Saturday, November 30, 2013

7 Ideas That Drive Discipleship

INERTIA is everything in the spiritual life of growth toward and inward upon God. Without a forward-moving, intentional campaign spiritual growth plateaus and often recedes.
Having hammered a stake in the ground – at salvation, at baptism, at confirmation, or at any significant re-commitment to Jesus – we now trek onward. And we should know that settling for a ‘comfortable’ journey with God is actually not journeying with God at all.
Jesus despises lukewarm Christians. His followers are glowing hot.
Here are key strategies to drive discipleship and purge the old life ever away:
1. Worship
Worshipping God is central for all disciples. With a strategy for worship a disciple succeeds in enjoying varying degrees of closeness with God. Worship includes corporate worship more than once a week, private worship each day, as well as worship sessions where aspects of God can be appreciated in worship, e.g., when outdoors, to enjoy God’s creation.
2. Fellowship
Disciples cannot flourish on their own. We need to experience the love of fellow Christians. We also need to experience how conflict manifests and how people deal with it. Intimacy and trust are keys, but so are conflict management and grace for others. A disciple is tested on how they talk about others with others. Integrity’s best test is in community.
3. Mentoring
The best discipleship strategy is supported by mentors – not just one. Mentors are sponsors, guides, sounding boards, and a whole lot more. Devoted disciples of Jesus have up to half a dozen mentors who speak into different aspects of their lives. Remember, a mentor doesn’t tell you what to do; they ask questions and draw illustrations from their own lives that they share; they listen, and, whilst they don’t generally advise, they confirm good things and question things that may need further work.
4. Training, Reading, Learning
All these are crucial and they all need to be intentioned processes in our daily walk with Jesus. What Bible training, reading, and learning are we immersing ourselves in? What theologies, what relationships skills, and what history are we learning. Each mind and heart is its own seminary.
5. Stewardship and Serving
Sacrifice is a great yardstick for maturity. When we can routinely hold our possessions (not just the material ones) lightly, we can give them away, in the right situations, without even a thought or regret. But this is not about giving ourselves, or our assets, away willy-nilly. Much wisdom is required in making sure we are led by the Holy Spirit and that we do what the Spirit tells us to do.
6. Tackling Hurts, Habits and Hang-ups and Building Identity
Knowledge of who we are and where we are at is vital. Every day we have opportunities to get to know ourselves and where we are at. The more we approach truth, the more we will see the light shone into our hurts we carry, the habits that remain, and the hang-ups we cling to. Building identity – focused on the vertical self (you and God, me and God) – is a complementary strategy.
Important questions are these: Who do we want to be? Who was Jesus? What one thing now am I challenging myself to change about myself?
7. Balance for Growth and Change
I recall in one of the steeper climbs into the stratosphere of my growth in Christ the desire for it to stop temporarily. I felt I was being overwhelmed by the demands of life and God. It pays to remind ourselves that the journey does eventually plateau and then our problem is we get dry; we pine for the times when growth was hectic. Attaining balance, though, is wisdom.
True disciples of Jesus follow him diligently. They: 1) are passionate in their worship, 2) are active in fellowship, 3) have mentors, 4) are constantly learning, 5) are responsible stewards who serve sacrificially, 6) tackle truths in their lives, and 7) balance their energy during growth and change.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

How Do I Say ‘Yes’ To Jesus?

SAYING ‘yes’ to Jesus is a familiar catchcry, but what does it mean when we break past the niceties of cliché – which are, the nod and ignore responses of a Christianity that is so far beyond being reached?
Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus is an action expressing the single notion, “I follow you, Jesus, and I do what you say, even when I don’t like it.” That is discipleship. It’s nothing more complicated than that. What might be a continual test of our love, our resolve, our patience, and our faith, is actually based out of quite a simple decision.
To follow Jesus is a decision.
By virtue of the decision we do what we have decided to do. We act. Our faith has traction in the decisions we make that align with what the Holy Spirit is leading us to do.
When we seek to answer the question, “How do I say ‘yes’ to Jesus?” we are often left with an altar call situation – saying ‘yes’ for the first time.
But saying ‘yes’ for the first time is no different than saying ‘yes’ the second time, or the third, the twenty-third, and the 907th. The first time is just the first time. Not that it isn’t significant – of course it is!
Saying ‘Yes’ With All the Earnestness of Our Conviction
There is no greater protection afforded any individual person than this: to say ‘yes’ to Jesus by discerning and doing God’s will.
Nothing will invoke the full power of the Holy Spirit and avail the presence of God’s guardian angels more that seeking and securing God’s will by acts of obedience.
We must obey aggressively, declaring war on our disobedience.
Saying ‘yes’ with the earnestness of our full conviction, by holding nothing of ourselves back, by casting all the things of this earth into the chasm of oblivion; that is aggressive obedience of faith.
Glorious blessings of confident assurance, growth and renewal are found in this: when we take God’s line, seeking the knowledge of his will earnestly, and deploying his will sacrificially, then we begin to comprehend the vastness of his nature of multiplicity – life expands exponentially before us: New life.
This is how we say ‘yes’ to Jesus: we discern his will and we do it.
The command of the Great Commission is to ‘make disciples’, so we ought to be disciples so we can make disciples.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Cherished Sanctity In the Chasm of Pain

FALLING in love is one of the best feelings; excitement, nervousness, anticipation, a flurry of joy, together with the obvious sexual passion and spiritual intimacy afforded.
Being in the chasm of pain is not that dissimilar, for the emotions are just as palpable, and the awareness is piqued, but it truly isn’t like this until we are suitably positioned aside another person’s pain.
When we are part of their working alliance, there is a cherished sanctity in the chasm of their pain – to be in it with them. God uses us, because, quite frankly, we want to be there. We are not there, though, for our own means or ends – for the stroking of an ego that just loves to be needed. No, we take this role or leave it and we are happy either way. We do not need this ministry, but we are so willing, and so privileged (in more ways than one), to be used.
A Snapshot of Pain, of Empathy, of Stepping ‘Into’ Them
We would never want to be trite, and so, respectfully, we enter this ground of another person’s pain not so much with trepidation, but with true empathy – we are living as if we are them. We are trying to sense them and be fully available – in a genuinely sacrificial way.
We know when we are getting it right – they open up totally.
Pain is something that must be expressed. I liken it to Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who were criticising the crowd who were worshipping him during the Triumphal Entry narrative: if these mouths were to be stopped, the stones, themselves, would cry out (Luke 19:40).
We must allow those in pain to find a means of expression that best suits their needs. Privileged are we to be invited to join that journey of God-blessed discovery.
And when we are allowed into them – into the sanctity of their private selves – there we respectfully tiptoe, but without fear for upsetting them. If we are motivated to love them, and we have correctly gauged their emotional capacity as it fluctuates, then we have good basis for journeying into their unknown with them. We trust God as they will, also, need to trust God.
We master fear when we see the cherished sanctity in the chasm of pain. Despair needs not to be judged. An emotional vacuum is what it is. And sorrowful grief is the natural consequence of loss. All this is holy ground. It’s a privilege to step into it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

When Relationship Replaces Religion

“We have to face the truth about ourselves and our human situation before we can embrace the truth of God.”
— Matthew Jacoby
IN AN all-or-nothing life, and it so often is, even when we don’t want it to be, we may discover that God wants the whole of our devotion – not just our Sunday best.
The all-or-nothing dichotomy presented herein is this: we must face the fullness and harshness of our inner and outer realities before we can have a functional and purposeful relationship with God.
Yes, that’s right, though we may not be Pharisees by definition, legalists of conditional love with rules dominating over relationship, so many of us have not sufficiently sown into our relationship with God because we still haven’t sought the deeper truths in our own lives.
Transcending Religion is Contingent on Receiving the Truth
We won’t get the fundamentals of our relationship with God until we realise just how dire our situation is bereft of the cross and resurrection.
The detail will be missed.
The truth is we have never known ourselves until we grapple with our full reality, without fear or shrinking. This is very hard thing for most of us to do – to plumb down to the depths of our childhoods and see our parents and guardians, at least in some respects, for the villains they were.
All parents are sinners. All parents have wronged their children.
And when we become parents ourselves, then we understand – parenting is fraught with failure. (Lord, have mercy.)
We must be able to receive truth as it is – unadorned without the niceties of flattery – if we are to transcend a worthless religion, which believes upon the name of Christ, but cannot ever convert that into a personal and pulsating relationship with the living Lord – the Holy Spirit. We must be able to not only receive any truth, but we must be capable of receiving all truth that applies to our lives – including the general truths of revelation (the non-familial truths).
We cannot receive the abundant life that Jesus died for until we willingly submit ourselves to this commitment: the truth must reign over our hearts and minds – like nothing else is important.
We won’t get the fundamentals of our relationship with God until we realise just how dire our situation is bereft of the cross and resurrection. Until such a time, our faith in God will just be religion.
God wants much more of us than our religion. He seeks a relationship. And we need it!
We cannot give ourselves to God relationally until we accept our human situation, which is our brokenness, and all the truth of it.
We know God more fully when we can accept and embrace reality.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Test of Unconditional Forgiveness

“Total forgiveness is when you are sure that nobody will ever know [what happened].”
— R.T. Kendall
TRUE PARDON is a test of unconditional forgiveness, and a key aspect is protecting the once-transgressor from the dirt of their crime. They have been forgiven, after all! Does Jesus allow the enemy of souls any legitimate intrusion on Grace? I do not think so. So it must be for us, who have chosen to forgive someone, that we would cover the tracks back to the initial ‘crime’. If we cannot do this – if we would be prepared for someone to find out about that dirt, and say ‘Woe to them for this thing done against you!’ – then it is not unconditional forgiveness. It is a conditional form of worthless forgiveness. It is not ‘forgiveness’ at all.
This test of unconditional forgiveness is bound to find us wanting, if we are honest. But we can transcend our weakness for placing conditions on our love by simply casting our will into the seas of God.
What does that mean – cast our will into the seas of God?
Casting Our Will Into the Seas of God
God is like a sea – seemingly limitless in shape, variety, and proportion.
There is something about the sea that is endless and mysterious. The sea hides many worlds in its volume, and under its surface are many enigmas unknown to the common human being. And if the sea is a mystery, and the sea is a metaphor for God, and even the processes of faith as we cast them into God, then we cast them free of any restraint.
The more we throw off the shackles of our own self-willed ‘glory’ – the protection of something very unprotectable – the more we gain by the blessings of the Lord for simply having trusted and obeyed.
These seem like hard things, but they are surprisingly easy. It’s easy because with the will we decide. We decide against ourselves and our own selfishness, pride of the flesh, etc, and we decide for the person we are forgiving. And then we burn our bridges behind us, in order that we simply cannot return to a position of conditional forgiveness or, worse, resentment.
When we cast our will into the sea, our will vanishes under the wavy surface and sinks right to the bottom of the ocean floor – it is irrecoverable. It needs to be this way. Having tossed our selfish regard away we then push straight into love and we push all the way!
True forgiveness is burying what happened as if it never existed – not that we would truly ever forget. Just like the Father has buried what we did against him by the cross and the resurrection.
True forgiveness mimics grace in every single way.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Revealing and Repealing the Unholy Trinity

The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are their never-dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom the Christian must wage war.
“Unless they get the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If they had a nature like an angel, and were not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, the Christian must either fight or be lost.
— J.C. RYLE (1816 – 1900)
OH, who, of true faith, would deny? Yet, we are deceived many a time by the visibility of wanton virtue – a virtue that looks saintly yet is heinously religious.
The effective person of Christian is destined to come under siege of the devil, and for the devil to use secondary means of the world and of the flesh to root out of them the evil they are certainly capable of. The more effective one threatens to be for the Kingdom of God, perhaps all the more is the threat. But true virtue – true wisdom, which is diligence, prudence, understanding, and discernment, etc – will always be the way back, swiftly to God.
Repentance – In Name and In Nature
I cannot think of a more important Christian competency than to repent. Likewise, is there anything more fitting as we are cast into the presence of this despicable unholy trinity? No, our best defense is our best attack. We must repent in name and in nature.
To repent in name is to be known, to be identified, as someone who is, by their nature, penitent. Such a person’s penitence is not grossly submissive – i.e. submissive by nature (unless to God) – but their penitence moves them instinctually to obedience in line with the prevailing truth. This is how the truth sets us free.
As we throw off our anchor from the mooring of sin, God ensures there is wind enough to sail away. But, we, by our nature, are sinners. We will find more corrupt moorings, those placed strategically in our way, to stifle our progress, which is to sail onward to the horizon – the race God has marked out for us.
Repentance is the prime form of obedience in saying “yes” to Jesus.
Repentance is behind the commonest blessings of God.
Repentance draws us never nearer to God.
Our key weapon of attack in defense of the Kingdom, as we may be used to the extension of God’s glory, never our own, is to turn back to the will of God. That is, to love everyone, to esteem the Word of God as paramount truth, to live out the will of God, and to be faithful to Christ’s church.
Revealing and repealing the unholy trinity – the world, the devil, and the flesh – must be the modus operandi of our Christian walk. It’s called repentance. As we turn about-face from these three, we turn full-on toward the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

The Night I Visited Hell

CHRISTIAN assumptions can be dangerous. Some lead to the pride of self-righteousness, others lead to fear of condemnation, and others, again, can lead us to think miracles occur in every situation (and be sure, they can, but they don’t always do).
I’ve always made the assumption that I’m not going to hell. I believe it’s a safe assumption, and made never surer by a correct reading of the Holy Scriptures.
But, recently, I was given a glimpse of one possible eternal hell. It came manifest in ‘real form’ via a dream.
A Vision of Hell
I don’t recall how the dream started, but let’s just commence the journey in a transporter – a four-person transporter. There were room for two couples; me and my partner (not my real-life wife) and another couple. None of these three people’s faces or identities do I recall – it’s not a significant detail.
Once we were strapped into the transporter by a fifth person – perhaps an angel – I recognised I could adjust my seating position slightly, but I was nowhere near comfortable. My knees were locked awkwardly and, whilst there wasn’t the presence of disabling fear, I did experience a calm dread. Once seated and restrained in our seats we were all given a ‘green dream’ intravenously. Perhaps the worst memory of all was knowing death was being counted down from about 30 seconds away.
The transition into death was not painful. The transition was the transport. Without noticing the transporter even start – like it was just simply travelling at what seemed like light speed already – there was a large type of liquid electronic display (LED) clocking up the years. We were taken in what seemed like several seconds into a future thousands of years from now. I cannot recall the exact year.
My initial impression of the place I knew was Hell, was pretty unremarkable. It was a place like Earth in many respects; suburban, yet purposeless.
The purposelessness of this place I was in struck me. Groups gathered on the land as if it were an eternal picnic. There was no sun there, but the darkness wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t visibly see. Seeing seemed superfluous, though, because communication occurred between all the beings by thought. Everything you thought could be discerned by others, but it seemed that some of the beings had so locked out their thoughts – like they had none, or they had total discipline over them.
It was a sad place from a marriage viewpoint. Perhaps being there with knowledge of a partner’s presence meant nothing. There was no love there, no feeling for the significance of memories, and no place for any sense of connectedness. There was no sense of connectedness.
The most significant event occurred when a being from a group lower down in the valley from where I was sitting threw me up a microphone and stand. I was being commanded to sing by this being who was more a master of Hell than I was. I was exposed at once, for I had been thinking how good a singer I was.
I did sing, and I did so beautifully. But then it was revealed by a huge spotlight from the being below me, a house from back on Earth; a house in a suburb so far away back in time... “Whose is that house? The voice you sang with, that is his home,” he said. I said, without any thought, “That house is your house!” There was no laughter, nor derision, nor shame, nor guilt... just the truth. I had sung what I thought was beautiful, but I sang in his voice, though it sounded like my own.
The dream ended, or it had no further significance after that.
Now, the psychoanalytic school of therapy would make something of the event just described. I will let it be just now, other than to say, this may be a reminder from God, to speak his words and his alone. A secondary reminder is that I must establish congruence through thought and deed, and conform all my thinking to Divine will. A final reminder is how easily we can be deceived; we must sing in our own voices – having discerned in obedience.
From my dream I wonder if Hell – the real place – is an eternal destination where all feeling, all emotion, has been purged. No love, no conscience, nothing of purpose – an eternal vacuum where nothing is significant. That would be hell. One thing worse than too much emotion is no emotion at all.
As we focus on Heaven, not Hell, we can look forward to being in a place where love resounds, where emotions-of-truth are welcome and freeing, and indeed, where full emotional expression and healing occur seamlessly.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Proverbs, for Performance and Power

EVERYONE wants to rule the world, or at least have control over their own world. Surely this is a good thing – that we’d want the best of life, opportunity, and relationships. But the trouble is we lack so much wisdom, plus we cannot orchestrate life as we would like. This is where the Proverbs of three thousand years ago helps.
Let’s face it we could all do with a bit more wisdom.
Back in 2007/2008 I spent eighteen months mapping Proverbs in order to break the 900 sayings down to a few broad groups of virtue to help in the quest for wisdom. I managed to get them all into seven groups: diligence, prudence, shalom, balance, trust, respect, and finally, wisdom. The entire work I called What Is Truth? (It’s free.)
Studying Proverbs makes us our best own coach, our own trustworthy mentor, our most studious learner, and our own wisest teacher. As we reflect on Proverbs, there is always one or two (or more) that seem written for me and you, personally.
Wisdom is thinking and living in accordance with how things actually are.
Wisdom is attuned, acclimatised and accepting of reality. Wisdom’s most urgent question has to be, therefore, “What is truth?”
Wisdom’s opposite, folly, is a way of thinking and living that ignores how things actually are.
Folly denies the truth – even to its own peril.
Diligence, Prudence, Shalom, Balance, Trust, Respect >>> Wisdom
Diligence and prudence are old-fashioned words perhaps not that well recognised these days. Diligence is self-discipline, conscientiousness, and being proactive. Prudence is restraint, moderation, and discretion. These two are virtues of self-mastery.
Shalom is the consummation of peace both from within and from without; it’s a holistic sense of wellbeing within the self and within the world. Shalom is the sense of completeness; the blessedness of self-awareness. Balance protects and enhances our vitality. Together these two are life-givers.
Trust and respect are virtues I see that are social awareness relationship enhancers. It takes courage and faith to be honest; to trust. Justice with love are capital virtues. Respect is about an unquestioned integrity driven by the virtues of humility, compassion, and social intelligence.
All these six items of virtue – diligence, prudence, shalom, balance, trust and respect – make up wisdom. And as pairs they contribute to our virtuous capacity, our maintenance, and our social graces.
What is wisdom? We might as well ask, as Pilate did, “What is truth?” Wisdom is thinking and living in accordance with how things actually are. According to Proverbs, these six virtues provide for wisdom: diligence, prudence, shalom, balance, trust, and respect. It is wise to partake of them. They are free.
© 2007, 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oxygen, Gravity, Faith – Unseen Yet Dependable

Faith is not something we do. It’s something we trust just like oxygen and gravity, unseen and dependable.
— Ron Wilbur
QUOTES like the above I wrestle with. Like being slapped across the face with a heavy wet fish, the wisdom grips my awareness and won’t let go, yet I struggle with how it reads. I think the best wisdom quotes have these features – the implicitness of wrestling, in order that we might glean from them their true meaning. Of course, ‘true meaning’ is relative and God may have an infinite body of wisdom that underlies such a concept presented in these eighteen words.
Of course, we wouldn’t argue with the first sentence – faith isn’t what we do, yet we do, somehow, express faith. Like there is evidence of oxygen – the health of a biological cell as it subsists on its lifeblood – and for gravity – that the seas stay in place as Earth spins on its axis at terrible speed – there is evidence of faith: the trust plied in real life situations that puts forth a person’s virtue: patience, courage, humility – against the odds.
Faith isn’t something like a task. It’s more implicit in our modus operandi.
Faith – The Noun
We know faith as a verb, like love. In this way it is an expression – something observable – as I’ve mentioned.
Yet, faith is also something that simply is. It’s identifiable in its own right, for many times what is observable just exists. There’s nothing more noteworthy than that, but its inherent noteworthiness is in its being. We, as persons, don’t need to do anything to prove that we are living, breathing people – we are. We exist.
So it is with faith. Ever cast forth into the world, from some discrete moment in the order of divine creation, faith has been a thing available for us, like oxygen and gravity. Eve had her opportunity. So did Adam. So do we.
Faith is a belief in the Word of God – which is possibly a thought extending past the Holy Bible. It’s more generic. Faith takes God at his Word as it has been spoken into creation by the laws that, when tested, subsist the good majority of the time – or all the time.
Faith, like bread, is something we choose to partake of or not. Indeed, we are all plying some form of faith every day... every moment. The atheist, it’s often said, has abundantly more faith, for who would dare believe there is no God?
We are to put our faith in the right things – or, more appropriately, God.
Ever cast forth into the world, from some discrete moment in order of divine creation, faith has been a thing available for us, like oxygen and gravity. Eve had her opportunity. So did Adam. So do we. What will we do with faith? Will we put our faith in the Word, the wisdom, and the will of God?
Faith is a challenge. We either will or we won’t – place our faith in the invisible hope. Faith rewards the faithful. The faithful ply faith – good faith.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.