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!
One of life’s greatest blessings is our ability to dream. I am not talking so much about the dreams we have at night when we are sleeping. Instead, I am talking about the dreams we have for our lives, those things that we can envision ourselves doing that create a sense of happiness, accomplishment, and well-being. These kind of dreams, especially when they are God-given and truly inspired, create passion in our lives and provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose. I like to call these visionary blessings “Kingdom Dreams.”
A kingdom dream is one that is aligned with God’s overall plan and purpose for life on this planet, which is to restore humankind to its intended status as spirit beings created in His image. God’s great story is one of restoration, renewal, and spiritual revival and is aimed toward the establishment of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Our personal kingdom dreams are those that are connected with this universal purpose.
This world, however, is not always conducive to fostering kingdom dreams. Instead, the values of this world are in many ways opposed to the kind of principles and values that are inherent in God’s kingdom. When we are over-exposed to the world’s values and voices without any counter-balancing influence, our own personal dreams often end up withering away. More than a few of us meet with discouragement, disappointment, and a cacophony of negative voices that end up stifling our God-given passion for a particular dream and we end up either putting it on the back burner or forgetting it altogether.
This process of “dream defeat” begins with our thought life. We begin to doubt our abilities and our circumstances and in the final analysis, we even doubt our God. That is why the Apostle Paul warned us to take every thought captive for Christ and to tear down those strongholds of defeat and discouragement. In essence, Paul was telling us to master our minds. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do just that, but it is a process that takes place over time.
When we make progress in mastering our thought life, one thing we become increasingly aware of is how we have allowed others to place limitations on us. “You’ll never amount to anything,” a teacher may have told you. “If you can screw something up, you will,” another authority figure may have told you repeatedly. I remember my Dad often told me that I was careless and irresponsible. ‘If you live to see 21 it will be a miracle,” he often said.
My point in saying these things is that you come to understand that only two entities in this universe can set limits on what you can accomplish: you and God. It is vitally important that you come to have a deeper understanding of just how God sees you and then come to view yourself in the same way. We will talk about that a little later on. Right now, what I want to put before you is the importance of your dreams. Others may have put limitations on you or told you your dreams were unrealistic. Well, it is now time to resurrect those delayed dream , dust them off, examine them, and, if you still are passionate about that dream, take it before God. If you determine that God has that dream for you as well, then get busy. The only one that can stop God’s dream for your life is you.
I strongly appreciate these words by Erwin Raphael McManus. If you haven’t read his book “Wide Awake,” I suggest that you do so. McManus tells us:
What you expect from yourself and your life has a direct effect on what you will get out of life. How you imagine yourself and your future has a huge effect on what actually happens. Creating the life of your dreams begins with the dream. It begins with the ability to imagine yourself different than you are and your life differently than it is.
The fact is I have a potential placed in me by God Himself and it is God’s desire that I find my mission and get moving. You, too, have a mission – a divinely ordained purpose and it is God’s great wish that you take up the challenge of finding that purpose, manifesting your potential and talents, and achieving your dreams. And be assured of one other truth: God would never place a dream in your heart without giving you the talent to make it a reality. It may take hard work and a strong commitment to excellence, but your dream can be realized if it is aligned with God’s purpose for your life and you put forth the necessary work to make it happen.
We can see firsthand the power of a dream whose time has come when we look at the first disciples. We have only a small record in scripture of the interactions between Jesus and his disciples, yet we can imagine that they engaged in many profound conversations as they traveled from one place to another or as they shared meals together. I think one of the things that the Master must have taught his disciples is how to engage daily life in a realistic, positive manner. He was clear with them that they would face trials and tribulations, yet he balanced that cautionary teaching with a healthy optimism by telling them that they could realistically expect to have an abundant life because he came. He also told them not to worry because he was leaving and he promised them the advent of the Comforter who would instruct them and empower them.
Jesus knew that with the power of the Holy Spirit, this very same ragtag assortment of men would soon change the world completely. And change the world they did. The Master expects the same thing from us in the current age. With the wisdom and the power provided by the Holy Spirit, we are to become Christ’s hands, feet, and heart in this hurting world. If your dream, no matter how long you have put it off and no matter how impossible it may seem, is in line with these kingdom themes, then your dream is a kingdom dream.
If you have a long-forgotten or misplaced kingdom dream, let me encourage you to resurrect that dream without wasting another moment of God’s precious time. It doesn’t matter what size the dream is – kingdom dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you want to start a ministry; maybe you want to teach a class; maybe you want to start a business; maybe you want to write a book. Whatever the dream, if it fits in with God’s plan of restoration and the establishment of the kingdom on earth, then bring it out of mothballs and get motivated. Pay no attention to the naysayers and the voices of discouragement and doubt. If the dream is from God, there is no way you can fail.
One of the most significant aspects of the Creator’s provision lies in the fact that he never sends any of us into this world empty handed. With infinite wisdom and grace, he has placed a great treasure inside each and every one of us – a treasure beyond price. Each person arrives at birth with a divine potential planted in his or her heart. This potential contains the vision God has for that particular person as well as the talents, skills, and creativity to make that potential a manifest reality. Dr. Myles Munroe, the highly-respected pastor and Bible teacher, speaks eloquently of this seed of potential planted within each of us:
The entire creation possesses this principle of potential. Everything has the natural instinct to release its ability. The plant and animal kingdoms abound with evidences of this fact. The Creator designed everything with this principle of potential, which can be simplified to the concept of a seed. The biblical document states that God created everything with ‘seed in it according to their kinds’ (Genesis 1:12). In essence, hidden within everything is the potential to fulfill itself and produce much more than we see.
It is vital that every person understand that we are responsible for developing the potential stored within us. We must deepen our contact with our divine potential, which I call our Sacred Self, and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true potential. Further, we must recognize that as we move forward in developing our optimal potential, we can never afford to stop. In essence, when we travel the spiritual journey, we are either moving forward or backward. There is truly no place to stand on the spiritual path.
Our journey of discovering and developing our divine potential must begin with a commitment to excellence – an agreement with our Creator that we will walk in cooperation with the Spirit to become the best version of ourselves.
Necessarily, this commitment will involve personal challenges and, at times, a degree of personal discomfort. Spiritual growth involves change and change always requires stepping out of our comfort zone. Still, the process of realizing and manifesting our divine potential is one of the greatest adventures we will ever undertake.
When we make a commitment to excellence, we are basically telling God and ourselves that we are finally getting serious about our spiritual development. When we firmly dedicate ourselves to become who God intended us to be, we get honest with ourselves about where we are, where we are not, and where God wants us to go. We then make a personal commitment to, with God’s help, become all that we were created to be, all that we were intended to be, and, in the final analysis, all that we truly are.
Please understand that your kingdom dream is intimately connected with your divine potential. In fact, it is the realization of your potential that will allow you to make your dream a reality. And also understand that the development of your potential and the realization of your kingdom dream is the major part of the spiritual path that will allow you to become the optimal version of yourself. When, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, you do that you begin to walk in personal excellence and more importantly, you are of optimal benefit to others.
Don’t allow yourself to do what so many other talented people have done – take your dream to the grave with you. Don’t allow your kingdom dream to, along with your bones, turn to dust. Instead, understand this central point: the world needs you and your dream. Take to heart these words by Erwin Raphael McManus:
Earth’s unlimited resource is the gifts, talents, passions, imagination, and ingenuity of its citizens. You would think we would know this by now, but we often seem to miss the gift right in front of us. The world needs you to find the hero within you. The real battle is not between good and evil but between less and more. Most of us don’t choose the worst life; we just don’t choose the best. We can’t afford for you to sleep through your dreams…..The world needs you at your best. This planet is made better or worse by the people we choose to become. If you live a diminished life, it is not only you who loses, but the world loses, and humanity loses. There is a story to be written by your life and though it may never inspire a graphic novel, it is a heroic tale nonetheless. Though you may not recognize it, there is greatness in you.
With these thoughts in mind, bring back your forgotten dreams and reexamine them in light of the principles discussed in this article. Begin to prayerfully formulate a plan for taking the first steps toward getting your kingdom dream off the ground. You can move forward in the confident assurance that you don’t have to go it alone. God has got your back and you can count on Him. Trust the scripture when it says:
For I am confident of this very thing – that he who began a good work in you will perfect it…(Phil. 1:6 NAS)
© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved
September 8, 2014
Filed under Applied Spirituality, Christian Living, Christianity, Discipleship, God's Kingdom, Issues in Transformation, Jesus, Jesus' Teaching, Spirituality
Tags: Change Your Life, Christianity, Discipleship, Erwin Raphael McManus, Jesus, Jesus' Teachings, Kingdom of God, Myles Munroe, Positive Living
(Originally published by Lifebrook Communications back in 2009)
Starting with Freud and moving forward in its history, the practice of psychotherapy and counseling has had a morbid preoccupation with the past. Although there are doctrinal differences between many of the schools of psychology, a majority of these systems operate under the belief that by dredging up the issues in one’s past, a person can gain valuable insight into how and why they behave the way they do in the present.
The industry of “insight psychotherapy” continues to be highly popular, not to mention profitable to those who practice it. For what its worth, however, I personally believe that lasting change and personal transformation is a rarity in insight psychotherapy. I should also say that as a counselor, I practiced this form of treatment for more than a few years. I came to the conclusion that clients were far better served with an approach to personal change that was grounded in biblical principles and Cognitive Psychology. I would add to that mix what is now known as Positive Psychology.
These fields of cognitive and positive psychology are more oriented toward the present and the future and one can certainly say that the Bible, although grounded in history, is geared toward spiritual transformation in the here and now.
Other than gaining a degree of minimal insight, nothing positive can be gained from dwelling on our past. I love the analogy that compares our need to look forward rather than backward to an automobile. Cars have a large windshield and a small rear view mirror. It is the same with life. Whereas we need to glance toward the past from time to time, we only need to look briefly, not become riveted. When you are driving, it is much better, not to mention safer, to keep your eyes on the road in front of you. When navigating through your life, the same principle applies, especially when you are dealing with your dreams and visions. The fact is, your dream will be realized in your future, not in your past.
When dealing with negativity, you also have to be proactive. This is especially true if you are dealing with depression, despondency, or discouragement. Get up, get moving, get busy doing something. Above all, don’t sit around moping and ruminating over negative and unproductive thoughts. By doing so, you will only dig yourself into a deeper rut and never forget my friend, a rut is nothing but a grave with the ends kicked out.
If you find yourself stuck in self-perpetuating cycles of negative thinking and chronic discouragement, take a proactive approach and do it right away. Begin by going to the Master in prayer and being open about what you are thinking and feeling. Ask for the Spirit’s help in overcoming chronic negativity and further, ask for an increased sense of boldness and confidence in dealing with your thought life and your emotions. Scripture tells us that we were not given a spirit of timidity, but instead, we have been empowered and equipped with personal boldness, which possesses a great amount of spiritual power.
After prayer, your next step should be one of commitment. Make a firm commitment to God and to yourself that today is, indeed, the first day of the rest of your life. Don’t do this in a slovenly manner, but with all the strength at your command, make a bold (there’s that word again!) commitment that today will be a day that you will someday look back on and see as a turning point in your life.
As an affirmative component of your commitment, begin to speak positive blessings over your life. I am not talking about some pie-in-the-sky “I am a great person” sort of affirmation. No, I am suggesting that you make positive, bold, biblical statements about yourself, based on what God says about you in scripture. If God says something positive about you, then you can bank on it being true. Speak blessings over your life such as:
I take possession of the reality that in Christ I am a new creation; and I can do all things because He strengthens me.
Speak this over your life several times each day and in a month you will see positive changes in how you think, feel, and act. There is great power in giving voice to positive, constructive, biblical statements. Speaking biblical principles is one of the most effective agents of personal change that God has placed at our disposal. Although a number of Christian writers and teachers have put forth theories as to why this sort of positive speaking helps bring about positive results in our lives, I tend to think it is a mystery that no one fully understands. Our lack of understanding, however, does not in any way negate its power. I don’t have a clue as to how electricity works, but I know that when I flip the wall switch, light comes on in my room. Think of speaking biblical principles in the same way. Just do it because it works.
Pastor and teacher Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston gives the following suggestion:
If you will set aside five minutes a day and simply declare good things over your life, you may be astounded at the results. Before you start your busy day, before you leave the house, drive to work, or take the kids to school, take a few minutes to speak blessings over your life…..Always make sure you can back it up with God’s Word. Then get alone with God and take a few minutes every day to declare good things over your life. Remember, it is not enough to read it or merely think about it. Something supernatural happens when we speak it out. That’s how we give life to our faith.
I suggest these steps not only from theory and study, but also from personal experience. Although the Holy Spirit has helped me make great strides in becoming a more optimistic, hopeful person, for many years I operated as if a dark cloud engulfed me everywhere I went. It was only through making a sincere commitment to live in a different way that change began to take place.
I recall finally reaching a point where I was, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired. Through exposure to the teachings of Positive Christianity and Cognitive Psychology I came to a workable understanding that my problems began in my thinking and if I wanted to change, that is where I had to start. Further, I came to understand that Satan knows these principles as well and is a master and applying them in an effort to destroy us. I knew I had to take action.
I rented a small cabin on top of one of my favorite mountains in North Alabama and isolated myself from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. I used this time to do several things. First, I consecrated myself to the task of cognitive change and followed this by an extended period of prayer, seeking God’s help and assurance as I began this journey. I spent a good bit of time that weekend reflecting on the patterns of my thinking and how I came to be the way I was. By the time I left the mountaintop on Monday, I was enthusiastic and spiritually ready to tackle my thinking head on.
I can’t tell you that it was an overnight success. The process of turning my thinking around took quite a bit of time and, in some ways, it continues right up until today. Still, through taking positive action, associating with others who were committed to a similar process, and much positive, affirmative prayer, the results in my own life have been highly beneficial.
When applying biblical principles for positive life change always keep in mind that this sort of transformation is a process not an event. By that I mean that change and growth normally takes place incrementally rather than suddenly. It took you many years to develop your negative ways of thinking, behaving and relating. By the same token, it will take time to change.
Have you ever been to a modern zoo, the type where the animals are not caged? Instead, they usually are separated from zoo patrons by either large ditches, small canals, or non-descript fencing. I lived in Miami for 15 years and often visited the zoo, at least in the winter when the weather was not too hot. Whenever I went to the zoo, I could easily spot the animals that had been kept in cages for most of their lives. Now, even with the freedom to roam over a much larger territory, most of them just walked back and forth in an area the size of their former prison. Nothing held them in that confined space except the force of habit.
Even if we are sincere about our spiritual growth, we may often behave in ways similar to these zoo animals. Like the zoo animals, we are now free to choose new ways of living – and a fresh approach to life. Tragically, many of us keep walking in our old familiar ways, even though a new, exciting world awaits us if we progressively allow ourselves to be controlled by our spirit rather than our ego. We know we are on the spiritual path, but we don’t act like it. Instead of exploring fresh and free ways to be salt and light in this world, we just pace back and forth within the confines of the ruts our negative, habitual behaviors have created for us. Positive change will eventually come, just as it does for many of those animals that were raised in cages. However, the process take time.
The key principles here are patience and persistence. Do not become overly agitated when change doesn’t come overnight but instead, let your personal growth into Christ-character proceed along God’s timetable, not yours. And above all, don’t give up. It is critical that you remain proactive in your spiritual practice, especially when it comes to prayer and positive thinking. The enemy will seek to derail you, especially during vulnerable times when progress is slow and unsteady. The key here is to trust God. Believe the Great Apostle when he says:
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NIV)
This passage of scripture alone is assurance that God will not abandon you, nor will he forget the restoration project he began in you. It is the will of the Father of Lights that you become a shining likeness of his only begotten Son and Jesus himself said that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
If you are, indeed, sick and tired of being sick and tired; if you are, indeed, ready to commit yourself to the process of spiritual growth into a replica of Christ-like character, then take that vital step of consecration. You have lived far too long under the thumb of those old destructive patterns of negative thought and behavior. It is time to step our into the light of Christ and begin to live as the optimal version of yourself. It is time to see yourself as God sees you – a positive, spiritual being whom he has given a purpose and equipped with everything needed to realize that mission in life. It is time to realize that you are both salt and light.
My friend, it is time to step into your destiny – it is time to shake and shine.
© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved