Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How a Christian Is To Be Known

Jesus told us “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 USC) But we are not so accepting of this Word if we are still allowing our fear to control us; if we will insist in remaining in our comfortable clicks.
A Christian may know they are just who they are, not by how others accept them, but by how accepting they are of others. This is a very active Word that Jesus gives.
Love can never be reduced as a passively insipid thing. That is blasphemy of love.
“Love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than feeling,” says R.C. Sproul.
And especially in the realms of Christian love – kindly human affection of friendliness and openness for one another – love takes us to levels over and above our fears.
But there is a battle that must be overcome first. That battle is the fear that presents as a false confidence which chooses to remain safe and exclude the outlier. This is the very antithesis of Christian love, and we might either repent of such a base sin or forever remain out of sync with the Holy Spirit who would instruct us otherwise.
Christians are to be lovers of all persons, most particularly their own kin. This is the most fundamental test of our obedient submission to the Lord.
If we would willingly love him who first loved us, we would reach in to another’s life and give them the love they deserve.
If we resist this love that so beckons us, and remain in our stubbornness, we should expect the Holy Spirit to abide in us less and less. He is still there, just dormant in Presence.
It really is a very urgent thing: love our brother and sister like God does, right now.
No person should feel excluded in Christian fellowship because of exclusion for exclusion’s sake; indeed, the place where God’s people gather is welcome ground – a sanctuary – for all who need it.
***
The test of Christian character is how we love the outlier. That person who feels least accepted ought to be loved more than they expect. That person who is least confident ought to be encouraged and built up. That person who has least to say ought to be given the opportunity, first, to make their contribution. And our obligation of love is to listen.
We become Christ-in-us, by the Holy Spirit, when we love the ‘unlovely’, when love overcomes the fear to remain comfortable.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Smashing Out of Depression


Possibilities for healing are endless, yet we do not control them one iota.
God does.
There is the possibility we can smash our way out of certain depressions – and other mental health ills. Not all, of course. There are some maladies that seem immovable. But, then, of God’s grace, anything can possibly shift.
Smashing out of anything of the mind is not a violent phenomenon at all.
We need to get that straight as we begin.
But what isn’t violence does have impact and it does have a miraculous feel about it. It’s simply a paradigm shift that occurs. That first, and then, secondly, the courage to act in the moment – with no delay.
The first is God’s miraculous agency of revelation. The second is our immediate obedience to that calling of God placed on our lives to a very definite extent.
We may pray for a miracle. When we get it, loath are we to ignore what we are asked to do because of fear or doubting. God will not ask us to go into personal danger.
But a risk is almost always asked of us – to give up something precious. Sometimes when we are asked to give something up – like what happened with Abraham in Genesis 22 – God will not actually require it. But we need to be entirely ready to give anything up or commence anything that God leads us to do that will help.
The ‘smash out’ happens suddenly, yet it may need some shoring up to complete.
Perhaps it helps if we are guided in our journey by a wise and trusted advisor or two.
As I write I’m wary of being responsible in how I detail this. I have experienced this divine help more than once – more than once when depressed and once after a two-week bout of extraneous anxiety.
At the centre of our capacity to procure of God a way out is the tenacity to search.
If we are desperate to restore our health, God should see our tenacity and aid us by his revelation. There is just so much wisdom to be sorted through and tried on, however.
The search will require great patience.
***
Nobody in the tumult of depression wants to stay that way. Everyone wants a viable way out. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. But if we genuinely desire to work hard in courage there is a great deal of hope for the restoration of health.
Note: never should we take healing for depression for granted. Never should we imply a person is weak for being depressed and not being able to overcome it. The irony is enduring depression requires great courage and strength.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Totally Different Way To Do Life

The Breach. Jesus has come to show us how to live, but first we must die. We cannot live until we have died.
Now, before you stop reading, consider this: Why is it that life doesn’t work for us? When will life and its circumstances come to be at peace with our expectations for it? What are we to do with a life that seems to want to betray us? And even if we could grasp a better way to live, just how do we do it?
***
Life doesn’t work because we haven’t yet acknowledged the devil at work. A Christian’s character is to expect testing and temptations in this world.
When we get out of bed of a morning delirious with content because of the tests and temptations God will ask us to endure in his name, then we are blessed with the capacity to overcome. God would never compel us to overcome. We only overcome when we desire to overcome, because Jesus has overcome for us for all eternity.
***
Life and its circumstances will come to be at peace with our expectations as soon as we fit our expectations to the nature of life, first. Not the other way around. We will forever be disappointed if we are the bearers of our own expectations.
Dying to self is the wisdom of realigning all our expectations to God’s agenda.
***
Does life seem bent on betraying us? It can seem that way.
But what does life truly owe us? We are given life on a silver platter, and yet we begrudge the very things we are given. We are given possessions to steward and work to do. The former we delight in to possess, but we are to hold them loosely. The latter we enjoy because tasks are only relevant as channels of relational connection.
There really is no betrayal but our own coveting. Our complaints are a betrayal of God’s eternal grace that has gifted us with something as wonderful as life.
***
So even if we could grasp a better way to live, just how are we going to do it?
We must expect that life will test and tempt us. As we train ourselves in the awareness of the tests and temptations everywhere, we begin to become more aware.
If we dispel the foolish rationale that life is supposed to make us happy, we may then find a purpose and a meaning beyond happiness. Then we realise life is about dying to self so we can live (truly) for Christ – the only and the ultimate satisfaction.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Sort of Bizarre Kingdom Is This of Jesus’?


The paradox that is the kingdom of God, the church, and every vessel set apart for God’s use, is it’s a kingdom unrecognisable and unacknowledged in the world’s eyes.
Think about this Jesus who was about to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9, to the acclaim of the many who laid down palm fronds before his path on that ancient first Palm Sunday:
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
— John 11:55-57 (NRSV)
“Surely Jesus will not come to the festival, will he?”
Think of the mood. Many are there, speculating, totally aware of the precarious idea that Jesus might show his face. “Surely he will not come...”
But they wanted him to come! They didn’t expect he would come, but they wanted him. And those who would want him to come recognised, somehow, that he was king – Jesus was a king for their hearts.
***
How does this kingdom work? How can it crucify its Lord?
That’s just the point – this kingdom is not of the world nor of the chief priests and the Pharisees. This kingdom is not about a wealth that can be seen. Its wealth is in that which cannot be seen.
Jesus wasn’t going to suffer and be rejected, and then be crucified, because he was this world’s king or even the “king of the Jews”; he suffered and was rejected because he was a foreign and unrecognisable king to those of this world – the ones who think in this world’s terms.
***
Jesus is king of the heart or he is no king at all, so far as we are individually concerned.
The heart is an organ of integrity, a pump for passion, and the lifeblood of virtue. Only when Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts can we live with integrity, run with passion, and operate out of virtue.
The heart is the seat of the intentions and the wellspring of life.
If we are corrupt it’s because there is Christlessness in our hearts – we haven’t yet sought him to be our Lord.
***
Those who sought Jesus on that first Palm Sunday either had corrupt hearts or hearts after him. They were either after Jesus (to arrest him and bring him to trial) or their hearts were after him.
One thing we can know, however. Christ’s kingdom is no ordinary kingdom. It’s a kingdom not after material riches, but spiritual riches. It’s a kingdom not after visible wealth, but invisible wealth. It’s a kingdom not after a prideful heart, but a humble heart. It’s a kingdom not intent on the vice of the world, but the virtue of heaven.
Jesus’ kingdom pivots on the vision of a new heavens and a new earth.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Just WHO Is This Jesus of Yours?


The giants hit town recently and so captured our imaginations we didn’t quite know how to view these 11-metre diver and 6-metre girl puppets. So massive were their proportions they required a support crew of over a hundred red-clad ‘little’ people, and a purported one million people showed up to see the fantasy unfold. It was breathtaking.
You could say the city was abuzz. Our populace had never seen anything like it before – the imagination, the science, the engineering, the art. The prevailing attitude was buoyant on the wings of wonder and it verged into disbelief by observation of onlookers.
Many of us would speculate on the cost and dimensions of such an extravaganza.
With that in mind we come close to depicting what it might have been like to be in that happening metropolis, Jerusalem, the day Jesus entered it for the last time:
“Now after Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was abuzz, asking, ‘Just who is this man?’”
— Matthew 21:10
There were so many who rightly worshipped Jesus that first Palm Sunday, just days before the most significant Passover event in the history of the world. They had just witnessed the crowds ushering Jesus, saying, “Hosanna to David’s descendant! Blessing rests on him who comes in the Lord’s name. Hosanna in the highest!”
Yet, there were also those who were also just going along for the ride.
They were doing what was the popular thing. Some of them might also have been in the crowd not a week later, screaming, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Not everyone by any stretch knew who Jesus was.
We are faced with the same issue. The crisis of our lives is not how we will pay off our mortgage if we are made redundant, or how we will manage if our spouse leaves us prematurely, or, for that matter, what we will do if we are overcome by some disease or disorder. The crisis of our lives – from an eternal context – is knowing the salvation of Jesus Christ.
It’s not like these other situations that can easily happen to us are unimportant. We will be afflicted with anxiety, racked with grief, and undone by loss. But every negative thing pales in significance in view of the destination just beyond us.
The most important question of our lives could well be, “Just who is this Jesus?” He is not a religion. He is a man who cuts to the heart of life, death, and everything else. He is a man to be known. He’s a person to be experienced.
Jesus redefines life itself. His teaching, his life, his way, his example. Jesus is love. He’s peace. He’s justice. He’s hope. And, because of what he’s about to do on the cross, he’s grace. And, through the resurrection, come Sunday, he’s power for the abundant life and, indeed, he’s power over every impossible thing in God’s name.
This Jesus we enquire of is our power source, he’s our forgiveness, and he’s hope beyond this burdensome life and its perplexing complexities. This Jesus is the truth that sets us free. This Jesus is the love of God that teaches us a transforming love that forgives its enemies. This Jesus is the paradoxical power for peace – he’s a force giving us the credo, ethos, and desire to make peace with everyone so we might, finally, be at peace.
This Jesus is also a King. He’s the King over all kings. And his Kingship is one that was lauded that first Palm Sunday, and those who knew it were blessed about as much as anyone could be.
***
Who is this Jesus?
This living, incarnate Son,
God’s only eternal One,
Comes to each of us to save,
To make us ever honest and brave.
Lord and loving light,
Most precious in the Father’s sight,
Lord of every created being,
He is the only lordship that’s freeing.
King over all existence,
Monarch beyond resistance,
Jesus, the King over every king,
In the eternal heavens let it ring!
***
That’s who Jesus was that first Palm Sunday: God incarnate. Saviour from eternity, who makes us all we’ve ever wanted to be. Jesus is our Lord and loving light. His Lordship points us to his Kingship. There is no king like him.
***
Jesus is the truth that sets us free.
His love for us makes fear cease.
He gives us grace to forgive our enemy.
This Jesus is the power for peace.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Trusting God When Hope Fades

Moving home, with all its packing and stresses, changing workplaces, and having absorbed our fair share of shock and complicated grief, leaves us tired, but not without hope. Our hope is Jesus.
But it’s too easy to treat Jesus as the clich├ęd solution maker. Jesus doesn’t work that way.
This time of year, many people are going through change.
It can be easier than we think to start to question our hope. Doubting becomes us in a second having endured one frustrating event too many. Beset by dramas so often so unexpected we can really feel we’ve been tested beyond our capacity to cope.
Quickly we are pushed to the point of reacting – and emotions can take us in many different and unpredictable directions, for instance, sobbing, screaming, withdrawing or whining.
Having reacted we will have possibly overstepped the mark. Disappointed with ourselves for having hurt a loved one with something we said or how we reacted, or having said something to someone like a peer at work, we now have to make bold restitution. As if things weren’t bad enough!
Or, perhaps we’ve come to be depressed because we’ve become worn down emotionally and spiritually. Our thinking has responded to how we’ve felt and we are feeling more negative than usual and we can’t escape these feelings.
***
Getting up off the floor when we have been down and out for a while can seem too hard. Every effort looks laborious. We need to challenge our thinking.
Jesus came to remind us, that, through his crucifixion and resurrection, he’s made a way for hope in what seems hopeless. He’s made a way for peace even in torment.
Jesus said that “though me you shall have peace” and that we can “be of good cheer” because he’s overcome the world.
When we choose to have Jesus inhabit us by the Holy Spirit we are able to demonstrated radical trust to consider our trials pure joy.
Trust is obedience. And obedience – doing what Jesus says without question or complaint – is the way to an innovative way through any problem.
Sometimes we just need space to be real; a few minutes, an hour, a day.
But, as we hold two strategies together – the willingness to trust God without question, and the ability to back the pressure off ourselves – we have the way forward without backing ourselves into a corner.
***
Being gentle with ourselves is wisdom when hope fades. Just a little space makes a great difference. And trusting God is moving forward into hope.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Gift of Enjoying a Serenely Intentional Sadness


Images and music adorn my mind and what flourishes in the heart is a sense and connection for the Presence of God, all in the matter of a beautifully sacred and interminable sadness.
This is a gift. A gift like no other.
Only such gifts are given of God.
And, how can sadness be a gift? Should sadness not be lamentable and, hence, to be avoided at all costs?
Never. And this is why: sadness connects us with the fuller experience of being human. The emotions engaged, the mind suddenly able to experience what thoughts those feelings generate, there is a deep catharsis that only the Presence of God in us can procure and explain.
A series of images are looked at: the birth of my stillborn son. Playing a favourite gospel song, It Is Well, which envelopes my mind in a haunting paradox, I am caught up in high heaven.
Tears are able to pool for the unrequited sadness that will now last incessantly – a connection to loss all too effective in getting me into the heart of my healing Lord. The banks of a lower eye lid are breached and a single large, warming tear rolls down the cheek centimetres south.
God is with me in the very event. I’m soothed yet touched, saddened yet satisfied, aching yet at peace.
The experience of bathing in the Presence of God is second to none, merely for the fact that a soul-scolding experience is made never more meaningful. God was there. God is there. And, as the experience is replicated by the willingness of revisiting our associations of pain, we are healed each time, afresh.
God must want us to connect with such a way of contemplative prayer; every thought and emotion given to and countersigned by the Divine.
He must want us to know his holy Presence – that Presence that is so other-than everything of the world.
***
Let me attempt once more to write of pure experience.
Connecting with recent historical images, those most personal and private, with music that can only have its own personal and private meaning, there is a unique interaction swaged in the divine heart.
Entwined in some measure of divinely visceral intercourse, God makes one moment turn all our perceptions around. Feelings of connection are fused into my being.
In these moments of intentional melancholy...
The sadder I am in memorialising my loss, the fuller God makes me feel.
***
The purer the connection we make with our loss, the more profoundly we are met by our Lord.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Lessons In the Process of Extended Pain


“I haven’t always been a single man.
— Weddings, Parties, Anything, Father’s Day
Excruciating and never-ending. That’s two ways I’d describe the experience of a regular grief I’d feel every time I’d take my girls back home. Back to being alone again, without the ones I most loved, in a situation that I hated, was agonising and it lasted years. There was hardly anything that could shift the spiritual lament that came over me for a day or two hence each time.
And, yet, I haven’t felt that way in a long time now. With the girls having all but grown up, and having married again, there is now a new season.
It was the playing of the (“every Saturday it’s...) Father’s Day” song that sparked my memory for what life was like – for a few years.
I’m thankful for it now – that experience: the lonely exercise of forced singleness. I know God used such a hard and long-lasting thing to teach me what I could learn no other way.
I do not wish to sound glib. I do not want to patronise you who are facing this nemesis of loneliness – the single father or mother, among many who find themselves forced into their singleness; an extended period of great pain.
Even during these periods of anguish I could begin to appreciate that God was teaching me something I couldn’t learn any other way.
I took heart in that; my pain had a purpose, in that it was repetitive, and I would therefore not ever consider it insignificant. The anguish would change me; for the better. And I desired change. I was sick of the old me that landed me in this mess to begin with. And only I could say such a thing about myself.
As I entered into these sullen recesses of depression, God’s voice in me – his Spirit – beckoned me to search the things that might help. I read spiritual materials, including my Bible, I walked, I talked with God, I begged and cried, and... eventually... I learned.
My loneliest times taught me what even God could not teach me otherwise. I learned the value of learning is kindled in the crucible of agony. Learning about God, life, truth, and love occurs most powerfully when we are in our deepest pain.
***
Pain is never a waste, for there is no better teacher than pain. Her core subjects are Compassion, Kindness, Gentleness, and Patience.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.