Restoring Passion and Releasing Divine Potential

MIck Turner

Over the course of many years, I have talked to a significant number of people who are, for any number of reasons, growing stale in their spiritual walk of faith. These folks are not necessarily lazy, shallow, or complacent Christians, although this description fits some quite well. For the most part, these are fairly sincere followers of Jesus Christ who seem to have lost their spiritual momentum.

As I said, there are a number of reasons that a person might find himself or herself in such a state of spiritual doldrums. Time and space does not allow for a detailed listing of all the possible reasons that conspire to cause a well-meaning Christ-follower to stall out. Whatever the specific reason might be, in most cases it flows out of one of several sources: personal strongholds, imbibing too deeply of the world’s value system, or strategic and subtle attacks from the enemy or his minions.

Releasing your potential requires a willingness to move beyond the familiar into the realm of possibilities. . . . . . If you attempt new things and make choices that stretch your horizons, you will embark on an exciting journey. You will begin to see the marvelous being God created you to be – a being filled with more capabilities than you ever dreamed possible. The journey begins when you gain an understanding of what potential is and how you can release it. For once you understand the magnitude of the wealth God gave you, to turn from consciously and conscientiously unwrapping God’s gift is to abort your potential and refuse to fulfill the purpose for which He gave you life. The knowledge of what you have failed to use to benefit yourself, your contemporaries, and the generations to follow will judge you on the great day of accountability. Potential is given to be released, not wasted.

Like most significant aspects of the spiritual journey, whether or not we release our divine potential hinges upon our making a personal decision.

Once we truly come to understand who and what we are in Christ, as well as the magnificent gift God has placed inside of us, we are immediately confronted with a decision. Are we going to step forward, put our hand to the plow, and walk with boldness headlong into the destiny and the high state of being to which we are called? Or, like Jonah of old, are we going to take the first boat out of town? You see, it really boils down to that kind of fundamental choice.

No one can make the decision for us. It is our responsibility and it is wise to follow Christ’s advice: we need to count the cost. Taking on Jesus as Savior is one thing, taking him on as Lord is quite another. Our churches are crowded with many who have done the former but not the latter. In counting the costs, however, it is important to realize that by taking on Christ and walking in the life path he demands is the only way to truly realize the spiritual potential within us. The late Dr. Myles Munroe speaks cogently to this theme:

What lies behind you is history and what lies before you is future, but these are both tiny matters compared to what lies within you. You may not be able to change your past, and your future is yet unlived, but the present provides you with opportunities to maximize your life and the ability that lives within you. You must take responsibility for your ability….Are you living a stillbirth? Are you aborting your entire purpose for living? I encourage you to take responsibility right now for your ability. Determine to activate, release, and maximize your potential for the sake of the next generation. Leave your footprints in the sands of the history of your country. Live fully so you can die effectively. Let your life write the speech of your death and give your potential to the family of man for the glory of God. Remember “well done” is much better than “well said.” Don’t just talk about your potential dreams, visions, and ideas. Step out now and determine to do them. Dare to believe that you have already accomplished is but a minute percentage of what you can do.

It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, nor does it matter how sin-stained you may think you are. It may very well be that some of the mistakes that you have made in the past are perfect prerequisites for the task to which the Master is calling you.

You may think you are a misfit, a malcontent or worse. And the fact is, you may very well be just that. Great. What that means is that you are the kind of person that God often chooses to carry forward his greatest plans. Moses, David, Peter, Paul – the list goes on and on – all had major weaknesses and defects of character. Still, scripture tells us of the ways in which God used each of them to further his agenda on this planet.

So consider yourself in good company.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Are You Really a Follower of Christ? (Part One)

Mick Turner

It has taken me a long time to get this basic Christian teaching past my overly active, comfort seeking, rationalizing mind: obedience lies at the very core of the Christian walk of faith. It should be easy enough to see this fundamental reality but the fact is, no matter how many pious platitudes we may utter or how much lip service we may give to the importance of obedience, the church has a major blind spot when it comes to actually following the teachings of the Master.

I don’t know about you, but when I first became seriously aware of what obedience to Christ really entailed, I wanted to run for the nearest exit. It wasn’t so much that I saw the requirements as too restrictive. Instead, my desire to head for the hills flowed out of my honest self-assessment, which screamed: Ain’t no way I can pull this off.

And it was precisely at this juncture that I needed a solid, gifted mentor in Christ who, exuding wisdom, confidence, and agape love, would have informed me that this was the most amazing aspect of the whole gospel package: I didn’t have to pull it off. Christ was going to place a new spirit in me, and, in fact, he was going to take up residence in me and in so doing, he was going to empower me to live as he wanted me to live.

Unfortunately, no such mentor appeared. Instead, I was left with an incomplete understanding of the gospel message and how it applied to my life. Yes, I understood who Jesus was, at least marginally, and I understood that through his death on the cross my sins were forgiven. I had no inkling, however, of how Christ and the Holy Spirit were going to help transform me into new order of being.

Over the years I have come to see that the spiritual quagmire that I found myself in was not unusual. In fact, it seems to be the norm. The church has been woefully inadequate in preaching and teaching the full gospel message. Further, there appears to be a marked shortage of teaching on the role obedience plays in bringing about the godly lifestyle described in scripture. In an attempt to make the Christian life appealing to contemporary Americans, many church leaders, pastors, and teachers (far too many) have jettisoned the message of obedience in favor of a gospel of comfort, convenience, and cash flow. The result has been the creation of a Christian faith that is a superficial replica of what the Master intended.

For countless people who identify themselves as Christians, Christ is seen as their Savior but certainly not as Lord. As stated, this shallow sort of Christianity is not what Jesus intends when he issues the call, “Follow me.” Time and time again, scripture reveals that much of our inheritance as Christians hinges upon our obedience to the teachings laid down to us by the Master. Unfortunately, the whole “grace vs. works” issue has clouded this reality to the point that the vast majority of Protestant believers have little understanding of the necessity of obedience in the Christian walk of faith. If you have any confusion on this issue, I suggest you prayerfully and with reflection spend time with the closing section of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 7:21-27.

In his latest book, Follow Me, David Platt takes up the practical implications of what it means to walk the Christian path as a disciple, as opposed to a cultural or non-committed “believer.” Platt makes the point, and I have long said the same thing, that “making a decision” for Christ, or “taking Jesus as your personal savior,” or “inviting Jesus into your heart,” are all woefully inadequate in becoming a true follower of Christ. Only one thing will guarantee that you are indeed an authentic Christian: obedience.

Christ repeats this time and time again, along with his call to repentance and his teachings on the necessity of “taking up one’s cross,” which basically means to die to self. It is apparent, however, that we as a church have found all manner of clever strategies for watering down these teachings or worse, ignoring them completely. Platt laments:

With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve replaced challenging words from Christ with trite phrases in the church. We’ve taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so that it tastes better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are Christians when biblically they are not.

Earlier in the book, Platt describes how “belief,” although important and even essential, is far from the whole enchilada when it comes to treading the Christian path. The church has perpetrated a glaring disservice to “converts” by stressing the need for belief without a concomitant commitment to obedience to Christ. After all, scripture openly tells us that even the demons believe (James 2:19). Platt goes on to say:

Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured of eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying…….Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying.

Platt goes on to make the clear point that Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis of our salvation. The Master, and later Paul, makes it quite clear that only grace is the basis of our salvation. I think the point Platt is trying to make, and it is the same point I have made on numerous occasions in this blog, is that the church has put so much emphasis and stress on God’s unmerited grace, that our part in the overall Christian walk of faith has been minimized and, in some cases, completely ignored. The result has been a Christianity that is quite frankly, a shallow farce which lacks transformative power. Worse, it has deceived far too many “believers” into thinking they are authentically Christian when, in fact, they are not. Referring to Jesus words at the end of Matthew 7, Platt continues:

…….in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place.

Rather than following a knee-jerk reaction to those words, spend some time prayerfully reflecting on what Platt just said, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you just where you stand in relation to this issue. To what extent are you obedient to the teachings of the Master? Granted, no one is perfect, but how consistent are you in putting your faith, as defined by Jesus, into daily practice? Does your life indeed reflect the fruit of following Jesus?

Only you can answer these questions with any degree of honesty. If you ask the Holy Spirit, he will give you the discernment you need to make an honest, self-assessment. I know when I spent time reflecting on these themes, it was a real eye-opener that resulted in one of those life-changing, epiphany-like moments. And I hope it can become the same for you.

To be continued:

(C) L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Forgetting About God’s Will Long Enough to Do It

Mick Turner

“If only I could really discover God’s will for my life, it would make all the difference in the world.” How many times have you heard sincere Christians make statements like this? I’ll wager that you have heard it quite a few times. I know I have. And if the truth be known, I can recall making that same statement myself, especially during times of spiritual floundering.

I mention this because I have come to understand that this sort of statement reveals a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s purpose for our lives and how he goes about communicating that purpose so we can grasp it. Granted, I believe that God has a unique, overriding purpose for each of us, has gifted us with certain talents and abilities that help us to become successful in carrying out that purpose, and has empowered us, through the Holy Spirit, to bring that mission to a successful conclusion. I have also come to believe, however, that God also given each of us daily tasks to perform – tasks normally associated with the environment we have been planted in. It is his will that we identify and carry out these daily callings with dedication and consistency.

Unfortunately, many of us are so busy trying to figure out that one great calling God has placed on our lives that we miss his will for us in the divine present, in the holy moment that exists right under our noses. He communicates those callings in ways we can all recognize – sudden insights, little hunches, or sudden feelings or memories that may come over us. I know in my own experience, I frequently have these sorts of impulses to take certain actions when I am reflecting on passages of scripture. All too often we fail to pay sufficient attention to these callings and, as a result, frequently miss discovering God’s will for us for that one divine moment. If we do this over a long period of time, we run the risk of losing vital contact with the Holy Spirit. A.W. Tozer tells us:

…….to expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us and, if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence.

Don’t keep reading as if the profundity of Tozer’s statement somehow escaped your attention. Pause and reflect for a few moments of what he just said. If we repeatedly ignore of disobey those nudging from the Holy Spirit he may just stop communicating with us.

It is understandable, really.

If you had a close friend, a person you care for deeply, consistently ignore or refuse to listen to your suggestions for how he might improve his life or solve a particular problem, would you continue to make those suggestions indefinitely? No, I doubt you would. I know I would eventually reach a point where I would just keep quiet.

Although I firmly believe that God has a unique mission for each of us, all too often I have seen deeply committed, sincere Christians get so distracted in the search for this calling that they consistently overlook clear service opportunities right in front of their noses. More often than not, the will of God can be found in those small, seemingly mundane task that cross our paths each day. Perhaps it is something as simple as opening a door for someone, picking up a bit of litter on the ground, or helping someone carry their groceries to the car. Perhaps it is something as routine visiting a sick friend in the hospital, giving a person a ride to the pharmacy or a medical appointment, or simply providing a listening ear to a friend who needs to unload what is on his or her heart.

It is in these everyday situations where we find the true epicenter of God’s activity and where we find consistent fulfillment of God’s will for our lives. Yes, it is also true that each of us has a unique and important calling and for some of us, that mission may be a great one. For all of us, however, these little everyday encounters are where we most often can give flesh to grace by answering the call of the moment.

It is precisely that consistent practice of paying attention to the small duties of our daily round that makes a life of excellence possible. Moreover, no one ever slouched his or her way to greatness. Let’s listen to the wisdom on James Allen:

The great man has become such by the scrupulous and unselfish attention which he has given to small duties. He has become wise and powerful by sacrificing ambition and pride in the doing of those necessary things which evoke no applause and promise no reward. He never sought greatness; he sought faithfulness, unselfishness, integrity, truth; and in finding these in the common round of small tasks and duties he unconsciously ascended to the level of greatness.

Let me share a brief story from my childhood that points out how attention to the small can lead to the unfolding of God’s greater will. The story also illustrates how attending to the small and mundane can have unforeseen, far-reaching impact. I recall a conversation a middle-aged man had with my parents in a picnic area just across the road from Casey Key Beach in Nokomis, Florida, where I grew up. I was about 11 years old at the time and my hand was in a cast (I had broken it a few weeks before playing baseball).

I vividly remember the gentlemen telling my parents that he was walking off the beach, heading to his car when he saw a pair of empty trash bags blowing down the beach near the water. He related that he started to leave, but felt that he should go and retrieve those bags and put them in a trash receptacle. “I think all of us who live down here should take responsibility to keep our beaches clean,” I recall him saying. Rather than leaving, he returned to the water’s edge to retrieve the garbage bags.

The man went on to relate than as he was reaching for the garbage bags he heard a distant cry for help. He looked up but did not initially see anything but then heard the cry again. Scanning the water he spotted an empty beach float and saw two arms frantically waving above the water’s surface. Racing into the surf the man swam out just beyond the float and found a small boy going under the water. He grabbed the boy and brought him back to shore. Panic-stricken, the boy took the man to his parents, who were just across the road from the beach.

If you haven’t guessed by now, that small boy was me. I was leisurely floating on my rubber raft when a wave knocked me off. The water was about two feet over my head and, with my hand in a heavy cast, swimming was impossible. I had gone under for the third time when the man reached me.

I tell this story because I am personally aware of how fortunate I am to be alive. Had that man not taken the time to return to the water’s edge and pick up the garbage bags, I would in all likelihood have drowned. I would not be writing this blog, which is part of God’s will for my life, nor would you be reading it right now. Yes, my friends, this gentleman’s decision to take responsibility for a small thing has had far-reaching effects, indeed.

Attention to the small is really God’s will for our lives. And in so many ways, the small is no different from the great in God’s eyes. James Allen continues:

Neglect of the small is confusion of the great. The snowflake is as perfect as the star; the dew drop is as symmetrical as the planet; the microbe is not less mathematically proportioned than the man. By laying stone upon stone, plumbing and fitting each with perfect adjustment, the temple at last stands forth in all its architectural beauty. The small precedes the great. The small is not merely the apologetic attendant of the great, it is its master and informing genius.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to do great things. Yet this calling should never become an obsession that causes us to miss the opportunities that are presented to us in each “divine moment.” It is in the context of these moments that we discover God’s will for us in the here and now. It is also in the fabric of these sublime moments, the “holy present,” where we connect with the “Holy Presence,” the unshakable power that enables us to carry out that calling with confidence and compassion.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

Update from Mick

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my regular readers and followers for the lack of activity on the LifeBrook blog over the past seven weeks or so. As many of you know, I suffer from a variety of cardiac issues ranging from advanced Coronary Artery Disease to Congestive Heart Failure. I had my first pair of heart attacks at age 45, followed by quadruple bypass surgery. Over the past twenty years I have had periods of great progress, punctuated by episodes of a more negative nature.

Now, at age 66, I am coming out of a recent series of difficulties that has set me back somewhat and, as a result, my writing has been far less than what I would have preferred. The Lord has been exactly what scripture tells us He is – the God of Comfort and as well as “Jehovah Rapha,” the God of Healing. I am now doing better and although I continue to have good days as well as days that are more of a struggle, I am on the whole, doing better.

It is my sincere hope that the writing picks up a bit and I thank all of you for your patience and especially for your prayers. Please continue to keep me in mind when you go before the Light.

With Warmest Regards and Respect,

L. Dwight “Mick” Turner

The Blessings of Forgiveness and Divine Acceptance

Mick Turner

One subject that often does not come up in daily conversation is Christ’s crucifixion. It just isn’t one of those topics that tend to roll easily off one’s lips and tongue. In fact, spending time reflecting on the horrors of crucifixion is not something many of us prefer to do, even in our private times of prayer and devotion. And this tendency to avoid meditating on the excruciating ordeal that Jesus suffered on our behalf is not without good reason. Let’s face facts: the Roman practice of hanging someone on a cross and torturing them as the life force slowly drained away was one of the most horrendous, sadistic methods of execution dreamed up in the darker recesses of the human mind.

With that said, let me get to the point that I want to stress. I began with the aforementioned digression because it is the crucifixion that provides the historical backdrop for the theme I want to discuss.

I want to talk about the interrelated themes of grace and forgiveness.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Christian teachings understand that grace, forgiveness, and the crucifixion are part of an interrelated whole. Any attempt to separate these three critical components of Christ’s “Atonement” is at best futile and at worst, delirious. The cross was the method that facilitated the physical manifestation of God’s grace in the three-dimensional world and forgiveness was the practical, concrete outcome of the grace demonstrated on the cross. How ironic that God took the world’s most horrific act of execution, as well as the implement used to carry out that horror, and turned it in to an act of divine love and sacrifice and transformed what was a symbol of pain and death into an emblem of love, deliverance from death, and personal salvation.

I find it extremely difficult to wrap my mind around the extent of the physical suffering Jesus Christ experienced, starting with the flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, his crown of thorns, the tortuous journey through the narrow streets carrying his cross, and culminating in the unrelenting agony of crucifixion. From the first lash of the flogger’s whip until he uttered, “It is finished,” Jesus endured torment far beyond anything we can fathom.

Yet through it all he not only endured, he exhibited a sublime level of love that was seemingly beyond comprehension. Raised up high on the wooden beam, with spikes hammered through his wrists, each labored breath was far more excruciating than anything you and I have ever experienced. Yet at the zenith of his suffering and his tormentors’ brutality, he uttered these words:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Pause for a few moments and try to wrap your mind around that.

One of the most tragic things I hear Christians or potential Christians say is something like this, “You don’t know the kind of unspeakable things I have done. God would never forgive someone like me.” Friend, I don’t know what kind of nefarious, degrading sorts of things you were involved in, but I think it is pretty safe to say that it pales in comparison to flogging, mocking, and putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus Christ, and then murdering him by crucifixion. No, I doubt your worst acts come close to this sort of thing. Compared to what went on that fateful Friday, whatever your crimes might have been, they were small potatoes. With that in mind, now spend time letting this sink down into the very core of your being:

If Christ forgave his executioners, chances are your transgressions are also forgiven.

The fact is a major part of Christ’s mission to this planet was to facilitate the mysterious process that theologians call justification, which is a fancy way of saying the through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been restored to right standing with God. In a nutshell, our sins are forgiven and we are accepted by God, warts and all. To reject this forgiveness, which is a free gift of grace, is like refusing God’s most precious gift.

Further, the Bible tells us repeatedly that we are now wholly redeemed and acceptable to the Father and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that should be enough to allow optimism to works its roots deep into the soil of our hearts. Moreover, in Romans Paul reassures us that all things work for our benefit, even if we are sometimes blind to the fact.

In brief, God accepts us and blesses us. So, why is it that many of us have trouble fully accepting this free gift of grace? Why is it that a significant number of God’s family displays such a negative mindset? Why is it that church pews are often filled with people wearing either plastic smiles or, even worse, displaying such a sour countenance that visitors might think these folks had been baptized in vinegar instead of water?

Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that many of us, deep down in our spiritual hearts, just don’t believe that we have really been accepted. If we are among that number, our situation is such that we are actually rejecting the very gospel we proclaim.

A renowned Christian theologian, I think it was Paul Tillich, once said that the key to the whole Christian gospel was the fact that we are accepted by God. In fact, he went on to say that the way to appropriate God’s grace was to accept that we are accepted. I am no theologian and, at best, possess a second or third rate mind. But I am capable of comprehending the truth of this statement. We cannot begin the spiritual journey as outlined by Christ until we accept the gift of grace. And the most fundamental aspect of accepting God’s offer is to accept that we are accepted. Yet many Christians don’t seem to get this point. In fact, in their broken, weak state they can’t fathom that they are in any way acceptable to God. Something is wrong here. Very wrong.

The crown jewel in the center of the Christian message is that the lowliest, neediest, and most broken people are accepted if they have faith in Christ. Just take a look at the kind of people he chose to hang out with when he was on earth. He associated with thieves, lepers, tax-collectors, prostitutes, cripples, paupers, and even a woman married five times. It now strikes me as absurd to think that I, even with my hang-ups, sins, shortcomings, and defects of character, am beyond the loving pale of God’s grace. However, many people both within and outside the church feel they are unworthy of God’s grace and thus reject the gift that was designed for them in the first place.

Consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son as told by Christ in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. We are so familiar with this tale of a wasted life saved through love and redemption than we often loose the impact that it should have on our lives. Especially if we are wastrels and rogues like the wandering Prodigal. Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, the parable of the youngest son of a wealthy landowner illustrates the incomprehensible, counter-intuitive love of God. Brennan Manning speaks succinctly about the Prodigal in all of us and God’s incredible acceptance:

When the prodigal limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing, and womanizing, his motives were mixed at best. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of Hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father”. (Luke: 15:17-18). The ragamuffin stomach was not churning with compunction because he had broken his father’s heart. He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country had left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned. The wine soured and the roses withered. His declaration of independence had reaped an unexpected harvest: not freedom, joy, new life but bondage, gloom, and a brush with death. His fair-weather friends had shifted their allegiance when his piggy bank emptied. Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive.

Yet even with these mixed motives, borne as much from desperation as from contrition, the wastrel was accepted by his father and a celebration ensued. Of course it is best if we respond to God’s offer with a pure, contrite heart and full acknowledgement of our failure and powerlessness. Yet how many of us are actually capable of this? Not many I suspect. I know I am not. But God accepts our response to his offer in spite of our conflicted hearts and spirits. In fact, if one is to believe what Christ teaches in the parable of the Prodigal, then he in accepts our desperation just as much as he accepts our repentance. This is truly “radical grace.”

So what is our response to what God has done? What are we to do if we truly and sincerely want to partake of God’s marvelous offer to accept us, love us and empower us to be better people? What are we to do if we genuinely desire to become Children of the Light? First, we should deeply reflect on just what it is that God has done through Christ and what He is continuing to do through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Brendan Manning again puts it in cogent and moving words:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”

Just how do we go about accepting this radical offer made by God? We just accept it. It is really that simple. There is no great mystery here, no elaborate initiation rites, no secret oaths or pledges. We just accept it because God offers it. We accept it on faith and leave God to work out the details and understanding later. The comfort we find in accepting God’s love comes after faith, never before it. Remember, it all begins with and hinges on faith.

Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. 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.

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 nose to the ground and hot on my trail. 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. Once I truly encountered the reality of divine acceptance at an experiential level, grace became more than a doctrine – it became a living reality. I was in a real sense born from above and with that new birth I gained a profoundly different perspective on life in general and myself in particular.

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.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

How Life’s Difficulties Serve a Larger Purpose

Mick Turner

Sometimes the simplest spiritual truths are hidden, right in front of our eyes. For many reasons we fail to see them and this shortcoming is always to our detriment.

Recently, I have become aware of one such spiritual principle that is both simple and profound and when discovered and clarified, can lend much benefit of ourselves in general and others in particular. The principle I am speaking of relates first of all to a theme that is found throughout scripture, start to finish. The principle under consideration can be summed up something like this:

In the world’s wisdom, the primary question underlying any situation is basically this: How can this benefit me? In the world’s value system, self is the consistent point of reference. Everything is viewed from the angle of me.

In God’s kingdom, this worldly principle is turned on its head. Throughout his daily actions, his teachings, and ultimately, his death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated the centrality of a kingdom principle that was opposite of the world’s wisdom: How can this benefit others?

The dichotomy between the world’s central focus and that of Jesus stands out in stark relief and when it comes to practical application, virtually all areas of life’s activities come into play. In the space of this short essay, I have no intention of going into great detail nor do I intend to give numerous examples of how these ethical principles exist in stark juxtaposition. Instead, I will speak of only one area where the Holy Spirit blessed me with a degree of insight.

I don’t know about you, but in my life there is one general situation that is a sure bet to send me spiraling into a web of suffocating self-absorption that entangles me quicker than Br’er Rabbit’s Tar Baby. I am speaking of those times when I find myself in some difficult situation, whether it be related to work, personal relations, finances, and more subtly, when I am dealing with some cognitive or emotional stronghold the either the world or the enemy constructed in my mind.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate these kinds of problems, more often than not making them far worse than they actually are or ramping up my stress level by ruminating on these difficulties sometimes for days on end. I’ll wager more than a few of you know exactly what I am talking about.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the word “ruminate” comes from the same root word as the word used to describe a cow’s cud, that thing the cow chews on over and over and over – and just like the cow and its cud, I have a marked tendency to chew on my problems over and over and over. Again, I doubt I am alone in this mental habit.

From the above, it is easy to see how I become totally self-absorbed. Thoroughly trained in the world’s value system of “me,” first, I lose connection with God’s perspective. Yet the irony of the situation is that I have found that by taking the time and the initiative to try to refocus on God’s principles, I come out of my self somewhat and muster enough strength and wisdom to free myself from the pesky tar baby. This often occurs in two ways, one you are most likely familiar with, and another that may be new to you.

I have consistently found that the most effective means I have at getting myself unstuck when ruminating over personal difficulties is to get up, go out, and do something for someone else. This does not always solve my problem, but it does buy me valuable time, it broadens my perspective, and it gives me a clearer picture of just what it is that is important in life. I need to get my focus off of myself and put it on others and on God.

The second way that I have found a bit of freedom from self-absorption with life problems comes from trying to see things from God’s perspective. I know from working many years in counseling and particularly in substance abuse, alcoholism, and other addictive disorders, that the best resource a person has is to connect with another individual who has gone through the same difficulty. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, etc. works so well. People are getting help from those who have walked in their shoes.

And then it dawned on me. Whatever major difficulty, or minor one for that matter, that I was experiencing had a meaning and a purpose. Perhaps one day a few years down the road someone just might need the wisdom I had gained through the difficulty I experienced. Remember, in God’s value system the focus is always on the other, not the self. My current problem could very well be God’s way of preparing me to be of help to another person at some point in the future. When I actually sat down and took the time to prayerfully reflect on this revelation, it opened my eyes to a bigger picture that transcended the narrow focus of my chronic self-centeredness.

This broader perspective allowed me to see an angle of life’s difficulties that was larger than my own self-interest – it allowed me a glimpse of things from a more divine perspective.

Again, this insight did not solve the problem, but it gave me a more sublime awareness on why I might be going through what I was going through and how it might indeed serve a larger purpose.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

The Essence of Spirituality: Radical Compassion

Mick Turner

Jesus Christ was not a man of compassion; he was a man of radical compassion. From his voluntary mission to this broken world, to his mysterious ascension back into the heavenly realm, there was no theme he stressed more in both word and deed. From his opening salvo quoting Isaiah about bringing release to the captives and good news to the poor, to his dying plea of, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus exemplified a compassion far beyond what the world had seen before. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Jesus’ stories about the Prodigal, the Good Samaritan, and his treatment of the woman caught in adultery all point to the need for a compassion that transcends the normal boundaries defined by contemporary culture, then and now. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Radical compassion is compassion with legs; radical compassion is a verb. Just as the Bible tells us in the Letter of James that faith without works is dead, also, compassion without concomitant action is a lifeless phenomenon. Many sincere aspirants have the mistaken notion that the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment. Although a sincere desire for motivation is one of our most treasured possessions, it is actually penultimate. The real aim of the spiritual journey is simply this – Sacred Service. All that we do is dedicated to the greatest good of all beings in all the worlds. Our gain is their gain, our loss is their loss, our advancement is their advancement, and it is to this sacred reality that we offer our benedictions at the end of our times of meditation and prayer.

In the Christian faith especially, personal enlightenment takes a back seat to serving others, spiritually and materially. Perhaps no where in the sacred writings of the world is this reality presented so directly as in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and you, your band of rag tag friends, and the Master arrive at the Upper Room after a long, tedious, dusty day going about your business. You sit for a moment to catch your breath and unwind a few moments before you go wash up for the evening meal. You close your eyes for a few minutes, only to feel something or someone taking off your sandals. And to your utter disbelief, kneeling in front of you is the Master Jesus with a basin and a towel. Incredible….

The Master taught his disciples, and all of us who have read of this amazing episode, a clear and concise example of the essence of spirituality: selfless service with a heart of humility. If only more of us, especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus, would take this lesson to heart, our world would have much less pain.

The Kingdom of God is a divine realm of proactive compassion. This is the message that Jesus came to deliver and through his actions as well as his words, he delivered it consistently. In all that he did and he said, Jesus revealed to us the nature of God. This incarnational revelation was hinted at in the Master’s magnificent prayer in John 17. In the 21st verse the Master says:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

In the Bible’s most well known verse, John 3:16, it is stated that for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (NLT)

Now, to make this even clearer, let’s look at one more verse in John 17. In verse three John records:

And this is the way to have eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (NLT)

Putting all this together, Jesus gave us a powerful but very real theology in this prayer and his disciple, John, fully caught its significance by saying in 3:16 that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save it. On God’s part, this was a perfect example of “proactive compassion” or what we often call “grace.” Motivated by the purest form of love, God was moved to have compassion on we fallen creatures, even in our blind ignorance, and he literally gave that compassion flesh by sending us the Master Jesus.

In order for compassion to become more than just a nice idea or a sentimental feeling, it must flow out of the internalized wisdom of the ages, particularly as related to the reality of “interconnectivity.” The idea of interconnectivity, now confirmed by the field of quantum physics, has been around for many centuries and is at the core of interspiritual mysticism, that one aspect of world religion that seems to transcend culture, time, and especially theology. It is a mystical connectedness that promotes compassion and engaged action to make the world a better place for all who dwell here. In essence, it is a deep wisdom that gives flesh to grace. The great spiritual writer Kahil Gibran spoke of this interconnected reality when he said:

Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. Who knows but that your neighbor is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would yourself. He too is a manifestation of the Most High.

In India, for example, we have the story of Indra’s Net, which is strung throughout the universe with a precious jewel at the places where the cords of the net intersect. These jewels, in turn, reflect all of the other jewels. Similar to the modern discovery of the hologram, the image of Indra’s Net is filled with symbolic wisdom depicting the interconnectivity of all that is. Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book entitled, The Dancing Wu Li Masters tell us:

…the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics is that all things in our universe (including us) that appears to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.

In the Christian tradition, the writings of the great mystic teachers echo these same truths, often in symbolic and metaphorical ways. Julian of Norwich especially comes to mind as well as Hildegard of Bingen and Madame Guyon. The writings of Saint Theresa of Avila and the life and work of St. Francis also point to the interconnectivity of all life and the necessity of having a heart of radical compassion.

The great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley have voices that ring loudly with the sense of the interrelated aspects of the natural world and their American counterparts, the Transcendentalists, in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, also echo this theme of divine connectivity. And then there is the work of that master of the arcane, William Blake who spoke of the mystic’s ability:

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

The world that we interact with each day only appears to be solid. In point of fact, it is an intricate dance of sub-atomic waves and particles that obey none of the traditional or expected moves of predictable choreography. At its core level, our apparently solid, material world is less like classical music and more like jazz. Just when we think we have a handle on how things are, these very things change, morphing into something totally unexpected and often totally mysterious. Someone wise, I forget who, once said the life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. How true, and the sooner a person grasps this fundamental truth, the less frustration will appear in his or her life.

It is not my intention to travel too far down this road of quantum physics at this juncture. Suffice to say that contemporary science is increasingly coming to grasp the same fundamental truths that mystics and shamans have voiced for many centuries. Simply put: Everything is interrelated and interdependent and when one part is affected by something, at a very core level, every other part is also impacted.

In teaching about the interrelated aspect of the universe, I often use a simple analogy that explains these principles in a basic way. I use the example of raisin Jell-o. Imagine you have concocted a delicious tub or raisin Jell-o. Choose your favorite flavor if you like. The raisins are the important thing, here. Now, what happens when you take your index finger and thump one of the raisins? All the raisins move. Crude as this metaphor is, it makes the point that all the raisins in the bowl are connected and if one raisin moves, they all move. This is what the mystics, and the quantum physicists, are talking about when they speak of interconnectivity.

As the church moves into the second decade of the 21st Century it has already become apparent that great changes are in the wind. I feel some of these changes are connected with an increased understanding of how God’s magnificent creation is put together in this incredible holographic manner in which each part contains the totality of the whole and every aspect of his world exists in an interdependent relationship with every other part. This is no romantic sentimentalism I am speaking of. Instead, it is a living, vibrant reality that, when one takes it to heart, changes everything. For the church, the message of the gospel become less of “let me show you the way,” and more of “What do you need?”

This move toward proactive compassion is a move of grace. Perhaps you are not accustomed to looking at grace that way, but grace is what we are dealing with. As stated earlier, a major part of Christ’s incarnation and our ongoing mission is to give flesh to grace. Caroline Myss makes this cogent observation in her book, Invisible Acts of Power:

What really happens inside you when you respond to someone in need? Why do some people jump out of their seats to help another person, while others look the other way? No doubt, some people have been taught to be kind and others may be naturally thoughtful. But I think something greater than compassion or good manners is at work, something beyond the motivation of the strong to help the weak or the wealthy to help the poor. I think it is the invisible power of grace, moving between the open hearts of give and receiver. The action itself, the lifting of a heavy piece of luggage or the drink of water offered to the thirsty man, may be small. But the energy that is channeled through that action is the high-voltage current of grace. It contains the power to renew someone’s faith in himself. It even has the power to save a life.

It should not be too difficult of an intellectual jump to see why this concept of interrelated reality should lead to a true and radical sense of compassion. What happens to me in the ultimate sense, happens to you and vice versa. When a child dies of hunger or disease in a poverty stricken nation, some part of each of us dies. We may not feel it, understand it, or even recognize it. Still, it is a fundamental spiritual and quantum truth. It is wise to remember the words of the 17th Century poet John Donne as he spoke of the custom of the time which involved ringing the town’s bell whenever someone died:

Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind;

Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved