I think the best endorsement I can give for Christopher Yuan's book Out of a Far Country is that I based a sermon on the book. The sermon text is below. I consider Out of a Far Country to be a must read for Christians in our country right now. With all that is happening in the news regarding marriage, homosexuality, and Christian response, Yuan's book is essential.
Christopher Yuan is the son of Chinese immigrants. His parents Angela and Leon were born in mainland China and then lived in Taiwan before immigrating to the United States. Angela worked and supported Leon as he went through dental school. After his graduation, with two young sons, Christopher the younger, the Yuans set up their dental practice in Chicago. Theirs was an American success story – hard working people making the most of their opportunity.
The plan was for the sons to follow their father in business, becoming dentists and working in his practice. Cracks began to form when Christopher was in dental school. He was home from break. The relationships in the family were thoroughly icy – husband and wife barely talked to each other. Christopher seemed distant and utterly annoyed by his parents.
Things came to a head. Leon had been checking the insulation in the crawl space off Christopher’s bedroom and found a VHS tape (this was the early ‘90’s). It was hidden, not to be found. It was a gay pornography video. When Christopher was confronted by his parents he proudly admitted his homosexuality. For him, it was a rite of passage among his gay friends. For his family, it was utter scandal and they did not know what to do.
His horrified mother told him he had to choose. He could be gay or he could be in the family. He responded that he had no choice. He was gay. It was who he was and his real friends accepted him for who he was. He told his parents he knew they’d react that way. He left them in Chicago and headed back to Louisville.
One thing to know is at this point in the story, no one in the Yuan family was a believer. They were agnostic or atheist, but definitely not Christian.
Christopher’s announcement filled Angel with utter horror, but her husband, Christopher’s dad Leon, was nonresponsive. He continued on in his dental practice like he did every other day, not even acknowledging what their son had said. In despair at Christopher’s announcement and Leon’s indifference, Angela decided to take her own life.
But, she wanted to see Christopher one more time. So she got a train ticket to Louisville. She would go from Chicago to Louisville, see Christopher, and then end her life. She doesn’t know why, but before leaving Chicago, she went to see a priest. He listened to her story, shared with her some religious literature, and gave her the number of someone she could call if she wanted to talk more.
She read the book the priest had given her while on the train. It was written to tell gay people that they are loved by God, but Angela felt it was written for her. She had never heard that God loved her. Many people haven’t. Wheaton College theology professor Gary Burge reports that 90% of his students – kids from evangelical families – are for more afraid of God’s wrath than comforted by God’s love.
I wonder what would happen if we surveyed the people of HillSong Church? Are we (a) more fearful of God’s angry wrath or (b) more comforted by God’s grace-filled love? Angela Yuan had never thought about God, but after boarding the southbound train intent on killing herself, she arrived with a new discovery. God loved her.
She ran to tell Christopher, but he wasn’t interested in what she had to say. He gave her an indifferent “whatever.” Such a dismissive, cutting response previously would have injured her heart, but she was on a path of discovery – learning for the first time of God’s love. She didn’t take her life. And she didn’t go back to Chicago. She called the number the priest gave her and the guy who talked to her knew a woman in Louisville she could meet. That woman discipled Angela Yuan in her early life as a Christian. First John 4:8 says “God is love.” She was learning that truth in her own life.
Meanwhile, Chris was going wild. He had multiple partners including countless strangers. He constantly exposed himself to the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Worse, drugs had become a part of his life. In a short time, he went from marijuana to ecstasy, and from user to dealer to distributer. His life consisted of parties, drugs, and sex.
Obviously, it’s hard to keep up the academic rigors of dental school in such a life, and he didn’t make it. Just a month short of his graduation, he was kicked out of the program, but he didn’t care. He was making load of money and having unending fun. As his family was shamed, he drifted even further away. He moved to Atlanta, bought an expensive condo, and set up shop.
Then, the unending fun ended. The knock at the door was not another customer, but a dozen DEA and FBI agents. He could have gotten 10 years or even life in prison, but he cooperated by testifying against an even bigger dealer than himself. So, he got off with six years in prison.
During that time, adjusting to prison life, he was summoned by the prison nurse. All convicted drug users had to submit to regular blood tests. This time he was positive for HIV. He was pretty sure his life was over. As he lay in the prison bunk, he saw that someone had scribbled on the wall, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” So, in his absolute despair, he found a Bible and read, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.” Just as his mother was astounded to learn that God loved her, Chris couldn’t believe God had plans for him.
That scripture and a group of Latino prisoners brought Chris to Jesus. He wandered into their prison worship service, and on the spot, they decided their Spanish worship would be bilingual so their English-speaking Chinese guest could understand. He kept going to the services and pretty soon, they had him preaching. He was blown away. He was gay. He was an addict. He was in prison. And a bunch of Hispanics loved him and showed him that God had gifted him as a preacher.
Eventually Christopher Yuan surrendered completely to Jesus just like his mother. So too did his Father Leon. Leon and Angela’s dead marriage came to life when they met Jesus and gave themselves to him. The details of Christopher Yuan’s story are told in a book I highly recommend, Out of a Far Country. It’s one of the most compelling stories I have read this year.
And, the timing of reading is, I believe providential. We are in First John 4. First Corinthians 13 is often called “the Love Chapter,” but 1st John 4 could certainly compete for that title. “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God (v7).” “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (v.12). “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (v.8).
That last verse rings in my ears. On CNN’s website, two North Carolina pastors were mentioned both for saying hateful, awful things about gay people. One suggested that all gay people be locked behind an electric fence and left there the rest of their lives. Such a preposterous idea would not happen, but what’s disturbing is that someone claiming to be a follower of Christ suggested such hate while preaching a sermon in a Baptist church here in North Carolina. I am sure that pastor would call himself a Bible literalist. And I am equally sure he would proudly admit he does not love gay people. So, I guess he doesn’t know God at all. Chapter four, verse 8, “Whoever does not love does not know God.”
This especially sensitive issue has been front-page news since the election three weeks ago when our state joined 30 others in banning same-sex marriage. I struggled then because I really thought God was telling me it was time to deal with this issue at HillSong, but I didn’t know exactly how. Too often in life, when I don’t know what to say, I blurt something out. I am glad in this case I waited.
When Chris Yuan’s parents became followers of Jesus Christ, their one prayer was that they would get to see Chris come to believe in Jesus. They didn’t ask that he receive a shortened prison sentence. They did not ask that his HIV be cured. They did not ask God to take away his homosexuality. They asked that they get to see Him come to follow Jesus.
In one account in the story, one of Chris’s friends was dying of AIDS. This man had been a magazine cover-model and movie star. He had been rich, famous, and popular. Yet, when AIDS ravaged his life, the only people to visit his hospital room were Chris, Angela, and Leon Yuan. They embraced this man and showered the love of Jesus on him. They did not preach on him. They did not throw Bible verses in his face. They dealt heavy doses of compassion, mercy, and love.
At HillSong, our philosophy is three-part. We want you to come, whether you are a first-timer or have come for decades. We want all to feel safe coming into this place. This must be a place of love where people can come, be welcomed, embraced, and loved no matter who they are or what they have done. This has to be a safe place and it will be when we all conspire to love everyone who walks through that door extravagantly and generously.
First John 4;10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The minute we want to condemn someone else, we remember Jesus did his love-work for us while we were condemning him in our sin. We have to be a safe place for sinners. Whether the sin is deception, gossip, pride, greed, gluttony, or a sin of a sexual nature (and as many are hetero as are homosexual), we are all sinners. HilllSong must be a safe place for sinners.
Second, sinners must come into this safe place and meet Jesus here. And once someone meets Jesus, he will never be the same again. Chris Yuan has not become heterosexual. He describes his life as a life of holy sexuality. When the yearnings for drugs and homosexual temptation arise, and for him these temptations are still there, he turns to Jesus. His holy sexuality is commitment to a single life in which he glorifies Jesus with his words and actions. He is now a Bible professor at Moody Bible Institute. He has achieved a master’s degree from Wheaton and is almost done with a doctorate in theology from Bethel Seminary. He met Jesus and changed. He did not go from homo to heterosexuality. He went from prodigal lost in a far country to son of God.
HillSong must be a safe place.
HillSong must be a place where people meet Jesus and are transformed by the encounter – changed from lost to adopted, from purposeless to living on mission for God.
Finally, having been transformed by Jesus, we are sent. We are sent on mission trips. When people move, we send them into the world to follow God’s mission for their lives. And today, we are all sent into the world to love. Verse 11, “Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Having been refreshed in this safe place, made new by Jesus, we are sent by Him, with the Holy Spirit to love.
Who is it you find impossible to love?
I think the evangelical church in America has done an awful job of loving homosexual people. Loving does not mean approving a life style. Jesus loved tax collectors and sinners. The Gospel does not say he approved of corruption. He did not say illicit sex was OK. Nor does it say he loved sinners as long as they changed their ways. Jesus loved regardless, and we must too.
Holy sexuality involves a man and woman who are husband and wife; and it equally involves single individuals who remain celibate. Anyone who has been involved in other forms of sexuality, hetero, homo, or other can be made new and reborn in Jesus Christ.
Our First John 4 calling is to love whether or not people turn to Jesus. They won’t hear our words about the gospel until they feel they can trust us. They won’t listen until we have invested a lot of time listening to and loving them. They won’t hear our words about Jesus until they know we are safe.
Who do you find it impossible to love? Homosexuals? Arch conservatives who hatefully condemn homosexuals? Who can you simply not love because the enmity and hate is too deep? Communists? The father who abused you? The husband who left you? The person who threatened your child? Democrats? Republicans?
Safe – New – Sent; we are sent out into a fallen, sin-stained world, and we are sent to love.
As we pray, in your mind, see the person you find it impossible to love. Ask God to show you how you will actively love that person this week.