home > Pastor’s Desk > 2021 > July > THE UPSTREAM VISION

 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.”
Matthew 28:18-20

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.
Matthew 9:36

But then…

 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.
Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)

Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)

“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

But then…

 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.
Revelation 2:5

 

But then…

John Wycliffe (ca. 1328 – 1384)

 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.

Billy Graham preaching in Los Angeles 1947

A young Billy Graham preaching in Los Angeles 1947

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. 

Billy Graham preaching in London in 1956 where more than 2 million Brits came out to hear him

Billy Graham preaching in London in 1956 where more than 2 million Brits came out to hear him

[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!]  

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

3 Comments

  1. LYDIA

    Thank you Andrew! This is brilliant. Your address takes us by the hand and walks us thru history. It shows us where the problem lay in that missing bit of timber on the bridge and all the resulting comical and yet deadly results of not zeroing in on the core problem that people NEED a Saviour to save them from themselves or they will just drown! Seriously its a given. Historically we roll from one calamity to another yet each time there was a ‘BUT then’…and in time, God’s time Christianity was birthed and each time things looked bad again there was a ‘BUT then! Plagues have come and plagues will go and the call is ever there. From Red Salmon which swim upstream every year that cycle of life continues on! I like that “Upstream” analogy, upstream against the tide of the climate of the day, the wayward thinking of society where history has repeated itself and where our LORD has provided the answer throughout all of history, continuously throughout history – new life in Him – the only solution that can possibly be found – Jesus – and He had compassion on them. Compassion! So, ‘Upstream’ we will go!

    Reply
  2. John

    History is not bunk

    Reply
  3. Mike Sladden

    Very good thank you, Pastor Andrew. On the whole, medicine is the same regarding downstream and upstream. We spend most of our time and resources treating the sick (downstream); little time and few resources to prevent people getting sick (upstream). It does not make a lot of sense. Blessings, Brother Mike

    Reply

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.