Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Psalm 76 – the Awesomeness of God

When we think of the most powerful and awesome of things on this planet, we’re stunned by tsunamis and other natural disasters, rockets and weaponry, technology, and simply the size of things. Yet, the awesomeness of God makes all of this pale into insignificance… and we hardly even notice it!

As I listen on with the National News in the background there’s unions haggling for wage rises for their members, botox medications available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and the typical crimes of the day being reported. Life--the life we live--is so small. It’s a sin that we get wrapped up in the nothings of today, and give in to fear, when we have the divine hope of God to consider.

There is simply more to life. There has to be something that puts this life into proper context. Then I thought of God and Psalm 76.

This poetically placed psalm profiles just part of the awesomeness of the LORD, and these below I find are noteworthy:

“Make vows to the LORD your God, and perform them” –Psalm 76:11 (NRSV). We make promises all the time and break them. Our wills endure for a time and then we weaken… “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.”[1]

When we approach our God, who is entirely graceful and doesn’t force us to make rash promises, we ought to appreciate his power--only he can assist us when the “very citadel of [our] human self-determination has been seized and taken over.”[2] Only he provides the final answer! Divine grace is miraculous.

When we consider the majesty of God, and how he is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we see a “divine warrior whose kingship was established and whose capital was gained by victory over other gods.”[3] Everlasting mountains, the stout-hearted, troops, horse, and rider are all utterly nothing without God in verses 4-6, sending the reader forth toward Psalms 93-99, which all speak of the wonder and awe of God; Psalm 97 particularly, is a favourite.

In verses 8-9 we again get the glimpse of the God of the oppressed, establishing political order, justice and righteousness. He is the Almighty Judge, and whilst he’s slow to anger, nothing can assuage his wrath.

Why would we not absolutely fear this God? It is rank folly to act in any other way. If he can inspire fear in kings (verse 12), why would we, mere peasants in contrast, want to raise his ire? God is simply revered.

Finally, as an aside I asked my wife over the dinner table, ‘What makes God so awesome in all of creation?’ Her answer stunned me. Without much thought, she simply said, ‘He didn’t reject us.’[4] God, Creator God, found a way for us to be reconciled back to him through Christ--he didn’t just leave us in our sin. We have a God so awesome and powerful, a divine warrior, yet he’s also a personal friend who can help us truly live like no other. That’s simply awesome.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Proverbs 25:28 (NRSV).
[2] Thomas C. Oden, The Good Works Reader – Classic Christian Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 194.
[3] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 250.
[4] Reconciliation is conditional, of course. God doesn’t reject us if we accept him.

Raising Children: Doing Our Own Dirty Work

There is an old saying (which I tried to Google unsuccessfully) aimed at parents which sort of goes like this: Raise your children in the way they should go or someone who loves them less will do the job for you.

There is a similar one from Proverbs. From the Thirty Sayings of the Wise in Proverbs 22-24 comes Saying 13:

“Do not withhold discipline from children; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death” –Proverbs 23:13-14 (TNIV).

Raising children is plain hard work and none of us gets it perfectly correct, but the parent who focuses on the right methods will get more of the important things right. One of the most important things is consistent, loving discipline and to be active and available in the child’s life.

I find one of the things I’m learning with my own children is others (who might love them less than I do) are often placed in situations to teach them things that perhaps could have or should have come from me. These times are quite humbling in that I feel (as any normal parent would) inadequate for my child; that I hadn’t loved them appropriately.

At times it takes much courage and faith bringing children up. This is particularly so in moulding their characters when we implicitly know they’re running off track; like perhaps when they’re developing an unteachable spirit.

All we can know is that if we don’t intervene, someone who loves them a lot less than us will do it for us, and life scars can easily form as a result. Then our children are at the mercy of the world that does not know God.

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

The Importance of Relational “Checking”

Helena and Amanda had been friends since high school. They’d done all sorts of things together, from playing in the same netball team to shopping for wedding dresses. So, what was it that changed their relationship so suddenly when Amanda stopped returning Helena’s calls? Had Helena done anything wrong to jeopardise her relationship with Amanda?

This is a situation many of us find familiar, for it has invariably happened to ourselves or someone we know. The dynamic of the relationship changed here without warning. Helena was left a little bewildered and won’t know why unless she asks Amanda. And if she doesn’t check, she’ll be tempted to assume wrong which could lead to a resentment toward Amanda.

This illustration punctuates the importance of authenticity in relationships. If both people in a relationship always promote truth then there is less likelihood the relationship will drift into the ether.

Almost with comic hilarity, I recall a friend reminding me (in a humorous way), ‘Never assume, always confirm.’ And there’s so much truth to that statement, even when it’s said in jest.

One of the objectives of relationship maintenance most surely be the frequent checking of arrangements or premises of the friendship or relationship. After all, we must know what the relationship is actually made up of--at that time.

Things can change in people’s lives and sometimes with a sharpness that no one could predict, not even the person who’s mainly affected. There is often no warning and perhaps even very little reason too.

For all these grounds, we’re wise to check often the premises of all our close relationships, simply by asking checking-type questions in showing concern for these relationships.

Whether it’s a familial relationship or a close friend, we honour both them and ourselves when we bring these matters up.

We can use these opportunities to affirm also what the other person means to us. Relational checking means not taking our relationships for granted; not taking these important ones in our life as if they’ll always be there.

If we can do this we can prevent that tearing feeling of the friendship that threatens to go awry and we also create opportunities (as mentioned above) to communicate what the relationship (and the other person) means to us.

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Creative Power of the Subconscious Mind

End of semester examinations get easier as a result of pre-reading the exam questions and jotting down a simple brainstormed bullet-point structure to our answers. There’s a very good reason why this technique is designed to give us an edge. More on that later...

Delay and the Subconscious Mind

I had a friend go to a John Cleese creative thinking workshop recently and he told me of an exercise they did relating to the power of the subconscious mind to work on a problem in the background, seemingly without any thought (yes, I did say the subconscious mind), and then to return to the problem later to discover the mind was more prepared to answer the problem.

Cleese demonstrated to the group at the workshop that a problem defined early and left to distil in our subconscious was at times solved by itself. We set the egg-timer and slowly the solution boils like an egg within this part of our mind.

Ponder, Take Your Time... Even Forget, But Don’t Try Too Hard...

The message in this is we can all do with time to ponder things, and time to consider them in-deliberately, even casually.

We need to make time, or take time, for creativity. Thinking creatively is not really about the transactional, day to day; it’s hardly like a tap where we can turn on creative thought at will. We need something to spark us and our imaginations.

Good, non-legalistic leaders allow their people to explore beyond the bounds of time and their people’s roles. This is so they might perhaps produce something hardly expected, even inspiring.

The Gift and the Servant

Breakthrough thinking needs to be triggered somehow. It can’t be manufactured or required; the best innovators are spontaneous people. The following attests to this:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift” –Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Life seems to favour the transactional thinker. People want results on cue.

The German-born physicist knew how precious creative thought was. Einstein also said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

This message of the delay required for the subconscious mind is one reason to not get too bothered about the tomorrows or the problems of tomorrow. Chances are we’ll solve them, or they’ll be solved for us. Today’s problems we’ll laugh about in two months, or even two days in some cases.

The Sixty Second Test

One thing to do in determining the very next problem to solve is this. Be quiet for sixty seconds and watch where your mind goes. Record the fact. Capture it and lock it in. Now, just sit on it for a few hours or a day or two, without any deliberate thought. Forget about it. See what happens.

Wise individuals and organisations understand that delaying some decisions to allow think-time can generally only be beneficial. They understand that mood influences thinking; that at times when we’re pressed and irritable we’re least effective, creatively speaking.

Now, back to those exam questions... the reason why we have ‘reading time’ before the exams start is so we can kick-start our subconscious minds, so we can begin solving the problems whilst we work on others... that’s pretty neat isn’t it?

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

“Things Can Change” –Natasha Richardson

Natasha Richardson’s life was a high profile one which ended in tragedy only recently. She is reputed to have said, “things can change,” and dramatically so, in response to husband Liam Neeson’s motorcycle accident in 1999, which rendered his role of Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace redundant. She faithfully nursed him back to health.

Things can change, indeed.

We never quite grasp this until it hits us. We expect life to be ‘just life,’ then it becomes different in a moment and is never quite the same again.

But, that’s the nature of life. It’s forever changing and morphing.

Until recently, the world was riding an economic boom; but all booms bust--history indicates this, and the busts always come to some extent, unexpectedly. (I recall meeting with a respected business colleague in August 2008 and suggesting to him that the boom could bust soon... he laughed at me!)

In the 1980s the big fear was the nuclear arms race. As a high school student I was afraid my future might be curtailed by a cataclysmic World War III. In the 1990s it was (and still is to a certain extent) AIDS, yet we hardly hear of it now. In the early 2000s it was terrorism. These days it’s Global Warming. What will it be in 2015?

When we cast a reflecting eye over the past ten years or so of our personal lives, and consider the change that’s come, we might be shocked at some of the things we’ve already dealt with, and how different life is now, and how that’s actually changed us; and whether we like this or not, it’s life.

Things do change, and at times, radically so.

People grow and move; their places of abode and vocations change; their expectations of life change; their needs of us change. Arrangements change, and sometimes without notice.

Expecting things to remain as they are always has a tinge of insanity about it. Yet, we do this, don’t we?

Then at other times we do seek change, perhaps because something’s not working, and then because we want it, we start to expect change, and when it doesn’t come, we’re disappointed; no small wonder.

When it comes to family, change is often unwelcome and even a wedding can bring some sense of tearing pain, notwithstanding the funeral. Over the course of a weekend, things can change. Monday’s different from the previous Friday, somehow.

Life is a tantalising mystery. All we can do is go with it, in good faith. We can choose to not take things for granted, because we never know when these things of value will be gone for good.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Simplicity plus Power equals Wonder

Whilst conducting an orientation for a consultant at my workplace recently--a guy who’d been a fast jet engineer for the Royal Australian Air Force for several years--I was edified with a detailed (yet simplistic) description of the jet engine.

I discovered that both Sir Frank Whittle and Dr. Hans von Ohain were credited with the invention of the modern jet engine, and how simplistic the jet engine design was as compared with the internal combustion engine in automobiles, for instance.

It works simply by sucking in and compressing air, adding a fuel mix and lighting it, with the resulting expanded burned gases being blown out the nozzle at the rear of engine, and this generates thrust and significant power.

I’ve always been enthralled by the simplicity and power of the aeroplane jet engine. Since a small boy I’ve marvelled at aircraft flight, particularly the jets. The sound of the engine, the smell of the burned fuel, the nimbleness of flight, and the pick-up of the jet as it travels along the runway have all caused me to experience wonder.

And the same could be said for God. Simply nothing could be compared to the radical simplicity[1] and transcendent power of God.

How could it be that God demonstrates both his simplicity and power in Creation in such ways that the human mind can conceive them? Before the discovery of the organic cell i.e. cellular life, no one could have thought how radically intricate these ‘living machines’ were.

The cell, which is something small enough to occupy a couple of billion parts of the human body, is so large compared with the smallest items of matter i.e. molecules and atoms. At the opposite extreme is the Universe. Notwithstanding eternal inflation,[2] it has been thought for some time now that our known universe is but one of many. This boggles the mind in incandescent awe of the Creator.

Yet, God keeps our life so exceedingly simple. It is us that bring into the equation many complex drives and urges, which serve only to complicate things. We, who have such pathetic power in comparison to God, can simply make things so complex.

Wonder comes from power with simplicity. The sensible person can only marvel.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Although it could be argue that God is inordinately complex, the basic premises of God are infinitely simplistic compared with his awesomeness.
[2] The theories of eternal inflation of the universe, multiverses and Boltzmann Brains are truly mind-boggling.

By God’s Good Grace Alone...

I breathe; I stand; I urinate; I laugh; I cry; I drive a car; I break bad habits; I feel; I knock; I cogitate; we can make love, my wife and I; I can admire and adore; I sit; they revile me; we please people; I try hard and don’t give up; we possess things; I act gracefully; I repent and forgive; I read and write;

We play with each other; I experience joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil; I walk; I talk; I listen; we pick things up with our hands; I tie my shoe laces; we have family; we know love; I help someone; I feel good about it; I trust and respect others; I produce children;

We watch them grow; they develop--physically and spiritually, and ideas for living--from us; I have a gender, a personality, and a uniqueness; we stub our toes; we experience all emotions from bliss to anguish; I choose--we choose--they choose;

We can dance and sing; I can think and imagine; I can stay up or lie down; we can work; we can rest from work; we can reflect on the good we’ve done; I can balance my life; I can them and they can help me; I can know things and share this knowledge; I can choose and then live by my values;

We share the experience of life; we can love or hate; I can choose to accept his offer of divine salvation; finally, I will die.

We will all die one day... having lived. By God’s good grace alone we can live forever.

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

Commitment: 7 Important Ones.


1 a: an act of committing to a charge or trust: as (1): a consignment to a penal or mental institution (2): an act of referring a matter to a legislative committee b: MITTIMUS[1] 2 a: an agreement or pledge to do something in the future; especially : an engagement to assume a financial obligation at a future date b: something pledged c: the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled [like] a commitment to a cause.[2]

In life there can be no more pressing a goal than to be committed; to life, to values, to change, to repentance, to a person, to our friends and neighbours, and finally, to God. Of course, there are more to consider.

1. Commitment to Life

God and our parents provided us life; we honour them by choosing to live and by virtue of living well, we indeed honour ourselves as well as God and our parents.

2. Commitment to Values

Everyone has values, just as everyone worships something. We have a choice on values and which ones we’re committed to. We need to make a deliberate decision regarding values. This is a most important exercise. For the sake of illustration, mine are diligence, prudence, shalom, balance, trust, respect, and finally, wisdom.

Values define who we are. They are the virtues we choose to become.

3. Commitment to Repentance

With the right values we’ll not be able to resist repenting; our values will cause us to vomit up any behaviour that’s incongruent with them. We’ll experience a great deal of cognitive dissonance, leading to heartache, and a status of forlorn deadness; a state that can’t continue for long.

Repentance is a recognition of wrong, and a commitment to turning away from wrong i.e. to ardently ‘turning back’ to the correct way immediately.

4. Commitment to Change

Like the above, during life, we have various junctures with which we must choose. These forks in the road are opportunities. We only get so many of these opportunities before the door is slammed shut. It only seems that the opportunities are endless.

Proverbs 29:1 (Msg) says, “For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn, there’ll come a day when life tumbles in and they break, but by then it’ll be too late to help them.”

We must change while we have the chance. Ongoing change in the right direction is one the healthiest commitments any person can make.

5. Commitment to a Person

Most of us get the opportunity to marry. When we do we must be committed to this person, and not simply regarding fidelity alone. We properly commit to our marriage partner when we are devoted to them like we’re devoted to no other (including ourselves), save God.

6. Commitment to Friends and Neighbours

Most people will be vaguely familiar with Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan.[3] In this light, the good neighbour was the ‘one who had mercy’ on the person who was mugged, and didn’t simply pass by, rendering no assistance. Commitment to ‘loving our neighbour’ is intrinsically held with commitment to God. It is non-negotiable.

7. Commitment to God

Our most fervent commitment must be to God. Even though this is mentioned last, he, in fact, needs to come first.

But, Wait. There’s more... much more

There are a myriad of other commitments we should make during the course of our lives including a commitment to our employers. This above is simply illustrative of a Godly life in the hands of its possessor.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Mittimus means a warrant of commitment to prison.
[2] Source: Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.
[3] See Luke 10:25-37.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

God Picks a Pretty Mean Fight!

“Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” –Proverbs 20:22 (NIV). This gospel truth, explained below, is astounding.

The song Don’t Be Cruel by 1980s and ‘90s rock band Cheap Trick has the line, “But don’t be cruel, to a heart that’s true,” which could also be synonymous for the intent of the above proverb in some ways.

But first we must see here that life is basically unjust. Enemies and potential enemies are afoot everywhere.

Life is never quite as just as it should be. Sure, things turn out justly a lot of the time, but we can find many examples where justice simply does not play out during the course of our lives. God slowly makes things just, but overall, there is a justice gap in this ordinary world.

But, when we put that truth (i.e. life is unjust) together with an acceptance of that same fact, we get ourselves to a point of being able to live out the proverb at top.

When we’re able to consistently accept unjust outcomes resiliently, leaving any injustice to be sorted by God alone, we create a situation where God stands there and fights the fight for us, and we should then watch on humbly and compassionately when this occurs (not gloatingly; as it is written, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them” –Proverbs 24:17-18 (TNIV)).

The lesson for people who might come against the ‘heart that’s true,’ generally, is God will avenge these situations far more potently in the longer term than that person could do for themselves. I have seen it happen in my own life and in others’ lives so often I believe it to be irrevocably true, as a biblical wisdom rule of life.

We might actually pity the person who came against us in these situations as God’s justice is often harsher and more final than the justice we’d have liked to extend to these.

See now how the advice in the Cheap Trick song, understood literally i.e. don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true, is good advice. We go against the heart that’s true to our own potential peril, as God inevitably stands for this person. For the Godly, this is our charge.

We must keep our hearts true, and at all times, wait for the LORD’s justice.

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

A Healthy Level of Independence

One of the things I learned as a single man, when I was thrust into this situation approaching mid-life, was independence. First, I was dependent on others, but slowly out of that time grew a healthy independence.

I eventually learned to not rely on people too much and to do things for and by myself. I then yearned for this independence, at times seeking days alone, where I could independently work on my thoughts and plans and my relationship with God.

I recall at one point going to a monastery and spending a day and a half in a small room fasting and not drinking much water, and just being still, to listen to what God was saying. On other occasions I wandered purposefully through the city I lived in at the time, reading, planning, meditating and just enjoying the signs of life my senses could breathe in.

Independence is not just a single thing, however. Everyone should have a healthy level of independence from other people, so, in their aloneness, they can learn and be the unique ‘them’ they should become.

And so I can do this independent living thing in married life too. I can do all things through Christ--and the best thing is I only get better and stronger. I’ve learned that I can apply my single-life philosophy of not needing to rely on anyone in my marriage too; especially in my marriage.

I can manage whatever household chores come my way--nothing is beyond me. Nothing is ‘hers’ and not mine. If I’m called[1] to do it, in that moment, I can do it. And I will. If it was just me in any event, that’s how it would be... me, alone! Likewise, in planning events and activities, I don’t need to assume that others will assist me; great if they can, and if I request it and we agree, great.

But, essentially, it’s sweating the small stuff to haggle over menial tasks. As the Brian Adams song, Summer of ’69 says, “Ain’t no use in complainin’ when you got a job to do.”

Even in my workplace, I can do things independently if necessary, without complaint. I like teamwork and working with people to a certain extent, but we can’t rely on it all the time.

Provided I’m wise and don’t get involved in too much or things not appropriate and provided I don’t take things for granted and issue grace consistently, I can continue to develop my capacity and capability so I can please God. Independence, like interdependence, can grow without limit.

If we do not deceive ourselves all things are ours (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). God, provisionally, does not limit my activity in this life.

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

NB: This is not comment on dependence on God which is primary.

[1] This is when my wife wants me to do a particular thing or chore and I can help.

Friday, March 27, 2009

THE Great Pain-Reliever: God can be a Lot Like Opium

I recently watched quite an insightful film called Children of the Silk Road (2008), inspired by the true story of 1937-1944 China, post-Nanking Massacre, where Englishman George Hogg is credited with saving the lives of sixty Chinese orphan boys. The war-torn setting for the movie and the endless carnage introduces the viewer to pain-relief methods of the day; both morphine and opium.

At one point in the movie, opium therapy is lauded because it works in a way that “the pain is still there, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.” As I reflected in that moment, I discovered that there’s a lot of God in that statement, and what he does with the things that ail us.

The truth of the matter relating to life hurts i.e. the death of a loved one, the end of your marriage, tragic endings in total, is we never entirely scrub away the pain, but the hurt can be dealt with.

And this is my personal experience. I found attending a funeral today of someone who was once quite dear, freshened up some old wounds, bristling the follicles of my usual stoic exterior.

The experience reminded me that I am now dead to this part of my past, and whilst flashbacks of the past were on raw display, the hurt was somehow radically diminished. It was reconciled. The factual pain remains, but it’s not an unpleasant place to be. It just is. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this pain is a friendly life-giving pain; God converts it from negative to positive, somehow.

It is quite incorrect I think to claim that God can entirely heal us of life hurts, like, as if they never happened. God, of all, knows how insensitive it would be to anesthetise us from our pains--for pain has important purposes; it helps us feel and empathise; it provides a pathway to our heritage; and, it softens us for service.

I think it’s more accurate to say that God will allow us to retain the acute primary pain of the things that have shaped us, but he heals the hurt, making it not only possible for us to move on, but he makes it probable that we will use the residual (hurt-free) reconciled pain to assist others.

This is the effect of true healing, invariably; we want to use the experience to help others coming after us.

God always has a plan to use our pains and hurts. Once he has healed us of the hurt of the pain we can then be of use to him and others.

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

The Lord of All Life – His Life is Ours

“This life [the word of life] was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us” –1 John 1:2 (NRSV). Imagine a life that came to us, in flesh, and it was obvious that this life came from God; was with God no less. God coming to us; and with us, in Immanuel.[1]

John’s letter

The beginning of John’s first letter is so reminiscent of his gospel. It holds Christ high up with God, exalting him as both complete man and complete deity. The richness and boldness of his literary style strikes us as we read. It is elevated, theological, graceful, and worshipful.

The opening of 1 John starts unlike most typical letters; it’s entirely salutation-less thrusting the reader “headlong into the symphony of salvation, arranged and conducted by God.”[2] Indeed, it’s hardly a ‘letter’ in the traditional sense. He gets straight to the point. We can just sense John’s tremendous excitement, passion and enthralled awe.

The Johannine corpus (the three letters) has “justly enjoyed esteem disproportionate to their size.”[3] John speaks in a characteristically adversarial style, bringing forth vivid theological contrasts to illustrate compellingly the way of the risen Christ.[4]

This verse above – 1 John 1:2

There are many objective and subjective evidences of John’s testimony;[5] he heard, saw and touched Jesus in real life. He states this in ways that leaves us, the reader, without any doubt to this.

A.W. Tozer mentions that, “[Jesus] is the Lord of all kinds of beings, the Lord of all spiritual being and all natural being and all physical being. He is the Lord of all being and when we worship him, we encompass all being.”[6] He in us--we in him. God with us means this same thing; he is the only object worthy of our worship, for he is the Lord of all wisdom, righteousness and mercy.[7]

John Calvin states that ‘the life revealed’ is double-edged; firstly, for the physical life of Jesus which was seen, and secondly, we too witness as we walk through the gospel accounts, and, that of the resurrection life we enjoy. He concludes that the fact John is ‘declaring (to the reader) the eternal life,’ means it is pointing us to the latter; the life that “is obtained for us in Christ.”[8] And the Word of life is open to us in this way; when we open our minds and hearts to Jesus as he is preached, the ways and precepts of God come to us, or are at least made available to us.

The final part of this verse takes us back to the dawn of creation, before it, in fact. We don’t tend to think in terms of pre-Creation, when only our Triune God existed and his wisdom, and basically nothing else. This is deep theology which doesn’t serve the present need.

Before Christ was revealed, the prophets of old only had an idea of salvation, and this required good faith, as it does now, but they had nothing tangible as the Messiah had not yet been revealed.

We tend to take this fact for granted now, living post-Jesus’ physical life. He is the Lord of all life, and by virtue of God’s overall redemptive plan (to rescue us from our sinful selves) we can enjoy the right life, now, not simply in heaven...indeed, we’re in heaven now.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] See Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Immanuel means, “God with us.”
[2] C. Clifton Black, The First, Second, and Third Letters of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections – The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. XII (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 381.
[3] Black, Ibid, p. 365.
[4] Black, Ibid, p. 372.
[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co., 1979), p. 22f.
[6] A.W. Tozer, The Worship Driven Life: The Reason We Were Created - Ed. James L Snyder (London, UK: Monarch Books, 2008), p. 155.
[7] Tozer, Ibid, p. 156-62.
[8] John Calvin & Matthew Henry, 1, 2, 3 John (Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer eds.) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998), p. 17-18.

Moral (Biblical) Training for Children

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” –Roy Disney (nephew of Walt Disney). Moral values underpin the veracity of our decision making more than any other determinant.

We all should know that the Bible sets a consistent and high standard regarding moral living. This moral standard is life to us. It’s what stands between spiritual life and spiritual death. And it’s crucial that our children get these ‘safety instructions’ of life.

“Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way”

My wife and I have just undertaken a 19-week course called, Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way. I must be honest, my initial thoughts were, ‘What, nineteen whole weeks... phew, that’s long!’ AND ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Well, I was pleasantly surprised first week. These are some of the things I learned or refreshed upon:

Biblical ethics is a higher standard compared to all other ethical systems in that it’s entirely other-oriented, “not as a way to salvation but as a result of salvation.”[1] We’re devoted to being other-oriented, as a love response to God for having saved us from the death penalty of our sin. His grace justifies us by our faith, and we want intrinsically to life for others as much as for self.

Teaching kids morally right behaviours starts with the parent.

Our local pastor taught us recently the real meaning of Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (TNIV) It is the parents’ role to start the process and continue it through childhood and adolescence, and even into early adulthood. It’s a mentoring process of building on strengths and weaknesses, and shaping personalities, conforming and reforming them to God’s higher moral standard.

When thinking in terms of new housing estate, personality differences from one child to the next are seen as all the different designs of houses, whereas moral training is the standard of craftsmanship that went into building each house; it would be unacceptable to us, buying a house, to find out that the workers didn’t build our house true; walls out of plumb, insufficient mortar holding the bricks in place; white ant infested timber... the same goes for our children’s moral upbringing--they need to be ‘built’ solid and true.

And so, moral training should be applied regardless of personality differences. “The duty of parents is to continually bring their children to God’s standard and not lower the standard to suit the child.”[2]

If parents can’t follow the right moral standard themselves, they can hardly expect their kids to.

Missed Windows of Opportunity: Non-conflict Times

Perhaps one of the biggest failures we all make as parents is to not capitalise on non-conflict situations as coaching moments. Think about it. You’re disciplining your child and tensions run high. Are they receptive right now? Of course they’re not; but they are going to be more receptive when things are pretty well normal, and these are times to tip moral lessons into them, simply by talking to them about it.

This is done by using real life situations and applying Bible truth to them so the eternal relevance of God can be seen. For instance, when we’ve noticed our children listen attentively and not complain even though it was difficult for them, we can point them to Philippians 2:14-16, which says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (TNIV)

We can encourage them to continue behaving the way we’ve just seem them behave by saying they’re lights to the world, and it pleases God to see this. We must catch our kids doing the right things, and often.

The Moral “Why”
“Why’s” are critically important to the whole process. The critical key to success in teaching children virtuous living is to get them not simply to act morally, but to think morally too.

The moral why is a key because it hooks into the other-orientedness of the Christian faith. In other words, it engages the heart. The Key Principle for this week’s lessons was, “Without moral principle placed with the heart, the heart will not be stirred.”[3] It’s simply not enough for children (all of us, in fact) to know the right things to do, but we must know why it’s important--and what enormous impact these things have on others.

The moral why is about teaching ourselves and our children how to hold two (or more) conditions in ethics, essentially in tension with one another, and provide innovative solutions to those problems--only with the “why’s” in-train will we be able to consistently decide well for others as well as ourselves.

The “why’s” are the contextualisation that meets and adjusts what would ordinarily be the relativism of legalism. More simply put, context provides the fundamental basis for moral decision making.

Legalism would get the same situations wrong because it doesn’t cater for subtle, important nuances. Without the moral why, our kids will come unstuck in their moral application of life.

In Sum

The preciousness of others in the eyes of God is the compelling basis for moral training. We must have a ‘rational preoccupation and concern for others, and all those around us.’

I think we all implicitly know that none of us will get this parenting gig right all the time; that’s a refreshing part of this course--it appears to be presented to deal with the legalism that is sometimes present in Christian parenting teaching. That’s good news to all of us.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), p. 27. Italics added.
[2] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 31.
[3] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 320.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mental Discipline: Installing the Linear Thought Process

People old enough to remember record players should recall records were played on different speeds. In the era I’m used to, long play (LP’s) were played on 33 1/3 RPM[1] and extended play (EP’s) and singles were played on 45 RPM speed, but there were also earlier speeds of both 16 and 78 RPM. This is a useful analogy for thinking about the Linear Thought Process, or a way of achieving discipline of the mind.

Imagine if a 33 or 45 RPM record were illustrative for the ever-continuing present. Imagine now that we called this a ‘linear’ process; regarding time--of staying in the present i.e. if during our mental lives we stayed on either one of these speeds we’d be living in the present.

The trouble is we humans have the quintessential propensity to drop down to 16 RPM (i.e. we think of the past) or speed up to 78 RPM (i.e. we think of the future). And the main trouble is we do this often without even noticing or realising it because our minds are essentially undisciplined. We’re born undisciplined.

Let’s think a little more about what linear thought might be.

The conventional book is based on the assumption of linear thought and is a “medium of linear expression.”[2] It takes the reader on a journey from one point or assumption to a conclusion, often diverging and converging in the process; but the process is on-the-whole, linear.

Time is a fundamentally linear concept. We never see time slow or speed up, it just ticks away one second at a time. Linear, by definition, is sequential, lines, straightness, and continuity.

Our typical yo-yo non-linear minds

Think about this sentence. I went to want it enjoy the theatre now. This is an ultra-short literary illustration of the madness of non-linear living, as our thought processes often are. We have all three tenses here; past, present and future, and they make no sense jumbled up in the same time period. It makes no sense; yet this is our predominant mental world.

We’re not designed to really live well, mentally, in the non-linear thought world. Continually skipping from present to past to future and bobbing all about randomly is quite hazardous for our balance and wellbeing; yet we do this incessantly most of the time.

The key point is this. Life is meant to be lived in the present, not the past, and not the future. The way we spend our time--our living experience--is up to us, but we’re robbed of a good life when we choose to continually dip into the past and future… I mean, as if it would help!

So, where exactly does reflecting (on the past) and planning (for the future) fit?

There is nothing wrong with reflecting on the past or planning for the future. In fact, both are not only desirable, but essential to living a wise life. The issue here is, we must reflect and plan deliberately and not as a process of wasted time, where the reasonable mind is not controlling the process.

We are much wiser to train our minds to stay in one genre of time at a time. This should be predominantly the present; in the linear world. At defined times we should intentionally reflect, and plan--both too should be done daily.

Mind training

The only way to train our minds to be continually present is through practice, focus and concentration. One day at a time, we can gradually build up our ability to live presently by focusing on what our senses perceive and honouring them by reacting in appropriate ways.

In summary…

We can never ever reach our potential if we can never grasp and master this concept; and an inability to grasp this concept is akin to a mental form of ADHD. Linear thought is like a book or time. It’s undertaken as an even-tempo process with continuity that starts at one point and ends at another, paradoxically staying put in the present as a process of toward an end.

If we live in the present and stay there most of the time, planning time for thought on the past and for the future, and get disciplined, we can eventually enjoy a wiser way of living.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] “RPM” stands for Revolutions per Minute.
[2] Don A. Grady (Ph.D), Online Abstract to Linear Thought in an Age of Non-linearity: Threat of Interactive Technology to the Book in the online report on the 4th International Conference on the Book, Emerson College, Boston, 20-22 October 2006. Available online: http://b06.cgpublisher.com/proposals/210/index_html

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Learning to Say Goodbye

Funerals remind us of death and the power of life, and the fact that we cannot solve physical death (though we have found a way to solve spiritual death). Funerals bring us to the reality of life; that we all die eventually having lived, more or less, a full life.

When we attend a funeral we discover that the person won’t be coming back, and that is incredibly hard for us to comprehend; how can it be that they won’t be back?--what, not even for a visit? Death is unfathomable, yet it’s commonplace to our overall human experience. We only need to visit a cemetery to get that message.

Soon my family and I will attend the funeral of someone who was very special. This person, like all others who die, leaves behind a swag of loving family and acquaintances and memories. Life cannot possibly be the same without them.

With this tinge of sadness, I am reminded of the Madonna song, The Power of Goodbye, which is appropriately chilling in its demeanour. It describes the finality of goodbye... the no-coming-back of goodbye. Toward the end of the song, at its climax, Madonna sings in a slower, more profound and compelling tempo. She sings, ‘Learn... to... say... good... bye...; I yearn... to... say... good... bye,’ before a hugely reflective instrumental section takes our imaginations hauntingly away. It’s so profoundly sad it moves the heart in captivated, sorrowful, reflective wonder.

The experience of death takes us there. Only recently, my wife and I watched Ghost (1990) again. This movie holds special memories for me since it first came out. It never ceases to move my heart. This movie stylises death, heaven and hell somewhat, but it resonates with our hearts; it aligns with the typical worldly preconceptions on these topics.

For instance, when Sam (Patrick Swayze) re-acquaints briefly with Carl (his best friend who deceived him which led to his death) on ‘the other side,’ we can see the sadness in Sam that he knows where Carl’s headed--in the movie, bad deeds equal hell. Even though he was deceived and hated Carl for it, Sam’s attitude is changed in an instant when Carl dies. Death changes things in dramatic and surprising ways, and even our perceptions are transformed unpredictably at times. God surprises us.

I don’t know why, but I am simply awed by death. Not preoccupied; not dazzled; not ambitious about it. Just simply, the power of life brings a special significance to physical death.

And of course, there’s good-bye. It’s a good bye, or supposed to be. Perhaps good bye means final recognition of goneness? Perhaps it’s the end of the grieving process, or maybe just the beginning--and any point in between for that matter. Good-bye is symbolic, essential, final.

Gone. No more. Nothingness. Goodbye seems so final. It seems so intangible. Like love, light and life, death is an utter mystery.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reflecting and Planning: Power and Poise

There are a great many advantages to good life reflection and planning, as a means of discovering positive (and negative) things to learn from as a platform for the future. Once we get the reflecting/planning bug i.e. once the habit has been nurtured, we can scarcely live without them. At least that’s my enjoyable experience.

In relation to something I’ve written on quite recently, that of practicing awareness, reflecting and planning fit exquisitely, but quite separately. They can be a means of scheduling thought of the past and future in dynamically positive and productive ways.

This is important because simply our undisciplined minds want to skip tracks incessantly from past to future to present and so forth. Staying grounded in the present is the wisest thing to do; it’s a most important habit to develop.

When we schedule our reflecting and planning activities it helps us compartmentalise those parts of our life, so they’re not forgotten. They can be important channels of foci directly related to living life, without encumbering the process of living now.

Once we’ve scheduled to reflect on our previous day(s), perhaps for the following morning or even for the evening of the same day, and we find that quiet time and place, we’re on our way; free to immerse ourselves in what factual issues developed and how we responded to those things. Some like to journal, others pray, and others still simply doodle or draw--it’s an outlet and a learning and discovery tool for re-connection.

I have discreet planning periods during every single day. This is time to create ‘to do’ lists, order events, plan calls to make, and reconcile previous days’ activities done (or not done) with what’s coming up.[1] I find planning an absolute necessity in bringing form to chaos, especially in my busy life. I’d prefer to wing it, but I can’t afford to--I don’t think anyone could.

If we save specific times for reflecting on the past and planning for the near future, we can free up cognitive space and opportunity for thought processes in the present. This helps us focus on reality--what is actually happening in the here and now--devoid of constraining emotion such as guilt, envy, rage, shame or lack etc.

Our reflection time should also include time for dealing with concrete items related to emotion.

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

[1] I use a FranklinCovey Planning system that helps me get to those ‘Quadrant II’ (important but not yet urgent) activities better.

Why Be Pre-occupied? “Just Being Present”: Part 2

Being in the lion’s pit of life is interesting at times, isn’t it? This is real tongue-in-cheek stuff. One day or even one afternoon can present so many opportunities to become waylaid with worries, fears and anxieties… enough to last the rest of the day, and into the next, easy!

But, this is where control over the mind and our mental processes can come to our rescue.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading an extraordinary piece of wisdom titled, “Practicing awareness in everyday life.”[1] It’s all about the subject of awareness; the skill of staying in the present. The author says it’s the most important skill that we could acquire.

The issue is about how much of our awake time we spend partially or completely distracted from our present activities, because we’re focused on the past or future--“neither of which exist.”

As we experience life, there are so many things that have just gone or are about to hit us that consume our ordinary thinking. This leaves us drained of the attention we could place in the present. No wonder we struggle to listen to people properly half the time.

This subject is all about staying ‘in the truth.’ It’s about sticking with our senses and what they tell us to feel, in the moment. We’re told to focus, particularly around decision-making, on what we’re actually thinking, feeling, saying and doing--that is, we need to be intimately aware of ourselves.

Even simple tasks such as brushing our teeth should require all our ‘manual’ attention. The objective here is to train the mind to think manually, and resist our preponderance to go into mental autopilot. We should “practise awareness until we can operate ‘automatically on manual’, so we can choose to ‘manually go to automatic’.”

What this means is once we’re trained to be aware at will, we then have the ability to become more competent over our attitudes; we become ‘attitudinally competent.’ We can then screen out the unhelpful emotional distractions, scheduling our focus on these for times when we wish to deliberately reflect on the past and plan for the future. We effectively hold the moment (emotionally) and deal with it at a predetermined time later.

We should become adept at being a silent observer of ourselves, being attuned to our thoughts, feelings, words and actions. There is no more basic a goal for a person to have than to become self-aware, and that continually so.

We must resist allowing our minds to wander and meander in undisciplined ways; sure, when we watch a movie and want to relax, a free mind is fine; but truly, do we think an unfocused mind dribbling through the immediate past or near future is helpful? It can’t possibly be and “running of ‘old part-fiction movies’ is insanity.”

Reflection and planning must be restricted to “fully truthful” aspects. We need to determine what truth there is, sifting out the innuendo and assumptions.

So, let’s get to work on not being pre-occupied mentally and simply stay in the moment practicing awareness. Even during so-called stressful times, we’ll benefit from the fresh perspective and strength that comes as a result.

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

[1] Daniel Kehoe, You Lead, They’ll Follow: How to inspire, lead and manage people. Really. Vol. 3 (North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill Australia, 2004), p. 74-75. All quotations in this article come from these two pages of the book. Daniel Kehoe acknowledges the contributor, David Deane-Spread, as the author of this particular article.

Ephesians Meets the Robinsons (for the Husband)

I love the theology found in contemporary cartoons and animated classics. There is something enchanting and metaphorical about animated tales that often gets the point across without stepping through the boundaries of our egos i.e. we can grasp the point and then move the principle into life without a lot of offence being taken.

Meet the Robinsons (2007) is no exception; in fact, it feeds off the theology of ‘keep moving forward’ in hope. The end game seems to be if we keep moving forward in life and don’t get sidetracked, good things inevitably happen. A short, but productive sidetrack:

In the ‘River from the Temple’ passage in Ezekiel 47, recall the person being led by a man into the water; water that got deeper and deeper. The river is seen as a source of flourishing life when the thriving trees and fish are considered. It is only later that the person, presumably Ezekiel himself, is also shown the dead tributaries--the swamps and marshes where there is no life.[1] This is what happens also to our thinking when we don’t continue moving forward with God in faith. We get bogged down in the swamps and marshes of our own negative thinking and feelings that is devoid of God.

The climax of Meet the Robinsons for me was when Franny approaches Lewis (remembering they are to be wife and husband in the future) and suggests to him that--for his own benefit, and theirs mutually--that she’s always right, “Even when I’m wrong, I’m right,” she exclaims. Lewis’ friend Cornelius agrees, saying, “She’s right. I would just go with it if I were you...”

As the movie plays out, we then note that the crunch comes for Lewis; he finds himself in a position to challenge Franny back in the past, but remembers and heeds the advice, and that’s what starts them going out. His faith to implement the advice he received was justified.

There’s a deeper theological metaphor here I think--many of them possibly. And it cuts to the heart of marriage and being a husband. I’d think of it this way:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
–Ephesians 5:25 (TNIV).

As God issues the church charge over life (and salvation) on earth via his grace, we husbands must discharge grace through to our wives. We sacrifice ourselves and our wants and needs if necessary so our wives might be supremely loved; just as Christ loves the church. This is a tall order, I know, but it’s something to aspire to and achieve as much as possible.

Now, the church must fully respect Christ, just like the wife must fully respect her husband. (I have substituted the word “submit” for “respect.”)[2]

We must consider that even when we feel our wives could be wrong, for the purposes of loving them, they’re right. Love is entirely respectful. When we think of our wives being right when they might be wrong, it’s not a business of, ‘Yes, dear, here we go again...’ It’s a case of truly believing what we’re about because we must, at first, love our wives. This is the grace of love we’d want extended to ourselves. Husbands, are we not to love our wives as we do ourselves?

When our wives are loved and they have what they want, it’s right because that is what we’d want. That is to say, we are loving our wives as we do our own bodies[3] when we are cognisant of, and accommodating to, their needs.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] See Ezekiel 47:11.
[2] See also Ephesians 5:33.
[3] See Ephesians 5:28-29.

Monday, March 23, 2009

“Just Being Present,” and What That Means: Part 1

We’ve all had it, I’m sure. You’re innocently using the computer and suddenly you get some cryptic computer-jargon message (apparently it’s called a ‘dialogue box,’ but that’s a bit silly considering that we can’t talk with the computer!) saying, “General error, the program needs to close.” What can you say? Apparently it’s some file or script error and re-starting the computer is the way around it.

And the same happens with our brains to a certain extent. We get these ‘scripts’ and ‘programmes’ running that just cause us to terminate what good thinking might be happening at the time. It’s called anxiety and worry and fear. We track off into the past or the future for a moment and then the programme of our effective thinking stalls. Time for technical help perhaps?

The humanist community might call us to become ‘aware,’ so that we can control our thinking on manual mode, just allowing stimulus from our surrounds, and any deliberate, normal cognitive thinking to take place. They would tell us, ‘Just be present,’ and focus on your breathing.

It shouldn’t be that hard should it--to just be present? I tried the technique on the way home from work one evening and I got distracted off ‘being present’ so many times there must be eternal ruts in my mind.

Paul tells Timothy that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind
–2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).

We’ve all heard the term, ‘Junk in, junk out,’ relating to computers. Well, our minds are the processing unit for what we eventually do in life. We think of junky things, and yes, we then do junky things.

Our thinking is like the car that cruised slowly past me; for a time, that car was plain out of sight. I had to deliberately and purposely check it was still there. For a moment I thought it had vanished. My experience wasn’t based in truth and therefore my mind started to believe something that wasn’t real. But then the car in my blindspot did eventually re-appear.

Our thinking, similarly, has to deal with all sorts of blindspots that prevent us from seeing truth and reality--we will generally only believe what we can see. But, if our thinking is subsumed by a blindspot, we’re making decisions based on bad data. Life is suddenly going from bad to worse, as the false script reinforces the negative quickly down toward the sinkhole syndrome of concern, anxiety, fear, dread, and a myriad of other forms of ‘nothing’ thoughts, which can only be destructive.

We make thousands of incorrect assumptions every day when our thinking is not based in truth. (And to think otherwise takes a whole deal of training, which I’ll get into next article.) Erroneous thinking impacts incredibly badly not only on our decisions, but also on our relationships. At best it’s counterproductive, and at worst, it’s plain destructive.

We learned through the above quote of Paul’s that a sound (and sensible) mind is a gift from God’s Spirit.

So, if God’s gift is a sound mind, where does the junky thinking come from? You guessed it! It’s the Devil in disguise, and he’s messing with us. Why be duped? The Devil might want it that way, but why should we succumb when there’s by far a better way for us and everyone connected with us?

Now, all the ‘Devil talk’ might be putting you off… let’s change the subject. Let’s just get into some “awareness” as purported above.

The advice I read recently made so much sense to me I decided to give it a try, and strangely it works. I think it’s but one technique God gives us to enjoy his gift of a sound mind.

Enjoy part two of this series in a few days…

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

Valuing and Honouring Our Mentors

Recently I was treated to three separate mentoring sessions in three days; each mentor met me for different reasons, but the common goal was around growth, some personally and some professionally. It’s kind of humbling that a guy like me, approaching middle-age, might need so much mentoring, but it’s only illustrative of the fact we all need it--right through the lifespan.

Proverbs says a few things about mentors:

“Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances”
–Proverbs 11:14 (Msg).

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”
–Proverbs 15:22 (NIV).

“For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers”
–Proverbs 24:6 (NIV).

Mentors help us steer wisely through life. Everyone needs a few trusted advisers. These proverbs above imply how vital advice is for ‘waging war’ and for ensuring victory and success in all ventures of life; we can’t always do things on our own, or only our own way, or entirely under our own steam, and then expect to succeed at all times. Life simply isn’t that banal.

I find there is a real pattern to needing mentoring in my life; there comes miniature seasons for growth (a day or two in row, or even over a full week) where mentoring is especially important--like, for instance, when those forks in the road come. We can’t negotiate them sometimes because we can’t see the wood for the trees.

It’s indeed a privilege when we think about it that we can capitalise on others’ knowledge, skills and experience, and also gain a window into the things about us that might actually aid or limit our plans--things we again can’t hope to see without help. Undergoing mentoring is a chance to put our egos to one side and learn in a relaxed yet challenging environment where we are no longer (and don’t have to be) the sole authority for a time.

We must honour our mentors by seeking to implement and establish what is discussed. Whenever I’ve mentored someone, that’s been one of my key measures of success in helping--have they applied what we discussed i.e. was the mentoring of value, and how has that process gone.

Mentors provide for us sweet memories when we reminisce. We think of difficult times of growth and struggle, and the effort and commitment required. But, we always see it as having been worth it.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Things Fathers Dying of Lung Cancer Say They Wished They’d Done Differently

Dr. Bruce Robinson, a lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Western Australia, has authored books for fathers including, Fathering from the Fast Lane. Even though he must live an incredibly busy and taxing life, this man who’s grown accustomed to people dying has heard the following two reasons probably more times than he cares to remember.

1. They wished they had spent more time with their children.

Too sad too late. Tragically, these fathers were cut the short straw and were penalised with termination of the relationship with their children and not simply with a dysfunctional, albeit real, relationship the living father has. At least the father who’s still alive has a chance to discover what he and his kids are missing out on.

2. They say almost universally that work seemed so important, especially when they were young, but they realised with their condition that there were only so many opportunities left to connect with their kids. Work seemed a waste of time compared with the time lost not spent with their kids.

Two insightful quotes from Dr. Robinson’s website:

“I almost view with contempt this notion of quality time. I think it’s just a baby-boomer cop-out. To have quality time you’ve got to have quantity time, because you never know when your kids want to talk to you. You can’t appoint a time for quality chats. I’ve found in my relationship with my children that sometimes just out of the blue they’ll want to talk, whereas at other times they prefer to wait”
–John Howard (former Prime Minister of Australia).

“One big change I made to my life when I realised what it took to be a good father was to work less, and also to work from home more often. Now I only work a four-day week and I run my computing service from home. This is important because my wife works, and really we have to share the parenting time”
–Peter de Blanc.

And finally a quote from the book that sums up:

“Children need to be accepted and supported as individuals regardless of their academic success, physical ability, sporting prowess, personality, moods, morals or beliefs. This acceptance is often difficult for high-achieving fathers.”

Dr. Robinson’s Website:

Familiarity Breeds Contempt - Sad Broken Truth

I live, currently, near the seaside. The beach is only minutes away, and we regularly hear the waves crashing on the shore as we go to sleep at night. It’s wonderful. But there’s one thing I loathe about the nature of life--we grow all too familiar with our surrounds. Follow me…

I ride past the beach now and look out; hearing the white noise of the waves, and it’s just not quite as special as it once was. I somehow know how special it is but it just doesn’t feel as special anymore; I’m sure you might relate somehow. Perhaps I just need to really focus on it? I’m trying.

But this is true to a large extent of the nature of life as I mentioned previously. Our familiarity with things--all things--breeds contempt, or at least contempt in a way that we grow less grateful for things compared to how grateful we once were of them.

I would love to tell the notional young lady who’s besotted presently with her prince and vice versa, that the freshness of love withers and wanes with time and what was once dazzling in its mystery becomes, with time, ironically mysterious for its dysfunction. How twisted love really is when placed in human hands! (i.e. without the divine.) We truly learn what commitment’s all about once the shine wears off, don’t we? This is the cold and hard fact of love; a thing that requires much work.

The simple fact is we all take things far too much for granted after the initial novelty of the thing or person wears off.

We do this with our faith too. The new believer is laughed at for their enthusiasm (yet I’m sure some are envious!), yet it is Christ who looks on approvingly, saying in effect, ‘don’t lose your wonder of me; hold it close to your heart, valuing and cherishing it for the rest of your life.’ How many first-time believers lose their love of God and meander hopelessly in many cases through the remaining sad and sorry years of their lives, inevitably rejecting the gospel they once embraced.

Or there’s the semi-matured believer (sounds a little like a cheese) who still attends church and Bible study etc, and is hooked up in Christian community but is really only going through the motions--and for what?--To be part of some divinely inspired and directed club? The making of a Christ-like character is hardly the objective here.

This must have been what it was like for the Hebrews; the target of the biblical letter, Hebrews, I mean. They had slidden back, and had formed some troublesome patterns of behaviour, reminiscent of their former Judaist ways. They were probably confused as to whether to take the plunge with Jesus or not. Once the shiny clean exterior of Christianity had tarnished, they were tempted to return to what they knew.

It’s no different for contemporary people who have the world to return to; the world has a lot to offer compared with ‘bearing your cross,’ doesn’t it?

How do we somehow re-capture that first love that God placed firmly in our heart? It is paradoxically cruel that when we suffer, and at last we really begin to need God again, that first love and attachment grows back almost instantly. How bizarre, yet, how very human (and divine) that arrangement is.

Give us back our first love of you, and your Creation, Lord God, we ask in Jesus’ name. Help us to truly want it back; our first love of you.

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

Struggling with Respectability?

Selwyn Hughes tells of a humiliating, ‘ugly’ time in his ministry when, after preaching a hugely theological sermon and feeling somewhat proud of himself, his ego was dropped from a rather large height when a trusted confidant assisted God in reinforcing that Jesus didn’t say, “Feed my giraffes,” but “Feed my sheep.”[1]

Hughes was suddenly brought into the light to see his ego being a barrier to his ministry. He then set about repenting of this immediately it came to his attention. God forgives in less than an instant when we turn back to him.

I can recall a time (in fact some many times) when as a husband I’ve struggled to gain the respect of my wife; and only later do I recognise, after feeling initially critical of her, that often (though not always) it’s a case that I’ve hardly been respect-able. There simply wasn’t much about me during these times for her to respect.

Perhaps I’d not loved her or responded to her as well as I should have? Or perhaps I’d not been respectable within myself, and allowed some other inherent weakness to show through without seeking God to cleanse me of it first?

Isn’t it ironic that the subject of respectability finds us all out at one point or other? And as Hughes points out they prove to be a ‘Jacob’s Jabbok’[2] to us... we resist the lesson God is trying to bring us to, but inevitably we’re open to re-learn the same old, tired lesson yet again. God is so full of grace, isn’t he? It’s humiliating yet necessary.

It’s like the ‘pity party’ we hold in our own honour at times. I made a commitment some time ago to be ‘never pitiable,’ but it still tends to raise its ugly head when I move off track. This here i.e. self-pity, is a good illustration of the thesis of someone unworthy of respect.

It reminds me of a quote I read only recently:

“A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror” –Ken Keyes Jr.

We tend to see the world from our own perspective, and in a sort of reverse way, people tend to mirror back to us what they see in us. What goes around comes around.

If we behave in a unrespectable way we generally can’t criticise people for not respecting us, can we?

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

[1] Selwyn Hughes, Spoken from the Heart (Surrey, England: Crusade for World Revival, 2005), p. 71.
[2] For the full story on Jacob’s wrestle with God see Genesis 32:22-32. According to Hughes, ‘Jabbok’ is a place of honesty before God.

When Life Gets “Big” on Us: Courage & Hope ‘in the Midst of Battle’

In cricketing terms, we know it when Michael Hussey ducks to avoid that vicious bouncer; the ball got ‘big’ on him all of a sudden... well that happens in life too, does it not?

In today’s life, probably like no other time in history, we’re bombarded with everything from financial crises and rising utility prices, to food crises, and climate change crises, fires, floods and famines, to concerns much closer to home, like keeping our jobs, paying the mortgage, keeping up with our kids, managing tomorrow which scares us, a myriad of continual social concerns, and generally just finding enough time to ourselves... the list is never-ending.

Life gets very big on us all of a sudden. We wake up one day as a parent in a family, with a key secular or ministry role (or three!) having to balance a whole bunch of things just to survive. It was a process that got us here, sure, but that seems dim now, and we’re just here, surviving by the skin or our proverbial teeth.

Monica O’Neil of Vose Seminary recently discussed this issue (The Advocate, March 2009) in an entirely different context--of drowning in a community or church volunteer role--and gave some insightful, measured advice on what to do, using the swimming/drowning metaphor and how the leadership structures should support the person flailing ‘in the water’ of that role.

We lose hope and zest for life when we’re overwhelmed by it all. Suddenly, the activities we used to look forward to become crosses to bear; we approach them out of duty, not devotion. The passion is replaced with mental legalism, and joyous drive, for regulation. Psychologists would call it the tension between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. A subtle swing has occurred.

You could try some of the following to get you back on track:

PRIORITISE the important ‘must do’s’ for today (or tomorrow) and do only these. Make a checklist and check them off.

MAKE a study of the typical urgent activities you’re required to undertake. Whittle these down as these are probably the source of your panicked dread.

IDENTIFY which activities cause you to spin your wheels and commit to eradicating these. These are dead end activities that offer no return to you or anyone else. Typically, these are time wasters. There are plenty of time wasters and distractions in life today; start with the grip technology might have over you... yes, you’re probably looking at it right now!

START engineering time for transformational activities. We become dead if we undertake too much transactional stuff. Most of us need a healthy balance of re-creational pursuits.

Why do we become overwhelmed in the first place? There are tangible reasons and intangible reasons. In other words, we feel overwhelmed because practically, the activities (the amount or nature of them) become too hard, or less practically, the activities we have are more or less not a good fit with our true heart’s desire; essentially our base call.

I find I lack courage[1] mostly when I start losing my hope. We can at least be bold when we’re full of hope. It may not be the answer but it’s a start. It’s a two-edged sword of courage and hope. Have the courage to stop or adjust and align things that are providing no value to you or others.

The acquisition of hope and courage provide much needed balance. Balance is both empowering and re-vitalising. It’s a hope and courage restorer. Attaining and maintaining balance is possible in anyone’s life. But we must ask, ‘How badly do we want it?’

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

[1] As an interesting aside, in 2 Samuel 4:1 and 7:27 the NIV records that the subject in each case ‘lost’ and ‘found’ courage. Courage is like that; we need to find ways of quickly restoring our courage--and this, I’m sure, is intrinsically linked with hope, i.e. ‘losing’ and ‘finding’ hope.

Accepting the Demands Time Places on Us

I love a good challenge like the rest of us, but sometimes life gets a bit big on me, and mainly regarding my time, or lack thereof--to do the things I feel I’m called to do--and there lies a challenge to staunchly stand in the face of time and either resist it or run with it, in faith. What do we do?

This time challenge impacts and affects every single one of us. There’s so much good we could do and so little time to do it all in. We have choices, and we must choose; nothing’s obligatory, though when we think about it, some choices lead inevitably to others.

Like when we start a particular career and that career has quite unique hours of work, like that of a baker or a chef. We can’t train in these and then decide we only want to work in the afternoons. It doesn’t work that way.

Life, therefore, must have a component of design about it. We must become geared to design our lives, fashioning them to the call placed on our heart; and as we hear a demand or a pull in a certain direction we then need to place emphasis on certain components or periods of time to enable this new venture to commence and afford it growth.

Time is finite as we all implicitly know. It’s the great equaliser; everyone has the same 24-hour day and no one gets more. Allowing new things to start from scratch means we must have discretionary time at our disposal. ‘No scope for extras’ does not compute.

We can only get more adept at planning our time and using it effectively by stopping doing things that are a waste, and starting to do things that bring life, to ourselves and others.

It takes discipline and insight to be aware of this, identifying the hazards to our time, and courage to make the tough decision to change while there is still time to act. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal. It’s played in real time.

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