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.

Rights vs Responsibilities

I know it’s almost un-Australian of me but I don’t follow sport. Maybe if a grand final is occurring and my state happens to be involved I might watch it. Maybe during the Olympics I’ll watch an event or two. Don’t get me wrong, I want Australia to win… I just don’t care to watch it. So it’s fair to say I almost didn’t know who Israel Folau was a few months ago.

https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/#RqO65yMzqjCVcYj9.97

Israel, until recently, played for the the state team and was considered one of the best Australian players. And then, like certain bakers and florists around the world, the expression of his Christian faith got him into serious trouble with a vocal minority, and given a life-ban from his career; costing him a $4 million dollar contract.

On his personal instagram he posted this:

(Only partial text is displayed. He also quoted Acts 2:38 and Acts 17:30, both from the King James Version).

This was not an official site. It was his personal site where people had to opt-in (and could just as easily, if offended, opt-out). As you peruse the comments, it’s quite clear that there have been some individuals who have long hated everything Folau stands for.

After the post, the governing body, Rugby Australia decided that Folau was guilty of a “high-level” breach of contract relating to conduct. They stated that their values were to be “inclusive”, though clearly inclusivity only extends to everyone who agrees with them.

It seems that because he was a professional player, he lost his right to express himself. Troubling for Rugby Australia, they never bothered to codify exactly what he could and could not say; which I think ought to be the onus. If they want to ensure a human being only says what they approve, they ought to provide the means by which his expression is to be filtered.

Not to mention consistency of punishment seems to be entirely absent; with some players continuing in the game despite assaults, domestic violence, drugs and drink driving.

A related issue for Rugby Australia is the perception that it has somewhat elastic standards when it comes to upholding “Wallabies values”. In recent years, two Wallabies players have been fined and stood down for drug use and possession. One of them is a two-time offender. Neither was sacked. Apparently sniffing cocaine is not a high-level breach of contract. Israel Folau doesn’t drink, doesn’t take drugs and is a model player on and off the field.

Patrick Southam, https://mumbrella.com.au/the-rugby-australia-brand-is-damned-after-the-israel-folau-ruling-578664

Folau quoted the Bible. A religious text which hasn’t changed (for Protestants) since the Reformation in 1517, and was largely responsible for the creation of Western civilization. Christians believe the Bible is God’s Word and man does not have the authority to change it, even if it contradicts modern behaviour and norms.

Folau’s intention was not to condemn, but to warn. As his own writings at Player’s Voice suggest:

I believed he was looking for guidance and I answered him honestly and from the heart. I know a lot of people will find that difficult to understand, but I believe the Bible is the truth and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear.

I think of it this way: you see someone who is about to walk into a hole and have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the truth, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do?

Read more at https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/#YHbgbLCsYPdQ6o1A.99

I’d like to say that I live in a country with freedom of religion, free from persecution. Including persecution by an angry mob of keyboard warriors, an employer, the media, or the State.

I’d like to expect that everyone has freedom of speech, as long as you don’t threaten or incite violence.

I’d like to suggest that an employer’s rights over an employee have limits. When an employer tries to supersede someone’s individuality or religious freedoms, the contract should be unenforceable.

As Folau takes legal action, I guess we’ll see if I live in such a country.

In my view Folau did nothing wrong. He expressed his religious beliefs with integrity. Some people were offended by those views. And that’s exactly where it should have ended. In a sane world he should have lost a few Instagram followers, not his entire livelihood.

To end with Folau’s own words:

“I have love towards everyone that might be saying negative things … I choose to love them because God loves me.”

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/rugby-union/i-m-more-than-happy-to-do-what-he-wants-me-to-do-unrepentant-folau-20190414-p51dyw.html

A Real Miracle

This is a true story of a real-life miracle that happened a month or two ago. While I might paint the scenery around the foreground to make the blog post more interesting, the core of the story is entirely true and without exaggeration.

To comprehend the situation fully you first need to understand something about my wife and for that let me use an analogy: women are like vehicles. Some women are shiny, sleek racing cars; others are reliable SUV mini-people-movers; still others are utility vans. As different as the vehicles are, they all have their good qualities. Notwithstanding my wife’s beauty and lovely personality, she’s definitely an M1A2 Abrams Tank. She probably averages about 0.8 sick days a year. If you cut her arm off she’d stay home only long enough to cauterize the wound with the heated base of a fry pan and only let out a barely audible hiss of discomfort while doing it. Then she’d be at work without delay. Such is my wife; one tough unit.

So about a month or so back I told her I was experiencing some minor back pain. Not too uncommon for me, just enough to let make me uncomfortable and let me know I’d better not overdo it. I’d give it a 1/10 on the pain threshold. She said she too had a bit of back pain. Not unheard of, we’re both aging :). Throughout the week neither of us said much about it but we were both still dealing with it, without much in the way of visible signs.

On the Wednesday night she didn’t play basketball because of her sore back, which clued me in slightly that this was more than just discomfort. (I’m not the most observant man). I suggested we didn’t need to do a food shop this week. She replied we did have to because we were having dinner guests on Friday night. I offered to do the food shopping if she needed me too; she went ahead and did it herself anyway.

At work on the Friday I got an email in which she told me her back was really quite bad, and she’d just cancelled our dinner plans for the evening. Our outing for Saturday (adventure rooms) was also in jeopardy. For her to tell me she was in pain I knew it was bad. I offered to leave work early and catch a bus to her so I could drive her home. I suggested she leave work early. She declined both. Only later did I find out that “bad pain” actually translated to excruciating pain like:

  • I can’t stand up from my seat
  • I’ve been holding back tears all day

That’s my wife – a real unit of strength and tight-jaw suffering. I wasn’t sure what condition she’d be in when I got home. I certainly didn’t expect what I found.

I walked in the door to see her standing in the centre of the lounge room with tears of joy in her eyes and worship music blaring on the stereo. “Watch this,” she said as she lifted her knee up to her chin, and then the other one, followed by other displays of radical flexibility.

As she tells the story, she’d been suffering with the pain all day. As a colleague was leaving for the day she prayed with her for healing. Nothing overly special: just a prayer. A few minutes later my wife was driving in the car and realised she could lean forward without any pain. She tested it, moving around as much as she could and there was no pain. When she was at home she tested it fully: 100% movement, 0% discomfort. A miracle. Praise God.

Some might say it was just a fluke, some movement which cleared the pain. It’s possible, but unlikely. What’s the chances that after a week of pain, and a whole day of excruciating pain, it just happened to go within mere minutes of prayer? It could be a coincidence but once “coincidences” stack up continuously, then you have to believe it is something more.

We have faith and know that God can and does listen to our prayers. Why he answers some times, and not others, who can say… but what a wonderful example of God’s love demonstrated to my wife.

The Man in the Pit

That partly explains why I missed last weeks’ scheduled post. And almost again this week. I found myself in a deep pit and have had to climb out centimetre-by-centimetre. Which isn’t easy when you’re short and disabled. In some ways I’m not yet fully out of the pit but I’ve reached a height where the WIFI signal has returned.

How did I find myself in a pit? Part carelessness, part circumstance beyond my control and also just the part of the journey I’m on.

Work at the moment, and until December 2019, has intense timelines to meet. Every week there are deadlines. This leaves me feeling mentally exhausted by the time I get home. Compound that tiredness with my almost-routinely bad sleep and it’s a recipe for feeling like you’re being sucked down a whirlpool.

Most unusual for me, this resulted in me not even wanting to turn the computer on. Or if I did it seemed far easier to anesthetize myself with mindless games. The idea of programming or writing after a hard day was not on my schedule.

Publishing Vengeance Will Come made me super-excited. To see all of my hard my work in a format that others could read spurred me onward. I went from ‘I’m not sure I’m going to publish this’ to ‘I definitely have to write more’ within 24 hours. It was just thrilling to reach an endpoint on the project.

And yet as the weeks go by and the sales remain extremely humble (to use a phrase that is more palatable) it is disappointing. I never had expectations of making lots of money or generating a huge fan base. I was smart enough to realise that was unlikely. I just hoped that some readers would enjoy my story. A story teller doesn’t craft a story and then never tell another person: the joy is in the sharing. I’d assumed that Amazon being so large, and my books being low-priced, would give me at least a small audience. So far, that has not been my experience. Full disclosure: I have done no marketing. Still I had expected more.

God-stuff though is what put me in the pit in the first place. I’d been complacent and lazy and hadn’t been dealing well with a few things. Every time I tried to spend time with God, I’d end up thinking about other issues which would rile me up… Soon it became easier to not think about it. Except that didn’t solve anything.

Good spiritual disciplines were bent a little each day, and eventually began to buckle as less-helpful habits filled the void of easy distraction. My distance from God meant that I was no longer receiving his refreshing and the transforming of my mind. I wasn’t living out Jesus’ character but increasingly my own. Which has far less to commend it.

Thankfully, in the last week I realised the state I was in. I wasn’t just sliding down a a hill, I was actually in a pit that I didn’t know how to get out of. I’ve made more of a conscious effort to get my spiritual life back on track and there’s been a huge improvement, thank God. I knew he was always with me even through the difficult and painful times but I missed the sound of his voice.

And so now I’m working my way free of this pit. It’s dark, and I’m still feeling disorientated, but I’m taking directions from the Big Guy who has the Compass.


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

Pillars of Life

I, by the boundless grace of God (and greatly-deserving-of-mention, grace of my beautiful wife), have a fantastic marriage.

But it wasn’t always that way. We certainly had our difficulties in the beginning. Two people adjusting to “become one” created a fair bit of friction as we learned to think of each other before ourselves. There were some tense walks around the block powered by anger fumes 🙂 Not to mention a lot of tight-jaws. (It wasn’t a case of grinning and bearing it, because there were times when we couldn’t grin).

In that early time, I knew I was out of my depth. I couldn’t do this marriage thing on my own. I didn’t know how to do it. I was smart enough to know that ones’ parents are never the right answer when it comes to sourcing marital harmony. (My parents are Godly and wise but they are not unbiased: parents seldom are).

HusbandAdviceAnd so I reached out to a man with a couple of decades experience on me. He was a respected man at church, who visibly embodied Christ-like behaviours and attitudes. He was raising two great teenage sons and had a good marriage himself. So we got together for breakfast, chatted and prayed together.

As it turned out, I think we only met a few times before he moved house to a considerable distance; which put an end to our meetings. But those few chats, earlier on in my marriage, were a much-needed pressure valve. His wisdom and care helped me to get over the speed bumps of the difficult period.

That someone (who was not far off a stranger) would care enough to spend his time writing down Bible verses and meeting with me, was a testament to his character and his view on the importance of marriage. He, by providing wisdom and a listening ear was a pillar of life to my young marriage.

I encourage you, seek out pillars when you need them, and lend your strength to others when they ask of it.

And finally, try watching this without getting emotional…

Other marriage related posts:

 

Every Man’s Battle

Revery man's battleecently I’ve re-read “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. It’s a brutally honest book that acknowledges the trench-warfare-like struggles most men have with sexual purity. The authors don’t sugar-coat reality:

“Before men experience victory over sexual sin, they’re hurting and confused. Sexual immorality in our society is so subtle we sometimes don’t recognise it.”

The authors encourage the reader to fully examine their hearts (and actions) and offer practical tips for freeing oneself from a cycle of sexual compromise and sin. They openly acknowledge it’s going to be hard battle – with backward steps as well as forward. The cost of failure, however, is more than any man can afford. They encourage the reader to choose manhood, purity and honour.

“Holiness,” as they define it simply is, “a series of right choices.”

Sexual purity is a challenge for men of all ages and stages in life. Let’s tackle it head-on, and be men who learn to throw off the shackles of the enemy, and stop him from also oppressing those we love.