Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Burning Platform Unto Burning Ambition – Somebody Stop Me!

I’m a mad Jim Carrey fan. Every one of his movies is a hit in my opinion. His role in The Mask was particularly poignant for me. I recalled as I was thinking on this topic of outrageous success and the total fulfilment of goals how Carrey boomed in the dance scene, “Somebody stop me!” And that’s the enthusiasm we need to have to reach our goals—to make the change sustainable.

I’m actually very frustrated with myself. This feeling is nothing new. I have come to a frustrating nexus—a centre of pain knowing that one goal eludes me. One goal, for a time is conquered, and then it isn’t. I maintain an integrity of purpose for so long and then, at a moment of weakness, the resolve is lost. I feel hopeless.

“It is not good to eat too much honey… He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.” –Proverbs 25:27a-28 (Amplified).

The fact is I’ve always wanted to be a fit leviathan, and my love of food often gets in the way—somehow I’ve been cursed with being able to consume monstrous amounts of food. I just don’t get full or sick when others would. This seems my last prevailing natural weakness of desire. I’m sick of doing well for a month or two only to fall off the wagon eventually!

Do you identify in some way with the struggle I have? I think many do, and many have other differing problems. But, I believe there’s a way through. I’ll never give up that thought. ‘I’ll get up again, over and over,’ to paraphrase Madonna.

What I have is a burning platform situation. The ground upon which I stand is being consumed from under me and I need to move, and quickly at that! That’s not my real problem—I love the burning platform which is impetus for change.

My real problem is internalising my change so that the burning platform converts into a ever-burning ambition fuelled by my own intrinsic (healthy) desire. I’ve done this with many other problems and goals. The last one remains.

I find Paul inspiring in the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage. He links love to maturity—the ability to finally love (and act) as an adult should love (and act):

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.” –1 Corinthians 13:11 (Amplified).

Seeing maturity as a pursuit of necessity, certainly with regard to looking back from an end of life perspective, is really the only way to live life—challenging and hard, yes, but no easy, soft life is ever that rewarding. Looking back from eternity upon the waste we put up with… that’s not a good thought.

God calls us to mature. He calls us to eradicate the weaknesses of the natural and carnal, to put on the Spiritual—that which satisfies better than any food, substance or created thing.

But, for the Spirit to convert this into something real and sustainable, we need to engage our minds and hearts and find out, for ourselves, what it is for us to covert that burning platform into a flaming ambition burning ever-bright. This is no easy and straightforward journey—but one infinitely worthwhile. Eternally-speaking, we have no other sane choice. We live this life to mature, period. Enduring or putting up with the immature is to want spiritual emptiness.

We must let our goals consume us or they simply won’t stick. Come on, we mean business now!

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

I have to acknowledge Mr. Peter Fuda, Leadership Guru, of The Alignment Partnership for the metaphors of burning platform together with burning ambition. You can find TAP at http://www.tap.net.au/

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“Believers” and True Believers: What Separates Them

Going for a walk with my wife recently on a lovely spring day it was easy to notice the amount of people out and about, each one a uniquely special person. It is always interesting to observe people from afar. Different walks, different talks, colours, accents, energies, rhythms. And each too fits along a “faith continuum” which describes a lot of things about their character and how they’ll react to varying life situations.

I recall singing in church and the lines to Blessed Be Your Name creating a problem for me, certainly regarding my own human experience, and the lies for many and most of us in singing earnestly that song (and many others we sing in church). Perhaps we simply express a wish in singing them...

It’s an emotional hook I’m sure that some people don’t even realise. How can we really sing, “On the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name,” when the vast majority of people singing it either don’t believe in that theology, and if they do, they can’t or don’t practice it? Sure, we aspire to it... but can we get there? (Well, others have!)

Certainly, living the Blessed Be Your Name life is patently about living a life lost to God. Yet, the true believer is often ostracised by the “believer” because their faith sets them apart from the world—a world the “believer” has not yet learned to let go of.

There is hence often a sharp disconnect between supposed belief and lived reality.

And it’s inauthenticity that creates division and condemns real progress in the Spirit as people (“believers” and now true believers) start looking over their respective shoulders. The true believer is reeled in, at times even when they’ve committed not to. The slightest vein of inauthenticy, of course, spoils the batch—but that’s our collective reality.

Then I thought of selecting one Bible verse that would convey what it is I’m thinking—the authenticity of the true believer. Micah 6:8 was thrust almost directly into my vision:

“He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (TNIV)

And this is what it means. We are not to simply “talk it,” we are to do what God says. We are to place others first and do this aggressively against our flesh-selves—that part of our ego that wants it all (or even slightly) our own way. We fight for justice in this way; we therefore act justly. We develop our hearts to feel as God feels i.e. mercifully. We walk in quiet certitude with God.

The true believer must come back to this stature of true lived belief over and over and over again. They will be tripped up, and though they will stumble they will not fall entirely (Psalm 37:24). They’ll go on to be characterised, more or less, by Micah 6:8.

And they will ‘believe’ without swaying; consistently, generously, overwhelmingly. They will go against the flow in their belief—cutting across the grain of contemporary “safe” (worldly) belief. The will believe extravagantly, passionately, gracefully.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

To Live, Learn and Share – Simply For The Awed Thrill Of It

Kenneth Phillips said on his Facebook status, paraphrasing Musicians and Authors, “We teach what we need to learn! Do what is healing to your spirit and others will be healed in return.” I often ask myself if anyone ever reads my stuff or finds it useful; then God will often point out to me what he’s doing for me in the midst of it. It’s his therapy to me personally that I’m (alone) most thankful for.

And what is music and rhyme if not a symphony of God subliminally expressed through some human being who’s obedient enough to the rhythm to portray something meaningful to the utter profound?

And life’s a song when we see it from this angle. A melded sonata with varying quality wavelengths, and occasional pieces of brilliance—a thing to be lived, breathed, learned and shared. And when we live for such brightness our lives have reached that halcyon place of God.

We do it for free or not at all. We serve for the sheer weight of blessing that unfolds upon and over us. God is Spirit and he makes for us space to please him; and when we do, we are only then truly alive—“inspiration” would be such a secular word in comparison with this ‘feeling’ God gives.

We play for the Audience of One, and he alone gives us heavenly practice. It is he and me, he and you. That’s all there is, all there was, all that there will be. And we do well to remember this more and more, so our concertos (i.e. our lives and the way we live them) have glittering materialisation fitting of God.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Post Script: The essence of this has nothing whatsoever to do with perfection. Perfection is secular. In the Spiritual realm perfection is on the wrong scale.

Go On Beyond, Truly – Dare To Dream

I live in a world of words and meaning. I think words and I dream words. I dream whole posts and articles and stories. When I’m obedient enough I wake and take them down, refine them later and post them. This I recently did not do to my chagrin! But as I did wake to visit the toilet I did remember the essence of something I want to let you know about.

I envisioned something wonderful, something God put in there. But now it’s gone, but for a time I hope.

The truth is it’s a large world we live in. Our thought worlds also are very large but we ourselves limit them with our own punyish plans. Don’t get me wrong. Most of our plans range on a scale from “okay” and “suitable” to, let’s say, “radical.” But our plans always seem to have a sameness about them in hindsight. That’s what concerned me.

We must be prepared to offer our grand plans to God, totally, in a way to seek better from him. And by “better” it’s not meant simply “improved,” but better on a strange scale over and above what we could conjure up in our beta-state mindfulness. I think this is why I got my vision in a dream. My brainwaves were attuned to receiving and not creating all my own like I’m doing right now.

We must be willing to skirt past the thing that looks attractive, going on beyond this for the real revelation; even if we place what is before us in fleeting moratorium.

So, I pray for those words to re-appear before me. I seek God’s face on the subject. And next time I pray to be obedient beyond sleep. I will hopefully not be so tardy.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Faith “Privatised,” Packaged and “Cooked to Go!”

It’s actually old news that people in our now-Globalised world will have their faith sprinkled with salt and seasoned to taste—that occurred sometime about twenty or thirty years ago now. Forget sin and Christ crucified for our saving, faith suddenly needed to be “good to go,” something that applied and fitted appropriately to one’s exact self-moulded needs.

And, from a completely different plane, I recall now many a management and leadership forum, conference and seminar, during this same time and since, lauding the Christianised qualities of “best practice” to the exclusion of Christ.

It’s as if the spiritually-founded moral principles of the ancients are being claimed by these secularists as new—and, of course, we know better about this “re-badging” process. As A.W. Tozer would say, ‘There’s been nothing new since Adam!’ Well, at least the business world is awakening more and more to spiritually-moral principles, and, of course, they apply everywhere!

So, we see a world before us that needs a particular set of highly personalised reasons to believe in God—to see that he is “relevant.” For us, saying that Jesus came to live here—God becoming human—to reach back and redeem a fallen humanity, a divinely-initiated and predicted response to a predictable calamity—the fall—is pure bumpkin unless we can demonstrate his “applicability” to their lives.

This approach plainly forgets grace—that massively overwhelming capability and response of only a universally powerful, all-knowing, all-present God—a God of love.

Yet, we underplay the issue of “relevancy”—the threat to a lack of respect of God—to our detriment. Perhaps the value of the individual, the person, has come to the forefront of society for a reason. Perhaps we’re premature to deride this move of ‘societal selfishness’ and see it merely as the beginning of the end. Perhaps this phase of the focus on the individual—a phase that appears to have stuck—is a good thing; even a necessary thing.

Perhaps we’re enlightened enough now to want Christ to mould our lives into moral meaningfulness. Perhaps we’ve lived enough of the empty, mundane, morally-relative life where denial has had free reign and we yearn for something more real. They don’t say, Jesus all about life for nothing.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Accept One Another – The “Powered” Life

Rejection and acceptance are polar opposites. They make diametrically and supremely powerful life outcomes and destinies a reality for every single person. Rejection and acceptance experiences set us on the path to failure and hopelessness or success and confidence. This is probably the most profound concept known to humankind, beyond total God.

“Accept one another, then” says Paul, “just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” –Romans 15:7 (TNIV). It is more literally, “Therefore, receive one another, as also Christ received you to the glory of God.”

The key word is “receive,” or proslamban┼Ź in the original Koine Greek, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “treat with kindness.”[1] It means “to welcome” in the broadest sense.[2] And therein lies the most resplendent and faith-held test of fruitfulness of the Christian person. It is this:

Can the person not only tolerate people, but extend the holiest sense of grace to them? This is a patient, peaceable approach with people, even in the presence of offence i.e. a resilient, abiding meekness. Of course, we all fail from time to time. But what is it we’re characterised by?

But, the issue of acceptance goes way beyond this. This verse is merely the concluding statement. We should know life doesn’t work for us or others unless there’s open levels of, and commitment to, unconditional acceptance—the acceptance represented in Christ’s dying for us whilst we were still sinners!

As Jesus accepts us warts ‘n’ all—when we don’t deserve God’s grace—we accept others without regard for warts, extending God’s grace to all in genuine kindness and authenticity, powered by the Holy Spirit.

But, it’s harder than that, isn’t it? Or is it? Of all the fancy theological jargon it doesn’t get any more complicated than loving others unconditionally—acceptance.

Some Christian people “fluff up” the faith making it sound so fandangled when it’s not—they delude themselves. Faith is a moral exercise. Remove morality from theology and we get a legalistic, crusty, hypocritical form of faith, which should not even be called “faith.” How can faith and injustice rightly co-exist in the same sentence? We’ve all experienced inauthentic Christianity.

In fact, we’re so experienced with inauthentic and crass people; we’re used to rejection in this world. And yet we too are inauthentic and crass, rejecting people—because we have been rejected and treated inauthentically and crassly. What comes around goes around.

The Spiritual life represents a flipping of rejection for acceptance, but in a twisted way.

The Holy Spirit-filled “powered” life is a paradoxically weak life. The spiritually-proud never get it. It’s a moral power we wield, and in Christ we wield it to the blessing of others—them first. We show our acceptance of others by esteeming them first, routinely.

This is an abhorrent power to the world. No one understands the motive, and they can’t when they’re devoid of Christ. The plain truth comes down to the fact that all people are far more expectant of rejection than they are of acceptance—a sad reality that is; even in many families.

The profoundest issue is this: if God accepts our fellows we have no right to reject them. It is therefore the key part of our purpose in this life to accept all people for who they are. This means we do not take offence. And in the process of all this, the glory for our graciously humble acts goes to the One who saved us even when we were (and often are) an offence to him!

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.



[1] Wesley J. Perschbacher (Ed.), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), p. 354.

[2] Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976, 1980), p. 381.

In “Nothingness” – That Elusiveness of Joy and Happiness

Joy and happiness seem everything. Yet to get to this place we have to realise some things. One of them is that most of desire, when it’s analysed introspectively, is an evading of a deeper truth—a truth that forever stands in our way—a roadblock to happiness. This desire, and the barriers of reality, must be negotiated to come into that table-land of personal, swimming glory; the place where the senses are alive to life in a positive and all-consuming way, not held back for anything.

And this sort of spiritual happiness and joy can be founded even on nothingness, but it need be said that...

A world of nothing isn’t boring when you’re weary from busyness and a raft of other life difficulties—it really seems a safe haven—even for time to rest one’s aching feet and back, like on a day trip deep in the afternoon, as solace is sought in a garden courtyard—even ten minutes rest; an image for the tired mind and catastrophically burdened heart.

The active yet peaceful mind is the perfectly attentive corrective.

It swings gracefully in a quiet comfortable peace of knowledge. This mind bathes in truth forever, it seems, in balance. The truth is not harmful at this place. The truth is welcomed. A resigned, accepting courage joins the demeanour of the soul.

For some, life appears as a game—it’s hardly real. No wonder they don’t care about the consequences—live now, pay later is the philosophy; for most of us this is the case—at least occasionally.

Bottle the mood—it’s a wonderful quietude which suffuses the soul. Smile.

Embrace the nothingness—something or someone is there. It’s only in this sweet mood we get cognisance of it. It hardly appears real—yet there’s nothing more real. In this moment, space appears, and awkwardly for a time. Yet, space is necessary for us in our ‘standing back’ activities, as we survey our lives, and consider what has gone before and what beckons now. It’s a planning moment. Nothingness now takes on “somethingness.” It is our life we’re talking about—there’s significance here! ... Right?

Mood has a lot to do with it—but even moods mature given days or weeks in the sun of mental, emotional and spiritual safety. Nurture the peace, allowing it to blossom. We must sparge it, goading and invigorating it, ripening it as if tending a garden.

Nurturing and guarding (as in gardening—the “shepherding” of the spiritual garden) are vital life attributes and activities; invest in them. It will prove our most fulfilling experience, with ‘return on investment’ higher than we could have ever thought.

Faith and fear are the opposite sides of the coin of life—we vacillate like a spinning coin between the two—but on what side will it land?

There is only one rational side for the coin to land; the fear-side faces the ground and upon the faith-side shines a reflective, all-telling light... new life—new dawn... joy, happiness and peace beckon... and out of the wilderness we trudge!

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Temptation, Go Higher...

It was Oswald Chambers who said, “The golden rule in temptation is—Go higher.”[1] He says that both God and Satan do take us higher; the difference? Satan makes us think we are clinging on in higher glory—a place and position we could never sustain; God makes it expansively comfortable to remain there—a roomy table-land we find it easy to move about in!

“God has to hide from us [personally] what He does until by personal character we get to the place where He can [safely, for us] reveal it.”[2]

It is implied here that the “insight of our character” is something hidden from us… perhaps it is the spiritual part of our being, and the personal part is the flesh—the flesh that is greedy for growth; that wants to take growth.

I love the quote out of Habakkuk 2:3b (NLT): “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Even though this speaks of end times I believe it has a theological relevance in other areas, such as growth in life as we enjoin our faith expectantly of good.

We always look back over ourselves a year ago as ‘having come so far’ since those heady days. We have grown most of the time. And this is how we notice growth; it’s upon the glory of reflection of a distally past time—yet a safe distance back to view things in the reality of God’s light, not our own.

To journey us safely to that higher table-land God does so in deliberate and careful ways knowing how sensitive we are to light, greed, waste and attrition. He treats us gracefully for our own protection. He takes us to the better place not before time.

It is our task to be patient. Yet again, when we’re tempted for more, we come directly to God. We seek his throne and pray to hear him say, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this,” in relevance to our own lives. (Revelation 4:1b TNIV)

At all times we run with God, not ahead of him. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” –James 4:8 (TNIV).

© 2009, S. J. Wickham.




[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House, 1935, 1993), p. March 27.

[2] Chambers, Ibid.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Psalm 23 – I Shall Not Be In Want

Life is irreconcilable at times. We cannot fathom it; it’s beyond us and our very small understanding. And we find ourselves either hopelessly frustrated or pensively resigned to it all. It’s the latter stance we can grow upon in the context of Psalm 23—the Shepherd Psalm.

We know that when we think and write upon such matters as these we are experiencing the coldness of life—a time when we need God; and he’s always there, wholly available for us to rest in.

Somehow, as we walk and endure the hellishness of life, we find an inexplicable comfort that God walks with us—his rod to protect and cajole, his staff to guide. We’re but little lambs in the context of a mysterious life of the universe of existence and being.

We know pain, sure, but we know a comfort that transmutes the pain bringing a calming order to the chaos. The seas of our souls billow and gently ebb before swallowing us whole.

And we find peace in all this, somehow. We go on, and so does life. As each second ticks by we find the unfolding mystery that is our life bringing us to a more complete picture, according to who God is.

He brings us serenity for we desire it—and he is good. He reveals his plans to us in little pieces so we can comprehend them, and also his glorious majesty.

The most breathtaking reality is that, in God, we shall not want. It may seem we need more, but he alone is all we need. He alone is all we have.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Swimming - In Life, Hope and Love

I have an innate passion for young people. This is because I have children. It’s also because I saw how easy it was for adults to abuse young people during my formative years, in the workplace context. It makes sense that I’m now a workplace safety advocate and it also explains my former roles as youth worker/pastor.

I recall doing my apprenticeship as a 16 or 17 year old and maintaining huge water tanks in the north west of Australia. We’d occasionally need to get inside those 250 Megalitre tanks (and smaller ones) and make sure float assemblies and other equipment worked properly.

At times we would need to wade in the water, and we even fell into the water... quite eerie, spooky and lonely places these were; they were dark, big, quiet and wet. The image, if one imagines it, of swimming in a huge contained body of water is not too far removed from a concept I want to explore. It was a huge “room” of water.

In life we swim in many things, including thought. Some of us are forever plagued by the onerousness of a pervading beta-state thinking pattern by far and away most of the time. We cannot seem to escape our thoughts—we carry them, at times, even to bed with us.

But, there are some positive aspects in this sort of existence. We cycle in and out of our thinking like we cycle in and out of anything else we “swim” in; it’s seemingly inescapable. We move within the environment, around and about, but always we remain there.

And to turn this on its head we transform it into the positive—the only truly “good” way. We make this plague-some idea work for us. We get lost in the unfathomable depths of the water (our worlds we swim in) and we’re lost to a driving purpose that takes us well out of our depth—into even an unknown world, but we keep on going... “But now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.” –Ezekiel 47:5 (NIV).

And it is in this place, far out in the river, that our purpose takes us—and then beyond. And it’s when we’re swept up in this driving purpose that life does not get more uncertain, it gets clearer. We should feel unsafe but instead we feel unbounded.

We get to see but a taste of the voluminousness of life; it’s so mysterious. It’s out of this context that we cannot escape the beauty of life—a huge body of being and existence—an environment to swim in and simply consider.

What looks big, eerie and scary actually is welcoming and positively alluring—it is not a trap. We then make the fear out to be what it actually is—nothing.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

An Open Letter of Thanks to Mum and Dad

Dear Mum (and Dad),

Do you know what today marks? I'm sure you do. It’s actually a day to celebrate. It marks the sixth anniversary of the horrendous phone call I made to you from the main bedroom at Port Royal Drive to ask if I could move in as my then marriage evaporated before our eyes, much to the shock and utter disappointment of you both, the family, the kids and I.

I recall that moment as if it were yesterday. It was a horrible time... too raw to even contemplate perhaps, as a world of uncertainty and emotional and spiritual dearth surrounded us all. But the cherishable fact is this: in that abyss I can now see the heights of God’s eternal plan—a plan that is still very incomprehensible. Yet, indeed I celebrate as although I see “through a glass, darkly”—an “imperfect perception of reality,” I do have a real view, certainly with regard to your love, all the same.

I celebrate your undying strength and devotion to pick up a mortally wounded mid-thirties son and support him safely through the period, augmenting (with God) a recovery and a hope unprecedented in his personal history. At such a difficult time, God makes it even more profound by scourging another family member (Dad) with a physical ailment that broke us more than once—to the glory of the Father as we fell together. Not did these events create division—they created a wonderfully bonding unity, to the strength, honour and blessing of our entire family. And we continue to enjoy this blessing unfurled as we live our lives today and into our collective tomorrows.

Whether we survive for just today, tomorrow or for two weeks time, or for two or more decades, we will always have that very profound time to venture back to, as in an oral tradition that propounds our family’s identity.

My God is a God of wonderful revelation. He creates “coincidences” for us to marvel at. In the dozens upon dozens of “coincidences” since those dark days and beyond, we see but a bond of love that enshrines and unifies us; a bond we have in the eternal realm. A bond we will get to take with us into our eternities.

For your faithfulness to your son, there are a great many incalculable blessings, many you and I will not know until the end. God is not only great, he’s GOOD also. For the love you showed me and the strength of hope you demonstrated—even when there was no strength left—I am eternally indebted to you both.

And my ministry, which I am called for in God, is forever dedicated to you, as I too become the strength of hope (in God) for others (any other) who finds themselves in such dire personal circumstances. And any of the glory for these acts will not only go to God, but to you both also—in the eternal realm!

You both are my cherished inspiration.

My love always

Steven.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Losses Which Overwhelm Us – They Threaten But Do Not Conquer

Death, broken relationships, goodbyes and conflicts. And list goes on. At the beginning of any one New Year we’re invariably so blind to the losses that will come against us in the ensuing days. We hardly ever think of the people we’ll have to say goodbye to; those we’d wish even to have one more day with. Yet death and losses like it don’t take prisoners—there’s a shrill finality about it all.

How fragile are we in reality? Turn the temperature up or down a few degrees and we feel out of sorts. Remove us from a context or take someone away—a circumstance that threatens every single moment we’re alive—and we’re patently devastated! We are very human, aren’t we? Our very identities are hooked in, in ways we can’t even extricate ourselves from—even if we tried.

And what do we do with all of this? For all of the trials and tribulations and tests and travails we seem at times to be constantly barraged by, there is in fact a glorious silver lining we often forget—that is the hope we can profess—the all-conquering hope of Christ Jesus, risen and aflame for his redeemed remnant—unto the whole of humankind and all Creation. This is the God who suffers with his people!

And these are not simply words which promise to assuage in some flippant, insensitive way. It’s about recognising that losses are intended for our benefit—in truth, in wisdom, and in maturity—in faith. Strange as that might seem. Not now, but later we’ll understand a context of living that God intends for us—to realise that beforehand in faith is the task before us. We’re not to know it all—none of us does, ever—life remains a mystery.

Our only hope in life is to wander that skinny track—the way of the Lord God. Faced with the challenges we have choices. And in courage we deny the truth, not. We face the hurt and we allow all its force to hit us fair and square, with the prevailing anointing and peace of God as our front and rearguard. We are beaten down but we are not destroyed. We give up and then get back on. We surrender to the pain before we surrender to God—and that’s perfectly okay. His grace is sufficient for us… somehow… always!

We never downplay grief. It is the most crushing and paralysing force requiring honesty, strength, courage and resilience—and still it is crushing and paralysing—we think these qualities do not help, but we must somehow believe they do. Grief overwhelms us one day and then a third. It’s one good day, then one horrendous day, and so on. We find a time of space in our grief and then it sweeps over us again like a storm. We’re over it and then we’re not. Grief always takes too long.

In reality, God determines when we’re over it. Let us allow his Spirit to sooth our wounded hearts. Let us not reject the pain for too long. Jehovah Rophe, our healer, will take up our pain and bear our suffering—by his wounds we’re healed (Isaiah 53:4-5) and we can see this afterwards and that is what we hold onto. We cannot explain it and we don’t have to—but we do need God.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trust and Respect – Stands All The Tests of Time-in-Memoriam

The Queen of Sheba went with a force to test the king—said to be the wisest person who ever lived—Solomon. She’d heard so many potentially inflated reports. And she decided to test these reports for herself, personally—but not without a fearsome army of her own. Solomon did what was clearly unprecedented—he answered all her “hard questions”—“there was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her.” –2 Chronicles 9:2 (NRSV).

Digging deeper into the ancient text, using the Greek Septuagint, this is what literally happened: “Solomon told her all of her words; and there passed not a word from Solomon which he told her not.” Truth, stark truth! Total declaration and then some. Both inwardly and outwardly, Solomon displayed congruence of character.

And what was it that was attributed to Solomon from the Queen out of this plain, redoubtable authenticity? Wisdom—she saw the wisdom of Solomon (verse 3).

Let’s make some further connections. The Queen saw in Solomon a man committed to plain truth; this she found immediately endearing and worth her admiration. She could hardly believe that not only did Solomon meet her expectations—he exceeded them in verse 6. She found in herself a welling up of sheer respect for this ruler and what he had achieved through faithfulness to his God, the LORD. Respect begets trust and vice versa. Trust was issued bilaterally in the transaction between these two royals.

And the foreign Queen saw how Solomon was the mightiest of rulers because of how he ruled; and this became reason for her to praise his God, the LORD (verse 8a).

The Queen saw how Solomon had ruled and how he had seen to it that Israel (for that time) was blessed. “Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” (Verse 8b)

And for us, what’s the relevance? It’s this.

When we’re fervently truthful, working hard in our diligence and being prudent about how we operate (how we deal respectfully with people), we gain the inimitable trust and respect of all our likeminded peers. People love it to be able to relax around us.

They see in us a warmth of rapport that issues reminisces of the Lord God, not that we’re God, but that we can be God-in-skin for others. We’re the real deal, truthful at the core. We’re wholly available.

When our standards of humility are actually delivered in real life—we are what we say, and even more—it strikes the populace as odd. This is not how life normally is. People normally disappoint us, they don’t usually inspire us more and more.

When we’re quick to reject the opportunities to self-promote we engender trust and respect. And this is the test of truth and wisdom that stands for time-in-memoriam. Our deeds become historical and inspirational fact—resplendent wisdom no less.

And like Solomon, we’ll find ourselves in places of responsibility. And this is our lot, not that we’d want to shirk it. It won’t be an easy life but what is? Justice and righteousness executed through a dedication to truth and an on-flowing wisdom... a fitting circumstance. A circumstance that sees the best equity possible for all.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“This Life Lives” (Viva la Vida) – Finally the Light Breaks Through

Windswept with biblical images of sovereignty, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida (2008) is an expression of the final rationalisation to life according to original design—a longing realised in the returned cling to the emblazoned bosom of God—the antithesis of a ‘fallen Adam’ as perhaps represented in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling painting.

So, what does that mean?

Apparently “Chris Martin told The London Times [November 28, 2008], he saw this song about a deposed dictator reduced to ‘sweep[ing] the streets I used to own’ as being ‘really positive.’ He explained that he saw it as ‘more like a turning-over-a-new-leaf kind of song.’ Martin added that its [sic] like I’ve messed up, ‘and I don’t mind being punished, but I can get redemption.’”[1]

A ‘final rationalisation’ indeed. I recall being in a worship service once where I could tell the young person leading, though emotionally taken with God in their music, probably didn’t get the whole self-sovereignty thing he was still probably very much a part of.

It’s like, to realise the true value of life—to be truly authentic i.e. to be at peace with yourself as being truly under God—you need to have been tripped up enough to lose the prideful edge that a silver-spooned upbringing is going to handicap you with. I mean, it’s no good just being hooked in emotionally. There’s no substitute for a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17).

I remember a time when I thought I ruled the world—well at least I acted as if I could arrange my destiny. Today I’m not so sure. In fact, I generally don’t want a bar of it. But, who would ever want to be king? To be a self-sovereign would mean a whole eternal deal of responsibility that I’d not want a part of these days. Still, there are so many sucked in and we’re all sucked in situationally i.e. from time to time.

And it’s only the truly saved who can now see the enrolling peace and redemptive bliss available in sweeping the streets alone as compared with commanding the legions to the beckoned call of the personal will.

And this is the original design of life or as close to it in the sight of original sin. The whole world though will rather rule their worlds than give their lives over to the only One, Jesus, who would actually redeem them to the actual Viva la Vida life.

Is there something missing in your life, something deep down—something you can’t quite explain? Well, I can tell you, this life lives, but only by God’s grace and sufficiency (most of the time). Life can only be lived set free from oneself. It’s the only true way to live life. When God’s brought us to the end of ourselves—at last, freedom! And, if we’re normal, we’ll need lots of practice!—a lifetime in fact.

But, then again, no one is more patient than God.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] Song Facts, Viva La Vida – Coldplay (2008). Retrieved 19 September 2009. Source: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=11520

Least Known Biblical Book – Obadiah: “Justice And The End”

With a sense of boredom I wondered what to do. A whisper in my soul suggested ‘go to the farthest corner of the Bible—see what you see.’ I obediently selected Obadiah. I read a theological commentary and its twenty one verses. I was gifted with knowledge of its ancestry—Jacob and Esau, the fathers of Israel and Edom. Obadiah is a court room stoush; a “covenant-lawsuit”[1] address and Obadiah is the messenger.

There is much more theology than plain judgment in the Minor Prophets. It is too often judged that way. The books of history and the prophets often combine with the Pentateuch and also wisdom literature to fully encapsulate the pre-Christian biblical canon.

Edom had acted unwisely in bringing their judgment upon Israel. “As you have done,” says the LORD, “it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head.” (v. 15 NRSV)

Edom had taken upon themselves the higher standard, drinking from God’s holy cup on his holy mountain (v. 16), and with that—a horrible irony for them—they were to be measured by that same standard. They, of course, were found wanting.

When people take on the standard of God, and they take on God’s people, they fight an invisible force—a force to be reckoned with—a force that spans the generations unto life and Creation itself.

And this is how it is for the persecutors of God, those who would step between his will and plan. Nothing on earth or in the heavens can ever ultimately deter the will and plan of God.

And who are the Edomites of today’s world? They will be the terrorists that depose temporarily the people of good conscience. They’ll be the tyrant employers, the abusive and neglectful fathers and husbands and wives, the cowardly financiers that line the pockets of the dead. They’ll be the murderers and slanderers of genocide and contempt. They’ll be the God-haters and wielders of fear in the name of themselves against the world. And they’ll wither and groan and die. It will be so miserable that the faithful will also groan in paradoxical empathy.

And how will it be for the faithful? They will not only reclaim the holy mountain of their LORD, they will go onto new heights of blessing and provision, because they will trust their God and obediently wait for him. They will not strike on their own. As surely as the end of the foe was promised it is to be completely delivered, without a trace of imperfection.

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay”
–Habakkuk 2:3 (NIV).

It has surely commenced.

[1] Jeffery J. Niehaus, Obadiah – The Minor Prophets: Vol. 2 (Thomas E. McComiskey ed.) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co., 1993), p. 507.

Tomorrow’s a New Day! A Truly NEW Dawn

“For what human ill does dawn not seem to be an alleviation?”

–Thornton Wilder.

“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”

–Psalm 30:5b (TNIV).

What a difference a day (or a night) makes. I can recall many a time weighed down with my woes only to pour them out sincerely to God, where amazingly he’d ‘fix’ them by morning. The soul would awaken in an entirely different state.

Sure, there are times and seasons in life where waking up to a new day doesn’t bring this miraculous sense of relief... times when it would be fair to say the ‘dark soul of the night’ lingers well into day—and then ensuing days. I’ve had these seasons. More remain.

But the generalisation fits. We have a God who’s very adept at healing our ailing, wounded hearts as much as we’re adept at crying these out to him. Indeed, it’s been my direct experience that God’s “anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime” –Psalm 30:5a (TNIV). This implies, of course, that it’s been me that’s sinned, and of course that’s not always the case... oh, well, we can still see the broad truth in the faith that waits for justice to return.

Tomorrow’s often a new day. As the sun dawns on our fresh world, even as we waken, it ushers in the sense of God’s all-pervading Spirit, and an enlightenment takes place from within ourselves.

The peace we once knew and now yearned for has miraculously returned. We embrace it and harness it careful not to cling too tightly, but still we want to cherish it. It means so much, like pure oxygen, and we have at last breathing space to contemplate the once murky, but now hope-filled, future.

And so it is one of the truest blessings of God: we can yet soak our pillows in sorrowful tears; yet, to our gob-smacked thrill, God has the final word as joy and peace beckon once again.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Do Not Worry About What To Say Or How To Say It...

As I was thinking recently on the court process of prosecution cross examination, meditating on being in the situation of the witness, I couldn’t help think what the Bible might say on the matter. I was quickly thrust into the closest Bible I had… ah, found it! Exactly what I was looking for.

Upon briefing the twelve—the disciples’ “commissioning service” if you like—Jesus mentions to them that they’re best to prepare for a hard time. In that day there was a very real chance of authorities arresting and imprisoning the disciples. (Even in our day, in some of the foreign countries people serve in, there’s the very real threat of arrest and imprisonment).

But Jesus reminds the twelve that God’s Spirit travels with them, and indeed precedes them. Not if, but when the disciples are arrested for preaching on account of Jesus they are told:

“Do not worry, about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” –Matthew 10:19-20 (NIV).
Jesus is saying, ‘Do not worry,’ in the same way he did at the Sermon on the Mount. If we place God’s kingdom and his righteousness first “all these things [i.e. our very needs] will be given to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

We may be opposed by authorities, family and even religious people, yet in faith we know God’s Spirit exists with and through us, as we act in a spirit of meek strength, love and peace. He will see us through because he alone is capable and he will do it. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” –1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV).

The very real gain to be had in not being the slightest bit concerned about the troubles brought about in doing good is it speaks powerfully to the power we represent—an eternal and holy power that is above all and beyond all.

Imagine being in a threatening court room situation and being barraged with questions and goaded for responses, and then the Spirit piques our awareness… suddenly a peace that transcends understanding pervades and starts to channel through us. Even in a sense of fear this peace takes the disabling edge off the moment.

These are the truths we stand by: nothing hidden will not be made known at the right time (Matthew 10:26); our souls cannot be harmed (v. 28); if we acknowledge God before men God will not desert us (v. 32); and, God’s love is all sufficient (v. 31).

We’re beyond worry. And we know God is with us. We mutter to ourselves, “Emmanuel”—God is with us.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

“Walk a Mile In My Shoes” – How That Is For Us

It’s enormous when we get a compliment about how young we are. Recently I had a friend mention to me that something I wrote reminded her of a song I’d be too young to remember... it was a song (I later discovered) that was performed in 1970 (I’d have been three) toward the decline of Elvis’ spiralling reign. Yet the song, like so many others, has a gently reminiscent chord of truth for us.

‘If only you could be me and I you, even for one hour,’ it goes. Before I went off abusing, criticising and accusing you, I’d be walking a mile in your shoes. I’d see and hear and smell and think and feel your world, not mine. Wow, how apposite that would be?! What a wonderful thought to experience the world of another, having that additional information to reflect upon.

And not only is this something that’s relevant to me seeing you negatively—it’s seeing the positive too. Imagine the capability, potential and power that I see in you!—when at times you see nothing but a failure in yourself. We’re too often blind to all these things, you and I.

Think of Elvis. He’d have known a level of personal scrutiny that we’ll never know. Imagine the spectrum of human dealing he dealt with, or Michael Jackson for the matter, to mention a contemporary example. They’d have known both flattery and unfairness in a realm we could never comprehend and can only sympathise with.

We see here the ignorance-in-a-second that leads us in blindness right off the path of righteousness and peace—both within ourselves and externally to others! “Those people who are uncomfortable in themselves are disagreeable to others” –William Hazlitt. We’re again mirrors of ourselves in our treatment of others.

And the crux is this. When we hurt others we indeed hurt ourselves. It can never be otherwise. We never really imagine ourselves being in a worse situation. We hardly ever see through another’s eyes or think through their minds or feel through their heart.

Yet, this alone would change our perspective eternally. And this is the essence of the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” –Matthew 7:12 (NIV). Upon this single principle lies the whole principle of relationship.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Friday, September 18, 2009

7 Reasons Why the World Hates Christians

I read with interest a Facebook status[1] recently that contrasted a recent study on young Americans with a similar study taken ten years ago. There has apparently been a dramatic shift in the percentages of these youth in their predilection to Christianity and particularly away from the evangelical church. The author states there are seven reasons why. See the reasons below with my rationale as commentary:

Anti-homosexual

Notwithstanding some obvious biblical stances and mandates on homosexuality, for instance Romans 1:27, it appears to me that many Christians (and many leaders to boot) have placed the cart before the horse—yet again, as we humans are apt at doing—and have forgotten the Golden Rule given us by Jesus. We are not supposed to not love, to quote Rick Warren.

Judgmental

We live on a knife’s edge at times. We’re called to a higher standard of morality, yet we are also never perfect, ever. My local church has adopted a saying, “No perfect people allowed.” This sentiment goes some way to ameliorating us in judgment, but needless to say we’ll always be stuck between the Pharisaic rock of legalism and a morally hard place. Truth yes, but grace also!

And why would we not also only “judge” our own kind (a.k.a. confessing Christians) i.e. rebuking in love, a la Proverbs 27:5-6... “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (NIV)

Hypocritical

Huh. The moment we fall for the place as judge over others is the moment we fall for the trap of hypocrisy. It is rather unfortunate that Christians deliberately (often without realising) place themselves in the lap of hypocrisy (stage-playing as a counterfeit of the real Christian ideal) by not holding up to the standards they otherwise profess. We all tend to fail in this regard from time to time. Is this not a salient reminder that we’re not God and never will be? Indeed, he never asks us to be.

Old-fashioned

Isn’t it a pity that anything to do with Jesus Christ is labelled ‘old-fashioned’? This faith of ours might be 2,000 years old but it’s a new as this morning or even tomorrow morning. It’s humanity’s blasphemous spin, however, that blasts the truth away, leaving only the stinky dregs of a lifeless and worthless faith devoid of God’s majesty, grace and power.

Too ‘political’

Enter the cauldron. This is what many Christian politicians are called to do, in alignment with God’s general call for us to advocate justice, fairness and righteousness. Yet, the manifestation of this call often hits snags and many of them; and then there’s the average Christian’s sometimes overly pious view that attracts the wrong sort of attention. Why do we discredit God by again being “too judgmental” or “too opinionated”?

Boring

Of course we’ll be boring to some. And, of course, what we do may appear strange and unstimulating. ‘Get up at a sparrow’s crack to go to church on Sunday... you’d have to be mad!’ is the prevailing worldly sentiment. And this is only the beginning. The level of sacrifice required to live a really spiritual life (and enjoy those blessings) has no attraction for the vast majority. Christian discipleship is not called “the narrow way” for nothing. But, the truth is the Christian life is the furthest thing from boredom! It’s the gutsiest way.

Insensitive to others

This is perhaps the saddest reality of them all. We’re called to allow the Spirit to groom us and prune our dead branches so the fruit of the Spirit is resplendent in our lives. We’re called to kindness. How can we insult people (remembering it’s their perceptions on whether they feel insulted or not that counts) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—it simply doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
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[1] Rowland Croucher, Facebook status, 11 September, 2009 at 1.48 P.M. It read, “A decade ago, a majority of U.S.16-29 year olds were favorably disposed towards Christianity: today it’s only 16% (3% towards evangelical Christians). Why? Common perceptions – ‘anti-homosexual’ (91%), judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), too ‘political’ (75%), boring (68%), insensitive to others (70%). [Kinnamon & Lyons, 2007] Why? why? why? why? why?”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hold the Line – Love Isn’t Always On Time

The sentiment in the chorus of Toto’s Hold the Line (1978) is so rich to real life it chills us, yet we hardly ever reflect upon it. It’s a ‘groovy number’ (as they used to say generations back) but there’s a truth to it that speaks to the pattern of life and the thing we must do in response, if our lives are going to work as they were intended—that is we must, ‘Hold the line.’

I always connect this statement, ‘hold the line,’ with the famous opening in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) in which Russell Crowe plays Roman general, Maximus Decimus Meridius. In the initial scenes of the film, Maximus is shown addressing a company of his troops immediately before battle.

As they charge, he resolutely commands them repeatedly, “Hold the line – stay with me.” And they do... in unison his company attacks the marauders and the ambush is complete.

Theologically, we have a God who’s repeatedly whispers, ‘Hold the line – stay with me,’ such is his will that we have ours. We have a God who will never force his will upon us, except that is, in judgment—and we’re judged every day by the laws of God that “life” attests to. Yet, he remains letting us have our own way in the responsive circumstances of our lives.

Holding the line is about faith. It’s about having the faith to remain. It’s about holding to God’s promises through his Word and through what he places in our hearts. “We live by faith, not by sight” –2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV). We trust him in this. As if we even have a choice—we must trust him. The other alternative (to not trust) is untenable to us. That would be to give up totally and to see no meaningfulness in life; a mere footstep from hopelessness.

The prevailing truth in all our lives is we have desires of God firmly set in our hearts—yes, desires he’s located there. He has done this for a reason, and we’re left asking, ‘How long, God... how long before you give me this thing or that?’ (See Psalm 13.)

And this is one reason he’s given us faith. We wait patiently, always believing, yet at times doubting. But doubting of itself is a godly device to shore up and build our faith—as we see his splendour (afterwards) in the purposes of waiting.

As we wait, we hold the line, and we don’t move from it. And if we do move from it, we get back in line quickly, obediently, responsively—God’s grace makes up.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

“Consider It Pure Joy...” Unto Fulfilment of Faith

Shudder at the thought! Whenever a well-read Bible-believing Christian reads those words... “Consider it pure joy,” they know exactly where it came from and where the rest of it’s headed. It is, of course, the initial charge from that ‘right strawy epistle’ (Luther’s words, not mine) of James. Most people will find it absurd to connect joy with trials. Yet James’s letter shows us how.

The complete passage (in a different version to the NIV) goes like this:

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing”

–James 1:2-4 (NRSV).

I want to focus on the Greek word for “consider,” hag─ôsathe,[1] which means to think, consider, count, esteem, regard. It’s a pretty regal word in its aorist form as it’s presented—it has the feel of ‘consider always’ and not merely ‘consider.’

One commentator summarises the verse for James, that life is to be lived “entirely of joy.”[2] And surely the hedonistic world shudders at that thought! ‘How can that possibly be so in this painful world?’ might be the astonished thought.

The pervading mindset might be first to consider everything that occurs to us from as even-a-perspective as possible. To first think—as the troubles in life occur—what is this event saying to me? When we’ve bolted on the higher mind and we’ve groomed the heart we can achieve this, but it requires the virtues of developed patience and peace, among others.[3]

The concept of considering everything in life an utter joy is, of course, expanded upon in the reading of James 1:3-8, and even unto the rest of the letter. James chapter 1 is a wonderful introduction to the rest of his very pungently theological ideas of spiritual wisdom. So, the relevance is in the enveloping stanzas that follow from the initial statement.

Seemingly James commences with this idea that everything we receive in life is to be considered pure joy for a reason. He builds the rest of his nuggetty piece of wisdom literature off this. It’s a lever, and central to faith.

When we boil it all down, if we can only get our minds around this concept, considering and pondering it in peace before the war, we can finally understand true Christianity—not a masochistic faith—but a faith which knows where real strength in character development is... a faith that faces this concept in courage and truth, and in the manifest power of the risen Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit—the resplendent, flourishing Spirit within every true believer.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
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ENDNOTES:
[1] The actual root word (verb) is hegeomai, Strong’s 2233. I admit the spelling of my aorist in the article is problematic.
[2] Luke T. Johnson, The Letter of James: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 190.
[3] As a flow on, one can but imagine how much easier it is to forgive, for instance, when we’re already full of patience and peace.