Wednesday, May 2, 2012

You can only keep what you've given away

You can only keep what you give away. Strange-sounding paradox, eh? But that's the essence of life! Our struggles to maintain what we think we possess or figure out ways through our problems often bring only fleeting, temporary, circuitous solutions. Truth seems ever-evasive, tantalyzingly outside our grasp, just like the proverbial carrot on the stick; we're ever reaching, but never able... But our futile predicaments are simply our wake-up calls to change our perspective! Life is not out of reach... removed. It is nearer than we think. Definitely within the grasp of faith. 'We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive at the place we first started And to know that place for the first time.' (Little Gidding - TS Eliot - HS paraphrase) T.S. Eliot perceived that life's seemingly meaningless circuit really does have purpose. Our circle does have a centre after all and all life proceeds from that centre. We are not a disconnected series of random explorings on an uncertain circumference. And all honest attempts to seek life's mystery will ultimately bring us to this revelation: Life is a lot simpler than we think and that Centre and His Name is Jesus! I'm convinced: resolution does not come from frantically trying to unravel our complicated Gordian knots; rather it flows from the revelation of Jesus Christ, God's Word + His Spirit. His Sword first pierces our heart and then it is free to cut through the entangling maze around and ahead of us. Veiled riddles can lead to open portals. Complex confusions yield simple solutions. In Jesus Christ, mystery becomes Revelation! Look again at our opening sentence. It parallels Jesus' words in Matt 16:24: 'For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.' Is Jesus just talking in circles, seeking to impress us with how deep His thoughts are? I think not. Rather, His simplicity challenges our complexity. His heavenly wisdom confronts our earthly delusion. He who is The Way, Truth and Life calls us to forsake confusion and follow Him, even through accompanying tests and trials, to discover life to its fullest. Quite simply... your life is NOT about you. You, yourself, your 'I' is neither life's beginning, central focus nor goal. 'You' are an outward expression of God's innermost love. And the sooner 'I' come to the end of 'my'self and cease from introspective navel-gazing, then the sooner 'I' will be free from the non-stop merry-go-round treadmill impossibility of realizing 'self'. Self-centred self-awareness; self-help + self-improvement, self-acceptance, self-sufficiency + self-esteem -- they all lead to only more emptiness! 'Vanity of vanities,' saith Ecclesiastes, 'All is vanity!' This is the pivotal question in our present-day culture wars. Consumer-centred societies that strive to get and keep are empty, dying cultures and eventually consume themselves. Jesus reiterated this same truth 1000 years later with His added Revelation: THE WAY, TRUTH + LIFE has now appeared in earth and taken up His rightful throne at our universe's centre, its very heart. Receiving Christ means 'self' relinquishes its throne to a new centre. All 'self' focuses are mere detours, deceptions and lies! Life is not a self-centred lie. To die to self is to find your new Identity in Christ and live for Him! Love gives. The Father gave His Son. Jesus gave His life. He is the only answer and He is His way to His followers, a new and living way: You can only keep what you give away. It's like breathing: you take in and then you have to give out to keep on living! Stop breathing out and you die! Give and you live! Let me illustrate this further for a picture is worth 1000 words. I know a lady in our city who grows dahlias. By summer's end, her garden is a living tapestry of colour! A wonderful rainbow of diverse reds, oranges, yellows and polka-dot purples, with white and gold highlights! Many of her varieties are totally unique to her garden because over the years she used the bulbs she already had to generate new, original and even more vibrant creations. Her garden is like none other... and she shares it with her whole community. She didn't attend our church, but many Sunday mornings I'd arrive to find one of her colouful arrangements at our church doorstep. No mystery; I knew exactly who had left them. She just wanted to bless us and she did. Her dahlias also greeted me when I entered the local bank -- banks definitely need blessing that money cannot give! Her displays of God's true wealth and exuberant prodigality added life to the otherwise austere, sterile money-changers' tables. And if you took time to look even more closely... you could read, secreted amid their petals, her hand-written Bible verses proclaiming simple gospel truths. Her flowers invited thirsty souls to stop and drink life's true honey. But one day disaster struck! Every autumn she brought her bulbs in from the garden, carefully wrapped them up + packed them away to protect them from the winter cold. But this one winter was especially harsh and all her bulbs froze. Frozen dahlia bulbs do not bloom again. The soggy mess was only good for the compost pile. None of her prize dahlias survived. But this Dorcas lived a timeless secret. For years she had selflessly sown seeds unwittingly for her own salvation that would now germinate in her springtime of need. Out of her generous spirit, during her years of plenty, she had freely given her prize bulbs away to friends, neighbours, any dahlia-lovers. All who had shown an interest received some so they could then grow and enjoy their own dahlias in their own yards. And now, when these friends heard of her loss, they in turn rallied and one-by-one restored her garden with a whole new generation of bulbs -- a re-generation heralding her garden's resurrection! Virtually every variety she had once cultivated, but then lost, was ultimately restored and her garden bloomed again... replenished! Because she had given them away, they came back to her. She had 'lost' her flowers to others, but when all seemed lost, then what she had given restored her to plenty. She was kept because she had given away. Something parallel is now happening in the Church here in the West. Her present state resembles my friend's frozen dahlias: desolate, desperate, decayed. Not only is the bloom off her vine, but her bulbs are rotten. She is lost in her own way, void of simple gospel truth, lacking Christ's essential life and without a vision beyond herself. Yet I see hope! Jesus Christ is her true and only Root and neither He nor His gospel will be corrupted! Nothing done in Christ is in vain. For centuries, the Western church gave her best shoots and sowed her quality seed into the world's needy. Countless thousands, many in the prime of their youth, not only bloomed brightly in their generation, but branched over the walls to transform desolate wildernesses and affect many generations. The blood of the martyrs is still good seed, like the 'dahlia bulbs' my friend gave away. Now Africa, Asia, South America are returning the gospel afresh to a spiritually-impoverished West. They come bearing precious seed, priceless bulbs, completing the circle. Ecclesiastes 11:1 encourages us to 'Cast our bread on the waters and we will find it after many days.' Isaiah and Habbakuk prophesy, 'the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.' (Isa 11:9, Hab 2:14) Jesus sent His disciples to the ends of the earth to 'make disciples of ALL nations'. That still includes the West. God will not settle for a remnant when He has sown a harvest. Now seed is returning to us from these nations that previously received it from our once over-flowing store. Those who formerly received from us are now His messengers to us. Our offering to them has become what they now offer us. May we humbly receive the Gospel seed again and complete the kingdom cycle. God's wisdom is evident: we keep + are only kept by what we've given away!


  1. Henry...this article has touched me almost more than any others! We get so wrapped up in ourselves...sometimes even when we are giving, it's still about us! Our desire is to give with no strings and with a Joy like no other! But to do this we have to know Who gave to us so freely that we are even able to do this. Keeping Jesus at the centre of our circle will make this clear! Great post and challenge!

  2. Wow, Henry, I am so blessed every time I read your blogs. Also challenged afresh!

    "To die to self is to find your new Identity in Christ and live for Him! Love gives. The Father gave His Son. Jesus gave His life. He is the only answer and He is His way to His followers, a new and living way: You can only keep what you give away. It's like breathing: you take in and then you have to give out to keep on living! Stop breathing out and you die! Give and you live! "

    I could quote so many things you write. Bless you and keep them coming! I miss your teachings at school. This blogging is one way I am still blessed with some of the gems you have gained through the years, and are now giving away! You preach it and you live it.