Friday, July 31, 2009

“What am I missing here?” – A Sound Question for Anyone to Ask

I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve suddenly caught on to my folly or mistakes just about the time others have. I’d have enough to buy a nice small car I think! And I think having the awareness to ask the above question at the right time can save us all a lot of embarrassment.

There are people, however, who seem intent on not caring what others think regarding their reactions to things. When people they’re interacting with give them certain obvious body language cues regarding the inappropriateness of their behaviour, and they deliberately don’t respond, it pays little respect to either person. Crassness is not that ingratiating.

But the person I want to address most is the person who does want to respond in tune with their contexts, and in congruence with their desire to not only fit in, but succeed too.

One of the critical cues we can derive a lot of information from is the actions and omissions of those over us, our supervisors at work, for instance. If we’ve been overlooked for a promotion or shifted sideways, there could possibly be something there that we’re not aware of… a missing puzzle piece that could prove enlightening, even helpful.

Other situations, say with the family, could be more revelatory as people usually have a vested interest in being more honest at home… I did say usually. The only way we can improve situations in the home--as far as we’re personally concerned--is to constantly ask ourselves if we’re missing anything. Our familial situations offer the most hope if we’re genuine about good relationship outcomes.

Conflict is a sure sign we could get a lot from asking the question. Conflict is a way of being warned that all is not right, relationally. We’re fooled if we think it’s always the other person’s fault. God has reasons for conflict. He’s trying to tell us something in the midst of it.

We’re conformed to the systems that God has instituted. His purposes and plans are always being worked out and are always delivered. Getting into the habit of asking ourselves, “What am I missing here?” can only help us in our quest for wisdom and the good life where our relationships are blessed--and also where our relationship with God is almost constantly at a zenith.

It’s old fashioned intuition in practice, but facilitated by an interest in ‘walking humbly with God’ (Micah 6:8).

Catastrophes Are Not Always What They Promise

“No fish story: Chemical spill in river will benefit salmon … The recovery of the Cheakamus River may be more rapid and vigorous than anyone imagined when a catastrophic chemical spill wiped out fish in the Squamish-area stream in 2005,” said the report.[1]

And such is life in this crazy world.

Yet, only a year earlier (less than one year after the chemical spill) the Cheakamus River tied for first in the Outdoor Recreation Council’s 14th Annual List of British Columbia’s most endangered rivers.[2]

The chemical spilled, caustic soda, is basically neutralised once it reaches sea water by the one percent magnesium in the sea water to produce everyday antacid--like “Mylanta” we buy in our supermarkets. The chemical also ‘cleansed’ the river bed of algae and parasites.

I heard an announcer on radio recently marvel at the sight of the gorgeous pink hues resplendent on the sunset horizon produced by smoke from a regional bushfire. To think that anything good could come of such a destructive thing, points us to God in our world. And to think further of the new forest growth initiated whenever a fire sweeps through.

And what does this tell us?

Things are not always what they seem at surface level. We’re quick, however, at seeing the worst in an instant, not holding thought for an expectant faith to break through with sight of the miraculous, unpredictable surprise.

Why would we fear the catastrophes in our midsts? We can plainly not do much about them (unless we’re directly involved), and if we truly believe God controls the universe, we’ll have the tools and the technology at hand to make the situation better.

What a deceit it is to be hemmed in by fear and driven on a whim by the Tabloids. That sort of thinking brings us to death in the past and useless for any real and good impact on the world today.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.
[1] Vancouver Sun, No fish story: Chemical spill in river will benefit salmon. Report: 11 July 2007. Retrieved on 28 July 2009.
[2] Vancouver Sun, Annual list of endangered B.C. rivers 20 March 2006.
Acknowledgement also to Mr. Leith Higgins, Scientific Officer for the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia, for information on the Cheakamus River incident.

Proverbs 31: Not Just About the So-called “Perfect Woman”

The final chapter of Proverbs finishes with a punch, elaborating on the character of the thoroughly virtuous person; this is the character we should all aspire to, but not to the end of perfection--for we’ll never be perfect this side of heaven--and that’s the gift grace makes up for. We strive, we fail, and then we forgive ourselves; because God already has!

So, sharpening our moral character to approach the capacity set before us in the Proverbs 31 “wife of the noble character” is fundamentally part of our purpose.

And moral development does increase our capacity for a whole range of things, due to virtue i.e. the diligence of hard work (vs. 15, 18-19, 27), faithfulness (v. 26), inspiration in others of their confidence in us (v. 11), discernment (vs. 13, 16), resourcefulness (vs. 14, 18, 22), strength (v. 17) and dignity (v. 25), courage (v. 21), and compassion (v. 20). Finally, she’s admired and respected by her entire family, especially her husband (vs. 28-29) for her noble deeds surpass those of all other women--by direct observation of this noble husband. He’s totally stoked.

Wow, what a killer marriage! But, is this set of images too hard to live up to? Again, it’s about aspiration, not perfection. It’s about spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.

We miss something from the meaning of Proverbs and particularly chapter 31, however, if we see this as just about the woman profiled. Men are equally called by God to exhibit these traits of character. After all, a good marriage requires two equally devoted workers, labouring with and for each other--and their God. God is not a gender-exclusive deity.

Can we then just begin to appreciate how awesome God is to bring about such transformation of character within us? The very possibility that we can tap into this power of God to become better people... it’s a completely awesome thought which fills our normally be-draggled hearts with hope.

All of this drives us to the end of the chapter, indeed the end of the book, of course. This has us back flipping in an instant, rekindling the early theme of the ‘fear of the LORD.’ (See Proverbs 1:7) This theme is sprinkled throughout, and indeed underpins Proverbs.

Those bent on the appropriate, awed respect and honouring of God--in basically all their ways--will reap eventual honour themselves (v. 31), not that this would ever be their intent. Their intent is only ever God!

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

The Personal Touch Still Fits the Bill

Personal coaching in the workplace is taking a different angle these days. Not only are the executive coaches helping managers with leadership skills, life coaches are becoming a key part of the answer for employers in breaking through the Western health-crisis pandemic. More and more employers are hence seeing better safety and social outcomes, and productivity gains, come from healthier workers as a result.

In her Honours Thesis, Miranda Brown (GCG Health, Safety & Hygiene) discovered that amongst three study groups, the group targeted with a combination of health information and health motivation coaching sessions achieved statistically significant results in improved health outcomes. These occurred in all four levels measured: health goals; diet; exercise; and, workplace wellness.

Groups given purely the health information component of the program, however, (i.e. without coaching sessions) showed no statistical improvement. In fact, they showed little more improvement than that of a control group which had no part in her program.

Ms. Brown commented that she found taking a positive interest in the coachee’s life meant being trusted with quite sensitive information and personal challenges, and this gave her access to facilitate a customised level of motivation and encouragement for each person coached, which put them in a position poised for success.

The personal, face to face approach wins hands down. Each success story we are part of in our interpersonal interventions is a win/win situation as both people (coach and coachee) are blessed with the inspiration of growth. Transformation occurs and lives are truly saved from the living death of disease and ill-health.

And when we consider wisdom in the realm of safety and workplace efficiency in general, we know implicitly that a holistic approach to health management at the individual level is a winner, though it costs much: time, effort, sacrifice… all leading, though, to eventual success.

Given the huge impact that stress is placing on all our lives, surely an approach to life coaching on health is a compelling case for change, indeed “innovation.”

This information further advocates the view that promotional programs that don’t target personal intervention are likely to make little difference in the context of our apathetic world.

Information alone only gives little stimulus for improvement. Motivation gives some extra push to it. But it is self-empowerment toward self-actualisation, indeed transcending the self, that creates true success at the individual, personal level.

Neo Versus The Architect in “The Matrix: Reloaded”

Every scene in The Matrix trilogy is breathtaking, but this particular one at the end of the second movie says a lot about us as human beings and the range of emotions we’re capable of. Recall that Neo has a rendezvous with The Architect of the Matrix; a seemingly futile interlude, where the hope of the world is about to be destroyed, if we believe the Architect.

Read on as the scene plays itself out in the studio of The Architect:

The Architect: You are here because Zion is about to be destroyed. Its every living inhabitant terminated, its entire existence eradicated.

Neo: Bulls..t. (The monitors [portraying all of Neo’s possible responses] respond the same.)

The Architect: Denial is the most predictable of all human responses. But, rest assured, this will be the sixth time we have destroyed it, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.[1]
The thing I found most interesting about this scene (at another juncture) is all the hundred or so monitors showing the momentary flurry of confused emotion in Neo. It recognises that we’re all like this at any given moment, and especially when we’re under pressure. Who can tell how we’ll respond to given situations?

And over our lifetimes we’ll have responded in a vast range of ways to an infinitely too-hard-to-grasp amount of circumstances.

How can we begin to attempt to fathom the depth of the human psyche; mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? But, the point is we have to. We have a huge fascination for these things of philosophy, psychology, theology and spirituality in the context of one single human being. Yet, it’s a mystery that will never be solved.

And The Architect, in his own clinical anti-human way, hits the nail on the head, finally. One of the commonest responses to the stimuli we face is rampant, unchallenged denial. It’s the root cause of many psychological and spiritual ailments.

How many of the myriad of responses we’re capable of, I wonder, are hampered by and defaulted to the response of denial? How much would we hence miss out on in the sphere of life, emotion and reason?

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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Wisest Question: “Do I have permission to do this?”

Often times I come unstuck on this very point and I wonder if you relate. In my passion and enthusiasm to do the things I feel I can (either at work or at home) I often just do them; most of the time I get a good result with kudos all round. Occasionally, however, I get it wrong and either don’t involve the right people or don’t do things in the right way; it’s often because I have overstepped the mark of my influence. Basically I haven’t obtained permission.

Permission is a form of respect for the order of things. It’s a reverent understanding of all things in balance and the interrelationship of things and people. It also understands the limitations of choice...

We have choice in life; often the level of choice we have outstrips the actual boundaries of our influence, and therefore we enter a moral testing ground when we usurp the power of others or encroach others’ boundaries we hadn’t perceived before (or perhaps we didn’t care--which is a more blatant form of acting without permission).

On occasion I’ve done this, more often than not, flippantly. But, the point is I’ve generally paid the consequences. When we make mistakes we must be prepared to pay.

Gaining permission for things takes moral control; it takes patience and an absence of greed and selfishness. It’s utterly respectful, yet wisdom comes in when we know when not to submit and make the assertive decisions based on our consideration of both our realm of influence and our authority. Wisdom meets both qualifiers; in wisdom we’re respectful and discerning, proceeding only when we should.

Let’s face it, it’s embarrassing to make a faux pas by making decisions in areas we clearly don’t have authority over. We must seek permission or we lose credibility and that’s not easy to get back.

We should ask ourselves this critical question regularly: “Do I have (or need) permission to do this?”

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

No Excuses to Not Love (An Incontrovertible Christian Command)

‘Fix the problem!’ ‘Stop giving us ideas and just do something!’ ‘What we need is more action, not more discussion...!’ And the list goes on regarding those with frustrated viewpoints toward people and groups to complex world problems like the global food crisis, AIDS, global warming etc.

And it’s true, we do need more action. But it’s also a simplistic answer. Well-thought-out action, not action in any direction, is what we need. If we ever fall foul of acting without consideration of all the important issues, we’re guilty of the ‘ready-fire-aim’ approach. Planning has to be the nexus of action.

For one thing, the very people who deride groups, organisations and society itself for not acting well or quickly enough are often the very ones who poo-poo ideas, stalling real progress. And I hate to say it, but the modern evangelical Church is not devoid of these people; and occasionally their leaders espouse these ways too.

What sort of person sits astride the philosophical fence simultaneously criticising a lack of progress whilst promoting bureaucracy?

The legalism of constrained, narrow and extraneous theologies is threatening to strangle the Church, or make it irrelevant, in an age which might otherwise turn out to be the Church’s greatest hour (barring the beginning)--its, and the world’s, moment of truth.

There is a place that the Pharisees couldn’t tolerate, a place that Jesus Christ called home; the real mission of evangelicalism today and always.

I love the salience of Rick Warren’s theology toward life. He says,

“If you say that people of faith cannot do humanitarian care because of their beliefs, you just ruled out most of the world. The actual number of atheists is quite small outside of Europe and Manhattan.

“That’s why I can work with gays, who I don’t happen to agree with, for instance, on what they view should be defined as marriage. In fact, when we began to develop our ministry with AIDS, we were far more willing to work with other people than people were willing to work with evangelical Christians. It was reverse discrimination.”[1]
Isn’t it compelling that Rick Warren’s ministry has chosen to make a difference in the real world? Like the very many Christian mission organisations who’re supporting the efficacy of third world communities by helping them develop futures for themselves--that’s the love of God manifest in flesh. And other faith-based groups are no doubt doing the same.

Making a difference is not just a matter of preaching the Word of God. It’s making a tangible difference in people’s lives, and particularly, like in Rick Warren’s case, in the lives of those struggling in sin, with no shred of judgment in sight.

After all, how many sinners did Jesus judge and condemn? He paradoxically befriended them.

Isn’t it sad that an ailing world would rather not work with disengaged evangelical Christians? How could we have gotten this part of our mission from God so wrong?

Does not the Christian, most of all, understand that love transcends all boundaries? Why is it that we’d insist on not working with Hindu’s, Buddhists or Muslims? Why wouldn’t we choose to speak our love in a language that transcends words?

Is it possible, perhaps, to evangelise without words?

Wasn’t it St. Francis of Assisi who coined the phrase, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”

What would Jesus do? For all the wrist bands brandishing the WWJD slogan in the world, would he (that is Jesus), in this age, have knocked back opportunities to love like we might do? And all to satisfy our own flesh-driven fetishes to ‘eat, drink and be merry!’ We grow fat on the blessings of God and we miss the point of it all.

But aren’t we not supposed to not love?

One thing for sure, our modern society (Christian or not) has very little time to become passionate for the cause of those less well off. It is apathy and not empathy that characterises the vast majority of us.

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

Insatiables, Mysteries, Intolerables, Small Wonders, Dignitaries - Proverbs 30

Five sets of fours describe richly the observations and images of life according to a self-confessed sceptic; a confused person awed by all the wonders on earth, both good and evil. And we have a very personal account here, only a chapter’s jump from another such excursus; the book of Ecclesiastes.

The pleasant thing about each numerical saying is they’re phrased as never-ending lists. “Unfathomable” would be the word of Agur, concurring with Job and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes).

Insatiables (vs. 16b-17)

Four (or more) things are never satisfied. Death swallows us whole. The barren womb cannot carry a foetus (and ‘consumes’ embryos). Deserts and harsh lands, any lands for that matter, can’t be tamed. Fire, finally, consumes all before it, indiscrimately. Add to this picture the leering look of the eye… it’ll be the death of us if we don’t manage our insatiable desires (v. 17).

Mysteries (vs. 18-19)

Some things we’ll never understand and it’s from this viewpoint that Agur ponders the wonder of the flight of the eagle, the way of a snake on a rock, a ship on high seas, and the way of a man with a woman. The journey of their paths defies explanation.

It’s good sometimes to be awed by things, and we cannot trace how these things take place... the past flight of the eagle, where the snake on a rock and a ship on the high seas have come from, and lastly, how God makes two beings one.

Intolerables (vs. 21-23)

Some things in life push even the LORD’s patience to the enth degree, like when a labourer becomes the general manager, undeservedly. Also, when a fool wins the lottery, for they’ll only squander the money and make life more miserable for themselves (and others into the bargain!).

Thirdly, when loose women or immoral men are given stature most people see it as an abomination. Lastly, when a man chooses to depose his wife with the younger girlfriend... it’s never a good result. It only brings shame on him, her, the ex-wife and all connected with the sorry affair!

Small Wonders (vs. 24-28)

We just marvel at small things that prove God’s wisdom--believer and non-believer alike. The wisdom of ants has already been profiled earlier in Proverbs 6. They diligently plan and provide for themselves. The hyrax is again a small and innocent little mammalian animal, yet it calls quite a dangerous looking place, home--the rocky outcrops called crags.

Locust plagues engender fear in humanity because they drive life from vegetation as their destruction comes to completion. Likewise, lizards are easy to catch and are seemingly at our disposal, yet they’ll make their way into our homes (and king’s palaces!) without much ado, not to mention cockroaches and spiders.

Dignitaries (vs. 29-31)

And the things that are majestic beyond words complete the sceptic’s list. The lion’s an obvious one, yet a billy goat isn’t so. A strutting rooster and a head of state in the process of their dominion are also sights to be seen.

Proverbs 30 ends with a warning. All throughout it warns of God’s power which many people choose foolishly to ignore. As is the universal law of cause and effect, the inappropriateness of action is the death of some.

“If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife” –Proverbs 30:32-33 (TNIV)

Acknowledgement to The Message paraphrase of the Bible for the five-fold structure implicit in this article.

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Choices, Maturity and Wisdom for Parenting – Proverbs 29

It’s something every loving parent wants for their child--wisdom and understanding to live life, fully and well. Yet, there are seemingly many ways to the path of wisdom, and there is no shortage of purveyors trafficking in the ‘high things.’ Proverbs is, however, a sound, even path on the journey.

Wisdom and folly are so often powerfully juxtaposed in Proverbs, and chapter 29 is particularly characterised by this. He or she who finds wisdom “brings joy to [their] father” (v. 3). Later on, however, we find that children left to themselves (i.e. who are undisciplined) are a disgrace to their mother (v. 15).

In this way both discipline and wisdom are aligned. Children must be disciplined in order to grow in wisdom. In this we love them and remove the self-wisdom their own eyes see (Proverbs 26:12).

“A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom” –Proverbs 29:15. Proverbs 19:18 and 23:14 mention that discipline will not harm the child; in fact, it will facilitate hope for their future, saving their souls. Furthermore, “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire” –Proverbs 29:17. Discipline is short term, in-the-moment pain for long term gain.

The foolish mocker brings strife at every turn, not the least of which in a court room situation, but the wise person knows how to ameliorate the situation (vs. 8-9) and lessen the collateral damage the mocker would love to extract. The mocker has disdain for wisdom inherent in good life. A child wise in his or her own eyes grows to mock incessantly.

The fool gives full vent to their fury (v. 11); self-control is the basic character flaw. They have little patience and always seem in a rush (v. 20). Bringing a child up in wisdom and discipline is going to give them self-control and patience.

We’re all servants to someone. It is our living purpose to serve; at a workplace, a school, a home, a hospital... the trouble is if we give our kids too much choice and too early, we pamper them. “A servant pampered from youth will turn out to be insolent” –Proverbs 29:21. The problem with the pampered child is they become a nuisance employee. It’s nonsensical for employees to insist on choice in employment situations, yet there are many who expect this. What type of upbringing did they get? A pampering one I bet.

We need to ensure children are directed to wisdom by us, the parents. We control the world for them until they’re responsible enough to manage freedom, as we gradually release it to them from ages 10-12 and so on. Little choices--in the meantime--for the most part, are made by us, not them.

Indeed, we know that “Children are ready for choices when they can handle not having any choices.”[1] Choice in children too young to handle it strangles our grip on wisdom for them. It hinders the natural developmental progression from restraint (early years) to freedom (later years). When we parent by giving too much choice we inadvertently embrace foolishness for our kids. It ought never to be this way.

All Bible verses drawn from the Today’s New International Version (TNIV).

Inspiration for this article from Session 14 of 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), pp. 215-26.

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

[1] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Ibid, p. 383.

Curt Politeness – Missing the Mark the Cheeky Way

“Do not take payment in politeness,” says the sage, Balthasar Gracian. And it’s something we do quite without thought a lot of the time... allowing someone’s cheeky, endearing smile to win us over to their way, especially if we think ‘their way’ is disagreeable.

Those who engage in curt politeness seek to get away with murder, covering their tracks with hardly a cost but deceit. “All’s good,” apparently!

It’s definitely “a kind of fraud.” Insincerity reigns in the giver’s heart and it’s transmitted through the ‘wind of their words’ and a kindly wink into the receiver’s! How many times have we felt duped? It plainly takes a mind of awareness and a heart of courage to stand our ground and not entertain the empty graces of those insincere people who might seek our favour for the wrong reasons.

This “Bank of Elegance” that they transaction with is folly; it’s not allied with the financial institution of truth and integrity. Their lies are shallow and we’ll be trapped, sooner or later, if we don’t watch it.

Indeed, when we’re revealed as advocating their actions and words by returning the same ‘genteel’ politeness (inevitably without a lot of thought or conviction) we’ll double-cross ourselves in the very act!

When people have nothing to barter with but words it’s a sad blight on the landscape of the soul. What needs to be done need not be said... what needs to be said need not be done. Words and actions have little relation to one another in the actual course of life, except in congruence! May we be people who are congruent.

There’s a big difference between respect and power. When people wish to win us over by polite humour only they trample respect to clamour for power (over us and the situations we’re involved in). May we, instead, be people of respect--first. Power is a gift that people bestow; it’s not for us to take.

And this is all about putting people first and not situations. We should not mould our hearts around circumstances, but on solid rock issues of truth, love and wisdom. Heartless courtesy is a rank sin and needs to be ‘politely’ banished without a lot of fuss, but perhaps not without a loving rebuke for those inclined and wise enough to listen.

We indeed offer our compliments, genuinely and sincerely, for the qualities of the man or woman that are in vast display before us, and not for the advantages our own base desires wish us to bring.

With the sturdy and unyielding all-powerful grace of God, we bring our thoughts and ways into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). Indeed, in the way of Jesus himself, we see through the deception and go onto the next thing. We go onto love, and find its home.

Acknowledgement to Balthasar Gracian’s 191st Aphorism, “Do not take Payment in Politeness.”

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The “Form Slump”: That Awful Character Test We All MUST Go Through

Do you ever notice that there are “honeymoon periods” scattered through many seasons of life? The nature of life is quite predictable in this way. As we learn a new skill or develop a new relationship we’re invariably presented with challenges in the learning phase. Then after a time of predictable challenge or unsettling, we acquire the skill, or rapport with the person.

Later on, however, once we’re truly accomplished at the skill or activity or relationship, the dynamics can change somehow, or our confidence somehow droops. Skill-wise this is known as the “form slump.”

Many sportspeople know this intimately, through games or entire seasons of form slumps, which are invariably based in a mental problem--even to the alteration of technique--due to self-doubt, or a lack of confidence or faith in one’s ability to do what had previously been done to aplomb.

Golfer Ian Baker-Finch, winner of the 1991 British Open Championship, is quite a graphic example of this. He simply couldn’t recover from his form slump and eventually slunk away in retirement, much to the sadness of his fans.

Fledgling Australian Opener, Phil Hughes is in a form slump and so is Mitchell Johnson; both at different junctures in their careers. Both know of ‘the character test’ in all of this.

Ash Hansen is a favourite footballer of mine. He was a hero in the 2006 AFL Premiership, and an enduring image for me is his muscular salute after posting one of the first goals of that year’s Grand Final. For Ash, however, the last few seasons have been perplexing. It recalls the ending of Peter Sumich’s career--one time star full forward and seven time leader of West Coast’s goal kicking. For three seasons he lost all his confidence and only had a smattering of good games prior to his eventual premature retirement in 1997.

Many of us aren’t professional sport’s people. But we’re just as prone to the form slump as anyone. Our confidence drops from a key relationship. Or we simply get the fumbles with a particular duty or skill others have come to expect great things from us around. It happens.

I have a favourite Bible verse that provides hope and sheds light on the life of anyone going through a form slump in a sporting career or in life. I ‘discovered’ it when I was in a dark trough. Paul ends his letter to the Galatians in this vein:

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” –Galatians 6:9 (NRSV).

Harvest time is to be determined, not by us, but by God. Our task is to keep on keeping on, and to never give up. We do this by smiling through our challenges and form slumps. As Dido says in her song See the Sun, “I promise you you’ll see the sun again.”

The best thing about seeing the sun again, in this new light--after the character test, is we have a more mature perspective, and we’re so much more able than we were beforehand. We also have compassion for the person about to undergo their own God-initiated and God-formed transformation--a journey we all despise beforehand, and throughout, but one which we’re thankful for only afterwards.

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

Justice and “Keeping the Law” in Proverbs 28

The just in life both give and get the courage of justice, yet the rampantly unjust hide away and are only known to either the abused or neglected, the equally unjust, or the Law. Continuing the theme of sovereignty, Proverbs 28 seeks to embellish the theme of justice and of keeping the law.

Inheritance is discussed in verses 8 and 10. One who robs the poor by excessive interest will “gather it for another who will be kind to the poor.” (v. 8) Those who mislead the disadvantaged will fall into their own pits (vs. 10, 18). Here we see the LORD having the final say over our plans (believer or not) reminiscing back to Proverbs 16, bracketed by verses 1 and 33, which pointedly suggest this. The blameless, however, “have a goodly inheritance.”

I love the proverb:

“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked prevail, people go into hiding” –Proverbs 28:12. If anyone’s ever had a tyrant as a boss they know the truth in this proverb. How soothing to the heart it is to work for a person who’s impartial and compassionate, even eternally forgiving.

Verse 13 is a gospel verse. Those who confess their sin will receive mercy. We see this in the judicial system, if not in everyday life and relationships, basically all the time. Genuine humility and surrender precedes mercy, yet pride resists the clemency available--amazingly, it’s sickened by it.

There is a tantalising truth that shows us just how close any of us are to wrongdoing in verse 21: “To show partiality is not good--yet for a piece of bread a person may do wrong.” The ‘piece of bread’ is powerful imagery. What compromise will we consider for dining out? If it’s not food that tempts us, it’s something of equally insignificant value in the eternal context i.e. when compared with keeping our virtue and the intent of the law.

There are a lot of proverbs in this chapter relating to riches, the poor, and our right dealing with both. If we’re to be ‘prosperous’ we could be well advised to take a leaf or two out of this section of Proverbs.

All Bible verses drawn from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – God Did & We Blew It

There are times when I’m mindlessly listening to the radio in the car and suddenly my mind’s engaged--thrust into gear more like--to the message of a particular song. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989) sparked my imagination recently. This song talks about the history of the world during the first forty years of Joel’s’ life (1949-1989), and patterns of life (good) and death (evil) in quite vivid ways.

In the song we’re taken through a sweeping journey of the Baby Boomer period of the 20th Century, from critical events of history, to social figures, to politicians, to places, and famous movies and Broadway shows. Joel, a self-confessed history nut, went through the years of his life, selecting year events and writing them into his lyric.

It’s not a disorganised mish-mash of names; it leads to a climax in the line, “JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?!” before entering into the chorus which puts things very plainly:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joel’s’ Thesis

The Baby Boomer generation was criticised for the degradation of the world by both preceding and succeeding generations, and Joel felt this was patently unfair; the Baby Boomer didn’t start the fire… it had been burning long before the Baby Boomer arrived on the scene.

Even though the Baby Boomer didn’t light the fire, they still tried to fight it. This is a nice way of saying the current generation feels the instinctive pull to protect things for those coming after it. History attests to this intrinsic human desire for basic righteousness and justice.

An Alternative Thesis

The fire is the nature of life; once perfect the way God created it to be, and since the fall of humankind: sin, brokenness and innate want. The nature of life since soon after Creation has been a constant battle between good and evil. (We generally can’t see this because we can’t imagine a world without a battle between good and evil.)

The Christian world’s purpose is to fight the fire. The idea that it wasn’t us that lit the fire isn’t completely accurate. God designed life a certain way and we interrupted that plan; (plural) he foresaw that and created, from the beginning, a Saviour in his Son--a way back for us to enjoy fellowship with him.

The co-commitment from us, in our seeking to love God back for his grace and mercy in the ‘cosmic contingency plan,’ is we seek justice and fairness for all people in this life. Many events in history, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, have conspired against good in their base evil. We fight (the good fight) to maintain balance.
The key fact of life is explained in the final stanza of the song. When we’re gone the fire will still burn, on and on and on and on… until God decides to intervene, and truly bring his redemptive plan to (absolute) completion.

And we have to understand that we’re simply carriers of the code. We’re entrusted today with the same job our ancestors had in previous generations to thousands of years back.

We must be courageously good stewards.

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

‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ & Other Highlights from Proverbs 27

Getting to know some people is never easy, especially if they respond as closed books to our overtures at niceties or friendship. Not like friends and most family we don’t get many chances to make an impression on these people. But even with such limited information we can learn to discern everyone’s motives such that this information gives us the best chance to love them all.
Proverbs 27:17-22 refers to the situations many of us wonder about; like, ‘What is he or she really thinking about when they do things like that?’ or ‘What do they see in me to make them say such things?’

If we’re relating in collegial, workplace or family situations presumably we’re trying to get the best out of each other, though at times people’s responses, and our responses to them, can appear confusing, at least initially.

We note here that those who truly know us may identify selfishness or character flaws in us even before we see them. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” –Proverbs 27:5-6 (TNIV). They seem to pinpoint our flawed nature (v. 20) but in ways that are palatable for us. And they sharpen us if we allow them (v. 17). When we give the ‘trusted friend’s’ feedback the credence it deserves we stand to reap blessing (v. 18).

Verse 21 connects beautifully with verse 2, both alluding to the way we’re to take compliments. This is a fine character test. How much or how little praise we receive for the good we do is secondary; what’s primary is how we respond. Some of us respond almost in shame... ‘It’s embarrassing to be congratulated or thanked for that!’ might be the response.

Others, conversely, will make the most of the opportunity to embellish the situation, after all the lamp must radiate from the hill, mustn’t it? (This takes too far Jesus’ intent in Matthew 5:14-16, i.e. based from self-glory motives, not the glory of God.)

We are known intrinsically by the way we deal with people. People intuitively know our hearts often better than we know ourselves. Think how a broad sample of people who know us might respond to the questions, ‘What sort of friend is (your name)?’ or ‘Are they trustworthy, sincere, compassionate?’

One of my all time favourite proverbs is verse 19. It’s a good place to finish. It’s actually quite ambiguous and the original meaning’s probably lost in a few popular ones, none of which are of their own, wrong. Jesus, again, touched on this in Matthew 12.

People are who they are out of the overflow of what’s in their hearts. Nurture the right things long enough and only good seems to come out the majority of the time; the opposite is certainly true.

Proverbs 27, indeed, gets to the heart of things; the most important issue of life.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Great Time Grab

I’m sure we’re all guilty of it; the great time grab where we pinch time from one area of life to spend it on another. One of my favourites is putting off my working clothes ironing for more of what I love to do, writing. But there’s a limit to how much time we can grab.

Time grabbing’s also about a seeking of time so we can achieve more; plainly put, I find myself occasionally with too many good things to do than I have time for. Some things have to give, obviously.

But, there are also times when I manage to do all the things I wanted and I get to achieve great relational results to boot! These times are inspiring and I feel full of drive and energy to do even more. But, alas, it doesn’t always work out so cleanly.

At the end of the time grab journey we have to acknowledge the carriage of time only allows for a certain few, worthy activities and a certain few, quality relationships. We can’t do many things well or manage a whole bunch of relationships properly without the commensurate time invested.

There comes a time when we have to accept our limits, beyond the maximisation of our capacities and grown time-management skills.

Acceptance is such a key tenet of life that provokes peace and a life of harmony and joy beyond our ordinary circumstances.

It’s good not to be hood-winked into ‘not having enough time.’ We all have plenty of time, or at least the same amount. Complaints around lack of time (and I’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone) are nonsensical.

Grabbing time can be done skilfully but without a lot of practice--contingent on the surrender of acceptance--we can actually fall for selfishly demanding time for ourselves and our own needs, devoid of the life we must invariably live for others.

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

Fun/Light Leadership: Wins Support Hands Down

In an article titled, Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership, Daniel Goleman [discoverer of Emotional Intelligence] and Richard Boyatzis profile something I think we all implicitly know and connect with, but notwithstanding, are great leadership facts.

In every human mind there’s a “subset of mirror neurons” which is adept at feeling alive and awakened at the concept of being led by a fun-filled, ‘light’ manager. A workplace where good-natured humour is an everyday feature, and there’s little or no risk of criticism and condemnation, is a workplace people strive all their lives to find.

Sadly, many do not find this utopic workplace for years of job-jumping, and the missing link is leadership skills devoid of humility and the desire to gift people. The acid’s on current-day managers. Leadership is more about giving than it is about receiving.

Goleman and Boyatzis extend the concept further:

“Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations--or even mastering social skill sets--than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.” (Italics and bold mine.)
This provides food for thought, and a reflection point, on how to lead effectively. Of course, this only confirms what we already implicitly know.

The leader, as it is in reality, is heavily dependent on their team (and each member) and achieving outcomes via influence and personal charisma, as the generations-old method of ‘command and control’ is rarely effective in today’s world, even in the military.

The best leaders serve their teams; they provide leadership through example. They influence through inspiration. They inspire growth by pushing themselves more than their team or individual members of their team. They seem to be always good-natured; they know they have to be.

The leader’s mood is under constant scrutiny and he or she therefore has to find the sort of life balance which facilitates being in a ‘good mood’ the vast majority of the time:

“Being in a good mood, other research finds, helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is serious business.”
I don’t know about you, but I suspect you’ll relate... interacting at work in situations where there’s conflict and that distance-of-rapport defuses the passion I bring to that life outlet. It quenches my creativity and any sense of my personal ability to influence outcomes for the corporate good. I just become ‘dead’ in an environment where ‘the boss’ refuses to invest in fun, with me, at the personal level.

We all want integrally at our centre to be valued for the contribution we might bring; it’s the leader’s role to engender this environment, free of narcissism and fear, immersed in peace and good. Leadership is hence the wind beneath the individual’s and team’s wings, providing freedom to fly.

Refract the fun and we destroy what’s good about life.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.
Daniel Goleman & Richard Boyatzis, “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” in Harvard Business Review (Sept 2008). Retrieved 22 July 2009.

Proverbs 26, the Regurgitation of “Silliness” & Our Response

I once did a DISC personality profiling assessment and one of the comments made about my type was that ‘I didn’t suffer fools gladly.’ I know now what I didn’t know then; that was a blight on my character. The person who cannot stomach fools will inevitably become one by virtue of their arrogance of response. Contending well with a fool takes wisdom.

The following couplet of proverbs explains well, the dilemma we have when encountering the fool:
“Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you yourself will be just like them... Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes” –Proverbs 26:4-5 (TNIV).
Either way fools manage to make others look foolish or incompetent. They have a sadistically majestic way of routinely achieving the degradation of other human beings.

How do we contend?

On the one hand, our response to the loud, lazy, arrogant fool is to not respond, but he’ll corner us perhaps in some way through our inaction. When we do think about a wise response, he’ll find a way to reveal our thinking as inept. The fool thus thinks himself (or herself) rather intelligent. Unfortunately for him or her (and the rest of the population) he deludes himself, for real wisdom is something he’ll never touch (unless he repents).

Real wisdom is based in virtue, not vice. It has only good to share, not bad. It loves and does not hate, any time.

As a dog returns to its vomit, so does the fool to his silliness (v. 11 Msg); he seems destined to never learn right from wrong, and hence his life--of as much value as anyone else’s--is a rank waste. Some might use the term “oxygen thief” and think it apt (but personally I don’t like the term).

Verse 27 (Msg), however, says it all regarding fools and the rewards waiting for their behaviour. “Malice backfires; spite boomerangs.” And by virtue of the fact he or she can’t learn, their heart rages against God and all humanity for their own silliness (Proverbs 19:3). In this way, the fool’s destined to regurgitate his or her own stupidity. It is so predictable.

Proverbs 26 is a portrait of the fool. Isn’t it notable (and ironic) that this is positioned in the section of Proverbs that’s most conspicuously reserved for the character of royalty? Is this then part of the royal edification process: to learn about; to discern; to counter... the fool?

And so it is for us. If we’re seriously journeying on the path of virtuous moral wisdom, we need to study the nature and character of the fool. This is so we don’t enter foolishness ourselves, and so we can understand not only how to plan and react, protecting ourselves and others from the fallout, but also to learn to relate with them with wise compassion.

For in this is real wisdom, far higher than the selfish retort which comes from the lower reptilian/mammalian brain. Wisdom thinking is considered thinking from the neo-cortex.

When we can routinely feel compassion for the fool, yet not fall for his or her silliness, we can at last live in peaceable company with them, and their foolishness is finally found to be quite harmless.

“When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them” –Proverbs 16:7 (TNIV).
This is the best sign that Wisdom (in God) is winning the victory of hearts for us. When wise compassion is consistently and trustworthily applied in relationships with fools a harvest of peace is more likely to be reaped.

What does this wise compassion look like? It’s the wisdom from above:

“... the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” –James 3:17-18 (TNIV).
Peace and righteousness are so connected, like cause and effect (Psalm 85:10; Isaiah 9:7, 32:17; Romans 14:17 [with joy]; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 7:2, 12:11; and, of course, James 3:18).

Peace and righteousness in manifest wisdom--guided by God every step of the way--is the only way to effectively deal with foolishness.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Faith is Paradoxical: It Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense

Faith is the ability to cast into the question the things we think we know, in favour of open consideration of matters, in the search of truth. It plainly doesn’t make sense to let go of something that looks as if it needs to be held tight. Such is the tension of faith it requires us to do so.

We tell people not to deny their realities but with faith we simply must deny the seen reality in order to place trust in what is hoped for (in a certain way) but is as yet not seen. But this faith has to be based in something, generally separated by predominantly virtuous or vice-related motives.

And this is the sharp difference between ‘good faith’ and ‘bad faith.’ Bad faith trusts in the wrong information; it’s the wrong basis for personal judgment. It trusts in bad, ill-conceived ‘intel.’

Faith is not always easy to discern, which is probably why so few people venture her way. Yet, how common it is that people walk a plain path--one that looks inviting--only to trip up:

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” –Proverbs 16:25 (TNIV). This is bad faith apart from acts of poor assumption.

The Bible links faith with all sorts of wisdom constructs, apart from raw spiritual faith which knows that whilst God is for us, nothing substantial could be against us. (Our realities often present far to the opposite extreme, however--how often do we fear the visible reality, people etc?)

We’re told to take the counsel of wise friends (Proverbs 15:22; 27:9). We trust their judgment and hence faith is strength and courage to endure any hardship to remain loyal to the advice we’ve received. And it invariably (usually) pays substantial dividends.

Faith is a patent denial of the seen reality, and mechanically at least, is not too far detached from the pathological denial that maroons many a lost heart i.e. from bad faith. But, (good) faith is buoyed in truth and wisdom. Virtue and the universal law sees it consistently through.

No wonder many secular people disregard faith. It’s not easy. It doesn’t make logical sense. And it’s so rare that only a small percentage of people know its secret. Little do most understand, however, that a considerable amount of nightly News ‘hero’ stories are full-grown theatres of faith; their endings reveal them so.

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

“The Words I Would Say” – Sidewalk Prophets

What do you say to the person you care about from half a world away, when they’re hurting; when life’s a travesty in the making... when all hope seems gone? There are so many parents and brothers and sisters and friends in this situation every day... so what advice truly cuts it?

Well, the Sidewalk Prophets’ song, The Words I Would Say, reflects the whisper of the Spirit and the simple, reliable truths that so many have come to live by--after having survived such relational catastrophes.

Its lyrics are set at a kitchen table at 3 A.M. in the morning. A pen and a sheet of paper fill the space in front of you--couldn’t sleep due to a burdened heart and a solemn concern. The spiritual landscape is profound. There’s something that needs to be said, to match the prayers to God.

Have you ever had a moment like this when you knew you had to write an important letter with a precise, heartfelt message that would unquestionably make the point, giving that loved one the certain direction you felt you had to advocate for them?

You knew you were thinking like God. The fear’s not for ourselves and it’s beyond us--so completely out of reach; it necessitates faith, like it’s the only sensible option. With courage you take it.

For the person we’re reaching out to we want them to know our prayers are with them, obviously, and we hope beyond hope they’ll be sated somewhat by our heaven-bound thoughts. We seek hope for them; hope for a future where they’ll once again prosper and an enduring future hope will be known to them.

We want courage for them too; courage to forgive and forget, and not to live in fear but endure its momentary tension, seeing again the vision of purpose that keeps us all alive, breathing, and contributing another day.

Finally, taking our time and making time to pray and reflect and being gentle with ourselves, as per The Desiderata, especially during these darkest of seasons, is crucial to the cadence of peace every soul yearns for--most especially during the living nightmare of recovery from the broken relationship or loss.

Many of us have made it through this sort of patch, and we can testify, there is another day... a better, glorious day.

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

Capacity to Repent – A Sign of True Conversion & the Power of God

True salvation inevitably brings with it some level of true repentance toward a transformed mind, goals, and manifest behaviours. We not only think differently, we start to act differently too, as we seek to live in a more morally-accountable way.

True repentance is not always connected with true (or new) salvation. Anyone can truly repent. All it seems is required (to draw on God’s power and grace) is sufficient humility in response to the exposed truth, which engenders deep reflection at the heart level, toward a turning from one’s old ways to the new.

I said to someone only recently, I have more problems at sin than most. This is because I see myself from my own God-revealed state--though not condemning--a resultant bliss-filled benefactor of his rich portions of grace. I currently have two known areas of self-acknowledged sin (which to some might be that minor they’d hardly warrant reflection--but to me, a child of a holy God, these are to be worked on until completion i.e. eradication by God’s grace one moment at a time).

I read recently a beautifully incisive description of what true repentance is, and this explains in part why it’s so hard. It describes repentance as being beyond simple regret, and that for us is easy to explain. Regret is sorrow over an act whereas repentance is sorrow because of an act; two quite divergent responses on the moral plane.[1]

Repentance, furthermore, is split into two forms. And this is the key to uncovering why at times, when we’re frustrated by ongoing sin, we don’t become delivered from it.

Repentance is engaged by sorrow rooted in us hurting relationships by our acts and omissions, not the least of which our relationship with God. It starts viscerally--from deep within. It’s manifest sorrow for the hurt caused to another, even to God directly.

The power of true repentance toward a transformed mind, heart and hence, behaviour, is the resurrection power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

When we truly repent at the heart level (reaching the deep emotions because we begin to comprehend the impact of our behaviour on relationships) and not simply leave it at the intellectual level of the act itself, the power of God’s Spirit sweeps powerfully through us, giving us confidence and poise to do the thing he wishes us to do, one day at a time.

We hence become intrinsically motivated to make our relationships right; to restore the virtuous balance. We’re prepared to pay whatever restitution is required.

And this is why the Lord’s discipline in the form of resonant life consequences is so critically important; though we like it not! The consequences force us to decide. Do we submit in humility or reject the rebuke in pride (our default is, of course, the latter).

Consequences and restitution also propound the lesson, helping us truly learn so we don’t make the same mistakes again or as much.

The sign of true conversion, the witness of the ‘circumcised heart’ then, is the willing and almost enthusiastic response to all life rebukes, in an honourable and dignified way, and not from excess guilt or shame. (God’s got no interest in us feeling excessively guilty or shame-ridden; that’s the lot of the enemy.)

This is the resonant echo of the risen Christ in us as we bear our respective crosses over the whole lifespan. For repentance is as much a part of the Christian’s journey as any other part, and possibly more. It’s uniquely inherent in the Christian walk.

And this is the best sign of true conversion; does resurrection life flow through the person in these circumstances or not? That’s got to be the test question.

Whether the person’s been Christian 80 minutes or 80 years, the same fact remains. Can they call upon the power and grace of God to truly repent unto life eternal?

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

[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. 205, 210.

Hezekiah’s Diligence is Our Reward (Proverbs 25)

As Proverbs 25 continues the breakaway from the Sayings of the Wise, and begins a specialisation all its own (Kings, finery of character, and dignity to name a few) we get a glimpse of the end of the corpus. It’s at this point, of course, where the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version of the Scriptures goes a little haywire in the order of the proverbs, compared with what’s documented for us in today’s Bibles.

It’s almost as if these proverbs were handpicked by a king; indeed they were written by a king, attributed at least, to King Solomon. So anyone desiring to think like a king (extrapolate that also to ‘think like God’) here’s their chance. After all, what’s the best investment any one person can make in, and for, themselves? Rhetorically, of course, it’s the personal and frenetic search for Wisdom, and to become her constant companion and protégé.

Most of these proverbs speak about what is fitting. It is not fitting, for instance, for a good ruler (many roles in today’s terms including ‘leader’) to have morally incompetent people following him or her (v. 5) and the morally-competent ruler (leader) will slowly winnow them out. If they don’t, they themselves stand to fall.

There is a remarkability of ‘like’ complementary proverbs here giving us cues from rich imagery stirring the imagination to downright stock dead fact. There’s nine of them, all occurring in three’s (vs. 12-14, 18-20, 25-[27]28) (with the one minor latter exception). These are akin to the parables of Jesus, like the Lost Sheep/Coin/Son (Luke 15), or the Sower, Growing Seed and Mustard Seed (Mark 4) allegories. In their own compressed form these sets of proverbs provide a way for the open mind to re-imagine truth in a personally vibrant way.

Verses 25-[27]28 are I think about desire and courage. We desire good news and it rarely comes in comparison to humdrum life; it’s received like cold water after a walk on hot summer’s day. The virtue of courage is one of the most important things for the morally-diligent; any dilution of the commitment to courage would be disastrous. We see this all the time.

When we lose self-control, we lose much more. And there’s an important alignment here in verse 27b with verses 6-10. We must be prudent with what we say and how we say it, indeed how we position ourselves. Claim ground that’s not ours and we’re put back in our box very quickly! To enter into gossip--and yes, it might seem alluring--means the inevitable stain of hard cost that lingers--a bad reputation we may never lose (v. 10). Such outlay! It need not be like this...

We’re called to enter into what’s fitting.

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beyonce’s “Halo” – Lost in the Grip of Love

She’s hard as nails and impenetrable… apparently… but, wait, she’s fallen for him, this guy with the halo, halo, halo. One of the best songs going around is Beyonce’s Halo. The rich vocal tones and tremendous range are delicious to the ear, and the lyrics speak equally deliciously of captivation to love, romance, and that sweet time of falling quite sincerely for the only heart on earth… or as it seems in that moment. We’ve all been there, I suspect.

This love takes her unaware it seems--she swore she’d never fall again. Well, so much for that. It’s an insignificant fact at best, and one that produces wonderment at the grace of the one with a halo. All her needs are met in the image of him; his looks are everything she wanted, and more!

One of the ultimate sentiments of the song is a fervent hope that this stage of all-consuming love won’t pass; anything but that. This awakened feeling she experiences brings excruciating life, like all of life beforehand was a numbed, wasted, humdrum existence.

Could this ballad be a gospel song about salvation?--about the alluring engagement of the Spirit in our being.

We’ve all had the walls of our ignorance and pride raised before God broke in and teared them down, immersing us in his perfect love and showing us his Spiritual truth. We saw the perfection of God, the halo, the holiness; all the consummate implicit virtue of the Most High.

For all the previous resistance we had to the things of God, there’s suddenly a plain docile, yet invigorated, acceptance of his wondrous and personal saving grace. How did we not possibly see it ahead of time?

Whether it’s a gospel song or not, it’s a brilliant work of musical art and a song we’ll sing to for years yet. Think about the words and music in the light of the Light of the World and hope to be swept off your feet!

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

The Way to Wisdom & Faith So You’ll Fail Not (Proverbs 24)

“If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!” And so part of Saying 25 of the Thirty Sayings of the Wise goes. I like the parallel from Jeremiah: “If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?” (12:5 NRSV) In today’s secular terms it’s, ‘Toughen up, princess!’ (I’ve never liked it because it has no empathy about it.)

The key to getting through life unscathed is become an advocate and not fall for envy. The first twelve verses of Proverbs 24 discuss this approach of turning the negatives that surround us into positives. Then there are the typical themes of trust and hope, diligence and honesty, which feature highly in Proverbs--these counter the temptations for violence and partiality.[1]

Honey, of all things, is linked with Wisdom in verses 13 and 14. Like honey, Wisdom is sweet to the taste and full of goodness, and that is where our hope is--in the good. And we can’t take the good for granted; for our hope can be cut off the instant we stray from the path of wisdom.

There’s a lot in Proverbs 24 about enemies and those who might pit themselves against us. We’re not to take justice into our own hands (v. 29) or gloat at their ruin (vs. 17, 18) for we also have the same Judge and he judges with the same gauge with no favouritism; and he abhors favouritism in us too (v. 23).

Proverbs is almost tiresome on the lazy fool, and chapter 24 gives us more explosive imagery to conclude the chapter of wise sayings (vs. 30-34). Poverty and scarcity is the lot of the lazy and we’re best set when we prioritise diligently over all our affairs (v. 27).

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

[1] Paul E. Koptak, Proverbs – NIV Life Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), p. 560-61.

Stalking Happens Within the Christian Community Too

A few years back when I was studying at Seminary, I had the unfortunate experience of being on the wrong side of a prank that (as far as I was concerned) went too far. I had been getting these anonymous text messages for several days, which at first were quite innocuous; only later I thought they were a little more pointed.

At one point, having previously ‘let them go through to the keeper,’ I responded. (I would later find it would’ve been better not to.) I’d had enough of them and decided to argue the point, and that was a mistake, because it just fed this person.

The more it went on, and the more upset I got, the more I felt vulnerable, because I simply didn’t know who this was. This person was close to me; they knew names of my family and seemed to know me very well i.e. in a detailed way. I even had a friend doing some counter espionage for me to try and work out the identity of this person. It was causing me a lot of stress.

At one point during a particular day when the messages become quite threatening--and with very intelligent use of language I’ll add--I entertained it was Satan himself who was the thorn in my side! I was so anxious I went and made a report to the Police; it was getting way out of hand.

Days later, I found out the identity of the person, and that at least one other trainee ‘pastor’ knew about it--it was a big joke, of course. I was both upset and relieved, but challenged by God to forgive, and even eventually laugh with them (figuratively speaking).

Only recently I read the author of a blog I occasionally read incensed about a certain anonymous commenter soliciting ‘bold’ comments without identifying themselves. This person has also commented on some of my blog posts--and I must say I’ve been intrigued as to who he or she was.

The point is, both of these instances have quite obviously left the person on the receiving end feeling victimised, even stalked. And these are in the so-called Christian world of ‘love your brother and sister as yourself.’

Perhaps the worst thing from my own personal experience of being stalked is you begin to doubt everyone in your midst, and trust is seriously tested. Because we don’t know the identity of the person we can begin to assume bad of everyone.

Being stalked is no fun. It takes the person feeling victimised in this way through a range of emotions, and they’re all negative, and all based in fear, which is something any proper Christian person is keenly aware of--to negate or avoid promoting it in others, and certainly from ourselves as the source.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Make up your own damn mind!

Far from telling you what to do, I can let you in on a powerful truth that can transform your life and your self-esteem. Try this and I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the results of your own pre-programmed auto-suggestion. I’ve done it and it’s brought me most of the time to the brink of a self-fulfilled prophesy.

It’s simply this: make up your own mind “who” you want others to see you as, and then simply start to see them seeing you just like this person you’ve created. It’s the new “you.”

For example, if you want your supervisor to see you as diligent and trustworthy, why not simply start seeing them in your interactions as valuing you for these qualities. It’s amazingly easy to do this if you’ve got a healthy, positive self-esteem. (But you can’t get a healthy, positive self-esteem without some act of boldness toward it--just make a start.)

The truth is we do this without thinking anyway, but we invariably slate ourselves pessimistically thinking others are thinking negative things about us. And at least half the time it’s probably not true. In this, we can only set ourselves up to fail.

But, instead, we can start to dream up our own destiny by creating others’ perceptions of us. We just need to make sure these ‘scripts’ we’re designing and writing (i.e. bringing to habit) are good ones based on mutual benefit i.e. so that they will ‘stick.’

Making up our own minds as to how we want to be seen will inevitably give us the impetus to succeed in life because it will force us to reflect on who we want to be.

It’s your life! It’s yours to determine.

We must get to know ourselves and our passions; what we were made for. This is the essential starting point, for if we know the answers to these questions the other people in our lives (even our bosses) are just actors helping us bring our dreams into reality.

Again, I can’t over-emphasise… we create self-talk in a microsecond about what we think others are thinking of us; a massive percentage of the time we’re not even close to understanding the real thoughts of others (unless we’re expert psychologists or psychiatrists).

Rather than attribute their thoughts about us as negative, we can equally attribute these as positives--and therefore reap increased stocks of self-esteem and power to grow and ultimately contribute to broader goals through amplified influence.

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

Stress and ‘Thinking’ versus ‘Feeling’ Types

Some people take their work problems home whereas others tend to take their home problems to work; I’m in the latter group. What about you? I’d also like to share a theory with you which relates this situation with the ‘thinking/feeling’ types on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

According to the MBTI personality profiling tool all of us fit into either ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’ preference types. I’m a ‘feeler,’ and an intuitive feeler (NF) at that. This means that I like to work with concepts and people rather than concrete things and processes.

Wondering aloud, I ponder whether feeling types tend to be the ones to take their home problems to work, being more emotionally engaged in life--and being that the emotional centre of life is usually in the home.

Conversely, travel with me to the thinker. Do they have the opposite inclination i.e. to bring problems from their thinking world at work home with them? The theory makes sense in that the emotional centre of life is less of a priority than the thought world--this is not to say they’re not as engaged in the home as the feeling person is. Their default, however, might be to focus on the process of things in the concrete world of work.

What are the implications both ways? For the feeling person it’s a matter of focussing on getting the home life working well enough that they are free to operate well at work. For the thinking person perhaps, they might need to consider the impact of work (and the problems created at work) and how that manifests itself in the home and with the family.

It’s all about work/life balance, which according to some is a myth in any event. David Deane-Spread says we must simply, “Identify [our] priorities and make sure they align with the other people in [our] life who are important.” Do this and “balance” becomes us. It’s all about identification and then action to bring all of life together; the integrated package.

Think about what causes you most stress, and what the origin of the stress is, and also what impacts that produces. Planning and problem-solving can go a long way toward bringing that yearned-for balance you’ve sought over the years.

It can be yours! Commit and succeed.

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

“Sayings of the Wise” in Proverbs 23

“Do not’s,” “listen to’s,” and the effects of drunkenness dominate the Sayings of the Wise in Proverbs 23. These clear themes speak boldly to us in ways to reap life and avoid the path of death. Now, let’s break them down:

If we like what we see and it’s not ours we’re wise to withdraw, considering it not like our own. Cast but a glance at riches and they’re gone (v. 5). Covet someone else’s things and we skate on the thin ice of life, ready to plunge to our depths. Another’s food (and particularly a king’s) is deceptive. We must be thankful for what we already have.

We should also be careful whose food we decide to eat, for an ungracious host can create regret within us for having stepped foot inside his house (vs. 6-8). The meal comes at an exorbitant price and we might not have the means to pay. And the currency may certainly not be what we expect it to be!

We ought to only fellowship with those akin in heart; those seeking our genuine companionship. These come from the most unexpected sources at times. Provide hospitality for the angel when he or she comes.

There’s a turning from quick advice to parents on discipline at verse 13, back to the son in verses 15 following, hearkening us back to Proverbs 1–9.

If we punish our children for moral wrong they will not die; paradoxically we save them from death. Psalm 37 is the echo of verses 17 and 18 (saying 15)--we’re not to envy the sinner for wanton treachery. Instead, God’s our focus. In him alone our hope is not cut off.

We’re hastened away from drunkenness and gluttony and to wisdom. “Buy the truth and do not sell it--wisdom, instruction and insight as well” –Proverbs 23:23 (TNIV). It’s the truth alone that sets us free (John 8:32).

Gross consumption of alcohol and food makes us poor and clothes us in rags. We become physical messes. The adulterous is a ‘narrow well,’ swallowing our very life (v. 27). Both wine and loose women bite like a viper, and it is well for us to keep our eyes fixed on Wisdom (Hebrews 12:2) and held fast away from what is not ours in this life.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Disciplining Children & Other Themes (Proverbs 22)

It’s interesting isn’t it, the divergently different methods over history pertaining to parenting practice. Well, Proverbs has a particular slant on how to bring kids up, and it’s very effective, but it requires a very wise, focused parenting style with an eye on the longer term development of the child.

There’s another significant thing about Proverbs 22--at verse 17 is the commencement of the Thirty Sayings of the Wise that carries on into Proverbs 24. But more on that further down.

Two key proverbs on parenting virtue around the discipline of our children mark the proverbial stance. Verses 6 and 15 (TNIV) say respectively, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it… [and] … Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.”

We must start children on their way to virtuous (wise, prudent, diligent) living from the very first moment, and each day forth, being careful not to be lazy in the task of teaching them moral truth. We do this and most of the time we can expect them to not turn from it. It will become so ingrained. Importantly, the heart will know the ‘moral reason why’ and the grown child will reflect a fundamental concern for the preciousness of others.

To teach this is our goal as parents, and anytime we see our kids straying from moral living we have to sternly correct them. It would be better to over-correct (without becoming abusive) than under-correct, for children are by nature ‘foolish’ of heart. Unless we teach them about the core preciousness of others they’ll probably not learn it.

The ‘rod of discipline’ is not necessarily a cane or a physical implement, but it includes these. For wanton and flagrant disregard of people, animals and property, children up to about 7 or 8 should potentially be chastised i.e. smacked. Doing this properly, however, is a whole subject on its own and something I’m not tackling here.

There are four clear “do not’s” in the six Sayings of the Wise in Proverbs 22:22-28. These are clear commands for the wise to be ever vigilant about.

We do not exploit the poor, as we’d be pitting ourselves against God. We’re careful not to make friends with those prone to a “hot temper” as we might very well become ensnared with them. We don’t move ancient boundary stones i.e. lie or steal to defraud someone over land--the most precious material commodity in the ancient Near East--most of all regarding our relatives. Blood is thicker than water. (And, after all, it’s our family heritage at stake!)

We must also not go into bat for someone with whom a bad association is likely to form or has formed. Getting involved with them might mean we’d put at jeopardy everything we call precious.

Finally, we’re encouraged to grow our skills, for the skilful will not serve only the lowly; they’ll end up working for the finest bosses available. This further inspires us in our work and extends and propounds our purpose in life.

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

The Spiritual Experience

When we’re at our dearth we’re most vulnerable to the Spiritual experience. That is my experience. God (whom I believe is the source of all wonder-filled and good spiritual experience) specialises in gifting the low of heart. It’s the compassion of God which occasionally reaches out when we’re at screeching depth.

At his lowest ebb, King David cried out to God and it was revealed to him that, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” –Psalm 51:17 (NIV). He’d fallen into a messy affair and had even disposed of the woman’s husband, and only then had he ‘fessed up’ to God about it, after being accused by a seer, I might add. A godly man, he was forlorn.

As I read a blog post of a valued mentor recently I was reminded of these things. The fact is that when we take the time to do what God blesses, he does so, indeed. The situation was that my friend had taken time out to cleanse and rest his mind and empty his heart on a particularly spiritual day. His soul yearned for the time, and he spent it in a spiritual place.

Often in these situations we’re gifted from above with something, however small, it’s always truly significant. My guide-friend was gifted with a book; all its ideas clear and concise--ready to write... three sittings later the manuscript was finished.

The last significant spiritual experience I had was in a dream that I was woken from (in the natural way).

The dream consisted of one single interaction with an angel-like being--a messenger of God--giving me some important revelatory information about my own life context. The reason I know the dream was a spiritual experience was that I was tested quite subvertly. The angel-like being wouldn’t give me the information I needed unless I qualified to be ready--as it happened, I was ready.

The other reason I knew it was a spiritual experience from God was it involved my relationship with a special person in my life, and how I was interacting with them at the time, and how that needed to improve.

I got a vision; indeed it was a film clip. I was given enough to understand and then the angel-like being sought to clarify that I understood; the moment I acknowledged “yes,” I woke up.

I wasn’t at my depths at the conscious level, but the incisiveness of God knows what’s beneath our conscious states and he cuts through to the spirit. Only afterwards did I acknowledge that my handling of this relationship was causing me much concern. At a deeper level I was in anguish.

When I woke after the dream, it was about 2 A.M. I got up and quickly scribbled the vision down on seven A6 notepad pages, re-read it to ensure the appropriate detail was there, and then I went back to bed.

What amazed me most was the personal relevance of this experience. And this agrees with my friend’s experience too. And both confirm my understanding of this personally-relating God of ours, through Jesus (I believe). The apostle Paul was struck down blind on Damascus Road and had the most personal experience of God. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” said Jesus. Paul went from murderer of Christians to being the chief apostle, overnight!--in one blinding revelation.

Once we are touched by the hand of God--who knows our spirits infinitely--we’re changed and our outlook on life takes on a different, more eternal perspective. He’s reached us and reconciled us to ourselves, and more importantly, he’s reconciled ourselves to him.

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