Saturday, February 28, 2009

If we Build it, He will come

The Voice in Field of Dreams (1989) starring Kevin Costner says, “If you build it, he will come,” alluding to the future mystery appearance of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other 1919 Chicago White Sox players at the field to be built.

The plot involves the faith of lead Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) to go ahead and build the field for the mythical players to play on. These voices are compelling yet he must believe in order to go ahead and invest time and money in building the ‘field of dreams.’

This film--like so many--is steeped in theology.

It speaks a lot about what we do in advance of the blessings of God; fortune, merit, peace, providence. When I think of ministers who sought to preach the gospel ardently, they ‘built’ their ministry so that God would ‘come’ in the midst of their mandate. They knew it was their exclusive divine appointment; their place, their way, their season.

A.W. Tozer concerned himself with the depth of his ministry and left the breadth of his ministry completely up to the Holy Spirit. One senses he never submitted to the call of men, only to the call of God.

MacArthur, again, wisely reminds us that if we concern ourselves with the “depth” of our ministry, God will see to the “breadth” of it.[1]

If we wish to be successful we place our faith in the Lord our God, and we work hard at whatever our passion of vocation is--in faith--if we build it, he will come. If you are called by God, genuinely, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” –1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV). He will faithfully uphold genuine servants of Christ.

The call comes in the most amazing and sublime ways, yet it can come too in the least surprising ways too. The main thing is to respond to the call. Os Guinness says that, “calling subverts the deadly modern idolatry of choice.”[2] We are called and the life chooses us; this is truly a very, very good thing, though a frightening thing, at least initially. It invariably leaves us no other choice. But, there’s a cool peace in that.

If we can only go in one direction; if we find the pull to a particular way--a good way--is too hard to resist, we must start designing to build. Then, finally, when all is ready, he will come. It only requires a little mustard seed of faith, and courage of faith to start.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] John MacArthur, Ashamed Of The Gospel (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1993), p. 74.
[2] Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group of Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1998), p. 167.

Friday, February 27, 2009

When All Hope Seems Gone... Enter Faith

It must be everybody’s model nightmare. Imagine coming to a point of near death having to make one last ditch effort to save yourself, perhaps because you’re stranded on a snow peak, out in the bush or floating alone in the open ocean. You’ve lost every sense of hope… then, beyond belief, you get rescued.

Strangely, we all relate with this sort of story because, for all of us, we’ve had times of sheer hopelessness where we were just about to, or did, give up.

And for the Christian we’re taught that this circumstance is just the beginning really.

“Those of us who encounter despair need to remember that our greatest opportunity to glorify God is when all hope is gone.”[1]

C.S. Lewis is cited by Andrews on the same page as the above quote, that “when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys,”[2] we see a faith that is truly unshakable.

That’s real faith. This reminds us of Psalm 22 which Jesus quoted when he was absolutely spent, strung up on the cross; he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (See Mark 15:34) The overall lament is a sweet chorus of God’s faithfulness and love in the darkest of times, but it’s chillingly stark during this ultra short stanza, as the psalmist shakes his fist at God. Yet God delivered David; and he delivered Jesus; and he delivers us, even at times when we turn our back on him.

To get to a point of shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” must be the closest we can come to the strongest position of faith--still holding God to account when in downright despair. It’s still holding fast to God even when we feel he’s totally given up and abandoned us. (The truth is he never abandons us--see Hebrews 13:5.)

A classic irony is this. When we’re brought to that place of inconsolable despair, God is astoundingly close. So tragically painful is that situation though God is closer than ever before.[3] Why? Because we might finally reach out in truth--in truly needing him; in the humble acceptance of our Creator. We then stand on the cusp of deliverance!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Dave Andrews, Christi-Anarchy: Discovering a Radical Spirituality of Compassion (Armidale, Australia: Tafina Press, 1999), p. 145.
[2] Andrews, Ibid, p. 145, citing C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters (Century Press, 1942), p. 47.
[3] God, of course, is always there. It only seems like he abandons; he is never truly absent.

Life Transactions Vs. Life Transformations

Jobs, tasks, lists, roles, bills, procedures, terms of conditions, contracts, memorandums of understanding, agreements. These are examples of the transactional life none of us can avoid. We’re all placed in the world of commerce, whether it’s the business of business or the business of life i.e. managing our personal lives.

Yet, there are so many transactions in everyday life and we can get to feel like a ‘processing unit,’ certainly less than human. Some days this is all we feel we are: a vehicle for doing one transaction after another. No wonder we get exhausted.

The other end of the scale is the transformational life; this is spiritual. It’s completely other-than-the-world. It’s about meaning, value, and the eternal. It’s thoroughly soul-quenching in the positive.

There’s an unwritten rule of life that we need to get a balance between the transactional life and the transformational life. Let me explain.

The effect of too much transaction and not enough transformation--at the extreme--is eventual burn out. Add to the transactional life, (without sufficient transformational aspects), the burdens of guilt or shame from failed or dysfunctional relationships, and we have a recipe for mental, emotional and spiritual breakdown.

Indeed, what bogs the transactional side of life down even further is the sense of trying to please everyone. If one or more of our relationships is in disarray our transactional life will tear away further at the transformational. Peace might be very difficult (though not impossible) to achieve in these circumstances.

As the pendulum swings one way then the other, we need to bear in mind we’re people first and workers (or ‘processors’) second. We can be fooled into thinking the opposite if we have life roles slanted heavily in the transactional direction.

The transformational buoys up the transactional, meaning we can remain effective and efficient ‘processing units,’ keeping our responsibilities in check, not disappointing people or ourselves. But, this involves us making time to develop mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

We have to be intentional about our transformational life development; it often requires daily adherence to devotional practices to get the balance right, especially if we’re the types who have a tendency to ‘run rough.’

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Get Smart, Stay Smart

Stephen Covey calls it ‘sharpening the saw’ and Nintendo have a DS game for brain-training, but I think God’s got designs on all of us developing our smarts and keeping them.

For instance, I find my typical day involves having to do many varied things--often twenty to thirty things, and sometimes more--little things and big things--long things and quick things--and into the bargain, I need to process all this and prioritise and order these in my life, within the context of my six or seven roles.

I don’t think you could be any different. It’s a task indeed to make many decisions, make them well, and make them in the right order, particularly when it relates to communication with other people.

We see here, the goals of life are not to finish the journey with the most toys, or travel to the most countries, or even survive with the least amount of scars (physically or emotionally). At least part of the purpose is to improve as a human being over the journey.

These sorts of ‘smarts’ are not altogether intellectual smarts or social smarts, or even moral smarts, but a combination of these, and more. It’s very much not about gnosis--or gaining ‘a superior form of wisdom,’ that’s mystically derived. It’s not another religion. It’s simply what we were designed to do from the beginning.

When we do this, it seems so very natural. Improvement along these lines helps us cope with modern life better, and the increased capability we have to burn means others can benefit, from our energy, positivity and exuding joy. It helps others get smarter.

The trick is applying ourselves to life in a way that what we think, say and do all align, and that they all align with what’s right, just and fair. All the above is saying is that’s not an easy thing to do. We have to be intentional, deliberate, and passionately patient in the positive sense.

Keeping up with life, our daily lives, and living them successfully is more about our capability to cope resiliently with the load in order to make the most of all our relationships. The strength of our relationships gives us the most abundance; it’s an absolute key to life.

The most important of these relationships, of course, is God. And the ironical turn back is, he alone is the only true way to getting to this place.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

We All Worship Something

Working out six feet from Roger Federer was a real highlight for me. It was 2003 and I was staying at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne for work. He was preparing for a Davis Cup tie starting a few days hence. At one point I recall cycling on a stationary bike and noticing the presence of another person next to me preparing to use the treadmill. I turned my head (as you do), and WOW; I could hardly believe my eyes. When I finished my workout I could scarcely wait to ring family and let them know who I’d ‘rubbed shoulders’ with.

This illustrates an important point about our human nature. We all experience awe. Awe is in a sense, worship. We all worship something, whether it’s a football team, a rock band, a substance, our bodies… or God.

A.W. Tozer said, “We worship by the necessity of our being. Looking around for something to worship, we recognize mystery and wonder. The result is that whatever we cannot explain, we will worship.”[1] There’s a Bible verse that says a similar thing:

“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” –Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 (TNIV).

We all worship something; we must. It’s just that most of us worship many things and basically anything that brings wonder for us. Think about it. We see Ben Cousins, Ricky Ponting or Hugh Jackman in a pub and we’re utterly consumed. They look larger than life. I recall ‘meeting’ Justin Langer at a book launch and being somewhat in awe of him for weeks thereafter; his character, his achievements… and the fact that I--mere me--got to shake his hand and speak with him! And even the most subdued, un-inspirable person reaches awe at some point.

But the key to worshipping aright said A.W. Tozer, is to worship in spirit and in truth;[2] as Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” –John 4:24 (NIV). What is the use in worshipping anything unless it’s based in truth?

God is the only entity designed to be worshipped. Worship in any other sense is bad for us; worshipping God on the other hand is the most appropriate thing anyone could do.

The Ecclesiastes passage, part of the Wisdom genre of the Bible, tells us that God has laid a particular burden on all people. This burden is we are captivated by beautiful and wonderful things. The NRSV says that God “has put a sense of past and future into [our] minds.” We’re almost universally enthralled about history and what might happen, say, in 100 years. We look at a Nineteenth Century photograph and we can’t comprehend what life must have been like, though we’d love to know. It’s an itchy, irresolvable feeling.

Death, too, fascinates us. We lose a loved one and we mourn them in a sense for the rest of our lives; we wonder if, one day, eternity and heaven might be true and we might see them again, though we can’t be certain without faith.

We can’t put it together; we can’t reconcile these things. And we’ll never be able to.

The deepest urge we all have is to know why… why we’re here and what the purpose of it all is--the world, creation, the universe, life. We can’t escape it, but we can try to deny it or address it through the wrong approaches. There is another alternative…

This is why we truly need to worship only one thing; the great “I AM.” The Creator of all things… God is the only subject worthy of our undying worship. The object and the reason of our worship is inevitably a lie if we don’t fully recognise God’s sovereign right to be the only one.
We’re all looking for wonder; yet, there’s only one true wonder worthy of our worship.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] A.W. Tozer, The Worship Driven Life, Ed. James L. Snyder (Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2008), p. 79.
[2] A.W. Tozer, Ibid, p. 82.

Fixing Procrastination – “Do it now”

I was in an important meeting recently with my mobile phone on silent when a number I recognised rang three times in quick succession without leaving a message. This gave me the feeling this person felt they really needed to speak with me. On the final call, I picked up, to satisfy my curiosity more than anything else.

The person on the other end of the line offered to send me an email instead of hassling me out of the meeting, but in a moment motivated to act now, I wanted to see if I could handle it without having one more email reach my inbox.

The conversation could have gone one of two ways. Either I could have said, “No, let’s discuss it later,” or “Will it take long; perhaps we can discuss it now?” As it happened, I chose the later path, seeking to deal with the hassle (and pain) now rather than put it off.

The benefits of this action weren’t only about addressing the temptation to put it off i.e. procrastinate.


I actually had a very positive and pleasant albeit quick phone conversation that would otherwise have been dealt with over the email system which is a poor communication alternative. It promoted and reinforced a healthy working relationship.


An additional benefit is accountability. I wasn’t avoiding or putting off the conversation. I was satisfying the caller’s need to have something addressed right there and then. I was allowing him or her to hold me accountable--this promotes many positive things including trust and respect.

Our time management gets better when we’re proactive enough to get on top of things, so we are then at least able to see the wood for the trees. And there are so many roll-on benefits.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Flipping the OBLIGATION

When we cast an eye over our lives and all the various roles we play, there’s one thing we cannot really get away from. It’s responsibility. We’re obliged to do certain things in life. We’re responsible and can be called to account.

But, how often do we respond poorly (in attitude) to our responsibilities? When there’s an obligation, particularly within a grey area, we’re tempted to leave well enough alone and leave it to someone else or pretend it might go away. Worse still, we can be inclined to react to the person, group or stimulus who/that just wants us to do something.

My suggestion is to develop the habit of ‘flipping’ the obligation, by grasping every obligation as a positive opportunity to do what we’re called to do. We can use the powerful reserves in the mind to make a wilful decision to commit regardless of the discomfort, and Just Do It.

When obligation breaks down to its component parts we have a choice; choose to complain, avoid it, or become depressed… slinking into the sinkhole syndrome of procrastination and derogation of duty, or we can equally (and just as easily) bite the bullet, remembering that the mind is powerful and we can simply decide to do the right but uncomfortable thing.

The best thing about this is eventually, with one obligation met after another, we get a reputation for effectiveness, willingness and a ‘can do’ attitude, setting ourselves apart from the lazy, undisciplined crowd.

This is one certain way to put our light up on the hill to be seen for others to model from. We are all examples. Why not be the finest example that we personally can be? It’s simply about trying our best.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Learning Diet

I wonder if many of us make the times these days to really take a helicopter view regarding our purpose in life. I know I often promise to do this very thing myself and I often put it off... too busy? Perhaps that’s just an excuse.

One observation I can make even in the flurry of activity that is my life is we have to mind carefully what our minds are grazing on. Much like we would do with our eyes and stomachs at a wine and cheese night or at a buffet-style restaurant, our minds graze; but unlike grazing on food--which occurs on occasion (through the day)--our minds are grazing all the time.

We absorb so much, and not all of it’s optimal for our ‘diet.’ What are we grazing on in the process of our living experience?

The Electronic Invasion

Most of us have a healthy helping of television or perhaps we’re facebook junkies or can’t get enough of the Wii? These are not exactly helpful things in large daily doses. There’s a balance in moderation required on these. A little of each is okay, but it’s not a very fulfilling diet if we live on them. They can however, be a good vehicle toward a little healthy escapism though. Discipline: 1-2 hours per day?

Friends and Acquaintances

Who of us has decent friends? Now, I love facebook. But facebook can falsely allow us to think we have a lot of friends, but it isn’t really that good--there’s very little about it to create any real sense of intimacy with people. It’s fine if it’s used as a connection tool for real face-to-face encounters. It can’t compete with real quality time with friends and family.

Books and Multimedia

There’s so much we can learn from regarding books and multimedia these days, but it’s the matter of being discerning. We can either choose the wrong things to nibble on or we can gorge too much defeating the purpose of learning, as nothing sticks.

Travel etc

Some people travel extensively to learn; some take a particular career path; some others still take quite eccentric paths in life. If the motive is to learn, neither of these is bad, provided what we’re learning is positive, right, just and fair.

The watch point is simply to view our experience of living as a ‘diet of learning’; this requires discipline to create for ourselves the right learning environment involving sufficient sources for insight, challenge and fun.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finding our Creative Genius Inside

Why do we find our most creative times are sitting on the toilet, taking a bath or painting a wall? Why is it we dream so vividly and imaginatively yet hardly ever capitalise on this creativity when we’re awake. And why upon why do we feel so energy-sapped when we most need energy, say for instance, at work?

Notice too how effortless thinking becomes when we hit a groove of fascination. Letting go of our ‘editorial control’ through times in life is a freedom we rarely grant ourselves.

I was blessed to be invited to an Institute of Public Administration of Australia breakfast recently featuring Jason Clarke, innovator extraordinaire. The ‘breakfast for the brain’ was a great investment of my time. The following are some of the gems I recorded.

What Geniuses In History Had In Common

Most of the geniuses in history jealously guarded their methods of creativity, viewing these methods as almost magical and not to be tampered with. They not only found the way to release their imaginations, they trusted the method and protected it, not seeking to overly analyse why it worked. They didn’t get distracted away from this; they saw it as part of their intrinsic life purpose. They were not afraid of devoting time to it.

They were big fans of capture. Everywhere they went they had pen and paper to capture thoughts--then, importantly--they’d do something with the thought. They acted. Most ‘mere mortals’ get creative thoughts and then don’t do anything about them. The best innovators take the next step consistently. The gift was matched with work.

Notably, the thoughts and stimulus for creativity and innovation came from the external world, perhaps mostly from the extraordinary things to personal experience; things we don’t see very often--things that surprise us.

3-Phase Process (Experience-Create-Express)

Something is experienced, something new or unusual from the norm and it stays there, and is perhaps forgotten. The creation phase is when there is an ‘epiphany’ and suddenly there’s a spark, a salient link to the experience--we remember the experience in the context of our imaginative thought and find a use for the experience; this is the impetus to get to work… we therefore express the idea; we tell someone about it or we write about it and develop it. It takes courage and faith to express. We then act on the feedback refining the idea.

Time and Space (and the Right Environment)

We need time and space to get our imaginations working; the busyness of work is one of the biggest threats here. This is why we come up with our best solutions to work problems when watering the garden or doing the dishes. Our minds need to be relaxed.

We need to get into a space where we can be surprised; this is where deviations from the norm are good; when serendipity is applauded and celebrated; and, where curiosity must abound. If our mind wanders, we must follow it, not rebuke it. We must expect inspiration when we least expect it.

Hotter / Colder, not “Yes” or “No”

Many leaders pour cold water on enthusiastic help with a curt “No,” when a ‘hotter / colder’ approach might fit a lot better because it’s not limiting. Asking someone for ‘more of this,’ or ‘less of that’ is less constraining and a much better way to encourage people to bring their brains through the gate.

Write, write, write some more… right!

A simple way to purge our minds of the junk thoughts that cloud any semblance of real imagination is to take three pages of paper and just begin writing; it’ll be gibberish to begin with but then some really good stuff will often emerge a little later on.

Music for the Right Mood

Music sparks the right flavour of thought. If we wish to be inspired we listen to uplifting music; if we want to capture something deep, likewise.

Whinging and Dreaming (together)

A whinge, an irritation… these are only good if we’re prepared to dream up a solution to change it. Randomness and chaos are not always bad things.

IDEA (Idea-Develop-Evaluate-Act)

The bridge between dreaming and doing is IDEA. We need to diverge before we converge again. This is a great acronym for charting the process from the idea to the implementation of the fully grown thing.

Most of all we need the idealism to not just be what we are, but dream about what we could be.

Justice is Balance

No one gets everything all ways. Justice comes to all eventually. All things equal out generally over time. The character Henri Ducard (played by Liam Neeson) said ‘Justice is balance,’ in Batman Begins and I find it true to life.
Justice and righteousness (meaning essentially the same thing in ancient Hebrew) require balance to be true. In all life situations this more or less works out. Researching history we find, justice is inevitable.

According to our place in life we’re afforded only as much justice as our peers. We are not superior or inferior. Our peer group, therefore, is the bar by which we’re measured. This should make us want to knock around those who we can learn from because, amongst other things, we’ll benefit from the more privileged standard of justice as compared to the standard we’d ordinarily receive.

At its rawest, this justice is probably true so none of us gets a swelled head. As the pendulum swings our way, we are apt to get high and mighty; it swings back the other and we have to deal with the new humbling reality. It’s healthy that we don’t get everything our own way. It reminds us that we’re not God, and we forever remain subject to his rule whether we like that fact or not.

If we work hard we get blessed more; if we work too hard the blessing is tainted. If we don’t work hard enough, well, justice catches us eventually. Justice is diligence.

Justice is also prudence. When we consider things carefully, weighing risk, judging the moment correctly, we afford the best possible result for ourselves and others affected. If, on the other hand, we deal flippantly, we know what inevitably comes; justice.

Justice is shalom. When we rely on justice because we trust it, we are at peace with it, and this develops faith in us to expect justice to come through in the general sense.

Justice is respect. It’s the correct order of things, give or take a smidgeon of injustice (that requires faith for us to endure). It respects the natural and supernatural order and doesn’t get in the way of its workings; sometimes we don’t like it, but we daren’t get in the way of justice.

Justice is finally, wisdom. Justice is truth; a good, clear, strong, general truth. Justice is beauty we can rely on. Justice is bigger than us every time.

Praise Almighty God for justice. His justice is balance.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jesus… in Person, in the Flesh

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…”
–1 John 1:1 (NRSV).

The initial verse is the jumping off point, uncharacteristic of the typical Pauline letter featuring the typical greeting. Instead, John wants us to know that Jesus was a real person, and in the same breath, God. He knew him, heard him, saw him, touched him.

John, the disciple Jesus loved most, was emphatic about his Lord. He describes with power the basis of Jesus being the Deity through his gospel; and the message contained in 1 John (the letter) is somewhat like Hebrews as John tries to mix doctrine with practical living exhortations.[1]

Imagine painting this image of Jesus and the nature of his faith to these errant believers in an age where false doctrine was rife. That mightn’t be so hard to imagine because it would be no different today really. John the evangel speaks God-breathed words and sentences, beginning at the beginning at the rawest of facts. ‘He lived... (God in) Jesus lived with us,’ he says.

The ‘Word of life’[2] is both Jesus and the gospel teaching method and message.[3] John uses the same technique for describing Jesus and his teaching in his gospel, in fact, no less than four times in the first fourteen verses. The ‘Word of life’ was ... i.e. in existence, before anything else was; in other words, before Creation.

These simple facts brought to us in the very first verse of this ancient letter describe something we should be in an ‘astonished awe’ about, as A.W. Tozer might have put it. Undeniable, inscrutable, uncontainable… and more!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] It is perhaps not surprising that John probably writes this letter for exactly the same purpose as the writer of Hebrews did; they both cover the same sort of era--a generation or so after Christ’s death when commitment generally was waning.
[2] The word “Word” is capitalised in the NIV and some other versions.
[3] John Calvin & Matthew Henry, 1, 2, 3 John, Eds. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998), p. 17.

Love & DG

The essence of love is DG. Hang in there with me. DG is better for us and all of our relationships every time. It helps because it makes us think of others by putting off the things we’d hope for, of and for ourselves. DG is something quite foreign to our base human nature and unfortunately if we don’t learn it as kids, we struggle to let go enough as adults to really engage with it. The Bible says...

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” –Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV).

“Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.” –1 Corinthian 13:4 (Msg)

Delayed Gratification (DG) is a principle that involves scheduling the pain of life first such that we can enjoy something afterward--having gone without, we really appreciate it and get to train our self-control. The enth degree on Delayed Gratification is going without things (so long as they’re not damaging our health) indefinitely.
For instance, my 3-2-1 diet program[1] demands quite a lot of discipline to get right, but once the decision is made, the power of the will of the mind takes over and I can stick rigidly to it (until I relent). The pain of not giving in to having muffins or biscuits is worth it, provided I maintain my discipline one day at a time. (This is of course easier said than done!--but always possible.)

Discipline seems a hard thing to master; but with the mind the theory’s easy. The motive should be to love our bodies, our minds, our relationships. Putting others first paradoxically means we restore peace to ourselves because we’d ordinarily torment ourselves satisfying ourselves.
Whenever we want things our own way right now, we cut off any chance of lasting happiness. I mean, in a binge, have you ever noticed the second family block of chocolate get tastier than the first one? Do you get happier munching on it? Of course not. We’re actually getting more and more miserable and defeated the more we gorge.

The way to love ourselves properly is to look after these “tents”[2] we’ve been entrusted with, and God has given us Delayed Gratification as a technique to learn and master.

But, delaying our gratification must work mostly in our relationships; in routinely giving our rights up for others. This is a way to make our “light shine before others.” (Matthew 5:16 NRSV) Love and delaying gratification go hand in hand. It’s like when someone offends us; do we get offended? Certainly not! We know that it’s only hurt people who actually hurt people so we forgive them in the moment, though we might re-coil somewhat ourselves. We delay getting our own back. We take the pain now, absorbing it. Then we see what God does. He changes the heart of that person sometimes.

Love is the ability to hold things that are precious to us so lightly that we can have them ripped from us and still love. In this way, we’re “the light of the world,” all for the glory of our Father in heaven as people then truly see God working in and through us. (See Matthew 5:14, 16b NRSV)

Love is a very complete and wholesome emotion; an act; a verb in very many senses; the compilation of virtue (amongst a good many other things).

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] My 3-2-1 regime involves three meals a day, two pieces of fruit per day, and one treat per week--nothing else.
[2] The apostle Paul (being a tentmaker) used the metaphor of a tent to describe the temporary dwelling that is our physical body in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.

Monday, February 23, 2009

One Choice, Many Ripples

This is an amazing truth that explains many things from the reason few of us take the necessary risks to succeed in life, to the confounding nature of managing change effectively. We see an organisation or an individual make one simple change and there are often unforeseen ripples, creating potential incidents and issues for months and years to come. All from only one decision.

We can see here why the wisdom of the experienced person steers them away from taking unnecessary risks, having learned possibly from their own and others’ flippancy.

These lessons of experience are valuable in charting the way through shallow waters, avoiding the shipwreck. This is where the SWOT tool of risk management and organisational planning can be employed. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Weaknesses and threats

When we do take the risk, and calculatingly so, we try and foresee what can go wrong--selecting our weaknesses and paying due diligence toward the threats--in our analyses.

Threats spell potential disaster. We don’t like to think that one decision can bring us to the brink, but it’s true to a certain extent, particularly when the tumultuous ground has been ploughed already i.e. when the scene’s set.

Strengths and opportunities

We will probably maximise the strengths and opportunities as they come, but these too can bring us unstuck as opportunities sometimes reveal themselves later as traps. Our strengths can overpower the situation and we suddenly spoil what might have been otherwise okay.

We shudder at the thought that our strengths might actually become a fatal flaw; it’s all about balance and the ego.

Calming the ripples

Without the appropriate level of thought and consideration regarding the risks, we will often tread a precarious line. There are many snares that lay ahead in managing change.

Taking a moment to just sit and consider a decision is sometimes all that’s needed. Some of us (myself included) can occasionally have a tendency to act or react impulsively and it can bring more harm than good. Change is not always a good thing.

When we do change things and they go pear-shaped, we need to find ways of calming the ripples and reconciling the situation so we can restore the credibility. Ah, the wonder of 20/20 hindsight!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Worshipping God – Our Innate Purpose

“Religion addresses only humanity’s external condition, not our internal confusion.”
–A.W. Tozer.

This 20th Century Biblical prophet and Christian mystic expounded material that is in some ways hard to swallow for many people (including many Christians) as it calls us back to the rawness of God at the heart of life every single time.

The truth is we all search for meaning. We all need it otherwise life loses it lustre and we inevitably become cursed in one way or other. The meaning to life is so inordinately difficult to understand as most of us look in entirely the wrong places for it.

For some it’s sought in the workplace. Know any workaholics? For others it’s education; know anyone with umpteen degrees? For others still it’s pleasure and thrills until one day they wake up, look into the mirror and find they’re not nineteen any longer. Age wearies them. It’s hopeless.

Have you perhaps sought to find meaning in these areas and come out empty handed?

The message to the meaning of life is more urgent than I first thought; the purpose of life.

It is to reconcile the inner discord within every single one of us. Most of us are blind to this.

It’s about God. It’s about Father-Son-Holy Spirit. It’s about relationship. It’s about growing passionately toward God for the rest of our lives. That is worship. Our purpose is simply worship.

We are mirrors of the Almighty God; trust me (without me going into the theology right now). This is the very reason we were created in the first place, and without us recognising this as fact we’ll never find meaning in our lives.

Tozer cites John Keats who wrote of a “tongueless nightingale.”[1] What a brilliant metaphor. This nightingale had the songs--and songs of incredible beauty--but had no way of singing them... and this is us. This is our state pre-Christ (assuming true spiritual re-birth). Our spiritual blindness pre-Christ prevents us from singing the true song that is the sole purpose of our life.

Most people would not know it but God is a relational being, and God seeks a relationship with every one of us. He has designed our hearts and minds to relate with him. There’s no getting around it. We will never achieve true peace and inner accord without God.

When we commence a relationship with God, we suddenly find the keys to truth and the answers to the things that vexed us incessantly beforehand. Life becomes true. No more panaceas. No more lying and denial. No more shame and guilt. Total divine freedom to love God and love, period. In the words of Helmut Thielicke, life can begin again... (for the first time).

From first to last (well beyond our earthly life) our purpose is to worship God as a lifestyle and not an event. Everything else is temporary, fleeting and of little eternal (true) importance. Everything we think, say and do is to be aligned to worship, holy and utterly pleasing to God.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Worship Driven Life: The reason we were created, Ed. James L. Snyder (Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2008), p. 47. John Keats wrote this in The Eve of St Agnes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Steps: Making Difficult Amends

Anyone who’s been exposed to or has completed the twelve steps knows a very significant and lasting spiritual journey toward healing and wholeness, both for themselves and others affected by that person. Each step is a process of journeying all its own, and some steps we may never fully complete.

The Steps take a wreck of a life and carry that life through a process of surrendering to God and repentance from past sins, toward a useful life of peace and ongoing reconciliation to all things and people.

Steps eight and nine are about making an exhaustive list of those we’ve harmed and then making amends to all these people, unless it would injure them. These are steps of honesty and courage.

Step eight says, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step nine says, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”[1]

For addicts and alcoholics there invariably has been a swath of relational damage caused, so these steps are important in reconciling part of the journey back through to recovery.

There are some amends we might not be able to make for many reasons; not the least of which, sometimes the other party is not ready and may indeed never be ready--to make amends could surely injure that person and/or others. The safety and security of others is always paramount.

It doesn’t get easier to make amends, but with honesty, courage and humility it can be achieved. The benefits are peace with all people and the end of isolation, and certainly peace of mind. Steps eight and nine are the platform to the ‘maintenance steps,’ ten to twelve.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, (New York: AA World Services, Inc., 1996), p. 77-87.

Complaining Well

I’ve been reading the odd lament psalm of late and these generally model a way of ‘complaining well,’ but they don’t always help in our practical distress--well, they could, but we’re not always ready are we?

The Bible says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing...”
–Philippians 2:14 (NIV)

The Greek word for ‘complaining,’ goggusmos a.k.a. murmuring and muttering, refers to the complaint that’s actually counterproductive to dealing with the real issues of the moment.

When Jesus went incognito to the Feast of the Tabernacles in John 7, the crowds there were engaging in ‘muttering, murmuring, [and] low and suppressed discourse’ about him--like a hushed talking behind his back.[1] This form of complaint never really gets heard--we think it will make us feel better but talking behind others’ backs never achieves that.

But, in Philippians it’s more like a complaint--the “expression of secret and sullen discontent.”[2] Dialogismon is the word for ‘arguing’ or active disputation, and this word derives from reasoning, retiocination (sic), thought, cogitation, purpose.[3]

Paul probably puts both goggusmos and dialogismon together to communicate all form of complaint whether it’s directly to the person’s face or not.

To complain well is to do so assertively, i.e. objectively, without excess emotion and to the gain of all parties involved in the conflict. Perhaps it’s also not about what we complain about, but how. And we should avoid loading up the complaint for we then tempt people to turn off to our cause altogether.

To not complain is, I think, unreasonable. We all need to complain, we just have to do it well. It’s a fine ideal to resist complaining but it’s far more about how and when we do it.

Whatever we do, we must complain well; in other words, effectively; for without good effort, complaint is a waste of time.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Wesley J. Perschbacher (Ed), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc), p. 82.
[2] Perschbacher, Ibid, p. 82.
[3] Perschbacher, Ibid, p. 93-94.

We are made of... Corn

Have you ever wondered why food makes you feel a certain way? Like, sometimes we feel great after a meal and yet at other times, sluggish. The rising dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes type 2 coincides with the some rather nasty Unites States food policy made back in 1973, to radically up food production, industrialising modern farming practice.[1]

King Corn (2007), is an ‘arresting’ film, ‘balancing humour and insight’ into the food we eat, where it comes from, why it’s produced, and the fact that we’re essentially reliant on corn in 21st Century.[2]

It’s a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidised crop that drives the fast-food nation which is the United States.[3] Essentially, the nuts and bolts of it; Americans are made of corn--it is now coded in their DNA.

The unfortunate fact is this Iowa corn that yields up to 200 bushels to the acre is a very poor quality of genetically-modified hybrid corn; the product makes up about 65 percent of average American’s diet via high fructose corn syrup, corn-fed meat, and corn-based processed foods. What Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis learn is the ‘staple’ of the modern diet isn’t edible unless it’s highly processed. You’d probably be sickened to see the processing that takes place.

The reason US domestic policy changed to increase corn yields was to make food cheap, so the average American could afford to ‘buy other stuff.’

Isn’t it ironic, there is allegedly a massive oversupply of corn-based raw food product in the United States, yet we have rampant starvation across the Globe?

We do truly become physically what we eat; we must learn to consider this as we stuff our mouths with tasty but increasingly terrible matter.

A quote from the movie’s director, Aaron Woolf, is a good place to conclude:

“Yes, food is cheaper now, but we are only beginning to understand the full cost that cheapness demands from our environment, our health, and our social fabric.”

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

For further reading on corn, consult Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the Farm Subsidies Database at, or
[1] The ‘rather nasty’ food policy was well intentioned. 1970s America did struggle with widespread hunger. “But bad outcomes can come from well-intentioned actions.” –Aaron Woolf (King Corn director).
[2] The quotes are taken from where critical acclaim for the feature is provided at the bottom of the page.
[3] Source: particularly the “For the Press” section. An interesting quote comes from Michael Pollan regarding America’s McDonald’s: “If you take a McDonald’s meal, you don’t realize it when you eat it, but you’re eating corn. Beef has been corn-fed. Soda is corn. Even the French fries. Half the calories in the French fries come from the fat they’re fried in, which is liable to be either corn oil or soy oil. So when you’re at McDonald’s, you’re eating Iowa food. Everything on your plate is corn.” -Michael Pollan, UC Berkeley, in King Corn.


For one more day... endure

Though things seem to go bad and stay bad... endure

For your children and with your children... endure

On an odd day where things go wrong... endure

On the day when all goes right, remember times you had to... endure

For that small but highly significant area of your life that is a struggle right now... endure

Because of (and not in spite of) your loved ones, friends and colleagues... endure

When you have too much on... endure

For the aged-parent in the nursing home... endure
When everything within you wants to give up... endure

When your prayers are all at sea and the world seems all too messy... endure

In the quiet... endure

In the flurry of chaos and fury... endure

When nothing makes sense... endure

And if sorrows boil over you... endure

At a time when you do give up, and you then commit every sinew to starting over again, afresh... endure

When you come to your very last step... endure

In the light of the truth, take courage... endure

When you’ve lost all sense of hope... endure

Simply... patiently endure all things as far as you can.

“The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever.” (Psalm 37:18 NIV)

“Let those who fear the LORD say: ‘His love endures forever.’” (Psalm 118:4 NIV)

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29 NIV)

“Woe to me because of my injury! My wound is incurable! Yet I said to myself, ‘This is my sickness, and I must endure it.’” (Jeremiah 10:19 NIV)

“When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” (1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a NIV)

Whoso loves believes the impossible. –Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Aggression: Ironically a Sign of Fear

You know when you have that nagging thought buzzing inside your head and feelng coursing through your heart and you just need to deal with it. I experienced this recently thinking about a particular work relationship that seemed a little frayed at the edges at the time. The other person in the relationship was reacting aggressively and I didn’t quite know how to react positively myself. It caused some inner, but positive, angst--impetus to change we might say. I felt a burden for the situation.

Then, lo and behold, I came up against an article for a leadership program that I’m taking part in as a part of my professional work. In discussing the topic of Communicating Effectively, it described the defensive mechanism of an aggressive response in communications, and importantly, the why of this response.

It states:

“Aggressive behaviour is frequently the result of a recognition that one has lost the argument. Paradoxically, aggression is frequently a defensive reaction. Just as normally timid animals, when they cannot run away, will bite as the last line of defence, so we will attack, physically or verbally, when their (sic) is no acceptance of our arguments, wishes or values - and no apparent possibility of such acceptance. Again, in management, aggression indicates the need for care. It interferes with feedback by threatening the giver of feedback with pain.”[1] (Bold added.)

It was a flashbulb moment for me. I went and saw the person immediately and asked them, in as sensitive a fashion as I could, whether they feared something as a result of our relationship, without using those actual words.

The acknowledgement came that yes, there was something the other party was losing as a result of the interactions. It was then my opportunity to reassure this person that I was aware of how they felt and that I’d be doing the best I could to ensure their feelings were accounted for--being that the issue itself was unavoidable. A cogent but caring understanding seemed to do the trick.

As a result, there was a relief in both of us. Suddenly the congesting load rolled off the chest and we were closer as a result. It’s only the first step however; I’ve needed to keep a ‘watching brief’ on this relationship, like all my important relationships.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] PrimeXL, Communicating Effectively article. No other identifying features as to authorship and date etc.

The Commonest Emotion - Grief (Part 1 of 2)

It’s a very sad and real fact of life that we all grieve. The Victorian bushfire tragedy of February 2009 showcased (if that’s the right word?) a community in grief, and an entire nation sympathising. Sadness, as a base emotion in grief, is said to be one of five core emotions. The others are happiness, fear, anger and disgust (though surprise, guilt and shame could also rate a mention).[1]

Grief can be defined as “feelings of desolation and loneliness, accompanied by painful memories, that follow loss, disaster, or misfortune.”[2] Another source says, “Grief is a sharp, deep, and relatively long-lasting emotion of great sorrow, often associated with a loss.”[3]

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross designed her stage theory around approaches to death, but the same characteristics seem to apply for all grief, with the common outcome of loss being the determining stimuli or activator of grief.

The five stages are, of course, quite well known. We first deny what’s happened before we get angry when the news suddenly hits home hard. Then, a little while afterwards when the anger subsides, we want to move back into a form of denial for a little while called bargaining (especially with God!). When this doesn’t work we’re inclined to get depressed. (Notice the seesaw effect as we vacillate between non-truth and truth again and again?) Finally, once we resolve our depression, we do actually accept the finality of the loss. It’s a hard but necessary adaptive process to make; common to all.

To illustrate how common the emotion of grief is, think of the last time you got some significantly bad news. Chances are you grieved--even slightly. For most people, bad news on the minor to medium scale comes relatively often, probably at least monthly. This is why we can (or should) expect people to be at least a little angry when they lose something. (Sound like “conflict”?) It’s a natural, normal response.

Pity the poor person who experiences his or her first major loss as a very mature, even middle-aged or elderly person. This is the reason why it’s good for children to have pets so that when they die they can move through the process of grief, learning a valuable life lesson when it’s the best (and least harsh) period to learn. Grief then doesn’t seem so raw and shrill when we’re introduced to it early and with a loving parent or mentor to guide us.

We must learn how to grieve appropriately and we must teach it to our children; in fact, we must promote it everywhere.

For if we can get grieving right we have a far better chance of resolving problematic issues in life without becoming, or worse staying, bitter.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Post Script: I recall one rather ironically weird but nonetheless sharp experience on the topic of grieving. When my eldest daughter was eleven she lost her love birds, which were attacked by a larger bird whilst in their large cage. We buried them in the back garden the previous day, a Sunday, and had given them a ‘decent funeral service.’ On the Monday night, she and I were discussing it, and sensing a teaching opportunity, I got out a text book and described the Kübler-Ross theory. I then put her to bed, and then my then wife promptly told me our marriage was over--SMACK, the process of several months grieving was born! Unfortunately for me, it was my first real taste of major grief; but there began a very positive journey of relying on God--becoming better, not bitter.
[1] Robert J. Sternberg, In Search of the Human Mind, 2nd Ed. (Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), p. 542.
[2] Karen Huffman, Mark Vernoy & Judith Vernoy, Psychology in Action, 5th Ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000), p. 351-53.
[3] Sternberg, Ibid, p. 543.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Achieving Intimacy in (Workplace) Relationships

The delightful subject of intimacy was raised at a recent leadership love-in that I attended. I mentioned in group discussion that I am sometimes a little nervous in achieving rapport with people I don’t know, and most related with what I said. I mentioned the word “intimacy”--in the context of struggling to build a useful rapport with at least some level of authenticity of exchange i.e. intimacy was sometimes lacking.

Then one of the facilitators of the session introduced a common sense way of looking at intimacy.

She explained that intimacy could be seen as INTO-ME-SEE. Let me explain.

When we show someone a personal weakness (i.e. express vulnerability) it gives them permission to breathe a sigh of relief and become vulnerable too. Secretly, deep down in each of us, we hide our weakness because we think it’s unique, even shameful. But, if we trust them with ours they might trust us with theirs.

Intimacy is really about allowing people to see into us; it’s a revealing of something personal and private. Intimacy is the doorway to trust. It’s opening ourselves up to be vulnerable and fallible, and freeing our mind and heart so the other person might step in and gain a personal glimpse of the person we actually are; this is no small step.

It was acknowledged that it takes the courage of vulnerability to do this. We can’t just open up; it’s a decision of the will, and we must want to do it. We must take a risk.

To achieve intimacy in working relationships we must be prepared to initiate it; only then can we intuit a response of intimacy and the chance that the other person responds likewise. When we drop our guard it invites others to drop theirs. Hence a ‘connection’ is suddenly made.

This is not easy to do for a great many of us, but it becomes easier with practice. Not only that, but it’s a powerful statement of intention to commit and build upon our relationships, acknowledging that we can place others first or at least on an equal footing with ourselves.

Oh, another very real advantage... less back-biting and assumptions of wrong are made when we know someone that little bit better.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Acknowledgement to Jude Taylor.

You’ve Got Clearance, Clarence

Flying High a.k.a. Airplane! (1980) was a ripper of a film when it came out piling spoof upon spoof, the feature of which we’d often have to view it again and again to pick out all the humour in it.

In one memorable sequence at the start of the movie, the plane is taxiing and there’s the comical banter between pilots and air traffic control. This sequence is hilarious:

Roger Murdock (Air Traffic Control): Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Victor Basta: Request vector, over.
Captain Oveur: What?
Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324.
Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over!
Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over.
Tower voice: Over.
Captain Oveur: Roger.
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: Roger, over!
Roger Murdock: What?
Captain Oveur: Huh?
Victor Basta: Who?[1]

That sequence cracked me up every time! But, seriously, it demonstrates the point that communication’s a tricky thing. But, that’s not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the subject of “clearance.”

When I did my mechanical trade, clearance meant something very tangible about the fit of metal parts with each other i.e. male and female parts. There was your garden variety interference fit where parts would have to be heated or shrunk in dry ice to expand or contract enough to fit. The transition fit was where both male and female parts were precisely the same size, and a clearance fit meant there was room or space between the parts so they could run in and out of each other easily.

Then one day recently I was on the road in peak-hour traffic where there was incredible congestion. I got to thinking that our lives can become a lot like roads at peak-hour. We tend to operate in life with a lot of interference (jamming already crammed schedules with more), a little transition (‘Phew, just made it!’), but very little clearance these days.

Clearance i.e. room and space, is a good thing. We ought to be structuring our lives with more clearance and less interference, finding space to experience the things that can’t be bought in life, like peace, love and joy.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Source:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steering Straight to Wisdom

Ever had foot-in-mouth disease? I have, frequently. No sooner do we think something, and then blurt it out, mud’s all over our face, and others are more than likely hurt in the process--is it bad luck?

Balthasar Gracian had the fantastic knack at advice regarding practical “worldly” wisdom; the subsequent nugget is broken down into its parts (in italics and quotation marks) with my own commentary following:

“Select the Lucky and Avoid the Unlucky,” he said. “Ill-luck is generally the penalty of folly, and there is no disease so contagious to those who share in it.”

Perhaps we can reverse this and say folly causes the majority of our bad luck. Praying for wisdom counts in the longer term like keeping a watchful eye on what we think and say does in the shorter term. The bad luck of folly lingers like the ethanol smell on a day old drunk. It permeates, dilutes and destroys.

“Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”

This is about compromise. When we allow things in between our defences during a weak moment, be almost sure and certain these will multiply, sporning in all sorts of wondrously hideous directions. Compromise often sets off a chain of events we can no longer control.

“The greatest skill at cards is to know when to discard; the smallest of current trumps is worth more than the ace of trumps of the last game.”

This can be seen as the time to remove ourselves stealthily from a situation or conversation that’s either going nowhere or reeks decidedly off. We need to know when to be off too. There’s the all important role of timing and poise to consider here. Stealthily removing ourselves from situations and conversations, however, is never done to the offence of others; it’s done subtly with care and respect.

“When in doubt, follow the suit of the wise and prudent; sooner or later they will win the odd trick.”

In life, we should endeavour to get into the habit of asking, ‘What’s the wise thing to do?’ What would someone we know who’s wise do if they were in our place? Dare I say it, ‘What would Jesus do?’

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Psalm 35 – “May they rot in the pit”

Vengeance is not something that we generally associate with in the Bible, after all, Christians are meant to be a ‘rather nice lot,’ aren’t they? King David and others turn the table on this notion in some of the psalms of lament, and Psalm 35 is arguably the pick of them in this regard.

This imprecatory psalm[1] is a classic piece of literature that one would scarcely expect to find in the Bible. But, it’s there. Think of psalms too like Psalm 44 and Psalm 88--read these and see if you’re not left scratching your head about the Jewish and Christian piety.

But, the theology of the lament psalm is just as poignant as any other piece of Scripture; because it speaks so truthfully of the nature of life. Life disappoints us (even for Christians… especially for Christians) and God never apologises for it, so at least he gives us the ability to complain in bitterness to him. And Psalm 35 is a bitter complaint.

About David’s enemies, verse 8 reads, “Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid [for me] ensnare them; let them fall into it--to their ruin.” (NRSV)

And David dealt humbly with the same people who later took advantage of him--David sees no justice. He implores his LORD for justice and he sought it quickly.

I mean, is it ever right to feel this way about people and situations that are against us? It may not be right, but it is real. David’s response however is to cry his frustrations to God in prayer. And not that alone, but he screams in desperation as his foes pursue him and hem him in, threatening his life; not many of us can claim such persecution, though there are some in this world who could.

It might be justice that we’re praying for, and that’s fine, but this psalm teaches us, perhaps by example, we must allow God to fix his justice in place in his timeframe, though David sought it as soon as possible. And there’s no reason we can’t wish for our burdens to be lifted as quick, but in the end, we have to leave it to God--timing, places and method.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] “Imprecatory psalms are those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist's enemies. To imprecate means to invoke evil upon, or curse. Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139 all contain prayers for God's judgment on the psalmist's enemies.” (Source:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Narrow Way to the Divine Romance

Nathan Tasker impressed me from the very first time I saw him perform. His lyrics and singing together with his slick guitar work punctuated his inter-song commentary and insights on things spiritual. His 2003 Album, A Look Inside, is a classic piece in my view; there are not many CDs in my collection that I love all the tracks on--Nathan’s is a notable, pleasing exception.

One such song, rich in theology, is Narrow, a song obviously inspired by Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount says:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (TNIV)

The narrow gate and way... the gate and road are of course analogous to the journey of life i.e. our decision making. The vast majority make the easy decisions of live now, pay later. The narrow way is rare, especially in this ‘instant age.’ But, herein lays the key!

In the lonely undertakings of the narrow way there is a wondrous surprise in store for us who are willing to journey with Jesus. When it “is a hard and narrow way that leads through dying and dark places, have we not suddenly seen in the narrowness the breadth, in the dying the living, and in him, who seems to make living so hard, the great liberator?”[1]

The lyrics I love in Narrow go as follows:

“Well I must admit this world
Often tempts my fallen eyes
And I fall in love with all
My earthly home provides
But I make this vow and decision
To get lost in divine romance
And at times I forsake my first love
But he woos my heart again,
Cause he’s the God of second chance.”[2]

Anyone who’s experienced the grace of God knows what is meant by the term, “He’s the God of second chance,” forgiving all that we’ve put up against him.

Yet, in getting the second chance we also give him (God) the second chance. We sacrifice the worldly for the divine and know a much better strain of life than a shallow worldliness can every hope to provide. But it takes faith to throw away what looks attractive.

“The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live forever.”
–1 John 2:17 (CEV).

God is the narrow way to where I belong. He is home.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again: Sermons from the Sermon on the Mount, trans. John W. Doberstein (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 182.
[2] Courtesy of Cross-Word Music Pty Ltd and Nathan Tasker Music:

The Purpose and Wonder of 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’re 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 (TNIV). 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. 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.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[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.

The Teacher Learns Twice

To a point, all teachers and people espousing a certain way are open to hypocrisy, especially those advising on spiritual and character-growth matters, and issues of virtue and morality. There is a principle that must ground this propensity to be a hypocrite.

“To teach is to learn twice.” -Joseph Joubert, Pensées, 1842.

Another humbling fact of life for the teacher is this: to earn the right to instruct others they often have to practice what they preach in real life, meaning acknowledged hypocrisy must be corrected--there is no choice in the matter for the ardent practitioner.

It’s tempting to be disheartened by this truth because nobody enjoys being humbled and humiliated; but the fact is it gets easier with practice. There will be many times more (by God’s grace) that we might be humbled and brought low, for our own good, and that of others. To experience this is indeed to be taken into deeper revelations of God’s loving discipline; this is always good for us.

The positive thing is the teacher, in this environment, should learn and grow a lot, leading to enormous blessing as he or she grows to eventual wisdom.

Of course, learning twice is a little too limiting. The reality is, as much as the teacher teaches, he or she learns (or ought to be open to learning), forming a continual loop. For instance, God’s word is “living and active,”[1] and there are new and relevant meanings that come afresh each day. Eugene Peterson said a few years ago, “When I open my Bible, you know, I’m surprised every day. Why didn’t I see that before,” he says.[2] The teacher of the Bible, therefore, is forced into finding out many different things--a kind of enforced blessing.

Teaching is said to be the most honoured of professions, yet there are many more teachers who do not teach professionally. Think of the teaching roles we play and the opportunities we have to learn within the context of these roles--that’s a true blessing of life to be very thankful for. Teaching is every bit about learning as it is to teaching.

Teach this way and we’re destined to be honoured for the right reasons. Not only that, we model by example to others that teaching is the humblest act of blessing future generations whilst honouring our forefathers, in the carrying on of many sacred and necessary traditions.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] See Hebrews 4:12.
[2] Sheridan Voysey, Open House interview and broadcast, as reported in The Advocate, January 2007.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Copy Cat, Dirty Rat…

When I was a kid we used to have this saying for those who’d copy us. I went like this, “Copy cat, dirty rat, sittin’ on the butcher’s hat!” Then we’d poke out our tongue at the person copying our work (or style) and mark them with disdain, sort of vexing them… you know, the evil eye and all that. As kids we were brutally honest weren’t we?

Kids copy; it’s a temptation many bow to. We have the same issue as adults though it’s less purposeful--we tend to copy what others do, at times without realising, and especially if we see a reward in it.

For instance, on the roads we mimic others in a second. I do perhaps 3-4 hours of driving most days of the week, due to my home, work and family locations being disparate geographically. I will often be sitting right on the speed limit on a long straight stretch of road and notice someone tear past me. Others behind them see it, and they do the same thing. Without the model of the first driver, I wonder if others would follow so quickly.
I see some amazingly stupid things on the road due to this very phenomenon. And I do the same things myself from time to time--that is, take unnecessary risks in a moment without thought.

Basically all of us assess what we can get away with rather than opt for what is right--to get to the destination in one piece, intact and unscathed. To remain safe on the roads we need to reach for this higher standard, not going the way of the mob.
It’s the same in all areas of life, not just on the roads. We need to strive to do what is right no matter the consequences.

Copy cats are never really better off in the end. “It is better to live right and be poor than to be sinful and rich.” –Psalm 37:16 (CEV). There is much peace for the person who forges their own path based in what is right.

The Folly in Wonder Alone

Picking my daughter up from her workplace (a veterinary surgery) recently was a real treat; “puppy preschool” was on. As all the excited puppies were arriving with their owners there was much interest, sniffing, clawing and play-biting. There was a sense of wonder at it all for these toddling dogs, and wonder too for their owners, and me.

It got me thinking about this quote below:

“Ignorance never gets beyond wonder... while vulgar folly wonders wisdom watches for the trick.”
–Balthasar Gracian.

Without being sceptical, at times we’re fooled by wonder. We stay there and don’t move on, and certainly where there is even more to experience or capitalise on, for instance, reality.

It’s also true that we often tire of wonders, yet don’t see the wonder in the normal day-to-day.

There are all sorts of things ‘frocked up’ these days to entice a sense of wonder, and we can be tempted to fall for it every time. I remember watching a documentary on hypnotism where they especially featured some of the psychology of wonder in advertising and marketing. It seems we’re targeted implicitly, subliminally and totally without much conscious effort; we commit our time, money and heart to things we possibly don’t even need.

Whilst I don’t advocate scepticism very much as I think sceptics can be killjoys, it does have a place in sifting the things that are targeted for us. The ‘do yourself a favour’ pitch often has a real paradoxical sting about it. Once the novelty wears off (and wonder becomes nothing much to speak of) we go searching for the next toy or thing to induce our sense of wonder.

When it comes to people, especially people with something to gain (at the expense of others), there is usually little real wonder to be seen. Now again, genuine wonder comes in things most people don’t even notice--things coincidently from God... like puppies.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.