Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Good Leader’s Finest 2 Attributes

“Love and truth form a good leader;
sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.”
~Proverbs 20:28 (Msg)
The world so wants for good leadership these days. And although we deplore the apparent lack, there are still plenty of good leadership examples; those that exemplify love and truth and the preponderance of loving integrity.
The original context of Proverbs 20:28 highlights the leadership demeanour of the King. The King, or Queen, is the epitome of leadership. It is their royal role.
And yet we work for, or must satisfy, many kings and queens in our lives. Indeed, we may even be one. If we are a supervisor of any kind—a parent or mentor or boss—we have not just the authority of leadership but the responsibility, too.
What dictates our success most of all is our application of love and truth, or, put another way, the loving integrity we bring to the role.
Two Attributes That Make for Inspirational Leadership
If we can combine love and truth within the context of leadership we do then have loving integrity as a modus operandi.
As a result the leader with loving integrity is easily trusted and therefore respected. People want to walk an extra mile for this type of leader, as they compare many former crooked and ill-adept leaders with this fine and shining example.
Inspirational leadership, through the mode of loving integrity, is rare.
It is what we should aspire to if we provide any sense of leadership anywhere in life. And it is simple to do if we are selfless. With the implicit courage of our convictions our love of the truth passes the test of integrity. Yet all of what we do is tempered never less by love.
Never do two attributes, if we can only have two, contribute more to our leadership than the combination of truth and love. They will work together by techniques of wisdom. By courage loving integrity is known. And these two attributes conspire beautifully with faith to produce hope.
Leadership is an opportunity of learning. Where we are confounded by poor examples of leadership we ought to more solemnly laud the splendid leaders we have had. Where we are blessed to be led well, presently, we enjoy it, being thankful for it.
We should never take good leadership for granted, but inevitably, like for all good things, we do. Only when good leadership evaporates into the ether do we begin to lament the directionless falsity that redeems scandal after scandal.
Loving integrity sets the best leaders apart. Of all qualities this is the one they own. Oh, what we would give to work for a good leader. Oh, what it would be to be a good leader. Love and truth make a good leader. Loving integrity is their way.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Brokenness In Integrity

“Integrity doesn’t mean that we will never mess up... Integrity means that we have permission to mess up within the limitations of boundaries, and when we do mess up, we deal honestly with it.”
~Martin Sanders (Italics in original)
We normally associate a significant depth of character to integrity. We don’t normally associate integrity as being linked with brokenness; with sin. But integrity, when tested, often reveals itself within the very context of sin. Think about it; when our weaknesses and mistakes are revealed, can we respond with rigorous honesty?
This assumes that we will make mistakes; that we all have weaknesses.
Those with integrity are not devoid of weaknesses, and they are not so perfect to never make mistakes. They simply have made a commitment, and keep that commitment no matter what, to uphold the truth, whatever the cost.
Good News for the Sinner
Anyone who knows they are a sinner, and accepts same, is probably saved; they probably know Jesus and call Jesus their Saviour. Let us assume they appreciate grace.
On the one hand, from a practical viewpoint, we might deplore the fact that we are sinners, but on the other hand an appreciation of the fact magnifies grace.
The good news for the sinner, regarding integrity, and the implicit desire to grow such an admirable character trait, is integrity is proven best in a seedbed of brokenness. Integrity might look the goods when it is at the top of its performance, but we never truly know about integrity until it is pushed to the limit and it is up against the wall; until it faces embarrassment and shame.
We can see that integrity and brokenness fit uniquely together.
Integrity may not be able to be proven until we see its response under duress; when it is tempted. When a person has been exposed, then, and only then, do we find out whether their integrity stands up.
Of course, a great Biblical example is David; he had integrity. What qualified David as having true godly integrity was his response when he was revealed, exposed, embarrassed, shamed, humiliated.
Having sinned with Bathsheba, against Uriah, and having been found out, he casts himself down before the Lord through Psalm 51; a penitential psalm full of remorse and repentance. David was a sinner; he messed up; but he eventually dealt with his sin honestly.
Likewise, we also mess up. We do things we come to later regret. But every time we own our sin we demonstrate integrity and we grow in it.
Integrity is paradoxical. It is proven through temptation. When we are honest, particularly within the mistakes we make, we prove our integrity.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Faith for Life, Through Love

“... the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
~Galatians 5:6b (NRSV)
The apostle Paul, through Galatians, is perplexed, as he was with the Corinthians, about how to deal with their propensity to add to their faith items of the Law; circumcision in this case.
Somehow they felt that Christ’s obedience on the cross was not sufficient. They were being misinformed. They were trusting false informants. And being so close to Judaism was a problematic distraction.
Even in our day, when we are not under such legalistic influence from a religious setting, our souls bend toward finding something to add to our faith; to make it ‘better’—to somehow deserve our salvation.
We make deals with ourselves. If we do ‘this’ (something holy) we will feel better about ourselves. If we do ‘that’ (something sinful) we feel worse about ourselves.
But true faith is not so much about judging ourselves right or wrong as it is about accepting we are saved despite our sin. In fact, we are saved because of our sin. True faith is not so much about obeying agreed rules as it is discerning the intricate will of God in our circumstances.
Glorying In, But Not Staying In, Our Sinful Natures
When faith becomes not so much a competition against ourselves, of strictly enforcing our obedience, and more so a simple trust in God, even with its failures—we have grasped it better.
The Christian who constantly appreciates their susceptibility to sin, who appreciates the importance of repentance, knows the magnificence of grace—God forgives unconditionally.
When such a faith is operating, sins are not justified, but they are worked through, with the help of God’s grace, so the stench of guilt and shame are dealt with and the sin is not denied. The sin doesn’t crush us; grace liberates us.
In such a way faith is exercised by believing in the power of God’s grace to forgive, which is love. Grace is the perfect manifestation of love.
Faith Is Underpinned By Love
Faith always works in practical ways by helping us improve our untenable situations.
Faith is the agreement beforehand, and the commitment to endure, to not give up.
How else could we live justified by God, and in our consciences, by living guilt and shame free? Faith works by love. We could not sustain our faith unless we could feel God’s love. We would struggle also to maintain our faith if we didn’t accept ourselves.
Faith works when it is working through love. When we are rightly related with God, our experience of grace fuels our faith, through love.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Never Fear Another Day

Everything lies ahead of us as opportunities to be conquered. When we know this, when we lock it into our consciousness through a sense of inspired habit, we never have to fear again.
Our sins and our brokenness are borne over the shoulders of Christ and we no longer have to carry that burden. But this knowledge must find its way into our relational worlds through the constant practice of letting go and living beyond the strains of the protected psyche—that place we go in order to protect ourselves from risk, usually through avoidance. This is the place we go to when we fly away from our darkness.
We have to accept our darkness.
Once we have accepted our darkness—that, we are all sinners—and, we can remain conscious of both our lack and the completeness of God’s grace to completely meet that lack—we live free.
There is then the ability to never fear another day.
Disciple or ‘Living Heresy’
There are many insufficient, inappropriate and inadequate theories advocating how to live the Christian life. There may be more misguided attempts to live the Christian life than well-advised endeavours to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus.
Any Christian life lived that minimises either the sinner’s sinful nature, within that man or woman or boy or girl, or the grace of God to save them, is a heresy.
Both the truth of the sinful nature and the truth of the grace of God must be borne front and centre of mind. The more honestly we consciously admit and tackle our sinful natures, knowing they will remain with us throughout our lives until glory, the more we will marvel at and actively rely upon the grace of God.
The more we hold these two things in tension with each other, the better we will live the Christian life, and the less the probability we will be living heresies.
Added to this is the additional blessing; we never need fear another day.
The Importance of Reminders
We are a forgetful people. We need to be reminded, or remind ourselves, of the need to be fearless. Being acknowledged sinners means guilt and shame can be disposed of. We loudly applaud the grace of God that sanctifies us. But we quickly forget how amazing grace is.
When the amazing reality of grace is realised, mindfully, it helps us live fearlessly.
With grace already behind us we have nothing to lose and nothing left to prove.
But again, we need practical ways of reminding ourselves of this urgent and important truth. We need to be reminded how well the grace of God covers our darkness.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How God Works Good Out of Bad

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God [via their faithful obedience], who are called according to his purpose.”
~Romans 8:28 (NRSV [added])
Accepting the bad circumstance for the good God is drawing out of it is a gospel basic. But we have all sorts of difficulty bringing this into our day-to-day lives. We can hopefully conceptualise the theory, but the practice of it is abundantly difficult—until we rationalise the simplicity of the necessary faithful obedience. Faithful obedience is how we show we love God.
But what is simple seems not to be simple at all.
Faithful obedience is tested most when times are, within our minds and hearts, darkest. Our perceptions are pivotal. How we think and feel about our circumstances impacts upon our responses. And we can always expect to be tested, not so much by the testing circumstances, but by our negative perceptions.
We have the opportunity to reshape our negative perceptions. Our goal should be for our attitudes and behaviours to line up with the shape of faithful obedience when we are tested. This is achieved at once when we allow God’s Spirit to transform our attitudes.
Consciously, we ask Jesus for help to trust and obey whenever we are flagging.
The Shape of Faithful Obedience When Tested
In our trials we do better by response when we remember role examples like Joseph. He had the opportunity of revenge. His bullying band of brothers had betrayed him more than once. Yet, guided perhaps by his father’s death bed wishes, and not at all to downplay his learned level of graciousness these betrayals taught him, Joseph decides to forgive:
“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to...’”
~Genesis 50:19b-20a (NRSV)
Joseph had learned to look beyond his situation. He had also learned that he was not God—that he had no right or role to judge situations. He had learned that, through his previous faithful obedience, God intends everything for good. He could reflect on the faithfulness of God.
We struggle to understand these, especially that last one; how God intends everything—even the bad—for good. We struggle with the lot of it, but particularly this one.
Sackcloth and Ashes Work
How can we progress in the faith if we do not obey? We might accept the tests that come our way at the level of theory, but in our complaint we are revealed as disobedient. It may be okay to complain as part of a biblical lament—in the tradition of David—so as to use complaint as a prayerful vehicle to eventual faith. But most of our complaints aren’t intended that way.
There is no problem, however, in lamenting our feeling before God. This is sackcloth-and-ashes work. This is work nobody likes to do, because it is about our messy, inconsolable grief.
But, it is necessary if we are to progress through to genuine, heartfelt, committed faithful obedience. And consider this...
Afterwards—after the trial—we don’t deny the value of this sackcloth-and-ashes work. It takes courage and wisdom to enter into this trudging work.
The outworking of this work is a newfound vision of wonder about ‘the mystery’—that which will come out—the good out of it, which God has designed and is now bringing into fruition!
Faithful Obedience To Wonder About ‘the Mystery’
The good that God desires, through everything bad, is the infusion of godly character within us. The bad that is handled well is catalyst of the process. The vehicle getting us to the Promised Land of godly character is our faithful obedience.
We need a catalyst to grow—a fiery furnace of testing. But we also need a vehicle that ensures we endure the fire. And perhaps we need a third thing; the motivation, or inspiration, to keep travelling through the furnace that is our testing circumstance.
If we are captivated by the wonder in the mystery of what God is doing, our faith is helped. If we see the tests as tests we are more likely to predict and expect them. If we handle our tests well we derive confidence, that, with God, nothing can defeat us.
We realise the value of sackcloth-and-ashes work—which brings us to repentance—because it takes us directly to wonder regarding the mystery of how God is making good out of the bad.
The key to every test and every trial is faithful obedience. When we can endure our sackcloth-and-ashes work, God rewards us with a vision of wonder: the mystery of how God converts our bad circumstances into material for growth that we can prosper from. Nothing is truly against us; everything works for us, who love God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Image Graphic: Rosh PR.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Vision of a Hope-Filled Future

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
~Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
After a recent day that was as horrendous in finishing as it was in the starting, I was given later cause to reflect. My specific problem had been a lack of faith in the future vision of where my life was going, vocationally. I was feeling particularly helpless.
And as I prayed I was given a vision—a very cogent vision.
I imagined myself 20 years from now, and, looking back from there, I was advising myself to not give up—that enduring the sense of present setbacks would be worth it. From this vantage point, however nebulous it was, I could see hope—the fruition of a life purpose.
Then I got to thinking how important it is that we are all being our own best advocate for that future version of ourselves.
If we have any reason to grow—to become better disciples of Christ—we have our own reasons. Why would we not grow when it is for our later benefit? Why would we not push ourselves to grow when it could be for others’ later benefit, too?
Having Faith in Future Visions
If you are in a middle-ground land, in a vast ocean between distant islands, perhaps even floating downstream seemingly without a paddle, you will need a firm grasp on a future vision; something to hope for; a purpose to strive for.
Even more so is this a pressing reminder when we find ourselves in a helpless position. We easily get lost in a sort of learned helplessness. We easily lose faith.
When we are battling to make sense of the meaning in the present ‘wasted day’, we ought to remind ourselves that God is using this time, as much, if not more, than the seemingly fruitful time—God is using the time, by stealth. This time when we battle for purpose is a time of preparation. God is making good on his promise, yet we can hardly see, because we can never see what we hope for—if we could it wouldn’t be hope.
Having faith that we are on the way to the fulfilment of our purpose is crucial.
We can remind ourselves of the visions that God has sown into our hearts. And if a vision has not yet been received, we pray for it. The Lord has a plan for each of our lives; a plan to prosper us, and to make good on our lives for service in Christ.
We have every reason to have faith that God is doing something good in our lives, even through difficult present times. We can easily imagine a future version of ourselves urging us on to endure through this present arduous season.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Friends Are Born For Adversity

“A friend loves at all times,
and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”
~Proverbs 17:17 (NRSV)
True loneliness may be a fact of genuine adversity without a listening ear to beat our lament against; still, the Lord defies all manner of loneliness by his rich Presence. That Divine Ear is piqued at a moment’s heartfelt prayer. Heaven knows we need it.
But, then there are friends—kinsfolk and those chosen, by personality and other situational matches, for the role destined to give loving support.
Where would we be without them?
As If God In Skin
Whether those we come to rely upon in times of dire need are blood-kin or not is irrelevant in the context of this proverb. The reality is, God may even select the circumstances for the acquainting of otherwise strangers who come into our midst, and we into theirs, and this is only remarked on later, as a matter of wonder.
The role of that brother or sister-in-arms is tantamount to the faithfulness that is only known to the Lord of creation—the Remitter of life itself.
Such faithfulness bestows to us reams and banquets of unexpected favour when we most need it; desperation, the language we cried from our inner being—not knowing at all what was really required and what help might sort us out. But our friend—the exemplar of God in skin—came there to be both confidant and practical facilitator of momentary healing. And then they were even more.
Yes, God made himself known through them. They caused us to believe, afresh, that goodness and hope belong, deeply enshrined to a world that shows scant regard.
Faith, therefore, transformed our view of life; we had new bearing for faith and the love we received compelled us to look to confer it on another.
Friendship Motivates Friendship Because Of Love
Love wins. It may be a popular term, and in this context it is never truer. The love implicit within the bond of friendship teaches us the practice of a worthy love. As a flow on, it inspires and motivates the action of love that might even look for opportunities of hardship so as to be gifted passage into the role.
Such a love does not go AWOL at a time of heightened need; it rises to the occasion and senses destiny unfolding; it goes long into the night and doesn’t quit.
Such a love redefines relationships, personal outlooks, and life itself as it subsists for those affected. A great and laudable ambassador for God is the friend in times of need.
Friendship can shatter the evils of loneliness and break holds constructed in our minds; it warms the heart; and, it gives witness to faith—that love can redeem impossibility out of the jaws of death.
Friendship is the gift of grace.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Psalm 31 – Clinging to God in Darkness

“Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under siege.”
~Psalm 31:21 (NRSV)
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this psalm speaks of such times; when times get tough best are we when to cling fast to the Lord.
What’s added to the flavour of this psalm is the mode of imprecation toward an enemy—haven’t we all been there?  That is to bring a curse on someone.  If we’re honest, we have; all of us.
The psalmist (ascribed as David) seems to vacillate between honouring God with their praise for the Lord’s faithfulness and cursing the enemy who’s flatly derisive to God.  They don’t care a hang about the moral realm.  Without God that sort of person overwhelms our capacity for hope.
Seeking Refuge >> Obedience >> Humility
We all have times when there’s only one good place to go—into the loving embrace of the Lord.  Whatever is chasing down our spirits is not the point.  Where we go is.
This is a mature response to not hedge the right way despite our want to either fight or take flight.
The psalmist teaches us a good lesson here of both obedience and reliance.  These are disposed out of copious humility—ordered just in time.  This quality of poise is known to a spirit calmed only by its Maker.
Into God’s Hand to Commit Our Spirits
The psalmist is completing the transaction of the redemption experience by affirming their allegiance to “faithful God” (verse 5).  This is a beautiful harmony forged in despair.
Many of our biggest challenges force our hand.  We go one way or the other—away from God or to God.  The former is characteristic of our humanity; to take up cudgels with the enemy because we can have things just the way we like them (or so we foolishly think!).  The latter is the step that only needs to be taken once.  There we remain convinced to the value of going God’s way in temptation and struggle.
Marks of Lament
The attitude of lament is soaked into the oak of the psalm.
In the psalms we know that God connects with us; in this case by lament.  A third of the psalms are so despairingly human we can literally feel their emotion.  Laments are the particular language of David.  But there too are the communal laments; again, the human contrasts of life.
What makes this lament noteworthy, however, is the fact that praise and commitment to God is never too far away.  In our despoiled messes, can we be as gracious under tremulous threat?
Invocations to Follow the Lord
Verse 23 is an example where David proclaims the power of God to turn things around.  It uses commanding language to compel those doubting the Lord’s faithfulness to just love God—all else will settle itself.
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.”
~Psalm 31:24 (NRSV)
We recall the psalmist has been delivered.  And we’re just as excited about God’s delivering hand at the stead of our deliverance—myriad form that’s taken.
This is most assuredly a psalm to read and meditate over during low times of oppression, depression and persecution.  For any low place, take a swim in this.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Burden Too Heavy to Bear

“There isn’t any temptation that you have experienced which is unusual for humans. God, who faithfully keeps his promises, will not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist. But when you are tempted, he will also give you the ability to endure the temptation as your way of escape.”
~1 Corinthians 10:13 (GW [italics not original])
There is much confusion in Christian circles regarding this passage above. Some people believe, quite erroneously I think, that it refers to our blessed God-sponsored strength to overcome any trial. To a certain extent this may be true. But there are always exceptions to rules in life.
First of all, we need to understand the context of this passage, as a summary verse for 1 Corinthians 10:1-12—which has as its focus, idolatry. The central theme is sin, and temptation to sin.
It is quite a different context, then, to consider this passage in terms of some of those burdens we have which are too heavy to bear. If we desire strength to bear our burdens, those that have nothing to do with sin, for instance grief, this is actually the wrong verse to encourage us and urge us on.
This verse above simply encourages us to seek the Lord when we are tempted; when we are tempted to sin—again, having nothing to do with burdens too difficult to bear—this verse offers a beautifully solemn promise. But it is off-point much of the time when sin isn’t the issue.
There are Some Burdens Too Difficult to Bear
It is a false and misleading theology to consider the gospel is the answer for every single confounding problem. Faith is the only way to endure, that is for certain, but Jesus never promised an answer for all our deepest problems, as we seem to need them.
We may wonder why Job, Lamentations, the Prophets, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms have endured to infiltrate and somehow despoil our otherwise ‘positive’ doctrine.
There is much more of the Bible that focuses on the inexplicable and incomprehensible and unconscionable facts of life that would quickly deform and destroy a superficial faith. Yet, we are called to a deep faith, not a superficial one; not one characterised by flippant and clichéd answers to every problem.
Our faith must work in real life—up against real, even, and at times, unsolvable problems.
Ask the person deep in their grief, having lost a partner, a son, a daughter, a marriage, a career, their life direction, or having simply lost hope—is God big enough?
There are times they cannot answer in the affirmative, but God does get them through. He gets us through. But during certain periods of these burdensome seasons we cannot go on and we do give up; for an hour, a day, a week or more. We suffer some sort of spiritual fatigue. God understands. And the sun rises again each day. Each day is a fresh chance; each day, by God’s magnificent grace.
Beyond the Burdens
There are some problems, with even our faith in God, we have no answer for. Some problems will break us. But destruction doesn’t mean comprehensive or ultimate defeat. And this is where we draw hope.
Inevitably the time comes when we do get past the burden that we couldn’t rationalise.
Later, much later, we see God’s faithfulness to bring us through. But it is insensitive on us when we hear people advise us flippantly, with clichéd nuances on the scriptures, however well-intentioned they are.
We must be careful not to bend Scripture out of shape. God will not allow us to be tempted (regarding sin) beyond our power to resist temptation. But that has nothing to do with burdens, like grief. Some burdens we are asked to endure will break us, but, be assured, God will pick us up!
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Ruan.