Sunday, September 30, 2012

Life’s Trinity – Faith, Hope, Love

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
—1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)
The life of virtue is the human challenge of following the Divine example—discipleship to Jesus Christ our Lord. In Christ’s life we see these three virtue exemplified, epitomised, emphasised.
Faith As a Vehicle for Wise Living
Faith combines with wisdom and truth to be as a vehicle that will get us from Point A to Point B in life—from life to eternal life, in series, ultimately, with a litany of virtuous decisions having been made. Through wisdom we can discern truth. Through faith we can decide and then do what is best for each given situation. Through faith-of-action we prove we follow God. And through faith we travel from moment to moment in the right order of things.
Through faith we live the virtuous life.
Hope As the Fuel of Wise Living
Every vehicle, whether animate or inanimate, needs fuel. Through energy we produce energy. With hope we have the motivational basis to do good works; to live the life of faith; to follow hard after a wise example; to take tough decisions in our stride because they are right.
Hope underpins faith.
Without hope our faith would flounder, but when we are hopeless, yet faithful, our faith is revealed as truly golden. This, perhaps, is the greatest test of faith—to exist and travel devoid of hope. But otherwise hope and faith are enjoined. And in hopelessness, it may even be said, with faith, reveals an even more invisible and indefinable strength of hope.
Love as A Reason for Movement
If faith is the vehicle of virtuous activity, the way we please God in life, and hope underpins it as the fuel of that vehicle, love is the very reason for movement. Vehicles imply movement. We only need a vehicle if we need to move. And life is a pilgrimage of movement. As the passage of time attests, all things move and change to the direction of God.
In life, we have no option but to move, and love is the reason for movement. If we have no love we are devoid of hope and have no strength for faith. But with love comes empowering hope and strength for faith.
Love is the reason for all this. If not for love, life would have no meaning, no basis, no purpose, and no rationale.
Faith, hope, and love are the components of life. These three alone take us from point to point in our lives, and give us the ability to live the virtuous life. With these three we are able to move in alignment to the will of God.
What is the basis of life?
With faith, hope, and love we have everything required for movement through life. Nothing else is needed. Faith gets us from Point A to Point B. Hope underpins faith. And love is the reason for both.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who Is Worthy of Adoration Above God?

“Turn away from mortals,
who have only breath in their nostrils,
for of what account are they?”
—Isaiah 2:22 (NRSV)
What, inevitably, and more importantly, who, is the source of our trust?
Even more appropriately, who is worthy of our adoration more than God? This is an important question because it is characteristic of our humanity to devote ourselves to the things of humanity; we are, by nature, idolaters. We find sporting teams and stars, politicians, movie stars, rock musicians, artists, reality TV shows, famous pastors, our careers, our possessions, our families, our habits and addictions, and our achievements, etc, much more endearing than we find God alluring to our presence. This is because the world is in our face, yet God is the sole but silent Triune Actor in all creation.
Who is worthy of our adoration if God isn’t? Our sinful natures have turned upside down the right order of things. It is of value in our spiritual walk with the Lord to continue to come back to this truth. The more we are cognisant of being inherent idolaters, the more God’s light can shine in to furnish our minds and hearts afresh with living Spiritual abundance.
Honouring the Source of Life
Human beings neither have an independent right to live nor a sure stake in life. So why do we so implicitly trust and adore, and hold up as gods, those who will surely wither like a blade of grass just like we will?
Why do we place so much stock in a President? Why are we so devoted to a political party, a basketball team, or any other allegiance—beyond sense for well-rounded reasonability of view? Why do we pretend God is in control when we act as if he weren’t?
Yet, when we honour the Source of Life—the Lord, our God—we, at once, are blessed with better objectivity. We don’t swing so much with the tides of partiality. We are not taken as much by the vocal and endearing personalities, temperaments, and ideals that connect with ours.
When we honour the Source of Life, we get life in better perspective, and it is truth that wins the day. We are not so swayed by emotions. We are more courageous. And, we are freer.
Where would we be without God? Where would we be without our salvation? Our freedom has been bought for us at a heavy cost. Our devotion, therefore, should be ordered around allegiance to God, with everything else secondary.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: J. Alec Moyter, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity press, 1993), pp. 58-9.

Transcending Guilt and Shame

“Every culture or era has its own way of defining issues that invoke shame or guilt. These are connected, but different. Guilt is a feeling associated with things done or not done. Shame has a much deeper and wider impact. It is, in a sense, a deep embarrassment about who we are. It is an almost visceral contempt for some act or behaviour that leaves you feeling disgust, contempt, or humiliation... at yourself.”
—Stuart McAllister (via Ravi Zacharias International Ministries)
Whilst there are many reasons to feel good in life, especially within the realm of faith, there are, without doubt, a profusion of factors that lead us to experience guilt and shame. Guilt seems to be more directly about us, and what we’ve done and not done. Shame, on the other hand, seems more directed about who we are, and of what we’ve become. Shame seems to be at the hand of what has been dealt us, very often either beyond our control or beyond our insight at the time.
The fact is we are all plagued, in some ways, with guilt and shame.
Sometimes guilt and shame play a role in forming godliness—in cases where the Spirit of God compels us to acknowledge our sin, so we have the opportunity to repent. But there are also many more cases where guilt and shame run beyond our overt sinfulness.
Reconciling Reconcilable Guilt and Shame
We can always transcend guilt and shame if we are conscious of it.
We can know, in God, through the Lord Jesus Christ’s saving act on the cross and through his resurrection, that there is now no condemnation for those who believe upon Jesus’ name. We who believe are in receipt of life-giving grace. There is now no place for guilt or shame, other than that which is intended to bring us to a precipice of awareness in accord to our sin.
So when we can consider that guilt and shame only ever have a temporary role, and that God has forgiven us of the weight and content of our previous or underpinning guilt and shame, we live freer lives.
All this previous or underpinning guilt and shame is reconcilable—under God’s rule of our hearts. The knowledge of God will convince us that Jesus has taken the burden of our guilt and shame. At the foot of the cross we lay our wreaths of infraction against God.
We can add nothing to the facts of our salvation.
This is comprehensively the most wonderful knowledge all humankind could know. The things we can do nothing about—our once-separatedness from God—has been amended, and there is nothing we could do, now or ever, to interrupt this is all-consuming grace.
Having been forgiven by God there is now no role for enduring guilt or shame. All that we would be guilty or ashamed of is now subsumed in the cross of Christ. Such a liberating truth sets us free to love every single day.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Through Highs and Lows God Bestows

Through highs and lows,
God bestows,
Sufficiency of strength in our weakness,
Which He manifests by meekness.
I have mused recently about the broad expanse of emotion that comes with this life. There are lows so painful it seems we can’t endure them. Yet, there are also highs so blissful we struggle to grasp the fullness of joy. Such is God’s love he wishes not to deprive us of any experience of life. Life is wide open and exposed to us, as we are before it.
But in both of these places, and all between, God bestows strength... strength for praise, strength in our weakness, and, by this strength, the capacity for meekness.
Strength in Weakness Through Manifold Meekness
Wherever we will have the moral fortitude to give way to God’s will, even in the affliction of a burgeoning and burdensome desire, we are blessed with strength for our weakness, and this is bestowed to us through manifold meekness.
What does this mean?
Firstly, upon difficulty we must surrender the moment to God, willingly. We must be ready and willing to happily do the right thing, even despite our own agenda.
Secondly, this will be terrifically hard when we are afflicted; and harder still when we have the creativity of desire rolling full-steam ahead. We are easily tricked by our desires when our imaginations develop solutions for our problems. Not every solution is a wise one. Indeed, many solutions that come to us or we develop do not factor in the myriad potential consequences that may play out when we innovate in such ways. And sometimes we go ahead even despite thought of negative consequences!
Thirdly, when we go to God in our weakness we redeem strength. But this is not a strength of worldly proportions, rather it is a divine strength that is powered by peace. Even in situations of affliction this peaceful strength gives us the sense that God’s grace is sufficient. And that’s all we need to know.
Fourthly, this peace that transcends our understanding—and in that way it is miraculous—manifests visibly and behaviourally through the properties of meekness. Simply put, there is meekness in our demeanour, which is a patient and capably reasonable disposition both personally and interpersonally.
One Study in Meekness
Many people have the wrong understanding of meekness. Meekness is not being a doormat. Rather it is the experience of a combination of wisdom and peace, to know that God is in control and that we are mere actors in life.
But it’s not that meekness is resigned to hopelessness; no, it would be much more accurate to say that meek people understand their position and role in life, and in submitting only to God they are afforded peace and quiet discernment as they live their lives out in balanced and quietly confident ways. Meekness in this way fits with the character trait and virtue of humility.
Meekness is a product of having submitted our weakness to God in the moment, and in that moment we derive strength—it is a meek strength, which is first capable, measured, and discerning.
Through a humble meekness, which is a quietly confident peace-of-God transcending our understanding, we have strength in our weakness and much better control over our emotions.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hope’s Like a Rainbow

Hope is like a rainbow,
Full of colour, wonder and delight,
As soon as we commit to glow,
Our inner rainbow’s bright.
After the Rain, the Rainbow Comes as a Beacon of Hope
Hope is one of those things we take for granted while we have it, but when life turns pear-shaped, and our minds and hearts are encased in fear, we cherish it all the more.
Nothing seems more important than hope when we don’t have it. The depressed know this, and the anxious, too.
For these, there has been plenty of rain in the midst of the storms of life.
As the rainbow comes once the rain stops, our hope arrives the instant we bring a halt to the internal rain pelting our hearts. We pray. Hope arrives in the recognition that God is with us. We pray some more, thanking the Lord for Divine Presence.
Always afterwards our hope arrives. Having faith to have endured the journey, to hold on when all seemed awry, our hope is now realised. Hope is like a rainbow. It has come as a sure sign of God’s faithfulness to carry us through from lament to content.
Afterwards the colour returns to our lives. We enjoy more wonder than before. We have become bigger persons as a result of the difficulties we have endured.
And surely as the rain does stop, the rainbow comes out and reveals an ever present brightness that was always there. The rain always stops at some point. The troubles in our lives don’t continue forever. The dynamics of life do change. Sometimes we can make them change, but often we are wise to endure a season of rain in order to nourish our souls and transform us in perspective-blossoming maturity.
As rainbows are mirages of endless bands of light—something appearing enigmatic—our hope is also translucent and eternal. This is a good thing, because, even though hope like happiness can prove elusive, once we have it we know it is truly limitless.
Hope really does change everything.
And when hopelessness swarms, an idea even worse than helplessness, we gain even a skerrick of hope from the knowledge that hope is only potentially a moment away. As our thoughts prevail this way we can hold out for this hope.
Hope is worth waiting for, because there is no sense in not waiting for it.
All of life relies upon hope, and the fact that hope exists is enough to believe, even within hopelessness, that hope will ultimately prevail for us.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Prayers Are Answered

“When we pray, God hears more than we say, answers more than we ask, gives more than we imagine—in His own time and in His own way.”
—Nicky Gumbel
We are most apt to quietly disparage God for not answering our prayers, when, in fact, God is in the business of answering prayers. It is God’s eternal nature to answer prayers, and the answers are always superior to our human intellect or what we deserve or what we can conceive at the time.
We have such limited vision for what is truly the vision of God.
But God has the whole of our lives in his hand, and our lives are definitely working out in accordance with the days marked out for us. Yet, each of us must work out our lives. Each of us must make our moment-by-moment decisions and live with the consequences. By those decisions and consequences many prayers are answered.
Whether prayers are answered in the affirmative or negative is generally irrelevant.
The reasons for this are the enormous scope of the outcomes of life. We see only one, two, or three options. There are in reality a myriad of discrete options. It’s not only what we decide to do that counts, but how we decide to live our lives, including ‘the when’ and ‘the why’.
Whether We Like It Or Not, Prayers Are Answered
When we come at life with this perspective—that our prayers are always answered—because they are—in the ‘not now’, or ‘okay’, or ‘no, not for you’, or ‘yes, but’ sort of ways, and many more—we are not disarmed by the control God has over our lives. Instead, we see our relationships with the Lord as dynamic. We see God communicating with us constantly about his will and what we can do in response.
God is constantly communicating with us via our prayer life.
Given the fact that our supplication (requesting) prayers, correctly ordered, come after our prayers of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, we are more in the mood to receive God’s will for our lives, rather than if we simply hopped into our requests at the beginning.
The truth of prayer, in the context of our relationships with God, is it is a dynamic arrangement. Never does God ignore our requests. Never really are we left unanswered.
When we feel unanswered God is still communicating to us, and it is our opportunity to discern what God is saying within the context of our lives.
It is God’s nature to answer all prayer, in all sorts of ways. When we are only looking for positive responses from God it will appear many prayers are left unanswered. But God is responding to each of our prayers. Our opportunity is to discern what God is saying within the context of our present lives.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

5 Visions for Abundant Life

The form of life we long out for is the simple life that can be appreciated and enjoyed.  We know when we haven’t got it.  We clamour for it.  We’re angered because we don’t have it.
Is it any more complicated than to:
Find peace.  Establish joy.  Nurture love.  Be yourself.  Enjoy God.
Find Peace
This is a different process and destination for each of us.  Finding peace happens to be a very personal thing. Yet, it’s within the grasp of all people.  It’s as much about knowing ourselves and how to get there than anything.
As a vision for life is there anything more important than finding our peace? From all this other things good come. Once we’ve found it then it’s our job to maintain it.
Establish Joy
How do we have hope if joy is not first established?  Indeed, these two commute in tandem.
To establish joy is something we actively do. This is to agree with God that we’re blessed beyond our comprehension. Even the most basic life is blessed with life past imagination.
Nurture Love
Life is, of a sense, all about relationships.  Even though the laws of life require us to love in order to succeed, we want to love, because we want to be loved.  We know we must propagate what we wish to receive.
Nurturing love is fundamentally about giving; a life that gives itself away is a happy life indeed, because it has no burden for itself, only for others.  It’s about knowing who to love and focus on, and how.
Be Yourself
Being ourselves is not really what we think it is. It’s not doing what we selfishly want.
Instead, we must be under no illusions as to who we actually are. This is about self-knowledge and, at root, honesty. Would we allow a false agent to represent us? So why do we lie to ourselves and follow others’ dreams? — either what others have in mind for us, or what we desire to replicate from others’ success.
Knowing ourselves, then, is not as simple as it seems. Sometimes we must go to our depths to be forced to face up to who we are. Of course, those people who think they know, but may be deluded, might scoff at these suggestions.
Knowing ourselves is acceptance of who we are; the ability, also, to enjoy God.
Enjoy God
This has to be a most straightforward role; to truly enjoy God is to have the whole of life in perspective. It’s understanding that God is relational being; one with a strong desire to be our friend, but no ordinarily friend, rather an entirely faithful friend.
To enjoy God is to seek the best out of all have our relationships — with God our friend, with others, and most importantly with ourselves.
© 2011, 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mirroring God’s Depths of Forgiveness

“... for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
~Matthew 26:28 (NRSV)
Free to anyone—upon acceptance of God’s forgiveness for their sins, and a responsive act of, and ongoing commitment toward, repentance—is salvation; though it was, is, and will never be cheap.
Forgiveness has the same effect: the bliss of grace for all. But it is not cheap. It costs.
It cost our incarnate Lord his earthly tenure. What was intended by Satan to kill God worked precisely to the reverse—it liberated humankind; anyone prepared to exemplify true forgiveness.
Forgiveness is about liberation; not simply for one party, but for both or all concerned regarding the conflict. Forgiveness is all about redemption, reconciliation, the glory of God.
Blood, sacrifice, and redemption are connected all the way through the Old Testament and, indeed, they signify today the very same thing. Whenever forgiveness is to occur it will be costly—it will require ‘blood’ and our sacrifice—in order for the redemption of relationships; the forgiveness of sins; a clean slate.
Entreating the Depths of Forgiveness
Most people will have great difficulty with the practice of forgiveness; the depths of forgiveness are lucidly sparing in the context of our typically brash humanity.
The precious humility of Jesus, realms beyond our skinny understanding, is not found easily, and it makes itself invisible unless we come bearing the sanctity of unconditional surrender.
Forgiveness is not about us; it’s about God. It’s not about them; it’s about God. It’s about the glory going to God by way of unreasonable grace. Such grace wins hearts.
The moment we truly and desperately become ensconced to establish the purity of the practice of forgiveness, the time when surrender before God becomes intrinsically essential, is the instant the meaning behind a blood-spilt sacrifice becomes more fully known and appreciated within our inner beings.
Such forgiveness, just like grace, is not cheap. We must beg for the capacity for it, if necessary.
The depths of forgiveness, if we struggle to attain them, really have to be entreated to the point where our own selfish agenda is set aside unreservedly.
God loves such a heart—one so contrite it cannot set itself against the will and purposes of the Lord. When God receives such humble obedience we can know, in fathom-depths of faith, our Lord will bless us with powers of forgiveness so far beyond our understanding and explanation we will not be tempted to take credit; we will, instead, simply praise God.
Life Where It Hurts
Forgiveness helps most where life hurts like hell.
It is a miraculous outcome to absolutely shelve all thought of self for the greater gain of God—to maroon ourselves from the safety of caution, and martyr ourselves to pride.
Did Jesus truly want to drink from the Holy Grail? He did not; but, our Lord knew it was the only way to reconcile a seriously interrupted partnership: humanity with its God. Jesus chose to obey the Father to give beyond what even the devil could foresee.
Jesus gave. So must we.
If God is to win in our contexts, today, we must give—and that, without thought for portions of our self-designed victory. In the completeness of forgiveness, the depths of sacrificial love, is victory beyond the mind’s comprehension. We will never look back. Forgiveness is healing for all, and yet still such loving power for the forgiver.
© 2011, 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The End of Suffering’s Impact

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
—Paulo Coelho, Alchemist
Suffering, it can be argued, is a highly subjective state, and it means so many things to so many people. Suffering, it could be said, is the stimulus of all religion—besides aspects of the divine underpinning religion itself. Certainly within the Christian context the scope for suffering is central to the gospel message.
The Christian is called to suffer well, in living after their Lord.
Perhaps we can view Christian theology in this way: with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and the Perfector of our faith, we live connected to the eternal hope—we are, after all, redeemed. The ultimate Christian dream is eternity.
And yet, we can touch eternity, even momentarily, when we transcend the fear that lies within the suffering, by accepting the opportunities to draw on God’s grace to carry us through many trials.
The Value of a Godly Vision for the Abundant Life
Our dreams we can call visions, and these are nothing strange or weird, because they are simply our creative imaginations melded with the passion of our hearts.
Our passions were always meant to offset our suffering.
In other words, we quell the negative power within our suffering by flushing our spirits through, and immersing our souls in, the powerful positive Presence of the living God—through the Holy Spirit living in us... Salvation is now.
When we explore for our vision for life we become open, more and more, to the capacities of God to speak through us, from our hearts into our minds such that we can become aware.
A vision for life beats the threat of death—the spiritual death of being physically alive whilst being emotionally and spiritually immobilised in our fear-ridden suffering.
Jesus went to the cross in order to defeat the powers of sin and death over us; and because salvation is now, whilst we are saved now and for eternity, salvation living really is a ‘now’ prospect. It begins and continues through the nurture of a vision for life beyond the fear in our suffering.
The end of suffering itself is relative. When we purge ourselves of the fear in our suffering, our suffering takes on a resplendent divine quality, and we begin to become less impacted by it. Suffering well is a capacity that the gospel makes as a specialty.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rare Care and Uncommon Respect

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”
—Luke 11:42 (NRSV)
There are all sorts of ‘love’; some truer than others. For the case of simplicity in this article we contrast two forms of love: love of doctrine versus love of relationship, or love of the law versus love of grace. We can suspect where this argument is heading. Love is a very passionate thing. Our key test is, do we devote ourselves pridefully to fighting doctrinal arguments or do we devote ourselves to the rare care and uncommon respect of others?
This is the true Jesus test.
I don’t think Jesus ever wanted us to be perfectly adroit regarding our doctrine; it was always more important, in his day, that his disciples would exemplify mercy, justice, and humility—in the tradition of Micah 6:8. It is important we believe in the right things, but more important is our demeanour toward others.
Do others see salt and light in our lives? Do we really treat others with rare care and uncommon respect?
By the way we treat others, perhaps most of all, we worship God.
Going After a Life of Love
Our first living priority within the regenerate life, having been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, is our devotion to God through loving others. In many ways we cannot actually love others until we have allowed God to heal us enough to love ourselves.
Many well-intentioned believers—some who perhaps have it right via the perfection of doctrinal understanding—with such an acute focus on the theological framework—seem to become deceived, and miss rare care and uncommon respect, in their zealousness. We can usually tell by their lack of love in their treatment of others. They may be easy to criticise; to find fault. They find it less easy to find the credit in people everywhere. They find it less easy to enjoy the grace of God as it is reflected in other people. They may find it less easy to enjoy the peace of God in their own lives.
Perhaps the root cause of their lack of love is they haven’t received yet the healing hand of the Lord in their own lives. Perhaps they are locked into transference and counter-transference—where unconscious processes come into play. A lack of personal love flows out of the heart into others’ lives.
We all suffer this, to greater or lesser extents, because none of us are perfect.
Going after a life of love is seeking the experience of God’s love in our own lives first. What is implied is access to worship. And having been filled afresh with brimming portions of God’s grace we cannot help but love others. Rare care and uncommon respect have become our biding influence. We are won to it.
The true Christian life—the life of real love—is about rare care and uncommon respect. Mercy, justice, and humility: these are our guiding principles. There is no gain for God if we cannot first love others.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.