Thursday, December 26, 2013

Afraid to Die, Afraid to Live

“Thus John found Mr. Harrison in an impersonal milieu, afraid to die and afraid to live.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932–1996)
JOHN finds Mr. Harrison in his hospital bed anticipating an imminent leg operation, and this pastoral visit locates the fear of death under anaesthesia. And Mr Harrison does, later, actually die under anaesthetic. He was a 48-year-old labourer, alone in his world, seemingly without hope, looking at the distinct ‘perhaps’ of death – an eternal and an unknowable thing, which, like his life, he would have seemingly little control over. His hope for survival lay in more hard labour – more of the same. He was afraid to die, yet he was also afraid to live. Both living and dying were invitations to despair.
There are many people – many, many people – who have experienced such a despairing reality. I have. And I assume we have all had such moments, even for a solitary moment, where we recognised the futility of existence – just for a moment we were afraid to die for what we didn’t know, and we were afraid to live because we knew we must endure more of the same.
There is something in all of us that recognises the humanity in Mr. Harrison’s situation.
There is something in all of us that recognises what little control we have over both life and death.
There is something in all of us that recognises survival relies upon distraction. And there are sufficient and infinite distractions in life; things that will stave off the despairing moment and give us a few hours peace. These are the hopes we stake our lives on.
To be human is to understand the existential struggle: the tension between life and death and to know the unsatisfactory nature of both. This was the exact tension Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes spoke of.
Faith – the Only Way
But then there is faith; the faith we espouse as Christians, as we believe in a good God – who we feel has purposeful plans for us both here in life and beyond in death. Is there any need for unbelief; to fight against what can only help us? Surely unbelief can bring only misery. Surely unbelief can bring only hopelessness through a lack of purpose because of the diffusion of passion.
We are ruined without passion. Without passion we can have no compassion.
And if we have no compassion we can receive no healing, and that which is solely good is forever lost to us. Without compassion we lose every impetus for life.
Being afraid to die and afraid to live is such a human problem, the only solution for which is faith; to accept salvation in the name of the Lord. For, whenever we resist God our lives tend south. We find we have nowhere to go in our minds and hearts for solace and sanctuary. But by faith we retrieve hope.
Faith is the way beyond fearing death and fearing life. Through faith, purpose is found, then passion, which comes to be manifest in compassion. Faith is circular and it takes us north, out of hopelessness and into hopefulness. But faith is a journey and we must receive the compassion of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And So This Is Christmas

CHRISTMAS may seem to have waned in the present retail-therapy age, where Media bombardment enjoins the technological age and latest gadgetry. Busy schedules and frantic rushing come to an abrupt halt even for fifteen minutes around ‘the tree’, and, whether we enjoy our contemporary Christmases or not, they appear here to stay (thank God you’ve been given another one!).
Christmas is about family, the celebration of the Saviour’s birth, and the giving of gifts, in the spirit of Christmas – which is a giving spirit – the Father gave the Son.
There are lonely people, too, who have no family, no family around, or they are lonely because they have family around. If we have lost in love, recently, for instance, no amount of family is substitute for the loss of a partner. If only we could have them back.
Christmas is centrally about a heart for the lost – the spiritually vanquished. If we have been blessed, our eyes roam for the one who seems cursed. We comfort those we can comfort.
Christmas is also about connection and courage. Perhaps it’s the first time we have decided to be truly bold and vulnerable – to have reached out to a person who means so much; to communicate our love, what we really feel, etc. Maybe it’s about reaching out to reconcile, in the spirit of Christmas.
Whatever it is, Christmas elicits from us the courage to reach out – to love.
Over 2000 years ago
God the Father
Sent to Earth
His Son, to be Savior,
Divinity into human birth.
Jesus became human
So we could know the Father
He humbled Himself
Because of His love
Nothing else would He rather.
Jesus saves today as much as ever. Coming to earth, obeying a Plan that eternally was, He grew from vulnerability as a babe and died in vulnerability. No other king but the King of Kings would have audacity to insist He remain in weakness, poverty, and every sense of worldly lack. Amazing love it is that Jesus identifies most with struggle, trial, hardship, weakness. Call to Him who saves.
When we call on Him who hears, who gives us life, we will be answered. We will be told we need to connect with those who already call Jesus, “Saviour.”
Christmas is as enduring as life itself. And, in spite of all the evils of this world, Christmas stands as an eternal paragon of peace and hope as the Saviour, himself, stood two millennia ago. Peace with God and humankind, and hope for the present and future; may you find them this Christmas.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Apology In the Gospel Context

LANGUAGES of apology, of which there are five – 1. Expressing regret; 2. Accepting responsibility; 3. Making restitution; 4. Genuinely repenting; and, 5. Requesting forgiveness – we have learned there is a process, which is the complete apology.

Now, we may well ask, “Where does apology fit within the gospel context?”

As we look into our theology of salvation – the basis of the gospel, for the gospel is the “good news” regarding the proclamation of God saving us through his Son – we have to note something peculiar and fascinating.

Of the five languages, the genuine salvation experience features four we must do.

There is one mode of these languages that God has done for us; one mode we cannot do, for Jesus has done it.

We could not make things right with God. It took the sinless, holy Jesus to do that.

Restitution means “the return of something lost or stolen so that the original situation is restored. This central theme of the Old Testament law is supremely fulfilled through Jesus Christ making restitution for Adam’s sin, thus restoring fellowship with God and hope of eternal life.” [1]

Jesus made restitution for our sin. He did what we cannot and could not do.

But we must speak all the other languages in our confession of faith.

We must express regret for having lived how we have lived; for having disappointed God by many of our life choices. We must be able to say to God, “I am sorry.”

We must accept responsibility that we have departed from the Divine Path. We must be able to say before God, “Lord, I was wrong.”

We must genuinely repent, which means, when we accept Christ as our Lord, that he truly becomes Lord over our hearts, minds, and lives. We must say for the rest of our lives, “Jesus, I’ll seriously try never to live like that again. I will rely on your strength, not mine.”

We must finally seek forgiveness. Proclaiming from within us, vocally, to the outside world, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I’m turning back to you...” is, of a point, incomplete without us seeking forgiveness.

Seeking forgiveness requires the most contrite mood of bowing before God, seeking his grace and mercy, never expecting it. But God has already forgiven us, so, with a contrite heart, we receive his forgiveness. “Lord, I need your forgiveness; I therefore seek it.”


God has already made a way for us to come to back him, through Jesus. What we are required to do is express regret and accept responsibility for the old life, repent of it, and request God’s forgiveness, which has already been given.

© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Manser, M. H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Be Still, Be Silent, Be Tranquil

VISION is a wonderful thing. It captures essences we wouldn’t ordinarily touch. God graces us with some visions, the firing of the imagination if we will, in order to communicate to us; ours is to discern what the Lord is saying. That can be the hard part.
As I think of a vision that promotes stillness of soul, I’m encouraged to contemplate the natural environment, and though I’m definitely a land-lover, the sea – or being under the sea – really appeals.
I can imagine sound is different on the ocean floor. The sun is not too harsh. The temperature of the water is cool. And notwithstanding the hazards of the ocean, it feels safe down there.
Being still, likewise, experiencing a safe soul stillness, is about being positioned to just be.
Being silent, and not just from an auditory viewpoint, is the capacity of a safe strength. Being silent isn’t about pretending that life is perfect and rosy, but just like is communicated in Psalm 131, there is that sense of having been weaned from dependence – oh, that is dependence other than God-dependence.
Being tranquil, in spite of all that noise that goes around, is choosing to depend on nothing but God alone. It’s about learning to strip away every other distraction, so we might be truly anesthetised from the worldly components that frustrate and overwhelm.
Be still – be silent, before God – be tranquil in his Presence
Or we might better put it, as if in prayer language:
Help me be still – silence my soul, Lord – help me be tranquil
Help me know your tranquillity by experience
Help my mind be at rest; my heart sated with you alone
Help me be still
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

To You, O LORD, I Lift Up My Soul

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”
― Psalm 25:1 (NRSV)
SIMPLEST designations are what God brings before humanity, and the simplest designation for one enduring hardship is one of drawing upward of God – to lift up our souls so we might experience what is so sorely required.
The majestic irony is we often don’t know what it is we need until God gives it to us. The faith journey is no easy prescription, but, given time and patience, it is a relatively easy fix – from hindsight’s aspect.
The Psalmist of Psalm 25 seeks guidance and ultimately delivery. And we all seek guidance to traverse arduous terrain whilst also hungering and thirsting over a time we will be delivered. It always tends to take too long, and that’s a problem for each of us.
In Sunshine, In Rain, In Peace, and In Pain
Wisdom dictates simple plans, and the simplest plan has the broadest and best effect – “I lift up my soul to you, O Lord.”
In sunshine it is praise we bring as we lift up our souls to God. This is the elucidation of experience. Does anything make more sense than the experience of praise?
In rain it is us simply attending to the time-worn path – to lift up our souls in hope for what God might give. Trust is what we give as we enter into the Presence of God, with a mind and a heart ready to be soothed.
In peace, it’s thanksgiving we give. We are not getting ahead of ourselves by being thankful. Suddenly all our vision is cast forth into what is known as blessing, and the need for hope – just now – runs dormant.
In pain we cannot bring anything but a sense of abiding wisdom, for somehow we know that we need to be here, before God, in order for that healing work to commence, in its own time.
In sunshine, in rain, in peace, and in pain, it’s the best plan to lift up our souls to the One who reigns in the heavens.
Whether by praise, or trust, or thanksgiving, or wisdom, our role is to simply draw upward into God’s continual Presence.
For every occasion of human emotion there is a role for drawing close to God. By manner of routine, we go to God, we bathe in his Presence, as we bring what we will, to receive all he has destined that we need.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Living ‘Successfully’ In An Evil World

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
― Romans 12:17-18, 21 (NIV)
ANYONE who’s been a Christian for any length of time, who’s frequented churches, has seen the duplicitous angles of soul manipulation that go on from some Christians who act out of being enviously threatened unconsciously. If we won’t harness our fears, they become us. It’s no surprise, therefore, that some influential Christians rise in the ranks, at least socially, and they use their opportunities of encouragement to ‘gently’ (subtly) rip people down. Again, if they won’t harness their fears, by admitting their need of God, they cannot be helped.
You might be ‘the other person’ in this pantomime – the one who comes to church to serve as faithfully as you can. But then you get undone by what they say is encouragement – you know you need to ‘toughen up’.
Does ‘toughen up’ even fit in a loving context? Can we add what is crass to the qualities of beauty? Not at all. The ‘toughen up’ set are unable or unwilling to love. All we can do, now, is pray for them. We trust God that he is reasoning with them. But we also have a role to diligently return good for evil.
Life’s about goodness,
The giving of love,
We do this because
We know we should,
So what’s the quest of life
Beyond everything bad ever done?
It’s to overcome evil with good.
Overcoming evil with good can became a life mantra for both our spiritual wellbeing and longevity. It protects us and it propels us. Those who have no business in the realm of love will be loved anyway. They cannot stop us from loving them if we make it our choice. There is never so much power than in the one determining to love, and to love those that might even quietly hate us.
Applying Romans 12
This passage of Scripture is very, very practical. I recommend meditating over it – that is, carry it with you and utter its words a hundred times a day. Make it come to be part of who you are. Then there is incorporated into our psyches, great power for turning evil into good.
When we apply Romans 12 it may appear that people don’t understand what we are doing; but we are God’s secret agent, operating in the espionage of life. We should hope that they are confused to a point of asking why we love those hate us.
There’s never so much power than in the one determining to love, for God gives the power to accept, to cherish, and to pray for those who might even quietly hate us.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Joy Beyond Belief

Do not be anxious
Do not be troubled
Find space in your mind, and
May your heart’s peace be doubled.
The very essence of life
For though it’s harsh
There’s more to be gleaned than strife.
Take in some music
Enjoy the arts
Plug into humour
It’s odd where joy starts.
A Benediction
May your day, your afternoon, your evening be blessed with the salt of truth; all of life is to be celebrated. Despite the pain, tap into the good; it remains forever.
There is the possibility of climbing above the states of anxiousness, weariness, and lack, when we see vision of a better outcome. This is not about denying being anxious, weary, or despondent in any way. On the contrary, it’s about acknowledging the lack.
And as we acknowledge that life is far from where we would like it to be, we can simultaneously turn on a sense for self-belief that transcends the lack, and add a gear to our attitude for life.
Belief goes a long way. It is a gospel-based belief that is adopted. Jesus has already overcome the world. If we take courage, acknowledging the difficulty, but not being overcome by it, but holding our heads up, we will climb above the situation, at least as far as the dispiriting nature of the tenuous moment is concerned.
If we are undone by anything at all, when life gets discouraging, it’s because our attitude for a fight is found wanting. When we are tested it’s our opportunity to respond. We have the opportunity to discern how we might address the problem. We aren’t impotent. It’s the enemy of souls that sells us that lie.
We are either our own limit or our own empowerer.
We react in life or we respond. To react is our choice, as it is to respond, but when we react we throw away any control we could have. When we respond – in a way that dictates we have assessed the situation, and only then have we made the best choice of response – we make the best of anything, whether the situation is good, bad, or indifferent.
It’s all about choice. Notwithstanding those who battle with known anxiety disorders, etc – those who don’t have the agency for transcending their situations as much – there is a real degree of control we can exert.
No matter how bad things get, we can make it better with our attitude. That’s a joy beyond belief. It’s joy because it’s incredibly empowering. It’s beyond belief because there is a refusal to be defeated. To be defeated we must agree to be defeated.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Isaiah 61 – Finally, Good News!

“For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”
― YHWH in Isaiah 61:8-9 (NRSV)
PROMISES are designed to be kept, and, we can know with certainty, that God keeps his promises.
What Isaiah 61 Actually Means
Chapter 61 of Isaiah is a series of speeches from three different entities: a prophetic healer; a ruler/national administrator; Yahweh (YHWH) himself. The healer’s role is to proclaim that deliverance is near, even about to occur. The administrator proclaims details of the favor being bestowed on Jerusalem and on ‘priests’ who are to restore religious order in the city. YHWH is quoted above in verses 8-9. The chapter concludes with two verses of praise and thanksgiving for the promises of the Lord have now been experienced in their fulfillment.
Isaiah 61 showcase the reliability of God’s intrinsic justice. No promise will be left incomplete; all promises will bear fruit. Not only can we trust God, regarding his promises, we should.
What Isaiah 61 Might Mean In Our Lives
Contemporary meaning is always at the forefront of our thinking, for obvious reasons. Contemporary thinking always searches out the answer to the ‘So what?’ question. What is the real, everyday, saliency of this Scripture for today? There are a number of things:
Firstly, passages like this remind us that the response of obedience leads us to trust God so far as delivery on his promises are concerned. Being a just God, we can expect that we won’t be left forlorn indefinitely; not only that, but God will grow us through the forlorn period if we keep responding obediently. We are blessed with softer hearts as we endure patiently, for just one solid example.
Secondly, there are eternal perspectives here that make a mockery of doubting. Perhaps in the past generation or two we have become more doubting, not less. Yet, the proclamations (vv. 1-7), YHWH’s assurance (vv. 8-9), and the salutation of praise and thanksgiving (vv. 10-11) all speak to the eternally-relevant pattern. God always follows through.
Thirdly, because key members of national leadership are involved, as well as the Sovereign over all creation, YHWH, and this is presumably a public dissertation, the outworking of the promises are without barrier or inhibition. This is ‘good news’, because whatever the Lord is for, nothing can come against. Divine will is unshakable. When delivery comes and healing commences, we can expect it to reach its full designation of providence in our lives. Indeed, the outworking of the promises of God will blow us away!
Favor is coming for the obedient. The promises of God are real as they are reliable. Faith grows in the seedbed of reason for doubt. But instead of doubting we might imagine what attitude of praise and thanksgiving might fill our hearts and mouths as we live out the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finding Blissful Contentedness

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
― Epicurus (341BCE–270BCE)
CHRISTIANS who have taken God at his Word, have found something of a nirvana experience by following Jesus, by desiring him alone, and in purifying themselves of the outer desires of many a distraction.
Usually because of some crisis or rock bottom experience, they have been led by the Holy Spirit to abandon the old way of life – they didn’t just say they would or did, they actually did it!
When all other desires are subsumed under the Godhead – Father, Son, and Spirit – then there is only one logical outcome: a reliant sense for sanctification. Maybe sanctification was only a word, or a badly misunderstood concept beforehand.
Sometimes the old life – or fragments thereof – needs to be ripped away from us before we are truly ready to give Jesus our all. Until God orchestrates the events of our lives this way, we tend to swirl in a meaningless fashion trying to find the ‘magic’ elixir to faith. The worst circumstance then takes us into something we wouldn’t wish on our enemies (if we have any), but soon, as we struggle well with God, we begin to understand.
The trial is purposed for purification – to purify from us the grip the ungodly desires have over us.
And what does all this have to do with contentedness?
Well, contentedness and desire are linked. We cannot achieve contentedness until we have arranged our desires in such a way that God truly comes first.
Being Able to Say, “Besides God, I Need Nothing”
This is where we need to be: when God’s truth and God’s will, and our love for God, have reached a place where they are foundationally first. When all else comes under God, and our desires have conformed themselves under God, we verily need nothing else.
Contentedness... in one word.
When we truly need no other comfort than the Lord himself, we can live a life free of covetousness, and free of the burden of needing anything. That’s freedom. That’s spiritual living.
I like to think this is the best reward of being a Christian – and it all starts from Christian theology. No other ‘religion’ can compete with the message of grace that underpins the relationship we can have with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Being blissfully content is about not needing another thing if God takes supreme position. It is very simple to understand, yet harder to attain, for we must let go of the world and the desires of the flesh.
True contentedness is the arrangement of joy for the lives we presently have.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reconciliation By Taking Responsibility

MANY PEOPLE think that ‘doormats’, i.e. peacemakers, are weak and submissive, but I really wonder what God will say on Judgment Day. Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”? (Matthew 5:9)
We don’t like showing weakness and we don’t like bearing weakness either, but if we would be genuinely Christian – children of God – then meekness (Matthew 5:5) is something we have to develop in. Would we want Jesus to say to us on the Day of Judgment, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (see Matthew 7:21-23)
Some ‘Christians’ are in for a rude awakening, I think – those, in present sight, that cannot take responsibility for their own actions, or for the portions of fault and blame that are due them. There lack of humility marks them as immature.
When there is fault and blame on both sides, what sets the Christian apart is their desire to repent of what they could have done better. Their focus isn’t on what the other person did wrong. No, that’s where they ply grace, allowing the other person to find their portion of fault and blame themselves.
The best test of the true Bible-believing Christian, I believe, is their preparedness toward, willingness to engage in, and response of others’, repentance.
Repentance may be the most important improper noun in the Bible.
The Power of Admitting “I Was Wrong”
Honesty, as an attitude of courage, coupled with the courage to admit ‘”I was wrong” through repenting, is one characteristic set of the mature person.
What an irony that is! A mature person admitting they were wrong. But, when we have grown through submitting for the sake of it – to simply keep the peace because we were scared of the consequences – then we have applied courage. And courage, which empowers honesty and fuels the humility of repentance, never lets us down.
Of course, there are times when it’s just much wiser to buckle – i.e. when relating with the stubborn fool who must always be right (see Proverbs 26:4-5). These times we are forgiven for taking a shorter route, or bypassing that way altogether. It is most sensible to enter cautiously, for dealing with proverbial fools is a minefield. (Studying the fool in Proverbs is a study in wisdom, for the wise must be able to handle a fool.)
How are we to resolve this conflict?
Perhaps it’s gone on too long,
Sometimes reconciliation’s easy,
Especially when we say, “I was wrong.”
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.