Sometimes it’s nice (and necessary) to remember that it doesn’t matter how we’re feeling spiritually, but that God’s love toward us is unchanging.
(This post relates to my Christian faith).
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).
And just because I’ve quoted certain passages, doesn’t mean there isn’t much more quote-worthy between the pages…
Our greatest need is a deeper hunger for God.
The less you feel it, the more it’s true.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelations 3:19, 20
Recently 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.
Recently I was asked to write a little something for the lead-up to Easter for a church event. It was to be a “call and response”, something which I’m not really familiar with. The basic idea is that a caller says something (from the front), and then the response is given by the congregation.
Due to other commitments, I only had about three nights to write it. I’m reasonably happy with what I came up with. It will not be used verbatim, as I consider it a draft that can be re-worked by the event organiser. The congregational response is in italics.
He was at home in heaven, worshipped by the angels and in perfect unity with the trinity.
But we were separated, lost in our sin. The weight of the law too heavy and our natures corrupt.
He left comfort, unlimited power and heavenly majesty to enter the world as a babe.
You gave it up for us, knowing what the cost would be.
He came in stealth, not hailed as a King but miraculously, into humble circumstances and ridiculed by the community. He lived among us as a human, with all the highs and lows of life. The Word records that he grew in favour with both God and man.
You understand what it is to be human and can empathize with our struggles and temptations, but were without sin.
Few recognised him, but he came to save us; to be our salvation. To give us a way back into relationship, through truth and grace.
You came to bring a mirror to our hearts.
He was a friend to the sinner, the thief, the adulterer, the sick, the despised and the guilty. He looked down on none, nor hid his face from any who sought him. He was a friend and neighbour to all in need, coming with gentleness and love. A bruised reed he would not break, nor a smouldering wick put out. He saw us not with human eyes, but with a divine heart.
You taught us what it means to love, and what God expects. You did not condemn us for our sins or allow others to, but instead forgave us and called us to repentance.
He was welcomed as a King, but came on his own terms. He rejected power, fame and wealth and sought only to do the Father’s will. His eyes were always focused on the eternal. He knew his blood would be poured out and his body broken for the forgiveness of our sins.
You did it for us, while we were still sinners.
In the Garden we saw his humanity, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He begged the Father to save him from his fate. Those he had brought along slept during his emotional heartache.
Fearful but obedient, you did it for us. You did it for me.
Before the Sanhedrin and Pilot, he was falsely accused; betrayed and abandoned by friends. He who has been faithful through all time felt the repeated sting of faithlessness. He was innocent.
I am not. Someone had to pay the price, and you didn’t want it to be me.
Pilot would not save him. He who is perfectly Just, received no justice. They stripped him and mocked him. He was beaten and spat on. His head, deserving of a royal crown, was pierced by a cruel crown of thorns.
You wore the crown for me.
He was whipped without mercy, his back shredded, bloody and torn by iron and bone.
By my sin and iniquity.
They lay him on the cross. How his humanity must have wanted to flee, to call on the angels to protect him. Obedience held him there, firmer than any human hands could. But obedience would not have held the fear or pain away.
All he ever did was care for humanity, loving us and wanting to restore us. And the judgement for our sin came down on him, again and again – THUD, THUD, THUD as the nails were driven through his hands and then his feet.
You paid the price for me. You took my guilt and shame.
What unspeakable agony he must have endured upon that cross of ours, as flesh, muscle, bone and nerves were broken or pushed aside by iron spikes. He screamed out, that we would not have too. His body was broken that ours could remain whole. His life was cut short, that ours could go on for eternity.
You were pierced for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities. My rightful punishment fell upon you.
Even upon the cross, he asked the Father to grant us mercy.
It is who you are. You are good beyond all measure.
At his death the curtain in the temple was torn; the barrier between God and man removed. A new covenant was created and sealed by his blood. He came to open the eyes of the blind, to set captives free and release those who are trapped in darkness.
I am not worthy of your love and mercy, but I gratefully accept it. Examine my heart, Lord God, and see if there is anything offensive within it. You are my God and my life belongs to you.
If I were an artist I’d love to sketch a comic to describe a small part of how I feel. Bereft of all skill with a pencil, I must ‘use my words’.
As soon as I left the elevator I could hear it. Behind the closed door across the hallway there was heavy breathing. No, not just breathing: a multitude of heavy grunting noises, and the occasional tired sigh. It made me of the effort involved in squeezing into jeans three sizes too small. It was the sound of simultaneous exasperation and desperation.
I approached the wooden door cautiously, expecting it to spring outwards at any moment. As I edged closer I imagined I could see the door bowing in the centre. Surely it was just my imagination? As though in answer to my query the door creaked as though under great stress. The bolt holding the door shut stood firm, for now.
I looked around and could see no in the hallway. A dozen questions filled my mind. Who was in the room? Why had they been locked in? And by whom?
“Hello?” I called, unsure if I would be heard over the grunts. The noise didn’t change. To my ears it lacked the quality of ferociousness. Someone, or something, was trapped.
As a boy, I’d been trapped in a dark, strange place and I hadn’t liked it. I remembered the feeling well, now decades later. Tentatively my hand reached up to the bolt. The outward pressure being applied made it hard work but with great effort I managed to slide it across.
I was ready when it released, and leapt backwards as the door flung open.
Inside was the pitiful display of an elephant crammed into a space too small for it. The elephant could barely move more than blink is eyes, and even as I watched it moved it’s trunk into the hallway with a look of relief at a momentary chance to stretch, even a little bit.
The elephant was well and truly in the room, and no one – even attempting to enter the room could ignore its presence.
Acknowledging the Presence
The elephant in the room is I haven’t written in a while.
I had planned to be revising The Rebel Queen. Well, that’s not happening at all at the moment. Nor am I working on any of the other projects which I had previously been so excited about.
Why am I not writing? I’m not sure to be honest. You could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I’m in a funk because I’m yet to hear about my submission of Vengeance Will Come. That’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s not true in this case. Even before I submitted a disquiet inside of me was growing.
Something which has haunted me for quite a while were the examples of (the late) Keith Green, musical extraordinaire and Francine Rivers, the successful Christian author. Both of them, at different points in their faith were called to give up their craft (music and writing) for a significant point of time. They had to make sure they were doing ‘it’ for God, and not for their own glory. Their example has always haunted me. Would I be willing to give up my writing? Would I be able to? I could never answer that question. Maybe this is my own season of putting it down – or at least – refocusing it?
I’ve also been feeling more convicted that my time should be spent on things of the eternal – things that will last – not the temporal.
The truth is I’m not sure quite what is happening, but for this season in my life writing is taking a back seat to other priorities. I’m putting more effort into relationships and building up the men’s ministry at my church.
So what have I been doing?
I’ve also been reading a lot. I’ve got more books on the go — too many — at the moment. I’m re-reading Keith Green’s autobiography No Compromise and Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn. I’m also reading How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry by Steve Sonderman and Living Water by Brother Yun. I had also started (and understandably put-down-for-now) The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi, The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan and SPQR by Maggie Beard. All this from someone who normally reads one book at a time!
My (lesser) free time has been spent programming.
Will I be Writing?
I’m sure I’ll be writing something. Probably a lot more faith-related material. I might even write some non-fiction, but likely that it will be much smaller size. Writing something smaller takes a lot less time than writing or revising an entire novel.
What does it mean for this blog?
I think it will continue (at this stage). It will broaden: I’ll write about more topics than writing; probably much more on faith and other things which I am passionate about. It probably won’t be every week (as has been my normal rate). Right now, it’s hard to say – because everything feels up in the air.
The bulk of today’s post is about Christianity. But if you follow me for writing, I highly recommend reading this long, but informative piece: Publishing’s Parallel Universe by Louise Merrington, which talks about her experience with both traditional and indie publishing.
Now onto faith… To highlight the point I’ll be making in this post, a passage from The Heavenly Man which I gushed about earlier. This is a section written by Deling, Yun’s husband:
God helped us greatly while my husband was in prison. There are two special miracles that I’d like to share with you from this time.
With only Yun’s mother and me left to run the farm, things were desperate! We had no clue what we were doing. We decided to plant sweet potatoes, but didn’t know how to do it. I found out later that we should have planted the roots about two feet apart. I had planted them just a few inches apart!
All summer long our neighbours who heard about my foolishness mocked us and made fun of us! The news spread rapidly and I was the butt of many jokes.
Then in autumn, all our neighbours started cursing because they had very poor yields from their harvest. Their sweet potatoes were only the size of tennis balls.
When we pulled up our sweet potatoes, we found they were almost the size of basketballs! It was a great miracle and everyone knew God had taken care of us. Our neighbours respected us more from that moment on and they didn’t view my husband as a cursed criminal any more, but as a man who’d been unjustly incarcerated.
Our neighbours saw “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:18.
The second miracle took place when Isaac was three. We had to exchange a portion of whatever crops we produced because we owned no animals or fertiliser. Therefore it was imperative we had a good harvest, or we would not be able to buy food to eat or the other items we needed to survive.
This time I didn’t know how to plant wheat seeds. I placed them so close together that they carpeted the soil!
Just a week before the wheat harvest, a severe hailstorm struck. Ice the size of tennis balls fell from the sky. I rushed outside when the hail started and could already see that some of our neighbours’ wheat fields had been completely flattened by the storm. Yun’s mother and I fell to our knees and cried out, “God, have mercy on us!”
A great miracle happened. Our field was the only one protected by the Lord. All our wheat was standing upright, untouched by the hail. Everyone else’s fields in the whole area had been obliterated.
People came out of their homes after the storm subsided and saw how the Lord Jesus Christ had protected us. It was another powerful testimony to them.
While we enjoyed thick, healthy wheat that year, our neighbours had no harvest and were forced to use what was left of their crops as food for their animals.
Looking back, despite the hard times, the Lord was faithful to us!
As most Christians understand, knowing God doesn’t mean your life is suddenly gold. It is fantastic in many ways, but it doesn’t spare you all of the hardships like some kind of mystical genie. As was the case for Deling above – her husband was still in prison, and she still struggled to survive. (The majority of us in the affluent West don’t understand what it means to literally be desperate. [Desperation is not waiting for your internet to buffer]).
Thinking that you’ll suddenly be prosperous and have everything you need is at the far end of the scale. But the other end of the scale is equally wrong: thinking of God with a little ‘g’. God doesn’t confer a small advantage in life, he’s the only advantage you’ll ever need.
It also shows that he’s a God who cares about the individual, and our earthly circumstances. Not only does he want to protect us from the ravages and consequences of sin (e.g. the woman caught in adultery), and pain but he knows us intimately even down to how many hairs are on our head.
Deling and her mother-in-law couldn’t just sit back and wait for rescue – they did what they can, and asked God to help. Note that God came through at the end which is so typically God. He didn’t have someone helpful come along and explain how to farm, but instead worked a miracle to show his power.
If we are being obedient to his call in our lives, then we can be confident that he will look after us. That doesn’t mean we will be saved from incredible hardship, but that he will help us through the hardship. It is, after all, what we’re called to do.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)