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Thursday, December 31, 2015

16 Timely Reflections As God Turns Another Page In History

1.     What about the year ahead?
We start looking ahead from the end of things?  Of the vast possibilities what’s one thing that makes for hope regarding the year ahead?
2.    What about things left unsaid?
Some things we’d have hoped to have said more, or said something else.  What is it that we tie off, today, before we venture free into the New Year
3.    What’s one thing to be thankful for?
Just one thing.  If the previous year’s been one long trial or series of trials, at least we can be thankful we endured it — 365 days of it is behind us now.
4.    What’s one thing to do once more?
Some things prove so pleasurable they’re worth replicating.  But replicating something is likely to lead to disappointment, because expectations are raised.  Replicate, but change it up a little; innovate.
5.    What could be next year’s thing?
Pregnant with possibility — a whole 365 days ahead.  Amazing to think what we’ll know this time next year.  It’s all ahead.  Don’t be fearful.  Be in awe.
6.    What could be one joy to bring?
One thing we could do to bless another’s life (or others’ lives).  It doesn’t need to be big to be significant.
7.    What are the things of your age?
What will we look back on twenty years from now?  What is great about the age you’re at now.  Remember that with age comes perspective and wisdom.  Age is a crown of glory.
8.    What do you hope for as God turns the page?
At this very moment in history (His Story) what is it we can pin our hope on?  Journal it and reflect later.  Reflecting on what we journal always proves elucidating.
9.    What was done that you did in vain?
There are things we do every year that prove to be a waste of our and others’ time.  So what?  Smile and praise God at the luxury of time we have to waste things and still have further opportunities.
10. What is done that you won’t do again?
Sheer learning is the resolve that says “I won’t be doing that again!”
“One thing I won’t do again is ___________________________.”
11.  What’s one regret to leave behind?
Perhaps it’s something we suffered.  Maybe it’s the way someone treated us.  Or possibly it’s a hurt to commit to letting go of.  Whatever it is, letting go so often requires a strategy.  Honour the enormity of the issue with a plan big enough that sees the issue left well behind in the past.
12. What’s one true blessing that God assigned?
These are very cool — a calling that was confirmed as ours alone.  Enjoy that feeling of feeling special in God’s sight.  We all are you know!
13. What’s learned in the living of this dear life?
Many things can only be learned in having a go.  Some things can only be experienced in taking a plunge.  If we never take the first step we’ll never know what can be achieved.
14. What’s the thing that turned from glory to strife?
I have an image in mind of another family’s situation.  Oh I pity them.  But then there are those who pitied my family last year.  We never know when glory might turn to strife.  All we can do is live this life.  Live boldly, whatever.
15. What’s that thing that lies just ahead?
A day or two hence and our whole perspective will be changed.  The New Year’s naysayer may not agree, but there’s something that New Year does to us in our outlook on life.
16. What’s one thing your hopes rest on instead?
One thing.  Write it down.  And don’t stop if you get another.  It’s very therapeutic you know.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Itch of Sexual Temptation, Scratching It Appropriately

FALLING into sin is, from hindsight’s viewpoint, an inevitable prospect, if nothing is done to appropriately scratch the itch that presents as a desire to be yielded to.
The obvious and illustrative falling, from a ministry viewpoint, is sexually; the sin of lust through pornea (the word from which pornography comes from). This doesn’t have to be an online addiction. Pornography, by virtue of its etymological root (pornea), which is sexual desire gone awry, and expressed inappropriately, is a classic example. It’s far too easy for the eye to notice the attractive woman or man in the pews, or someone we’re ministering with, or to exchange something supposedly harmless. Sexual seduction happens far easier than via an affair. It occurs in the mind when the mind dreams up its fantasies — without much entertaining, or much awareness — we could add.
It doesn’t really matter what’s caused the itch; what’s important is how we scratch it. And, additionally, it proves helpful if we know beforehand how itches operate. Furthermore, there are appropriate ways of scratching an itch as there are also inappropriate ways.  The former should interest us just as the latter should instil fear in us.
1.      The Physiology of An Itch
How does an itch work? If we get an itch anywhere but on our nose we find we can resist scratching, at least for a short time. We can wait a few seconds, even a few minutes. But if we have that itch occur on our nose, particularly on a certain section and in a certain way, we have to scratch it immediately or we’ll sneeze. Sometimes we sneeze anyway.
The itch that is sin operates the same way. Some itches are innocuous. They hardly pique our awareness. But other itches are downright dangerous. These itches beg to be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. And we ought to pray that every significant itch piques the awareness of our just-noticeable difference so at least we have the chance of picking the itch up.
2.     The Role the Mind Plays
Whatever the mind has conceived, whatever the mind has believed, can certainly be achieved. Do you see sin’s deception has already occurred? This is not to shame us, but to caution us, as to what is happening. Sin occurs first in the mind. (This just proves how indelibly helpless we all are against sin. In other words, our minds prove how fallen we are; our minds prove the Christian theology of God that we’re all sinners needing saving — in this case, in the moment.) And if the sin occurs first in our thoughts, it occurs secondly via our convictions — when thoughts become feelings, and feelings to be acted on.
The mind’s action of entreating sin is the itch. The body’s action to amend the itch is a scratch. And there are appropriate ways for scratching as there are inappropriate ways. Scratching the itch appropriately depends on the danger it presents us. Scratching appropriately recognises the risk and runs in the other direction, toward God.
3.     Scratching a Dangerous Itch
Uppermost in our minds has to be the threat level of an itch that must be attended to. Itches of the sexual variety may prove dormant for some time, but their threat level is always very high to extreme — a veritable bomb waiting to detonate; one that could level a thriving metropolis — because all it needs is an opportunity; the right environment. The inputs to sexual sin are always there.
Dangerous itches ought to be quarantined in such a way as they’re dealt with in an over-the-top fashion. Sexual temptation is such a stimulant. As one thought is identified as having occurred, we take the event very seriously. Again, this is not anything about guilt or shame, but about pragmatism. It’s about acknowledging the potential.
It has to be dealt with consciously. We must take it seriously enough. Sharing it with an accountability partner, and not least with God in prayer, we take steps to change the order of our lives to break the chain of these dangerous cognitions. Whatever we don’t deal with consciously, so far as sin is concerned, can very well slip under the radar into unconscious thought, which is where Satan, the nemesis, hides.
God won’t fail to give us strategies to overcome our dangerous thoughts if we’re honest with him. And this is especially true if we, as a minister, have such a vision of calling that to serve Christ is everything. But let’s not forget that, at such a commitment, the enemy, Satan, may well make of us a higher-priority target. (Not that that should instil any fear in us. We just need to be doubly and triply aware.)
***
Sexual temptation occurs first in the mind as an itch. If we don’t scratch that itch appropriately and soon, temptation may lead to the unintentional enacting of the sin, behaviourally.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Our Weakness Accepted – God’s Strength Embraced

THIS article is about weakness, and the paradoxical nature of the strength that prevails for us when we’re intentionally weak; when we come to rely on God’s strength in our weakness.  First come these random though related thought statements to ponder:
What if weakness were the spiritual centrality of our life?
What if weakness were the key to unlocking the deeper life?
What if in weakness we transcend our shadow and move into God’s light?
What if.  I suggest not ‘what if’ but the fact of spiritual centrality, of unlocking, of moving into God’s light.
***
Weakness IS the reason we are strong.
In our weakness IS our light.
Out of weakness, not strength, we are truly strong.
If we can be weak, we’re then strong in the fact of our weakness.  Out of weakness is a strength of courage that faces what ought to be faced: the truth.
***
When Satan reveals us as weak, he has nothing on us.
If we won’t be embarrassed how will he elicit fear in us?
But God has everything in store for the one who bears their weakness.
If Satan has only shame and guilt and embarrassment and the like to attempt to banish us from God’s Presence, he has nothing when we welcome these very things.  Even if our secrets are revealed, the enemy of God has nothing on us.  Nothing.  God wants us to know how pathetic Satan is; that, though he seems powerful, he has no ground to stand when we bear the truth — a very simple obedience.
***
Weakness acknowledged is the power of truth in the marvel of light.
God builds His Kingdom through weakness; through weak people.
Weak persons are unknowing instruments of His power and grace.
There is a marvel of light known to the believer who steps through their fear to embrace their weakness.  God can only, and will only, use a weak person.  A person appearing in their own strength is a blight on God’s work.  They can no more help build God’s Kingdom than God can help them.  But weakness is their way back to the Presence, blessing and power of God.
***
Do you, today, choose to be adamantly weak?
Will you glory in that weakness as its own strength?
Will you see that in your acknowledged weakness you bear much light?
***
There’s much grace in the truth that, with our weaknesses accepted, we exude humility.  And we can only be a truer blessing to and for others when we have gotten out of our own way.  We were in our own way when we couldn’t accept our weaknesses, and then, as a result, our shadow got in the way of loving others as we could.  We found we could only love others when we’ve been able to love ourselves.
We will experience most power and freedom when we embrace that which should hold no fear: we’re strongest when we’re weak.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

7 Things Any One Year Teaches You to Be Thankful For

ANY one year in the time that is our lives is 365 days full of life — each day possibly a whole motion picture epic in and of itself.  These things and many more we can be thankful for.
1.     A New Friend Made
We meet new people all the time, but there’s a particular person you’ve met this year that’s changed your life for the better.  Or perhaps it’s the case that a person you knew or knew of has now come to take a significant role in your life.  And the hope remains, that there is a person you’re yet to meet who will make your life ever so sweet.
2.    A Goal Accomplished
Something differentiates the year from past years.  Something accomplished makes this year significant.  And this significant thing is sufficiently big to cause us to be in awe of what we’ve accomplished.  What a blessing that we can do a thing that remained elusive.  One goal achieved holds us open to the hope of the next goal to be achieved.
3.    A Fear (or Challenge) Conquered
Some things seem impossible to conquer, until someone inspires us to break through the glass ceiling.  Or perhaps we had no choice but to punch on through the fear.  Whatever, it’s a wonderful thing to be thankful for — a fear conquered — not least for the confidence it proffers us in taking on and vanquishing future fears.
4.    A Goodbye Said
Life is replete with loss.  We are required to say goodbye.  And what on earth is there to be thankful for in that?  Simply this: that we miss them in the first place, that they meant and still mean so much to us, speaks volumes for our love and for the love we experienced.  Let’s praise God for the glory encased in love.
5.    A Struggle Endured
Some years are defined by struggle, and most years feature a significant struggle that our lives were called to bear for that time.  Thank God for the strength he gave you; that you did not give up; that you remain in contention of the prize at hand.
6.    One More Year Experienced
One more year on this glorious earth!  One more year to stow as a mishmash of experience, and yet we do not yet know what eternal significance is laden in our experience.  Thank God that you experienced all the bigness, consciously, in all the myriad little moments of one year.
7.    Hope of Another Year Ahead
This is our hope.  No matter how bad life seems there’s typically a drive within us to remain alive.  We ought to thank God for such a prospect.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Gift of Accepting Broken Old Me

ON ANY given day we’re only about 30-seconds away from being overwhelmed in a life that, given our particular soft spot is activated, will throw us into a tail spin of turmoil.  Everyone has such a soft spot.
On any given day.  Satan knew that Job was susceptible, even though he was as righteous a person as there ever had been (until that point in history).  Yet God would protect only Job’s life.  God would not cover for Job’s sin.  And that’s the purpose of the book of Job — to show us that God can use our sin-caused humiliations for his glory when we’re teachable in the mix of it.
On any given day there are the circumstances that may fuel a melt-down.  Conditions that contribute to our being rendered unbalanced or useless by certain stimuli.  Situations that make life in that frame unbearable.
Of course, the enemy of God wants us to feel humiliated.
If we feel humiliated the enemy thinks he’s won.  But he’s won nothing.  The key to victory lies in accepting broken old me, warts and all.  And as soon as we feel no guilt or shame or remorse for being broken old me the devil departs, knowing he’s been thwarted without having a clue as to what to do to wrest back control over our lives.
Humiliation is the key — to render such a feeling null.  The only way that works is if we keep ourselves to a short account with the truth — even truth as others might see us.  We hold those possible truths in tension with who we are.  When truth can subsist in us, humbly, there’s no power for or possibility of humiliation.
On any given day we’re humiliated.  But on any given day we can respond with audacity — to regale in the guilt or shame or remorse with courageous honest, which requires vulnerability.  That’s the essence of human maturity — to remain vulnerable in the face of truth, with no defence nor attack considered.
This is the key to life and growth.
Only the person who has nothing to fear from guilt and shame and remorse can come close to God, for they’ve come close to themselves.  They’re not the slightest bit perturbed that they feel exposed and embarrassed.  Sure, they should, and perhaps they feel an inkling of that negative stimuli, but they accept themselves more, and are able to hold themselves with dignity in those threatening moments.
Self-acceptance is the final frontier in the race to accepting the unconditional love of God.  If we accept ourselves, including our nasty and shameful bits, we have the capacity to understand the depth of God’s love for us.
The opposite also works: understand the depth of God’s love for us, ourselves, and we learn to accept ourselves.
Accepting broken old fallible me is tantamount in understanding and accepting the brokenness in every human being.
We’re more fully able to love others when at last we’re free to love ourselves as God loves us.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Accepting the Darkness in Others Which Reveals Our Shadow

What follows is a long quote from Carl Gustav Jung, father of analytical psychology, from a talk to German clergy titled, Psychotherapists or the Clergy. These are paragraphs 519 and 520.
It is easy for the doctor to show understanding in this respect, you will say. But people forget that even doctors have moral scruples, and that certain patients’ confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted too. No one can bring this about by mere words; it comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side. If the doctor wants to guide another, or even accompany him a step of the way, he must feel with that person’s psyche. He never feels it when he passes judgment. Whether he puts his judgments into words, or keeps them to himself, makes not the slightest difference. To take the opposite position, and to agree with the patient offhand, is also of no use, but estranges him as much as condemnation. Feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity. This sounds almost like a scientific precept, and it could be confused with a purely intellectual, abstract attitude of mind. But what I mean is something quite different. It is a human quality a kind of deep respect for the facts, for the man who suffers from them, and for the riddle of such a man’s life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.
Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least O my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved what then? Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is then no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world, we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.
My Thoughts – My Analysis
We judge others most harshly in the areas of our own shadow.
Central to my unforgiveness is the matter of my shadow.  My shadow casts darkness over those things in others that I do not like nor accept in myself.  I judge him or her for their impudence that is still awry in me; and where I judge harshly I become culpable on the stand before God.
Any rage in us about another human being is a rage that indelibly boomerangs.  This is a thing to accept or deny, but let’s know that denying is a refusal of truth and growth — we’re not there yet — and we and God ought to know this together.  But if we accept our darkness is irretrievably locked up in the fissures of darkness we notice in others, there we can flush it out from within ourselves, simply by converting our rage inwardly.
It’s a most important thing in the growth of the Christian: to know the essence of darkness that lurks secretly within as an excuse to root out the darkness in others.
Knowing myself is accepting those dark parts of me that God reveals through my dislike of those characteristics in others.
Growing up is understanding God invites me to convert my rage about others inwardly.
Perfect maturity in the faith and in life is the constant awareness and acceptance of our personal shadow; our individual darkness which we only see as faults in others.
***
This is undoubtedly a very humbling concept.  There is no place we can hide from our shadow.  Every criticism we level at others inevitably blows back against us.
Oh Lord, my Father in heaven,
My Lord Jesus Christ help me,
Make me convert inwardly,
What I hate to see.
Make me to see,
What I seek solely to refuse,
Help me of these to be free,
So I you can use.
God can use us most when we see the truth.  He has less and less access to us when we are shrouded in our shadow — in our judgment of others.
Let us not deny Christ anymore, for Christ in us is showing us where our shadow contends; wherever our love is found wanting.
Our darkness is in the darkness we notice in others. Accept and love them and we accept and love ourselves.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Deeper Ministry In the Called Life

THERE is a deeper ministry of caring and shepherding. Such a ministry is a calling of invisibility, and of seeing, yet only through the spiritual realm. Neither is the one who ministers deeply so commonly recognised (in public ways), nor are their works seen or readily valued by the populace. And yet, if the world does perchance see, the world grapples to own it for itself and makes of such philanthropic service a champion for good; just look for the unsung heroes on television. But ninety-nine percent of those in the deeper ministry are not recognised and may even be shunned.
But their heart is sacred, and their works are heavenly significant:
Sometimes God selects,
Those for his secret ministry,
The one who honours and protects,
The dignity of the mystery.
Such a mystery makes of the seeing blind,
But to the one of whom God calls,
Secret needs are neon signed,
They are there for the one who sprawls.
Are you called to the secret, deeper ministry? Have you been called to bear burdens that are unusual for your time? Do these burdens call you by name? Has your ministry for the Lord made much impact in individual persons’ lives, yet such things must necessarily remain a secret?
What a privilege you’ve had to serve in such a way. God has called you to do an eternal ministry that only the angels might be privileged to see. You’ve facilitated the recovery of people’s dignity and you have returned to them a self-respect that was either long-robbed of them, or Satan has since tried to wrest it away. God must be saying to you, keep doing what you’re doing, even if it appears to you a complete loss. You know your ministry has been special to God in the heavens because of the warfare you’ve had to endure. And endure it you have. Hear his words: “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as you endure in bringing his heavenly will to earth, one angel’s wish at a time.
The deeper ministry is much less charismatic than the work of James Bond, but it’s done in the same sort of way. This secret ministry works by the principle of Matthew 6:3. It’s a commitment to sowing rewards into heaven, for no interest of earthly reward.
I pray the right people read this, for God has laid this on my heart.
As a pastor of this tradition and gifting once said:
“There will be many who will not see the significance in the little things you do. You’re called to a deeper ministry where the true significance of eternity resides.”
My request of you, if you identify with any of this, and especially if you’re discouraged, press more deeply into your Lord. He so loves your work!
Verily blessed are you,
When your calling is true,
When you can do no other thing,
But the healing you help to bring.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Did Jesus Look Like? And How Important Is It?

SCIENTISTS got together and reconstructed the face of Jesus as best they could. Of course, this story captured the imagination of almost everyone, believers and those yet to believe alike. The image they came up with was a much less attractive face [at left] than the face depicted by Akiane Kramarik [at right], as independently confirmed by Colton Burpo in the story from the book and movie Heaven Is For Real.
Beyond the aesthetics of our Lord’s actual face, we have to imagine how meaningless the whole question of what he looked is. Until we imagine coming face-to-face with him in heaven. Then we will know forever more. Then his face will be indelibly marked in the psyches of our spirit.
What did Jesus look like? It doesn’t really matter.
If we look at the latest, less handsome version constructed by the forensics, we’re may likely to fall into thinking, “Can I trust a man who looks like that? He’s so unremarkable. And not just that… he just doesn’t look special at all… not like Akiane’s image.”
And yet, in that frame of perception we highlight to ourselves that our Saviour needs something more than what he did for us — to die on the cross to wash us of the effect of our sin. A Jesus that looks like that needs more; dangerous territory.
It doesn’t matter what Jesus’ looked like, or even what he looks like in heaven. The former is inconsequential because the act of going to the cross and bearing all humanity’s sin is more than we can ever conjure up in our understanding. The latter we’ll find out about soon enough.
As true believers in Jesus we have to wonder what the relevance is in what he looked like.
And if it matters to us what he looked like, surely then his looks will be rated by us. We will end up with a view on whether his looks make the grade or not. Sure, this new picture sounds interesting, but it makes a mockery of our faith, because it sends our focus in the wrong direction.
But then it might also be said that some may actually be won to the faith in the chasing of this story; we should pray that be so.
Jesus deserves our allegiance by what is written about him and by how he’s proved himself in our lives.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, December 14, 2015

3 True Components In A Random Act of Kindness

A random act of kindness has these three features: it’s to be done now, for no reason, and for no credit.
Jesus is the reason for the season,
Kindness works in every season and region,
Do Random Acts for no reason,
Do your kindness in secret.
God gave us his Son — the grace of which implies such an act of kindness as to resemble what we, from our human viewpoint, could only do as a random act.
For us to replicate the immensity of God’s act of kindness we need it to be random, such that our partialities and prejudices don’t get in the way.
This is understood three ways:
Firstly, we typically hang back on doing kindness. God never did. We find every excuse in the book, at times, to resist giving a kindness. Yet we can all recall a time when we did a good thing without delay, reason or credit and we were incredibly blessed as a result.
To give now is to give in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we do kindnesses, but we do them for a reason, which usually involves a favour returned. How many times have we given something to someone, or done something nice, thinking even subconsciously, “there’s a favour owed now”? This is particularly the case if we find it easy to give, yet not so easy to receive. Whether the favour is returned or not, as human beings we cannot help think what might follow. To give with no reason alludes to no human (corrupt) intention. To give with no reason means we give with our right hand in such a way as to not let the left hand know what we’re doing. In other words, to give without reason attempts a purely spiritual endeavour.
So, to give, as prompted by the Spirit,
is to give now, with no reason.
Thirdly, we tend to do our kindness for our credit. Good things done usually have about them recognition, which esteems to us, value. We’re valued and we feel valuable. Yet, do we trust in the Lord enough to do our good deed with no need of reward? If we did, we’d find ourselves very comfortably sat inside the intent of Jesus’ Sermon in Matthew 6. And that ought to always be our goal.
A perfect random act of kindness is done now, for no reason, for no credit.
Each of these three components removes three barriers as we take our humanness out of the equation of love. This understands that love comes from God in us, and not inherently from us within ourselves.
***
Jesus is not just the reason for the Christmas season, though it’s been helpful to reclaim that idea. Jesus is the reason for kindness in every season, because the Father showed such an immense and unremitting kindness in giving his Son for us all.
Random acts of kindness are God’s perfect will in and for every season.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.