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.

A Reflection for Easter

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.

RIH, Billy Graham

Rest in Heaven, Billy Graham.

In this world of all-too-often compromised values and fallen ‘heroes’, Billy Graham stood remarkably unscathed by controversy. How many people have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of fame and public opinion and not met with failure or tragedy? Not many.

He was consistent, faithful and trusted.

I’ve read before that if Graham had his life ‘over’ he would do as Jesus did and invest in a small number of people instead of his evangelistic crusades. Would he have made a greater impact on the world had he done so? Possibly; only God knows. But what we do know is that he made a huge difference in millions of people’s lives.

Some who accepted Jesus at a crusade would have had the seeds of truth stolen by the challenges and opposition which came, but I know of several (and there would be innumerable more) who had that seed planted in deep, rich soil. From that seed of truth and hope a great tree of salvation has grown. Many thousands more have found shelter, and in time – their own salvation – under the shade of those trees. Faith is a journey. Sometimes Graham planted the seed, other times he watered it, and for many, he harvested it.

May his family and friends rejoice in the legacy and the man who was Billy Graham. Though their pain of loss remains, there must be great joy in knowing Billy now sits adoringly at the feet of the one he loved and gave his life for.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

The Western Church

For too long I have swallowed a lie. The edges of the lie occasionally made me uncomfortable but by-and-large it has gone down with my consent.

Like Neo taking the red pill in The Matrix, I’m beginning to wake up.

The lie is this: the church must present itself in a certain way in order to attract people. It must have an attractive building, easy parking and worship times should be convenient. As Westerners we have come to expect a certain level of comfort… how could we possibly convince people to come unless they are going to be comfortable and have a great experience?

The statement has a ring of truth to it; all good lies do. To attract a certain type of person it is true. Fortunately, however, Jesus covers off on this in Luke 14:16-23:

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

people-1550501_960_720Jesus makes it clear – if those we invite are too distracted by the world, then we should instead go to those who will be interested in the invitation. The widow and the orphan, the homeless – all those seeking God and His love aren’t picky about the building’s décor. Did we really think our flashy building could add anything to the draw-card of the Father’s love?

It does make it harder to reach people, because of the likely sacrifice it will cost us. We’ll have to turn down the comfort-controls a notch or three. It may be harder for us to relate to the less fortunate. We might actually start learning what it is to carry a cross…

The whole idea is counter-cultural, but that’s exactly what Jesus was.

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?