himself of all that is base or insincere; for a man is judged by what he praises and of what he boasts].”
–Proverbs 27:21 (Amplified version).


“Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth [the material for] a vessel for the silversmith [to work up]. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness (moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation).”
–Proverbs 25:4-5 (Amplified version).

As taking away wickedness from the king promotes harmony within the realm of his rule, so expunging the waste and dross from our lives promotes every good thing in our beings.

This is why we ought to fully invest in a life of Spiritually-led self-improvement. We must be prepared to identify habits, positions, circumstances and arrangements we find ourselves in that are not helpful, and then get rid of them or transform them into good things; silver or gold.

Burn away the dross and there’s silver and gold to be found in each one of us.

This is quintessentially our very personal purpose in life, amongst few other things. And nothing else will quite bring us the same reward of happiness as this particular venture.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

War, Peace, Nonviolence... Idealism?

I don’t know much about world issues myself, and to be brutally honest, I’m very much swayed by the idealism of faith in any event... to think that this world, through its holistically-focused visionary leaders, might one day realise its potential...

Having just read a ‘very challenging’ post by a pre-eminent on Facebook regarding the heights of hope on the very essence of peace a.k.a. real nonviolence, my heart buzzes with the possibilities. What if no AIDS; what if no famines; what if no wars. What if... love?

Having sat through a beautiful presentation recently on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, Master of the Rings, a quote on war captivated me. One of the people interviewed remarked how, having served with the British army during the tragic Battle of the Somme, and seen all but one of his friends die, Tolkien was left to lament the ‘great deal of pointless enthusiasm’ with which wars are fought, which are coincidentally ‘followed by a great deal of pointless misery, followed by a [largely] pointless aftermath.’[1]

This thought followed another equally telling piqué of contemplation. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), based on a 2003 book by George Crile, highlighted the stickiness of getting involved in others’ wars--the consequences of action such as this, even if thought good initially, are often far-reaching and dreadful.

Is what we hope for regarding large-scale (Global) fixes even possible? An end to AIDS? A halving of starving by 2015? An end to all wars?

‘War... what is it good for... absolutely nothing.’ This line from Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s, War, could adequately spell out what it is we’re dreaming about and trying to say. ‘The point of war blows your mind’ indeed.

For broken dreams to be sorted it takes a miraculous form of action based in a visionary philosophy for the future; a combined, collective, collaborative and cohesive future.

In seeking the miraculous we could do worse than hear the LORD God’s words afresh when responding to king Solomon, “If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
–2 Chronicles 7:14 (Amplified version).

God... Not ‘OMG’! God... The LORD. Could it possibly be about God?

It’s got to be about God. Could it be about giving up being the ones with the answers, and looking to him? Could it be that radical obedience might mean we will give up our rights to our prejudices... our judgments... our selfish desires... even our comforts?

Could this way of radical nonviolence, in the tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther king, and in complete submission to God, be the way to realise these idealistic dreams?

[1] Cromwell Productions, J.R.R. Tolkien, Master of the Rings: The Definitive Guide to the World of the Rings (DVD presentation, Rajon Vision RV0102, 2001)

The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received...

... Came from a youth minister’s course to run a program called Student Focus. I took the course in Melbourne in February 2006 with a colleague, learning the following truth:

With children, “ALWAYS follow through with what you say and NEVER get angry.”

Following through with what we say we’ll do

They say that on average, on the ninth whinge a child wears down a parent whilst shopping to provide that treat they’re after. If we’ve said ‘no’ on the previous eight occasions, why would we compromise on the ninth? Yet every parent knows what it’s like to be found in a ‘weak moment’!

Getting this right requires a calm, wilful mind. But, it can’t be done successfully without the next bit of the equation.

Never getting angry

Like the above advice, most parents will view this nugget with great scepticism, after all, how would we contain our emotions with our children all the time?

It is achievable, however. When we realise that getting angry either plays into the hands of the kids OR it scares them, we are motivated to maintain a healthy level of ‘adult’ control.[1]

Putting these two together

Both of these things are both easy and difficult to achieve. Think about it. Our mental approach to children is all important. In other words it’s our will that’s most put to the test.

If we can be disciplined enough to do what we say we’ll do and at the same time not get angry, we’ll achieve a mark of influence over our progeny that not only gives us confidence, it will give the kids a confidence too--they really want and need their parents to be ‘adult’ (see endnote [1] for the description) in the approach to parenting. Kids need healthy, well-defined boundaries.

What I found with this advice was that it worked with all children. As I continued to reflect on it over the weeks and months, and now years, implementing it as I went, it served me consistently well--not only with my own children but in also leading others’ children.

Using this advice, which anyone can implement, is the best way to achieve a healthy respect from the children we’re placed in charge of. Children truly love the reliability of ‘adult’ leadership, and it is a great assertiveness model for them in how to deal with people in general.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] “Adult” behaviour according to the transactional analysis model is unemotional in conflict i.e. reasonable, rational, realistic, responsible and logical.

Jousting with the “Silent Tsunami”

“This is a silent tsunami, and one that’s virtually hitting every developing nation on the earth.”
–Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Program.

Import-dependent third world developing countries are most at risk of being swamped by the “silent tsunami.” As the world financial crisis grips and begins to take its inevitable casualties, we’ll see more catastrophic devastation hit traditional ‘sites of starvation,’ and what will be the Western world’s response?

Fortunately and thankfully, we know the solutions to the problems, apparently, so there is only the challenge now of planning, logistics and execution--and sufficient funding. It appears that the unprecedented financial shortfalls will continue and the financial crisis will put even more strain on the system, further complicating national and transnational socioeconomic and sustainability issues.

The cycle of poverty and hunger is devastating at a national level for countries exposed. With shortened life expectancy per capita, there is “less economic output and outcome,”[1] as the draw on national systems through disease, malnutrition and poor family outcomes beats secondary and tertiary waves of oppression over them.

A ‘green revolution’ is required in Africa to assist in the sustainability of food resources; Western backing for such programs and initiatives is required. The input of farmers in these regions is particularly crucial.

To a person, there must be some response. We may think we have nothing to contribute, and no possible impact on this situation, but I think we’re errant and irresponsible with that approach.

One less bought coffee or soft drink per week diverted to a well-directed campaign can make a significant difference; a dozen meals can be created.

Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person,” and “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Our compassion does not need to change the world; it merely needs to make a person smile or make a belly full, that’s all.

One way people can help is by responding to Compassion by googling “Global Food Crisis.”

Simply pray, fast, give, share. Get involved.

For more information on this article, go to:

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] See article from the Wall Street Journal at:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Regaining Your Rhythm and Confidence

We’ve all had times when we’ve found ourselves recovering from an illness or an injury, a form lapse, a drop in confidence, or perhaps even a depressive episode. It’s been perhaps a time of bewildering frustration. Nothing anyone could do could help us, it seemed.

We made a hundred resolutions that ‘tomorrow will be different,’ yet we saw and felt more of the same predictable, tired response. Rhythm-wise we were all over the place, and just not our true selves--at least not the ‘self’ we know we could be.

And as we look back to the past and forward to the future, we can never really tell when our lives might be again turned completely upside down.

For those who’ve truly been there, it’s an ever-present possibility. This would be to lose our life rhythm once again.

Looking back at these times from a sufficient distance we can often see what we’ve learnt; for the life of us, however, we couldn’t see it back in the midst of the situation itself.

This learning produces for us, wisdom; we’re benefactors of wisdom regarding our own personal lives and this feeds into our increased, more divergent capacity to rebound effectively in the future.

Being able to retain our rhythm could be one way of describing the exercise or process of wisdom, but being able to do it for most takes much learning and some gargantuan challenges on the way to that place. ‘Too old, too wise,’ indeed!

Real success in life is a long term proposition, whether it is regarding our relationships, our achievements or our general happiness.

Regaining our rhythm requires patience--a sort of patience imprinted in the quietness of humility.

It’s a case of going back to the foundation that we’ve always come to depend on, sticking to the basics, and doing that well enough day in, day out--one day following another.

From a stable base, we can begin to patiently build up our momentum toward peak performance. Weeks, months, years later we’re there--our rhythm’s returned!

What was that old shampoo advert again? ... ‘It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.’

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

“The Prayer of Faith” from James

Nothing quite symbolises the Christian faith more than prayer. It is an activity that we’re instructed to do all the time (1 Thess. 5:17) and it’s one way we can actually know God’s will for us--if we’re so attuned. But, the ‘prayer of faith’ according to James is perhaps a nugget which needs to be digested alone:

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
–James 5:13-16 (NRSV)

When to Pray According to James 5:13f

Suffering, cheerful or sick; the answer is to pray. The answer to each of these scenarios is simply to pray. It’s ironic that at each of these three times we’re usually tempted to pray less.[1]

In any life situation it can’t be wrong to pray. And perhaps the time we really forget to pray is when life is just routine and nothing much to write home about. When life is simple drudgery and we’re bored we never think to pray. But we should.

Regarding our praying during times of suffering, “James is… not advocating a stoic or impassive response to adversity, but [he’s] allowing for a positive response to hardship.”[2] This is the truth of the believing relationship with God. We can’t deny our problems.

But how many of us shout our praises to God when things are especially good? Singing songs is the traditional way to enjoy these times and remember God as we engage our emotions and spirit in worship.

Not only should we memorise and meditate on verses of Scripture that can help us recall God’s truth, we need to routinely hum sweet melodies of praise to our Master--engaging the mind in the process.

The Prayer of Faith

Recently, our local pastor was anointed with oil by the elders in a church service in seeking healing from a worrisome medical condition. This offer was then widened to anyone suffering and seeking healing--it is no snake-oil technique. James has exactly this practice in mind. This prayer of faith, executed by anointed elders, has released millions from their various maladies in the name of the Lord.

Once conducted, it is appropriate for the believer and those who’ve prayed, and anyone else present, to believe that God will heal as asked--according to his will.

It is no coincidence that James relates the effectiveness and power of the prayer of faith with the righteousness of the anointed elder of the church. God can’t abide in sin, so when we present our petitions to him in faith and obedience, he is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thess. 5:24) if it is his will.

The calling on of the elders to assist is also about a community response toward God that all in that community be intimately involved in the process of healing--that the elders, too, lend their spiritual passion and anointing to that task.

At the prayer of faith mentioned above, the entire congregation were invited to participate by raising arms toward their pastor as he was anointed with the oil in God’s name by the elders. That is the unified faith of two to three hundred people crying out to God in faith for healing.

The community are encouraged to confess their sins to one another in authentic humility. This is so people are made right with each other, and with God. Most of our sins are against people, but ultimately they’re against God. Prayer is often the best medium for confession.

The prayer of faith is about some simple but powerful truths coming together so the person subject to the prayer can be raised (healed) as Jesus was raised.

In summary, the prayer of faith should be requested; made corporately; practiced expressively; be God-centred and faith-filled; and lastly, it must be comprehensive and effective.[3]

The prayer of faith in its most basic concept is simply asking in faith in line with Matthew 7:7 and James 1:5-8. Ask in faith and we stand to be blessed with deliverance subject to God’s will.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, 2003).
Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Letter of James” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 12 (Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1998).
[1] George M. Stulac, James – The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 180.
[2]Ralph P. Martin, James – Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, Texas: Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 48)), S. 205
[3] Derek Tidball, Wisdom from Heaven: The message of the letter of James for today (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), p. 190-93.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Psalm 84 - Joy in all Circumstances for Those Who Dwell with God

“As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” -Psalm 84:6-7 (TNIV).

Peace and Blessing that Transcends Understanding in the Midst of Pain

The Valley of Baka is the ‘valley of weeping,’ yet this psalm mentions it in the context of what those who worship and praise God do with it; they transform it by God’s provision through a peace that surpasses knowledge.

The non-believing many cannot comprehend this. They think that Christians who experience this quiet and chilled wonder in the midst of hurt and tragedy are crazy.

They cannot reconcile it because they can only know the pain. God, of course, is the great Anaesthetiser and Healer. His anaesthetic is beyond comprehension, though it is undoubtedly real and it works--taking the 'edge' off the pain.

Blessed are those who he finds a home with: “And how blessed all those in whom you [God] live, whose lives become roads you travel.” (Msg) In the Hebrew, this troubled valley of weeping is a ‘fountain’ of blessing; they are showered or ‘clothed’ with it.

The Dwelling Place that is God

For those who love and praise and worship God, they know how treasured an experience he truly is; they go on journey to worship him, simply to approach his courts. They stand still and marvel as they cast their gazing eye over his wondrous kingdom.

Merely approaching and considering the threshold (having not yet entered), the doting believer is a thousand times better off than those who simply exist in their carnality. Such a dwelling place is God that the simplest creatures find blessing with him.

He is the safest and loveliest Dwelling, an ‘amiable’ (LXX) experience. He is both sun (i.e. provider) and shield (i.e. protector) in verse 11. This Dwelling place indeed travels with, and is present, with his people.

The Journey to “That” Place

In verse 5, the believer has set their ‘purpose’ to go up to the Dwelling place. They have committed their lives irrevocably to their Suzerain covenant partner. Their hearts are “set on pilgrimage.” (TNIV)

They are aware of the many possible tumults they could face on the Highway, but their gaze is steadfast as they climb God’s mount one step at a time--for their strength is soundly positioned in him.

The believer knows that God wishes to bestow blessing and honour, but they don’t hold him to it when they’d wish for it; they know their place as the vassal in the covenant relationship--they are requisitely blessed.

The Believer themselves

Desperation in the most positive sense is the intrinsic heart response of the believer to their God in true Psalm 42:1 and 63:1 style. They have a thorough appreciation of the acts and facts of creation, and their place in it.

They’d prefer a place (as an ‘abject’ (LXX); a ‘doorkeeper’ (NRSV)) in the dungeon of their God than to live with the ungodly. The LORD is God and King to the one who praises, “the sovereign power of the universe and the center of my personal life, the one who makes all things cohere for the life I have to live.” God is summum bonum.[1]

The person that lives this life shall not be moved (Ps. 15:5) and their integrity will be protected. God withholds nothing truly good for these.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 275.

Let’s Watch a While Longer...

A new member of a team joins with high praise. He’s succeeded in other roles and in other fields of life, is a friendly and generous guy, with time for people. A little later, however, there’s a side to this person’s approach to teamwork that wasn’t known previously. He sends quite a blunt email on a bleak morning, and everyone gets to see he’s human after all. Everyone’s relieved... except, that is, the boss.

And it’s the same for us all. Getting to know people, I mean really know them, takes time. The more we get to know people, the more we see they’re just like us; flawed.

It’s the same for us, to those who might be tempted to be impressed by us for a time. “As the distance between you and others decreases, your perceived image changes. You finally become human--with all the frailties that accompany the title.”[1]

This can be disappointing for them, and if the situation is reversed as mentioned earlier, for us too.

People will disappoint. Here’s the point:

Too often we make instant, flippant assessments and comparisons regarding people. Almost in small-talk we rate people and shoot off the first things that come into our mammalian heads, leaving our noecortex (our real thinking brain) back at the starting blocks.

In assessing ability, character, value and worth, it pays to watch a while longer, reserving our judgment, being open to what might transpire. This is both fair to the person who’s made a poor initial impression (perhaps because of nerves), and to the person we think can’t fail us, but who will eventually.

Why would we want to commit to the false? Why not be more guarded in our stated perceptions of people and let their performance speak for itself?

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Dave Fleming, Leadership Wisdom from Unlikely Voices (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), p. 151.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are Your Expectations Too High for your Young Person?

The Princess Bitchface Syndrome (Penguin Books, 2006) by Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg highlights the modern day phenomenon that many teen girls and their parents experience these days; one minute she’s normal, quiet, loving, the girl-next-door; the next, someone totally estranged to logic and reason--Princess Bitchface, in one phrase. Hormones, we know, are the chiefly to blame as these girls grapple with their transforming bodies and minds in an age where they're often ‘sexualised’ prematurely[1] .

Without going into Carr-Gregg’s book I wanted to just highlight something very simply for parents.

I’m reminded of the vast differences between young people in general (not just girls), and those more mature, say in their 30s, 40s and 50s and beyond i.e. parents. It is too easy (and unfair) for mature adults to place the same adult demands on young people.

For these reasons, they’re set up to fail--and fail they shall if we do not help them.

Young people face the awkward and confusing proposition of being trapped as children, part of the time, in an adult world they can’t avoid, which is screaming toward them.

Carr-Gregg was interviewed for Life at 15 and mentioned that teens have four things “they have to do… they have to figure out who they are--get an identity; get themselves good friends; have some kind of emancipation from their mums and dads… and they have to connect with an educational institution.”[2] The first three are critically important to their happiness and (also the fourth to their) eventual success in life.

It seems untenable to some adults to apply a relationship-rich, grace-first ‘light’ hold on their relationships with their young people.

I believe we must slowly and carefully release the responsibilities on our young people whilst giving them the freedom to explore and ‘become’ their true selves as indicated in the Carr-Gregg quote above.

This is best done without niggly adults interrupting the flow of their development with silly details that would trip anyone up (including adults). We need to keep them accountable by all means, but we need also to know when enough’s enough.

We adults, if we cast our memories back far enough, might be embarrassed to discover we too struggled at this time of life with many things. Why would we now not seek to empathise with, and empower, our young people? We can make this transition so much easier in our loving approach.

We have to be ‘grown up’ enough to not be threatened by our kids wanting freedom without responsibility--which is a natural psychological drive. It’s a fine line, but we need to err on the side of grace. They will learn so much more from our loving, caring, affirming way than from criticism, constant negative feedback, and condemnation.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Refer to Carr-Gregg’s book which goes into the meaning and context of this term.
[2] Source:

Never Act Solely Out of Passion

From the pen of Balthasar Gracian comes another gem:

“Never act in a passion... If you do, all is lost. You cannot act for yourself if you are not yourself, and passion always drives out reason. In such cases inter-pose a prudent go-between who can only be prudent if he keeps cool. That is why lookers-on see most of the game, because they keep cool. As soon as you notice that you are losing your temper beat a wise retreat. For no sooner is the blood up than it is spilt, and in a few moments occasion may be given for many days’ repentance for oneself and complaints of the other party.”

The easiest thing any of us can do is lose our cool. It happens without a moment’s thought, and suddenly we’re children again, and as the above quote alludes, we’re certainly not our rational, reasonable, responsible, realistic or logical selves.

We’d be loath to accept this behaviour from our children so why would we go on accepting it from ourselves?

It reminds me of such an important thought brought to birth through Thomas Jefferson: “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”

We know nothing of benefit when we strike without a good plan--we’re bound to fail and hence have serious cause for regret. How disdainful!

We are in a sense our own agents, and if not, we’re agents for someone else or something else. We have a firm responsibility then to ensure we act for the benefit of who we act for, and not against it or them--most of all ourselves, whom we have primary accountability for.

We can take twenty years to build that reputation, and then have it destroyed in a moment’s recklessness.

Caution has love about it.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Start for America

Forty-Fourth President of the United States of America, Barack Obama said, “Greatness is never a given. It must be earned.”

It is a new start in the ‘remaking’ of America, a young country, whose time it is to ‘set aside childish things.’

At a time when the world cringes at the hopelessness of financial disaster and recession, everyone might be expecting Obama to miraculously turn it all around. Challenges that are triply real, serious and many, do not sway the new President whose tactics converge with both hope and purpose, not fear and discord.

He calls back to the great challenges of history, where forebears met equally monumental threats including fascism and communism. He honours the battling travellers who now call America home and the toilers and soldiers who’ve fought to make her the country he sees today.

Peace through ‘mutual interest and mutual respect’ is offered the Muslim world; build and we will thrive together--destroy and you shall be remembered for nothing. In America, the poor countries will find an advocate. The calling now is of a spirit of ‘humble gratitude,’ citizenship, and no less. God’s call: to shape the destiny.

Less than sixty short years ago this President’s father would not have been sanctioned to eat at a restaurant--now, his son takes this most sacred oath.

And in the depth of another winter, both hope and virtue remain, as the eyes of a nation focus on the horizon and the journey ahead, not daunted to leave yet another legacy of survival for the country’s children’s children to marvel at, like those present do at those who’ve gone.

Respect is earned in the pit of hard work, the ‘giving of our all to a difficult task.’ And will Government do it all? No sir-ee!

“It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”

For all to be equal, all to be free, and for all to deserve their opportunities at happiness, all must plough the hard earth. We will do it together.

Welcome President Obama!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Faith, Patience and Vision in Leadership

The old saying, ‘You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make it drink,’ has proper relevance to the life of the teacher--and most of us have ‘teaching’ roles. We ask people or tell them to do this or that, yet for some, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

It is easy to throw our hands in the air and live with gasps and sighs--that is instinctual, but it is not right.

As a leader, parent, coach, manager or adviser we’re placed in a position of trust; to discharge the duties of the role in a way that nurtures the growth of the person or group we lead, in faith.

This faith mostly requires trust in things we can’t see. For when our patience is most sorely tested we need to come back to the fact that at any time, the growth journey can take a positive twist. This often happens, ironically, past the ‘giving-in’ point.

Life is a process of growth. In a sense, we never get there, but in another sense we do grow to conquer those things thought difficult, even impossible at some earlier stage. Looking at it from this point backwards helps us act faithfully.

Having faith in those we lead and teach is perhaps the hardest journey to make. It’s the acknowledgement that we cannot control things or people and that our collective progress depends on faith, belief, resilience and staying power.

The visionary in each of us can see beyond what is right before our eyes... the vast possibilities, not the present reality.

One day, this group or individual we’re leading or teaching will be in the same role as us. And how will they lead? What will they have learned from us--what model will we have provided them?

Will they act faithfully… patiently?

Patience is the hardest journey but it is full of reward. Make a commitment to patience today.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Incarnational Tradition – 6 of 6

This tradition brings the earlier discussed traditions together in understanding “how all these components function in ordinary life.”[1] This tradition is about the very Presence of God everywhere, and the significance that fact brings to life each moment we live.

Jesus lived, breathed, walked and talked the same as everyone. He was a real living person. But the real brilliance of his humanity and obedience set him apart from everyone.

John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, is placed up there as an example of this tradition; she endured much and typically sought God in every trial, “to make true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life,” so they (the trials) would unite her heart more closely with God’s. She lived “sacramentally in the most common ventures of life.”[2] She epitomised holy living and holy dying.

We can’t discuss ‘incarnation’ without forever coming back to the Incarnation itself; the event and the person, Jesus. This is not to understate the role that Mary played in the time and the event. Everything in the prophesy, conception, pregnancy and birth of Jesus underscores the miraculousness of the Incarnation.

This sacramental tradition is, at its base, “the relationship between spirit and matter.” God comes to us in real, visible, material things.[3] And God loves the material world; after all, he created the bases of it all.

This life is essentially about the melding of our religious practice with normal everyday life. Religious practice is merely the important beginning. Without integrating our religiosity with our ‘everyday’ we become hypocrites. We say but we cannot do.

This is the antithesis of the Christian’s goal under this integrative tradition.

How we deal with difficulties within marriages, homes, families and workplaces punctuates our progress according to this tradition. It’s where the rubber hits the road. Jesus, our risen Lord, is our Place in all these. We become like him. We follow him; he leads us. We imitate him. Jesus teaches us every moment of life, from the personal to the professional, and beyond.

Martin Luther appropriately linked baptism as the continual metaphor of the incarnational life--the continual dying to ourselves and rising again to life through Christ.[4]

Becoming like Christ has nothing hypocritical about it, if we’re serious and present in it. This venture requires us to ‘invite’ God unconditionally into every aspect and dimension of our lives; we invite him to heal us--continually.

A glimpse into this life presents us with a sense of calling; of responsibility to use our God-given talents for his glory; of freedom from guilt and burden; of creativity that transmutes us in alignment with our souls; of dignity to value people more highly than efficiency and things; of community and the value of life lived together and in harmony; of solidarity with the poor and to empower the underprivileged; of meaning and purpose to know we’re “working in cooperation with God.”[5]

The incarnational tradition of the sacramental life is about a “life that makes present and visible the realm of the invisible spirit.” We should explore it because “through it we experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life.”[6]
[1] Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (London, England: HarperCollinsReligious, 1998), p. 237.
[2] Foster, Ibid, pages 243, 245.
[3] Foster, Ibid, p. 260.
[4] Foster, Ibid, p. 265.
[5] Foster, Ibid, p. 270.
[6] Foster, Ibid, p. 272.

The Evangelical Tradition – 5 of 6

This tradition works best when in tandem with the previous, the Social Justice tradition. For how could non-believing people be convinced of the power and grace of the Spirit without seeing it in the evangel?

This tradition, or the Word-centred life, is about faithfulness in three orders: proclamation, repository, and interpretation.

The Word of God is preached to influence people’s faith in line with the Augustine philosophy, “To teach is a necessity, to please is a sweetness, to persuade is a victory.”[1] The preaching of gospel truth is primary.

The ancient Near East (ANE) repository tradition centred around the oral tradition due mainly to the generational and communal culture, if not the core reason that texts weren’t available and reading and writing were not relevant to the age for the majority of the people. Evangels passionately protect the role of Scripture as the contemporary repository for the Gospel.

Confessional witness and response to the Gospel message are keys.

Entrusted as the ‘keepers’ of the Word of God, evangels study the text and faithfully preserve it; each of the different Bible translations and paraphrases have been carefully and dutifully composed based on the primary texts.

Of course, the great commandment of Jesus’ in the final verses of Matthew charges us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” –Matthew 28:19-20a (TNIV).

It is essential in this tradition, and to the Christian faith no less, to hold fast to the belief that, as Emil Brunner put it, “The church exists by mission as fire exists for burning.”[2] Hence, this tradition’s goal is of conversion and the saving of souls, by grace through faith.

The evangelical tradition is about a “life founded upon the living Word of God, the written Word of God, and the proclaimed Word of God.” We should explore it because “through it we experience the knowledge of God that grounds our lives and enables us to give a reason for the hope that is in us.”[3]
[1] Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (London, England: HarperCollinsReligious, 1998), p. 194.
[2] Foster, Ibid, p. 226. Cited from D. Elton Trueblood, The Validity of the Christian Mission (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).
[3] Foster, Ibid, p. 233.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Choices – No One Can Upset Us

“One's own folly leads to ruin, yet the heart rages against the LORD.” –Proverbs 19:3 (TNIV).

People’s troubles are often (though not always) brought on by themselves. I can recall times in my own life where things went awry and I paid the penalty, occasionally re-learning lessons that I’d previously thought were dealt with… not so much, it seemed.

A step further on from our self-inflicted problems is our response to the consequences or the effects of the problems. Not only has the person involved gotten themselves into a pickle, their heart rages against God and other people in the way, and they have the temerity to blame people with nothing or little to do with it.

It’s actually rather hilarious when this happens (if you’re a fly on the wall). It reminds me of biblical hardliner, Oswald Chambers’ quote about Christians who respond like this... “The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties [e.g. self-pity] because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God.”

The clanging paradox is people vent against God and others when the only appropriate corrective action can come with the opposite deed--to draw near and humbly to God and others.

I used to be easily drawn into protracted arguments with people who, by definition, fell for the folly of their own motives and behaviour. But, it’s like a cesspool though isn’t it? Nobody wins and everyone it seems loses. And the arguments are over nothing at all really.

We alone have complete control over our choices. Saying that someone has upset us is merely an excuse. When we’re blamed by others for messing things up or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we need to bear in mind the proverb above.

Notwithstanding our own role in these things, we ought to not be drawn into it. We can see there’s not much of a role for conflict with this approach.

Deflecting the blame upon others is something that doesn’t warrant a response other than to respond adultly, assertively keeping the peace, then extracting oneself from the situation.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Is “Coffee” a “Date”?

I learnt of an interesting story recently. A dad proposed to his daughter that they go on a date--you know to just ‘catch up’ and that sort of thing. This dad is a big believer in investing in his familial relationships, though he doesn’t always get or make the time. The morning of the date, he said to his daughter, ‘Should we go for our coffee about 11am?’ To which she replied very innocently, ‘Okay… [then a moment later] …what time will we go for our date?’

There was some obvious confusion with the English language here, as the daughter knew a coffee shop was the destination for the date. Did this not also speak volumes for the richness and importance of that relationship? The daughter was going on a “date,” and not just for “coffee.”

It reminded me of the value in the meaning of words, and also how flippantly we use them at times.

When we’re ‘dating’ for instance (romantically, and not with daughters, sons or other family members) the generic ‘let’s do coffee/lunch’ no longer goes, does it? It’s a little too casual, unless, of course, the relationship is really fizzing along… then it’s no problem at all!

We men, particularly, must closely watch our selection of words as our more sensitive and adhering women are… well… they’re looking for congruence--for want of a better word--i.e. say what you mean and mean what you say.

Dating is not as simple an activity as it seems and men again are particularly called to focus attentively on the task at hand, particularly when the sparks no longer fly spontaneously off the ‘love wheel’ of the relationship.

And why do I know? That daughter referred to above is mine. She merely demonstrated in an innocent way what many adult women learn to do quite intentionally.
Going for coffee is not always a date, but then again, there are times when there is no better date. I'm not sure I completely get it, but that's okay. I'm a man.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Social Justice Tradition – 4 of 6

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream” –Amos 5:24 (NASB)

When this verse above is quoted we immediately think of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. His spine-tingling speeches and landmark action that sparked the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s were synonymous with the Social Justice tradition of compassion.

Indeed, Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are modern examples too of the First Century deacons of Acts 6 convention, being “full of the Spirit and wisdom,” who were charged with the oversight of food distribution and the rights of widows, among other things.

No book of the Bible is more complete regarding this tradition than Amos, with the possible exception of the Gospel according to Luke. Living in the desert, the Israelites knew the preciousness of a streaming wadi. Justice rolling like a freshly fed wadi would’ve been a vivid image for the Israelites to fix their focus upon. Unfortunately, Amos’ message is no more popular today than it was for the original hearers.[1]

The Compassionate Life picks up on three great Hebrew concepts: Mishpat (justice); Hesed (steadfast love); and Shalom (peace). Mishpat is even more expansive than legal justice, travels into and envelopes moral justice too. It’s the life of actually doing the works that are discussed in the Bible, and not merely believing, in true James’ style.

Interestingly, this word also engages the “wisdom to bring equitable, harmonious relationships between people,”[2] and when Solomon prayed for wisdom in 1 Kings 3, God replied using this word linked with righteousness in granting his request--indeed, justice and righteousness are heavily linked together in the Bible.

Hesed reeks compassion as it is the ‘loving kindness’ of God himself that remains eternally i.e. it is with us always, “from everlasting to everlasting.” (Ps. 103:17) Graciousness, courtesy and compassion all partially alone, but collectively more fully, describe hesed.

“Harmonious unity in the natural order” describes Shalom. Harmony with God, our neighbours and nature in general, purposes a world where “peace and unity reign.”[3] Certainly Jeremiah lamented a lack of shalom--all was not well.[4] With shalom, all is well.

These three concepts meet in Psalm 85:10—“Mercy and loving-kindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Amplified version)

The great challenge today is to destroy structures that perpetuate poverty, whilst working hard to support “institutions that enhance art and beauty.”[5] These issues today are more numerously complex than ever, but we must not relent.

Embracing a social and cultural diversity that challenges our conceptions of belief is part of the tension involved in this tradition.

We are called to a life of social justice whether we like it or not. It celebrates a ‘perpetual Jubilee’ and the Beatitudes create a ‘Jubilee inversion’ where the Old Testament principle of Jubilee is overturned in favour of a way for even (and especially) the unblessed or ‘unblessable’ persons to enjoy peace with God.

The social justice tradition is about a “life committed to compassion and justice for all people.” It’s important because “through it God develops in us the compassion to love... freely,” and it’s where the values of justice and righteousness reign.[6]
[1] Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (London, England: HarperCollinsReligious, 1998), p. 151. The author provides a relatively detailed commentary on Amos.
[2] Foster, Ibid, p. 167-68. God’s mishpat is for his people to “share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.” –Isaiah 58:7 (TNIV).
[3] Foster, Ibid, p. 171. The following passage out of Isaiah describes quite eloquently what Shalom (harmony in the natural order) is like: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” –Isaiah 11:6 (TNIV).
[4] Foster, Ibid, p. 172. See Jeremiah 6:14b.
[5] Foster, Ibid, p. 175. This is capturing the essence of the three word concepts, mishpat, hesed and shalom.
[6] Foster, Ibid, p. 182.