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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pastoral Care, Egalitarianism, and the Spiritual Ministry

WHAT a wonderful thing it is when the Spirit brings us alive in how he’s using others. I must admit to envy a lot of the time — wishing I had the gifting or foresight to have written what others have written, for instance. But when envy is quickly morphed into inspiration there’s a lot to thank God for.
I feel inspired to write on the above topic through what the Spirit has done in me as a response to an article I read where this was quoted:
“The pastoral care relationship imitates the grace we have received in Christ and foreshadows the grace we are yet to receive.”
— Alycia Randell
Pastoral care relationships find their basis and power in the midst of grace.
Where are we going, and who are we, in the faith, without grace? I sense we’re nothing without it. I sense we’ve missed the point if our ‘faith’ strides forth in a purpose devoid of it. Grace, rather, is devoid of self. Grace gives and we, the believer, receive. But, importantly, in the receiving we have given over our will so that grace might do a work in us above and beyond our pitiable default resistance. In a word, surrender. Our surrender and God’s grace — a formidable unison for the Kingdom.
The pastoral care relationship is implicit of and pregnant with grace. Such a relationship embodies and amplifies the pastoral heart, which is simply a spiritual ministry in parties to the relationship. What urgent power for the Kingdom is displayed for all with eyes to see and for all with ears to hear.
The pastoral heart allows. It does not rescind. It remains open with positivity and hope. The pastoral heart is not a closed door, nor a smothering agent, nor a damp cloth over a chalkboard. The pastoral heart is appreciative, alive in the faith, realistic yet hopeful for the best. Such a heart is anointed for relationship. The pastoral care relationship is about life, hope and glory — God’s. Pastoral care is exigent of a generous spirit, not an inhibiting spirit, alive to love, not seeking to control.
Egalitarianism is a concept home to grace, which is home within the sphere of spiritual ministry. Spiritual ministry is not dependent on the human will, for the latter is subservient to the former. The Spirit that divides soul and spirit even in the one person will do as he is pleased to do — and to God be that glory!
The Spirit is beyond male and female, slave and free. The spiritual ministry, henceforth, makes all things equal, for no bias can be predicated and no bias can prevail — unless it’s set up by the Spirit, himself. For the Spirit, though, biases are antithetical. We must know there’s no partiality in God, besides the seeming random nature of God’s hand and blessing at times. But that’s our perception for us.
The beauty of the pastoral care relationship and the spiritual ministry is they’re all about God. Nothing human interrupts either. Grace superintends with beauty everything pastoral.
Grace, come, keep flowing
Come with spiritual ease,
Grace, come, keep showing
Only by grace do God we please.
The more we legislate the more we shove God away. The more we lord it over people the more we lord our tyranny over ourselves. But the person surrendered to the Spirit, the one going pastoral, is the one who breathes and builds God’s Kingdom. The less they try the more they do.
Come, Holy Spirit of peace,
Come and break the bonds of law,
Melt hearts afresh, make us adore:
Your works of grace never cease.
Grace differentiates true hospitality from hosting, catering and entertaining. Grace makes hospitality pastorally caring.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Courage It Takes To Live Life (and Die)

NOT everyone is equipped with joy, peace and hope sufficient to live life well all the time. Indeed, no one is. We all have times in our lives when it takes an extra dose of courage to get out of bed or to get off the couch. Sometimes every movement brings pain. At other times we merely step, where each step is a testimony to courageous faith, even though we’d never see it as anything special at all. But it is. It’s special to struggle and keep going. But those who cannot go on are no less special.
There are fleeting travesties that take us from being a normal, well-adjusted soul into a fuming wreck of an existence. One seemingly innocuous action wreaks many subsequent tragedies. We can never tell what the time is bringing; only from hindsight can we see what has become history.
It takes courage to live this life; notwithstanding the masses of blessing poured over us each day by a God bringing us to life again each morning. And yet, we live in a highly physical world that makes a spiritual existence frail in its experience. Many times.
God knows how special each of us are. Those who struggle most he’s most proud of, I’m sure. Those who cannot go on, I’m sure, are bequeathed a special allotment of grace as they enter the heavenlies.
Those who’ve traversed the ether of exigent pain know how tenuous the will to live is. They have an empathy of those who’ve made a decision. Only as we witness a life being torn apart to its sinews can we attest to the brutality of life within anxiety and depression. Only empathy is due. No judgment. No condemnation. Only understanding where there can be no true understanding. Just compassion. No hard-heartedness. No words. Just prayers. Just prayerful kindness.
The courage it takes to live life seems so ho-hum to us who do so, day in, day out, without much ado. But there are those we work next to, those who are family members, and others we know well, who struggle arduously every waking second.
So let us look at life differently. Life’s not a thing to be glib about. Life’s a great struggle for many, and for many of us it gets to be impossible. Then we’re on a wing and a prayer for a time.
Drawing deeply upon breath for life,
Note the courage to simply breathe in and out,
Despite the fact of chiding doubt,
Our prayer is you get through your strife.
Please don’t imagine that life is easy for everyone. It’s not even easy for most, nor some. God doesn’t miss for a second the courage it takes to live this life.
Jesus said that we’d be overwhelmed in our grief. All we can do is take heart — that Jesus has overcome the world’s fetish to make sport of us — and live well while we wait in our waystation for our trip home.
Live courageously. Struggle honestly. Toil diligently. Fail without embarrassment. Get back up when you fall down. Repeat.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Heart of Healing Wisdom In An Inconsolable Grief

DEATH is such an inseparable reality that separation takes us close to madness, for we cannot reconcile that which cannot be undone. And hence we’re undone. Grief in the presence of loss is irreconcilable, uncontainable, nonsensical, and a roller coaster ride to boot.
Yet, is there a heart of healing wisdom in an inconsolable grief?
When we’re grieving we cling with all our lives to such a hope; for a possibility we need to believe is tangibly real for the attaining.
In grief we don’t simply fall, we plummet. It’s the feeling that the fall continues. That we never quite reach the bottom of the abyss. At least there are key fragments of time, even whole days, and possibly seasons, where this is the case.
In an inconsolable grief we don’t see a possibility that life as it was can ever return to the way it once was. We’ve lost touch with our past and we’ve lost control over our future. As a result we’re forlorn in the present; with no solidity of identity from the past and no solidity of hope for the future we’re rapidly overwhelmed. Everything that held us in the past has been vanished. Everything’s changed. And though we crave a new normal we can’t quite seem to let go of the old normal.
One of the worst parts of grief is the constant mood swapping that goes on when we have enough of our old perspective to say, “Sheesh, enough of this already! I’m getting really tired of you…” We may never have ever felt we could ever get so frustrated with ourselves, but, like we cannot stand it when someone else criticises our family, and yet we’re allowed to, we need everyone to understand just what we’ve dealing with; we need a special consideration of empathy.
That Heart of Healing Wisdom
When we’ve come to a point of being tired of the rat race of grief we’ve come to the terms of our acceptance. What we cannot control must be accepted. We learn the peace of letting go. And yet it takes literally dozens of attempts at trial and error. Patience is the key.
Grief, of course, is a requiem to love, a monument for the losses we can’t bear to lose. It’s a scream in the vacuous depths for a memory that cannot be let go of. It’s a silence for which words always betray.
The heart of healing wisdom is not simply a wisdom for now, but for future, and for all eternity. That heart of healing wisdom finds itself formed out of the very visceral anguish of grief. That heart of healing wisdom can be learned no other way.
That heart of healing wisdom is a mystery, and it certainly cannot be quantified here. You are too precious to be robbed of the opportunity of learning what works and makes sense to you.
But in the process, learn new habits, be open to new things, don’t be afraid of letting go of most things, but jealously guard those things in the loss that you know are yours to keep. Make beautiful monuments of them in your heart. Be prepared that life will change, and not that life has just changed until now.
Grief is a signal of the flux we’re going through. It always feels painful at the time, but God will show us more in time. And for most of us, in most of our experiences, we’ll mostly need time.
That heart of healing wisdom is a precious gift that can only be acquired in having our hearts healed in time with wisdom.
Grief is a reality all too real, a reality requiring us to be gentle with ourselves.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Making Monuments of Grace to Forgiveness

I heard it said recently, that when we finally do reconcile matters of forgiveness, when bitterness is finally put to bed, and resentment is retired to pasture, that we ought to make a monument to that episode of forgiveness.
Can you imagine how pleased God is?
God will well say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
So much of life in the realm of forgiveness is plain hard work, where that hard work seems to take so long to bear such little fruit.
Forgiveness is very tiring work. It’s arduous. It’s traumatic. It involves much trial and error. But when we don’t give up, we stand ultimately a victor!
The monument to forgiveness compensates. We stand by and enjoy that monument we built to that beautiful iteration of God’s grace that empowered our forgiveness. The monument signifies the size of the task we took on. It symbolises the pride we had to overcome. It solemnises a rite of passage we’ve made in honouring God such that God now very well honours us by our growth in grace. Our forgiveness has proven the strength and the miraculousness of God’s heavenly grace.
Further than mere compensation, the forgiveness monument is a memory stone for a victory we had, we enjoyed, and can ever enjoy again! That’s the blessing of forgiveness — it gives and gives and gives. Every interaction with the one we forgave reinforces that this grace gift is real. The negative power that once strode within us is now defunct. Every single one of those interactions with the person we could still be bitter toward, but have chosen not to be, is a fresh victory — for the two of us, and for God, no less! The person we’ve forgiven is appropriately grateful for the grace they’ve experienced from us, firsthand.
Forgiveness made known and real ought always to be celebrated. It was darn hard work! There are no tasks of forgiveness that are ever easy. So for the hard work we did in obeying God, in surrendering our pride, in owning the truth that if we deserve God’s forgiveness, they too deserve ours, we enjoy the fruit of that work.
Part of our monument is built to gratitude. How thankful we are to God, that without him instilling within us the reason to forgive — that it’s the right (biblical) thing to do — we would not even be at first base yet.
The forgiveness monument makes something significant out of something that will now always be significant. These are important life lessons. In any event, life is hard enough, and not least is the bitter resentment to overcome, that something positively big ought to be made of something so big.
That ground you took from the enemy, Satan — that ground of bitter resentment — that ground, is now a cause of God’s praise because you forgave! Do you not think that God will not reward you?
God’s reward for the character work required of forgiveness is an all-abiding monument of peace. All glory to God for the grace partaken in forgiving someone we could still be bitter toward.
Monuments to forgiveness help us remember what it was like to experience and to give God’s grace.
Monuments to forgiveness celebrate and reinforce how God’s grace helps us when we can’t help ourselves.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family Violence – When Charm Tips Quickly Into Control

“CHARM is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting,” says Proverbs 31:30; “but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
It’s not a woman’s fault that she is seduced by a charmer.
Romance is high on the list of all people entering a romantic relationship. But there is a correlation between charm and control.
The more charming a man is in his romancing his woman, the more potentially controlling he could actually be, when the romance has worn off. Men who have violence issues are often men who lay on excessive charm.
Charm is Deceptive
Oh how easy we’re all charmed. But charm is deceptive. It’s a perversion of the truth. And yet there’s authentic charm in the way humour is poised that makes light of a non-truth so long as everyone’s aware it’s a joke.
Charm maybe deceptive, but that doesn’t mean some people aren’t blessed with certain genuine virtue. But when it comes to a person feeling just a little too good — a marvel of charm — we ought to be wisely sceptical.
There’s no substitute for time when it comes to trust. People should earn our trust if we’re going to give them the keys to our heart, especially if we’re going to put them in contact with our loved ones.
Beauty is Fleeting
What looks beautiful initially doesn’t always last.
Isn’t it bizarre that we often make our first and heaviest commitment to a relationship before the romance phase is finished and the power struggle starts?
The initial beauty we saw in a person is likely transformed into disgust before long, before an evening takes place in the relationship (if it survives this transition) and moves into a stage of stability.
But a Woman Who Fears the LORD…
What praise there is for the woman who sees the charmer for who he actually could be! She is cautiously sceptical.
Charm for her is a toggle into the imagination for the shadow experience: control. Could this man be a control merchant? What’s his shadow side? If he has excessive charm does he also have a need of (excessive) control? How much potential is there that he might be ‘controlling’?
The woman who fears the Lord, who hides her heart under the shelter of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that a male prospect would have to encounter the Lord before finding her open to his advances — she, is to be praised.
But we must reserve every sympathy for the woman who has trusted a man unworthy of that trust. Too often as a society we have excused the man’s violent behaviour, and caused the victim of violence to bear what can never be their responsibility.
We put the woman who fears the Lord up on a pedestal to the shame of other women who’ve made the sorts of mistakes we all make. If there’s one temptation we’re all susceptible to it’s to the charm that makes us feel worthy of a worthiness we may not, deep down, feel we even deserve.
How wonderful it is when a person of the opposite sex sees us worthy of lavishing their love. But let that thinking also be a trigger for what we do not want to see, but are wise to be open to seeing (if it’s there).
A woman who fears the Lord deserves a partner who, too, fears the Lord.
Many men who are controlling to the point of being violent with their partners started out as charming men. They still charm people. They charm their partners’ family, so much so that she has perhaps been disbelieved and discredited.
But such charm is fleeting; know them long enough and well enough and their true form will become apparent. Everyone’s fruit matures. Every piece falls from the tree ready to taste. Not all fruit is delightful to our taste!
Again, men who have violence issues are often men who lay on excessive charm.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Where Boundaries of Trust and Forgiveness Blur

BUILDING relationships is the halcyon satisfaction of life. We were built to belong, to believe in the good, and to behave in a way that conforms to society’s norms. We were made to fit in. We were made to feel capable of doing our relationships well. We were also made with the capacity to forgive and forget — to give those that hurt and disappoint us the grace of a second, third or ninth chance. Indeed, Jesus commended his believers to forgive and to keep on forgiving.
The trouble is we find ourselves hurt and disappointed beyond our ability to bear.
We tend to hold our leaders to a higher standard of care than we do for others. But, just the same, we’re prone to hold anyone we interact with to a standard of care represented in Matthew 7:12 known as the Golden Rule — “treat others in a way you would want to be treated.”
Many times we who hold others to the Golden Rule standard are able to abide by such a standard, yet there are always times when we fall short. And this is the problem; if we interact often enough with those who are different to us, ultimately we will be disappointed or hurt. (And they will be, too.)
We know we must forgive, but where does trust come in given that the lines blur?
Yet, even forgiveness seems too hard. We wonder if a person who’s hurt us deserves to be let off the hook. We wonder if we’ll expose ourselves if we forgive. We may wonder if there will be a repeat of the problematic behaviour. And we may wonder if our forgiveness will backfire on us! Sometimes we’re fearful. Forgiveness is a justice issue. And, yet, sometimes it’s also about safety.
Most of us know that forgiving someone doesn’t mean we have to trust them. This is where boundaries come in. If justice is to be withheld overall, the person to be forgiven must be forgiven, but the person who feels vulnerable for their safety is not compelled to trust someone they feel may repeat the offence.
If the person forgiven has not repented of their action, they can’t always be assumed to understand their potential of threat to the person who’s forgiving them.
The important thing for the person needing to forgive another person is to do their forgiveness in a way that is irrevocable and unequivocal. What helps the process of letting go, of course, is, where there are repeated instances of transgression, the person forgiving another person is not compelled to trust them. They have the option of instituting a safe boundary.
Boundaries are about maintaining a reasonable safety and justice. Boundaries make forgiveness easier, and indeed, sometimes possible when it may not be otherwise. We may forgive when we know we don’t have to trust someone who we feel may still be a threat to us. But we must still forgive them. Love causes us to want to have goodwill toward everyone.
Boundaries of trust and forgiveness only blur when we feel we must trust someone we’re forgiving. Yet, it makes better sense to forgive without feeling we must trust a person we feel might repeat an offence i.e. we don’t feel genuinely safe. (It needs to be said, however, that we ought to be very honest before God; do we genuinely feel unsafe? Are boundaries really warranted? No problem if they are.)
Letting go of a matter of bitterness is easy when we know we can move on; when we can put some distance between you and them. It’s not so easy to forgive a person we must soon trust again.
We must respect the fact that when boundaries of trust and forgiveness blur, forgiveness will be harder where an offending party is required to be trusted. It’s better if the offending person actively empathises with the person who’s hurt for the hurt they experienced.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How Innovation Is Making Global Poverty History

IN A fictitious village in Africa lives a farming family very representative of many farming families in poverty stricken regions in the world. Jamu is a pre-teen girl who is hungry, typically sick with fever, and unable to read or write. She would love an education, but must stay at home to help her mother who has to walk two kilometres twice daily to draw water.
Somi is a little better off compared with his older sister; at least he goes to school — well, that is until he’s too sick to go. He’s had four life-threatening cases of diahorrea in the past year. You see, the whole village relies on water sources that are at the root of the disease and ill-health in the town. There is one good well in town, but the person who manages it limits access to the best water for fear that the pump will break down.
Mathu, father of Jamu and Somi and their two siblings, is husband to Kayla. She battles to manage the logistics of the home to keep the family alive. Mathu works hard on the farm, but yields get lower and lower each year because deforestation in the region has led to the once nutrient-rich top soil to be frequently washed away due to torrential season rains. The whole family constantly battle fatigue.
The teacher at the local school, Aruna, battles with the 50 percent attendance at school and is frequently not able to make school himself as he needs additional work to survive — the school can’t afford to pay him more than a pittance.
Michael is the Minister for Regional Affairs and Infrastructure in the government of the country and would love to help, but his poor country has little influence brokering competitive deals for infrastructure for the country in a global market. His government isn’t corrupt as much as it’s limited by true economic factors.
Jompa is a local product who’s been fortunate enough to get an education as an agriculturalist — he knows the root of the problem is the cutting down of trees for wood to burn. Electricity would address this town’s poverty concerns, but who could possibly afford to set up that infrastructure?
Josephine has moved away from town into the city and is proud to make T-shirts of such quality they’re exported to America and Australia and are sold for over $50 a piece — but she’s paid less than a hundredth of that. She battles to make ends meet and still sends a little back to her family in her home village.
The poor (those that live on less than $1.25 a day) have a radically different experience of life and worldview as compared with us Westerners.
Poverty is a complex problem. It’s an injustice problem, not an incompetence problem. The poor have wisdom, hopes and dreams and are active as they can be in trying to improve their lot. But their livelihoods and assets are precarious, seasonal and inadequate. Their capabilities are compromised by a lack of information, education, skills and confidence. Their institutions are disempowering and exclusionary. Their organisations are weak and disconnected. Physically they’re hungry, exhausted, sick, and they also suffer from a lack of self-esteem because of their appearance. They’re often abused and disregarded by the more powerful. They live in isolated, unserviced, risky and stigmatised areas. They lack sense of security and peace of mind. Gender polarisations are troubling and marked.
Where Innovation Comes In
The goals of international development, very broadly speaking, are to make a high positive impact and achieve sustainability.
Poverty is a complex system any way we look at it. The first steps that those into international development are looking to do are to analyse the problem, the consequences, and the causes — to really understand the dozens of factors that must be taken into account if solutions are to be not only helpful, but of true benefit over the long term.
Then it’s about determining the assets that a community might draw upon to solve their own problems for the longer term.
The good news on the global stage is we’re winning the battle to end poverty!
In 1990 12.7 million children died before they reached five years of age. In 2015, that figure is six million. And whilst that figure is six million too many, there is much to be encouraged by that the strategies to halve poverty in this quarter century have been achieved. But, of course, there’s still more work to do.
It’s good to end with hope. Making poverty history in our time is not only possible, but likely. How good is God that when we dignify the poor, believing they can solve their own problems with our advocacy against their injustices, he makes a way for them to climb into the stratosphere of living hope — a future they believe for; for their children and grandchildren.
But we can never get complacent. If poverty is an injustice issue, even if we end poverty, it may easily reappear, as has slavery. We must be generous supporters and avid advocates, finding a way of making a lattice of good intentions woven through wise practices, in making maximum positive and sustainable impact.
Acknowledgement: this article was inspired by a Maximum Impact wonderfully engaging workshop I attended run by Scott Higgins of Baptist World Aid Australia, organised by Dushan Jeyabalan, on November 18, 2015, in Perth, Western Australia. All of the content in this article was discussed at this workshop. Graphic above is from Baptist World Aid Australia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bringing Kleenex to a Gun Fight… and Winning

CRISES, I find, are just as potent for hearing God as ever. God warned me:
“You’re bringing Kleenex to a gun fight, so watch out for how this is going to play out!”
The fact of the matter is we’re so poorly equipped to fight the battles we must fight that we’re easily knocked to the ground. We don’t anticipate the battles the enemy is bringing our way, and we usually don’t have anywhere near the poise we need to respond in an appropriate way. Little wonder that we’re floored most of the time. We’re bringing Kleenex to a gun fight. Sounds like not only a waste of time, but a perilous waste. Certain defeat is inevitable.
But there’s the reverse of this situation — the only way to fight in a gun fight is to fight back with the Kleenex. And this is the way life works through what life expects of our response. Whilst the world normally fights back in a gun fight with a gun, the world also resents it when we fight in a gun fight with a gun. Inevitably a pistol dual wreaks casualties. Gun fights make problems worse.
Whilst the world’s default is ‘an eye for an eye’ our common sense should say to us that fighting that way backfires most of the time. What seems most just is actually foolish. What is really wise is doing what nobody really thinks (or wants) to do… unless you have something of the humility of Jesus.
Bringing Kleenex to a gun fight is fighting by the faith that suggests love is a supreme answer — for which it is — if not in this life, certainly in the next (and that should be good enough for any Christian).
Kleenex suggests more than a modicum of empathy. A gun suggests counterattack will be required.
Life brings war on many personal levels daily, but the only way life works is if we fight to bring peace to every conflict.
Life only works out well when we bring a good response to the battles that infuse themselves to our experience.
Every day has a hundred or more battles which we don’t know about, yet life (the people who are important to us, that is) expects us to respond graciously.
Another way to look at it is this:
War and peace,
The first has casualties,
The second brings release.
Life is war yet we must bring peace. War has casualties, and wherever there’s such destruction we can assured there’s much tension. Peace brings release and healing and space for wholeness to return.
The wisdom of life is converting many battles of unexpected war into peace that lasts.
As it turned out I was glad that God saw fit to remind me of the terrible battle that could be waged against me the very next morning — a potential battle of life or death. God knew that I knew that I’d have to have a worthy Kleenex response to tidy that sort of mess up.
Only as we wait on him in the moment do we receive grace enough to reach for the Kleenex and not grapple in our gun cupboard.
Life brings us to war daily, yet life also expects us to make peace with each battle.
It’s not the battles that are brought to bear that count, but our response. Our response can amend any battle.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris and the Morning After Seconds of Madness

ONE thing we have to get used to is more violence of Paris proportions. We’ve known this for decades, but it’s only as we enter another phase of trauma over the attacks in Paris do we realise how close terrorism is to us all. We cannot escape it. It’s part of our system now.
Notwithstanding the fear that intuits, there’s a great deal of confusion and grief and bewilderment going around; an outpouring for the people of France, and a fresh torrent for Beirut and other regions, too.
Growing up in the 1980s there was a constant fear of nuclear war. The 90s brought us the HIVAIDS crisis. Since 9/11 it’s been terrorism. We’ve always had something on a global stage to fear.
But grief is different.
Children watch the extended Media coverage and may not know how to unpack their reactions. They may not know how to unpack their parents’ reactions. Then there’s social media. Of course, there are the inevitable hero stories that restore our faith in the goodness of humanity to draw together in unified solidarity. Thank God for propaganda… truly: one good thing in our technologically advanced world.
Grief is the response we have, in this case, for the loss of our freedoms. Change is coming because of extremists’ perversion of a life they don’t deserve. But we’d be grossly selfish if that’s all we lamented.
Seconds is all it took. A bomb blasts. Gunfire rings out around a packed arena. Bullets fly around a rock concert. The innocence of a pure moment is putrefied. The joy turns immediately to mass panic, to shock, later to anger, to numbness, to wailing, and to a myriad cycle of out of control grief. What was lost can never be regained. What’s lost is gone forever. Lives have been derailed and they can only ever be rerailed on a completely different track. One life has ended without warning and a new normal of unanticipated and unending grief has begun.
Paris and the morning after seconds of madness. We lament the end of being human. A moment such as Paris had — many millions of fragments of the same moment in time — was birthed out of hell itself.
Oh for Paris we weep,
Our heart of hearts they mourn,
May God comfort those
Whose grief’s so deep,
And give them hope at dawn.
Compassion has no words of condemnation in an outrageously awful time. It’s a love that bears, hopes, believes and endures. For anyone affected, be it compassion that is availed to them.
What response to the Paris attacks is dignifying in the sight of God? It is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.
A part of Paris died on Friday the 13th, but God will resurrect her people and her land, and heal her hope. It’ll take some time. But inevitably many will be made stronger for what they’ve been innocently and irrevocably called to endure.
We’re so sorry for their loss.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Persisting Against Spiritual Torment, Obeying Resolutely

THIS article is for the pastor. Actually, to be frank, it’s for me. If you’re in a position like me — i.e. God calls you a pastor — meaning you have a special shepherding ministry for others — you’ll possibly recognise what such a sacrificial occupation requires of you, implicit of the nature of the role. You exist for others. Pastoring is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
It was explained to me that when God calls a person to no other calling but to pastor, that person has a terrible calling on their life. Any other job would do. And if we could do any other job, why would we pastor? But too much these days pastors are glamour boys or superwomen — especially in our narcissistic social-media age. Truth is it’s a loaded vocation, much like the Christian faith is.
Nobody tells new converts of the spiritual warfare they willingly (yet unknowingly) enter. Life gets harder when we live a true faith, not easier. It gets less comfortable when we commit to growing, not more comfy. And for the pastor, as Dale Stephenson once said, they’re not as good as some people say they are, just as they’re not as bad as others make them out to be.
On the one hand ministry’s a blessed privilege. On the other it’s a sure curse, at least from our carnality’s perspective.
The pastor is a target — the enemy will get his clutches on us, alright! But ever more the pastor is also God’s man or woman. And they daren’t forget how intrinsic is their protection. God has promised to never leave nor forsake any of us; how much more will the Lord bless the obedience of his servant. But that very obedience may require of them their life.
The Acronym – P.A.S.T.O.R.
Persisting Against Spiritual Torment, Obeying Resolutely… the pastor is and does.
The pastor persists. Persistence is required against spiritual torment, which can be part and parcel of their daily going out and coming home. They obey resolutely. Perfection isn’t required but resolve, overall, is. Resolve is about coming back to a commitment made and keeping that commitment.
Here he goes and there she is,
The pastor is at once sublime,
But equally they fail,
Equally they’ll struggle and let you down,
But their job it is in humility to climb.
Humiliation was made for the strong,
Mortification was made for those
Who will be found to be wrong.
The Pastor is Strong, Because the Pastor Can Be Wrong
Persisting against spiritual torment, obeying resolutely; the pastor is humble enough to know they will be wrong. The pastor is an exemplar of humanity; every person is fallible enough to be wrong on a regular basis.
The pastor is ready to show everyone they encounter how to be wrong with dignity. They have no fear for exposure, because true exposure is only about the truth.
Any pastor who struggles to be wrong when they’re wrong still has a character flaw unworthy of their calling. A pastor is called to be wrong, good and well.
When a person admits they’re wrong they facilitate reconciliation in conflict because justice is served when they, a courageous person, are honest. How much better is it for a pastor — a church leader — to promptly admit wrongdoing? And in all relational encounters it takes two to tango — everyone has something they could have done better when they’re honest. They’re an example of leadership for us all, for the best leadership is a noble, trustworthy leadership.
Too many people fail a basic relational test in not being able to be responsible for their contribution of wrong. If a pastor shows they’ve mastered this key leadership competency they facilitate forgiveness, reconciliation and remove barriers to healing.
The pastor obeys resolutely, persisting against the ever-present spiritual torment that sets itself against him or her. It requires them to be dignified in being wrong.
Admission of contribution of wrongdoing sets spiritual captives of bitterness free.
Six P.A.S.T.O.R. Values
Perseverance – the resilience of persistence in adversity is perseverance.
Accountable – pastors strive to be accountable persons; self-disciplined to a fault.
Selfless – able to think of others first, pastors try to bring the fullness of Philippians 2 to bear over their entire lives.
Trustworthiness – it’s crucial a pastor can be found worthy of others’ trust.
Obedient – the juxtaposition of trust is obedience. If a pastor only trusts and obeys they’re doing the Lord’s will for their lives.
Righteous – justice and righteousness mean essentially the same thing: the unequivocal commitment to God’s truth, no matter the cost.
When a pastor fails any of these endeavours they’re quick to confess and repent. And to God be the glory!
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Why Growth Is God’s Compensation for Humbling Seasons

LIFE is the learning ground. As I like to say. Well, the fact that we don’t always enjoy such a humbling if not humiliating ride, as life is, ought to be compensated.
And that compensation is growth — over the lifespan — proving nonagenarians are also God-willed to grow. The test of growth, however, in what makes it God-willed, is it passes the dignity test. Growth ought to be a dignifying process, which is not to say that all learning protects and provides for our dignity. Perhaps the greater compensated growth is learning that occurs where our dignity is constantly humiliated, yet we’re somehow able to hold ourselves throughout so as not to be destroyed. Nonetheless, it’s no excuse for teachers to abuse their students!
That done, let me show you a process I’ve developed for reviewing a year’s progress. Ask these questions by spending a half day reflecting over them:
1.     What have I learned about positive thinking, feeling, and emotions this year?
2.     What have I learned about positive behavioural responses this year?
3.     What have I observed as requiring further thought and improvement in key areas this year?
4.     What do you have to say to the statement, “The learning’s not over yet”?
5.     How will the next period (year) be better than this one, transferring present learnings into the future?
6.     What definitive blessing have you been in others’ lives as you seek humbly to be ‘rationally preoccupied’ with others (i.e. in a moral way)?
7.     What opportunities are present in the future to make life better in your sphere of influence?
Synopsis Behind the Above Questions
It starts and ends positively, as learning and reviewal processes, I believe, should be appreciative.
Question 1 is an inside job. Question 2 asks for times when we’ve ascended God’s will; when we’ve brought heaven to earth, and God by his Spirit has shown us the blessing we can be through our obedience.
We need to ask a question (three) that evokes God’s honesty for the changes required in our lives.
Question 4 is interesting. If we answer it honestly we find it a deeper question. It’s an invitation to a response of humility — to help us embrace the fact we often have little control over life. Question 5 asks for a response of potential application (understanding, love is truth in action).
Question 6, again, asks for a known response of past that has helped and healed others and not hindered them. The important context in question 7 is ‘sphere of influence’. We can only realistically create change or act in an environment we’re realistically in.
Having made space to reflect,
Now’s the chance to dig deep,
Pray God, reveal, so I collect,
Opportunities making my learning leap.
God’s compensation for a humbling season is the learning for growth that can happen no other way.
Growth is evidence of battles fought with ourselves, where we overcame and won.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.