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.

Living Water: Forgiveness

This is the third post looking at chapter 3 of Brother Yun’s Living Water. The first two chapters were covered in previous posts on Repentance and Lessons from Esau (better termed, Life Derailment).

I believe that forgiveness is an important topic whether or not you ascribe to a faith. In our lives all of us would have come across, and then likely runaway from, bitter people. A lack of forgiveness causes a person to become bitter and that bitterness leaks out, polluting their lives and those around them. Bitterness is toxic and drives most sane people away; they aren’t enjoyable to be around.

It is easy to be bitter. As humans we can easily hurt others, intentionally and unintentionally, through our words and actions. I remember hurtful (albeit somewhat true) things that were said to me more than twenty years ago. Many people have suffered physical and emotional wounds by others, or events in their lives, that have left deep scars. Bitterness isn’t a dormant rock which weighs you down; it is a cancer which spreads and affects your whole life. Unchallenged, it grows in size and over time will suck the joy and hope from your life. It will cause you to become thorn-like, which pushes others away and stops you from being embraced.

Brother Yun uses the analogy of bitterness being a weed in the garden of your heart. He makes a valid statement in today’s beauty-and-success-conscious world,

“Many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to beautify the outside of their lives, pulling up the surface weeds when really they need to go below the surface and dig up the root.”

Forgiveness can be a challenge. Brother Yun, who has suffered brutal torture in Chinese re-education centres has a right (humanly-speaking) to be bitter and yet he says,

“there is absolutely no point in withholding forgiveness towards anyone, regardless of what they have done.” Yun understands that unforgiveness actually does more damage to the person holding onto it, than the one they are angry at. As the saying goes, bitterness is like (you) drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.

While reconciliation requires two people, forgiveness only requires one. And forgiveness doesn’t mean letting someone escape justice for their actions, only that we “release our own desire for vengeance and leave it in God’s hands.”

Forgiveness for a Christian is even more important. Actually, it’s mandatory according to Jesus. If we want to be forgiven for our sins, then we have to forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15). Considering our job as Christians is to be ambassadors of reconciliation, it makes sense that the first place we have to do that is in our own lives. A bitter person can hardly tell others the good news about Jesus’ love. Not without it being a sad (and somewhat delusional) and unconvincing offer.

In my experience forgiveness in “challenging” situations is more than a one-time event. Our heart might struggle, wavering between anger and forgiveness. Just like a wound might need dressing multiple times to fully heal, so sometimes we have to make the choice to forgive. And that can be very hard.

What I find most personally challenging is not forgiving others, but forgiving myself for the mistakes I make. I’ve done and said dumb things which have hurt others, more often than I would like to admit. Even when I know better. And then my natural inclination is to dwell on the failures. I need to extend to myself the same forgiveness God has for me. Negative self-talk unchallenged, wreaks a dreadful cost in our lives. Allow conviction, not condemnation. Only our enemy, Satan, wants us to be trapped in the despair of condemnation.

The best way I can end this post is to quote the challenge Yun also posed:

“Dear friend, I encourage you to put this book down and spend some time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show you if there is anyone you hold unforgiveness towards in your heart.”

And I’d add, including to yourself. Allow Jesus’ grace to extend to your innermost being.

Faith: Living Water – Ch1: Repentance

Living Water

Living Water by Brother Yun is a book that has sat on my shelf for years. I have started to read it a number of times and have put it down because it was special. It was a meal to be enjoyed, not gulped. It wasn’t a casual read on the bus; I wanted to read it with a notebook handy and time to properly digest its message.

This post is my thoughts and related experiences on the first chapter Repentance. (I normally try to keep my posts between 500 and 1,000 words. This is a longer post at over 2,000 so make yourself a cuppa and settle in for the read).

Continue reading

A Treasure of a Book

As I begin rereading The Heavenly Man, the story of Chinese Christian “Brother Yun” I am deeply stirred.

heavenly manWithin the pages is a man who has experienced the power and miracles of God in modern-day. He has been faithful under incredible persecution and his continuous joy is proof of a deep relationship with God. Expressed clearly is his motivation: an abiding love for God and people.

As his co-worker acknowledges:

Yun’s testimony is written with blood and tears; his journey has been one that encountered many bitter struggles. Instead of complaining and grumbling, he learned to tackle all obstacles prayerfully, on his knees with God. … In the Chinese church I have seen many of God’s servants come with great power and authority, but with brother Yun I saw a servant of Jesus who always came in humility and meekness, reflecting the heart of the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life.

The words of his testimony are like being touched by a red hot coal. Instantly it grabs your attention and calls for a response.

Honestly, with all of the distractions in the Western world I could ignore the call. The safest route for “self” would be to discard the book. However I began the book knowing it would light a spiritual fire under me. I want that fire, I crave it’s heat. Yes, it will burn and at times be uncomfortable, but it is also a purifying flame. It will burn away that which does not belong.

As a Christian I made a commitment that Jesus Christ would be Lord of my life. He’s in control, not me. And yet, as a human, I often wrestle for control, in varying degrees. Or like a woefully out-dated navigation system, I offer ludicrous suggestions on which way to go.

What burns most is the knowledge that my relationship and experience of God isn’t as strong as Brother Yun’s. And that’s on me. The truth is my relationship with God is only as good as I want it to be. The Bible is clear: God wants a relationship with us, and has done all of the necessary work. And yet he will not impose himself. If I give him a fraction of my day and then shut my heart – intentionally or not – I’ll enjoy only a fraction of what the relationship could be.

It’s like this… The King has adopted me. Not because of who I am or what I’ve done but because of his nature of love. Not only do I have a relationship with him, but he also has appointed me as an ambassador on his behalf. As son and ambassador I have unparalleled advantage; wealth and purpose.

None of that potential is fulfilled if I choose to stay locked in my room, or act in a way that doesn’t represent the King.

[Marie] Monsen told the Christians it wasn’t enough to study the lives of born-again believers, but that they must themselves be radically born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. With such teaching, she took the emphasis off head knowledge and showed each individual that they were personally responsible before God for their own inner spiritual life.

Just as I am personally responsible, as are you.

If you haven’t read Heavenly Man I strongly urge you to do so. Why not read along with me, and let me know your thoughts on it?