Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Hands, Feet, Ears, and Eyes of Love

When all is said and done we either love by our thoughts and actions or we miss the mark, because apathy has a million excuses. Every excuse has its roots in cowardice. But every act of love is full of faith and lacks no courage.
So what do the hands, the feet, the ears, and the eyes of love look like? Here are some samples of a life lived for love:
Notice the little things,
Then encourage those who do them.
Notice the insignificant things,
That are never more significant.
Notice things people don’t do,
Get in there and do what’s so simple.
Bless people in such little ways,
Ways in which you can’t get credit.
Disguise the good things your left hand does,
So your right hand is none the wiser.
Make a difference by making nothing of it,
And then distract everyone by encouraging someone.
Make more of your own sin,
Because God regards it primary.
Enjoy the simple pleasure that does no harm,
Because such a pleasure is true unadulterated joy.
Be all you can, but don’t worry if you can’t,
Life isn’t the competition we think it is.
Please the right people, but most important, please God,
Because your death could take you in five minutes time.
Have not one enemy in the whole world,
So far as it depends on you.
Become something you haven’t been for someone,
Others’ needs are often opportunities to do new things.
Don’t worry about losses when others gain,
For their gain will never be lost on them.
It’s easy to bury the resentment in a solution of honey,
So all that bitterness can be neutralised in something sweet.
Frame language positively wherever you can,
You don’t know what the rest of the world is dealing with.
Learn to listen and God will expand your world,
Others’ needs take precedence when we need ours less.
Play the games of life, but only if nobody else will get hurt,
Remember that love has no excuses; love is responsibility.
The hands, the feet, the ears, and the eyes of love are committed to action, because, with a heart to love we must act. Love is so full of integrity it must do what must be done.
Hold out your love with your hands.
Walk every step of faith in love.
Listen to the flow of life and in that way love.
Observe the loving things done and replicate it.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be Strong... Do Not Be Afraid!

“When the going gets tough,” the old platitude says, “the tough get going.” But one has to wonder, what exactly do the ‘tough’ have (or need) in their quest to do what is tough?
We all have tough work to do from time to time. This word, below, is timely for those with tough work coming fast on the horizon:
The Lord, through the prophet, Haggai:
“Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all! But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.”
— Haggai 2:3-5 (NLT)
When it’s work that’s ahead of us, and particularly relational work i.e. conflict, it’s not only daunting, like building the temple was in Haggai’s day, we might easily shrink from the fullest portion of the task. Apathy, discouragement, and a loss of vision are key dissuaders of journeying onto completion. Starting things is always easier than finishing them.
But there are also distractions from the core work that God’s will dictates we need to do:
The necessary, the immediate, the urgent,
Get all the attention — not the Important.
Now, today, rebuild the Temple of the Lord,
Ensure the Important is what gets explored.
The Important is the obeying of God’s holy vision,
To get way beyond the enemy’s division,
“Be strong... be strong... Do not be afraid,”
Don’t let apathy or fear be the things that are obeyed!
It is too easy to run from real work; the ardour of tenacity, courage, and valour. We all want a comfortable life, but we often don’t realise that the most comfortable life is afforded as a reward for having dealt with the uncomfortable things. There’s an enigma in such a paradox.
Work is what it is. Doing it properly requires diligence, patience, faithfulness, attention to detail, strength, and courage. And relationships are work. Actually, most work is in the maintaining of relationships and in the addressing of crises.
Given that we all have some annoying traits of unfinished business, and much of what we have in common are relational conflicts and emotional baggage, the message is clear: Be strong... do not be afraid... of doing what is so different. If it’s patience we lack, we ask God. If we need self-control, we know who to ask. If it’s courage we are low on, we seek God through prayer and then we do it.
Persistence pays. Persevering through a dire task or faithfully sticking to a difficult process relationally reaps worthy rewards.
When we have difficult and arduous work to do, we ought to remind ourselves that we have God’s very Presence; his unfailing love. The Lord sustains us when we are ready to quit.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sweet Rule of God or Bitter Tyranny of Self?

The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God’s sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self. But he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matt. 11:30) will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will.
― Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
Rail against God we do all our lives, until the time comes when our resistance is melted and we are broken to the point of being open to divine control for the very first time. Perhaps we were brought up in a Christian home, and, because of our default compliance or a reasonable rebellion, we can’t quite understand what all the seditious fuss is about. Some truly need to resist God all the way until the circumstances of a life spent running one’s own agenda proves its own tyranny.
Then, for a moment, we take what Christ says in the gospels seriously – notably Matthew 11:28-30 – and we believe enough to give him a try. As if we think God owes us something, we try him on.
But this is not how salvation often works. Salvation is usually a torrent. It sweeps us off our feet. Then we realise, as if we needed God to truly drive the agenda, that when God is in control we are happiest, lightest, contented, and never more truthfully free.
There’s suddenly no more effort to be expended. Not that life is suddenly wistful and burden-free. On the contrary; we may take those hardships and forge a covenant of peace because we accept our reality. After all, we are now a friend of God’s with unspeakable eternal and spiritual benefits.
I recall going to AA meetings where one of the guys there would say, “Just give this program your all for three months... God will confirm to you its value!” I knew what he meant; if anyone gives their all to God for any length of time, they can’t help but be blessed.
Whether God sweeps us off our feet or not, we have to make a decision. Making a decision is a thing none of us gets away with.
God is making an overture for your heart, today, but our Lord won’t force his way in. We must serenely and supremely give our ways and wills over to his.
There is a weight that hangs over all humankind because of a human will gone crazy. When we have given up the rights to ourselves, we are astounded how close we came to be in spiritual oblivion. At the end of ourselves is the beginning of God.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Where Hypocrisy and Honesty Align

As a pastor I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t a hypocrite every now and then; perhaps a little more often, actually. Not that I’m labelling all pastors as hypocritical – I can, in all fairness, only speak about yours truly. If I was to point the finger elsewhere, then that would be an example of my hypocrisy, and yes, I’ve certainly judged others!
It can be a rather depressing state of affairs when you set out – in a salient season, God’s call irrepressible – to answer that call – vowing to give God your everything – and then, so often, fall short of that solemn promise.
Of course, God knows we cannot keep our promises; it’s our intent he’s interested in, and the manner of our spiritual resilience to bounce back when we feel most defeated.
One of the signs of my hypocrisy is when bitterness and resentment cloud my judgment – when it’s only I that’s been wronged; when it’s their entire fault.
And, of course, in the clarity of mind and heart we conjure deception.
None of us is anything like the pure-hearted, snow-white Lamb that was slain. Do any of us deserve the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength, the honour, the glory, or the blessing (Revelation 5:12) that Jesus deserves?
We are so fortunate that the grace of God imputes the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength, the honour, the glory, and the blessing over us!
None of the work have we done. We battle to even bear our crosses, yet Jesus was the one crucified. I drop my cross and despise it so regularly; but, praise God, his Light breaks through, and again, I see my folly in the deception.
My pride has daily portions that my humility has not. I’m kind, but so often because I know I’ll be blessed. My patience is easily worn thin. I love the comfortable, contemplative life – too much sometimes. I love the busy life – too much sometimes. I disrespect my wife when I could love her. I elevate my own estimations, some of which is healthy self-esteem, but not all of it’s healthy. This is not an exhaustible list.
But God has chosen – in the glorious riches of his grace, even because I deserve it least of all – to be illogically merciful. My Lord loved me first, and gave himself for me, so I would never really have to pay the price for my hypocrisy.
The elixir for hypocrisy is honesty; to see ourselves in context of Jesus’ glorious Light – a light that both reveals and purges the darkness.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Cold Hard Truth Behind Discipleship

“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963)
We don’t make the gradients for our growth in God; our Lord makes them.
Nobody can choose his or her growth direction or modulate his or her growth gains; our good Lord does it.
None of us really can make any contribution to the Kingdom of God that we haven’t already been previously prepared and equipped for. It is for God’s purpose we are utilised and we are equipped perfectly for the task – whether we think we are or not.
The person who’s been through most pain in their journey is the person most likely to be humble enough to know God’s true aim – to use us greatly, our Lord must first teach us. Teaching takes time. Teaching costs a lot in effort and pain.
To be blessed greatly is to be used greatly. These are intrinsically connected and linked. But there is a precursor to being blessed, as Tozer puts it.
This is the hope that anyone who’s going through the struggle of their life needs to hear. If we are really for God, we will see that we will need to learn resilience for resolve and poise to work under pressure. God can only teach us by taking us through some very ugly life experiences. We would be prideful and foolish to think a sinner’s heart could be used to do God’s holy work. No, God must purge us of our pride and folly first.
The cold hard truth about discipleship is we follow a Lord who suffered so greatly – a human being, also fully divine, who learned through bitter experience what his Father knew would be required of each of us.
God is certainly no hard taskmaster, for there is no mandate to suffer. We can easily go through life running every day from suffering; yet we will suffer more as a result. No, God offers us the opportunity to learn through our bitter experience; to learn that resentment serves no purpose, but humble submission gives us intimate access to the empathy of God.
“It’s not about you,” Rick Warrens says. When we get our heads and hearts around the idea that life is about God, life begins again, and life takes on significance. The less important we are, the more important God is, the better God makes our lives.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh, How Deep the Heavenly Father’s Love

Having a twenty-month-old son has reminded me of the richly unconditional nature of our Heavenly Father’s love.
My son has taken to the endearing act of trying to poke my eyes out when he’s excited. At other times he gets great satisfaction from pinching my nipples (when he sees my wincing response). And sometimes when he’s blowing raspberries on my belly he takes to giving me little bites, too! Finally, there has been a stage when he would head-butt me (several times) if I was holding him when he was angry. I could get concerned at all these behaviours, but I choose to see them more in the ilk of the age-and-stage phenomenon. As we engage together I’m intrinsically interested and ever curious as to my son’s experience of things, even in the times he seems to do the wrong thing. When I have to discipline him because he really does hurt me, I’m careful to ‘hold’ him in his hurt. I don’t want any unnecessary harm to come to him. He needs to learn right from wrong, but tough love is still love. There is no way that my son could genuinely hurt me in these tussles.
My response to my son is similar to how I picture God’s response to us. Sometimes we hurt our Heavenly Father, yet he remains loving (unhurt) in his response.
We resist God when life isn’t going our own way, yet our Heavenly Father treats such contempt with love. As a perfect and holy Father, the Lord is wholly good – the very best of fathers.
Some fathers will be hurt by their children, yet fathers who are beyond being hurt exemplify the Heavenly Father’s love; they have come to accept that fatherhood and his children are not about him.
A father’s role in this life is to serve his children’s best interest. Yet the Heavenly Father’s role is also to serve his children’s best interest.
Love allows hurt never to become the issue, because love is not about itself. Love is completely other-focused.
How greatly deep is the Heavenly Father’s love that God cannot be hurt by our many transgressions against him. Insisting that we have opportunities to learn, however, means God will not save us from lessons that are meant for our good; those decreed and designed by love.
There is nothing more trustworthy than the faithfulness of the Holy Father’s love.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.