Monday, April 30, 2012

When Acceptance Aids Forgiveness

There is a reason why forgiveness is so often hard.  This is because it’s incomplete.  Forgiveness is a relational concept, meaning that it’s bilateral at least.  Two or more parties must be in agreement for it to occur.  Otherwise, the best we can hope for is acceptance—which is very necessary.    
So, the reason why a Christian person—one who’s commanded to forgive—will struggle often to forgive is the other offending person does not accept their side of the wrong.  When there is a lack of remorse on the other person’s side—something with which we cannot control—there is little that can be done regarding forgiveness except to simply reach acceptance.
We’ve done all we could.  It’s all God expects of us.
The Impossibility of Grasping Oil
There is a principle in Proverbs 27:15-16 about a ‘quarrelsome wife’ that is equally applied here.  (I don’t subscribe to unfair gender biases, by the way—it’s likely there are just as many ‘quarrelsome’ husbands.)
With the quarrelsome one there is no peace—it’s like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.  One is impossible; the other—equally—is impossible to contain.
‘Forgiving’ those who will almost certainly hurt us again is probably not possible in a complete sense.  What we must strive for is an acceptance of the situation, and of the hurts caused.  It’s only when we reach this place of acceptance that we can truly achieve our side of offering true forgiveness.  (Another article I wrote, Confusing Love for Trust, also might help when it comes to ‘who to trust’.)
Achieving a Vital Compromise
This is a most important thing to note: our part of the process for relational forgiveness is to adhere to the K├╝bler-Ross grieving process (which has five stages: denial >> anger >> bargaining >> depression >> [finally] acceptance) to achieve personal healing. 
We allow ourselves these stages.  It’s important that we feel, at truth, the anger and depression if they’re there.  The very best is to just simply allow the lament to occur; it’s normal and it’s necessary.  It’s only when we’re still stuck at denial that we retrieve trouble for ourselves.
From this space we can do our side of the forgiving.  Without it we’ll forever struggle.  It’s important to understand that true forgiveness (which from one side only is acceptance) can only occur when we’ve allowed God to heal us through courageously entering into, and following-through-with, the grieving process.
Some offenders refuse forgiveness because they don’t see their fault or don’t care. Acceptance, where two-way forgiveness is found impossible, because the offender refuses to accept they hurt us, is critical to the peace of those hurt. A forgiving acceptance is good enough for us to move on in our lives.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Role of Women in Ministry

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
~2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
“Ministry is thus the result of God’s gifting and has nothing to do with being male or female, any more than it has to do with being Jew or Gentile, or slave or free.”
~Prof. Gordon Fee
(New Testament scholar)
There are many misinterpretations of one biblical text referring to women in the church—1 Timothy 2:11-12. For instance, people confuse male/female, husband/wives, and ministry roles and many gender mandates that the apostle Paul had. Besides the cultural underpinning there appears to be a clear example of false teaching regarding the women referred to in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
From that time until now, and certainly beyond, there have been endless arguments regarding the roles women should or should not appropriately fill within the church.
Many churches, and many church leadership structures, have insisted that men must fill leadership roles, based solely on passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-12. But Prof. Fee makes the point that this passage is the “odd text out” regarding Pauline theology for gender differentiation in the church. Any theology that separates out texts for its own benefit is a dangerous theology; indeed, it’s a false teaching.
New Creation Theology
A better way to argue the point of gender roles in ministry, if there was a point to argue, is the basis of Paul’s new creation theology.
In Christ, the person is a new creation. The person, disregarding gender but regarding gifting, is up and on the plate—using a baseball metaphor—for God’s use. They are not to be limited by humankind’s skinny, often warped, understanding of what they can do and how they should operate. Under the direction of God’s Spirit, and by evidence of their gifts, they may be called; and doubly called by the church—any group of believers whom fellowship together under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
It’s an ignorant view, really, to think that a woman can’t preach or teach or pastor or evangelise or prophesy as good as a man. Neither is it God’s will to install fear-structures, and broad sexist legalism, into the church. A woman is called just as a man is called—and to their post, for service, they should report for duty in God’s Dominion.
We would do well to continue to revert back to the new creation theology that embarks us upon a journey to the simplicity of God in salvation by Jesus. Jesus went to the cross and was resurrected to free humankind of the legalism we seem hell bent, without him, to impose. As soon as we sniff the semblance of rules we ought to, just as quickly, sniff the smell of brimstone—the judgment of God for installing structures over grace.
The correct ‘new creation’ view so far as women in ministry are concerned, so long as the culture will allow, is delimiting. Women are limited no more than men. Gifting is the priority of ministry, not gender.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Gordon D. Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), pp. 56-76.

Four Corners of Human Need

INBUILT WITHIN our humanity is the need to be right, happy, prosperous, and free. Our spirits are hardwired these four ways and we defeat only ourselves if we deny these spiritual urges.
If we want to be right, we need to be honest. If we want to be happy, we need to have courage. If we want to be prosperous, we need to be diligent. If we want to be free, we need to let go.
An important differentiation: these needs are achievable any time. God makes it possible, but it depends on us.
Corner One: Being Right
Nobody likes to be wrong. Pride is what we feel when we are resistant in our wrongness; shame is what we feel when we admit to the wrong.
God designed us to seek and promote truth, and when we don’t achieve this there can be a sharp dissonance felt. People also want to feel right even when they are doing wrong. The urge is still the same; even if they know they are wrong.
Being right is not an “I told you so” issue so much as it’s a matter of being in alignment with ourselves and, further, with God.
A simple truth: We can be right more often when we’re honest.
Corner Two: Being Happy
The thought of incongruence is sadness. We yearn to be happy, yet many people strive to reach happiness, forlornly, without such a necessary input as courage.
God can’t give us happiness—the blessings of joy—without us, in turn, committing to do those things that help us achieve contentment.
Being “happy” is not the motivation, but the by-product of courage to identify and run after the only things that can make us happy. Material things take us away from happiness; spiritual things, on the other hand, heap happiness all over us.
It takes courage to sacrifice those things that promise happiness but fulfil little within us. We know those things that make us feel empty will not provide happiness.
Corner Three: Being Prosperous
Let’s get off on the right foot; this type of prosperity is nothing to do with material wealth and the accumulation of things. We are talking about the prosperous spirit, which is the feeling of prosperity.
Yet, we cannot ever be prosperous without being diligently active to create or enable the prosperity that God wants to give us; indeed, that which our Designer set aside for us—even before we were conceived.
It’s peculiar. Spiritually, we are already prosperous if we know God; yet we may not see it. A committed plan to do the will of God, in diligence, will create feelings of prosperity within. It’s the only prosperity that matters.
Corner Four: Being Free
We don’t, generally, like the word “sacrifice.” But if we want to be free we need to learn to let go. Like the constant evaporation of water on a lake, life is a continuous stream of losing things and gaining new things—if we can let go.
Whenever things have their way of holding us, we are bonded—captive to an inanimate object or an idea. This is madness because we want to negotiate our freedom against the eternal laws of God. Upon our insistence, we lose.
The only way of being free is to let go. “Of what?” you might say; anything and everything that compromises our pure focus on God. Only God can fill out deeper needs.
These four corners of human need—to be right, happy, prosperous, and free—point us in the indelible direction of God.
The Lord made us with these needs, and these are achievable much easier than we think; easy when we trust and obey the Creator. We were built this way. It is best accepted.
Of these four needs, which one presents you with most opportunity for better satisfaction?
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Howard Stanbury.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Supreme Worldview

“There was not a needy person among them...”
~Acts 4:34a (NRSV)
With all the ills of the world before us—whether they be global warming, financial crises, famines, the vast divide between rich and poor growing, poverty in general, etc—we can see the fracturing wisdom within the secular model of planetary rule. Particularly since the Industrial Revolution, and now advancing with the technological age, we’ve seen a steady decline within the norms of morality. Modernism and, now, postmodernism are much to blame.
Without a focus on God we quickly go to rack and ruin. Of course, the world might scoff at that. But the Christian worldview has always been better for humanity.
The First Century church got the model of community and nationhood right when it inspired the well-off to sell their unneeded possessions, so, in love, they could help provide for those in need.
There has always been enough material resource, shelter, food, water and currency to go all the way around. But when greed and monopoly and power become the aces of focus the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the world slides gradually into an oblivion of its own making.
A Better And By Far Best Way
True Christianity, which has always been social-justice focused, is the supreme worldview. It has as its core tenet that priory of the poor and needy, those who cannot fend for themselves. And whether disadvantaged bodily, financially, or however else, it’s beside the point. There is an effective answer in the Christian worldview of governance, despite actual belief in Jesus, because that worldview centres on empowering and advocating the lowest common denominator within society. We see it to some extent through the charities that exist and the majority of Western governments are set up based on the Christian model. But power against the predominant Christian worldview still holds too much sway.
Of course, wherever the Christian worldview is all-encompassing, and people see value and relevance, they cannot help but be curious about Jesus; a holy and just God who loves especially the needy—and there is neediness in everyone.
Not only is the Christian worldview the best, and possibly the only, answer to good national, state, or local governance, it is the fairest.
The Christian worldview for governance is both best and fairest. It’s clearly the best, but it’s far from likely to occur pervasively in this world.
The only profitable model to advance world peace and sustainability is the Christian worldview. But, about the only way we could see the comprehensive institution of a pervasive Christian worldview is for Jesus to return.
We need to be praying more and more, and doing what we can, for the poor and needy.
A better world begins in the microcosm of one mind that sees need beyond itself; in a heart convicted to reach out despite the risk to oneself. One word underpins it: Action; love motivated always for the other.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No More ‘Nice Christian’

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...”
~Ephesians 4:15 (NRSV)
The subject of anger within Christian circles is an enticing one. In a world that provides so many stimuli for anger, and within our humanity that bonds us to anger as a common emotional response, we can try too hard to live ‘nice’ Christian lives.
We want to be loving, caring, patient, and gentle with people, glorifying God in our bodies, yet there are a myriad of factors that will still anger us. It’s not always appropriate to repress such feelings. It’s definitely not beneficial. Unheard anger spills over into the streets of our lives in some of the most unpredictable ways.
Besides, ‘nice’ Christians—by their mismanagement and lack of processing of their anger—will not mature in the faith. And they will misrepresent their God. And, the humbling thing is, we all will do it from time to time.
Getting Beyond ‘Nice’ Christianity
Perhaps there’s nothing that denigrates the Christian faith so covertly as the duplicity of heart, which is expressed in the lack of will or ability to be authentic.
Being authentic, and specifically wrangling with our anger, requires courage. It requires a level of being comfortable within ourselves—in our skin—and open to our own enquiry.
The entire Christian lifestyle requires courage—much more courage than going the world’s flippant, often fence-sitting way. We are required, many times, to make a gentle stand on things, and many times we might be taken as angry. We may even get angry. Anger, for the right thing, which is righteous indignation, is not a bad thing; indeed God blesses it, if we can speak the truth in love. Our anger often compels us to stand up and speak the truth. Again, God goes before us and blesses our steps.
Lukewarm ambivalence is not a thing blessed by the Lord (Revelation 3:15-16) and when we cannot get beyond our nice Christianese we miss the mark almost as much is if we got uncontrollably angry and hurt people.
It may be impossible to have any intimate relationships and not get angry. We will get angry. The key is to have measures that help us manage our anger so people don’t get hurt. And we ought not to be ashamed of our anger—it’s a trick of the enemy to get us thinking that way.
Being ‘nice’ Christians, who repress our anger, is not the answer. Denial is dangerous. It is God’s will that we speak the truth in love, and by living truthfully we meet our anger where it sits. We confess it. We process it patiently. And we forgive ourselves, as God does, when we get it wrong.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Condemned No More

“Thus says your Sovereign, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
you shall drink no more from the bowl of my wrath.”
~Isaiah 51:22 (NRSV)
The above presentation is, of course, a reality that the Christian knows very well as fulfilled in the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus, the Lamb of our eternal Passover, has taken the cup of fury so we, in our stupor of sin, would be presented holy and blameless before the Father.
Because the bowl of God’s wrath was to be given to us in response to our staggering from the effects of the cup of our inebriation, there is no more wrath, now, because that cup has been removed from our hand. Of this we’re to be sincerely thankful.
Whilst there will be judgment, there is now no more condemnation. Condemnation, for us who are saved, is a ‘no more’ reality.
Allowing That Truth To Sink In
God knows every slinking movement and every stinking secret we’ve ever made and concealed. Every thing.
Not only that, God, who is all-powerful as well is all-knowing, could dash us to hell if only he wanted. But because God is all-good he had devised, from a divinely-inspired understanding of how creation would play out, the rescue plan of redemption beyond all prediction besides clever human hindsight.
That we would stand judged by God, and even condemned, for that is what we deserve, is a harsh and an incredible reality. We would stand for annihilation. We are worthy the most contemptible destruction. This is not overstating it. We cannot begin to imagine the depths of the case against us.
And yet, though we will be judged, and though we will be found wanting, we, in Christ, are condemned no more. This puts a whole new slant on perceptions of meeting God in the life thereafter. No more are we to fear, besides the fact that many secret things will be revealed to us by God; things we kept secret.
But the consequences of those secrets, and of every sin, have been radically transformed. Do we ever just sit and let that truth sink in?
Those consequences were engineered into our favour before creation came into existence. We were always safe, because always have we been loved by God.
Everyone is destined to die once and then be judged (Hebrews 9:27), but the reborn Christian, saved beyond their sin by the blood of the Passover Lamb, is condemned no more.
Having made friendship with God, fear of death or the afterlife no longer has logical relevance. The repentant Christian can look forward to a life following this life that transforms, one-million-fold, their sense of life beyond. They can look forward to life eternal, which would be too good to be true if it wasn’t true.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Prayer’s Primary Role in Worship

Deep within the subculture of the churches of the First Century, where the apostle Paul had thrust Timothy, laid some misconceptions about worship; much like there may be in some of our churches today. (It’s our human nature to wander from God’s intended purpose for worship.)
Timothy is instructed:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.”  
~1 Timothy 2:1 (NRSV)
Paul tells Timothy, that, in supervising the churches, there must be a focus, first-of-all, on a God-centred worship—more appropriately, Christ-centred (see 1 Timothy 2:5). Corinth wasn’t the only place getting worship wrong. The churches Timothy was superintending struggled, too, in centring their worship on God.
That’s the value of prayer. It’s much harder to pray not focusing on God than it is to do other church-related things, some of which are easily done without a focus on the Lord.
Praying For Everyone
The body of believers that seriously attests to pray, taking God at his Word, believing upon the name of Jesus Christ and praying faithfully, is a blessed body of believers. More than that, they put themselves, as Paul puts it, in a position of life that’s quiet and peaceable in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:2). These features of the quiet, peaceable, godly, and dignified life are a personal and interpersonal blessing.
The church that masters prayer, keeping it genuinely central within their worship (which is beyond a Sunday-thing), is the church that finds themselves right and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour (1 Timothy 2:3).
Not all churches can claim this. Some run hot on evangelism; others on a worshipful experience; others again hone in on discipleship. All these are important, but without prayer as the centre of all things, the worship falls flat. All church activities ought to be worshipful.
And worship is about God; nothing else.
Paul’s very point is when prayer—via pleas, drawing near to God, intercessions and thanksgiving—is given first-of-all precedence, God is pleased and the church is blessed. And the outworking of that blessing is less dissension, bickering, and indifference within the church and the people’s devotion is both godly and dignified.
Praying for everyone and everything that God lays on our consciences to pray about is filling the relational void. It’s taking our somewhat empty focus and placing it on our perfect God, rather than fixing our judgments on imperfect people. And in that God teaches us grace.
Prayer fills the God-shaped hole in our hearts. It completes our focus, because the Lord is first-and-most-of-all. Prayer, therefore, is the centre of worship. Through prayer we learn grace.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prayer to Bear in Temptation

Under many things we cannot bear. There are very many temptations that each of us may be predisposed to falling into. Moral weakness is the human trait. This is why Jesus included such a concern in his Lord’s Prayer:
“And do not bring us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.”  
~Matthew 6:13 (NRSV)
It is every semblance of ignorant pride that has us situated with no fear for what might tempt us. No, we can be ever tempted into all manner of sin from misdemeanour to malevolence to monstrosity.
People, who have no fear for entrapment, living life with an outlook of moral abandon, are those who live life exposed to their own character assassination. And we wonder, ‘Why is it they last so long?’ It defies our more contrite approach.
Yet, they who are not watchful of temptation may generally be drawn to it, allured in some way in their least expected moment.
The Prayer Of Protection
Asking God for the awareness of temptation and the strength to bear temptation’s lure is the wisdom of humility. There’s nothing wrong with our moral weakness if we can admit it and rest, then, upon God’s power.
Many people are fooled into shrinking from their moral weaknesses. They think admitting substance, sexual, and power weaknesses make them ripe for shame. But the opposite is at play. There is only shame in not admitting our weakness. Where fear holds sway our weaknesses threaten to overthrow us. There is, however, acclamation and approval, in God’s sight, for the person that admits their weakness, availing for themselves Divine protection.
The prayer of protection, which is the prayer to bear in the midst of temptation, ensures that God knows our need. That need also needs to be shared with someone we trust—someone in the position to help us. There is real truth in the saying, a problem shared is a problem halved.
And when we confess our weaknesses before those we trust, as God is also our witness, we hear ourselves communicate, and it becomes a truth we can and do no longer deny. Too often temptations draw us into sin because we deny their truth and their power. When we confess our weaknesses, the temptation’s power mysteriously, and paradoxically, evaporates.
Before the truth, Satan cannot stand.
The prayer to bear is seeking God’s help in the midst of any sized trial.
In acknowledging weakness we gain strength. The prayer to bear states our full recognition of our weakness, seeking Divine help to remain aware and to receive protection. Before the truth, Satan cannot stand.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Psalm 111 – The Beginning of Wisdom

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.”  
~Psalm 111:10 (NRSV)
What makes us thankful, praiseworthy, and utterly humbled before God? It is wisdom. In the company of young and old, fellow or foe, whose name do we hold high? If it’s the Lord’s, we’re comparatively wise.
If we know the only righteous one is God, we own life’s essence; the beginning of wisdom. If we understand every provision—yes, of our estimation, both good and bad—comes from the Almighty we’re streets ahead of the next person who does not believe.
A Wisdom Psalm
Psalm 111 is a wisdom hymn. It catapults upon our understanding the basic truths of God; of the fortunes of the righteous and the wicked in the mode of life. Such wisdom hymns call us to the black-and-white nature of the biblical life—obedience versus rebellion.
Wisdom is the moral imperative against an immoral world backdrop.
The black-and-white nature of the biblical life means, that once the Divine light is kindled within our hearts, and suddenly we think differently, we can never go back. True salvation, as both an experience and a state, is irreversible. The old life cannot be re-got.
A Wisdom Psalm like this affirms our belief as solid; not unlike the qualities in God.
The Qualities In God
The body of this Psalm lauds the qualities of our ever just, righteous, faithful God. These are the redemptive qualities that call us to the Hope in new life. In his dealings with us he is gracious and ever merciful. He is the Great Provider and the Keeper of the Covenant. The statutes of the Lord are immovable; nothing is more steadfast than God. In a changing world, God is the only thing that’s changeless.
Knowledge of these things makes a vast difference to us.
When we can see these qualities in God, we see them working for us, despite how easy or hard our lives are. Just the simple fact that we acknowledge the qualities in God is hope for us. In bearing the truth, however difficult, we align with wisdom; our knowledge is correctly based; so, too, is our faith.
The beginning of wisdom is the beginning of life. And the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. This is no ordinary fear. It is about simply understanding the truth of God. Everything else then follows from that correct standpoint. Our perspective is righted.
When we understand God in the midst of life we accept the unacceptable much more readily; we understand there’s a purpose in all things; we understand that visible and obvious things are not all there is. We can claim hope as ours. And peace too.
Such a wisdom as the knowledge of God is the beginning of all wisdom. Such a thing is solid, ever reliable, lauded for its trustworthiness.
Blessed be the name of the Lord. His praise endures forever.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Christianising Our Worldview

“Christianity is the most humanising influence in Western history and it remains that today.”  
~Chuck Colson (1931–2012)
Words will fail in trying to describe the impact of a person like Charles Colson on our world, and particularly within prisons and in the lives of prisoners and even their victims. Gone to the Lord now, I’ve reflected a few times over this captivating interview.
With a central concern on incarceration and the causes of crime, Colson defended life, because it needs defending. He believed in a thesis of crime that emanates out of people making the wrong moral choices. He saw that only the Gospel could convert the wrongdoer to a more responsible lifestyle and thereby give them purpose and a hope. He also saw prisoners converted to Christ much more rarely re-enter prison compared with those who weren’t.
Colson lamented the consistent and gradual weakening of Christianity’s influence over the Western life. His passion was Christianising our worldview—that a Christian worldview is the only hope. And the case he espoused was compelling.
Two Great Calls
Colson had two significant purposes: 1) to work within a restorative justice framework, assisting prisoners, victims of crime and prison workers; and, 2) he studied the causes of crime to better understand how to change the world for the cause of God, so the world could survive, even thrive.
“A world without God is a world adrift.”  
~Chuck Colson
There is purpose in dealing with the ills in our world and in creating answers for a better tomorrow. That’s the Christian worldview.
The Christian worldview is one of community—harmony and prosperity for all. Christianity is not a selfish religion. It has a fundamental mandate to grow the world toward salvation, and, in doing so, to rid the world of vast social injustice, for instance slavery, abortion, poverty, and hunger.
Colson’s two great calls highlight to us our opportunities to split our calls of God into both reactive and proactive ventures. We must respond to our ailing world, and yet we must also create a better future for tomorrow. That is the Christian worldview.
There is purpose in dealing with the ills in our world and in creating answers for a better tomorrow.
Life without purpose is meaningless. Christianising our worldview gives us back our purpose. In Christ we have a purpose in dealing with the ills in the world and in creating answers for a better tomorrow. If we don’t do it, who will?
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: To Sheridan Voysey for his 2010 interview.