Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Choice to Lead

“Leadership is a choice! It is not a rank! I know many people at the senior most levels of organisations who are absolutely not leaders; they are authorities and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them; and I know many people who are at the bottoms of organisations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.”
— Simon Sinek
What resonates to our core – without a single exception – is the leadership we have been under; in the home, in our schools, and in our workplaces as well as the leadership we have been exposed to in the community, outward to society. Those most inspiring of people – save none – have been the inspiring leaders who have sacrificed themselves for those they lead. They have understood the Gospel paradox! – Whether they were Christian or not!
The greatest leaders – certainly those that inspire – I would say – are Christian; they have adopted Christ and surely the Holy Spirit leads them. And without getting into some contentious theological debate that sends us in all sorts of inordinate directions, let us just pause and thank God for those leaders who put themselves last.
As Simon Sinek says, “Leaders eat last.” That is the officer tradition in the military; they know the troops need feeding. The troops are doing the most important work; when the troops are blessed to go first they note the example that is being set them.
Such a leadership example cannot be lost on people – it is so countercultural it abounds within the minds and hearts of those who witness it.
A Choice, Not a Rank
Leadership that bugs us is nepotistic. It looks after those who have been given favour. It looks after those on that leader’s side. It is highly partial. It looks after itself and not the team. It grates in our inner beings and is even divisive there, let alone within a team at crunch time. All teams work okay when the heat is off, but when the pressure and temperature increase, and the dynamics of stress begin to expand, all those divisions start to extrude and that leader’s kingdom begins to collapse. Bad leadership is all about the leader.
But when a person makes a choice to stand for another, especially in a quiet and unnoticed way, that person is behaving like a leader.
Leadership. It’s not rocket science, but it is an inherently loving thing. It is not a fearful thing having to protect its own interest.
Most of us would swap jobs and take pay cuts to work for a good leader who gets that leadership isn’t all about authority, but appropriate and consistent sacrifice.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Christian ‘Greatness,’ Having Suffered

“All great Christians have been wounded souls.”
— A.W. Tozer (1897–1963)
Titles of articles don’t come naturally to me, and the title of this one – with the word ‘greatness’ included – doesn’t sit entirely comfortably, but the Holy Spirit confirms it in my heart; it is the one who has suffered, the one who has been a wounded soul, who is great in the kingdom of heaven. As those who are last come first, so this polar reversal extends to those who have endured significant pain. They are blessed because they have been, what the world would call, cursed. They become well-rounded, ‘great’ Christians.
This truth is an encouragement to many; to those who are enduring, to those who have endured, and even to those who will endure.
The only one not rapt by this rapturous compensation of God’s is the person who resists endurance because they refuse to suffer. The gospel is of no help to these. Why would such a person need hope from elsewhere (i.e., God) when they can procure their own hope, especially via coping mechanisms far removed from obedience?
An Encouragement to Continue to Struggle Well
We can trust this 1) fact and 2) promise of God’s: 1) Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart...” 2) Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:3, 11 [NRSV])
If Jesus struggled, so will we. If he was lifted out of death into life, so will we be. Going to the cross is symbolic, as is carrying the cross. The resurrection is also symbolic for the life we receive – which is the fruit of obedience – by the power of the Holy Spirit when we submit to suffering rightly.
This is no sadistic calling, and we have to be careful not to reduce it as Stoicism for Stoicism’s sake.
Wounded souls get a great boost in understanding and applying this Christian life because they know how to understand and apply themselves to this life in general. Their hearts have been tenderised and their minds, opened. But there is no false humility in these. That’s the test. Suffering ensures pretence is a luxury ill-afforded when the only thing that matters is authenticity and compassion.
A cosmic Gospel reversal resounds: those who have suffered and who bear evidence of healing for the wounds of past are blessed disciples.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Trinitarian Battle for Hearts, Minds and Souls

Why am I tempted
By this flesh, I pray tell?
Why does Satan
Want to press me into hell?
Why is the world
Insisting that I follow
When I know all this
Is just vanity and hollow?
God has given us awareness
Of our desires
In order that we might
Turn to Him to put out the fires.
When we understand
The nature of life’s snares
We have much less problem
Giving God all of our cares.
There is in the scheme of things, in this realm called existence, barely to be discerned, and usually by those sensitive to the spiritual things, the existence of spiritual powers – good and evil.
Powers of evil are well known in theological terms: the flesh; the world; the devil. Powers of good – let’s just call him the Holy Trinity. The powers of evil work three against one but they are still pathetically overpowered by a simple trust and obedience in a believer.
Trust and obedience is our only defence. We have the capacity to overcome any power and turn that very circumstance to good – when we see the test for what it is. It is a test. God knows we can overcome every test in his name, as we give him all our cares. Those tests are not of God, but God’s power helps us as we overcome by trust and obedience.
All our burdens we lay at the foot of the cross.
But we need to establish it as a routine way of doing our responding to life. Rarely will we have the opportunity to make faith a routine unless God has purposed it so. Otherwise it is all our own effort, which is possibly worse than doing works devoid of God.
The Trinitarian battle for hearts, minds and souls is a battle on a stage barely discernible, let alone visible. God battles evil for our heart, mind and soul, yet the opposite is also true.
The enemy uses a threefold strategy to weaken us: the world has delicacies that will entreat our flesh; the flesh is battling with the Spirit within us all the time; Satan uses whatever means are open or potentially available to sway us off course.
God has power incalculable in the spiritual conquest for our soul. When we fret less about the world scaling our perimeters of temptation by focusing our energies on trusting and obeying God, we are given what we need in our moment of need.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Galatians 2 – Submitting Only In the Spirit

“... we did not submit to [the false brothers] even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.”
— Galatians 2:5 (NRSV)
Paul and his Gospel message – the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ – is a life preserver for the weary. Paul was a fighter for one reason and one reason only; he was the defender of the faith. He wasn’t one to be swayed by a man’s repute; to be under any false allusion about the other apostles – or any individual apostle for that matter – was to miss the point. Paul was purposed to preach Christ and him crucified.
Paul’s dedication to God and to not be swayed by man’s repute was demonstrated in his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. As if he had something to prove!
Not that Paul had any lack of respect for acknowledged church leaders – the apostles, for instance. Partiality was not his call; to preach Christ was. Paul was liberated from the divisive need to choose allegiance. The only allegiance Paul had was to the Gospel.
The Gospel saves; partiality condemns. To call on the favour of men is to negate the acquisition of God’s power via the Holy Spirit. Favour saves none; only the grace of God saves.
Protector of Fear or Protector of Truth?
We, like Paul, have a choice – to be defenders of fear (by engaging in partiality because we are fearful of men) or to be defenders of the truth.
To be a defender is to be a protector. By defending against partiality, the truth is protected.
As it was with Paul, so it is with us. We will find ourselves under attack at some point or other. The difference is we aren’t specifically defending the Gospel itself, just the manner of the Gospel life.
When we retain dignity – everyone’s – theirs and ours – we are defending against partiality, and the truth is protected.
What are we if we allow those free reign that bend things to their own effect? But the essence of what we are talking about is distilled to this:
“In essentials unity;
In non-essentials liberty;
In all things charity.”
— Rupert Meldenius
All this simply means is the Gospel – Christ crucified and risen, and for us to believe, by faith, having been saved by grace – is essential. On this we are to be unified. Where there are particular nuances these nuances are acceptable as they please parties to those nuances. Acceptance is our role. Over all things is love (charity). Over all our communication is love.
The Gospel saves; partiality condemns. To call on the favour of men is to negate the acquisition of God’s power via the Holy Spirit. Favour saves none; only the grace of God saves.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Galatians 2 – Empowered for Ministry

“Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry with the non-Jews...”
— Galatians 2:7 (Msg)
Fourteen years after qualifying as an apostle of the Gospel of Christ Jesus Paul makes his second appearance before the apostles; first he was taken to Jerusalem by Barnabas who was the encourager having faith in God’s call of Paul; second it was the appearance before the council at Jerusalem – a potential loggerhead situation.
It is somewhat ironic, that, whilst Paul had the humility to submit to the authority of the council – among them James, Peter and John – he went on to be the most famous apostle. Paul was, in sporting terms, an MVP!
But Paul would not have always felt so assured in his role. Indeed, as it depended on others’ confidence in him, he must have had some significant doubts, notwithstanding the confidence placed in him by God.
This apostle of apostles had the worst of knockers; men of the church and recent converts, alike, who disdained Paul’s theology, his credibility, and even his motives.
God’s Truest Confirmation Comes to the Faithful Ones
How relieving it must have been for Paul to submit himself before the council at Jerusalem to be vindicated, and to be re-endorsed to carry on what he had so faithfully been doing.
We have the same opportunities, struggles, and doubts. We tend to listen to and believe those who disdain us over those who are better positioned and qualified to judge. We, like Paul, can be so overwhelmed by discouragement and fear.
When we know we were always destined to play a certain role, and when we get the green light to perform that role, we are released; our chains are loosened and they fall free.
Imagine a Paul, standing there as those council leaders deliberated. He stood there obediently, not proudly insisting they do what he says. And this is our challenge when we are challenged – to trust that God has this in his hand.
Being empowered for ministry is the happiest moment of our lives, because finally we can serve God as we have been called. When God’s confirmation comes we are just so thrilled at the prospect of serving him. It’s a great encouragement that even the Apostle Paul had to submit (to the council at Jerusalem). When we do this ministry for God, and not for self, submission is not hard.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Galatians 2 – Freedom In Christ Jesus

Debating the pros and cons of a life wedded to Christ – me or you, a microcosm of the Church – can seem pointless and fruitless in battle with an atheist. They cannot know the light of life that we have experienced, and God has made it so that we cannot explain what we have experienced. Convincing people takes more than words, yet words and actions – an observation of both – are at the start of Gospel belief when the door of the heart is ajar.
Imagine Paul experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit as the law – which was much more onerous and unforgiving than it is today – was overcome on this occasion:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”
— Galatians 2:3 (NRSV)
The lines may have been somewhat blurred, in that Titus was Greek and not a Jew, but Paul and Barnabas, with Titus, were claiming Christ and, with that, salvation by grace – not the works of circumcision – which is what the Judaizer’s required. The Judaizer’s believed in Christ, but brought into their faith some heretical additions; significant parts of Judaism, notably, in this case, circumcision.
Paul is saying “we are free in Christ,” and “indeed, if we hold to circumcision, we resist freedom and have chosen to no longer be free,” and “perhaps you have never tasted this freedom to know its priceless value.” This surrendering of the freedom of grace – if they were to insist on circumcision – is to deny the works of Christ to release us from our needing to work for our salvation. Jesus did it all on the cross. And his resurrection is the holy power of God for life. We can add nothing, and we should not attempt to add anything.
Salvation as far as Paul is concerned is like being pardoned part way through our prison sentence. The jail doors are unlocked, the guards bid you farewell, and you, somewhat bemused by it all, walk right out of there shaking your head in joy. Can you imagine saying to the guards, “lock those doors again, I’m staying right here!”
Nobody resists freedom when they see it for what it is.
What About Today?
People cannot be genuinely interested in ‘religion’ unless it offers them something tangible or something so incredibly alluring. Faith – a much better word for ‘religion’ in the Christian landscape of thought – is one of those, and usually the latter. Those yet-to-believe cannot believe unless they perceive it to offer freedom. Only the Holy Spirit will convince them.
Our freedom is simply to live it and agree with God never to coerce people into belief.
The Gospel is a free gospel. It requires no work, because, once the Gospel is won to our hearts, we are convicted to turn toward God. We see that freedom is doing God’s will – and to choose it, we see, is wisdom.
Salvation means saving, and a Christian’s salvation is freedom. This freedom is the joy of discerning and doing God’s will – to choose for it and to live it – and to know the human-religion rule book has been thrown out because it is offers nothing and, indeed, repels the Gospel, which is life.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Restoring the Broken Through the Encouragement of Trust

“Barnabas trusted Paul... he trusted someone who seemingly was untrustworthy... he found somebody that the world had given up on, and encouraged him and helped him to become a world-changer... you never know when you put your arm around a broken, hurting, damaged believer what you might do for the future of the kingdom of God.”
— Dr. Bob Utley
MEMORY is a travesty against that person who has ‘a history’, because it cannot get past itself to execute grace for their encouragement – which is to trust them again. Too many of us cling to the cliché of truth, “You must forgive, but you do not need to trust them,” and occasionally we take it out of context to the ruination of that serious believer who has repented.
Many times a person’s restoration relies on us trusting them again.
For Paul, the murderer of the church, made an apostle of Jesus by the grace of blindness on Damascus Road, his ministry may never have been (not precluding God’s will) if it hadn’t have been for Barnabas’ encouragement to trust him who was, to most in the church, untrustworthy.
It took courage for Barnabas to do that – to trust Paul. It was a risk. Barnabas risked his own credibility. Nowadays it’s recognised that Paul the apostle is the greatest evangelist ever.
It’s clear that the gospel imperative is a redemptive one.
It’s God’s will that the broken, the damaged, the hurting be restored by his miraculous grace – a basis borne on our encouragement of trust (our faith) to trust them again; to take them at their word that they are worthy of this grace that God shed for every single one of us on Calvary.
Part of our role as believers is to exemplify this redemptive approach. In short and simple, it’s forgiveness, whether we want to forgive or not. Because we have been forgiven much we are purveyors of grace much. Because we have fallen short by such a long way, and yet were forgiven by God, we forgive that one who has fallen short more recently.
We know they deserve another go. And, better than that, we get right behind them, urging and encouraging them in the most positive way we can. There is no place for conditional encouragement. We give them our wholehearted support. Why? Because they, like we, have been saved by Someone Else’s righteous sacrifice – they, like we, are covered in the blood of the Lamb.
The broken, the weary, the hurt, and the damaged deserve our encouragement of trust, for which God’s grace empowers. The gospel is Good News because it restores the broken and facilitates healing.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Philosophy of a Leader’s Decline

All things being equal, as is shown in the Kings of Israel, where only three of 42 were of good report, all leaders are destined to decline into decadence if they don’t intentionally arrest the slide. It’s a slide of human-made proportions when that human being loses sight of the original vision to serve their people.
Kings and other leaders start well by serving the law, before they make the law, which precedes their becoming the law, and the final nail is hammered into the coffin of decline when they become their own god.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Good leaders will sense their own propensity to stray from God in their leadership; a sign of which is to surround themselves with a mutual admiration society, which serves only to comfort their ego. Then they have ceased to be leaders.
Leaders who go on such a bent of a slide end up gaining the whole world only to lose their own souls. They get too busy to attend to the important relational matters. They become consumed in building the empire and forget that God is an all-consuming fire who demands first place for the leader’s own good.
God wants from every single one of us everything. Anything less isn’t enough. If we stray for a day, a week, a month, or a year is irrelevant. Our humanity is bound to stray into idolatry.
We must put steps into place so we continually acknowledge this truth – “I am the biggest problem I have.”
The winner is seldom happy for very long. Success as we define it is a perverted thing.
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963) was right when he said, “No man is worthy to succeed unless he is willing to fail.” But we want things our own way. And the leader who is deluded wants increasingly, like an addict, for things to go their way.
A leader must constantly ask God, “Lord, where is my sacred ‘high place’ [of idolatry] that I protect from you?” “What do I refuse to give up – that which comes between me and you?”
The heart of the human problem, as Canon J. John once said, is the problem of the human heart. The Holy Spirit is always saying, “Look up!” But humanity is always saying, “Look down!” Where is heaven and where is hell?
For too long we have undermined the awesomeness of God. We have become anesthetised to good instruction and we have been blessed by too many good things that many of us think we don’t need God, even if we profess faith in him. This only sends us into spiritual decline. And life becomes a chasing of the wind. A miserable life.
The best things a leader can do are wake up and stay awake. They must keep putting God first by getting rid of the high places (idols) in their lives.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to the heart and wisdom of Peter Pollock.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Six Hours that Changed Peter Pollock’s Life

“When Jesus Christ comes into a life that life changes. If there’s no change, there’s no Jesus. I’m sorry, it’s all about fruit and it’s all about change.”
— Peter Pollock
The Holy Spirit challenged Peter Pollock, the former South African Test cricketer in the 1960s, on the night he was converted and born again from above, “You’re in the process of trying to gain the whole world – something you’ll never, ever do! But tragically, you’re in the process of losing your soul.”
He had been watching a television debate involving evangelists and atheists. Peter was on the side of the atheists.
God had broken into Peter’s soul, and it was through something of Jesus he had recognised in Reinhard Bonnke (the evangelist) that he had recognised earlier in his wife, who had more recently, herself, been born again from above.
Peter was then told by the Holy Spirit that the real things of life weren’t all his many achievements – the esteem he had gained from fame and fortune – but it was his family; his wife and four children. They were the important ones.
Suddenly it occurred to him how far he had fallen short. Suddenly the waste of a life not lived for Jesus came to bear over him. But then the Holy Spirit reassured him that the years that the locust had eaten (Joel 2:25) would be repaid – he would have a second chance to restore those family relationships. They weren’t abusive; just they weren’t what they could become.
Notwithstanding what had occurred, Peter spent the next few hours debating against Christ at a small fellowship where his wife attended, just down the road from their home. He was still resisting. But as they left that home he was given a piece of paper that had the believer’s prayer on it – and on arriving home, he prayed that prayer deep down in his garden in secret. There were no flashes of brilliant white light or anything, but there were real tears – tears of repentance – and Peter had not sobbed for so many years.
Peter had had the eyes of his heart opened and he had given his life to the Lord, all in six hours.
Change is something that occurs to people when they are inhabited by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not about trying hard to keep up appearances – nothing like that at all. It is about being real. The more real a Christian is, the more glory of God there is working in and through them to transform them, day by day, into more of the likeness of Christ.
Here is a piece of advice Peter Pollock was given, having confessed he had given his life to the Lord – the best advice he ever received:
If you’re worried about your sin or about sinning, don’t worry... you just keep your eyes on Jesus Christ.
It all works out.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
The full testimony of Peter Pollock is recorded here, courtesy of Kerang Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

John 15 – Branches, Abide in the Vine

Jesus said to his disciples on that fateful night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot – one of the Twelve, “I am the true Vine. My Father is the One Who cares for the Vine. He takes away any branch in Me that does not give fruit. Any branch that gives fruit, He cuts it back so it will give more fruit. You are made clean by the words I have spoken to you. Get your life from Me and I will live in you. No branch can give fruit by itself. It has to get life from the vine. You are able to give fruit only when you have life from Me. I am the Vine and you are the branches. Get your life from Me. Then I will live in you and you will give much fruit. You can do nothing without Me.
“If anyone does not get his life from Me, he is cut off like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and they are burned. If you get your life from Me and My Words live in you, ask whatever you want. It will be done for you.
“When you give much fruit, My Father is honored. This shows you are My followers. I have loved you just as My Father has loved Me. Stay in My love. 10 If you obey My teaching, you will live in My love. In this way, I have obeyed My Father’s teaching and live in His love. 11 I have told you these things so My joy may be in you and your joy may be full.”
— John 15:1-11 (NLV)
Jesus is the Vine.   The Father is the Vinedresser.   We are the branches.
~~~ ROLE ~~~
Roles are important in life. If we play on any sort of team, whether it’s a work team or a sporting team, it’s vital that we play the role we have agreed to play. If the team is let down, we pray it’s not us in our roles that’s letting the team down. We want to be playing our role.
Our role is to remain connected to the Vine. (The word ‘remain’ is a key metaphor for John 15.) If we do not remain, meaning we break connection to the Vine, we no longer bear good fruit and, worse, the poor and dead fruit is not pruned from us. Our Christ-likeness diminishes in form. Our character becomes less like Christ by the day we remain disconnected; where we no longer remain in Christ.
John 15 is about the character pruning process. Jesus wants us to be able to submit for pruning by complete instinct; that we would become instinctive to the call of the Holy Spirit – submitting in the moment to be refined in humility.
Now, nobody really likes the character pruning process. It’s painful.
But in the wordplay between “trimming” (Gk. kathairo) in John 15:2b and “you are made clean” (Gk: katharos) in John 15:3 there is a connection made between the words.
By being trimmed of that dead foliage in our spiritual lives we are made clean; that by being trimmed we are made clean; even, evidence of trimming is evidence of cleansing, or sanctification.
This is incredibly encouraging; there is an instant and direct benefit in being trimmed. We are cleaned or purged clean or made clean as a direct result. No doubt exists that it won’t or mightn’t happen.
Growth does occur when we continue on the discipleship journey.
To remain in Jesus is to abide in the Vine as good fruit-growing branches would. We get our life from Jesus, yet the Father prunes us of dead fruit and to encourage growth from fruitful branches in our lives. When we are pruned we are also made clean. Being humbled has a direct connection to growth.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.