Tuesday, September 29, 2015

4 Hopes of Purpose and 4 Seasons of Peace In the Psalms

HOPES of purpose and seasons of peace. Life has them both. My thesis is there are four of each along the continuum of life.
The hopes of purpose are the stages through which life flows. There are these four purposes of hope: 1) our base identity — in Christ; 2) growth propelling us to contribute; 3) contribution-making forging a legacy; and, 4) the legacy we give that makes life worthwhile as we invest in others. All of our lives might feature any and all of these hopes of purpose. At the pinnacle of life we experience all four simultaneously — solidity of identity, the fullness of growth, the self-worthiness of contribution, and the value-to-others of legacy.
The four seasons of peace are different. These are actual locales of the heart and mind during which each season might be enjoyed for a different outcome of peace — but peace all the same. Four seasons of peace that I suggest are: 1) abundance — the joy that comes when our lives feel full of blessing; 2) contentedness — the joy that comes, being at peace, whether in want or in plenty; 3) stilled-of-soul — the nexus of human spirituality as it merges into the divine, notwithstanding suffering and challenging realities; and, 4) assurance — a stand-alone form of peace interconnected with the other seasons for the brief consideration of what lies awaiting us in eternity. These are seasons of peace to strive for, to attain, and to maintain.
Through & For the Peace of Abundance
Psalm 100 is a regal psalm of thanksgiving; so pithy yet powerful. It anchors our identity in the abundance of praise for God’s goodness in our createdness.
David appreciated how the Lord had given him the abundance of his heart’s desires in Psalm 21. Such a psalm inspires faith for the faithfulness of God when we face the uglier periods of growth.
Psalm 96 gives us an abundance of confidence in the God of creation as we preach the gospel to all nations — as we make an evangelistic contribution, as we all should. We preach out of the abundance that God has given us in our hearts.
Psalm 8 is simply a majestic psalm pregnant with abundance. It’s something we can sit in, within our legacy. The Lord is always enough!
Through & For the Peace of Contentedness
Psalm 84 is a psalm for those who wish to ground their identities in contentedness perhaps because it’s absent.
An appreciation for God’s good grace permeates Psalm 32, the blessings replete of obedient honesty, which breed contentedness and esteem the purveyor to growth.
For those wanting stability in a relationship of sole devotion in the Lord, there is Psalm 16. This is a most personal psalm of David’s; the disciple of a heart after God, alone.
When we’re desperate we need to know we can reach out to the Lord in desperation to be heard and delivered. Psalm 34 speaks of God’s faithfulness to that end. Even in the grip of desperation we can pray this psalm over our lives and borrow contentedness from the Lord.
Psalms of contentedness, as we reflect over them, in whatever season the day brings us to, give us a glimpse into what might be. Contentedness is something we might rarely achieve, but it’s something so worthy to aspire to.
Through & For the Peace of Soul Stillness
With Psalm 30 we have another faithfulness psalm; one this time that wreaks of stillness-of-soul. It speaks of David’s reflection when he cried out to God, and then was answered; from weeping came joy, and from mourning, dancing.
Psalm 46 is famous, of course, for verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” There can truly be no more powerful a word in seeking or having attained to a stillness-of-soul.
Psalm 24 speaks of the unison of God’s prevailing majesty over the earth, and, in the form of Psalm 15, the confident stillness-of-soul to be had in a cogently simple obedience.
And no better psalm carries us off into the image of a stilled soul than Psalm 131. A royal psalm of ascent, this one helps us reflect over a life of being still-of-soul just as much as it calls us into that serenity-of-being.
Through & For the Peace of Assurance
The assurance of the Lord is known in the love of the Lord. Psalm 103 is purely regal in this regard. Its theology is comprehensive as it provides for our identity in the matter of assurance.
The Lord is the rock and our salvation in whom all should trust, for trust in idols proves a folly. Psalm 62 is a great assurance that the nature of life is generally trustworthy, though justice flags with the truth, and both lag well behind falsehood. But the Lord will not let the guilty go free — let’s be freshly assured.
Psalm 91 is an assurance psalm, and it will help anyone whose faith is shaken.
Wisdom psalms prove a windfall when it comes to assurance. They’re steady and sound. Such a poem is Psalm 111. It speaks unswervingly of God’s unchangeable character.
Quadruple the Hope!
The fourfold purposes of hope drive us through life on a wave of meaning. With an identity grounded in hope, we have a hope for growth so a worthy contribution can be made, and a legacy can be left. Yet any and all of these purposes of hope have a unique role in our spiritual lives depending on where the moment holds us. These four hopes, therefore, run in series and in parallel.
If there’s two things we all need it’s hope and peace. Hope propels our faith so we can live life courageously. Peace is an outcome of living a right life, and it undergirds the experience of joy.
The purposes of hope fuel faith and seasons of peace breed joy. Blessed is the person finding hope and peace through the psalms.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Jesus – Home, Help and Hope of Compassion

JOURNEYS from wilderness to road to town to city — Jesus saw the plight of a people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Their priests had deserted their service of the people. Their prophets had denounced, for centuries, those who had a responsibility of care; those who had long proved derelict of duty. And finally, then, the Son of God came: Jesus :— the hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, shoulder, and voice of compassion.
Jesus, God’s Incarnate Son, had compassion on God’s people. All people were God’s people, yet those who most needed the compassion of those who could and should have cared were left most vulnerable. “Harassed and helpless” the people were. Those in power had defaulted on their anointed and appointed role.
Anywhere the people are harassed and helpless — at any time — God’s leaders may be, again, derelict in their duty. But there are many times when people are just harassed by the demands of life and helpless against the ferocity of their reality.
Jesus knows. Jesus understands. The compassion of Jesus weeps for the struggles we find impossible to reconcile. The Son of God has hands that bring his heavenly, eternal, and healing touch. Our Lord of Glory is fleet of foot and his feet never tire. His eyes roam constantly over the earth; they see everything, and nothing — absolutely nothing — does he fail to see. Our Saviour hears the cries of our hearts and his heart feels with a depth of compassion we could never approach. He is our Priest who bears our load over his shoulder that is strong for our every burden. And by his Holy Spirit he speaks of resurrection, even out of the depths of defeat we’re exposed to. Jesus’ compassion is a home for the restless, help for the vulnerable, and hope for the weary.
Jesus’ hands are compassionate. He touches people’s hurts and heals them.
Jesus’ feet are compassionate. He ventures far and wide to come close to us.
Jesus’ eyes are compassionate. He sees our injustices and weeps for the exploited.
Jesus’ ears are compassionate. He listens to and hears the vulnerability in our soul.
Jesus’ heart is compassionate. He understands our lack and promises his care.
Jesus’ shoulder is compassionate. He is our shoulder to lean on when life is hardest.
Jesus is the voice of compassion. He speaks of resurrection through his Spirit.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Psalms for the Purposes and Seasons of Your Life

POEMS of affirmation, for confidence, for spiritual stability, for response, for divine empathy; for the purposes of God in our lives: these are the biblical Psalms. These sonnets of Scripture do easily carry us through the journey of life, and, per this suggestion, can help through every age and stage, and every purpose and season of life.
My thesis is this: there are four broad seasons of life: 1) spring (ages 15-28); summer (29-44); autumn (45-69); winter (70+). Each of the seasons is longer than the last one, God-willing, as far as that commends itself to the last season. Throughout each of life’s seasons there are four purposes: 1) the underpinning purpose of identity; 2) the inspiring purpose of growth; 3) the building purpose of contribution; and, 4) the loving purpose of legacy. All these purposes are crucial for the experience of hope in life.
Through every season and in every purpose there’s a psalm that will help as in that stage of life. Here are my suggestions:
Through Spring
Psalm 139 tells us that we are unique, hand-crafted by God, and worthy as anyone else is to live this life. It’s an identity psalm. As we meditate over it, during any season of life really, it nourishes a sense of specialness in us.
During “spring” we are growing a great deal, but we’re also contributing and leaving a legacy. Psalm 19 is a wisdom psalm that speaks to us in our youth. Psalm 18 reminds us, in its length, of the importance of social justice; of making a contribution. Psalm 51 gives us a way of repenting; a legacy for the ensuing seasons of life.
Through Summer
Psalm 1 is a princely psalm that ought to be our byword in the going out and coming home of summer life. It reminds us of who we should and should not associate with; and what we should always do: meditate on the Word of God. This psalm sustains our identity in a key period of contribution in our lives.
Psalm 25 will keep us reaching high for growth during the hotter months of life. Psalm 49 is another wisdom psalm that reminds us of the folly of wealth, so we might make worthier contributions to life. Psalm 127 is a legacy psalm reminding us where our efforts leave lasting results — in and through our children — and where our efforts might be wasted.
Through Autumn
Summer is not the best period of life; autumn is. The years 45 through 69 (roughly speaking) are where perspective is attained, and less of life is wasted in hurry. Identity, here, is underpinned by the classic Psalm 15. This psalm could actually underpin our identity of integrity through every season of life. If we do what Psalm 15 commends for us to do, we will be blessed!
Psalm 91 fills us with the assurance of God’s inimitable Presence, through the entire lifespan. It’s a richly warm psalm for continued growth right into “winter.” Psalm 27 gives us the confidence of summer in autumn when we might be feeling our age. Psalm 78 is a long psalm designed to get us out of life and reflecting over God’s goodness and greatness over the history of his relationship with Israel. This passing-the-baton psalm inspires us to leave a worthy legacy.
Through Winter
The Psalm of Moses (Psalm 90) is a perspective psalm ideal, again, to pin our identities to. This psalm abides with us and in us as we look back over a long life lived.
There is still growth to be had, a contribution to make, as well as a legacy to leave in our winter years. Psalm 37 is an encouraging psalm in the wisdom set for when we feel weak; it encourages us to continue growing. Psalm 71 teaches us that God won’t forsake us when we’re old and grey — we still have a contribution to make. Psalm 23 reminds us of God’s Presence as our legacy is transformed from our life through the passage of, and beyond, our death. Our presence remains with our loved ones as his Presence does.
So through the seasons of life come the purposes of life. Life is crammed full of purpose throughout every age.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

7 Ways to Pray for the Vulnerable

INTERCEDING for those in our presence is a powerful medium that promotes healing, as the Holy Spirit comes alongside the moment, making a cord of three strands.
Prayer is precious when two people are focused on the same thing with God to the exclusion of all distractions. Can God not do abundantly more than we’d ever hope or imagine? Prayer makes it possible that a myriad of supernatural dimensions are enabled. Not least of these, there is the fact that prayer changes us in some of the most unpredictable yet welcome ways.
Here are seven ways I’ve found helpful in praying for the vulnerable:
1.     Discuss what they need prayer for and pray for them right there: ensure you make time to truly listen in order to understand their true needs before starting to pray. It takes courage to admit we don’t understand what they’ve said, but it’s better to confirm than pray on assumption where the Spirit’s power is asked to operate in falsity. Checking our information as to their real needs proves we truly care.
2.     Ask appropriate others to join in: there is power in numbers, but only if the intimacy in the prayer won’t be compromised. Only ask appropriate others. These are other people who would bless the person being prayed for. If you have any doubt ensure you ask their permission.
3.     Pray with compassionate boldness and sensitivity to the Spirit: making our prayers about the Spirit and not about us is the key to an effective prayer. This is about getting lost in the prayer. All those praying need to be lost to their self-consciousness and found in that spiritual fullness that comes from God’s Presence alone.
4.     Pray by God’s Word: seeking a Word for the time and situation, God is sought for that Word. God never fails to provide, yet a Word may seem askew. Trust in the timing of the Lord.
5.     Pray by song: sometimes singing together is so good for the soul because it disinhibits us providing the breakthrough opportunity the Spirit needs. Song is especially powerful where there is the manifest grip of fear or pride.
6.     Pray silently: this is especially poignant when there are no words to say; where presence alone is the healing touch of God. To ‘sit Shiva’ (sit and mourn seven days silently) with someone in the pit of great and imminent loss is the healing touch of God in the moment of incomprehensibility. Seven hours is better than three. And seven minutes is better than three. We may simply hold their hand, place a hand on their shoulder, or put an arm over their shoulder (according to what they feel comfortable with) to remind them we are there, with them, in a very real way.
7.     Promise to continue to intercede for them: don’t promise if you don’t intend on continuing to pray. I’ve found that praying for them as soon as we part, perhaps as I’m driving away, is the best way to stay good to my promise. I ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of them and their case, and it very often happens. When this happens I try to contact them and let them know I’ve been praying for them.
The effects of our prayers often lag. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer from the aspect of their reflections later on. People can often only tell the power of God to deliver them as they reflect on months or years that have passed.
Keep praying in faith! — with no promise of blessing in sight.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jesus, the Ultimate Answer to Evil and Suffering

“From submission to suffering and death and hell came victory, the shattering of the powers of evil, the ransacking of the strong man’s house, deliverance for his prisoners, the redemption of his possessions, the reversal of his plans.”
— Peter Hicks
LIVING as a Christian is about letting God have his way. This radical metanoia is the turning from everything we ever knew implicitly over to a form of life that is so counterintuitive it actually requires real acquisition of the Holy Spirit. And that is it. For when we’re indwelt with the Spirit the Spirit communicates to us, and suddenly we’re a subject in the spiritual realm, and this involves warfare — God will ask us to suffer, as he asked Jesus to suffer. The only way through spiritual attack is to obey God. For God will make for us a way through.
Christ is the way to victory, because greatness was achieved only one time in this entire world: on the cross. The cross was one human’s triumph for all humans. The resurrection was God’s triumph, for God and for humanity. The cross was the once-for-all-time demonstration of how to respond to evil and suffering. And the resurrection was a once-for-all-time transaction — death unto life — so all who would partake in suffering would also reign victorious over it through being risen to new life. We cannot explain the resurrection reality in our mortal flesh when we bear our crosses, but that’s what happens.
Spiritual warfare seems to make for us many of our suffering situations. Spiritual attack comes in the mode of situations that don’t merely offend, but castigate us into a death in the reality of life. Yet, the attacks of warfare we experience in this life are simply pointers of antecedence to the incoming power we receive as God raises us — through our obedience in the struggle.
We can see how Jesus was attacked by the very being of Satan as he endured his passion. Satan threw everything at Jesus and still Satan failed. Satan was unable to see the redemptive plan, because he was unable to understand it.
Evil cannot comprehend the self-effacing nature of love in the kingdom of God.
What might seem so very hard — to bear our trials, suffering and struggles patiently — is possible with God. And what is possible is actually the way to defeat the attacks with which we, ourselves, attack ourselves with. Satan works by turning us on ourselves. Satan works by self-destruction and self-sabotage. But when the gentleness of God is fervent in us, we have a way beyond fretting; to know that fretting only causes evil (Psalm 37:8). Fear takes us away from God every time. Only via faith can we please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Jesus shows us in human form how we’re to deal with suffering and cope, trusting the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is our exemplar for spiritual life when any other response would bring certain spiritual death.
The point of the Kingdom is evil and suffering ultimately don’t matter. All that matters is God. This is a faith statement — it can only be true by faith: the decision to commit to a specific action of faith. This doesn’t mean we don’t have a mission; we do. We ought to advocate for justice for the powerless. But we ought to do so knowing that God is in control and everything abides in God’s plan.
If we’re offended in any way about the suffering that God would allow to occur we ought to be quickly counselled of our limited knowledge. We do not know what is coming. And we do not know what God’s purposes are in anything.
Jesus can help us in our suffering because Jesus showed us how to suffer.
Doing the will of the Lord is the way to his enduring power over suffering.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

8 Ways Satan Wants to Wreck Your Life

WARFARE of the spiritual kind is something akin to territory known in the life of a spiritual person. The more connected to God we are, the more we’re shaped for his purposes, and the more situated to serve that we are, the more subversively Satan may try to wreak havoc in our lives. Not that I made the previous sentence a generalisation. Some may be more prone to spiritual attack than others.
Here are just 8 ways that Satan works to nullify the effect of God’s Kingdom:
1.     He deceives us through skewed truth: we are given a part truth and we begin to subscribe to that portion of truth as the whole truth. This always takes us entirely in the wrong direction of response. If we see the deception we’re able to opt only for the truth — some of which is probably going to be unknown or unknowable. We never know as much as we think we know.
2.     He makes us wish to do the right thing at the wrong time: as justified as an action may be, it’s still crucial that it’s timed well, that it’s done in the right way, for the right reason. Doing the right thing is not always enough, and many times it’s a recipe for trouble.
3.     Master of Discouragement, Satan makes little of the good we do: we begin to notice when encouragements for the good things we’re doing aren’t coming. Notice how Satan makes us notice even the little things we receive no thanks for.
4.     Master of fear, Satan makes much of our mistakes and failures: moral or not, our mistakes and failures are great fodder for Satan to needle us with, intuiting fear. Fear makes us doubt our competence, our role, our effectiveness, and our fit. It seeks and destroys at the level of our identity. Depression is not usually just about discouragement; there’s a very real source of fear embodying us.
5.     Satan first disarms us through ego: pride is such a nemesis to God in the human condition, and we’re all afflicted. There is only one source of rectification: humility. It never feels good to be humbled, but if we do so with a cheerful approach Satan flees.
6.     When relationships seem more caustic and ‘good’ people seem to be turning bad: watch for this one! Satan wants us thinking good people are wickedly motivated. He is more than willing to show us their wrongdoing. This is the type of ‘insight’ nobody really needs.
7.     Interrupting our prayer life, Satan will remind us how ineffective we are: Satan hates prayer. He hates it when we pray, because he knows he’s in his proper place; out of contention for a role of influence over our lives. He’ll do anything to make sure our prayer life is undermined in any way.
8.     Satan’s worst deed is to undermine our place in life: suicidal ideations can often be grounded in the enemy’s work. He is a spiritual troll; an angel of trolling.
Silently and slovenly the prowling lion preys,
The enemy’s attacks are cunning and cruel,
Satan seeks to devour every night and day,
The last thing we need to do is give him fuel.
A liar, a schemer, an accuser is he,
Discouragement and fear are his friends,
Satan seeks to enslave the free,
And get them to work for his very ends.
So, to recap, Satan skews our truth, confuses our love, is the master of discouragement and fear, exploits our pride, interrupts our prayer life, and makes us question even our existence.
Satan should we fear?
No, not when God is near.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Trekking the Lonely Pilgrimage of Hardship Into Wholeness

TIMES of distress are paradoxically also times of challenge. When we least want to make for change, change it seems most wants to take us with it. And this makes for somewhat a lonely pilgrimage, full of doubt and groaning contemplation.
We want the answer to what ails us, but amidst the confusion that overwhelms there’s no easy way forward. What works one day doesn’t work the next, and so on.
God invites us to take the pilgrimage out of what we’re suffering into the Godhead of his wholeness. The Father cares for his children. The Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The Spirit advocates for us on his behalf.
God’s invitation involves taking us as we are into something new for the present and future. In a pilgrimage that starts from today, we learn not to look back, whilst taking with us the precious possessions of our persecutions as impetus for purpose and prosperity. These very trials are what forge our way forward. We wouldn’t have been forced back into the Godhead if not for them. Our trials have compelled us to draw near to God. We had found that ‘pilgrimage’ was the only way to successfully disentangle ourselves from the rot of soul stagnation.
Suffering takes us there: to where our souls are loneliest and most vulnerable.
We’re there for a purpose: for a fresh infilling of the Lord. And then… to not look back.
So as we set forth on this new adventure, one promising peril in the first instance, we must take courage. We must take faith to risk enough to keep stepping, eyes fixed on Jesus. We must take humility to not be put off by the relational stumbling blocks ahead. We must take perseverance enough to rest when we’re tired, instead of giving up. We must take on loan the joy of a hope that will arrive in us as we arrive at our destination. We keep pressing forward in the hope that one day we’ll be able to look back with some fondness for where we’ve come from.
The journey of pilgrimage has its perils and its promises. We cannot hope to attain the promises without embarking on something potentially perilous.
We can know that he who begins the journey with us will not forsake us part way through.
The lonely pilgrimage out of spiritual frailty into wholeness is never lonely as we look back. Our courage to journey litters our memory with worthy insights and joys.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Journey of Love In the Heart of God

WHAT may we do without love? What may we accomplish? Many things, with little doubt. But to operate without love is to build in vain, whatever we’re building.
Consider the emphasis in the following quote:
“It is evident, beyond all doubt, that the saving grace of God in the heart, working a holy temper in the soul, is the greatest blessing that can ever be received in this world – greater than any natural gifts, greater than the greatest natural abilities, greater than the most universal learning, greater than any outer wealth or honor, greater than to be a king or an emperor, than all the riches and magnificence of Solomon in all his glory – is not to be compared with it.”
— Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)
The wisdom of the Lord is manifest in this: if love doesn’t come first, and if what we do in this life isn’t underpinned by love, we waste our time, and we fail others; many of whom we are called to love.
Love must come first. And if all there is is love, we haven’t failed life. We succeeded.
But the world will often communicate that we failed if we only do love. The world wants us focused on tangible success; those things we can pin our own glory to. But love fixes its glory upon God; it’s emanating from the soul converted beyond self.
All of love springs from the rightly motivated heart — a heart after God, because the heart recognises how ruinous it is out of the reach of God. Such a heart plumbs the depths of God and the Lord is found in that heart.
Wisdom commends us, don’t miss love. It’s the be-all and end-all. Out of love, the heart is the wellspring of life. Yet out of itself, the heart motivates us to do what will ultimately prove worthless. Imagine living as a Christian yet not operating as a Christian at all. (We’re counselled to reflect often over the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23.)
What is to come first in our lives: love or the world?
Now it should seem an easy choice… love, of course! But we soon find that the world doesn’t value love, and a good deal of the so-called Christian world doesn’t either. It can seem that our works of love are done in vain. But in fact it’s the other way around. We see this later. The truth always lags. This is why faith is rewarded ultimately, but we need to keep plying our faith in trust that we’re doing good, even without reward; that, the rewards come in their due time.
The journey of love in the heart of God is a heart of love over the journey of life.
The world wants us focused on our own glory. But love fixes its glory upon God; from the soul converted beyond self. Love is the supreme way.
Love love and you will find the truth of life.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Most Important Thing to Decide Today

THE SPIRIT of God has been reminding me lately that the most important thing to decide each day is to follow Jesus — to turn back to God.
This may seem basic to you, but it’s my very equilibrium that depends on such a decision. I’m not ashamed to say it: I’m addicted to Jesus — but this addiction is different to typical addictions in that I don’t always go directly to my ‘fix’ in order to get fixed. I often forget I should do that, and I find my way back to my fix indirectly, and sometimes that isn’t just a problem for me; it can become a problem for others, too. (Yes, we never want that.)
The most important thing to decide today is to repent — to turn back to God — to follow Jesus — even as we get out of bed and rub the sleep from our eyes. First we need to say in faith, “It’s okay; everything’s going to be alright.”
Here, below, is an acronym to remember and apply each morning:
Review the previous day — change from it or more of the same?
Entreat God by prayers of confession, adoration, thanksgiving and supplication (CATS). I believe I need to get my heart right first before God (confession) before I can adore him.
Participate in silence. The word participation suggests there is more than one party. Many of us pray as if it were only us; as if God cannot communicate. God communicates in silence, and we will surely hear him if we are silent within.
Enter a pledge of allegiance. Solemnly swear, afresh, to follow the Lord’s will and way.
Nullify the enemy — during the day, and even early on, the enemy of God may try to trip us up. All we need to do is keep seeking to follow Jesus; no turning back.
Take the first step by faith — then the next, and the next, and so forth. Faith requires within us patience at times, and courage at other times. Sometimes faith is simply remembering all the good things God has already done.
Our best hope of having a good day is to start it in a positive fashion. Bad things may still happen, and then we discovered it was our attitude that commanded the direction we would head in — a good one or a bad one.
So, once again:
Review the previous day.
Entreat God by prayer.
Participate in silence.
Enter a pledge of allegiance.
Nullify the enemy.
Take the first step by faith.
Start the day how you hope to end it: full of calm and tranquil with hope.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pastors, Christian Leaders and the Ashley Madison Thing

SHOCKED we are, yet shocked we should not be.
The history of our humanity, not to mention Christian Theology 101 (like, open and read the Bible), should tell us one thing — we are sinners, corrupt to the core, and only good are we because he who was crucified for us is wholly good.
If we judge pastors who have fallen in the Ashley Madison hack we fall, ourselves, into a contemptuous self-righteousness — yes, another sin for which we know is always there — a sin cloaked in pride. We should know what follows…
If we cannot see ourselves as having the propensity (including the motive) for enrolling with a site like Ashley Madison we’re fooling ourselves. I’m left thinking, “Phew, thank God I’d never heard of Ashley Madison,” though, having been on the betrayed side of an affair (not in my marriage), I can only say I have an aversion to marital infidelity. And I would much rather be hurt than do the hurting.
But I can’t fool myself. I have the capacity in my being to run astray. I do so often. God knows. He knows how wayward I am. Ashley Madison is our opportunity to stare at our own truth in the face of God — we each have a multiplicity of hidden sin that — but for the grace of God go we.
Even as pastors and leaders we must acknowledge the truth — we ought to be better than those we lead; pillars of ethics and morality. But if we don’t inculcate God into our heart, by continued daily spiritual observance of repentance, we have no right to be pastors and leaders.
Pride comes before the fall. And none of us can afford to feel glib about pastors and other leaders caught up in the Ashley Madison scandal.
Wisdom dictates one thing: that we ever more wed ourselves to the truth — for our own protection.
Wisdom dictates one more thing: that we see ourselves as capable of anyone else’s sin. Indeed, the Lord will not stop showing us our capacity for sin if we ask him. This may be our only protection.
The best way we can serve God in the midst of the Ashley Madison scandal is be there pastorally, understanding with compassion, another’s fall and the tremendous guilt felt and immense shame experienced by family and friends.
Ashley Madison ought to remind us how close we all are from a fall from grace.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Inclusive Church

SOCIAL dynamics are a hard thing to arrange at the best of times, but this is one area a good church excels in: their inclusivity.
Inclusivity is vital for evangelicals. It’s vital for church growth. Gee, it’s even vital for sustaining the status quo. In fact, as a Christian carries it about in their being, the church, they take an inclusive approach with them everywhere they go!
Sadly not enough do. It’s appalling how many churches are cliquey — churches that behave in a way that’s comfortable for them, yet uncomfortable for every newcomer just trying to find a spiritual home. It should be the reverse: it should be the established person in a church taking responsibility for a due welcome.
Yet it’s simply fear, and the complexity of social dynamics that are beyond many people, that is at the root of the problem. No church, rightly stated, has everyone on the same wavelength regarding inclusivity.
That’s why strategies are crucial.
Carrying the Inclusive Church With Us, Everywhere We Go
If we love Jesus, we in turn love his church. We cannot enter a theology that separates Jesus from his church — yes, that’s right, the church is his. Not ours.
Anything that separates Jesus out from ‘the church’ is a heresy. Now we have that cleared up we can go onto the point I need to make: we, you and I, are the church — wherever two or three are gathered. We are a gathering. And wherever we gather, in Christian love, we are bound to spend ourselves out for each other.
The number one obligation for a Christian is to love as Jesus loves.
Given that it’s impossible to meet Jesus’ perfect standard we’re to strive after it. To the point that it makes us uncomfortable. To the point that it stretches us, even to the point of making mistakes (so we have the excuse to say sorry). To the point that we literally spend ourselves of energy in serving the other person — whether they believe or don’t yet believe. And especially is our love to be notable to the person yet to believe!
“A new command I give you: love one another.”
This command in John 13 was the one Jesus gave his church leadership — the Twelve — on the night he was betrayed — as a mode for separating out the wheat of genuine belief from the chaff of unbelief.
To love is to believe. But to fail love is to fall into unbelief.
Love is about inclusive behaviour. Love is a behaviour and love is about inclusion.
Inclusion is really just being a nice person who sees others as important as the self.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Photo Credit: Felix Francis.