Living Water: No Turning Back

This post is loosely based on chapter 4 of Living Water by Brother Yun. It was my launching-pad and thoughts around a related theme. The chapter is titled ‘No Turning Back’.

At the beginning of the chapter Yun references John 15:16 where Jesus says,

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”

I’m fast approaching middle-age and I have to ask myself the difficult question of how much fruit that-will-last have I produced in my life? If I were to die today, how much of my influence would echo through to eternity? I don’t ask that question for a desire for my own legacy, but to question if I have spent my time well.

The question is easier ignored because the answer is confronting: precious little. I could attempt to justify myself by defining the question more broadly and try to wriggle off the hook. I could probably even make a semi-convincing argument. The truth remains the truth, no matter how much I dislike its implications.

I resemble a cheap fruitcake. Being a fruitcake there ought to be much fruit; and yet it looks like the baker has thrown the fruit from across the room, and whatever small amount happens to reach the the mixing bowl is the end product.

Earlier in John 15, Jesus says,

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. … This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (v1-2, 8)

Honestly, I am in need of a good prune. I need to make conscious decisions to put my growth-energy into fruit, not leaves or limbs. I want my life to amount to more eternal fruit. Not out of fear, but as an act of love.

Yun goes on in the chapter to talk about how we should seek God’s plan for our lives. He assures us that if we listen, we will hear it. More importantly, we should accept that there will be opposition to any plan that comes from God. There will be vicious attacks from the enemy and friendly-fire from those who should be allies. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:12–13)

As Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” One does not ‘take up a cross comfortably. The cross is an instrument of humiliation, suffering and ultimately death. And we’re called to take it up daily.

We will be humiliated because the world at-large will not accept the Word of God. The world mocks the wisdom of God and think itself more wise. We will suffer at the hands of the enemy, just as Jesus did and many thousands of his disciples have throughout history. Some will be martyred in a single act of brutality; others will lay down their lives in a daily surrender. It’s a cross; not a silken robe. Stepping up for Jesus is stepping out into a battleground, make no mistake – but don’t back away.

Who in their right mind chooses to enter a war? The brave, who choose to swallow their natural fear for a greater good. Those who put others before themselves and want to prevent suffering. Those who are willing to take a stand against evil. Those who believe in the rightness of their cause and trust their Commander.

Jesus asks it of us and as Christians we’ve said that he’s Lord of our life. That should be the end of all negotiations. Jesus came to the world, and to the cross, to provide a means by which people could be reconciled back into relationship with God. Those who don’t know him are the reason why we should carry our cross. As the recipients of God’s grace, sharing the good news should be natural, if we can just learn to humble ourselves and value the opinion of God more than that of our family, colleagues, neighbours and world. (Keeping the good news to ourselves would actually be the most malicious hateful thing we could do).

Prune at will, Lord God. Join me, brothers and sisters, in bearing much fruit and making the vineyard flourish.

Advertisements

God’s Intimacy with Us

Today I read Jeremiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” We can often read words quickly, and miss the full measure of those words. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. When God says, “Before I formed you…” he is claiming personal and intimate involvement in shaping us. That is profound.

In the modern age we understand biology and know how we as humans are made, but that can also cause us to lose sight of the why we are made. A painting is made by placing paint on a canvas. That describes the process in rough terms, ignoring the myriad of creative decisions the artist makes, and the skills with which they paint. What if God – in his infinite knowledge – knows who we will become as an individual and, like an artist creating a loved-masterpiece, decides which chromosomes should be switched on? What if we are not just a product of cell division; what if cell division was the tool by which God shapes us?

Of course that’s not the only place in the Bible where it talks about God creating us. Psalm 119:73 says, “Your hands formed me…” and in 139:13 David says of God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my master’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you… your eyes saw my unformed body.” The Psalms are poetic. In the same way songs express emotions, so too do the Psalms describe individual’s understanding and feelings toward God. They are therefore not necessarily fact more than a poetic expression of experiences. Jeremiah 1:5 however is God saying that he formed Jeremiah. And if Jeremiah, why not us too?

Jesus, when describing the care God has for us, and his knowledge of our circumstances, said in Matthew 10:29-30, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

And Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit saying, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Clearly, God is intimately involved in our creation and all that follows afterward.

You and I are not just clumps of cells that happened to win the primordial lottery. We were created by a loving God because he wants a relationship with every one of us.

The Book That Made Your World

Normally I prefer to leave my book reviews until I have finished the book. In the case of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi I am making an exception.

It is intellectually robust, and thus not a quick read. However in the many pages, Mangalwadi lays out how the Bible – and the Christian faith – was instrumental in creating Western civilization. What sets this book apart from others is that Mangalwadi, can compare and contrast with lived-experience the Christian influence against that of other Eastern religions including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is a book of solid intellectualism, rationally and carefully constructed logic; but that doesn’t mean it is uninteresting. With personal anecdotes and reflections, it has a living, breathing heart behind the words. And from the first chapter, “The West Without its Soul: From Bach to Cobain“, it retains an essence of the here-and-now, even as it looks backward through history to explain why.

There are many, many worthy quotes – and several dozen are applicable in our current environment:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so, by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. . . . our own age is also “a period” and certainly has, like all periods, its own illusions.”

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

Starting with music, and moving onto literature, Mangalwadi illustrates just how all-pervasive the Bible is in our culture. Mangalwadi shows that the Bible – not Greek and Roman culture – have influenced every aspect of the West.

Homer wouldn’t pick any of us as heroes. But all of us can be like Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. If extraordinary things can happen to simple people, if through the obedience of faith we can become a blessing to our neighbors and to the nations of the earth, then all of us can be heroes. … Transformation and development of character is an important feature of the Bible that has had enormous impact on modern writing. Homer’s heroes don’t change. But Jacob does. He begins his career by deceiving his father, stealing his brother’s blessings, and cheating his father-in-law. His experiences with God transform him into a very different person. He then blesses his children and grandchildren with a prophetic faith in the future.

I recommend this book as an educational experience, that will grow your appreciation for the Word of God and the saints who went before us.

Distracted

With the rare exception, I have written a blog post every week for a long time. Except it’s been over a month since my last post. So what has happened?

Distraction. Some of what has distracted me has been good-distraction in-and-of-itself. Like maintaining and strengthening relationships, or good stewardship of what I’ve been given (i.e. maintaining the garden), or beneficial long-term (i.e. occupation focused work). Other distraction has been less-good and less productive: gaming, avoidance and other time investments that will never pay dividends.

There’s also been a big block of stress during that period, which mentally constipated me and had me reaching for any mind-numbing procrastination as though it were Valium. And more recently illness that quite literally put me on my back. Thankfully both of those issues have now been resolved.

The truth is the distraction began earlier in the year. At the start of January I was more focused on the things of God and faith. And then like a man heading out for a distant port, I heard the siren’s song of temptation. I started to have more ideas for stories, and my hunger for other hobbies grew too. Now I know that God has given me giftings to use for his glory but that doesn’t mean they should overshadow my desire for him. These were not his blessings, but the enemy’s temptations. I have allowed these other activities to absorb more of my time, thoughts and heart than they had any right to. It’s time for me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I have recently been pondering this passage from Colossians 3:


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

What does this mean for my life? How does it translate to how I spend my time? On if and what I write? If I am God’s servant, his adopted child, how is my life different in a day to day, hour by hour fashion. My life is not my own, I was bought with an incredible price.

That’s actually a danger that I face as a creative person. My mind can spin a dozen ideas out of thin air – and each of those ideas could easily absorb hundreds of hours of writing time. But I want to make sure that I’m not spending my life on something inconsequential.

All that matters is that which lasts for eternity.

Marriage Is Forever

I am a huge fan of marriage and believe that marriage is intended to be forever or as used to be popular, ‘until death do us part’. Marriage can be really hard work but if you invest in your marriage then it pays dividends a thousand times over.

Both spouses needs to learn how to forgive, be patient and support each other. Both must learn that it is no longer about I but about we. As a friend of mine puts it, “You take your car in for regular maintenance, why would you not treat the most important relationship you have in the same way… doing regular checkups on it?” Or as Pastor Craig Groeschel from Life.Church says, “Why would anyone be happy with a 50% chance of marriage success? For anything in your life wouldn’t you do something to try and give it a higher chance of success?”

As a man blessed with a great marriage and one who wants others to also enjoy the fruit of such blessing I cannot highly recommend enough the lecture series Christ-Centred Marriage by Dr Bryan Chapell. The lecture series is available from Covenant Theological Seminary website and you will need to sign-up to download it. (Obviously this is presenting the Christian biblical instructions for marriage).

It is a profound, challenging and inspiring listen. Carrying on with the car analogy, I call this a major service. It is time well-invested.

The Plea of God

If you can’t tell by the title, this is a post directed at any Christian readers, unrelated to writing. If this doesn’t interest you, click along and have a great day… 🙂


The other day I was praying and felt led to turn to Deuteronomy chapter 30. I have to admit that it’s been a while since I’ve read that part of the Old Testament: Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy tend to get skipped, like the unwanted dish at a buffet.

I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on the riches of Deuteronomy 30 for so long! I know I’ve read it before but it deserves a place if not in memory, then on my heart.

Continue reading