Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Calling Card of the Character of Jesus

Authenticity, vulnerability, compassion: these three virtue – like all virtue – point to truth. The calling card of the character of Jesus is truth. All who recognise Jesus as Saviour, Lord and King are seekers and recognisers of truth (John 18:37). Truth is what sets the believer apart in their belief. Those who are still blind cannot see truth, and we are all occasionally deluded.
The calling card of the character of Jesus – notwithstanding his perfection – is, for us, authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion. These are solid comparators of the Lord present in us by the Holy Spirit.
The Character – the Very Image – of Jesus
Jesus is the exact expression of God’s nature; he expresses the very character of God. The Greek word for Jesus being the exact likeness of God in Hebrews 1:3 is the word, “character.”
If we epitomise the character of Jesus – adhering as best we can to expressing his likeness to God – a commitment to be a true disciple a day at a time – then we collect the idea that we must be wed to truth. And although truth is farthest from being abstract, it certainly becomes too abstract from our subjective experience of life.
We need something more tangible if we are to attempt to be the exact expression of God’s character.
This is why we break down the virtues of authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion. Jesus had these in copious amount. If we are characterised more or less as champions of authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion, then we represent, more or less, the truth. We are ready to ‘give ourselves up’ in the quest for a better ideal.
Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Compassion
It takes courage to be vulnerable and the effect is authenticity. Both of these reflect our willingness to live beyond fear committed to truth.
A softening has occurred within our hearts – a maintained and sustained softness – to exemplify compassion. Truth is represented by compassion in that everyone deserves consideration and dignity. When we realise life is not just and only about us, we are ready to be compassionate.
To invite and accept and embrace vulnerable authenticity in another person is to be compassionate enough that they know they can be. What a gift to shower on somebody!
Safety is implicit in these three – authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion. When we are courageous enough to be authentic and compassionate enough to allow others to be vulnerable, having modelled vulnerability ourselves, we have authentic interactions and relationships are a blessing.
Jesus’ calling card of character is truth. Where truth gains traction is when we can be authentic, vulnerable, and compassionate, and when we encourage, and even allow, others the same safe latitude.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is There A Purpose In Pain?

It scarcely defies reason that every human being feels pain—it is perpetual to the human experience. It comes with the life at birth and never leaves until death. Pain is a condition of life this side of eternity; and for some, purgatory will last forever more, but that’s a whole other debate and discussion!
Is there a purpose to pain, and is there a biblical answer? It’s a “yes” to both questions. There are two examples right from the top of my head, both leading to the same destination. The relevance to both is on what happens afterwards. But before we explore those, let’s dwell for a time on these thoughts:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C.S. Lewis[1]
“The greatest sermons I have ever heard were not preached from pulpits but from sickbeds. The greatest, deepest truths of God’s Word have often been revealed not by those who preached as a result of their seminary preparation and education, but by those humble souls who have gone through the seminary of affliction and learned experientially the deep things of the ways of God.”
Dr. M.R. De Haan[2] (Italics mine)
God doesn’t waste pain. It’s an intentional tool to assist us for the future, whether that is on this earth or in eternity. The second quote draws on the truth that it’s only those who’ve genuinely suffered who are often able to minister the best, with the most readable sources of compassion.
The “deeper magic” described in The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a pleasant and congruent metaphor. It was the paradoxical nature of Aslan’s suffering and sacrifice (an allegory for Christ’s) that revealed the deeper magic and crushed the otherwise ignorant white witch (Satan). The deeper magic could not be employed without the pain of sacrifice; a theorem completely foreign to our basic human experience.
Perhaps the only way to grow closer to God is through such an experience of humbly accepting the pain that comes our way. Here is part of the wonder of pain. We become inwardly shaped and matured people through the furnace of affliction. In simple terms, we grow.
Paul says,
“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
2 Corinthians 1:5
We never suffer alone. Yet, it’s only those truly of Christ who can identify properly with and gain from the purpose and wonder of pain—in its true and original context.
Others have no true idea how to best deal with it. They can only see what it costs them; it’s an utterly egocentric perspective that cannot contemplate there might be a good purpose in suffering. Yet, life is not really about us in that way. There is so much more to see than purely from only our own viewpoints. It’s from the overall life and growth perspective we derive real, sustaining comfort and hope.
Discipline is part of the purpose:
“At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.”
Hebrews 12:11 (Msg)
There’s a purpose to everything we experience in life. There has to be—we have to believe it. We just don’t always connect the dots. If only we could see visions from the perspective of hindsight and then we’d understand.
The wonder is in the paradox. For the personal cost of sacrifice for suffering well—in faith—there is a spiritual benefit that can’t be priced. The irony within the paradox is no one can understand this unless they see from God’s viewpoint; through Christ, his life, death and resurrection.
We must suffer well, in faith, with an open mind and heart. It’s the only card in the deck worth holding. The alternative, blaming God or others for our problems, is a deliberately hellish choice. Reason speaks for faith even though faith is not always reason-able.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham. Some Rights Reserved.
[1] Martin R. De Haan II, Why Would a Good God Allow Suffering – Discovery Series Bible Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: RBC Ministries, 2001), p. 12.
[2] De Haan, Ibid, p. 27.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Could This Be the Best Lesson About Loneliness and Boredom?

Ironies of life there are very many of. Look at this one: when we are lonely or bored we are likely to gain most being by ourselves. We are closest to our core selves when all barriers of distraction are removed – yes, loneliness and boredom are the states of feeling.
What I learned years ago when I couldn’t escape my loneliness was... just add God!
The more palpably lost within life we are, the closer to a salvation experience[1] we are. But we must add God. Boredom is similar, but it won’t prompt the sort of salvation experience that indelible loneliness ventured with God will.
The good news about bad news is that the worse it gets the more intense the experience of God’s Presence we may have as a result.
Humanity has a common problem. We all feel pain and try our best to avoid it. But it’s in pain that we learn most about ourselves. And it’s in loneliness that we find out who we are. If we go to God in that loneliness, believing in our hearts, we are met.
We feel we are met. That is how we are met. We feel because we believe.
When we are bored and we take our boredom to God in prayer, a salvation experience is something we don’t actually need. So God provides some revelation. We learn about life, about ourselves, and about others. We are taught discernment.
When we are lonely or bored, we do all we can to escape. Trouble is we will often do unhealthy things in our clamour to escape. Right before us is the opportunity: remain in the lonely or bored state and take God in there. It’s not an attractive invite, but we are shown by God many things when we arrive in our loneliness and boredom before him.
The paradox is we are probably never closer to a real experience of God than when we are truly lonely. And boredom is the invitation to grow in God.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

[1] I call a “salvation experience,” in this context, something of an experience of God breaking through the consciousness, saving the moment, teaching a vital life lesson that will prove beneficial for the future.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

10 Things I Learned Doing My Christmas Shopping

Christian life is the study and practice of learning and living the truth: to develop in wisdom, which is the meld of humility enough to learn, courage enough to try, and faith enough to keep going. Such a life leads us to know God is good, love is the way life works, and that Christ is the way to live.
So, in going shopping with my sixteen-year-old daughter and my twenty-month-old son, pre-Christmas, I’m reminded of my Christian obligation – especially wearing my “Jesus Saves” T-shirt. We too easily forget we have covenanted to love; that includes the display of the fruit of the Spirit when we are on the roads at peak hour or in the shopping mall just days from Christmas.
Here are some of the things God’s Spirit taught me:
1.      Slow down. When spaces are crowded we can’t move as quick. Give up attempting to do things quickly. A healthy level of resignation is helpful. Being highly strung and goal-oriented will only lead to stress, frustration, and anger.

2.      Be patient. Patience is required if joy is to show. Often times, in crowded and hot places, we need to tell ourselves to slow down and be patient.

3.      Keep a clear mind. I find that going shopping in a mind where I can focus helps when there is less space. Add a hurried mind to the frustration that comes from waiting, queuing, and having to interact with strangers and anger easily springs to the surface – if not at the shops, maybe at home later.

4.      One positive strategy is good-natured humour. Make the experience more enjoyable for others in the family by enjoying their company. Being joyful rubs off on others and helps people relax, but it needs to be respectful. It’s best to let those who are stressed be stressed.

5.      Compliment those working. It’s hard working in a busy and stressed environment, especially when the shopper is particularly materialistic as happens at Christmas time (ironically). Compliment them on their work. Be nice. Be kind. Use their name. Don’t add to their burden.

6.      Take the time to put things back. Sometimes, in our laziness or hurry, we might put items back in the wrong spot. Someone may pick it up and think it’s a different price, and, when they have to pay a larger price, an argument may ensue.

7.      Be open to being generous. Shopping with others, particularly friends and family, is an opportunity for blessing; to be generous. Be creative. And being generous means we are unconditionally giving.

8.      Take a regular spiritual audit. Keeping our emotions in check is up to us. I’ve found the times I’ve successfully kept my emotions buoyant are the times I’ve remained continually emotionally aware. Ask: “Am I being patient?” “Am I being kind?”

9.      Smile at the strangers – they don’t generally bite. A checked sense of joy helps lighten the mood anywhere. If we have a fake smile or try too hard it irritates people. But being ourselves we can effuse joy if we truly feel it.

10. Thank God. Most people who will read this article complain most about First World problems. I do. So, probably, do you. As we do our shopping we ought to be aware of how blessed we are to have the resources and the opportunity to shop.

One important way we glorify God as a Christian is to shop well – being patient, kind, and generous.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.