A Sublime Whisper

 

L.D. Turner

I am convinced that one of the most critical tasks facing humankind in this age of rapid-fire change and shifting cultural landscapes is the rebirth of what I like to call cosmic mysticism – a way of looking at the world through eyes of wonder, awe, pristine innocence, and above all, an innate sense of the interconnectivity of all that is, all that ever was, and yes, all that ever will be. Some may call it an exaggeration but I think otherwise. Unless we rediscover this vital sense of cosmic mysticism, an increasing number of species, humanity included, are headed for extinction.

This cosmic mysticism I am speaking of is a natural mysticism, built upon the experiential foundation of the existence of a divine presence that permeates and suffuses all of creation. Known by countless names by myriad cultures across the span of the ages, this sublime presence is that which animates and gives life to all things. Nature is imbued with this power, this divine energy, and all that exists owes its being to this force.
Throughout history this force has been called by many names. The name, however, is not important. What is important is that we learn how to contact, harness, and direct this divine energy for the development of ourselves, our brothers and sisters, all sentient beings, and our world. This is the essence of the meaning and purpose of life at its most fundamental level. We are here to grow and in order to grow we must learn to use divine energy efficiently and purposefully. Just as a plant needs the sun to develop and reach maturity, we need this celestial energy in order to truly become what we were intended to be.

What is the origin of this energy? What is its purpose? Is it intelligent and purposeful? Or, is it random and impersonal? Humankind has answered these questions in myriad ways, some more accurate than others, since the dawn of time. For our present purpose, it is unnecessary to speculate on these issues. In fact, such speculation may pose an obstacle to the task at hand, which is to deal with this flowing, vibrant, and vital energy in terms of its practical application to living each day with personal excellence.
Further, it is through the kinship of this universal divine energy that all humankind, in fact, all creation is related in one giant organized family.

Although many things in the modern world conspire to deafen us to the subtle voice of the Father, rest assured that his voice is indeed there. God calls to us continually, asking us to put down our nets and, like the fishermen disciples of old, come and follow. Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that no one comes to him unless the Father first draws him. What this means in highly practical terms is that we not only have a God, we have a proactive God that seeks relationship with us. Our end of the bargain is to put ourselves into a position of deepening receptivity, so that we might hear his voice more clearly and experience his love more intensely.
There are others who hear God’s voice and respond, accepting his offer of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance into his blessed family. These are generally sincere disciples and are often quite active in their local church fellowship. They also involve themselves in service work and serve the Master to the best of their ability. Yet it is these very people – these sincere followers of the Lord – who, in their heart of hearts, often find themselves asking, “Isn’t there something more to the Christian life? I feel like something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is a vague emptiness…”

It is to these genuine disciples that the still, small voice comes beckoning in the silence of a sleepless night, or drifting in on the golden leaves of an autumn wind. That irresistible, persistent voice that repeatedly whispers:

Come, follow me….

John Eldredge and the late Brent Curtis, in their book entitled The Sacred Romance, describe the various ways, both vivid and subtle, that the Divine calls to us in his relentless pursuit of relationship:
Someone or something has romanced us from the beginning with creek-side singers and pastel sunsets, with the austere majesty of snowcapped mountains and the poignant flames of autumn colors telling us of something – or someone – leaving, with a promise to return. These things can, in an unguarded moment, bring us to our knees with longing for this something or someone who is lost; someone or something only our heart recognizes.

When we find ourselves in earshot of such a calling, we need to recognize that we are both blessed and vulnerable. We are blessed in that the divine source, the creative power that put this awe-inspiring universe together, seeks relationship with us. The incomprehensible intelligence that maintains all that we see and even more remarkably, the mysterious quantum realm that we don’t see, together in harmonious balance desires intimacy with us – intimacy beyond anything we have ever known.

Yes, friend, God calls to us in a gentle voice that only the mystic can truly hear. And in that persistent calling, the Creator invites us to join in the mysterious dance of spiritual transformation. Unfortunately, far too few of us truly comprehend the critical importance of this divine calling, which often rides in softly on the fragrant breeze of an early summer evening or conversely, in the absolute silence of moonlit midnight in the depth of January. Of those who do hear the sublime calling, even fewer respond and this a tragedy beyond measure, as it often leaves those desperate souls with an incessant pondering of what might have been. C.S. Lewis speaks of this holy pursuit and its profound significance:

Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of – something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

Lewis is describing that universal “something,” that existential empty spot that Augustine said could only be filled by God. It is, indeed, the call of the sublime lover, the Creator himself, beckoning us to turn and face our true home. It is the baying call of the Hound of Heaven, which is paradoxically both a blessing and an irritant.

Most amazingly, he is not calling us to go into a monastic hideaway or a hermit’s cave, but to stay put right where we are. And if we stay and we become open and discerning, he will use the mundane events of our daily round as his methodology of instruction. More often than not, God’s classroom is characterized by the pedagogy of the ordinary and it is precisely in the realm of the unremarkable that true divine alchemy occurs. Sue Monk Kidd, a woman who knows this process through personal experience, describes it this way:

It seems to me that Christ continually calls us through the daily events of our lives…In moments like these God stirs the waters of our lives and beckons us beyond where we are to a new dimension of closeness with Him…God desires to transform certain experiences of ours into awakening events. These may be our most common moments, but if we let them they can become doorways to a deeper encounter with Him. Who knows at what moment we may begin to wake up to the astonishing fact that Emmanuel (God with us) is still God’s name, that every moment the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is coming to us.

I know that in my experience, God calls me in ways I never expected. I have discerned his voice in the sacred silence of meditative stillness and his message has often slapped me to my senses as it spoke from the pages of Holy Scripture. I have also learned to be increasingly sensitive to his call as manifest in the choreographic harmony of the natural world and especially when it dances in the eyes of a child.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

And The Truth Shall Set You Free

L.D. Turner

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 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.

As Christians, we, too, often behave in ways similar to these zoo animals. When we accepted the lordship of Christ in our lives, we were given a new, liberating freedom from the power of sin in general and our habituated negative patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving, and relating in particular. 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 through our freedom in Christ. We know we are saved, 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, sinful past has created for us.

And keep in mind, my friend, a rut is nothing but a grave with the ends kicked out.

We can read all the right books, listen to all the right tapes, hear all the right sermons, and go to all the right seminars – but the fact remains that we often feel completely overwhelmed when a big problem hits us. Life’s storms can be terrifying at times and it is at just these times we need to apply the principles we have learned through all of our diligent study to the process of riding out the storm. The problem is, it is at just these critical times that we find ourselves least able to apply the truths that we have learned. As a result, we often make little headway toward finding a positive solution to our dilemma.

I wish I could tell you that there was a magic answer to this problem, but I can’t. Fact is, we have to gird up our loins and get to work. We must begin with getting the focus off our problem and onto God. Until we do this, we can at best expect to tread water. Progress, however, will be minimal.

Getting our focus onto the God is critical for another reason: Satan.

Our modern culture tells us that the supernatural doesn’t exist. Even many modern biblical scholars attest that demons and Satan do not exist and are only symbolic in nature. I can admit to you that at one time, I felt the same way. By the grace of God I now see this much differently. I know for a fact that a spirit world exists right along side this one and that dark entities indeed reside there. These entities are under the control of their Commander in Chief, the Enemy, and will do anything in their power to keep you from realizing you potential and achieving your purpose.

As I mentioned, there was a time when, even though I was a Christian and very involved in the faith, I didn’t see Satan as a living entity. I saw him more as some sort of metaphor for our dark human nature and our tendency to be self-absorbed to the extreme. Like many of the contemporary biblical scholars of a liberal bent, I explained Satan away with a flurry of reasonable sounding explanations.

One day, however, a significant question came to my mind. Why I had never thought to ask this question of myself is beyond me, as it seems to be so obvious. I wondered: If Satan does not exist, why does Jesus talk about him so often? And why does he not refer to him as some sort of psychological projection, if in fact that is what he is? Although it seems so basic, these questions literally stopped me in my tracks. Several friends, like the well-meaning buddies that tried to explain it all to Job, offered answers to my questions. Most of these answers basically implied that the disciples were such simpletons and Jesus was so highly developed, he had to dial back his explanations and put them in terms his followers could understand. To some extent, this answer sounds plausible but if you really think about it, it just doesn’t wash. Jesus spoke so clearly and frequently about who and what Satan was and is that he leaves little room for doubt as to the existence of this dark force in the spiritual world.

Over the following two months, the Spirit gave me wisdom and insight regarding the ever so real existence of the Enemy and his minions. It is my prayer that, if you don’t think he is as real as you, you come to understand that you are indeed mistaken.

As you work toward appropriating your new identity in Christ, be advised that you will not only be confronting your own habitual patterns of negativity, you will also be confronting powers and principalities as well. This is why scripture encourages you to “guard the heart,” (Proverbs 4:23).

It is important as well to keep in mind that your thought life is taking place in the realm of non-physical reality – the spirit world. You can take comfort in the fact that, as a Christian, God is already at work in your behalf in the spirit realm and has already won the victory. So, when beset with a flurry of negative thoughts, immediately replace them with God-soaked biblical thoughts.

Satan is not satisfied with just initiating minor skirmishes with you. No, friend, he is much more ambitious than that. His goal is all out domination and his primary target is your mind. Satan knows that by controlling your thinking, he can be reasonably assured of success. Why is this? Why is our enemy so confident? The reason is simple. Most everything we do starts in the mind with our thoughts and attitudes. Satan knows that if he can control our thoughts and attitudes he can control us, and, if he can control us, the war is won.

At least, that is what Satan thinks.

For this reason and many others, it is obvious that guarding your mind is of utmost importance. This is what Paul meant when he talked about “taking every thought captive for Christ.” I can’t stress this point enough. The battle for the mind is critical.

In attempting to discern why we keep living in negative, unproductive, and yes, even sinful ways in spite of the fact that we are “new creations” in Christ, we can now see that we war on two battlefields: our habitual behaviors and the schemes of the enemy. In reality, these two fronts of engagement are not totally separate and distinct. Satan often attacks us right where we are most vulnerable – our habitually negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Certainly there is much we can do to deal with this issue. I have found that practicing the classical spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, sacred study, worship, and so on to be of great value. Further, Paul gives us a detailed delineation of what we need to do in the sixth chapter of the Book of Ephesians. I suggest that you go to this passage of scripture and spend several weeks prayerfully pondering Paul’s advice. As you do so, make every effort to put on the equipment he speaks of. In addition, there is one other thing you can do and it is most crucial:

Trust God!

One of the main reasons people keep living in the same old unproductive ruts is that they focus on the rut and not on the solution; they focus on the problem and not on God. The problem cannot and will not solve itself, but God can and will. Keep in mind also that if we trust God, turn our problem over to him, and let him control the outcome, we may not only find our problem solved – we may also be surprised. God’s ways are not our ways and he is not limited in what he can do. As a result, your problem may get resolved in a way that you never could have predicted. The key, of course, is to trust God and turn your problem over to him.

(c) 2016/L.D. Turner/All Rights Reserved

Exercising Dominion Begins with Yourself

We live in an age where taking personal responsibility for oneself and one’s behavior is an endangered commodity. Increasingly, we have become a culture of “victimitis,” where no one is really ever a fault for anything. Instead, our problems, whatever they may be, are the result of the malfeasance of another or some series of bad breaks and misunderstandings. When all else fails and we can’t find someone or something to blame our troubles on, we can assert along with Stooge Curly Joe: “I’m just a victim of circumstance.”

Let’s face facts and not seek to become overly intellectual or get bogged down in a mire and muck of philosophical sophistication. The reality of the situation is actually quite simple: until you establish control over your thoughts, feelings, and behavior you life is going to be characterized by instability and difficulty. Until you develop personal discipline, you will exist but never truly live.

Referring to an undisciplined person, James Allen states:

He does not intelligently reflect upon life, and lives in a series of sensations, longings, and confused memories which are unrelated to any central idea or principle. A man whose inner life is so ungoverned and chaotic must necessarily manifest this confusion in the visible conditions of his outer life in the world; and though for a time, running with the stream of his desires, he may draw to himself amore or less large share of the outer necessities and comforts of life, he never achieves any real success nor accomplishes any real good, and sooner or later worldly failure and disaster are inevitable, as the direct result of the inward failure to properly adjust and regulate those mental forces which make the outer life.

I still clearly recall the time I first read these words by James Allen, along with the above cited comments about taking a meandering route down “trackless wastes of perplexity.” If ever a message described my undisciplined nature, especially related to my thought life, this one surely did. Allen’s words hit me between the eyes with the impact of a 2×4. It was, in short, one of those personal epiphanies that we are blessed with from time to time. I’ll be the first to admit that at the time it didn’t especially seem like a blessing, but in retrospect, that is exactly what it was. It was this revelation, engineered no doubt by divine forces, that began the process of a profound change in my thought life. Did that transformation take place overnight? Of course not; but it did take place and I am forever thankful. Allen, in his remarkable little work entitled, Byways to Blessedness, continues by describing the necessity of getting a grip on our cognitive life:

Before a man accomplish anything of an enduring nature in the world he must first of all acquire some measure of success in the management of his own mind. This is as mathematical a truism as that two and two are four, for, “out of the heart are the issues of life.” (Here Allen is referring to Proverbs 4:23). If a man cannot govern the forces within himself, he cannot hold a firm hand upon the outer activities which form his visible life. On the other hand, as a man succeeds, in governing himself he rises to higher and higher levels of power and usefulness and success in the world.

We all seek a North Star, a point of reference to which we can align ourselves and thereby judge our position. Without such a point of reference, we waste valuable time and energy, flitting here and wandering there and ending up nowhere. John Wesley wisely taught that when seeking such an anchor for our lives, we can turn to four sources: tradition, scripture, reason, and experience. During the course of my life, there have been occasions where I have used any one or combination of these sources to make proper judgments and reach vital decisions. Yet more than any other source, I have found greatest value in that “inner light” which God deposited in me. Known by many names, this is indeed the “light which lights every man that comes into the world” as John so aptly put it in the famous Prologue to his gospel. It is this same inner luminous core that George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, spoke of as the radiant wellspring of Christian revelation.

If we are to reach any degree of mastery over our lower self, we must establish, deepen, and maintain steadfast contact with this inner light. James Allen, speaking in context of establishing an anchor for our lives, describes the process in very succinct terms:

A man does not commence to truly live until he finds an immovable center within himself on which to regulate his life, and from which to draw his peace. If he trusts to that which fluctuates, he also will fluctuate; if he leans upon that which may be withdrawn he will fall and be bruised; if he looks for satisfaction in perishable accumulations he will starve for happiness in the midst of plenty…Be contented that others shall manage or mismanage their own little kingdom, and see to it that you reign strongly over your own. Your entire well-being and the well-being of the whole world lies there. You have a conscience, follow it; you have a mind, clarify it; you have a judgment, use and improve it; you have a will, employ and strengthen it; you have knowledge, increase it; there is a light within your soul, watch it, tend it, encourage it, shield it from the winds of passion, and help it to burn with a steadier and ever steadier radiance. Leave the world and come back to yourself. Think as a man, live as a man. Be rich in yourself, be complete in yourself. Find the abiding center within you and obey it.

Often the Holy Spirit brings to our attention areas of our thought, feeling, action, or belief that are either inaccurate or no longer serve a useful purpose. It then is incumbent upon us that we cast aside these aspects of our being. Paul speaks to this theme repeatedly when he tells us to take off the old and to put on the new. James Allen tells us:

He who would be clothed in new garments must first cast away the old, and   who would find the True must sacrifice the false. The gardener digs in the weeds in order that they may feed, with their decay, the plants that are good for food; and the Tree of Wisdom can only flourish on the compost of uprooted follies.

At first glance, it would seem this process of personal mastery and changing problematic behaviors would be simple. We just identify those behaviors and make up our minds not to engage in them anymore. However, as anyone who has ever tried to change deeply ingrained behaviors will attest, this process is far more difficult that it seems. Further, we are often our own worst enemies when it comes to this sort of personal mastery.

From the time I was five years old I have been an avid baseball fan. I played the sport throughout my school years and, once I became an adult, played competitive softball for many years.

I normally played middle infield, either second base or shortstop. For many years I used the same softball glove. In fact, I used it so long that the strings kept breaking, all the padding was gone out of the pocket and the leather was cracked in several strategic places. Nevertheless I refused to buy a new glove, in spite of the frequent protestations of my teammates.

The reason was simple. I was comfortable with this old glove. It molded to my hand perfectly over the years and it felt reassuring to put in on before I took the field. All too often, however, I would catch a hard line drive right in the pocket and my hand would sting, then remain numb for several minutes. Still, I wanted no part of a new glove.

A new glove, as anyone who has played the sport knows, is a real pain for awhile. It feels funny, awkward and stiff. It is easy to make errors with a new glove, at least until it is broken in properly. No, my old glove was find thank you very much.

One day our third baseman wasn’t able to make the game and I played the so-called “hot corner.” Things went okay for the first two innings. Then, in the third inning the batter hit a hard liner right at me. I responded quickly and raised my glove, only to have the ball break right through the ancient webbing an hit me square in the forehead, knocking me out cold.

Two days later I bought a new glove.

My experience with my old softball glove is not unlike my experience with the behaviors that flow from my old self. No matter how much I try to take off the old and put on the new, the old keeps rearing its head and biting me. I suspect that I am not alone in this predicament.

Many of my old behaviors, like my old softball glove, may hurt me time and time again. But, they are comfortable in the sense that they are familiar and predictable. My old self resists change and it is here that we are vulnerable to our habitual responses to life, however unhealthy and painful they may be

There is no need to complicate this issue of self-mastery beyond what it is. On a very practical level, mastery of self involves nothing more complex or arcane than saying no to self. Granted, this is often easier said than done, but let’s not kid ourselves by inserting all sorts of esoteric metaphysics or psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo into the equation. Like James Allen, let’s cut right to the chase:

By his personal indulgences a man demeans himself, forfeits self-respect to the extent and frequency of his indulgence, and deprives himself of exemplary influence and power to accomplish lasting good in his work in the world.

Remember the runaway bestseller The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck? The author could have started the book in an infinite number of ways, but Peck chose this as his opening sentence: Life is difficult. I think he started the book that way because that theme, the difficulty of life, is universal. Everyone could relate to those words.

As Christians, we also know that life is difficult. We are going to fact all kinds of problems. The good news is that no matter how difficult our present circumstances might be, God has got our back. He never presents us with something that we just cannot overcome. Bishop Jim Lowe, in his excellent book Achieving Your Divine Potential, makes the following cogent observation:

This is God’s promise. Every problem or issue you encounter in life has a solution. It is merely a matter of time before you discover it. Don’t give up hope; keep on pursuing your goal relentlessly. For all you know, the next thought you have may be the one that reveals to you how to subdue that one issue or problem that has been confronting you.

The word dominion basically means to “rule.” It implies the act of taking one’s authority over something for the purpose of establish order, discipline, and positive control. We have been given the divine directive to subdue, but that is only half the equation. The other half, dominion, means to take control of the situation by exercising your God-given, God-mandated authority.

Whenever you decide to exercise your dominion authority, however, be prepared to meet with resistance. This inevitable counter-force to your authority is, like most other obstacles that arise in the spiritual journey, comes from one of three sources – the enemy; the world; or yourself.

Of these three, most people think Satan is the hardest to deal with, but I don’t think so. True, the enemy is still a formidable foe, but he has already been defeated by Christ and his ultimate end has already been scripted in God’s overall plan. Granted, the enemy is still shrewd, cunning, and clever, but he has for the most part been defanged. His bark is still there but his bite is gone. Yes, he can still gum you half to death, but he can no longer chew you up unless you allow him to by abdicating your divine power. The world is also a considerable source of trouble but if we have established a solid biblical worldview and are grounded in its principles, we can consistently deal with the world.

Of the trio of troublemakers, I am of the opinion that we are the most difficult to get under control. I firmly believe that self-mastery is essential if we are to become the optimal version of ourselves. Now please understand that we can’t master ourselves under our own power – we must and do have the power of the Holy Spirit. But we can do quite a bit and we should work as hard as possible to discipline ourselves.

Often we are our own worst enemies. Paul spells this out clearly when he talks about doing the things he doesn’t want to do and not doing the things he wants to do.

One of the most significant lessons we can learn on the spiritual journey is the fact that we cannot effectively take charge of any situation, person, place, or thing until we have effectively assumed charge of ourselves. The words of Gandhi sum this inescapable principle up quite well:

I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him, I seem to have very little influence.

I don’t know about you, but I can relate very deeply with Gandhi’s words. All too often we are our own worst enemy, sabotaging every noble thing we set out to do. I firmly believe, however, that the key to self-mastery, like all other directives we have been given, lies in the realization and application of our identity in Christ. As we have seen, we are far more powerful spiritual beings than we have realized and we need to apply this understanding to dealing with our own chronic tendencies to sabotage ourselves. Bishop Lowe offers the following sage advice:

God has given you authority and power to take dominion over all things on earth. Your first responsibility, however, is to subdue and take dominion over the only enemy that can defeat you – YOU! You cannot triumph over the external world until you subdue and take dominion over you! You will have to wage war against every argument within you that challenges what God has said about you.

You have been taught by the world to see yourself as inferior to what God’s original plan was for you. Your years of conditioning and indoctrination will cause you to doubt what the Almighty said about you. You will find yourself struggling against what God has said. Doubt and unbelief will be unrelenting in their challenge to influence you to believe what God says cannot be true.

It will take some time to undo the conditioning of years of misinformation, but God’s Word is sure and powerful. If you continue hearing the Word of God over and over again, your thinking will become aligned with it and your mind will be renewed. Then, because of our persistent and diligent efforts, your life will be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Let’s keep one other important principle before us at all times. Just as David faced a seemingly unbeatable foe in the Philistine giant Goliath, we also face our own giants – giants of fear, lack, poverty, discouragement, depression, illness, abuse, addiction – the list goes on and on. But just like David, we must come to understand and accept that our victory will not come from our own power, but instead, will flow down like a mighty blessing from the spiritual realm. No matter the nature of our problem, the solution is always a spiritual one. That is why the prophet Zechariah reminded us of the Lord’s words

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

If you believe your situation is hopeless realize this: that is a perception that is both erroneous and self-defeating and further, it is from the very pit of Hell. God can and will help you if you ask and this is a reality that has been proven over and over again in countless lives. Does that mean you have nothing to do but plead your case before God and wait for him to fix your problem? No. What it does mean is that God will supply you with all you need in terms of perseverance, fortitude, and inner resources. You, however, have to do the leg work. James Allen, in his own straightforward, no-nonsense way, lays it out clearly:

However tightly a man may have bound himself round he can always unbind himself. Into whatever morasses of trouble and trackless wastes of perplexity he may have ignorantly wandered he can always find his way out again, can always recover the lost highway of uninvolved simplicity which leads straight and clear, to the sunny city of wise and blessed action. But he will never do this by sitting down and weeping in despair, nor by complaining and worrying and aimlessly wishing he were differently situated. His dilemma calls for alertness, logical thought, and calm calculation. His position requires that he shall strongly command himself; that he shall think and search, and rouse himself to strenuous and unremitting exertion in order to regain himself. Worry and anxiety only serve to heighten the gloom and exaggerate the magnitude of the difficulty. It is a great day in the life of a man (though at the time he knows it not) when bewildering perplexities concerning the mystery of life take possession of his mind, for it signifies that his era of dead indifference, animal sloth, of mere vegetative happiness, has come to an end, and that henceforth he is to live as an aspiring, self-evolving being. No longer a mere human animal, he will now begin to live as a man…

I don’t know about you or your past, but speaking of my own history I can readily identify more than a few occasions when I found myself in a “morass of troubles” and even more often, discovered that I had lost valuable time and energy by wandering down “trackless wastes of perplexity.”

The only way out of this morass of confusion and perplexity is to gain some degree of personal mastery in general and mastery of the mind in particular.

As we have seen, establishing and maintaining self-discipline has many rewards, the chief of which is an internal sense of strength and confidence. Rather than some willy-nilly, unfocused, and nebulous sort of confidence, the confidence that comes from being a master of oneself is a practical, concrete and highly efficient trait that serves as an anchor in life’s sometimes turbulent seas. Allen concludes:

With the practice of self-discipline a man begins to live, for he then commences to rise above the inward confusion and to adjust his conduct to a steadfast centre within himself. He ceases to follow where inclination leads him, reins in the steed of his desires, and lives in accordance with the dictates of reason and wisdom.

© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved

An Apology

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my readers for my lack of activity on LifeBrook since the end of April. This lack of posting stems from two primary sources. First, my health issues have been kicking up again. Nothing too troubling, but anytime heart disease rears its head, it tends to impact every aspect of one’s life.

Second, we are completing the process of moving. We have moved 25 miles south of where we previously lived and as anyone who has ever moved knows, it can be a royal pain in the keester to say the least. We are still moving items and at least partially, still living out of boxes.

I hope to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible.

Blessings,

 

Mick

Responding to God: Just Keep it Simple

Mick Turner

I think one of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the gospel message is that, in spite of past screw ups, Jesus loves and accepts us as we are. Not only that, but through the actions of the blessed Holy Spirit, he is willing to help us change. And even more mind boggling, he is planning on making us a full partner in his father’s business. Author and teacher Billy Joe Daugherty speaks to these themes in a clear manner:

This is the good news of Jesus: He loves you just the way you are, yet He sees you for what you can become…..He sees you sharing the living water with others who are dry on the inside….God has big plans for you. It may seem like you have wasted your life, but with Jesus you can make up for lost years in a short time. He will not reject you for your past failures. He welcomes you to come to him and receive living water.

As I said, I find this aspect of the Lord to be most comforting because I have certainly messed up things many times. Further, I can truly relate to that feeling of having wasted my life. Yet Jesus is willing to put that behind us now and turn both His eyes and mine toward a more positive, successful future, one where I can have a positive, beneficial impact on the world in general and my family in particular.

More amazing is the fact that I never have to go it alone. Instead, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is walking next to me and living inside me in a miraculous way I can never understand but can fully appropriate through the simple act of faith. I don’t know about you, but when I truly take time and reflect on all this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The only thing required of me to receive the healing water of Christ is faith. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand what if means to have faith. Jesus plainly told us that he has overcome the world and all that we have to do to have a life of spiritual fulfillment is to accept what He has told us in faith. As I was sitting here writing these words I was reminded of the following words, again from Daugherty:

Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It is our faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross. In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and took the keys of authority from him. Now Jesus Christ reigns forever.

Jesus reigns forever and scripture assures me that I am co-heir with Him, as are you if you have accepted his gift of grace with faith. This acceptance I am speaking of here involves more than the forgiveness of sin, although it certainly involves that. By His blood the Lord purchased our forgiveness and justified our being before the Father, but the cross also accomplished something equally significant, not to mention precious. Through Christ’s cross, his death, and his resurrection, we are empowered to live as he says we should live. Just as we could never do enough to attain forgiveness and justification before God, we can never live the full Christian life under our own power. We need something more and Christ has provided that power for us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Further, we have on the inside of us the same resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life. The ultimate nature of that power is far too profound and mysterious for me to ever get my mind completely around but, on faith, I am fully convinced that it is mine.

So what stops us from simply accepting what Christ is freely offering us? There are a number of reasons I suspect, but one I encounter with more than a few sincere believers is one you might not immediately think of. Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. I don’t mean to imply that these issues are not important. Certainly doctrine and dogma have their place. But I often wonder if Christ smiles in approval when he hears us debating his simple truths to the point that we divide ourselves into countless denominations and sects and tear asunder the Body that he meant to live in love and unity. On the contrary, I suspect this endless hairsplitting and theological nitpicking brings tears to his eyes.

During the early 1980’s I enrolled in several Religion courses at a small university near my home in north Alabama. I recall one course in particular that centered on the life of Jesus. My fellow classmates were an interesting group. Some were undergraduate students pursuing coursework in Religion and Philosophy in preparation for seminary. Others were ordained pastors of small local churches who, after preaching for a number of years, felt the need to further their education. Others, like myself, were there seeking a deeper understanding of the Christian faith as well as its history and traditions. Then there was Henry.

No one knew exactly why Henry was enrolled. He rarely spoke and when he did, it was with a soft, slow voice with a pronounced rural southern brogue. Considering the diverse make up of the class, it was natural that heated discussions would often break out. The professor often encouraged this in fact. The class argued about many issues. The nature of the Trinity, immersion versus sprinkling, the permanency of salvation, the list is endless.

I admit I often enjoyed these ballyhoos as they lent a degree of excitement to the proceedings and made the class time pass more quickly. One night the class was engaged in a verbal free for all centering on the Virgin Birth. I remember clearly hearing a wide range of viewpoints on this, mostly in support of the indisputable validity of the doctrine of virgin birth. I for one remained on the periphery of this dispute mostly out of ignorance. The doctrine of Virgin Birth was not for me an issue of central importance to my daily experience of the Christian path. In fact, unless it was brought up for discussion, I rarely consider it. It was one of those issues that I had placed on the theological back burner.

After a lengthy discussion, the professor looked to the back of the room and said, “Well Henry, you’ve been mighty quiet in this discussion. Why don’t you share your thoughts on the Virgin Birth with us?”

After a long pause Henry folded his hands on the desk, looked cautiously around the room and said:

“Well, I’ve been a settin’ here for over an hour listenin’ to you gents discussing this here thing about the Virgin Birth of Christ. I guess ya’ll know a heck of a lot more about all this than I do. You must or else you couldn’t talk about it for so long. All I know is this. Jesus loves me and I love him and try to do what he says. I reckon it don’t matter much to me what his momma done.”

Point taken Henry, end of discussion.

Instead of simply taking Christ at his word and freely receiving his gift of both salvation and sanctification, we often enter into arcane debates over issues that are not fundamental to the issue at hand. At the end of the day, we complicate a simple offer and this confuses believers inside the church and turns away many on the outside. I could give countless examples of this because I used to do this very thing. We all too often major in the minors and minor in the majors.

One issue that I have often heard brothers and sisters discussing, often in heated tones, is the order of salvation. Some say that we repent, and then we are saved. Others say that we repent because we are saved. I imagine one could make a case for either side of this issue by citing various passages of scripture but in terms of our response to God’s grace I don’t see that it matters much on a practical level. The fact is God makes His offer and we respond. The mere act of responding is in itself an act of repentance. We accept that we are accepted, complete with our cuts and bruises, our shortcomings and short-fallings. This is the meaning of grace, pure and simple.

Our role in this process is not to analyze, dissect, or debate. Our job is to respond. We either accept the offer or we refuse it. God has so arranged this process that it is really up to us.

Grace is not something we can earn. We can’t work our way into God’s grace because, in spite of our best intentions, nothing would ever, ever be enough. We can’t even pray our way into God’s grace. We can’t plea-bargain and attempt to get a lighter sentence for our sins. No, all we can do is get it through our heads, however thick, that grace flows from God to us. Our task is to accept it fully and get on with the task of letting the Holy Spirit flow into us and do His work to make us more like Christ.

The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.

As I have previously shared on this website, I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was chewing on me. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.

What we can do is express our gratitude by being thankful, expressing our heart-felt appreciation for what God has done for us. Our gratitude must further be translated into positive action and a repentant lifestyle, which expresses itself in obedience, faithfulness, humility, faith, trust and, above all, a selfless love. In other words, we accept God’s gift of grace, forgiveness and adoption into his family, then get on with the work of growing in Christ-Character. Again, get this down and get it deep. Grace comes from God, not from anything you have done or will ever do in the future. Listen to Gary Collins:

Grace is not a loan from the past. It is a gift that extends through all eternity. It is a gift that helps mold our lives so that our spirituality is God-centered, Christ-honoring, Spirit-guided, life-influencing, and ultimately, fulfilling.

Don’t you just love that? God-centered, Spirit-guided, and life-influencing. Once we accept God’s gift, and importantly, once we accept that we are accepted by God, our duty is to live a life that is focused on God and makes Him the fulcrum of our thoughts, words and deeds. The amazing thing here is that God’s grace extends even to the point that we are aided in making him the focal point of life. The Holy Spirit comes along side of us, in fact, comes to reside in us and guides us as we seek to open our ears so that we can hear Him speak. As this happens, we increasingly become equipped to do Christ’s work on earth, to be his hands, his feet and his heart in a broken, dysfunctional world. Our life is influenced so we can influence other lives. In essence, once we accept God’s gracious gift, we are empowered to become God-centered, Spirit-guided servants that can make a positive difference in the world.

(c) L.D. Turner/All Rights Reserved

A Prayer from Alcuin of York

The following is an inspirational prayer from Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans. The prayer is adapted from the original by Alcuin of York:

God go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church.

Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word,

To be clear in our task and careful in our speech.

Give us open hands and joyful hearts.

Let Christ be on our lips.

May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion.

Let no one come to us and go away sad.

May we offer hope to the poor,

And solace to the disheartened.

Let us so walk before God’s people,

That those who follow us might come into his kingdom.

Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life,

That faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts.

In word and in example let your light shine

In the dark like the morning star.

Do not allow the wealth of the world or its enchantment

Flatter us into silence as to your truth.

Do not permit the powerful, or judges,

Or our dearest friends

To keep us from professing what is right.

Amen

Wise Words for Today

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.

David Platt