The best way for me to explain to you the Upstream Vision is to tell you a story. A man was walking through the bush with his dog enjoying the outdoors, the fragrances of nature, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the chirping of the birds, the sounds of the flowing river, and — suddenly he heard the panicked cries for help coming from the river. He ran to the riverbank and saw a hapless victim being swept downstream. He threw himself into raging river and eventually managed to rescue the drowning man further downstream. The next day this bushwalker’s heroism was featured on the front-page of the local newspaper. That day, he and his dog attempted to complete their previous day’s interrupted walk — but it was interrupted again by the cries for help from yet another drowning person being swept downstream! In fact, for the next five days the same dog-walking bushwalker vainly tried to complete his walk but was kept busy rescuing drowning people being swept downstream! Recognising the growing crisis, the municipal councillors met and decided to apply for a government grant to be able to station a full-time lifeguard on the riverbank. After the lifeguard was hired, he too was kept busy rescuing people being swept downstream. The council then applied for further federal funding as the lifeguard was barely able to keep up with the numbers of rescued victims now requiring to be driven into town to be hospitalised. The council received their funding to build a permanent ambulance station next to the lifeguard station. Soon there were multiple full-time lifeguards and ambulance drivers working around the clock to rescue and hospitalise victims.The council then needed to employ a CEO to manage the worksite and the CEO, of course, needed an executive assistant who needed a personal assistant who needed an admin’ assistant to help oversee the busy operation. Then the predictable happens! There was a government funding cut-back and the council decide that they could no longer afford the lifeguards, the ambulance drivers, admin’ assistants, or the personal assistant, but decided to keep the CEO and his executive assistant.
Around this time, the dog-walking bushwalker decided one more time to complete his walk through the bush track. As he went deeper into the bush going upstream and alongside the river, he walked over the foot bridge spanning the river and noticed that there are two $2 planks of timber missing in the foot bridge through which everyone had been falling into river!
¶ “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet … In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:13, 16
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Christian Church has had a long tradition of working ‘downstream’ in and amongst society’s deepest and darkest problems. In fact, Christianity itself was birthed in one of the darkest hours in human history. Dr. F.W. Boreham has noted that at the darkest points in human history when all hope seemed lost, it was often the case that God’s response to such bleak times was to send a baby into the world. The greatest example of this customary divine response was the birth of Mankind’s eternal Saviour, Jesus the Christ.
¶ But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children.
Galatians 4:4-5 NLT
Consider the unlikely geo-political-cultural backdrop at the time of Christ’s incarnation.
It was a time of widespread political corruption at every level of government and administration.
It was a time of rampant sexual abuse of women and children.
It was a time of economic suppression of the poor.
It was a time of educational deprivation reducing in ignorance and illiteracy which placed the uneducated in a vulnerable state of manipulation.
It was a time of widespread fictional religious ideas that played on this widespread ignorance.
When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
When the Christ came, and Christianity was birthed –
The place of women was elevated (women were the first witnesses to, and proclaimers of, Christ’s resurrection for example)
The position of slaves was redeemed (Gal. 3:28)
The practice of baby exposure (were unwanted babies were left out at night in forests or the market square to be ravaged by wild animals) was countered by Christians actively rescuing these abandoned babies (most of whom were girls)
Churches were planted around the Empire which became centres of learning which countered the pervasive errors and false ideas widely accepted by the masses (1Pet. 1:14).
Lepers were cared for and their wounds tended to.
When plagues came, Christians were at the forefront of caring for and nursing the sick and dying (“During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.” [SOURCE]). Christians became known as “those who ran into the plague—not from it!”
Over the centuries, Christians pioneered and established public hospitals, public schools, and universities.
Missionaries were sent to the far-flung parts of the world bringing ‘social lift’ wherever they went.
- Grounded in the emerging Christian worldview, modern science was birthed and promoted by: Galileo, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Johannes Kepler, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Anders Celsius, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Edwin Hubble, and Hugh Ross.
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being….All variety of created objects which represent order and life in the universe could happen only by the willful reasoning of its original Creator, whom I call the ‘Lord God’….He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, His duration reaches from eternity to eternity; His presence from infinity to infinity; He governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.”
-Sir. Isaac Newton
In AD 312 a new trajectory was also seeded into Christianity. This eventually led to the message of the saving gospel being subjugated by the lure of political power. Over the ensuing centuries, many of those who rose to high leadership positions within the Church, whose Christianity was quite questionable, used their ecclesiastical (“Church”) position to further their own interests not the interests of Christ or others. In many respects, the expression “Dark Ages” refers to this superficial period of Christian leadership who were more interested in political power rather than spiritual purity. History tells us that wherever the light that God had ordained to shine through His people ceased, there has been a void and a darkness that the enemy has been too keen to fill. In the late 600s and into the early 700s, when the Dark Ages were nearing their darkest, a new religion challenged Christianity—but not merely with strange ideas, but with the edge of the sword. Church leaders responded, proving their ignorance of the Scriptures, recruiting mercenary soldiers to fight in the crusades. This merger of Church and State led to what became known as Christendom and became not just a political force, but by the Medieval period it had also become a military force as well.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
In AD 1328 God introduced a baby into the world by the name John Wycliffe. His arrival marked the early days of what would later become known as the Enlightenment Period and The Reformation. The Dark Ages would be soon be over because John Wycliffe would take the ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament in their original language and translate them into the language spoken by common Englishmen of his day. The Holy Spirit then sent William Tyndale, another Englishman, to build on the work of Wycliffe. He translated the whole Bible into English and paid for it with his life. As more and more people were able to read or hear the Bible in their own language the more they realised that what the Church was teaching did not accord with the Bible. Added to these flames of revival, in Italy the gospel according to the Bible was being preached by Girolamo Savonarola, in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli, by the great Czech preacher John Hus in Bohemia, in Germany by Martin Luther, and in Geneva by John Calvin. These flames of revival were fanned by the Holy Spirit into the 1700s with the great preaching ministries of John Wesley and George Whitefield who both saw tens of thousands of people come to Christ and led to William Wilberforce the English Parliamentarian become the patron of around 70 societies which included the abolition of slavery, the establishment of the Bible Society, the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty against Animals (RSPCA), prison reform (including the principle of Habeas Corpus), and the establishment of free public schools.
In the 1800s when the light of the Enlightenment finally enabled people to see that scientific facts should not be disregarded merely because the Church had claimed the Bible said so, more and more people began to openly challenge the claims of the Bible. This was especially so from November 24th, 1859, when Charles Darwin published, Origin of The Species. This helped to fuel a movement in Tübingen among German theologians known as Liberalism which denied nearly all of the supernatural claims of the Bible including the virgin birth of Christ, His miracles, and His resurrection. Liberalism attempted to reduce the purpose of Christianity merely to achieving the newly coined term, social justice (largely caring for the poor and the downtrodden). But by the late 19th century and early in the 20th century a fresh move of the Holy Spirit began to reignite the Christians around the world to return to accepting the supernatural aspects of the Bible as true. The Holy Spirit raised up many great preachers who built extraordinarily large congregations and experienced phenomenal miracles in the process. A new breed of evangelists around the world helped to strengthen this new move of God with thousands being converted to Christ all around the world. In particular, a young dairy farmer from just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, Billy Graham, would end up preaching to around 2.2 billion people throughout his evangelistic meetings, with 3.3 million people coming to know Christ as their Saviour! Billy Graham is largely credited with creating the term Evangelicalism. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has continued to be focused on evangelism and has grown into one of the world’s most respected rapid response relief agencies.
[NEXT: Part 2 – How the Holy Spirit is inspiring a new generation of “Upstream” Christians to develop strategies for solving the world’s greatest and darkest problems in a neighbourhood near you!]
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