Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Threefold Ministry of Reliance

WHEN it comes to ministry for people for the Lord, it really is as simple as reliance.  Here is a prayer of reliance that looks at reliance three ways:
Help me to rely on You,
So others can rely on me,
So they will rely on You.
The Pastor’s Reliance On the Lord
If anyone is to be a past master of reliable submission, it’s to be the minister.  Their own example will determine whether they’re deemed trustworthy enough that the disciples in their care will rely on their pastoral leadership.  If a minister can show they’re surrendered, as an individual, they prove their humility, and they’re worthy of their parishioner’s trust.  It’s not enough that people tolerate their minister; they need to be examples of submission and humility — of essence, vulnerability.
It cannot be understated.  If a disciple of Christ cannot see reliance on the Lord via their pastor, they cannot grow in the same vein, and the Kingdom is defeated in that individual.
Others’ Reliance On Us – As Ministers for the Lord
This is where my default thinking is tested; some ministers ought never be relied upon.  Some ministers, as it works out when they’ve finally risen to their place in leadership, prove to be unhealthy.  Sometimes they don’t keep themselves healthy.  Some were never healthy to begin with.  Wise disciples are loath to trust an unhealthy pastor; they have an instinct for it.  But that doesn’t save the person who trusts their pastor and finds themselves abused.  And, of course, there are many more pastors who are trustworthy, and when they are trusted, and that trust is vindicated, the disciples in their care are able to grow in their own reliance on the Lord.
It should give a pastor much encouragement to know that people can rely on them.  Indeed, it’s central to the achievement of their role.
Others’ Reliance on the Lord
Because of a minister’s example, disciples in the minister’s care are able to witness their minister’s reliance on the Lord, how the minister may be relied upon themselves, all as impetus for their own reliance on the Lord.
There should be no better encouragement for a pastor than to see one of the disciples in their care willingly and joyously rely upon the Lord.  That’s a sign of humility and submission worthy of a great of the faith.  And where pastors see such reliance in one of the people they lead they’ll be very quick to heartily encourage such diligent obedience.
If people see their pastor relying on God, they’re able to rely on them, and their own reliance of trust on the Lord is blessed.
Reliance on the Lord three ways: a pastor’s own submission; a parishioner’s trust of their pastor; the parishioner’s reliance on God.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

The Awful Reality of the Good News of the Gospel of God

“Without humility, there’s no submission; without submission, there are no relationships of trust; without relationships of trust, you won’t make yourself vulnerable; unless you make yourself vulnerable, no one can influence you; and without the influence of others, you won’t change.”
— Bill Hull, Christlike, 2010.
ONE of the secrets of the faith was revealed to me when my former life was crushed and Christ began to take over: I needed to step out of God’s way.  I became a master of getting out of God’s way in that season; and blessings of character growth (grace, patience, closeness with the Lord) followed me.  Getting out of God’s way is just phraseology for submission.  Far too many times since then, however, I’ve gotten in his way.  Far too many times I haven’t submitted — for Jesus’ sake — in this day, and in many days that sprinkle a past, a decade stretched back.  And yet to fail to submit is a failure to trust the Lord Jesus…
Oh Lord, forgive me for my overweening pride; that’s my sincere prayer, this very day.
God revealed afresh to me, through the abovementioned book, then separately through a conversation with my father-in-law, that submission — unto the perfection of mutual submission — is central to the real Christian life.  It separates the real disciple from the also-ran.  (Not that mutual submission is always achievable, but as a Christian I can submit for the sake of Christ, and pray in his name that reconciliation might be completed.  It’s all I can do; and it’s enough.)
The awful reality of the good news of the gospel of God — the gospel’s truth in untainted rawness — is it’s dependent totally on our submission.  Humility stands no chance of seeing us through to change without submission.  (And to change us is the gospel’s goal!)  But what we think is an awful reality is actually the key to us securing the abundant life.
Submission is the best sign of humility; the pouring of contempt on our pride — which is something only we can do, as individuals under Christ’s care.
Submission is a love word before it is an authority word.”
— Bill Thrall & Bruce McNicol,
Leadership Catalyst Publishing, 2000.
Submission: it seems so awful a concept, especially for those who have submitted; where that submission was abused, by what turned out to be untrustworthy ministers.  And yet as Christ went to the cross, he too was abused; about as much as we could imagine anyone abused.  Our fear of not obeying the Lord must overcome our fear of trusting that we might be abused again.  Ready to get back on the horse of your submission?  Unto growth?
Submission is an ugly word, even in today’s church.  So many who have submitted were abused.  Yet without submission, the Holy Spirit cannot change us.  Obviously submission in a change context also requires a safe and trustworthy environment.
The truth of the gospel is palpable in this way: it changes us.  But change cannot take place without humility, and humility stems from submission.  There’s no other way.
It is good to submit, to unlock the capacity to change, for Christ’s sake.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Faith Ascends Love’s Stairway, Enabled on Kingdom’s Hope

Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the windows which hope has opened.”
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892)
1.     Love – Firmest of Foundations
Without love all is lost, and where there is the absence of love all is vanity.
But thankfully, in the Kingdom of God love abounds, is everywhere to be seen, and is the basis of our very being.
The whole creation was intelligently designed and constructed on the firmament of love.
Love is the firmest of foundations because she is found home first in truth.  Love and truth are synonymous.  Love is utterly faithful, reliable, trustworthy.  Love’s integrity is secure, all ways.  Truth is all these things, too.  And the truth is faith needs the foundation of love with which to get moving.  (Hope keeps faith moving.)
Love’s opposite is fear, as is faith’s.  Hate is no opposite of love, because hate is fuelled by fear.  When faith ascends heaven’s stairway, she does so because she is perfectly fearless, because she is so full of love.  Love has nothing whatsoever to lose, for where there’s loss there’s always thankfulness for the depth of meaning in the grief experienced.
Faith is only a dream without love; but with love, faith is able to make true a dear reality.
So, if love is a stairway, faith has safe assurance as it ascends on those sturdiest of steps; a staircase that love has hewn out of the densest stone.
2.    Faith – Willingness to Climb the Way
Love may have gone before faith in building a most reliable of staircases, but faith must still do what only faith can do: climb.
Faith is movement.  It takes us from paralysis to mobilisation through sheer will of belief: I can, so I shall!
Faith looks up from the bottom of that tremulous stairway, harrowing as it is to look at the journey before it, and it ponders; it commits to the way, even if it seems impossible.  It trusts the integrity of the stairway, but it cannot help wilt in doubt; yet it continues to ascend, one hope-filled lunge at a time.
Nothing is so inspiring as the faith that steps intrepidly.  Though love has gone before it, faith must still make its own volitional steps.
3.    Hope – Enabler for Vision of the Kingdom
Hope enables vision; clear out of the window, faith envisions blue skies.  With hope, faith swells, and doubts are crushed.
Hope allows faith’s vision to be brought into being through bringing to fruition the wider vistas of love’s reality.  And love’s reality is the Kingdom.
Faith is underpinned by love and it is elevated by hope to a vision of the Kingdom.
Love opens the way forward for faith, but without hope faith would be inconsolably frustrated.
Faith is necessary for the spiritual way, yet it’s encumbered by crippling incapacities if it’s short on love or hope.
So — when it comes to others and to ourselves — let us allow love to flourish and hope to shine; they both sustain our faith.
Love is the foundation and hope is the enabler and the sustainer for our faith.
Overall, faith may be perfect because love is perfect.  Love, being the firm foundation of faith, ensures faith has every good thing.
Love is the beginning and burgeoning of faith, and hope sees it through to the very end.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Lord Who Goes Before You, Also Your Rear Guard

JESUS is baptised, then he is immediately “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)  In just the same way we’re led from our baptisms into much temptation from the world — the devil’s clever instrument.  Then there’s the phenomenon of the still small voice of the Lord as he affirms us in one arena of life, then comes the testing; and the temptations to give up can come with seemingly ever increasing fury.
I recall walking a local street in the local area proximal to the church I serve at as associate pastor.  This was within a few weeks of starting.  In that moment, the Holy Spirit affirmed the move, and then confirmed the call — to this church.  There was a geographical sense that this was the place.  God gave me an assurance that was unquestionable.
And then I questioned.  Over the ensuing months I would doubt and wrestle and resist this call.  Tests came left, right and centre.  The first year was tough in many ways.  And that testing continues, but then, as I witnessed a baptism, Jesus’ baptism came flooding back — as a metaphor for what was soon to take place — testing.  Then I saw afresh how I’ve come to be tested.  There was, in me, an instant recognition; a recognition of God’s perspective — it’s not about me; it’s about my obedience.  In that moment I saw things as they actually are.  Baptism brings us into the realm of spiritual warfare: testing.
Testing is designed to sanctify us.  Anyone who belongs in the Kingdom of God knows they wage war with a cunning enemy who wishes to tempt us in many ways.  But these are only tests, to sift and to grow us.  Testing is a very real and very viable way in the Christian life.  How else would we know that our faith is real?  We should never take testing sullenly (though we’re forgiven if and when we do, for nobody genuinely enjoys testing).  It’s because God loves us so much that he turns evils into our favour through our obedience.  This is a truth we must wrestle with:
Nothing can be against us in our being tested,
if we’re
for God in our obedience.
And then this was remembered:
Isaiah 52:12
“… the Lord is going before you,
and the God of Israel is your rear guard.”
In the Exodus account, the people of God were blessed two ways: they were being liberated from Egypt and they were being reconnected to God.  As they left that tyrannous land, they came to know a protection that was insurmountably complete.
The Lord literally surrounded his people with the love of his perfect protection.
This is the reason we ought not to be afraid or resentful in the presence of testing — God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  God has gone before us in affirming us and confirming our way.  He is also a very near and very present Protection — our rear guard — as we serve out our calling, committing to the Word he spoke into our hearts in the near or long ago past.
If God has called you to an endeavour, it’s incumbent on you to keep going.  If he’s called you to a place, it’s your obligation to stay.  If the Holy Spirit has convicted you, that you must do.
But know that God has not only gone before you in convicting you to his call; he comes behind as your rear guard — the surrounding of his perfect protection — so you should not be afraid.
Just keep on stepping in obedience.
Whatever God calls you to, he will complete; in you and through you — if you keep stepping.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Desire for Power and Control That Turns Abusive

“When a person’s sense of self-worth is blunted, he will deflect towards power to find fulfilment… That person will look to power over people to lift his own self-worth.”
— Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)
ABUSE is not always the outcome of a leader’s power, but that is how many of us have come to experience leadership.  (That is not to say that that type of leadership is leadership — it is dead opposite to true leadership, which is first servant-hearted.)  And when I refer to ‘leadership’ I’m denoting church leadership — spiritual abuse.
There are many inwardly weak people who present themselves before others parading a curated image (a term I’ve only just come to appreciate) in order to win favour for election into positions of power.  They use their apparent personal charm to win their way into power, and only then resort to positional and coercive powers once they’re established.
The desire for power is the desire for control over people, and churches will be rife with that type of leader, because churches are full of people who wish to be healed of their past abuses.  The tragedy is many people fall foul of an unsafe or an unhealthy leader.
Leadership Serves
The irony of leadership, for my mind, is that the best leaders don’t want the power, but they’re prepared to accept responsibility for the authority placed into their hands to serve people.  All leadership is service — whether it’s in the church, parachurch, or in secular life.
The best training I ever did on leadership was over twenty years ago, and that was a systems model for team leadership and team membership.  The leader was not the boss who lorded it over their subordinates.  They just had a different role, central of which was to gather data, make information out of it, and then decide out of the gathered consensuses of the team what form of action was required.
It’s dichotomous that leadership would seek or crave power.  Leaders just don’t do that.
A leader is likely to feel called to lead because they have long considered and prayed over their preparedness to take responsibility and accountability, to encourage, equip and empower people, and to be least whilst others can have a turn at being most.
The best thing to do in the presence of unsafe and unhealthy leadership is to work on a viable exit strategy.  A sure sign of an unsafe leader is their avoidance of accountability, and an unhealthy leader will not have the capacity for true leadership responsibility.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Acknowledgement: Blue, K. Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free From Bad Church Experiences. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993. pp. 102-116.
Image: Mike Myatt.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Become Hebrew Once a Week and Improve Your Prayer Life

WHAT we Westerners typically call ‘wasting time’ is a novel concept for rest called Sabbath.
How wrong have we come to think!
I must admit I’ve come to enjoy my infrequent Sabbath’s so much I barely wanted them to finish, and I certainly felt the anticipation of grief that the following day I would be compelled to re-enter the dogged fray.
Sabbath teaches us to pray.  For it’s in silence and solitude, in the spiritual discipline of doing totally nothing, and certainly having nothing planned so far as activity is concerned, that we finally do recover our spiritual faculties and capacities.
Sabbath holds us open to the Hebrew concept of day — just one day — first there is evening and then there is morning.  First comes rest; a period of utter unproductiveness so God’s Spirit might work productively on us, which then flows out; grace, light from our soul.  On non-Sabbath days that’s about energy for creativity and inspiration from the free flow of imagination as we invest in the life of the day.
But Sabbath is special.
In itself, Sabbath is prayer.  The whole idea of the Hebrew Sabbath is prayer.  God gets us all to himself, and none of our works’ righteousness is of any credit to us; indeed, the credit that goes to us is to be lost to the world for a whole day; or, for some, it may be more realistic to say a portion of a day (a few hours).
The Hebrew Sabbath, commencing at evening, through the rest of night, is permission to sleep well.  It’s permission to die to one’s self and every ‘important’ thing, as if nothing in the whole of life was important; actually, as if we were already dead.
What is embellished in Sabbath, in and through us, is the fluidity of grace as it works into the nodules of our visceral soul.  Rather than working into an ether of burnout, constantly demanding more and more of ourselves, running on fumes, we’re given scope for course correction.
And that course correction is a form of prayer called Sabbath.
The unforced rhythms of grace, as Eugene Peterson would call them, are essential fodder for the Christian endeavour.  If we have no grace we have no connection with the Spirit, and everything we do for God is done in our own strength.
Grace is an inflow from a thriving prayer life.  The more we give ourselves to God, the better our prayer life.
The silence and solitude of Sabbath with God is its own prayer endeavour.  When we entrust ourselves into God’s comforting hands, he abounds to us his copious magnanimous grace.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Acknowledgement: to Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. pp. 67-70.

Johannes Tauler, The World, Idolatry, and The Inner Way

IDOLATRY is the unfortunate default we were born into, yet there is, in the recognition of this fact, the ability to not so much resist as to work in the opposite direction — toward the nirvana of God.  Typically seen as a Buddhist concept, the nirvana simply is that state where an idolater is found free of their idolatry — a halcyon state of Christlike spirituality where God has our fullest attention.
Scholar and mystic, Johannes Tauler (1300–1361), a famous and respected preacher who influenced Martin Luther, said this about humanity’s hopeless state:
“Now poor man, unhappily, because of his fallen nature and his blindness, is attacked by everything on his weakest side.  He rests himself by the way and forgets his true destiny.  His nature clings to everything with which it comes into contact; it clutches at whatever it may be and seeks rest therein — either bodily or spiritual, internal or external.”
This, above, is a picture of discontent in the manner desperate for the very matter of contenting the soul.
There is a sense of hopeless resignation alluded to.  We will be “attacked by everything” on our “weakest side.”  We “clutch at whatever” and in that we seek rest.  Very much is the pity that almost everything other than one thing cannot give us this peace we so richly need and deserve.  Stillness of soul is only found when we’re devoid of ourselves and swept up in that furious reticence into the heart of the Spirit.  To use Jesus’ very words, we must “lose our lives to save them.”
The world would wrest us away, and it does so that readily we hardly know how to live with God alone.  But blessed is that season of loss where every idolatry makes not one iota of sense; when only God, and our reliance, does.  See how God cannot be genuinely ‘got’ until he has ‘got’ us?  (“We love because God loved us first” — 1 John 4:19)
When we’ve reached that place of utter loss, then we’re at a place where idolatry bears far less temptation, its effects are annulled, and we may then enter this Inner Way.
“God made all things that are needful, not for our satisfaction or pleasure, but for Himself alone.”
Everything serves God, and though humanity was to rule over the earth, God rules overall.  As soon as humanity felt it could do as good as God, that it could usurp God, it found out just how warped that reversal is; the apple soured on the tree!
It was never God’s will that we made things the object of our satisfaction or pleasure, and though God made them for our satisfaction and pleasure, no satisfaction or pleasure was found in them until we turned with those things to God, giving him praise.
“Time for us ought to be nothing more than a passage to the end, and eternity should be our aim and our dwelling place.”
Swept up again in that furious reticence into the heart of the Spirit, we find that eternity underpins our very living objective; we dwell there.
Eternity is our dwelling even in the now, and we get there via the Inner Way.  The more we reject the temptations of the world, the more we’ll live in the Land of Eternity Now.  And why would we ever return to our short-sighted ways?
One significant taste of Eternity Now and there is no going back.
We have everything when we depend on absolutely nothing in this life other than God.
Time is of the world, and eternity is of the Spirit.  We best endure the former by enjoying the latter, for its own sake, alone.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Is Heaven Like? – Great Council of Voices

IMAGINE entering heaven to find you’re ushered immediately into the biggest room you’ve ever seen; it’s a room, but a room seemingly without walls or ceiling — absolute and sheer white… everything, including every indiscernible being in that room, is pure white; whiter than white.  Everything about the experience is totally other-than you’ve ever experienced on earth.
It’s funny, but you’re so caught up in the idea not of “I must be dead,” but, “this is heaven… this is heaven!”  Being there, you’re in the most pleasant sense of shock you’ve ever known; everything is new.  You haven’t lost your memory so much as all memory of your life pales into insignificance just now.
Then your memories flood back, and you’re overwhelmed by the weight of them!  Suddenly there are so many memories.  There are so many of them that were important at the time, but you’d forgotten.  So many beautiful memories of love and loss.  So many painful memories, but now with the knowledge of the Presence of God in those actual events — as he was there with you.  After what seems like a short eternity, you slip into another shorter eternity —
Judgment at truth: The Great Judgment Before the Council of Voices.
With the Almighty Jesus presiding, a brilliant beam of light from a heavenly throne, the Council of Voices are like the witnesses of your life.  So many voices witness to the truth of your life; their actual perceptions are spoken out without an audible word said.  (You see that understanding is implicit and perfect in heaven; there are no need of words to communicate meaning.)  Jesus’ Presence is astounding real, but he is so perfectly still.  Gentle, yet all-powerful and heavenly fearsome!  The Voices speak simultaneously, but also in perfect unison, and you buckle under the weight of what they bring; many things you had no clue of!
So many things.
Then another new thing becomes apparent.  Suddenly you recognise that all the repentance you engaged in toward reconciliation on earth was mere practice.  Now you’re impelled toward ‘paying’ God in the currency of overwhelming sorrow — sorrow upon sorrow for the sins you committed and were not duly repentant for.  The purpose of this manic sorrow is soon understood.  It’s the consummation of your soul into everything of God — his love coming home in its perfect completion — and all dependent on the thoroughness of this heavenly remorse, which is indeed perfectly thorough.
In eternity I imagine everything we do is instinctive, for there are now no longer any barriers to love, there’s no fear, no doubting, no second-guessing.  Indeed, so implicit is everything ‘done’ in eternity nothing is actually done as it would be classified as work.  No effort is required; no energy; no motivation mustered.  What is ‘done’ in heaven just is.
We’re judged (by God and by others) not by how right we are, but by how loving we are. Somehow love makes us right.  It doesn’t matter how right we are when we love; love makes us righter than a person who is right.
God loves it when we’re right, and he’s pleased when we’re righteous.  But the weightier things of God are love.
What will the Council of Voices say about your life and your interactions?  When life is done, when it’s too late and go back and make things right, only then may we know.
Our choice, today, is to be right (to prove that we are) or to make things right; love is often devoid in the former, yet love is implied in the latter.
What if the basis of God’s judgment was dependent on what others thought of us; what others said about how we made them feel?  It’s worthy of our contemplation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re right if how we make others feel is all wrong.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Note: the ideas posited here are from my imagination; these ideas can only be fictional.