Almost unknowingly, we all have a tendency to redefine Christianity according to our own tastes, preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable. We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.”
These words may be hard to hear for many of us, yet they still ring true in you think about it. This has been especially true since the rise of the Religious Right on one end of the political spectrum, and Liberation Theology on the other. Whenever we wed the faith with a political movement or join at the hip with a political party, we usually wind up with a distorted Jesus that bears little resemblance to the real deal. On a more personal level, many of us tend to mold Jesus into a more palatable commodity, one that doesn’t create too much change or stress in our lives. In essence, we seek to serve a Jesus that affirms our status quo and many of us whittle away at his true character until he becomes what we need him to be.
(from Follow Me)
December 4, 2014
Filed under Apostle Paul, Applied Spirituality, Christian Living, Christianity, Church, Discipleship, God's Kingdom, God's Love, God's Story, God's Will, Gospel, Grace, Jesus, Jesus' Teaching, Obedience, Personal Discipline, Personal Renewal
Tags: Christian Living, Christianity, Discipleship, Kingdom of God, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality
I think one of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the gospel message is that, in spite of past screw ups, Jesus loves and accepts us as we are. Not only that, but through the actions of the blessed Holy Spirit, he is willing to help us change. And even more mind boggling, he is planning on making us a full partner in his father’s business. Author and teacher Billy Joe Daugherty speaks to these themes in a clear manner:
This is the good news of Jesus: He loves you just the way you are, yet He sees you for what you can become…..He sees you sharing the living water with others who are dry on the inside….God has big plans for you. It may seem like you have wasted your life, but with Jesus you can make up for lost years in a short time. He will not reject you for your past failures. He welcomes you to come to him and receive living water.
As I said, I find this aspect of the Lord to be most comforting because I have certainly messed up things many times. Further, I can truly relate to that feeling of having wasted my life. Yet Jesus is willing to put that behind us now and turn both His eyes and mine toward a more positive, successful future, one where I can have a positive, beneficial impact on the world in general and my family in particular.
More amazing is the fact that I never have to go it alone. Instead, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is walking next to me and living inside me in a miraculous way I can never understand but can fully appropriate through the simple act of faith. I don’t know about you, but when I truly take time and reflect on all this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The only thing required of me to receive the healing water of Christ is faith. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand what if means to have faith. Jesus plainly told us that he has overcome the world and all that we have to do to have a life of spiritual fulfillment is to accept what He has told us in faith. As I was sitting here writing these words I was reminded of the following words, again from Daugherty:
Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It is our faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross. In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and took the keys of authority from him. Now Jesus Christ reigns forever.
Jesus reigns forever and scripture assures me that I am co-heir with Him, as are you if you have accepted his gift of grace with faith. This acceptance I am speaking of here involves more than the forgiveness of sin, although it certainly involves that. By His blood the Lord purchased our forgiveness and justified our being before the Father, but the cross also accomplished something equally significant, not to mention precious. Through Christ’s cross, his death, and his resurrection, we are empowered to live as he says we should live. Just as we could never do enough to attain forgiveness and justification before God, we can never live the full Christian life under our own power. We need something more and Christ has provided that power for us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Further, we have on the inside of us the same resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life. The ultimate nature of that power is far too profound and mysterious for me to ever get my mind completely around but, on faith, I am fully convinced that it is mine.
So what stops us from simply accepting what Christ is freely offering us? There are a number of reasons I suspect, but one I encounter with more than a few sincere believers is one you might not immediately think of. Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. I don’t mean to imply that these issues are not important. Certainly doctrine and dogma have their place. But I often wonder if Christ smiles in approval when he hears us debating his simple truths to the point that we divide ourselves into countless denominations and sects and tear asunder the Body that he meant to live in love and unity. On the contrary, I suspect this endless hairsplitting and theological nitpicking brings tears to his eyes.
During the early 1980’s I enrolled in several Religion courses at a small university near my home in north Alabama. I recall one course in particular that centered on the life of Jesus. My fellow classmates were an interesting group. Some were undergraduate students pursuing coursework in Religion and Philosophy in preparation for seminary. Others were ordained pastors of small local churches who, after preaching for a number of years, felt the need to further their education. Others, like myself, were there seeking a deeper understanding of the Christian faith as well as its history and traditions. Then there was Henry.
No one knew exactly why Henry was enrolled. He rarely spoke and when he did, it was with a soft, slow voice with a pronounced rural southern brogue. Considering the diverse make up of the class, it was natural that heated discussions would often break out. The professor often encouraged this in fact. The class argued about many issues. The nature of the Trinity, immersion versus sprinkling, the permanency of salvation, the list is endless.
I admit I often enjoyed these ballyhoos as they lent a degree of excitement to the proceedings and made the class time pass more quickly. One night the class was engaged in a verbal free for all centering on the Virgin Birth. I remember clearly hearing a wide range of viewpoints on this, mostly in support of the indisputable validity of the doctrine of virgin birth. I for one remained on the periphery of this dispute mostly out of ignorance. The doctrine of Virgin Birth was not for me an issue of central importance to my daily experience of the Christian path. In fact, unless it was brought up for discussion, I rarely consider it. It was one of those issues that I had placed on the theological back burner.
After a lengthy discussion, the professor looked to the back of the room and said, “Well Henry, you’ve been mighty quiet in this discussion. Why don’t you share your thoughts on the Virgin Birth with us?”
After a long pause Henry folded his hands on the desk, looked cautiously around the room and said:
“Well, I’ve been a settin’ here for over an hour listenin’ to you gents discussing this here thing about the Virgin Birth of Christ. I guess ya’ll know a heck of a lot more about all this than I do. You must or else you couldn’t talk about it for so long. All I know is this. Jesus loves me and I love him and try to do what he says. I reckon it don’t matter much to me what his momma done.”
Point taken Henry, end of discussion.
Instead of simply taking Christ at his word and freely receiving his gift of both salvation and sanctification, we often enter into arcane debates over issues that are not fundamental to the issue at hand. At the end of the day, we complicate a simple offer and this confuses believers inside the church and turns away many on the outside. I could give countless examples of this because I used to do this very thing. We all too often major in the minors and minor in the majors.
One issue that I have often heard brothers and sisters discussing, often in heated tones, is the order of salvation. Some say that we repent, and then we are saved. Others say that we repent because we are saved. I imagine one could make a case for either side of this issue by citing various passages of scripture but in terms of our response to God’s grace I don’t see that it matters much on a practical level. The fact is God makes His offer and we respond. The mere act of responding is in itself an act of repentance. We accept that we are accepted, complete with our cuts and bruises, our shortcomings and short-fallings. This is the meaning of grace, pure and simple.
Our role in this process is not to analyze, dissect, or debate. Our job is to respond. We either accept the offer or we refuse it. God has so arranged this process that it is really up to us.
Grace is not something we can earn. We can’t work our way into God’s grace because, in spite of our best intentions, nothing would ever, ever be enough. We can’t even pray our way into God’s grace. We can’t plea-bargain and attempt to get a lighter sentence for our sins. No, all we can do is get it through our heads, however thick, that grace flows from God to us. Our task is to accept it fully and get on with the task of letting the Holy Spirit flow into us and do His work to make us more like Christ.
The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.
As I have previously shared on this website, I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was chewing on me. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.
Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.
What we can do is express our gratitude by being thankful, expressing our heart-felt appreciation for what God has done for us. Our gratitude must further be translated into positive action and a repentant lifestyle, which expresses itself in obedience, faithfulness, humility, faith, trust and, above all, a selfless love. In other words, we accept God’s gift of grace, forgiveness and adoption into his family, then get on with the work of growing in Christ-Character. Again, get this down and get it deep. Grace comes from God, not from anything you have done or will ever do in the future. Listen to Gary Collins:
Grace is not a loan from the past. It is a gift that extends through all eternity. It is a gift that helps mold our lives so that our spirituality is God-centered, Christ-honoring, Spirit-guided, life-influencing, and ultimately, fulfilling.
Don’t you just love that? God-centered, Spirit-guided, and life-influencing. Once we accept God’s gift, and importantly, once we accept that we are accepted by God, our duty is to live a life that is focused on God and makes Him the fulcrum of our thoughts, words and deeds. The amazing thing here is that God’s grace extends even to the point that we are aided in making him the focal point of life. The Holy Spirit comes along side of us, in fact, comes to reside in us and guides us as we seek to open our ears so that we can hear Him speak. As this happens, we increasingly become equipped to do Christ’s work on earth, to be his hands, his feet and his heart in a broken, dysfunctional world. Our life is influenced so we can influence other lives. In essence, once we accept God’s gracious gift, we are empowered to become God-centered, Spirit-guided servants that can make a positive difference in the world.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved
From beginning to end, we will be called to make courageous decisions even while we find ourselves gripped with fear. There are no exemptions. Any claims that you should be exempt from having to walk this path are rejected. Any attempt to create an elitist category for those who live heroic lives while placing yourself outside of it is unacceptable. If your argument is that you just aren’t cut out for this kind of adventure, you can rest in the comfort that you are absolutely right, which is exactly why Jesus is calling you out. He calls you to begin a quest for honor. Courage is not an issue of birth. It is an expression of the heart. To be courageous is literally to be strong of heart. Both fear and courage are heart conditions. If you are weak of heart, fear not. Everyone who chooses to follow Jesus Christ receives a heart transplant. This new heart comes fully equipped with the spirit and courage of God ready to be pumped right into your timid soul.
To follow Jesus is to choose to live in His adventure. How in the world could you ever imagine a life of faith that does not require risk? Faith and risk are inseparable. It should not come as a surprise to us then that a life of faith is a life of courage. ….You cannot walk by faith and live in fear. You cannot walk with God and not face your fears. God calls you to dream great dreams and to have the courage to live them. Great dreams require great courage.
Erwin Raphael McManus
November 20, 2014
Filed under Apologetics, Applied Spirituality, Christian Living, Christianity, Church, Church Renewal, Compassion, Discipleship, God's Kingdom, God's Love, God's Story, Incarnation, Jesus, Jesus' Teaching, Mission and Calling, Service, Spiritual Disciplines, Spirituality
Tags: Change Your Life, Christianity, Discipleship, Gospel, Grace, incarnate Christ, Positive Living, Spiritual Formation
Any thoughtful, observant Christian should be aware by now that the Western church is in crisis. Don’t be deceived by the growth of the so-called “mega-churches” and the various and sundry “evangelistic explosions” that we see taking place. The fact is, people are leaving the faith in droves and fewer new faces are coming through the doors. Moreover, these dwindling numbers, along with our culture’s increasing negative view of Christianity, have relegated the church to a position of peripheral social influence.
Once the bedrock upon which our culture’s value system was built, the church is now little more than marginal voice in the constantly shifting tides of post-modern America. Identified by most Americans as joined at the hip with Right-Wing Conservatism, the church is viewed with increasing disdain and animosity. Traditional attempts at evangelism and apologetics only seem to make the situation worse. Evangelism is seen as an attempt by elitist Christians to ram their faith down people’s throats and apologetics is viewed as an archaic attempt to make the unreasonable make sense.
If the church is to survive, drastic changes must take place. It should be obvious by now that the old ways of “doing church,” especially evangelism, is doomed to failure.
Personally, I have come to believe that the most effective form of Christianity involves being faithful to our calling to incarnate Christ to a hurting world. This is the essence of what is often called “Kingdom living.” It is a lifestyle which, if carried out with compassion and commitment, will in and of itself draw people to the faith. It involves a simple paradigm: find a pressing social need and address it.
Put simply, it means giving flesh to grace. This is what Christ did and we are called to no less.
When people of faith express the love of God through acts of service and kindness, people take notice. These simple acts of grace accomplish far more than reasoned arguments, stadium rallies, popular seminars, and best-selling books. These simple acts of grace, especially given the church’s increasingly negative image in our culture, are the most effective forms of evangelistic activity we can engage in. It was not so different in the early church, which can serve as a model for what we should be doing.
In the middle of the Third Century a terrible plague devastated the Mediterranean world, dealing death to large swaths of the population. Many of those stricken with the disease were sent out of the cities, destined to die agonizing deaths alone and terrified. The Christian faithful, however, responded in a much different fashion. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, describes the acts of grace this way:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting t heir pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.
Many people were drawn to the fledgling church by the acts of service and sacrifice that so typified the early Christians. I am of the belief that it is here that the modern church can find its methodology of renewal. Crafting theological arguments is not the answer in today’s post-modern culture; nor is allying the church with a political party or ideology. Withdrawing into our own “Christian culture” is equally misguided. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves into the hurts of this world and find creative ways to bring God’s healing light to those hurts. Anything else misses the point.
Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words about the final judgment as recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.
Michael Frost, in his excellent book Exiles, points out that this incarnational living is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:
Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.
Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.
This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.
As “living epistles” we have the opportunity to meet God in the divine moment, what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the “epicenter of God’s activity.” When we consistently engage in these acts of Christian kindness, we in essence become what Gary Thomas accurately calls “God Oases.” Thomas explains:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy men and women are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out, and they will have something to say.
I find this description of godly men and women highly inspirational, not to mention vivifying. Thomas’ words encourage us to sensitize ourselves more and more to God’s activity in this world and further, to take compassionate action in emulating Christ’s acts of grace and healing. In ways both great and small, we can locate that epicenter of God’s activity and get to work.
It is nothing less than our calling, our responsibility, and our honor. And in so doing, it is my earnest prayer that more and more of us can become living epistles – God oases – and give incarnation to the godly image described in Isaiah 32:2:
Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
© L.D. Turner 2010/ 2014/All Rights Reserved
First and Second Corinthians are two of my favorite books in the Bible, primarily because Paul, in speaking to the wayward believers in Corinth, addresses many themes that are pertinent both to our churches today and to each of us as individual Christ-followers. In the seventh Chapter of First Corinthians, for example, the Apostle puts the spotlight on several issues that believers grapple with today, including our questions about where we are to serve and how.
So often these days we hear sincere Christians struggling with questions regarding their calling and mission. There seems to be much confusion on these issues and, like many other aspects of the faith, perhaps some of that confusion comes from our tendency to complicate simple matters. At least in my own life, I can say that this has often been the case.
In 7:17 Paul lays the foundation for his discussion by stating, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.” A little later, in verse 20, he continues with a similar statement, “Each one should remain in the situation he was in when God called him.” The Apostle then repeats the same teaching in relation to difficult work situations, “Each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”(1 Cor. 7:24)
Keep in mind that the large majority of Christians in Corinth at this time were new believers. I think we often lose track of the fact that Paul’s letters were addressed to the congregations of fledgling churches that needed much instruction and guidance. The Apostle’s repetitive statements indicate that there must have been a number of situations in the Corinthian church were believers thought they needed to change their circumstances now that they were Christians. Paul’s message is a clear one: It is best to serve God where you were planted when he called you.
As new believers, we often overlook the possibility that God may have a specific purpose for us exactly where we are. The reality is we are often called to be salt and light in the context of our families, our marriages, our jobs, our schools, and just about anywhere else we might find ourselves when God finds us. Those of us who are seasoned Christians need to keep this in mind, especially when we are in a position of mentoring a new believer in the discernment of God’s call on their lives.
There is a caveat here, however. I don’t think Paul was saying that this principle held in all situations. Careful reading of his other letters reveal that the Apostle believed it was sometimes best to get out of a situation that was likely to cause one to stumble. I think this is one of the reasons he encouraged believers to avoid “bad company.” For example, I would not want to encourage a woman in a relationship where she is consistently battered and abused by her husband to remain there. By the same token, I would never advise a new Christian who had just become sober to remain in a job as a bar tender or cocktail waitress. The reasons for this are obvious. These, however, are exceptions and not the rule. It is clear from Paul’s repetitive statements that his belief is that new believers can often serve God best right where they are. Hence the old adage, “Serve where you are planted.”
I have been blessed over the years with the privilege of mentoring a significant number of new believers. Most of these fresh Christians were both enthusiastic and eager to do all that they could for the Lord. As a mentor, it is vital not to dowse the fire the Spirit has ignited in these new converts. However, it is equally important to guide them in such a way that their spiritual energy doesn’t cause them to make unhealthy decisions that could have damaging results. Granted, this is a fine line for the mentor to discern and it can be like walking a tightrope. Much prayer is needed.
Further, I firmly believe that assisting believers, both new and seasoned, discover their calling is enhanced by having a sense of what God is doing in terms of the big picture. Sometimes discerning a move of God can be difficult, but for the most part, we can rest assured that the Lord will make his intentions known to us if we keep our hearts reasonably pure and maintain an intimate relationship with him. Also, we should keep before us the main themes of God’s Great Story. Any movement of God is going to take place in context of his overall plan of renewal and restoration.
As I said earlier, I have a genuine fondness for the Corinthian letters and the important themes addressed in these two books of the Bible. Planting where you are served is just one of the issues touched upon by the Apostle. In the days ahead, I will address a few more as we explore together the baby church in Corinth. I suspect we will find more similarity than we expect between our 21st Century Church in America and our ancient brothers and sisters in Corinth.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved
We here at LifeBrook are greatly saddened by the death of Dr. Myles Munroe and his wife. If you are a regular or long time reader of this blog, you are probably aware of the high regard we have for Dr. Munroe and his teachings. Nine years ago I purchased my first book by Myles Munroe, not expecting to particularly like the book. My expectations were far off base. I couldn’t put the book down. After hearing of his death in a plane crash in the Bahamas over the weekend, I went to my bookshelf and discovered I have 14 of his books. Dr. Munroe is a teacher that has influenced my walk of faith beyond measure and I am so grateful for all that he has done for me and countless others. He will surely be missed. I encourage you to pray for Dr. Munroe’s family, his wife’s family, and his followers at Bahamas Faith Ministries International.
These days there is a near obsession on the part of people about discovering their purpose in life. All one has to do is take a trip to one of the big book store chains in order to verify this reality. Shelves are lined with books that have titles or sub-titles related to discovering and living one’s personal life mission or purpose.
Confusion over purpose and meaning in life is not limited to those people outside the church. Many Christians are also searching for purpose and meaning. Christian book titles also reflect this search and any workshop or seminar on people of faith finding their purpose is packed to the gills, often with a waiting list. The question that comes to my mind is: Why do so many people seem to be wandering through life without having a clear and defining purpose in life?
Answers to this question are complicated, especially when it comes to the Body of Christ. It is fairly easy to understand why many well-meaning persons outside the church are confused about ultimate meaning in life. After all, with the post-modern anthem that there is no ultimate truth, it should be apparent that logic would also dictate that there is no ultimate meaning. This is the unsightly afterbirth of our cultures preoccupation with existentialism, which stressed the ultimate lack of meaning as well as the absurdity of life.
But what gives with the church people?
I think there are myriad reasons why Christians also struggle with this dilemma along with everyone else. First of all, the focus of a large percentage of Christian preaching during the first 75 years of the century just ended was not on meaning or purpose, but instead, was on salvation and other worldly concerns. Many church leaders believed strongly in the fact that if folks got their ticket to heaven, that was all they needed. Little attention was paid to a person’s needs in this world and even less to higher order needs like a genuine sense of purpose in living. As the century wound toward a close, this focus began to change for the better, but in some quarters of Christianity, there is still a lot of ground to make up.
In light of this situation, here at LifeBrook we make it part of our mission to focus on assisting people in defining a personal mission in life and, beyond that, making positive, practical plans to pursue that purpose. Space here doesn’t allow for a full treatment of the subject; in fact, that would take an entire book and there are already plenty of those on the shelves. Still, let me offer a few guiding principles that we have found effective with both our coaching programs and our training sessions.
We encourage people in search of mission and purpose to consider, reflect on, and pray about the following realities.
God has a plan and a purpose for every believer
Your plan and purpose is unique to you and can only be realized by someone equipped with the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gifted you with.
You plan and purpose will be biblical in nature and will never contradict scriptural principles in any way.
No matter how bad you have messed up in the past, God can and will still use you.
In fact, God may use your past failures in creative ways that will enable you to be of great service in a particular area.
No one is born an accident in this world. Everyone is on this planet because God wanted them to be here. Accordingly, no one need wander adrift in life without a purpose and sense of mission. God planned for you to be here and has something important for you to accomplish.
Each day of your life provides experiences designed to help you grow and become better equipped to carry out your purpose.
In order to discover you mission, you need to understand God’s mission of restoration.
In order to discover your mission, you need to undergo a paradigm shift; you must stop seeing things from your perspective and begin to view things from God’s perspective.
Once you discover your mission, you have free choice to pursue it or decline it.
All of these are important factors in discovering and realizing success in terms of one’s mission in life, however, we don’t have space here to look at all of them. In light of this, let me just expand briefly on the last two points.
Let’s face a fundamental reality here. Most of us spend the majority of our time viewing life in general and our mission in living in particular through a somewhat self-absorbed perspective. We see things from our vantage point and treat whatever we see as if it is true reality. Unfortunately, our view of reality from a personal vantage point is both limited and tainted. It is limited because we are not omniscient and it is tainted because whatever we see is filtered through the matrix of our own limited knowledge. If we are to discover our God-given purpose, we must change our perspective; we have to start looking at things from God’s perspective.
In order to get a “God’s eye view” of meaning and purpose, we have to discover God’s purpose. We do this by looking to scripture to see the unfolding of God’s great story across the span of the ages. God’s story is one of creation, redemption, restoration, and return. Whatever our individual purpose might be, rest assured it will exist as a sub-story in God’s great story. Also, we should keep in mind that whatever our mission and purpose might be, it will be related somehow to the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth.
Our two primary tools for discovering meaning, mission, and purpose are prayer and scripture. If we are indeed serious about discovering what it is God has planned for us to do, we have to discipline ourselves to spend time with him. He cannot, and will not, reveal his purpose to us if we are not even consecrated enough to seek him out and rest in his presence.
When we do discover his plans for us, we are faced with a choice. That choice is simple in terms of content: Do we accept his mission for us or do we reject it? Just as in salvation, God will not force a decision upon us. We can say yea or we can say nay. If we answer in the positive; if we say yes to God, we are in store for a grand adventure. We will continually be amazed at how God will arrange things so that we can succeed and even more amazed at how he will enable us to overcome obstacles that the world or the enemy places in our path. Will all of this require work on our part? Indeed it will my friend. Expect to work as hard as you ever have. Bringing whatever part of his kingdom he has entrusted to you into manifestation on earth will be no easy task.
However, you can bank on one eternal truth: If you do your part, God will do his.
(c) L.D. Turner 2014/All Rights Reserved
October 14, 2014
Filed under Applied Spirituality, Christian Education, Christian Living, Christian Meditation, Christianity, Church Renewal, Discipleship, God's Kingdom, Holy Spirit, Issues in Transformation, Jesus, Jesus' Teaching, Personal Discipline, Personal Renewal, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality
Tags: Change Your Life, Christian Living, Christianity, Dallas Willard, Discipleship, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation
In Part One of this essay, we discussed the importance of engaging in the classical Christian spiritual disciplines if we are to work with the Holy Spirit in cultivating Sacred Character in our lives. Certainly scripture is not silent on this issue of discipline and discipleship. Scripture, especially the New Testament, repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, prayer, meditation, and spiritual endeavors.
It is apparent, however, that the church lost its focus on the practice of spiritual disciplines over the years. As mentioned in Part One, I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the historical “faith/works” controversy. The result has been a general sense of confusion on the part of the Christian community in terms of the spiritual technology available to those who desire a deeper walk of faith.
One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” Dallas Willard speaks directly to this tragedy:
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional.
This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers. Willard understands this necessity:
Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world. Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of this age. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.
The notion that deep discipleship was optional was not a part of the early church. Willard continues:
…there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggest that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him.
In Paul’s remarkable prayer to the Ephesians (3:19) he petitions the Lord that “you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Have you ever really reflected on the magnitude of what the Apostle is saying in these few words? Basically, what Paul is asking God is that the believers in Ephesus become like Jesus. Any close examination of scripture reveals that the goal of our development as disciples of Christ is to become Christ-like; in essence, we are to cultivate Sacred Character.
Later on in Ephesians (4:15) Paul goes on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This statement by Paul should not surprise us. Two verses earlier he flatly that in achieving maturity, we are to attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I don’t know about you, but when I read this statement two things immediately occur within me. First, I am strongly convicted about how far I am from manifesting this kind of maturity in my daily life but, secondly, I am filled with hope that it is at least remotely possible. Paul would have never put it this way, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, unless it was indeed true.
In addition to the church’s general lack of focus on the spiritual disciplines and their strategic necessity in the life of the believer, two other problems seem to complicate the issue and result in either lackluster commitment to practicing the disciplines or, even worse, a general paralysis on the part of Christians when they attempt to make the disciplines a vital part of their walk of faith.
First, even though many churches are now speaking directly to the importance of the spiritual disciplines, it seems that this renewed focus spawns a loud and most often irrational outcry from fundamentalist believers who feel practicing the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow either a “New Age infiltration of the church,” or worse still, “the work of Satan.” This resistance is usually based on the general lack of understanding of what advocates of the spiritual disciplines are trying to accomplish. Writers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, and countless others are branded “arch-heretics,” “apostates,” and even “dupes of the enemy.” This is highly unfortunate because nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of leading people away from the truth of the gospel, these authors are, instead, making a compassionate attempt to direct people toward experiencing the very heart of the gospel.
The blather and fear-based banter of these self-appointed doctrinal “watchmen” only serves to confuse sincere Christians even more and many times prevents them from finding the true heart of the gospel message. Even worse, keeps them bound in the chains of a narrow, rigid world view which is devoid of spirituality and arid when it comes to Christian love.
A second problem stems from the fact that the classic spiritual traditions were formulated centuries ago and are often wrapped in language and tone that is quite alien from our 21st Century world. I know from personal experience that studying the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages is a very fruitful endeavor, but can be quite a challenge due to the archaic language used in the texts. What is needed is a reformulation of the disciplines that is both understandable and engaging to the modern reader.
With this thought in mind, here at LifeBrook we have developed a method of exploring the principles that are contained in the classical spiritual traditions that is hopefully more pertinent and practical when it comes to life in the 21st Century. In brief, we teach workshops, seminars, training programs, and e-courses based on the following breakout of the disciplines:
Discipline of Consecration
Discipline of Connection
Discipline of Cognition
Discipline of Contribution
Discipline of Community
Discipline of Comprehension
Discipline of Calling
Discipline of Cultural Engagement
Discipline of Cultivation
Consecration includes: decision, determination, diligence, commitment, perseverance, patience, etc. Consecration occurs when we have decided in the depth of our hearts that we want to experience and possess all that God has for us. Scripture alludes to the fact that God has graciously provided us with all that we need to live a life of holiness, fulfillment, and usefulness. These free gifts of grace now exist on the spiritual realm and it is part of our spiritual unfolding to bring God’s blessings for us down out of the spiritual world and into manifestation in our daily lives.
Connection includes: prayer, meditation, contemplation, solitude, nature
Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination. Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds and it is in the Discipline of Conscious Cognition that we work with the Holy Spirit to bring about this transformation of our thought life. The Discipline of Conscious Cognition is based on the reality that everything begins with our thoughts. This principle cannot be stated too often. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
Contribution includes: sacred service; spiritual gifts; mission; sacrifice, and most importantly, continuing incarnation.
Community includes: our family and friends; our church; our community; our nature; our world.
Comprehension includes: sacred study of Scripture and other inspirational writings; understanding of God’s Great Story; realization of where we fit into the “Big Picture,” including the role of the church in the coming years.
Calling includes: discovery of where we, as individuals, fit into God’s unfolding story in terms of our calling, our mission, and our vision of how to live out our God-ordained destiny.
Cultural Engagement includes: making ourselves ready to incarnate God’s plan within the context of post-modern, post-Christian culture in general and our own unique cultural setting in particular.
Cultivation includes: ongoing growth in Christ-character by internalizing a Christian value system and acting in accordance with it; and the development of a Christian worldview, along with the capacity to have our actions consistently flow from said worldview.
We fully recognize that this methodology does not represent the final word as far as contemporary expression of the spiritual disciplines is concerned. We have found, however, that looking at the spiritual technology of the Christian tradition in this way helps students and seekers understand the disciplines more clearly.
It is my profound hope that an increasing number of churches will come to understand the importance of equipping congregants with practical, time-tested methods for deepening the Christian walk of faith.
(c) L.D. Turner 2009/2014/All Rights Reserved
October 12, 2014
Filed under Applied Spirituality, Christian Living, Christianity, Discipleship, God's Kingdom, Issues in Transformation, Jesus, Jesus' Teaching, Spiritual Formation, Spirituality
Tags: Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Spirituality
As Christians, scripture tells us that we are to increasingly grow into the character of Christ – in other words – become more Christ-like. Left to our own devices, this would be an impossible demand. Tainted by sin and mostly dominated by our lower nature, who among us could generate even a sliver of hope of emulating Jesus in thought, word, and deed?
Fortunately, scripture tells us that we have an omnipotent ally in this process of spiritual formation. The Holy Spirit walks along side of us, giving us strength to offset our weakness, wisdom to overcome our ignorance, and divine love to gradually eradicate our extreme self-centeredness. It is this promise of the Holy Spirit that gives us a reason to proceed down the road of spiritual formation and further, provides us with a legitimate assurance of success.
Still, we cannot fold our arms, lean back, and wait for the Holy Spirit to magically turn us into exact replicas of Christ. Over the centuries countless numbers of Christians have tried this approach with predictable results. Scripture is clear in stating that we have a part to play in the attainment of what we here at LifeBrook call “Sacred Character.” Sacred Character is based on the character and integrity exhibited by Christ during his mission here on earth. By studying the character of Christ, we can gain valuable insight into what it means to live our own lives from the sure foundation of Sacred Character.
As Jesus walked this earth, he revealed the character of God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Christ and in this statement he revealed a profound truth. Christ was so intimate with the Father that his character and his behavior were perfect reflections of his heavenly parent. Our goal, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is to live in the same intimacy with Christ as he lived with the Father. If you want to gain a deep and abiding perspective on this kind of intimate relationship, I suggest that you prayerfully read through the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John.
In order to grow into this type of intimacy with Christ and increasingly manifest Sacred Character in our daily lives, we must engage in certain activities that foster spiritual development in a positive and proven direction. These activities have a long and valuable history in the Christian tradition. Here I am speaking of the classic Christian spiritual disciplines.
In some quarters, sincere believers become edgy just at the mention of spiritual disciplines. Steeped in the theology of God’s unmerited and unlimited grace, these well-meaning Christians believe that pursuing the practice of the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow “salvation through works.” This kind of thinking is both incorrect and unfortunate. It is incorrect in the sense that the spiritual disciplines are not related to salvation or the final destination of one’s soul. Pursuing spiritual disciplines is more concerned with placing ourselves in a position of receptivity to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Christ. Although this spiritual formation is ultimately a work of the Spirit, we are told to do all that we can to assist in the process. As the great Quaker writer Rufus Jones once said,
“The grace of God is like the wind blowing across the Sea of Galilee; if you want to get to the other side, you have to raise your sail.”
The notion that practicing the disciplines is “works” is also highly unfortunate in that this misguided belief has prevented countless Christians from availing themselves of the very thing they need in order to foster the deeper, more effective walk of faith. I am of the belief that the great “faith/works” controversy of the 16th Century, although beneficial in many ways, gave birth to a trend in Protestant Christianity that resulted in pews filled with believers that were both powerless and confused. This tragic trend continues even today.
As the Body of Christ moves forward in this challenging age, establishing ministries focusing on vibrant, dynamic discipleship is of paramount importance. Unless the church develops consistent ways to grow its members deeper in the faith, it runs the danger of becoming, at best, irrelevant to the contemporary culture, or at worst, dead.
To begin, I think it is critical that we come to understand just what a disciple is. From all evidence, it would seem the church at large has lost touch with a crucial element of its mission – disciple-making. Just prior to his ascension, Christ did not tell his inner circle to “go and make converts.” No, he told them to go and make disciples. It is obvious that constructing a workable definition of a disciple is a high priority. Margaret Campbell gives us a great jump-start:
A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to live in attentiveness to Jesus. We live in attentiveness in order to become like Jesus on the inside and, thereby, able to do what Jesus would do on the outside. As maturing disciples we progressively learn to live in attentiveness, adoration, surrender, obedience, and thankfulness to God, and all of this, without ceasing. Through the hidden work of transformation, God writes his good way on our minds and hearts and this is very good. By his grace, our hearts are divinely changed. We are progressively conformed to be like Jesus in mind and will and soul and word and deed. What we say and what we do more consistently reflect the glory and goodness of God.
If that isn’t clear enough, let’s listen to George Barna:
True discipleship is about a lifestyle, not simply about stored up Bible knowledge. Often, churches assume that if people are reading the Bible and attending a small group, then real discipleship is happening. Unfortunately, we found that’s often not the case. Discipleship is about being and reproducing zealots for Christ. Discipleship, in other words, is about passionately pursuing the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ.
From these two definitions it should be clear that real discipleship, the kind of Jesus-following that makes a difference in a person’s life and the life of others, involves more than wearing a “What would Jesus Do?” bracelet.
(To be continued)
Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!