Sunday, April 28, 2013

God, Make Me a Man

“God, make me a man with thick skin and a soft heart. Make me a man who is tough and tender. Make me tough so I can handle life. Make me tender so I can love people. God, make me a man.”
— Darrin Patrick, Church Planter (2010)
On the day of my induction to pastoral ministry at Lakeside Baptist Church in Perth, Western Australia, the very day I write this in fact, I was given this quote, above, that rings with the drone of ancient truth through the Spirit in me. It was given to me by a younger man, a high-performance athlete, a man after the heart of God in being a real man; a man I have the utmost respect for because of the ardency through which he adheres to the truth in his life. So, when he gave me a special hand-written note—with the quote inscribed within it—it was the most treasured object and interaction I took from the day.
The note was both an encouragement and a challenge.
I could not help exploring this wisdom from God through his faithful servant. The note was signed off, “Much love & HAZAK.” An encouragement and challenge.
Be Strong (Hebrew: Hazak)
The core of the message, the precious ore that is reclaimed in the words, presented as a stockpile of manly beauty, is to be strong. But to be strong is to be shrewd around what it really means.
To have thick skin and a soft heart is no easy task; perhaps there is nothing harder. But this is the inevitable task for the man of God—the man resonating Christ from within and permeating outwards.
The prayer I was given reflects the prayer I’m sure God wants all of us men to pray. Being that it’s a prayer from the Spirit of God, himself, to me, through this faithful brother in Christ, it shall be my prayer now, too.
To be strong is not much to do with physical strength, though at the same time it is everything about the application of courage that underpins physical strength in the heat of battle. It seems to me that the strength we apply in a physical battle is that selfsame strength we apply in a spiritual battle. It comes from within; from the Holy Spirit within, bound upon our obedience to the Spirit.
Such strength to “be strong” is manifest in the perfect balance of having thick skin yet a soft heart; a thing I will now ever strive for. Thick skin is for the challenges and pressures of life—some of which are relational. A soft heart is all relational; the ability to allow others their success even if at a personal cost.
God, make me a man; honest with myself, honest with others as much as you will allow, and above all honest with you. My honesty will join your blessing to make me thick-skinned yet soft-hearted. Then I will be a man. AMEN.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Dedicated to Ben Beran.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

3 Keys to Kindness

“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”
— George Sand[1]
We can well imagine for all the life in us how we are to live the most prosperous of lives. Most of us think that. Most of us want that; the access to and the ability to enjoy abundance. How do we gain such a life? What investment is required?
If we accept we live in an upside-down world where those who take are taken from and where those who give receive even more, we are well placed to receive this truth.
Kindness is at the heart of blessing; that sort of other-centredness that has us rejecting the overtures of the flesh, yet clamouring with any minds for how we might serve another.
Kindness is at the heart of blessing.
It bears repeating and that’s why I have repeated it. Kindness is at the heart of blessing.
There are at least three tangible ways we express kindness:
1.      Giving without hesitation: holding things lightly is a great blessing in itself. It proves we are directed by the Holy Spirit so far as our decisiveness is concerned. Because we cannot take to heaven any material thing, besides perhaps our character of soul, we should be motivated to give without hesitation. When we give without hesitation others receive what we give with more genuine appreciation.
2.      Losing without regret: when things disappear from our grasp we have a choice how we receive those losses. We are not blown by many winds if we have removed the sails of our greed. Nothing that disappears is entirely regrettable, but we must think past grappling for the thing that has gone.
3.      Acquiring without meanness: because we can take things in this life, as they lay there physically within our grasp, we may often forget the morality of acquiring. Things should only be acquired at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. In acquiring there is never any good in leaving a sour taste in someone else’s mouth.
Kindness is at the heart of blessing. It’s the consummate manifestation of love. When we give without hesitation, lose without regret, and acquire without meanness we come close to this thing called kindness. There is no better legacy than kindness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

[1] a.k.a., Baroness Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin (1804–1876)

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Only Right Way To Give Up

Giving up can sometimes be the easiest thing we could do and sometimes it’s the hardest. Depending on what it is we are considering giving up, and whether we even seem to have a choice or not, makes a big difference. Giving up smoking is a completely different matter than giving up a health and fitness program because it seems too hard at the time.
So, what is the right way to give up when giving up is either a very good thing or an extremely bad thing, depending on circumstance?
Perhaps we need to boil it down and reduce it to the only way we should give up: to give over our will to God. This is the only right way to give up: to give in to the Spirit of God as we discern it in truth.
When we have given up our will to God, ever prepared to implement what we discern, we have both the information and power to give up what is good to give up and to sustain what we shouldn’t give up.
This way of giving up—of giving our will to God, to be massaged, moulded and formed by his Spirit—is the only way we begin with a basis that honours the truth in wisdom. Such an honouring of truth will be blessed and not cursed, for we have entrusted ourselves to God who knows and provides every good way.
God alone holds our present and future in the palm of his hand, and by our decisions we are made.
Whenever we find ourselves surrendering to God, alone, we find ourselves at peace; we experience this serene sense for joy; our eyes are opened to love—to see what we should see; and we detect other Fruit of the Spirit permeating within and from without us.
This sort of giving up—of giving up our will to God, alone—is the only blessed sort of giving up there is. All other forms of giving up should commence from this one. And if one form of giving up doesn’t rest in the will of God, it isn’t for us to take any further; we should dismiss it.
We’re all tempted to give up and there are some things, no matter how hard we try, that we don’t seem to be able to give up. Giving up is not the point. The point is giving up our will to know and do the will of God. Giving up should have every basis (or it has no basis) from the datum mark of God. God gives us power to give up the bad and to sustain the good, but we must do his will.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Enduring the Passive Aggressive

Some people cannot help being passive aggressive when life turns a way they don’t like—which is characteristically most of the time. Actually, we are all tempted to behave in passive aggressive ways. Most of us have engaged in it.
So what is it: passive aggressiveness?
It is covert anger. When someone can’t get their own way they resort to resistance even when it appears they are cooperating. They have no intention of cooperating. They have every intention of creating mayhem under a guise. Their smile is really a sneer. Their “Fine, love to help” is really a “Fine! We’ll see, buddy.” They think pathologically; and negative agenda continually the pattern.
Many of us have someone in our family or within our workplaces that exhibits this sort of problematic behaviour. No matter what we try they may insist on doing everything they can to bring off the win. Everything is a competition and selfishness is the drive. But they seek the win in ways to not cause enough ripples that we’ll attack them back. It’s about the scheming undertone of their demeanour.
What can we do to endure them?
One Idea: Lose with Grace
Yes, lose! Keep reading.
When winning is no longer the key to our agenda, and our agenda swings to favour them, we win when they win. But this is not submission. This is actually choosing to take the upper hand; to give them what they want; to rise above the pettiness; to make a heavenly statement of tack by dying to self.
Losing with grace will not be a popular choice of tactic. Many will think we are a pushover, and that’s exactly what it looks like. But who has control? Who has made the choice as to how each situation will play out? Who will never become discouraged? Who is to remain cheerful, despite their reaction? Who truly has the power?
Only the mature person can die to self so consistently as to rise above the passive aggressive person and win while the passive aggressive thinks they are winning. So long as winning is not the point to us, and serving the passive aggressive is the point—and better with the purest of hearts to that end—we rise above all our frustration, and we divert our emotional energy into a spiritual exercise of giving all the glory to God.
The sense for victory that we gain in losing at one level but winning on another is a heavenly prospect. Nothing can come close to the blessings of God encapsulated in knowing there is nothing any human being can do to upset us. That is our vision.
If nothing can upset us in this world we truly belong to God—in the sense of our solemn devotion. When everything of Earth fades away we can endure the passive aggressive and every other problematic person. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Depressed Ebb ‘n’ Flow in Grief

Not everyone who manifests as depressed has depression.
Very often people who are undergoing massive life change end up in a grief-laden depression, purely because their identities have been shaken to the core. It would be normal for anyone else to react the same way, give or take individual differences. It is, therefore, crucial that we attain and maintain a balance for what it is that ails us. Sometimes just knowing that it is grief we are dealing with helps in understanding the reason for the depression.
Knowing the reason we are depressed is as important as the solution itself.
The Island Called ‘Grief’
When we are beached on the island named grief, having become marooned as if beyond our will, we need to understand certain characteristics about being on such an island.
Some days we stand on the beach, looking out over the stormy seas, we imagine being rescued as a fanciful reality. We despair. Yet, for no apparent reason other days we turn around and go and explore the island. These days we have enough courage to hope.
There are two days, distinctive in their difference, and both useful:
1.      Dark Days for Rest: we reconcile whatever encouragement we can get from the rest we need. We take our time on these days. We are gentler on ourselves. We lower our expectations on ourselves. We don’t feel guilty for feeling incapable. Instead, we see it as a sign from God to back off just now. Wisdom has us seeking a spacious-enough respite.
2.      Lighter Days for Exploration: days of hope do arrive, for some reason, and we often don’t know why. We think we’re over the grief—things are getting better. But we are advised not to get too far ahead of ourselves, and instead take the opportunities to explore the island within the bounds of the energy we have. We try to enjoy such days, and achieve what we can.
Not everyone who is depressed has depression. Sometimes it’s grief we’re experiencing.
Grief-laden depression is a forwards-backwards land where the ebb and flow of grief work takes place. Any significant life change will bring this about. Whether our days are good or bad is irrelevant; what’s important is that there is work we can do in either hopefulness or despair.
Grief is the opportunity to make the transition from one idea of identity to another. Being depressed is part of the journey. There is a way of accepting and working with both the good and bad days.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Deeper Joy In Truth-Filled Sadness

Joy can be an upside-down quality of virtue that we experience even from within the emptiest of situations, because of the truth; to know reality is not passing us by. We are living it. By living the truth of reality—including its sadness—we know all too well there is a depth to life that may only be discerned when we have approached life with such boldness, come what may.
When we learn that joy is ever present and constantly available we are forced to review our definition of it.
We find joy when we are mature in the context of the truth in reality.
We find joy in the irrelevant moment, in the mystery, and well beyond our sense; simply by sitting in it; in the depths of reality—of existence that cannot be changed, influenced, nor condemned.
By entering boredom or agony or concern we watch for the white space in our minds—that place where the true and accessible us lives and belongs. That place is real, but somehow we must break past our initial fear to comfort ourselves to attain it.
Maybe only the truth-filled moments are real; perhaps it’s all the ‘preservatives added’ and bulk processed moments stripped away. Possibly, we can take the opportunity to be the church more when we are broken down and worshipping in truth.
Sitting in the pit of reality, with no pretension about us, with truth all about and none of it denied, God is real and God speaks; audibly through the ventricles of our felt experience—not in words, but through imagery, mysterious and captivating. This is powerful and nothing can touch it.
This is one of the wonderful wonders of the Gospel.
Nothing can defeat us if we have joy in sadness; the ability to access reality in truth and know God is there despite pain. This joy is not happiness, but it is the contentedness to move beyond the otherwise scaling resentment that kills our hope.
Such a thing as beautiful as this is to be beheld; it captivates us because it moves us and has us blossoming in growth from within.
God is good in that he offers us reality; the truth-filled experience, vast and gaping, with the sheer fullness of his prevailing Presence. When we imagine God there with us, no matter the emotion, we imagine his love shining through as empathy, as care, as grace, and we are moved to hope, and hope transforms us in peace.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Forgiveness When We’ve Felt ‘Silly’

In my line of work it’s a regular thing to have people come say to me, “Forgive me for being a burden... (or) for being silly.” The interesting thing is I don’t think these sorts of people are a burden at all, and they certainly are not silly.
Those who are inclined to think they are a burden are generally very caring types—when they mean what they say about being a burden. They may know you can help, but all the same they feel uncomfortable that they may have exacted too much from you, or extracted too much from the transaction.
Those who feel they have been silly, on the other hand, might have self-esteem issues. They feel uncomfortable being the slightest bit weak—in a public forum where at least one other knows the unction of affliction in their heart.
We burden ourselves too much when we feel we have burdened others too much; especially those who are paid, and no less, called, to care.
Having someone else apologise to us to the point that no matter how they apologise they won’t forgive themselves is such a tragedy. They have done the restitution, but they can’t experience the grace of God—and power for healing—because they, themselves, block its passage.
It’s such a waste, for nobody gets anywhere when one person refuses to receive the forgiveness God has ordained for them.
But a deeper problem underlies this situation.
Long ago, in the fathomless past, lies the shaming ghosts of bygone eras that continue to arise within a person. We could be an octogenarian, making sure heading for dementia, to realise that these swarming ghosts of the soul are horrendous in their impact, even now.
Our unreconciled pasts—when they remain untackled—can very well disturb the cadence of our futures; it too often occurs that way. What we cannot deal with infests us. When we leave emotional problems as they are—sure evidence of cognitive issues—the geophysical plates of our spiritual foundation shift under considerable seismic pressure.
We—all of us—are blessed so very much when we wrangle with our pasts in order that our pasts might make steady way for a better future.
The contented person is able to fully receive power for healing in God’s forgiving grace. There is no need to continue to feel we have been silly or a burden to someone. We are all masters of making mistakes and of going emotionally awry. It’s okay. Perfection is nonsense.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Faith for the Struggles and Calamities of Life

“What a blessed truth to understand that, in the midst of all our difficulties and calamities, we have a refuge.”
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963)
It’s a very common thing for Christians to wonder how non-Christians—or those without ‘faith’—endure the bad things that happen to them in life. Of course, it’s a tragic irony that many Christians don’t endure the way they might initially boast. The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. None of us are immune to backsliding into an abyss.
But it is a reasonable question: how do we live without God?
Many are the self-sufficient (including Christians, for that matter) who rely on nothing but themselves and on many varieties of situational gods. Our flesh submits that self-sufficiency will be a constant threat that hangs over all our lives. It’s not just a phenomenon of theology; it’s a fact of reality. We cannot help but fall short.
The more we look at it, the more we realise—as both Christians and non-Christians—we are all in the same boat. It’s a boat that sails without direction, hope or purpose. The only real rudder or sail to catch the breeze is the Spirit of God as we listen, comprehend, commit, and obey.
So, for everyone there is a choice: to endure by fighting the good fight of the faith—which is, paradoxically, no fight at all, but a replete surrender—or rely on our own steam; on the endless wind that comes from the pockets of foolish energies devoid of God.
When Our Worlds Come Crashing down
Most people survive very well without God—or they think they do—until their world comes crashing down. That’s when God is really needed. And that’s when true knowledge of God is both made known and potentially assimilated.
But we run afoul if we treat God as, “In emergency, break glass to access God.”
It might be fine to react to the shock of a dramatic life struggle by clawing for God, but it is not fine to ‘utilise’ God in the depths of despair and then to move on beyond God when things get better.
God cannot be ‘transcended’.
We need God not only for those desperate times, but also for steadier growth in the good times, as we allow the Spirit to mature us in the normal rub of life. For this normal life we were saved; to make our contribution in honouring God.
To have established a relationship with God is the right step in organising ourselves access to a faith that works—most especially when the going gets tough.
Without God we struggle on our own and do a pretty poor job of it. At least with God on our side we have the resources and the direction to deal with our trials. God reminds us in our difficulties that we don’t need to be strong, just strong enough to call on him—our Refuge.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Calling Hope a Good Friend

“True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome. True hope responds to the real world, to real life; it is an active effort.”
Walter Anderson
There is this sense that true hope, in the above context, is a panacea for life. For many, however, hope is but a pipedream. So many live without hope. It seems so far beyond them. But hope is reachable especially when we consider how we access it.
Where hope dwells is in reality. Now, this can be a scary prospect.
One of the mountains we must climb in life is the mountain of reality; it is a bigger mountain for those who have dealt with horrendous realities. Those, otherwise, who have had blessed realities find reality a bit of a doddle. They do not wrangle for their hope like those who have endured horrendous realities.
So this is an article purposed in finding the location of hope for the person who has dealt with horrendous realities—the person estranged to the location of hope, because, by its very nature, hope has appeared threatening.
The Coherence of Hope and Reality
When we discover that hope and reality cohere with each other it is a light-bulb moment.
Then, depending on our perception of reality—whether it’s a scary thought or not—we grapple with the truth, knowing that the truth cannot harm us when we invoke courage.
When we can deal with reality we can approach hope. When reality no longer scares us, because it shouldn’t (in an ideal world), we have immediate access to the hope we need—to the thing that fuels our faith. We need to make our realities safe enough that we can deal with them.
When we are hope-filled we grasp our realities without fear, even if they would normally be attributed as fearful.
Reality is a beautiful concept, again, if we don’t have to deal with the scariness of it.
So when reality is coped with—when we don’t try to run away from life—and that takes courage, resolve, tenacity, and strength of resilience—we have hope. We have access to a thing we cannot truly define. But defining it doesn’t matter when we have it.
Hope coheres with reality. If we can cope with our reality we have access to hope. Coping with reality is made easier when we understand God simply wants us to have the best of life. When we understand God’s reality hope really is only an arm’s length away. God offers us hope today; a hope made real in Jesus Christ.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Joy in Simply Keeping Up

“Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Matthew 6:34b (NRSV)
So far as time’s concerned, we were never meant to get ahead in life.
Sure, we can do our homework, set all our plans, prepare everything possible, but still tomorrow comes—and tomorrow there is more homework, more plans to develop, and more preparations to make. Should this get us down? No, it shouldn’t. But we’re so apt to want the easier life that we’re prepared to do any hard work we can do today that will save some heartache tomorrow. But then tomorrow comes and we get less value from our planning and preparation than we’d like to have got.
But we can either be discouraged about the length, fatigue and success (or otherwise) of our days or we can choose a more appreciative outlook. Life is simply about keeping up and enjoying each and every step of the process. If our expectations of ourselves are limited to simply keeping up, we can succeed more and more.
Life is Simply About Keeping Up and Enjoying It
Now, besides the wearing grind of life, there’s joy in keeping up.
If we’ve survived until now—we’ve not succumbed to tiredness or failure too much—and each moderately successful day has advanced us to the next—then tomorrow will come and tomorrow will be conquered. We know this by all the challenges we’ve met thus far. And even the days that have conquered us prove that we’re stronger than the worst day by the fact we’re still here.
Keeping Up Is a Purpose of Life
There is joy in keeping up. Let us not listen to the discouraging voices that bellow their tired reminders through our weary souls; we can, otherwise, simply praise God that we have the choice to be tired. We submit to the tiredness or we continue on. Either outcome is okay.
Let us not listen to those discouraging thoughts that riddle our thinking with despair. Keeping up is a purpose of life. Keeping up is blessed. Keeping up means we’re doing okay. By keeping up we have the odd moment to plan the next moment of intentional rest.
It’s never too late to start trying. If you’re keeping up with your workload today or tonight, or even if you have aspirations to keep up (though you’re struggling to do so), well done. Keep on keeping up.
There is great joy to be gleaned in simply keeping up. When we remain focused in life, keeping up is the reward. Simply keeping up is its own joy because we prove ourselves to be competent. Today is all we need to focus on—it has enough trouble of its own. Praise God, we only need enough energy and inspiration for one day.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

The Blessedness of Brokenness

“Bad things happen to everyone. It isn’t your experiences that define your life. It’s your responses that make or break you... I only ever hire staff who’ve been hurt deeply. People who’ve never suffered tend to be shallow and smug about others’ pain.”
Rick Warren
This is difficult to write, for there will invariably be a person who reads this who feels they’ve not suffered enough. But then there are those who will be encouraged; their present or past suffering means something. It has something of value for life, for God, for others, for themselves.
God never wastes a hurt, they say. And it’s true. It’s no bum cliché. Hurts are never wasted, for they are the starting point for a whole new paradigm for living; one that sees life, and honours it, for what it really is.
In case you haven’t noticed there is an incredible amount and variety of suffering in this world. Before we’re broken we cannot see it, but then God—by our circumstances—turns the volume up; affliction is a screeching siren that cannot be drowned out. There is so much agony in this world that we were destined to wrangle with; not to depress a person, but to motivate and inspire them to make a difference for the purpose of advocacy.
Two Critical and Abiding Facts
1.      Bad things happen to all of us.
2.      Our choice compels us to respond as God would have us respond or as we would have us respond. One response is harder initially, but it’s the path to life. The other response seems the wisest and to make the most sense—to complain or deny. But the latter response—the commonest of responses—takes us nowhere; we learn nothing. Our choice must be to go with God in the midst of our suffering, notwithstanding how bizarre or painful it seems.
God honours the servant who, in choosing servanthood over being their very own monarch, expresses childlike (not childish) faith, to follow when few else would.
When we turn toward God and not away—upon our suffering for the bad things that occur to us—we are honoured and the ultimate end point is blessing; we will be privileged to help other unfortunates, because, in the grips of our agony, we honoured God by continuing to follow in faith. So, we are trusted to help others in their agony.
God uses hurt people to great effect, but only once they have done the work of their anointing. Those who’ve been broken—and who’ve done their healing work—end up being the most spiritually-gifted servants in the Kingdom. There is no pretence about them. They honour those who come after them in memory of their own suffering.
God invariably has to wait until a person is broken before he can use them to great effect for the Kingdom. Those broken by pain at least once in their lives should rejoice. Their pain has meant something. God uses it. They are blessed to be a blessing.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.