Wednesday, December 30, 2015

You Are A Person, and Some Things You Should Know

HAVE you thought about your life lately?  You are a person.  You’ll read that line many times in this article.  You… are a person.
You are a person,
And have you thought about this?
You were made for your life,
Whether you’re bored or at bliss.
You are a person,
So will you consider this today?
You were born to be,
Whether skies are coloured blue or grey.
You are a person,
And whether you know it or not,
God’s got your life covered,
Down to the last jot.
You are a person,
How will today be?
How you handle it,
Comes down to how you see.
You are a person,
And today rings the choice,
Will you nurture fear or complaint,
Or find reason to rejoice?
As you gather about your life, all the tassels of detail and finery of experience, as the days have merged into months, the seasons of your life, not one thing has changed about who you are.
You are you.  Perfectly and utterly loved, even if you do not even have the courage to love yourself.  The God who made the Entirety made you; God who made a trillion galaxies, made the galaxy of cells that comprises you — a single organism.  God made you to subsist as a planet in a solar system full of other planets, all carefully revolving around each other in seamless fashion.  (Okay, relationships are never really that cool, but it was God’s design that we would love as we’re loved, and we have to admit what a wonderful intent that is.)
The reason we were made was to fill the world with praise for our Creator.
The purpose of our being is to make known the One who made all things.
The meaning is in our flesh; the soul with which was made to house God’s indemnifying Spirit.
When we’re won to the reason, the purpose, and the meaning of our life, we’re one with God.  This is because the One who made us made us in a way to be one with him.
And when we know God and accept our life as he has ordained it to be we’re granted the choice of joy for the reason, the purpose, and the meaning implicit in being.
The fact that you are a human being means that God made you, fresh, to order, for such a time as yours.  You are a person.  And you’ve been made in God’s image, for God’s glory, to be the bearer of a testimony of his grace.
There is one idea that is beyond any disputation: you are a person and God made you to be you.
As far as God is concerned, there is nobody more important or more significant than you.
Enjoy being you.  You only have one life.  Living it as it is, not forever putting off life for the dream of ‘something better’, is the abundant life Jesus came to give us — a life that is home to our truth.  All of it.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Your Pastor and Your Trust, Respect and Encouragement

Strange as it seems,
Though I’m here to serve you,
And though Christ has called me,
I’m needy too.
I wonder if you know,
Just how much I need,
Your regular encouragement,
In order to succeed.
Not that I can expect you to know,
What I shouldn’t expect,
But I’m human too,
I hope you won’t forget.
So may I ask of you,
Dear parishioner of mine,
To indulge me this luxury,
It’s worthy of our time.
SOME people who aren’t pastors won’t understand this, but there are many who aren’t pastors who do.  Pastors ordinarily give of themselves to such a degree that they live the call of their faith in their roles — and are hence completely at the beck and call of others at the behest of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, and indeed very often, there are sacrifices of time that the pastor makes that only their family truly knows about.  That’s because they spread themselves over the congregation in ways that most only see a snippet of what they give in terms of time and other sacrifices.
The astute elder will see and appreciate the lengths their pastor goes to.  And, in the case of team ministry, the senior pastor who doesn’t expect too much of their pastoral staff, and, very importantly, are careful to lead by very good example — managing their own workload so they’re not pushing burn out — are great leaders.
It has to be said that pastoral work is a privileged trade — time and freedom is given such that a spiritual ministry may be formed.  That time and freedom is not only a privilege, it’s also a responsibility.  Pastors who are not especially diligent may give the ministry as bad a name as the minister who falls from grace.  Pastors are expected to work hard and should be valued and appreciated when they do.
Sometimes there are jealousies in a congregant, or even in a fellow pastoral staff member — those envying the perception of a particular pastor’s power, freedom, charisma or ability.  When we’re unaware of these jealousies, the length of grace we’re prepared to extend is drastically shortened, and we can be quickly judgmental, and even slanderous.  Then again, it can be easy to compare how hard a life a congregant has in comparison with the ‘easier’ life the pastor has. Perceptions matter.  Perceptions are key and ought always to be valued before they’re challenged.
Pastors need to be valued, respected, trusted and encouraged — consistently and regularly.  They need to be valued for the gifts they bring to their church community.  Their personality needs to be respected.  Their character needs to trusted.  And they may wither under the strain of ministry without a steady stream of constructive encouragement.
The congregant must assume that their leaders are performing their function and working hard.  The pastor must be duly diligent, and, like everyone, striving always to improve. The elder has a responsibility for monitoring the spiritual temperature of the church and for helping augment an appreciative culture; as does the senior pastor.  And how beautiful is it when all parties respect others for the contribution others are making in the building of God’s Kingdom.
NOTE: I need to say in finishing that, like most of the articles I write, there is nothing stirring in my own personal circumstances that’s projected through this.  I don’t feel underappreciated or undervalued at all — certainly not at present.  I try to make it a practice not to post articles when I’m emotionally entangled in what I’m writing.  I think that places me best to handle the topic respectfully.  That’s my hope here.
So, encourage your pastor, giving him or her the trust and respect they deserve, for you never know how important it might be.  Value them for the work of God they’re doing within your faith community.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas (Israel)

ON THE TWELFTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me twelve drummers drumming.
Imagine the reality of heaven.  Ponder being greeted by twelve drummers drumming, a representative for each tribe of Israel, drumming you in through the gates of eternity’s threshold.
What we’re entering is a gift — nobody can take for granted the right to enter heaven.  It can only ever be a gift.  It can only ever be grace that makes it possible.
Jacob was renamed Yisrael (Israel), meaning “God strives” or “God prevails” or “struggle with God” in recognition that he could not overcome God when he wrestled all night with the Angel of God (see Genesis 32:22-32).
Israel is a reminder that we struggle with God and that we struggle with life.  Indeed, it’s actually a very Jewish concept to struggle, particularly as we discuss our differences — especially theological differences.
The gift of God on the twelfth day of Christmas is the reminder of the number 12 in the symbolism of Israel, and the gift it is to know that we’re destined to struggle.
Of all the days of Christmas it’s appropriate to finish on it’s the twelfth day where the number twelve depicts not only Israel who struggled with God, but it depicts just as much the meaning of perfection and completion (as does the number seven).  This means that, like Israel, we’re bound to struggle with God, and we’re bound to do so in the totality of our lives.  Not only that, but God will prevail, not only over us, but for us, in the totality of our lives.
It’s a gift to know these things; that God, by the character and nature of life, prevails.  Because God prevails, Christ came, was born, lived, and died, to reconnect us with the Father.
There’s no benefit in us going against the grain of life or God or his purposes for righteousness and justice in this life.
It’s a gift to know that there’s no purpose in life other than the purposes that God anoints by his divine will, power and Spirit.
On this final day of Christmas so blessed are we to consider that our purpose in this life is to serve God’s purposes.
On the cusp of Christmas, the Christ-child came to remind us, even in a baby’s body, of the Sovereign purpose of God, to redeem humankind; to do a thing humanity could not, in all eternity, do for itself.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas (The Disciples)

ON THE ELEVENTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me eleven pipers piping.
Each of Jesus’ disciples — eleven of the twelve remained after the crucifixion event — exemplified very human qualities.  Indeed, the twelfth, Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, typified a human quality that sits comfortably with none of us.  We all have the capacity to sell Jesus out — indeed, we’ve all done it.
Andrew was an evangelist in the true sense of the word, piping a tune that would lead others to the Christ.
Bartholomew (also known as Nathanael) was of nobility, devoted to the Word of God.  Nathanael was probably his first name, and he is said by Jesus “of all Israel, to be a man with no guile.”  His integrity is unquestioned, though we know not much else about him.
James the elder was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three; those, for instance, who went with the Lord to pray at Gethsemane.
James the younger was brother of the apostle Jude.  He, like Peter, was strong of character, even fiery.
John, the disciple beloved of Jesus, is said to be the author of the Johannine epistles (1, 2, 3 John) and Revelation. The only disciple possibly not to die a martyr’s death, John also was reputed to have a fiery temper and an intolerant heart.  He is said to have mellowed with age.
Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, was also treasurer of the group who used to pilfer.  A covetous man, it also seems Judas was drawn to Jesus because he thought the Lord might have been the great military ruler the Jews had come to expect in their Messiah.
Jude or Thaddeus (or Judas Thaddeus) was cut from the same cloth as Judas Iscariot as far as being a radical Nationalist was concerned.  It seems Judas Thaddeus was truly radicalised.
Matthew or Levi was a tax collector, and not very popular because of it.  What an irony that this Jew of Jews practiced a profession that Jews despised.  He was very unlike the other disciples by what he did professionally.  He was skilful with the pen and possibly wrote the first gospel.
Simon Peter was the head of the apostles, and he was notoriously extroverted.  A typical Galilean, Peter was incredibly passionate, easy to incite, craved adventure, quick-tempered and impulsive.
Philip was a man with a warm heart yet a pessimistic head.  He was committed to the gospel but very hard on himself.
Simon the Zealot was a fanatic of the mould of Rome-haters.  And he despised anyone who compromised with Rome.  A convert to the faith, his attitudes gradually softened, even regarding Matthew (who did Rome’s work for them).
Thomas Didymus (or Doubting Thomas) actually proved his faith through doubting.  Another pessimist, he was also given to bewilderment, but he was also courageous.
Jesus gave us the disciples in order that we might be encouraged regarding their diversity and their fallibility.  Given that several of Jesus’ disciples had temperament issues there is a lot we might be encouraged for.  Not even the champions of the faith had it all together.
Do you struggle with a hot temper, a lack of tolerance, impulsiveness, envy and covetousness?  You’re in the good company of Jesus’ disciples.
If we ever feel we’re not good enough to be a Christian we only need to look at the disciples, who had notable weaknesses of character.  Yet the Lord Jesus called them his own.  That is our Christmas gift on the eleventh day of Christmas.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On the Tenth Day of Christmas (Ten Commandments)

ON THE TENTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me ten lords a-leaping.
Ten lords a-leaping depicts the sort of image we would expect: commandments of God ought to compel us to answer at God’s command “Jump!” with “How high?”
Here are the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20:3-17 from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  These are the words of God as given to Moses:
1.     Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.
2.     Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.
3.     Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
4.     Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
5.     Do not murder.
6.     Do not commit adultery.
7.     Do not steal.
8.     Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
9.     Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey…
10. [Do not covet] anything that belongs to your neighbor.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, December 21, 2015

On the Ninth Day of Christmas (Fruit of the Spirit)

ON THE NINTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me nine ladies dancing.
The gift that is nine ladies dancing is the teamwork with which they all dance — each lady a distinct fruit of the Spirit.  A dance in unison is a beautiful dance to watch.  And the fruit of the Spirit is beautiful to experience.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control.  In the one they are Jesus Christ — the potential of which is the Christ-child born at Bethlehem.  In the one they’re to embody us.
Jesus is love.  He shows his love in who he loved — sinners like you and me, but sinners all the same that the world had shunned.  Jesus offers us the gift of giving our love to the least of these; to those we might otherwise avoid, and to those especially who have hurt us.
Jesus is joy, illustrated by his joy at being with the children.  If there was anyone more welcome in the presence of Jesus than children I’m not sure who they’d be.  (But, of course, in Jesus’ eyes we’re all his children.)  For Jesus, children elicited joy!  (Not work, not anger, not discipline, not harshness.)  Jesus offers us the gift of choosing for joy today.  Joy must be a choice.  And we get there by being grateful; being content with what we have.
Jesus is peace.  “Peace I give you, and peace I leave with you,” Jesus could be heard saying.  Ours is to embody his peace and promulgate it; by converting our annoyances and frustrations into peace.  Peace is such a gift to give someone.  What better gift is there than to give someone the agency of peace?
Jesus is patience — Perfect Patience he was called by early church father, Cyprian of Carthage.  Jesus offers us the gift of patience in replacement for the curse of anger that spoils far too many things in life.  Patience is the delayed neo-cortex thinking that makes us pause and ponder when we’re emotional, in helping us respond appropriately rather than react.
Jesus is kindness.  And if there is a worthier virtue of love I don’t know what it is.  Kindness is the generosity of a bountiful spirit.  Jesus’ gift is that which accords us grace that we would want to spend our love over everyone we come into contact.
Jesus is goodness.  God is great.  God is good.  God is the fullness of both.  Jesus wants us all to work into the gift of goodness that he’s giving us.  This is the quality of thinking for the best.
Jesus is faith.  Of course, the author and finisher of our salvation is also the author of the method by which we work out our salvation: by faith.  Jesus gifts us the ability to ply our faith by the workings of trust and surrender in order that we would obey, just as he obeyed the Father.  As Jesus was faithful we’re to aspire to faithfulness.
Jesus is gentleness.  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Jesus’ spirit is gentle and amenable to working gentleness in and through us, through the perfection of a safe relationship.  That is our gift to give — to be gentle, safe people to be with and to be around.
Jesus is self-control.  Perfect submission to the Father, Jesus demonstrated command over his own will.  This is the gift we’ve been given through the Holy Spirit.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On the Eighth Day of Christmas (Beatitudes)

ON THE EIGHTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me eight maids a-milking.
The image of eight maids a-milking brings home thought of the milk being drawn from the udder — a sure blessing (and gift) for both the animal and for the recipient of the milk.
There are eight designations of character of the blessed sons and daughters of God.  These eight Jesus taught us in his Sermon on the Mount:
The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-10 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“The poor in spirit are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed,
for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed,
for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed,
for they will be filled.
The merciful are blessed,
for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart are blessed,
for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Blessed are those who recognise the gift of God’s favour in knowing God’s Son, in that they recognise that their life isn’t their own, and that they recognise that life only works when we surrender our will for his.
Those who recognise these eight beatitudes as truths they may rely upon for the whole of their lives are those who have received God most precious of gifts.  They know that truth is in the paradox: what seems against them is really for them; that when life seems down it really can only turn up.
The blessed are those who continue doing good especially when things are going bad.  They know that they’re on God’s side and that that is enough.  They prepared to suffer for doing what’s appropriate.
Truth underpins every beatitude of Jesus.  And every illustrated beatitude is an illustration of blessing, powerful as a reminder of how a Christian is to live their life. Every beatitude is like smooth creamy milk, so put together there’s eight full pints of milk to nourish the purveyor.  And that’s the way the beatitudes work for those who are blessed by them.  They nourish at the level of their soul through the input of faith.
On the eighth day of Christmas my True Love sent to me eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

On the Seventh Day of Christmas (Sabbath)

ON THE SEVENTH day of Christmas my True Love sent to me seven swans a-swimming.
“Six days you shall work… the seventh you shall rest.”  That’s the biblical principle at work all throughout the Old Testament.  It’s the law that those of Jesus’ time looked to with which to abide.  And what is ever more perfect about this particular principle was that it abided with the principle of seven — the number of divine perfection, totality and completion.
But seven, the number designation for divine perfection, isn’t the number for perfectionism.  Note the subtle distinction.  God’s perfection is pure and right and never better.  Our perfectionism takes a good thing and makes it wrong through making too much of it — bending it into the shape of idolatry.  And the principle of rest puts paid to perfectionism, because the perfectionist can never allow themselves to rest — there is always more to do to make a thing perfect.
God’s gift to us in the number seven is principally related to our lives: our work.
God gave us six days to work in; to feel justifiably satisfied in what we’re able to contribute. But as much, and if not more, he’s given us the seventh day — the blessed Sabbath principle of rest — for sustenance of life, for recovery, for revitalisation, and never more for enjoyment of God himself.  In Sabbath, we not only rest from our work, and allow our big and bothersome burdens to swan away, we delight in our relationship with the Lord.
At Christmas time we think particularly of Sabbath — time to draw aside from life, enjoy time to reflect over the year gone and the one coming, spend time with family, and mostly to recall reminiscences of the Christ-child born that two-millennia ago.
But all too often we can arrive at Christmas day having limped to the finish line because we’ve attempted to balance far too many burdens and it can seem like we’re not six days from the last Sabbath, but sixty-six.  And, for many of us, that’s true.
What gift is our True Love giving us in this Christmas season?
It’s the gift of the Father’s Son.  It’s the gift of a message of simplicity.  It’s the gift of a reminder of dependence — that God is worthy of our reliance.  And it’s the gift of knowing that while we’re blessed to work, we’re destined for rest.
God’s greatest practical gift is the gift of rest — that we might take time to find God and delight in him once more.  And what a great contrast — the six geese a-laying (working and producing) with seven swans serenely a-swimming (the picture of rest).
On the seventh day of Christmas my True Love sent to me seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.