Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dwelling Places of the Holy

“For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
— ISAIAH 57:15 (NRSV)
The nature of God is manifest over the dwelling places of the Almighty – YHWH inhabits eternity and broken beings.
How could two places be any more distant in actuality – the purity and beauty of eternity and the embodied imperfection of brokenness? Yet, God dwells in both. Such is the integrity of the Godhead that the Spirit of the Lord can be in dichotomous places because something links both places – the desire for righteousness.
Joining Heaven and Earth – Bringing Heaven to Earth
God’s will is made manifest in the bringing of heaven to earth – in the joining of heaven and earth. Such is the integrity of the Creator God; we must know it to be true. God designed life to abide by The Rule of God – the perfection of love made in the image of The Divine.
Now, how are we to reconcile the issues of God’s perfection with the aspect of broken humanity? How do these go together?
Righteousness: The quest for righteousness.
It has to be the answer we are searching for. The Divine cannot dwell where there isn’t perfect intent. That intent is met in someone who says about themselves “I’m a sinner” – and sees in themselves, a sinner.
The polar opposite of righteousness is sin. Yet a sinner is welcome with God – and God comes inside them – when that sinner abides to the truth: he or she is broken and is necessarily contrite within themselves – in the sight of a pure and wholly awesome God.
Joining heaven and earth is bringing heaven to earth – the will of God – as it is brought about in one human being; in one who knows God’s truth – how manifestly other-than they are compared with God, even though they are made in the image of God. They, who know they are ever-so-broken-and-needy, have God dwelling in them. One would need to have experienced this truth to know the power resplendent in knowing how a filthy creature has been forgiven, cleansed, renewed, regenerated!
***
God dwells in eternity and in broken beings. He, whose name is “Holy,” connects both – eternity with the broken being. That is good news. Grace pervades both – eternity and the broken being. For us, it is joy that we are broken, because we are filled – cracked and all – with the Light of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Suicide – Calling the Elephant What It Is

“I think many people kill themselves simply to stop the debate about whether they will or they won’t.”
― Susanna Kaysen
FAMILY – it’s what nearly all of us live for; perhaps all of us.
Family is what can keep us from doing something silly; something incredibly stupid. But to talk in these terms to someone who’s contemplating ending their lives – someone who’s thought through the logistics – may not cut it. It may miss the mark. They may be resolved. They may be totally cold to life, having come to the decision. Having wrestled with the minutes and hours – having struggled and tussled with matters irreconcilable – there is the sullen reticence: It (life!) cannot go on!
Isolation seems the key sign of retreat.
Retreating from life, a resigning of self to the court of the night, isolation is that coursing of strained tunes in our minds – the prevalent rush of despair in our hearts – when the experience of life gets just too hard. One foreign hour, a twisted minute, a salient second – we are so vulnerable.
Truth | Connection | Hope
Suicide is something that needs to be called for what it is. It is an elephant that tiptoes, until it announces itself by stark and echoing aftershocks.
The impact of the loss of your life is incalculable.
You are so many people in one single person. You are a person with a voice. You are a person that people care about – and nobody cares like God. These are not just clich├ęs.
Sure, this may still not be enough to convince you otherwise,
You who sits or stands there and simply utters sighs!
You who they care about – you, who they can’t replace,
You are the one, of course, who must find life to face.
There is something in your future that will turn you all around,
There is something ahead you’ll find – then you’ll be certainly found!
What must occur beforehand, though, is to hope beyond the despair,
To do what none can do and simply provide space for your own care.
***
A long face that holds a stare,
We need something to hope on,
A future calling us home to Care.
***
There is an elephant that roams wistfully in and out of people’s lives, wreaking destruction. Suicide destroys the lives left behind. If something will hold us in this life it’s that people care about us: our children, our spouses, our parents, friends, co-workers... and, yes, God cares!
There is a reason that will make sense to each one of us to protect our lives. Let’s not give up until we find that reason.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When God Forgave the City called Humanity

“If you can find but one person
who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
I will forgive this city.”
— Jeremiah 5:1 (NRSV)
Reminiscent of the story of Lot and his family, and of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, there is a situation where God will save an entire population for the want of a few obedient ones. God desires only one out of Jeremiah’s context – an allusion to Jesus, perhaps. Indeed, we can see that the Lord Jesus Christ is that one; not that we ought to rest on our laurels. He, too, calls us to be that one – to be one for him – to be one in whom his Spirit rests – to be the one we can be for those who need us.
If we were to be considered a vast populace, in a name – Humanity – a city as if on a hill, we could see God’s desire to reconcile us to him. We, who were never further away, have found ourselves close, because Jesus Christ has brought us close.  We didn’t so much love him, as he loved us! Through one man we, humanity, have been forgiven. We are forgiven the sins that are not only cast against ourselves and other people, but, most fundamentally, those that are cast against the Lord of Glory, himself.
Indeed, we can say with some pervading accuracy, that to sin is to do so against the Lord only; that would be to blaspheme God for the incredible riches of grace that have, by our sin, been rejected. Do we sin against others? We may betray them, disappoint them, hurt them, and miss the mark with them, but our sin is against God and God alone.
We needed God’s forgiveness – for, we are a city (Humanity) against its own purposes – and we perhaps forget this. We need God’s forgiveness. Jesus interceded for us, and when we reconcile that truth we are humbled to a point of being on the verge of a transformation. We are taken to a precipice. Understanding can suddenly become us.
We see God’s glory in the realm of our sin when it is revealed.
We see both things as they more fully are – the brilliance of Glory illuminating our sin against him, and the fullness of the folly we have engaged in: against God alone (though others are affected). But as we see the fullness of our folly we don’t feel condemned so much as pleased simply to know.
In knowledge we can turn – turn back to the heart of God’s will for our moment.
***
We love only because God first loved us, in the giving of his sinless and obedient Son, that we might know love, for this is love: that he might lose his life to save many. And when we can lose our lives in as much as we live for others we then gain life. And only such a love of God has transformed us into children of God.
When God forgave the City called Humanity, he gave each one the model for life. Only one model exists: love gives itself away.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blame God and You Keep Good Company

The Old Testament book of Job is littered with things said against God by Job himself. He wrangles with the Presence of the Lord as the Divine One has seemingly interceded, deplorably, in his own life. God may not have willed the present challenges, but it seems God has certainly allowed them.
So what is the purpose of Job blaming God?
Just what could be the reason behind it, for there has to be a reason?
Let’s take a brief aside...
The further we journey with God the more we are able to understand that the things of God are a mystery; so faith in God is just that – trust, despite there being every reason not to trust. (Faith by its nature is trust – a stumbling block for so many.) Trusting in the perfect faithfulness of God wins us over to favour eventually. Indeed, favour is only reconciled through faith to trust.
Can we blame God and trust him at the same time? If we have been dealt a severe blow, and if we are being real about how we really feel, we will not be happy, unless we are made happy by a hope for a better outcome in the future: to recover, for instance.
Perhaps we journey to a better understanding of God through our blame; being able to pray to God words of derision instead of simply turning away. It takes a brave person to challenge God and not reject him; a person who has the faith to hold open the possibility that there is a reason, a purpose, for their suffering. God should not disparage those who seek an answer.
What is possibly the purpose of suffering?
Of many potential purposes for the struggles we endure, for the losses we suffer, for the grief we must bear, is the purpose of learning for life.
Perhaps we can see it took something of this to open our eyes: the eyes of our hearts. Not that we were heartless beforehand. But we certainly have an acuity for the issues of suffering in our world when we have been woken out of our spiritual slumber. Suddenly we have learnt warmth, genuineness and empathy.
We may blame God, feeling slightly uncomfortable by the prospect if we are honest, but we can also see that God doesn’t condemn us for it. God didn’t condemn Job and God won’t condemn us.
***
The right response in suffering is to look heavenward, frequently, and search God and seek him to reveal his purposes: “What is this for, God? Why have you done this, or allowed this?” Then we may find the answer comes – “I have nothing against you, my child. I wish only the best for you. Will you believe for the best out of this? Will you trust me? I seek to bless you.” The rest is a mystery.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting Out of the Way of God’s Will

STUMBLING BLOCKS were common for the Jews in struggling to allow a new thing of God – the salvation of Gentiles – in the early church. This sort of stumbling block proved to be a nemesis that would put many Jews further behind the Gentile number in terms of faith. In real terms, those who started out as “The Elect” quickly were becoming the disqualified for the effect of the stumbling blocks to their faith.
We, too, are faced with many and various potential stumbling blocks – to both faith and obedience.
We will too often become our own stumbling block, falling over ourselves as we wrestle with our pride, envy, and lack of diligence, etc. God has an infinitely better plan for us than we can conjure or establish, yet we are the ones who can sabotage that plan for God’s purposes quicker than even look at another person.
Too often in my own life have I found myself putting my foot in my mouth, or going ahead of God, or doing things I haven’t needed to do. So many times I’ve lacked the plain wisdom to get out of my own way. God guides us to better outcomes. By a steady and obedient diligence we can get out of our own way.
Getting out of our own way is getting out of God’s way, so the purposes of God might be established through us unto all of life.
God seeks willing compatriots of the charge he is bellowing through eternity – consistently, through creation, to allow God room to move and operate. The biggest of these seems the matter of combining our thoughts on love and the want for everyone’s best, with the will of God as it’s manifest in and through us.
Getting Out of Our Way & Getting Out of the Way of God’s Will
The easiest way in the bringing of God’s will,
To bear over air, land, and sea,
Is the giving up of any claim we may have,
By just letting the world just be!
***
There are so many things that frustrate and anger us about our world – but almost every frustration distracts us from what might be done to help. Attending to God’s will is, at first, a solemn and cheerful surrender.

Being in the position of real use is being in the position of real surrender.
***
The more we can let the world be as it is, not getting frustrated by it, the more we may be of use by God by getting out of our own way, and out of the way of the will of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Is Jesus Pacifist or Patient Judge?

SEEMS THERE IS a ruckus right now over whether the character of Jesus is more aptly described as pacifist or a patient judge who is to slay the unrepentant. Is he one or the other, or both? Seems there is evidence over the whole Bible to suggest he was one during some occasions and the other on other occasions. Why do we split hairs over minuscule theology and lose the world with the argument? I’m thinking influential Christian voices ought to know better – if I can allow myself that presence of a momentary self-righteousness.
I think that we opt for a Jesus that fits our own preference set, and we can always find Scripture to elevate to suit our argument.
So what’s my preference – what way do I lean in this argument – for everyone has to pick a way – there are no broad fences in our theological world?
I go Jesus 55% pacifist and 45% patient (though slaying) judge.
Why? Because Jesus is both. We cannot take God for one or the other – he is both. There are situations for both; applications for both. Indeed, we must realise that God’s dimensions – the nuances of his character – are infinite. We will never truly understand. In the present argument there are only two polar choices – so we partial (judging) human beings – liable to take offense – will take it to one extreme or the other.
Why can’t we see the ideal of a continuum here? Isn’t there the scope in God to cover all bases – from pacifist to patient judge (and back again) stopping any which way?
Perhaps the real problem – the true stumbling block in the present argument – can stem from the offense both given and taken in the use of the word “pansy”. Mark Driscoll is all about shock theology, yet other writers, like Scot McKnight on this occasion, and the four others he profiles in his article, may overreact to the shock talk. I certainly don’t think Driscoll is backing down from a fight – he’s no pacifist pansy!
Respecting the Role of God
Isn’t this the matter of respecting the role of God? If we were not to get so hung up on chasing theological dragons, we would have more impetus to love.
Don’t theological arguments – much of the time – play straight into the hands of the enemy? After all, how many Christians really fight fair when the attacks get personal? There are not many models of Christ around – even of those who love him.
***
Respecting the role of God is holding our theological views lightly, preferring to love rather than to be drawn into stupid controversies. Theological debates, in most ‘secular’ environments, are the devil’s playground. We cannot serve God and fight our compatriots simultaneously.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.




The Grandest, Humblest Christian Test, Love

WHERE IS THE LOVE? This is a chief question in the epistle that is 1 John. It is the writer’s great concern that:
“... it is possible for a group of Christians [a church] to be very orthodox in theology and moral in outward behaviour and yet have very little love for one another.”
— James Montgomery Boice (1938–2000)
That was his context, as he wrote to a church that had lost fellowship with a group of secessionists. Who was right (whose love was without fault) in the overall equation? It seems in this situation that it was those left behind in the church – those who questioned and had doubts as to whether they were even in the right. And that is an indicator of love; humbleness to consider that we could be in the wrong. Such a humbleness is closer to love and finding the truth, and establishing a reverence to righteousness (meeting 1 John’s three tests of a child of God) than simply seeing only what we did that was right.
Biblical Knowledge as a Stumbling Block
There are many this will potentially upset. Many of those who could or should be upset may otherwise join in, and say “here, here, good word!” and not see that such a word is for them. I write in fear and trembling, for such a word is for me, too, for I see the great ‘scholars’ (not many real scholars) – who usually don’t have doctorates to back up their love-bereft fervour – and I tend to judge them. That is my fault and my lack of righteousness – a silly self-righteousness as a rebound for their lack of Christian sensitivity.
They have a world of knowledge, yet they may not know the gospel.
In writing this I have to remain committed to love, first and foremost; a practical and lived thing; a preparedness to forgive promptly, to extend grace (where favour would be otherwise undeserved), and to journey with God proactively on the matters of my hurt and hang-ups. I must remember, in my own being, for I’m liable to forget, that love comes first (the gospel ideal/the gospel imperative) and what follows, secondly, is adroitness of doctrinal view.
A Christian must not put the cart (doctrine) before the horse (love). Love does not cling to anything so tightly as to create relational barriers to the conquest of personal victories. Love is always inclusive, accepting of other views (without need to hold to those views), and utterly respectful.
***
Love is the test we speak of. Love of fellow must come before love of doctrine. Acceptance, inclusivity, and utter and undying respect are at the forefront of love. We aren’t commanded to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” of our theology and still not love – yet we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.



Monday, October 21, 2013

What Hating Another Reveals About You

A concept such as this that follows is a hard one for a Christian to say, write about, speak publicly, and wrestle with. Let the words stand as they are:
“Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”
— 1 John 2:10-11 (NRSV)
1 John is a very black and white epistle, revealing the writer’s personality as one who sees no twilight – there is only light and darkness in the spiritual realm. There is ‘lukewarm’ (Revelation 3:16).
But the rubber hits the road when we read this very personally – and we all need to if we are to subscribe with integrity to the truth. Let us understand this: whoever loves can see in truth as they walk in truth, but the one who is stiff-necked in their hatred, no matter how well it is concealed, sees nothing and walks blind.
As I write this, this word penetrates my own heart, and I am forced to reconcile an important truth: I speak in these terms in genuine fear and trembling. God Almighty is not to be messed with on matters such as these. God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Let’s Look at the Positive Example
I know a theoretical woman who I see walks in the light. She has every worldly reason to withhold her forgiveness, for she has been transgressed. She is theoretical for good reason.
Her process is with God. She goes to God angry and confused and comes away feeling a little more at peace about the wrongs done against her. She’s not there yet, but she insists on loving the best she can, and she, therefore, has been gifted more and more sight of the truth. She has some way to work it all out, and it might take years. But grace will have its final say.
Importantly, she is open the movement of God’s Spirit and the truth in her heart.
Let’s Look at the Negative Example
I know a theoretical man who I see bumbles away furiously in the darkness. He has every worldly reason to withhold forgiveness, and, sure enough, I see he has been seduced by the darkness. He cannot forgive. As I see it, his capacity for truth is seriously undermined. This man might as well be me! I’m allowed to safely say that, so as not to grant any highfalutin self-righteousness to myself in judging another.
Each person can read the truth for him or herself.
***
Loving a brother or sister in Christ reveals the truth is in us – we see the truth and walk in it. But the opposite is also true. That is motive enough to forgive – that we may continue seeing the God-revealed reality as it truly is.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Greatest of All of God’s Works



CONSIDERING ALL THE WORKS of God, all the creative works, all the states of creative work through the known universe over the vast millennia of history, what is the greatest single work of the Lord?
I think it is this:
“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
— 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NRSV)
For God to open up from within us that line of holy inquiry, where the Spirit of God not only penetrates, but he makes his way into us, renewing our inner natures every day, sanctifying us more and more to potentially new inroads, is nothing short of the most breathtaking of all God’s works.
God changes life; he changes us as we allow. And who is the benefactor?
What We Stand to Gain
As if it were the most important of all imperatives, we stand to gain in very many personal ways. (And our gain isn’t the most important of imperatives; God’s glory has that glorious distinction.)
When we build on the foundation of truth, as God rightly dwells in and is Sovereign within us – the truth that has been born or reborn in us – that truth has traction day by day by the matters of real, God-enabled mercy.
MERCY
Yes, mercy has to be God’s greatest accomplishment in us; that we would be able to see as God sees, full of grace, understanding, and depth of insight.
When mercy has full empowerment and it has full sponsorship of flight, we, wicked, broken and inept human beings as we are, can become truly everything God originally designed us to be. It can occur one moment at a time.
What God Stands to Gain
The most important of all imperatives is finally in sight – and this is our true magnum opus. When God is glorified in and through us, by our renewals of mercy day by day, it is God’s crowning glory in a worldly moment – heaven has truly reached down to earth: “On earth as it is in heaven.”
Life is all about God in case we haven’t already noticed. We have no rights being here, being alive, existing, if we there is no God. If it weren’t for the Son’s obedience and the Father’s most magnanimous gift of sacrifice the human race would be dead a long time back!
That we can be enlivened to the majesties of mercy is an ongoing miracle to the glory of God.
***
The greatest work of God – transcending the works of creation unto the entire universe – is the transformation and renewal of one broken soul. Sanctified and made new, day by day, to the glorious reality of God’s transforming character, mercy comes alive in such a crass specimen as us. Thanks be to the Father for his glorious gift of salvation.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Faith – This Suffering Won’t Be Wasted

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”
— JOHN GREEN
Yep, we all suffer – existentially. What that means is, by being human, we have been cast into a life that – because of its inherent brokenness – is far from perfect. Whether it’s aches and pains, an onerous workload, or the prevalence of frustration (etc, etc) we are plagued by inner complaint. Such is life, we might say.
But there is a way of coping with life that is superior to all other means – and it is to really get, and go for, God. That is to understand and adopt the gospel imperative – forgive!
Forgiveness makes all things new, but we can only have the grace to forgive – to truly let go – when we have thrown up every resistance within us into the ceiling fan of conflict, to be chopped up and obliterated. Once and for all.
Why of Forgiveness – Reframing the Obvious
What is altogether obvious is also something that needs to be lived and relived, again and again. If we can retrieve some joy, some sense for hope, some semblance of meaning in our suffering, it’s through confronting that which ails us.
We find the route through our suffering via forgiveness.
Forgiveness reconciles us to a grander, purer form of integrity with ourselves and our God.
As we reframe the obvious – forgiveness as a way of coming back to God, through the Lordship of the Holy Spirit in our lives – we bring it sharply into view. We have faith that God will convince us of not only the value of forgiveness, but its inherent appropriateness – it is for justice and righteousness we do it: for God.
How of Forgiveness – In Faith We Do This Thing!
There is no simple and easy way of faith other than just doing it. We can do it. We can step each step, by God’s wisdom – in becoming aware and resolving to do it by the strength of the Spirit.
Knowing that forgiveness is the way to better life outcomes – for us; for everyone connected to us – we have every impetus to do it.
We keep it simple; we keep it plain. Nothing ought to dilute our focus.
***
Nothing helps us in our suffering more than to forgive – to accept our situations as they are, whether it’s hurt, pain, or loss. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves; sometimes it’s others; at other times it’s God. We must simply do it. By forgiveness, in faith, our suffering is made meaningful.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Overcoming the 7 Shadow Missions


IF WE ACCEPT we have a mission – a God-purposed and God-defined mission – and most of us struggle to delineate a single mission – we most definitely have, also, what John Ortberg calls a shadow mission. If it’s possible to have more than one mission, and it is, it’s also possible to have more than one shadow mission. Somewhat just off centre of the true mission, a shadow mission is the centralising of part of our lives on what is unworthy, selfish or dark.
This article is my attempt to differentiate seven possible shadow missions by utilising the deadly sins – which I think are the roots of our inner evil.
Shadow Mission #1 – Pride
All of us have a weakness in the area of pride, but I wonder if those who are especially humble by characterisation (like, they are normally very humble) are especially vulnerable to a shadow mission based out of pride.
Shadow Mission #2 – Anger
As we may all be susceptible to pride, for all of us there are things that make us angry, though not all anger is sinful. I wonder if those who are especially patient by characterisation (like, they are normally very patient) are especially vulnerable to a shadow mission based out of anger. They may not need to work very hard at being patient, as it’s a part of their giftedness, but anger may lurk. Something that is akin to patience is grace. Forgiving people may have a weakness for anger.
Shadow Mission #3 – Greed
Those who are generous may not have much of a clue regarding greed, but every one of us is prone to a degree of covetousness. Those who are especially giving may find it distasteful in the extreme that they are not given back to – and resentments may form. This is possibly a shadow mission of greed speaking, for giving is its own blessing.
Shadow Mission #4 – Envy
Kindness is a trait especially rich in some people – they see with eyes of kindness. Yet, there is the threat of envy in all of us. Could it be that those who are kind may also see, in some situations, with eyes of envy – and not out of greed? Their envy may be borne on the wings of the fact that unkind people seem to get away with their lack of kindness.
Shadow Mission #5 – Lust
Chaste people, who seem to be especially innocent, demure and pure by nature, may be prone to a sliver of excess toward the secret passions of lust. This shadow mission – to be afflicted by lust – is especially shaming for obvious reasons. But we could focus on the enormous benefit it is to be considered a clean thinker.
Shadow Mission #6 – Sloth
The diligent can be especially lazy, especially if it’s a fear of failure that drives them, and that sense of ‘failure around the corner’ threatens no longer. The diligent are vulnerable to resentment when they are pushed too far or if they are not appreciated for the volume and quality of their work. They might secretly prefer whole days off to do nothing.
Shadow Mission #7 – Gluttony
The self-c0ntrolled person, by characterisation, perhaps has a weakness for gluttony. Again, it may be a feature of someone resenting their gift, though it’s too easy to generalise.
Not all people gifted with particular virtues have shadow missions regarding the corresponding deadly sins, but it’s worthy of noting if there is a link or not.
***
All of the shadow missions seem shameful and they are hidden from sight. They can be seen as God’s reminder that we need to stay on task, and focus on leaning on the Holy Spirit, so our real missions would get the traction God deserves out of them.
What is bad – the shadow mission – God can convert to good, through our open recognition and awareness of it. Nothing may be more threatening or humbling – to stare our shameful shadow in its face and accept it is there. But surely we are liberated to be aware and to ensure we constantly surrender it to God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.