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.

Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now I see it. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important to identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

Bloody Vomit

Today I share the beginning of a short story. It came to me as a synergy of two things. The first was from my reading of Living Water:

Centuries ago Christians built remote monasteries in the mountains to help them get away from people and supposedly avoid the “contamination” of the world. Today in Protestant circles the same thinking prevails in a different guise. It results in a stream of believers only equipped to play spiritual games inside the safety of their church walls, but totally ill prepared when they have to leave their Christian environment and interact with real people in the outside world.

Yun, Brother. Living Water: Powerful Teachings from the International Bestselling Author of The Heavenly Man (p. 256). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

The second was the two words “bloody vomit”, which have a lot of emotional resonance of innate fear.

So, do please enjoy some “Bloody Vomit”…

Bloody vomit. That’s how it started, and that’s how it would end. Bloody vomit: the first sign the grim reaper had selected you, and the final sign he’d returned.
I’d woken up in the middle of the night to hear my wife Sarah retching. No other sound was as scary these days. She’d looked at me, and even by the moonlight we could see the fear in each other’s eyes.
“Get away,” she’d yelled and stumbled backwards, even as I ran to hug her.
“I’m not going to leave you. We’ll get through this together,” I promised as I held her tightly.
It had been just 3 months since the first incident of the plague had occurred. Two days later there had been localised quarantines, a week after state borders were closed. Within a month all international travel stopped. And then came the mass death. Everywhere you looked people were either dying or panicked out of their minds. And both categories of people were dangerous. The Government, or what was left of it, was desperately working on a cure to what was being called the precursor of human extinction. The officials and scientists worked in isolated and fortified emergency compounds. Soldiers guarded the perimeter and used their guns to enforce it. Sadly, it was simply too dangerous to be out among the sick; any attempt to care for the unwell was highly selective – the vast majority were left to die without aid or comfort. And now Jessica was infected.
“We shouldn’t have left the secure zone,” Jessica said, “we should have stayed there.”
“You know someone had to make the trip. If there’s a cure, we have to find it.”