Monday, August 29, 2016

The Paradox of Self in the Art of Service

God doesn’t need us, but, shudder to think, He wants to use us to build His Kingdom for His glory.  For, when His Kingdom is built, it is for His glory, which also means it’s the best result for all concerned — beautiful outcomes of love merged with truth.
The paradox of self in the art of service is two concepts, enjoined, united, complementary, together for the act of teamwork.  ‘Self’ and ‘service’ would otherwise be inanely foreign, but for the fact that when the self is stripped of all pride and self-consciousness, it’s the very agent for success in the concept of service.  See how ‘self’ and ‘service’ may be worst of enemies and best of friends, depending on whether self is full of self or emptied of self.
The paradox of self in the art of service is such that only the self is able to serve, yet the self is acting as if it were not just a self — it’s acting out of interdependence.  And only when the self chooses passionately to serve is service truly what God designed it to be; a Holy Spirit sponsored act completely devoid of selfishness.
Service is always a thing for another, and in this case, principally God, though others are directly blessed.
In the way of the Kingdom, service is something that’s known by its fruit.  It has an indelible and tangible effect.  Coming without an agenda, a person serves out of the sheer delight of being God’s emissary, ironically, without even the need to serve.
So, service is a paradox: we serve out of the delight that we can, though without feeling any pressure of the need to serve.  True service, hence, is about devotion and not about duty.
Serving God requires availability and willingness; nothing else, certainly nothing that we can ‘bring’.  Then the Holy Spirit shows us what to do.  It’s then that God shows us He’s alive, with us, in the very minute service we’re doing.
The lasting paradox of service is that God will do greatly through us what, through us, He requires no help from us on.  Only through complete reliance on His will and power will our service amount to anything Kingdom-worthy.
The best of service is done through the self, devoid of self, fully dependent on the Spirit.
Serving is the final corrective of the self.  To serve joyfully is the final subjugation of the self.
When we resolve to be open to whatever God is doing, free of need to add our competence, we’re powerful instruments of God’s grace.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When We Can Only Love Those Who Bear God’s Image

“And just as we have borne
the image of the man made of dust,
we will also bear
the image of the heavenly man.
— 1 Corinthians 15:49 (HCSB)
God showed me something at the shopping mall.  Every individual was beautiful before me; every unique soul, living a matchless life, in the service of hope, for a purpose they determined as best.  As I looked everywhere, all about me was the same image; myriads of people, all beautiful, all beloved, all bearing the same resemblance.  And as I looked, God did something in my heart; all indifference, intolerance, and cynicism ebbed away, and with it, all vanity.  Suddenly, my heart was so full of love, my mind had no space for anything else.
This experience lasted ten minutes.  Then I became my troubled self all over again.
But God proved something to me.  The more we see what is patently true in every person, the more we see what’s true within ourselves — we’re all due love.  To love and be loved.  If we can determine that another person is due love, surely we’ll ascribe the same beneficence to ourselves.
As I looked about me in the shopping mall — a menagerie of cultures, colours, and creeds to be seen — I saw the common plight of humanity: the striving of each one for a life of hope, for justice and mercy, and a life of purpose.  With purpose, all humanity can struggle through, but without purpose any privileged life is a prison.
Our personalities make it possible that we could worship and serve God.  And when we worship and serve God, we’re closest to bearing His image.  But whether we worship or serve Him or not, we still bear His image, even as we bear the image of Adam in our sin.
When we realise that every single human being is sacred, precious in God’s sight, not for what they’ve done, but for who they are, then we begin interacting with all life differently.  And, whilst we ought not to idolise another human being, we worship and serve God well when we love those who bear His image.
When our hearts of full of love, our minds have no space for indifference or hatred.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Greater the Despair, Deeper the Gospel’s Grace

“Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory.  See how really no one is against us!”
— John Chrysostom (349–407)
Such is the power of the gospel in the dross of life that even in loss there is victory, where we live as if, in that defeat, it was victory.  For only in defeat, when things are not going according to plan, do we get the compelling opportunity to show how different our lives are, living joyously for hope in spite of loss, for the sake of Christ!
This is why there is more to celebrate in despair than in hope, for in despair our attitude should rise on the wings of hope.  The more we’re thwarted, the more God is with us through a joy that overcomes that thwarting through patient perseverance.
But responding in this gospel way is so counterintuitive that it’s hard even when we know it’s God’s will that we respond that way.
Yet we only need to respond this way once, and we experience its power.
We only need to respond in this counterintuitive way once to experience Christ’s gospel power.  Likewise, we only need to cry out to God in our distress once, for one night, and finally we experience the truth of God’s promise; a joy indwelling relief that comes after an exhaustingly despairing lament, simply because we’ve knelt before God’s honour in pleasing Him.  God’s Presence in and through us, having pleased Him in surrendering to His will, becomes its own compelling evidence.  Such strength in comparative weakness to obey, not to be overcome by our own screaming desires!
This is why this gospel way works: faith goes ahead of reason, knowing that God is faithful, and, in doing what is right, faith alone is revealed as blessed — despite how we feel when things are so wrong.
The more things appear to be against us, whilst we know God is for us, the more our hope shines in spite of myriad despairs and difficulties.  Nothing is truly against us in the totality of all spiritual realms when God is for us.
Trust in His Spirit, rely on His strength, obey His Word, and all will go well, especially when there are many hardships.
Nothing else works like it in all of God’s creation: the greater our despair, the deeper is the gospel’s reach through grace into our lives.
The more we’re touched by grief and loss, the more we’re reached by grace and love.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gap Standers, Discouragement, Disillusionment and Despair

“For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed — beyond our strength — so that we even despaired of life.”
— 2 Corinthians 1:8 (HCSB)
In the antiquity of Ezekiel 22:30 it seems you’re called to stand in the gap; to bring to a person, or a people, perhaps a family or a church, and certainly a situation, to a definitive hope.
You’re an advocate.  Prepared, as called of God, to do what only you’re positioned to do.  You’re prepared, as called, to do what you feel led by God’s Spirit to do.  And it’s going to cost you.  And you know it.  It’s just you don’t know how or when or, frustratingly, why.
Advocates are always caught on the blindside.  The enemy waits until we’re least ready, yet already equipped for discouragement, ripe for disillusionment, primed for despair.
You’ve experienced the victory, and you’ve been softened by the feel-good sense of cushy pride; what you accomplished.  It was a massive conquest.  It took so much ingenuity and innovation, guts, temerity, and resources that could only be supernaturally sponsored.  God showed up!  But then, when you’ve been alone yet a little while, BAM!
Struck by a circumstance that I’m sure is orchestrated by God, we’re plunged into an abyss of desolating anguish — even despairing of life itself.  (Isn’t it heartening that even the apostle Paul was goaded many times to give up.)
It will happen.  It has happened, and it will happen again.  It’s the common destiny for those who stand in the gap.  And it’s for this reason: we need it, for we would become conceited otherwise; made a god by our own resources, blasphemously, for it’s always done in the name of the Lord.
When the winds of discouragement, disillusionment, and despair blow hauntingly through seasons of our lives we’re backwashed by how alone we feel.  We do feel betrayed of the faithfulness of the Lord.  It seems to have failed.  But God never fails.
God is in those winds that whistle with eerie silence that only we can hear.  He is there, even if it feels He’s not.  God has brought to us these winds for a reason.  We’ve been an advocate, and we’ve succeeded at that.  But that’s not all there is.  God wants more for us than that.  God wants us to know we need Him, because we do.  It’s for this reason: on a place like earth, and in living this life, we will face injustice because we’re made in God’s image, because to be made in the image of God is to think and anticipate and expect to be a god.
Yet, though we’re made in God’s image, we’ll never have claim-at-truth on being a god.  So, it is good for us that injustice occurs to us.  It reminds us we’re not God.
Now, stand in the gap, in the knowledge you’ll be struck down, and take it the best you can, knowing you’re allowed to lament through your recovery, and be patient; God’s taking you to a higher order of spiritual consciousness.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eugene Peterson, Pastoral Work and Eschatology

“Pastoral work devoid of eschatology declines into a court chaplaincy — sprinkling holy water on consumerist complacency and religious gratification.”
— Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eschatology for the uninitiated is about the end; ultimately death, judgment, destiny of soul and humankind.  But there’s a nuance of eschatology in pastoral work that Peterson identifies as crucial in the journey beyond the grips of ‘religion’ that stifles all spiritual progress.  We have to get beyond legalism, but we also need to get beyond a comfortable never-comes-the-end spirituality.
As Jonah advanced into Nineveh he was steeled in his approach: the people were shortly to be overthrown if they didn’t repent.  And his rebuke was heard even by Nineveh’s king.  He repented.  As did the whole city.  That didn’t make Jonah happy, but that’s a story for another day.
It should make every pastor’s day when he or she witnesses the repentance of a person with which they have some influence.  The Holy Spirit has convicted the person, sometimes with the pastor’s help, sometimes without.  Any change amid repentance is a miracle of God’s willing and working grace.
The people of Nineveh had forty days to mend their ways.  Purpose at the forefront.  The end in sight.  Suddenly there’s an imperative.  A cosmic size nine boot.  Immediately there’s attention given to the enormity of the work at hand.  It’s the pastor’s dream that people around them are caught in the full beam of God’s headlights — stunned from frozenness into action.
Many pastors abandon their calling because they find themselves ineffective in changing people’s lives, when that’s the Holy Spirit’s job alone.  They get burned out doing anything in their power to give the Holy Spirit a leg up.  They finish frustrated, because they still took on too much.  That’s why pastoral work can seem to be a mystery.  It’s not our effort that brings results, but we must certainly do all we can to biblically position a person’s thinking.
Peterson suggests that “Without eschatology the [fishing] line goes slack and there is nothing pulling us to the heights, to holiness, to the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.” (p. 144, Under the Unpredictable Plant)
Pastoral work must have some urgency about it.  The Christian journey is impelled better by no other force that by thought of the imminent end.
The end will come eventually; of our careers, our lives, of life.  We have now the choice.  To do God’s will, His urgent will for now, not for tomorrow.
Spiritual progress is about being uncomfortable without feeling forced; relying on God without becoming bound by rules.  That’s a balance the pastor is trying to facilitate in lives within their influence.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Content Refugee in a Willing Exile

The words of Psalm 137 are deplorably salient.
But the reality for the exiles sitting on the banks of the rivers in Babylon was ever more sorrowful than we can imagine.  Unless you’ve been exiled.  And there are plenty of veritable exiles.  By virtue of being forced into a life-tending and heart-rending situation, we experience exile.  We’re taken captive to a place, a situation, a time we’d never ever choose for ourselves.  Such a place, situation, and time is commonly called grief.
Grief is a time of exile.  What we never asked for, and never would — the loss, which is, in reality, a plethora of tangible and intangible losses — we find is such an irrepressible and irreversible lament.  We sit at the banks of that foreign place and weep.
What seems ever too real,
a sorrow all too sorrowful,
also seems all too surreal;
too unreal to feel,
yet feeling such reality is ever too hard.
Then, after a while,
what was ever too surreal,
feelings wrestled with in reality,
becomes a reality real enough to feel;
a new, acceptable reality emerges,
and hope returns.
Being exiled is designed to teach us to depend on nothing, to covet nothing, and to fear nothing, so that in fearing nothing, coveting nothing, and depending on nothing is to fear and covet only God, and to depend on Him alone.
Grief is an exile of the soul, where, for a time,
the soul is exiled from hope, joy, and peace.
When the soul is returned from exile,
or learns to live accepting its lot,
the gift of contentment is found.
The gift of contentment in exile
shows the exiled the Presence of God
transcends the exile.
God’s always present,
and the exiled learn
that’s all that matters.
Contentment is a state of soul
that hopes, and enjoys peace with life,
simply in knowing God’s Presence is enough.
One definition of maturity:
to able to sit still and be at peace in exile.
Arriving at such a peace is a lesson of strength in life,
always afforded out of surrender in our weakness.
The exile that grief is teaches us patience when life hurries at us, peace within torment, and perseverance through the perennial winter season.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Isaiah 51 – The WORD of SALVATION that Saves and Heals

“I, I am he that comforts you;
why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die,
a human being who fades like grass?”
— Isaiah 51:12 (NRSV)
This chapter of Isaiah is a stark Word from God revealing the revelation of His challenging Word to the faithful with the audacity to obey it.  Thrice there is the imperative “Listen to me(!)” and, as the words “Look” and “Rouse yourself” and “Awake, awake” punctuate the chapter, there is a concluding Word for all God’s faithful to “See” what He, the Lord, is doing — He is taking the cup of wrath away; a cup that has made the genuine believer stagger through periods of life punch-drunk from persecution.
God wants us to know that to follow Him is to follow His way, to see Him in the midst of life, to experience joy and gladness, to fear no mere mortal, and to fear only Yahweh alone.  When that life is lived we find strength (v. 9), comfort (v. 12), and a place, because we’re so God-conscious as to not fail in the seeing.
Prelude of the Eternal God (verses 1 - 6)
Ancestry suggests we were begotten, and of course that suggests that God must have begotten the first human beings.  We came from somewhere, and, because humanity will outlast even heaven and earth, the Lord has created us for a purpose beyond heaven and earth.
The eternal God is a salvation God, and God’s salvation is an eternal gift and possession, in a creation where beings are all that matter.  The environment is a means, whereas beings are the end.
God’s people will show they are His by listening to Him.  Those who listen to Him also look to Him.
Fear Nobody, for Your Salvation is Set (verses 7 – 11)
The theme of joy and gladness mentioned first in verse 3 continues in verse 11.  God’s people experience joy and gladness, for they abide to His teachings that are fixed to their hearts (v. 7).  The core of God’s teaching to this end is the assurance of God’s Presence that subsumes all inappropriate fear.
The Lord is the Vindicator and Avenger, besides, all wicked deeds amount to is a case for the prosecution; the witness of history as it’s brought to bear at the Great Judgment.
Nobody can do anything inappropriate to us without the Lord seeing it in all its unfettered glory.  Nobody gets away with anything, and we who are saved will endure eternally, and nothing can change that fact.  So, our fear of enemy means we’ve forgotten God; the moment we remember Him is the moment of inexplicable joy and gladness.
This Good News is GRACE! (verses 12 – 16)
“You are my people!” says the Lord, and He who created and formed us, who is reaching down to scoop us up and redeem us through Christ’s cross, and who is restoring us through the resurrection, is also the God who has made a way to save us.
That salvation is grace.  “You are my people,” means God would do anything to protect us and to provide for our way.  He who has hidden us from our foes by the shadow of His hand (v. 16) will not fail in protecting us for eternity’s future.  Indeed, He who hides us in the shadow of His hand doesn’t hesitate in revealing us as blameless in Christ before the Father.
Is there any fury like the Lord’s fury?  And we rest assured that that fury is set against those who set themselves against us in our obedience.
The Purpose of the ‘Cup of Wrath’ (verses 17 – 23)
This a Word that sorts the truly faithful from the fair-weather-only ‘disciple’ who fails to see the love in the cup of God’s wrath.  Jesus, Himself God of God, experienced the cup of God’s wrath, so how on earth do we think we’re saved from it?
We all have an obedience problem, and the purpose of disobedience is that, in experiencing the cup of God’s wrath, we might turn, repent, and go and sin no more.
The beauty of repentance is the mercy God bequeaths to us because of our godly sorrow.  He pleads our case! (see verse 22) Christ actually did this in the perfect sense; He did it and He continues to do it.
Another beautiful fact: the cup of God’s wrath makes us spiritually thirsty once more.  It sharpens our palate for God’s Word in our context, and a genuine fear of the Lord impels us forward in faithfulness and obedience.
Put another way, drinking the wine that is Christ’s blood doesn’t inebriate, but it heals the mind, making us more readily able to see the will of the Lord, and giving to us more of the capacity to do His will.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Isaiah 52 – The LORD’S Presence for His People

People of God, you are each, every first and last one, special to Him who created you, who has redeemed and raised you through His crucified and risen Son, and who restores you daily through His Presence, and who protects You perfectly by His Spirit.
God’s Presence is for His people.
In Isaiah 52, Yahweh is sanctifying His chosen nation, Israel.  Nothing Israel could do could ultimately separate it from their Lord.  Each of us, since Jesus, can be likened to His nation, just like each of us is integrally part of His Israel, the Church.
Yahweh is rich in His Covenant Presence, assuring His people that they are His, and He is theirs, unequivocally.  As such, this section is an oracle for what is invisibly seen in this living age, for those of us who search spiritually, as much as it’s an oracle for what is coming — when we’re all resurrected from this corrupt world.
The Freedom in THIS Redemption
God’s redemption costs us nothing.  It is free in Christ.  What is priceless in value could never be bought.  Such is the love of the Lord that He would never accept payment for what is undeniably and unfathomably ours.
Freedom From What Was, To Step Into What Is
We, the people of God, are granted to arise and shake off what we’ve worn; the dust of our pasts that have held us back whilst we were captive to the enemy.  Now that we look to God for visions and revelations for how to live our lives, He redeems us constantly in our moments.  And if any despise us, they despise Him, and oh what a foolish thing that is to do!  We’re warned here, too, that it’s contemptible to look to ‘Egypt’ for help.  We must stay out of the world as far as we possibly can, bearing within our consciousness, daily, the contempt we have for the Lord when we go the world’s way, which is more an ever-present danger now than ever.
Bringers of Good News!
Oh the honour to make public the glory of the Lord!
Freed, we go out, in the joy of God’s Presence, transformed from within, new vessels, acquitted by grace in such a way as to have cognisance for what was, but to know it as no impediment, but as a glory unto Him for what He alone has done; in accord for stepping into what is, we go!
God, Our Every Protection
We go in the knowledge inwardly known, in our soulish core, that we are His.  And with that knowledge retrofitted exactly as if custom made to our identities, we go, knowing He is before us, and our rear guard.
The enemy casts all sorts of aspersions toward us; that God can abandon His children.  But God never can, because God cannot sin against His own covenant.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Holy Uprising

For many years Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction, but when they turned to the Lord God of Israel in their distress and sought Him, He was found by them.  In those times there was no peace for those who went about their daily activities because the residents of the lands had many conflicts.  Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every possible distress.
 2 Chronicles 15:3-6 (HCSB)
I’ve given myself twenty minutes to respond to the excellent article by Tony Evans, America’s Current Violence Can Be Traced to Christians’ Failures on Washington Post.
In his article, Dr Evans cites the abovementioned 2 Chronicles passage as a prophetic exclamation for our time.  I think he’s right on so many levels.  But what is correct is correspondingly perplexing.  In our globalised, light-speed-paced social media world what chance do we have in uniting the church that seems as splintered from within as it’s ever been?
As a ‘Church’ we are bombarded from within on many issues in this tremulous day; gay marriage is one very visible illustration.  The present gun debate is also dividing the church in America.  As a ‘Church’ we’ve become known as a people with a lot to say but with the inability to do; this in a day when ever more we crave leadership — at a global level, because of the way our society now works — that can lead, and evoke, and censure — in order to bring unity, by reasonable force of veto, where necessary, from within.
We need leaders, and many of them, with a Kingdom vision who are genuinely able to harness armies of disciples, to fight a war of love, against the prevailing war of hate swallowing whole cultures by the minute.
I love what Evans has written, and cannot fault a single idea or word.  It’s our fault.  The ‘Church’ has dropped the ball.  We’ve gotten into bed with the consumer culture.  We’ve gone hardball in situations needing a reformation of wisdom; a prophetically-considered, Kingdom-considered voice.  We’ve come to be innocuous and invisible in the landscape of life.  The ‘Church’ no longer imprints the footprint it has in the past.
And yet, it’s not for the first time.  The beauty of God’s Word is that it reminds us that there’s nothing new under the sun; we’ve been here before, several times.  The Bible tells us what we need to do.  The ‘how’ is the bigger issue.
The answer is simple.  We do need to turn back to God, and in repenting, for the seeking of His face, we will need to do that with an innovation that suits our age, and do it on an unprecedented scale, for the globalised economy works against the work that must be done.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Resurrection From the Belly of a Fish

“Every true gospel vocation is a resurrection vocation that arrives after a passage through the belly of the fish.  All ‘word of God’ vocations are thus formed.  There can be no authentic vocation that is not shaped by passage through some such interior.”
 Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant an Exploration in Vocational Holiness
The ‘passage through some such interior’ is brutally poignant.  There is a colossal paradox in every fully-fledged loving spirituality of the Lord.  That paradox is this fact: we never simply arrive resurrected.  We’re resurrected from something abysmal to something contrastively better.  Such is God’s love that it takes us into the bowels before we’re able to rise from the brink in His exaltation; His alone.
Resurrection is the plot twist in every motion picture’s climax.  Out of the jaws of defeat comes victory, and the more unexpected that victory is, the better the narrative.
Your life and mine — everybody’s — is such a narrative of loss and recovery, of losing then winning, of rags that dissolved for comparative riches; if we’re diligent and faithful.
None of us can reap the riches of gain without first experiencing the groaning chasm of loss.  We cannot bypass the bane to experience the bliss.  We must go into the darkness given to us as a gift, intrepidly and willingly, and traverse that valley, in that rarefied air, without becoming intoxicated for a lack of oxygen.  We learn to make do with the air we have.  And in this cavernous experience is the journey of interior.  It’s supposed to be incredibly tough, nigh on impossible to endure.
From scandalous trial, to scourging and defamation, to the bloody and tormented cross, to burial, to descending to hell alone, to being raised, to ascending to be with the Father; that was the life of Jesus.  If we’re to live to follow Him, we’ll be blessed to be called into that manifestation of life.
Jesus went into His interior, experienced being void, ultimately to be resurrected.
Jonah went into the belly of the fish for going to Tarshish, and was then spat out onto dry land for redirection to Nineveh.
Jesus asks us to enter our interior, promising ever to resurrect us from it at the right time.
We cannot hope to be resurrected until and unless we bear and suffer our cross.
Grace cost the Father His Son.  Resurrection requires a cross.
Resurrection is evidence of a cross endured.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Justice Is Truth In Action

For World Day of International Justice – July 17
“It is reasonable that everyone who asks for justice should do justice.”
— Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
CHARLINE MUSANIWABO had a pretty ordinary life, a beloved member of a loving family, until the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  She was eighteen and overnight her life plunged into an abyss.  Both her parents, and five of her eight siblings, were killed.  She fled with the remaining three, but was raped and forced to marry the Hutu rapist who had violated her, conceiving four children to him, suffering constant abuse to him over fifteen torturous years.  With the help of a brave woman neighbour, she finally fled him in 2011.  A longer version of her story can be read here.
Charline’s story echoes the fact that some injustices have been faced by relatively few.  But her story also prompts us that injustice faces us all, not only in the wider world, but as much as anything, for many, within the sanctity of home.  No greater oxymoron: violence done clandestinely within what should be the confines of the safest sanctuary.
Just how many women exemplify Charline’s story?  How many even in ‘civilised’ countries with best practice legal systems?  How many Charlines have we known?  And what elements of her story resonate with our own stories?
The atrocities done to Charline are both rare yet contemptibly unremarkable; abhorrent, yet scarily real in the experience of many; too many, when even one case is unacceptable.  Scarier still is the fact that we all have the perpetrator and victim in us.
Indeed, countless normal, indeed even gifted, people have instigated injustices.  For instance, the biggest ecological disasters in the history of the world.  In a former profession as a risk manager, I’d see the list of reported world incidents on a monthly basis, and it amazed me how the world coped with these gargantuan fires, dangerous chemical spills that would fill swimming pools, explosions that levelled entire towns, and toxic gas releases that could kill whole cities.  Some of the worst disasters killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
In 1976, Bhopal in India was the site of the Union Carbide methyl isocyanate gas release that affected a half million people — and depending on who you read, somewhere between two thousand and sixteen thousand died!  Innocent people who lived lives ignorant of the imminence of devastation.  But the nuclear incidents are most disturbing.  The Chernobyl reactor meltdown in 1986 is still a colossal problem thirty years hence, let alone within the tens of thousands of lives it wrought destruction, initially and subsequently.  Then there’s the more recent Fukushima power plant disaster (2011), caused in some part by nature, but with the latent amoral precondition: a sequence to catastrophe at the mere presence of a nuclear power source.  Where is the justice for the people killed or maimed by such events; or, those who lost dear ones?  What technology should even be contemplated for use when a disaster from the use of that technology can wreak a several-thousand-year fallout?  Of course, hindsight is a marvellous paradigm.  If only the early governmental leaders had known what was ahead.  Most concerning, though, there are many who would rise to power, and who have indeed risen to power, and who have deliberately abused God’s creation, procreating their egotism; a personal melting pot for national calamity.  Yet we all have such capacity for wrongness.
We only truly understand justice
when we understand our limits
in procuring and executing justice.
Justice, the mystery.
Justice is God’s.
It is utterly inscrutable.
We can see it, even touch it, but we cannot control it.
Justice intends that we, the frustrated, come to the end of ourselves.
Then, to God we inevitably fall… and rest.
Then we’re measured; useful, finally, for both God and justice.
We all know that God’s earth needs her justice.  We’ve all seen misguided people greedily step onto that idolatrous soapbox for their fifteen minutes of fame.  We’ve lamented those who are trying to get ahead by ill-gotten gain.  The ingredients of that person are latent within us, too.  Justice warns us.  We who have ears should listen.
Humanity shares something of a dichotomy with justice.  We sense the need to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly, but we struggle to practice it with consistency of purpose and end.  We may be healed of our misunderstanding, day by day, when we recognise our need of God’s sanctifying grace, but we’re subject to this putrefying human condition; the irrefutable condition of our torment.  Our bodies waste away, and we don’t like it.  Our thinking is fraught with dimness.  We don’t like that, either.  And our wavering hearts are feeble, and such a thing is execrable.
Injustice occurs on so many levels and in myriads of contexts: personally, interpersonally, maritally, occupationally, communally, internationally, and globally.  If we would let it, it would subsume us.  The presence of injustice in the world is always an enigmatic paroxysm to us.  Injustice bursts in our lives, shocks us, and takes us on a much unanticipated course.  But we’re reminded, that in the midst of it all is a sovereign God, and His purposes will be made known.  This doesn’t excuse God or the injustices, but it does help us to keep stepping by faith in the interim.  The interim are the days of our lives.  And if the worst can be experienced by anybody, the worst can make its home in us, also.  Oh, what an unbearable thought!
It’s the maker and breaker of life: justice.  It makes life all of what life is.  But when justice capsizes, lives are broken and hope is fallen like a mighty oak.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) said that “justice is truth in action.”  I have often said that love is truth in action.  And that’s where love and justice and truth all coalesce — in action.  That action begins with each of us; what we allow and disallow; how we respond to the issues that confront us; how we advocate according to God’s will, and the discernment thereof.  And experience teaches us, it’s not our passion as much as our wisdom — our prudent diligence; our diligent prudence — that blesses the situations of our advocacy.  To add value, and not make situations worse.
Justice is a visible thing.  It’s a thing of truth and love; the way things should be.  The way we expect goodness to flow.  Where there are only winners and there are no losers.  If that isn’t a panacea.
World Day for International Justice is a time to mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.  It’s a day when we thank God for the advocates of past, present, and future, and not least for His resonating grace.  It’s a day when we implore Him: “Come, Lord, come today; to this dying world!  Revive and restore justice to unjust situations, everywhere.”
It’s a day when we pray for Him to convict us in the commitments and recommitments we need to make.
It’s a day for planning each day forward, so each day is marked by a faith that walks by truth in action.
From this moment onward, evermore, into the chasm of eternity, when that time comes.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Cataclysmic Tragedy… Then God’s Silence

Lord, I call to You;
my rock, do not be deaf to me.  
If You remain silent to me,
I will be like those going down to the Pit.
— Psalm 28:1 (HCSB)
Some will have read the words of the title and be instantly thrown back into déjà vu.  Others may read the opening words of the Davidic psalm and know that feeling hostile to our faith.  It seems absurd that God would call a servant to a place, and there leave him or her alone; completely abandoned!
Silence.  A vacuum where His Presence used to be.  Voided of our experience.  Gone.
And at such a time as this; on the back of a cataclysm, where vanquished is a life we truly enjoyed.  As much are the pangs of calamity as the suddenness of its timing.
Abruptly, when a cataclysm has taken place, we’re in a life transition we never asked for, and never would.  And so, to add to our woes, God up and leaves.
What purpose is in His sovereign will when He allows what will cause us a series of conniptions, and then departs?
When we’re in God’s silence it doesn’t help much to be continually reminded by others of the Footprints in the Sand poem.  It seems so clichéd.  But it is an answer to our prayers when God’s Spirit places it in the most arcane place where we would otherwise not have seen it!  Through a series of impossibilities, God begins speaking again!  And this is how God eventually does show up; in the most accusatory manner, in order to show us our lack of faith, whilst at the same time telling us, “Well done good and faithful servant,” for continuing to look for Him despite our worn down demeanour.
God does show up.  And we always feel relieved, knowing that, though our lack of faith gave Him up, He did not give us up.
Our temptation when God is silent is to doubt Him and backslide in our faith, but our response should be to step up our prayer life and listen even more intently.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Necessary Spiritual Collision

These are the words of the Lord to a furious and despondent Cain:
If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
— Genesis 4:7 (HCSB)
Every day of our Christian journey is the same in the midst of a kaleidoscope of days.  Each day has its own problems, but the underpinning of the problems is always the same.  We are part of the problems central to our lives.  To live well at accord with God we must first overcome ourselves — our fury and despondency.
Sin crouches in a pose ever present, always only one movement away.  It embodies our environment, and it fills our surrounds, devouring us on the occasion of despondency, feeding on our hope as we give into a passively aggressive fury.  Sin wants to finish us, and very often it succeeds.
But there’s a necessary spiritual collision that will save us in the moment.  God speaks; we listen.  It’s as simple as that.  God speaks in the dulcet tones of our lives, and our task is to be perceptive enough to intuit what He’s saying.  This is the only way we’re able to rule over sin, which is the Lord’s will for the way we ought to live our lives.
This spiritual collision is the nature of His revelation as we receive it.  It collides with our understanding in the form of a meteor — an everyday rebuke meeting our humility to accept this Word for Life.  As His understanding crashes into our consciousness, we take on board what He’s saying, the collision makes for our contrition, and a holy collusion begins to occur.
Again, a necessary spiritual collision — us with our Lord — confers us to our contrition, where holy collusion occurs, and we join His work.
As the Lord’s revelation collides as a meteor with our sense for understanding, He speaks and we listen, and, in that, we live and grow and have our being.
The Christian life is about this modus operandi: of listening as He speaks.  It’s not all about developing Christian virtue.  Christian virtue, on its own, isn’t enough.  It doesn’t cater for the inherency of our sinner’s state.  Primary to our being is listening and doing in our going.
As the Lord’s revelation collides with our understanding, He speaks, we listen, and we then do as we’re shown.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.