Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Kingdom Connection and Fruit of the Spirit

HAVING not spoken with a close friend for some days, I sent a text message for encouragement in the midst of his busy, thriving life.  Immediately he called back.  During our 15-minute chat, one thing we both landed upon simultaneously:
Those who are Kingdom-minded, Kingdom-inspired, Kingdom-called, Kingdom-motivated — in sum, those who are Kingdom-connected — these are the ones who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).
And then later in the day, in conducting supervision, something striking came about as a learning that was reflected over:
Fear has its root in negativity.  Fear skews our perceptions.  Fear disconnects us from experiencing and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit.
Those who are Kingdom-connected resist fear by being won indelibly to the Kingdom.
The Kingdom-connected express love, effervesce joy, embody peace, exhibit patience, exert kindness, exemplify faithfulness, exude gentleness, and enjoy self-control.
Yet when we are controlled by fear — those who are not Kingdom-connected — tend to miss love, dismiss joy, lose peace, lack patience, find kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness inaccessible, and be spiritually wayward.
Enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in your life when you’re Kingdom-connected.  That is, get out of yourself and your own problems and issues, and get into what Jesus is doing.
When Jesus becomes number one, the Kingdom is first, and everything else takes care of itself — God sees to it.  Trust this.
There is no better living reality than to express love, effervesce joy, embody peace, exhibit patience, exert kindness, exemplify faithfulness, exude gentleness, and enjoy self-control.
Give your fears over to the Kingdom and find that the Kingdom has already taken your fears and resolved them.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

He Is Risen AND He Is WITH Us Until the END of the Age

It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight.
— Luke 24:30-31 (HCSB)
He had walked the road to Emmaus with them, and unbeknownst to them, He was their Saviour.  As they walked with Him, He opened up the Scriptures from within His own heart, and, as He read to them from His memory about Himself, their hearts were aflame — but the eyes of the risen Jesus’ travelling companions only opened when He had vanished, having broken bread with them that third evening in that Village.
The risen Saviour was unrecognisable.  Nobody knew who He was until He chose to be revealed to them.  That was His purpose.
He walks today, because He is risen to life, and He walks in and amongst life, and most of us most of the time don’t have any idea.
He walks with you, and He talks with you, if you recognise His voice.  He walks in Spirit by the truth of His Word.  And He walks with humanity until the very end of the Age.
And yet He is not recognised, even in the midst of believer’s lives.  We are still too late to know His mark on our living situations.  Only in hindsight do we see His faithfulness.
None of us are better positioned to see our risen Saviour than His own disciples were, and they were basically clueless, unless from the vantage point of retrospect.  This is the way God works.
Our opportunity is to live as He lives.
If we will live as He lives, we will promise to live a secret life.  We will be incognito.
We will promise to live ordinary lives, to be happily humble, and to live our lives in extraordinary ways.  To bless people privately, and sometimes without them finding out.  Jesus sees.  To imagine how difficult life is for a person or people, and to somehow relieve a burden, however small a relief is possible.  Jesus smiles.  To live unfussed lives.  Jesus applauds.  To quit publically complaining and begin privately praising.  Jesus hears.  To fill our minds with the hardships of the faithful, and to expunge from our hearts every selfish wickedness without sweating it.  Jesus heals.  To judge others less and be extravagantly merciful.  Jesus’ pleased.  To forgive everyday transgressions and to forget long held grievances.  Jesus restores.  To live worthy lives secretly.  Jesus blesses.
He is risen.  And there is nothing better than that.  He is alive all the more in our secret life.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Why Good Friday Makes the Gospel Too Good To Refuse

GOOD.  When we think of ‘good’ we don’t think of death, but Jesus’ death is nothing other than good in this:
That secret thing we did yesterday, and that dirty thing we’re about to do tomorrow; these things that God knows about; these things we’re already forgiven for.
Those things we’re still ashamed of, and the things we feel guilty for, every one of them, we won’t be punished for, other than the natural consequences of our actions in this world.  If we accept Jesus into our heart.
For every time we screw up an interaction with our spouse, or hurt one of our children or a parent, especially when we should know better, it’s as if God understands, because He does.
When we’ve lost a job through our own fault, or when we’ve fallen into an affair, or become bankrupt because we engaged in a messy business deal, or we’ve made some mistake or error we think we cannot possibly make up for, God reconciles it.  It’s okay.  Sure, there are the natural consequences that have to be worked out, but nothing bad we do can separate us from God.
We may be entrenched in a shameful addiction and God thinks no worse of us.  We’re considered as important as the best ‘performed’ human being.  We still have the problem and we’ll continue to plummet if we don’t arrest the slide, but God loves us every bit He ever could, because of Jesus.  We may hate ourselves but God never does, because Jesus died on the cross.
All these things and more Jesus came to die for — that His perfect love to die in place of our sin would make up for our vast and myriad imperfections.
It doesn’t matter what we’ve thought about God in the past.  Our future awaits now.  There is something we cannot change about ourselves that only God can — the fact we’re fallen, prone to guilt and shame, and so embedded in sin.
Only God can help.  Only a relationship with Jesus can help us experience His grace, which makes us feel less guilt and shame for what we’ve done that we can’t undo.  And any residual guilt and shame the Holy Spirit will use to help us make restitution for.
God no longer holds the things against us that we feel guilty for and ashamed of — past, present and future, eternally.
Why would we hold ourselves above a flame that was extinguished two thousand years ago?
To refuse the gospel, which is the only thing that can heal us of enduring our human condition, is an eternal insanity.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Wounded Healer’s High Relationship Pastoral Care

NEARLY ten years ago the Spirit of God introduced me to the concept of ‘travelling with.’  At that time, He had a special task for me: to travel with my eldest daughter as she was finishing school and entering into tertiary training.  She was in a vulnerable place, not knowing what she wanted to do, and yet having the distractions of an adult world opening up to her.  The Spirit gave me the image of travelling with as a metaphor for how my relationship with her was changing.
But the Spirit extended the principle soon after.  My career required me to mentor and coach other personnel in my field, and to supervise consultants that the port authority I worked for utilised.  Then I discovered something.  There was a great deal of veracity in the method of pastoral care I call high relationship pastoral care even in that arena.
High relationship pastoral care is such focus and attention on the relationship with the other person that faith is a necessity.  Faith is pivotal in being attuned and surrendered to the Spirit to the point that intimacy with the person being travelled with is on their terms.  That’s where faith comes in.  We don’t always feel we have the time nor the energy for such intensity of relationship.  But if we’re willing and rightly positioned, God will help us be able for the task.
It’s possible to maintain more than one of these relationships — indeed, it’s how mentoring works best from my viewpoint.  In the past I’ve had up to half a dozen and more of these relationships going at once.  In fact, I find that rarely do I have less than two or three at a time, and some just go through seasons of dormancy as the flow of life continues on.
Why High Relationship Pastoral Care is a Great Discipleship Tool
Discipleship outcomes, I find, are dependent on relationship (with God and others), and relational authenticity is the provoker and driver of change in a person’s life.  Discipleship is essentially about change; personal transformation.  We cannot grow if we cannot change.  And growth opportunities are baulked at when we’re in a relational vacuum.  To grow, we need others, and we need God.
I think the most effective way for change to occur in a person’s walk with God is to create and maintain effective mentoring relationships.  Such relationships will involve transparency between both parties, superior communication, and commitment to a journey that potentially has no worldly limits placed on it (provided both feel that’s safe, and is able to be achieved without harming others).
The mentor provides high relationship pastoral care, usually over a season, but it can be over a person’s lifespan, and all stages and phases between.  Such a mentor is more than a friend; they can swing into modes of counsellor, mediator, and spiritual guide, as well as a companion to walk the oft arduous sojourn of life with.  Of course, the necessity of safety cannot be overemphasised.
Mentoring, like counselling type relationships, is a unique and privileged relationship for both.  Information, thoughts and feelings may be shared in this space complicit of trust, and a special kind of respect is nurtured and maintained.  As such a relationship blossoms, and intimacy is tried on and worn and adjusted and readjusted, the ripples of trust permeate out into other relationships — not least with God.  And that, for me, is discipleship.  It’s about intimacy and being able more and more to be safely vulnerable, so we have more and more the capacity to be real in the realities God presents us to live in.
Back to travelling with.
As a metaphor for relating with all people in life, there can be no better way to a blessed humility than sincerely endeavouring to travel with people.
Whether it’s a 5-minute public train ride interaction or a more deliberate two-year journey to healing, travelling with is a rewarding interface for and between both.  Think about it.  There is no better reality for a Christian than being open to God in their own life, and being equally open for other people.  On the one hand, the Holy Spirit ministers pastorally through Himself and older, wiser other persons to us, and yet on the other hand, there’s the privilege of empathy we may have for a younger other person, who’s hamstrung by matters with which we’ve had some life experience.
Travelling with is the diffusion of our own concerns in the realm of time through the genuine warmth created with another.  We cannot deny our own concerns.  But we can allay those concerns in faith by applying our warmth to another’s concerns.  In serving in our own vulnerable authenticity we’re rewarded with something we richly need, that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
High relationship pastoral care creates authenticity through mutual vulnerability, and in that environment healing becomes possible.
The wounded healer can mediate the intended healing of God through wise use of their own woundedness in the power of the Holy Spirit.  And high relationship pastoral care achieves that end, because the intensity of the relationship is what the person desiring healing needs, and the wounded healer can provide.
The wounded healer has learned that travelling with people on the journey to their healing is facilitated by embracing wounds suffered.
Wounded healers encourage those seeking healing by the way they embrace their own and the other’s woundedness.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Life

“COULD be dead tomorrow,” I said to my gorgeous wife.
She laughed.
But it’s true.  Thirty Christmases ahead is no compensation for that thought.  What can be done today — this veritable hour — should be done, with gloriously settled haste.
Only God should sanction a man or a woman’s destiny, but men and women of influence too often sign-off the course of others’ history.  God Himself will allow what He alone may correct, in time.
All we can do is live the best decisions of our time, and live decisively for the hour we have.  It’s all we’ve got.  There is no promise of a Christmas thirty years off, or this Christmas for that matter.
Live now, but don’t do so wretchedly.  Do so wisely.  It’s all we can do.
The rise and fall of life is the chest filled and then expelled of air, to the last breath.
It’s only as I feel the weight of my three-year-old son sleep on my chest that I recall how wonderful it was when my twenty-three-year-old daughter did that when I was still in my twenties.  The good things of this life that we find drudgery; they’re fading.  Count them as gold, now.
These are the days of our history.  Soon we’ll be all gone.  It’s what makes Carpe Diem an imperative.
The rise and the fall of life are pivotal when we comprehend the eternity encapsulated in a solitary moment pregnant with possibility and fate.
We mess about with things beneath the glory represented in our mortal lives.  Why?  They seem important: position, power, possessions.  These are not important.
The rise and fall of life is important.  What will God say?  What decisions are we making?  How are we turning away from positions hemming us into envy, power of a worldly kind, and possessions that bond us away from love?
The rise and fall of life is in our position with God through Christ, in our power to love, and in our possession of His Word.
Live wisely.  Live well.  Live winsomely… Live.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Gift of Unbending Belief

“… if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.  So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
— Mark 11:23-24 (NRSV)
JESUS’ disciples were stunned to find the fig tree that He had earlier cursed had withered.  Its fruit had died and had begun to rot.  There was such a dramatic effect.  The tree could no longer fulfil its function, that is, to bear fruit.
This is why this story and teaching is doubly salient: the tree did not have the faith to resist its being cursed, and it didn’t continue to fulfil its function, and because of that it was useless.
At times we fail to fulfil our function.  We lose faith, doubt creeps in, and soon we’re rattled and overwhelmed with hopelessness.  Any of the potential fruit in us withers and our lack of faith means we fall short of our purpose.
WHAT is faith other than unbending belief — never more so when there’s plenty of reason to doubt?
We do not get what we desire in this life because of two reasons:
1) we do not have enough faith, and
2) many of the prayers we pray don’t align with God’s will in the first place.  The first problem is actually secondary.
First we need to establish what God’s will is for our situation.  We then align our prayers.  Then we need to ensure our faith in His will is unrelenting — it’s coming to pass.  It’s coming into being because He will not let it not.
These are good examples of God’s will for our lives:
1.     That we commit to growing and don’t despise hard lessons that come.
2.     That we work hard in the direction of our goals and in enduring the frustrations.
3.     That we commit to serving others in the fullness of faith that love makes a difference.
4.     That we remain hopeful, because we know God is good, that our faith helps our experience of living this life.
Commensurately, our prayers need to be:
1.     God, help me to accept the hard things You’re teaching me.
2.     God, help me to work hard, trust the results, and trust especially in bearing with frustration.
3.     God, give me the desire to serve others without thought of gain.
4.     God, help me to trust You when it seems nothing good is happening.
God answers ‘yes’ the prayers of faith prayed in accordance with His will.
The prayer of faith believes for the miracle, and the miracle comes through belief in the prayer of faith.
There is nothing to lose in casting doubt to the wind, and to believe in unbending faith.
Believe in the gift of unbending faith, and God will grow that gift in you through belief.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.