Thursday, April 30, 2015

Remembering Our Shining Gift of God – Six Months On

Preciousness of moments, sweet cognisance of time,
Holding our angel in my arms, imagine his spirit shine!
Contemplate grace magnified, his little body at rest,
To know our Lord holds him, like my hands are his body’s nest.

Lusciously perfect in our minds, the very substance of our hearts,
The moment he was conceived, our love affair had its best of starts,
Gorgeous little man of ours, who swept us off our feet,
Now he is finally with us, and his race is now run, complete.

Finest little fingers, and toes that show God’s best work,
His ears, his eyes, his tummy, perfection, not one sign of a quirk,
Muscliest little thighs with potential beyond work it seems,
His calves will never burn, his long feet will never realise dreams.

Blessing us only for a few short months, heaven’s best for our display,
Hold him, kiss him, and enjoy him, he’ll lay with us today,
His condition was far too challenging, somehow far too good for Earth,
We find it as we hold him, his life was always of a heavenly birth!

We covet the minute tightly, and defend the hour with might,
His delicate little body is ours, yet his spirit has taken flight,
Bodily comfort is our foil just now, as we take in what can be,
Fleeting moments of sorrow just now, soon he we’ll no longer see.


“It is well.” As those words to the song rang out of the obstetrician’s phone in theatre, tears of eternity’s longing streamed down our faces. It is well, because it is not. Because we can’t fix it, only God in his grace can.

We longed to be with our little one – both to become acquainted with his listless body and to know him as God alone now does. What we longed for we received.

Our cherub, Nathanael Marcus, was delivered lifeless, yet he was, in our estimation of things, the essence of God’s work: a gift (Nathanael is Hebrew for ‘given of God’) and always destined an eternal being (Marcus is Hebrew for ‘shining’; of eternal purity).

Washing the vernix caseosa from Nathanael’s hair and skin proved a difficult task, but not one without its purpose. As I gently caressed his skin with soap, God gave me the opportunity of tactile stimulus and response. The longer I washed him, the more I held him, the more I watched my ever-enduring wife – post-Caesarean Section – stroke his head, the more I saw him as God does: a gift to us and the world, but destined always an eternal being, as are we all.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to be Nathanael’s parents. He will always be ours. For those who love us, he will always be yours, too. Most of all, he is God’s now, and we wait for him to finally greet us when we are called home.

© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

As I typed the words of the last paragraph I had Nathanael cradled in my left arm.

10 Situations To Stop Going To Church

DARK NIGHTS of the soul are, according to John Ortberg in Soul Keeping, a time to stop going to church. Being around happy, clappy Christians is likely to send us into a deplorable tailspin, so why go there and put ourselves through unnecessary pain?
Other life situations when it’s time to stop — for a period — from going to church:
2.     When the pastor or church leaders are being nasty: yes, this apparently does happen. If a person in leadership at a church is behaving nastily — under the guise of speaking the truth in love (that isn’t so loving!) — it’s time to stop going to church there. There is a people of God out there who will love you better than that.
3.     You’re not being included: some churches think they are inclusive, but they don’t ensure you are invited into their number. There is something incompatible with the New Testament teachings of Jesus here. There is a people of God out there who will include you better than that.
4.     Pressure from a church leader or a friend to attend church more regularly: some pastors have this way of following up on folk — after a week or two absence — by way of saying, “Hey, we missed you at the weekend... what’s been happening... are you okay, we haven’t seen you.” Don’t buy their concern unless you know they really are concerned. And great if they are concerned. If you are suspicious maybe it’s time to look for a church with more authentic and humble leaders who are beyond a ‘numbers’ mindset. There is a people of God out there who will not pressure you like that.
5.     You’ve noticed people leaving the church you go to abruptly and without reason: everyone has a reason for leaving a church, especially those you know who have gone abruptly. Church leadership has occasionally been known to be the most autocratic of management under the guise of being under the headship of Christ. There is a people of God out there who won’t push you out even if they disagree with you.
6.     When you quiz church leadership and you’re fobbed off: any time you feel you’re not worth the time of a church leader’s day is probably the time to investigate other churches in your local area. But also ensure you haven’t just caught your pastor on an ‘off’ day — because we all have them. Beyond a generous sense of graciousness, vote with your feet if you need to. There is a people of God out there who won’t ignore you.
7.     Experiences of healing haven’t come: many people roll up to church in order that God might heal them of a particular sinful expression they haven’t yet shaken. If healing hasn’t come as you’d expected, talk to your pastor at the church. Mention to them you’re pondering moving to another church. Their response should be to facilitate healing if possible.
8.     You or someone you know has been abused: nobody should stay at a church where they’ve been abused, physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually, verbally, or otherwise. Your safety and the safety of the person you know who is susceptible are so paramount you need to take immediate steps to get clear of such a church. There is a people of God out there who will love you and won’t abuse you.
9.     If putting the past behind you is crucial, you should make a clean break of it. There is a people of God out there who will allow you to be the person you need to be now.
10.  You are not growing in your walk with Christ: this is not always a concern for those indirectly involved, but we all deserve to grow in our relationship with God. If you are not growing, be prepared to challenge yourself boldly. There is a people of God out there who will urge you to grow and they’ll do it in an encouraging way.
We shouldn’t up and leave churches just because the seats are hard or the worship’s no good. Even if we aren’t perfectly comfortable it may still be the best church for us at the time.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Miracle That Is The Local Church

EVERYONE, everything, every day: in Acts 2:42-47 — a section of Scripture every pastor and many ardent Christians know intimately — the local church is described. It is a reality in the First Century, yet it is a vision for the church today.
We know we have church right for God when everyone is filled with awe at what God is doing, everything is passionately equal and there are more people giving than there are taking, and when every day there is the meeting of people with glad and grateful hearts.
Yes, it’s a miracle. Only God could do such a thing. Only God could sustain such a thing.
Yet, it’s something we are to be submitted to. As Christians we are to love the sanctity of Christ’s church — it’s not the pastor’s, but Christ’s. It exists for others. It exists to be given away. The church is nothing if it loses its vision for the lost. And the church is never nothing so far as the Lord is concerned — for the fields are white! There are just so many needs out there in our community.
The church is the miracle of God when it gets beyond unloving things like ‘I won him for Christ’ without sincerely desiring to be his friend, first and foremost.
The church is a miracle when it does the simple things of love that the Good Samaritan did, and without wanting an accolade for it. The most loving things are done in secret. The more we pass on invisibly into the night, the more that lost soul is convicted to commit to this pay-it-forward movement for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church exists for the Kingdom. The church has no other role. It exists to make Jesus Christ known, both to people who don’t know him and to those who do.
To make Jesus Christ known is to live a life of love.
The miracle that is the local church is that it is God’s provision in every need. It is God’s warm hug for the sorrowful. It is God’s ear for the broken. It is God’s food for the hungry; water for the thirsty. It is God’s feet for the infirmed. It is God’s voice of encouragement for the disheartened. It is God’s unrivalled empathy and unconditional acceptance for the guilty and the ashamed. It is God’s helping hand for the prostrate. It is God’s heart for the lost. It is God’s soul for bringing a perfect eternity to a broken earth.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Avenging Victory of Suffering Love to Vanquish Evil

“The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945)
THE COST of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer is arguably the 20th Century church at its best. Perhaps Billy Graham and A.W. Tozer and Mother Teresa and Karl Barth (among a score of others) made as much of a contribution, but few literary works come close to Bonhoeffer’s thesis on the Christian life.
Bonhoeffer calls Matthew chapter 5 “the Peculiar” in that the Christian’s love is unfathomable in its resemblance of the cross.
As we absorb the blood of Christ into the gut of our souls, bearing the broken bones of our Saviour in our beings, we come home, afresh, to the central nuance of the gospel.
This gospel of the cross and the resurrection is, firstly, an outwitting of the devil at his own game and, secondly, it’s hope from embers.
When all appears calamitously forlorn, that is when the Christian hope rises from ashes.
What makes the cross conquer evil is the resurrection. The cross, of itself, was the foretaste of the victory to come; a prevue of evil’s demise. It crushed all of Satan’s prideful hope. And yet the fullness of the victory was then realised in the resurrection of our Lord.
But it was the cross that defeated the devil — a love evil could not see coming.
Think of the personal power of the cross, engaged with, embraced, carried, and ensconced.
It is most unfashionable, in any event, to associate with something as shameful as the cross. Yet, imagine its power when we do nothing but stand up in the face of an atrocity.
Evil has nothing against us in the making of the atrocity. It expects us to be upset. But the cross is peace in utter hell. The cross takes the fury of hell and withstands every barb pointed its way; better, it willingly receives the street-sweeping spray of shards! The cross makes a way for evil to do all it wants. And, in the end, evil is exasperated, because it cannot control our response.
Evil is defeated in the quiet poise of absorbing hurts by way of the cross.
Suffering love is the fullest portion of Christ’s Spirit; the very representation of the cross.
Suffering love vindicates the partaker. Their lack of reaction is the very key to victory, because love cannot fail when it’s under fire.
Suffering love is Christ’s victory at the cross, as it is ours of suffering love for the cross.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Healthy Aversion In the Midst of Temptation

PASTORS should expect to be tested, as should Christians in general.
The tests that are in scope here are those that will flush out any degree of falsehood in us and make it known to the whole world, or at least the company of angels in the heavenly host before God.
Everything we do is in that company! We might as well flout God before the world.
At every step of life we can expect evil to test us and for God — as with Job — to allow it. How else are we to know the assurance of God’s grace in us than via the Holy Spirit’s affirmation post-temptation, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
The tests of life,
Aren’t what we think is rife,
But they are the things,
From where death springs.
The tests of life,
Are what lead us to strife,
Where our integrity fails,
And our usefulness for God pales.
The tests of grace,
Are the seeking of God’s face;
In the normal flow of our day,
Attention to integrity we must pay.
Character is known,
In the integrity shown,
When nobody special is looking.
But if we don’t notice our Lord,
Who should be there adored,
Just who knows what evil we’re cooking?
So far as the tests of life are concerned, we need to know that they are character tests in sum. We cannot be tripped up entirely in mistakes and errors of competence for which systems (like training) are designed to protect. We should never stress about being found incompetent when all we need to do is practice competence through thorough planning and careful execution. Every doable thing is doable.
But character faults are different. They have the power to find us guilty as charged!
We are only, inevitably, tripped up through faux pas’ of integrity — a little lie, an omission, a little secret; any immoral act.
We should pray that a miracle of godly fear would sweep through us over temptations to addiction, infidelity, corruption and embezzlement. Better still, when we are placed in these most evil arenas, great is God’s grace to make us instinctually sick from the inside out.
It is better to have an allergically aversive reaction to a temptation than to proudly say, “This thing will never have power over me.” If we are ever foolishly proud in order to say such a thing, we might well hear the whisper of the devil, “Famous last words...”
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What Is Jesus’ Model for Servant Leadership?

SERVANT leadership is not about being treated like a servant; it’s more about seeing ourselves as servants who are ready and willing to do the work of the Kingdom in our sphere.
Servant leadership is a sleeves-rolled-up form of leadership. It’s a leadership predicated on being a model of integrity; to lead by example; to lead by serving.
Yet, when I read someone from John Piper’s Desiring God ministry say that, “Genuine servant leadership means being treated like a servant” I’m exasperated.
Nobody treats anyone like a servant in the Kingdom of God by God’s design.
But, of a leader’s own initiation, they are privileged to lower themselves as Christ did, appearing as nothing, in order that others would be lifted up. A servant leader in this way is nothing short of inspiring. A servant leader is won to love and they love at any cost.
Jesus’ magnum opus, the cross, is our firmest foundation for love that serves to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. Yet Jesus could have died on that cross devoid of love and it still would have looked like such a sacrifice. Jesus, on a strictly human level, would have avoided the cross, but on a divine level he wanted the cross — it was his destiny. He wanted the cross not only because shame and rejection was the way that God would redeem a broken humankind, he wanted to die for the least of us.
The essence of servant leadership is we want the best for the other person, because we trust God to deliver upon our needs. Servant leaders, therefore, are exemplars of faith. And a servant leader’s hope is buoyant enough not to worry for their own.
Servant leadership, then, is a great model of inspirational leadership.
Any secular leader that would employ servant leadership in their workplace or community will find their influence, their borders, expanding. And for the best of reasons. Their leadership is trustworthy because it ensures others are respected and safe.
It’s a no-brainer that Christian leaders are to be servant leaders. Servant leadership is a Jesus leadership. He served the ‘least of these’ and preferred serving those life had rejected than hob-knobbing it with the religious elite.
To follow Jesus is to lead as Jesus led — to exalt the ‘least of these’ and to prefer to be a quiet yet consistent and effective advocate of the outlier and rejected persons.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Blessed Death Into Eternity

“THE day of death better than the day of birth,” Ecclesiastes 7:1b tells us.
Fear is such a real, yet strange and irrepressibly evil thing. Fear is sin.
For every day of the year — a full 365 — we have a biblical injunction, “Do not fear!” The Greek is interesting. For instance, in Matthew 14:27 where walking-on-the-water Jesus said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The word for fear in Greek is set in the imperative — it is middle voice grammatically, but deponent, meaning it still has a strong, active voice. Add to it the strong negation — μη — which is the “don’t” part of the sentence. This “don’t” is not simply “don’t” but “don’t!”
Putting these two words together gives the Greek a very strong voice.
We are commanded to not fear. We are commanded, of essence, to take courage.
We are apt to get mad at God for ‘making’ us, or allowing us, to be fearful. It is actually the other way around. God should be mad at us! But God knows what we have to deal with; that fear is one of those things we can only conquer by faith.
We are not to fear death. We are not to fear not seeing our loved ones again. We are to have faith that God is entirely good and faithful to his Word. We do what we can do: Don’t be afraid.
Knowing the enormity of these truths is good. They smash our predilection for insipidly letting fear have its way. Fear is foreign to the Christian, but only insofar as they know its inherent inappropriateness. Of course, the Kingdom is set on plunging into fear on every scale to bring it captive to Christ.
Death we shall not fear,
What will happen to us once,
For what’s dawning is now so clear,
Despite the evil that hunts.
Death shall not take the soul,
Who calls on Christ their Lord,
The soul whom sees as their role,
To take loathsome life as adored.
Death has no power,
It really lacks every sting,
Let’s look forward to that hour,
When finally to the Lord we’ll cling!
And for those lost who are waiting,
In a place where waiting is joy,
They look forward without abating,
Whether they’re a little girl or boy!
Better is it to be born, into the rites of life, to suffer as a human being will suffer in this world, and yet to die once in order to be graced of the celestial voyage.
O God is good! Do not fear.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Salvation and the Call to Follow

TWO enjoined things are salvation and the call to follow.
The call to follow and salvation are intrinsically linked. This is because the one that seeks the answer to the question of salvation is answered by the Presence of the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus stands there, looking directly at the person who should enquire of salvation.
He needs not utter a word. As he turns to walk away, our answer is in our response. Will we follow? Will we imitate the Master’s moves? Will we become lathered in the Lord’s dust? Will we remain close enough to our Teacher to hear what he will say?
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,” says the Lord.
The presumption is that the person who asks Jesus about salvation actually pursues righteousness. Perhaps they don’t. Maybe the person asks because they fear their eternal destiny — as they should.
But the connection point for salvation is the polar opposite. Only when we have come to an end in ourselves are we ready to begin with God — to follow.
Salvation is manacled to the call. Grace is pinioned to discipleship.
This does not detract one iota from the ‘free gift’ the grace of salvation is.
We can only accept salvation if we also accept the way of the cross.
We only understand the imperative of life if we abide in Christ.
Discipleship engorges the disciple’s understanding of the immensity of grace in salvation.
The more the disciple follows with diligent surrender, all the more their experience of salvation in this life; it remains also to be seen whether that equates to a divinity of reward in the next life — but we hold this as a belief!
The central quality of the person who rightly asks Jesus, “Salvation?” is their sense of lack — a reprehensible and mournful moral lack.
They acknowledge the eternal shackles necessary enjoining salvation to repentance.
To turn back on the old life, because it would not work, and because it never did work, and because it gave us no hope for the future; that is the presupposition of asking for salvation in the first place. But if we ask only about salvation we have come at the wrong time.
To ask Jesus, “What should I do to be saved?” is also to be prepared to be his disciple.
Salvation is the call to follow him who our own hearts have compelled us to answer.
Salvation is about following Jesus who has called us. To follow Jesus is to be saved.
When salvation is the question, discipleship is the answer.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
Bible references: Isaiah 51:1a.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

God’s Purpose In Injustice, Slander and Misrepresentation

EVIL serves the purpose of the Lord, not that the Lord wills it that way.
It is of genuine sadness that we are unjustly treated, slandered, censored, misrepresented. But it serves God’s purpose. It serves the Lord’s purpose that we are castigated by all manner of wrongdoing when we shelter under the wings of the Most High, God. We are forced to depend on God when we are brought to our knees by those who would slay our reputation.
We didn’t even want to be there. We feel angered not simply at the initial injustice, but ever more so that we have been wrongly judged. They say we are weak when we have had it confirmed by the Lord that we are weak only for his account in order to gain the only strength there is. They say these things and God is using them. Praise God!
God is using them to force us back into him.
The injustices cast against us never do us any harm at all. What does it mean if our protagonist has the wrong view, yet we are still free to serve the weak, the poor, the ailing, and the repentant sinner?
We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).
The more fatigued we are on his account, having endured many silent persecutions, the readier we are to look with glee upon him alone who can help us.
The more unjustly we are treated, the more we are tempted to cuss, but the closer we are to the grandest of divine capitulations.
We have the path to true greatness before us. Injustice, slander, censoriousness, misrepresentation; these are crucial antecedents of the reliance on God that we would otherwise not partake of.
To take the cross into our own unique experience is to transcend our petty human experience.
God has much more for us, yet none of it can be experienced, in the present context, devoid of suffering.
There is much, much more. We must first, however, break past our own self-conceived and self-limiting fears.
There is a purpose in suffering injustice, slander, censoriousness, and misrepresentation. They force us to retreat into God.
True dependence on God saves God the final say in the midst of our situation.
True dependence on God in the midst of pain is tears without words; gut-wrenching fury without action; ghoulish sorrow without ending things.
True dependence on God is the purpose of injustice, slander, censoriousness, misrepresentation.
When the Lord is teaching us true dependence we resist with all we have. It’s a wrestle. This is not ever an easy lesson. But humility is the key.
Humility conquers injustice, slander, censoriousness, and misrepresentation.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.