Saturday, October 29, 2016

Eternity’s Grace Meets the Gaze Eternal

God sowed a seed into our souls long ago, and He has His plan for that seed to germinate and grow. (Zechariah 8:12-13)
The seed He sowed seems, in some people’s recollection, only a recent thing. To us, one thousand days might as well be one thousand years. This is not a bad thing.
On an innocent enough Tuesday, July First, morning, eternity reached down and intervened in our lives in a remarkable way. At a worldly level, it was an unfathomable loss, but the very unfathomable nature of the loss was what connected us irrevocably with eternity’s realm.
Loss is like that. Whatever we can no longer have connects us with a realm we cannot yet see. What is gone, and unmistakably gone for ever, is only gone for a little while, such is the paradox of eternity. And yet, what a gift we’re given in the loss in having been connected with eternity. If this view seems bizarre to you, consider the options. Loss is filled with enough grief, and not one iota of grief ought to be denied, but there is more to be had, more to be experienced, if only we’re open to the voluminousness of God. And to be open requires the vulnerability of being strong in our weakness, which is the surrender of all strength.
We’re not suffering, and in many ways we haven’t suffered as many people have imagined. God’s grace broke through the curtain of darkness like rays of light, and the prayers of many saints interceded for us and so the Spirit of God carried us by our faith. We’ve experienced the depths of all sorts of emotion, not just the hard emotions; the life-giving emotions, too.
Loss is a gift if we can believe in a beautiful eternity. Having connected us with eternity, loss deepens our experience of our existence. Life is not simply life. Life is ethereal. Life is more. More to life is there in life.
May God truly bless you as you take the courage to ponder your own losses in the light of eternity’s grace meeting your gaze eternal. Then you have met God.
Steve Wickham.
Dedicated to the memory of our dear darling son, Nathanael, born at 36 weeks and 2 days’ gestation, having been oxygenated only ever through the blood he shared with his mother. We enjoyed him the best we could whilst he grew in the womb. And we’re thankful for the 179 moment-hours we were graced with post-birth. Now, we are in the window of celebrating what would have been his second birthday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

5 Ways You’ll Impress Jesus By Being Countercultural

Here they are, straight off the bat:
1.     Be nice to everyone. We love it when people become famous and they don’t appear to change. They retain that boy-or-girl-next-door way about themselves. They don’t favour some people at the expense of others. Being nice to everyone means you’ll give everyone equal attention, and not divert your attentions to just the popular and influential ones; the ‘important’ ones (because everyone is equally important). This means you’ll love everyone, which will be a choice, for some people you’ll find it hard to love. But most of all you won’t favour some and ignore others. Getting this right is harder than most of us think. We impress Jesus most when we favour the outlier, building broader inclusions than we allow exclusions.
2.     Keep your promises. As Psalm 15:4 says, even when it hurts. Most significant promises hurt in the fulfilling. They cost us something. It’s easy to promise something and to think, “Nah, it doesn’t matter… no one will know if I fudge it here or there.” It’s countercultural to keep all our promises. We impress Jesus when we keep promises only He and we would know about.
3.     Forgive. Yes, even Christians, sometimes especially Christians, don’t or can’t forgive. Being counter-cultural here is also being counter-human. No one likes to be betrayed, just as nobody likes having to do the difficult heart work of submitting our anger to God. In being countercultural around forgiveness we transcend the rhetoric, because we begin to live it, living in the power of the grace that lets others go free despite what they’ve done. We impress Jesus when we forgive people like the Father forgave us, in Christ.
4.     Shun notoriety. In the social media age this is harder than ever, especially when we’ll rub up hard against the curation of image daily. Today image seems to be everything. So, shunning opportunities to self-promote is countercultural, which doesn’t mean it’s never a good idea to put ourselves out there. Sometimes it’s necessary, because it is God’s will, because we’re shining His light.
5.     Pray. Most of us talk about prayer much more than we engage in it, or we like to think we engage in it more than we do. Again, it’s about integrity. There’s nothing legalistically set down around prayer, so why do we present the persona that prayer is central in our lives when it isn’t? But we’re better when we pray. And being prayerful is countercultural — many Christians don’t have daily, continual conversations with God. Yet Jesus would be impressed if we got to that spiritual place in life where we were continually mindful of His Presence in our lives.
Really, the only one who counts as far as impression is concerned is Jesus.
Impressing Jesus is centrally about integrity. An identity set in Christ is matched also to behaviour — integrity between the two.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Obedient Perseverance in the Pruning Season

Photograph taken from my garden.
Let us commence an awkward topic in the right way; the basis of Jesus, Himself:
“Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.
— Hebrews 5:8 (HCSB)
Jesus learned obedient perseverance the only way any of us can learn it; through enduring suffering. And what is suffering other than loss?
Augustine said this on the issue of suffering:
“The same miseries send some to heaven and others to hell. The test of suffering separates the wheat from the chaff in the Church of God: those who in times of tribulation humble themselves to the will of God are wheat for paradise; those who grow haughty and enraged, and so forsake God, are chaff for hell.”
The Twenty-First Century Westerner is likely to scowl at the very mention of hell. Perhaps we don’t need to be carried off to eternal hell to experience the hell of derision against God in this life, which is fuel for haughtiness and enragement, for which there is no recourse to any happiness at all.
In terms of suffering loss, there’s only one recourse to happiness: to trust obediently in perseverance, that God is good, and will ultimately bring good from every loss we suffer well.
This is the theological truth as it unfolds in life: God is a gardener and He delights in perfecting the shape of His creations. This means we, like Jesus (Hebrews 5:8, above), will be pruned, for our own good, and for God’s glory, whether we like it or not. Of course, none of us like it. But can we bear it? Can we persevere obediently through it?
That is the most important question we’ll ever be asked:
How will we respond to loss?
“The primary indicator for a season of pruning
is the suffering of loss.
A season of pruning brings
a loss of finances, possessions, impact, influence,
position, stature, relationship, or opportunity.
To be pruned is to lose the basis
upon which everyone around you
measures you as successful.
Various trials diminish resources and
make secondary and less important pursuits
— Allen Hood
Loss. How could God allow such a heinous thing into our lives? Haven’t we lived faithfully? And this! A reward? God knows. Jesus knows. He suffered, so He knows.
Each of the losses we suffer remove from us dependence on things other than God. Upon the removal of these dependences our identities take mortifying body blows. No wonder loss is the hardest thing we’ll ever have to endure. Loss is meant to break us. Having welcomed our brokenness, having denied it all our lives to this point, we no longer hold fears because of it. Suddenly, no truth can render us vulnerable to fear.
One final thought:
“Nothing derails a believer quicker
than the loss of vision and
a wrongly interpreted season.”
— Allen Hood
We must approach a season of pruning recognising it for what it is — a marathon series of tests designed to purify us for the things God has for us that are still coming. We ought to believe that God is preparing us for something great in His Kingdom, which may still have comparatively small seen impact in this world. He is doing a Kingdom work in us, for His purpose. Nothing could more significant.
God sincerely bless you if you resonate with this material because you feel that you’re in a pruning season. The fact is, God has blessed you with the fortitude you’ve shown thus far, and is blessing you this day and through the ensuing weeks to come.
God will get you through this season, and He will give to you a compensation — a most precious gift — you could not get otherwise. He gives you compassion and a reachable and teachable heart as a down payment.
Gratitude to the International House of Prayer (Kansas City) website blog by Allen Hood, available here:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Messiah’s Ministry In Deepest Discouragement

There are times in all our lives when we’re driven into the deepest discouragement. Times when everything we could do, we’ve done, where all we could be, we’ve been. We entrust our vulnerability, berthing in the safest harbour, yet find that that port has since been declared unfit for mooring.
The most immense discouragement comes from the places we’re most vulnerable; the places we typically feel safest. Like stricken vessels we list and surge and splutter, and then, on arrival, those moorings we looked to for security, they fail us.
Where is God in the plethora of emotion that recapitulates in discouragement?
He is in the impetus. The energy that shoves us forth into a motive that strives past rest into recovery; a clamouring for the berth’s surface or safety at sea. That’s where He’s at! In the suffering servant’s response. But it’s not a response that placates a worldly soul.
It pleased the Lord to crush our Messiah, and the disease He bore was borne so well.[1] How does the worldly person in us possibly understand?
Whatever we face or are discouraged by He faced. He bore it all. It doesn’t undermine what we face, but it helps us hope in our despair. The Lord knew that the Messiah would obey, and the Messiah knew the Lord’s plan, and it was for love that He obeyed.
It is for love that we can obey, and, because it is possible to obey, obey we should.
I have come to learn this:
I have come to recognise it is good not to be recognised, it is respectable to be of good cheer when I’m not respected, and it is understandable that understanding is so rare. In these things is a Kingdom understanding that defies the world; an understanding recognising and respecting that a lack of recognition, respect and understanding never define us. They may otherwise define the other person/s, but that’s none of the suffering servant’s concern. They’re pleased to simply be in God’s care.
God’s truest reward is saved for the humblest response in deepest discouragement.
If deepest discouragement cannot eat away at our resolve, we quickly find that God is for us most of all when we bear transgressions meekly. And meekness is not a weak thing; it’s full of strength.
And even as deepest discouragement does corrode our resolve at times, we know that in our suffering the strength of meekness we’re approved and highly favoured by His grace.
He is for His servant. May God truly bless you in that richest of heart knowledges,
Steve Wickham.

[1] See Isaiah 53, particularly verse 10 in this instance.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Once a Problem, Always A Problem

Each of us, to a person, has something for which we must inevitably recover.
Many of us have wrestled with that recovery, and are some way, or wholly, there. Being healed or healed. Then, there is the next thing; the next sin or struggle. Then the next. And so forth.
Some of us continue to wrestle. Many are involved in impossibilities, of which Susan Schneider Williams’ story of her devoted husband, Robin, is a testament.
In a life where we’re called into a solitary worship, we find every other distraction and make of some, always more than one, idols.
Life is about worship; one thing or many. That’s our choice. This is not about hating a God who ‘inflicts or allows suffering on good people’. It’s about the way that life works.
I had to give up alcohol. Thirteen years ago now, having tried everything else to cut down and to control my drinking, finding everything else failed, I stumbled across a grand truth. Instead of worshipping alcohol, and the effects of inebriation, and the different drinks I could make, and how I could impress people with how much I could drink, I found a supremely beneficial worship to replace a horrible worship. I swapped a woeful stress reliever for the ultimate peace, fear because of guilt for guilt-free power, cold sweats and nervousness for confidence, among a plethora of other astounding transactions. But the most important thing I swapped was the knowledge that I could ever drink again — for a better knowledge; I had drunk my last drink, ever.
If it wasn’t alcohol, it was cigarettes, and if it wasn’t cigarettes it was food. All these are drugs. All idols are drugs, philosophical imposters set out before us by the devil himself.
Once a problem
(with many things in life),
always a problem.
Once we step away from a problem,
we must continue to keep stepping away.
Wisdom contends with the folly we can control our desires, and Wisdom tells us that we will all have a thorn in the side to prevent us from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7).
The essence of worship is trust:
“At core, worship is trust in God.”
— Dr Evelyn Ashley
Trust in God. It’s the gospel in three words. It’s the Old Testament and New encapsulated. It’s the trinity for power, for truth, by the Holy Spirit.
“And Elijah came near to all the people and said,
‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’
And the people did not answer him a word.”
— 1 Kings 18:21 (ESVUK)
Let us respond to what God is saying to us through how our lives are. Let us not be limp. God plus anything is as idolatrous as choosing other idols to the exclusion of the only solitary worship that can help. Each of knows the idols that God wants us rid of.
There is but one worship, or many. One worship will help us wrestle to freedom. Many worships will just continue to confound us.
Recovery is about a worship of trust in God.
May God truly bless you in your decision — if you choose to accept — and journey by worship — to follow Jesus, and Him alone, along the road toward freedom,
Steve Wickham.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Living THIS Life of Beauty and Abundance

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord 
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord 
and to seek him in his temple.
— Psalm 27:4 (NIV)
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
— 2 Peter 1:2 (NIV)
Beauty is all around us, and it is there in abundance.
We could be forgiven, however, for not seeing what is patently there, before our eyes, every single moment of our existence. And just because we may at times not see it doesn’t mean it is not there.
Choosing to believe in the beauty, especially when it isn’t apparent, is the idea of faith that fuels joy. Beauty beheld causes this intrinsic happiness; a spiritual sense of abundance of soul. Abundance epitomises and beholds beauty, whilst beauty is grateful for abundance’s depth of rigour of integrity. In underpinning each other, both beauty and abundance multiply each other’s vibrancy.
Abundance, of this view, is not simply a concept of quantity. As a concept it rises up into the realms of the concept of beauty. Abundance is a flourishing. It is all pervasive, all alluring, all encapsulating. It is the theory of muchness eradicating the default state of defeat.
Joy wells up in the soul that experiences abundance and sees beauty. They are certainly there. They are irrefutable states ever-present and mingled within the logic of existence. But we must choose to experience and see them. And that is faith — the most illogical thing to anyone who simply must see and touch what they cannot. Frustration can be their only end!
It takes faith to believe in the generosity of God who showers us with abundance and beauty everywhere. And what is the point to a life that never quite rises to such a height? God calls to us daily to ascend beauty and abundance, making them spiritual possessions by embodying hope.
We must believe in the good, and the power of that good to overcome atrocity. It does us no good otherwise to deny the beauty and abundance, for there is only despair and a vacuous dolour otherwise.
As we choose to dwell in the house of the Lord, we gaze with wonder on His beauty in creation. Everywhere we see Him at work in the natural world we see the marks of nature that bear His workmanship.
Every time we insist on choosing to see God’s goodness in the heartache of the world we become that force for good.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Being Persons of Peace, Worthy of Time

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”
— Luke 10:5-6 (NIV)
I once met a man who, despite appearances that differed, was an incredible person of peace. He wasn’t just laid back and calm. He actually sought to live in harmony in the moments he had with everyone, much to the extent that he would serve someone like me in the integrity of love, and yet he owed me absolutely nothing. He owed nobody anything. He seemed unafraid, and to be without agenda. He never had a grievance. The man was a mystery.
Even as I share I’m sure you have a picture in your mind of a certain someone who reminds you of this man. He is not that unusual. I may have painted him in lines of perfection. He clearly was very flawed, but his character was congruent with abiding peace.
We’ve all encountered the person of peace — the soul who promotes peace; who lives it. Some will have been Christian, some not. Indeed, some of the religious we’ve encountered haven’t been marked with the shalom of God we can come to expect.
According the Matthaean tradition, consonant with the passage above, the person who promotes peace is a person worthy (Greek: ξιος) of us spending our time. This is a person suitable for sharing the gospel. If we were to stay with them, their household would be worthy, because the house would be one of peace, because we would gift that peace to it, as much as that household and person would be gifting to us their peace. This is Jesus’ peace we speak of; something that may be given and received. It is an empowering shalom, or pervading presence of peace between entities, for the overcoming of many guiles and trials.[1]
As Christians serving the gospel we’re to be peace-givers, peace-seekers, peace-receivers, and certainly peace-makers. We’re not to feel guilty for leaving situations that present a waste of our precious time. We’re merchants of the one and only living God; the Lord of peace. If our peace is proven to be thwarted, we must thwart that thwarting.
We’re called to look for the person in our midst who has been readied with the sandals of peace, and to walk in fellowship with them. This is a person worthy of our time. And we ought to be worthy of theirs, too, by being persons of peace, ready to serve in the love of peace.
This peace we speak of here is an intimacy between persons where relationship is free to flow and grow. It has the undertone of the salvation of God about it. The relationship has that rarefied quality of joy, even if in the midst of pain, for the commonalities of oneness shared in the concert of twoness.
There is no guilt to be carried for those fractured relationships we’ve borne. Christ has set us free of needing to bear such a burden. We’re not responsible. If we’ve given what we could to a relationship, and we received no sign back that the effort we put in was deemed worthy, to them, then our time is not worthily spent with them.
We grow in peace when we spend time with people at peace.
And as we spend time with a person at peace we may both grow in our experience of the salvation of God in Christ.
Here’s a final thought:
When we’re persons of peace, we’re worthy of time — ours, theirs and God’s. Only when we’re persons of peace are we actually worthy of the time we’ve been given.
Time is precious. It ought never to be taken for granted. Being persons of peace helps us reconcile the wonders of time, that we live at the cusp of it, in order that we might make the most of it.[2]
May He who granted you your peace enliven it more and more until the coming of Christ.

[1] Jesus said Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — John 14:27 (NIV)
[2] See Ephesians 5:15-17.