Random Thoughts on Our Identity in Christ (Part Two)

L.D. Turner

At one point in my Christian walk I became quite confused when attempting to understand the full ramifications of the work of Christ in gaining our victory over sin and our old way of being in the world. Scripture clearly taught that we are new creations in Christ and that, indeed, the old had gone and the new had come. Further, Peter stressed how we had been provided with all the things that we needed to lead holy and godly lives. Paul also stressed that we had died with Christ and had also risen with him in newness of life and power. This all sounded great, however, there was one small detail that I couldn’t ignore.

I was neither holy nor godly

In fact, although I experienced a much greater level of control over my “flesh,” my old, sinful nature still reared its head with alarming regularity, causing me more than a little trouble. I thus found myself on the horns of a theological and experiential dilemma. At first I figured I must be doing something wrong, but it turns out that wasn’t the problem. Next, I figured I must have misunderstood what Peter, Paul, and a host of commentators were talking about. As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the problem either. More significant, I additionally discovered that I was not alone in this situation. It seems I had plenty of company as other brothers and sisters struggled with the same contradiction between scripture and experience.

Perhaps no other area causes confusion among Christians than the concepts of “salvation” and “sanctification.” Some of this confusion arises from the fact that both are found in scripture in all three verb tenses, past, present, and future. What this means on a practical level is that our salvation and sanctification has already happened; is happening now, at this moment; and will also happen in the future. No wonder folks get confused about all this.

Over the course of the years I have prayed, studied, wrote, and reflected upon these issues and have found at least a modicum of understanding in relation to our sanctification as Christians. I believe this to be crucial in our walk of faith because resolving this issue is central to our understanding and acceptance of our new identity in Christ.

Careful study of the numerous passages that discuss these matters reveals a pattern that is both logical and workable. To summarize, our salvation and our sanctification begins with our spiritual birth when we are “born from above,” and carries all the way forward to our complete perfection and “glorification.”

A consistent source of confusion in the modern church is between the concepts of justification and sanctification. Look at it this way – suppose a company is breaking the law by illegally dumping highly toxic waste material into the ground. Eventually, this poison seeps down through the earth and pollutes the ground water, which sooner or later affects the public water supply. Let’s say the dumping of the toxic waste was the sin and the spread of the poison was the result. Justification covers the sin and makes us acceptable to God. Sanctification is the process of cleaning up the mess.

This analogy is quite crude I admit, but I think it helps understand how these two vital issues – justification and sanctification – are related.

It is fundamentally necessary that we come to a living, dynamic understanding of the fact that although we are sanctified from a positional perspective when we received Christ, much of the work of sanctification is an ongoing process, not an event. So, in a real sense, we are sanctified in terms of our position in relation to a holy God and then undergo the process of sanctification in terms of experience. The Holy Spirit serves as both catalyst and agent of this process.

The view we get of ourselves when we see our inner being through the lens of Christ can be a bit unsettling. Unless we have a clear picture of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection, along with an understanding and acceptance of who we are in Christ, we can easily be overwhelmed by the enormity of our sin-load. Yet it is imperative we see our sin and our sin-nature if we desire a deep appreciation of God’s act of grace in restoring us to spiritual life.

In these days and times, we are not encouraged to look at our sin. The whole concept of sin has come to be seen as something left over from an earlier church era. In post-modern culture, we are seen as “dysfunctional” rather than sinful. I am not suggesting that we wallow in the mire of our sinfulness and become bogged down with guilt. All I am saying here is that it is important that we buck the current trend to avoid looking at our sin and take an honest look at where we were before we came to Christ. Further, we need to get a firm grip on the true nature of sin and accept the fact that we live in a culture that is fallen – a culture that in large part is conditioned by sin. In many ways, our world has become so complacent about sin that we don’t even recognize it. Neil Anderson speaks to the importance of grasping the nature and extent of sin in ourselves and in our world:

It is difficult for us to grasp the true nature of sin for several reasons. First, we have always been personally involved in sin and lived in an environment conditioned by sin…Second, our understanding is skewed because of our own sinfulness. Most people tend to think less of their sin than they should in order to excuse themselves. Rather than confess wrongdoing, they do the opposite – they rationalize it…Third, our awareness of what is sinful can easily grow dull with tolerance and exposure to it…Fourth, no human has yet experienced the full weight of sin’s consequences.

© L.D. Turner/2017/All Rights Reserved

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Random Thoughts on Our Identity in Christ (Part One)

L.D. Turner

One of the primary reasons so many Christians walk in much less victory than God intends stems from the fact that they still don’t understand the full extent of the gospel message. For much of our shared history, American Protestants have emphasized the blood of Christ and the atonement for sins. Granted, this is a portion of the gospel truth, however, the mission of Christ was far greater than that. Unfortunately, a significant number of Christians don’t fathom the rich treasures Christ has provided through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascendancy. In order to regain a full perspective on the accomplishments of Christ, our new identity as Children of the Light, and the authority and power granted to us, we need to carefully study Scripture and ascertain the full extent of the blessings of God’s provision through Christ.

Often, we toss about the word salvation and, after hearing the word so many times, lose sight of just what the word implied to the first Christ-followers and, by implication, to us as well. “Sozo” is the Greek word for salvation and it implies a sense of completion, soundness, health, and the absence of disharmony on all levels. Sozo thus refers to a reality far greater than the remission of sins, although that is an important aspect of the word’s meaning. Sozo, taken in its biblical context, refers to the fact that God’s, through Christ, has given His grace whereby we are freed from all obstacles and hindrances that could stand in the way of us becoming all that we were created to be. Salvation implies that through God’s grace we freed from bondage to anything that hinders our ability to become complete in Christ, manifesting our original nature, created in the image of God.

I think that this general lack of awareness on the part of many Christians stems from a complex constellation of factors, but for the sake of simplicity, perhaps we can focus on four sources of misinformation about the full extent of the gospel: the pulpit; the enemy; the world; our own habitual patterns of thought and behavior.

Perhaps many of you are wondering how I could imply that the pulpit may in some way be responsible for our general lack of understanding of who and what we are in Christ. The answer is simple. By choosing to consistently focus on the blood of Christ at the expense of the provisions generated as a result of his resurrection and ascension, many pastors and preachers have contributed to this miasma of misunderstanding. This in no way minimizes the blood of Christ, but instead, it completes the work done on the cross. If Christ died for our sins, but left us completely under the power of “sin,” (our sinful nature), then we would be no better off than the Israelites who were dependent each year on the placing of their sins upon the “scapegoat,” which was then release to wander in the desert until it died. After the Day of Atonement, the Jews then began the process of accumulating sin that would need atonement the following year.

Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers need to repeatedly stress that God has provided all that we need to lead a godly, holy life (see 2 Peter 1:5). Through the blood, our sins are forgiven; through the cross, our sin is dealt with. Unfortunately, the pulpit has not stressed this aspect of the gospel nearly enough.

In terms of the enemy and the world, these two forces often act in concert to minimize what we have been granted in Christ. After all, the popular views of our culture are often in opposition to what God would have us do, whether it is in terms of our actual behavior or, at an even more subtle level, how we think and how we view the world. Let’s take a brief look at how these two forces, Satan and the world, might be a formidable obstacle when it comes to understanding our true blessings “in Christ.”

In today’s spiritual marketplace, the church is often assailed by the enemy in ways both manifest and subtle. One of Satan’s main strategies is to put forth teachings that contain a grain of scriptural truth and, at least on the surface, sound good, especially from a worldly perspective. For example, many contemporary Bible teachers focus on material wealth and prosperity. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with wealth and having possessions, so long as we are not controlled by them. However, these teachers often go to scripture to support their contentions and, in so doing, often miss the point of the particular verse or portion of scripture they cite. Most of the current prosperity gospel advocates justify their teaching by quoting Jesus in John 10:10:

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

According to the prosperity teachers, Jesus was speaking of material abundance when he uttered these words. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Given the situation they were in, I doubt the early Christians were overly concerned with gaining material wealth. In the early days of the church, the prime focus was on solidifying the local church, spreading the gospel, and staying alive.

When Christ spoke of abundance in John 10:10, he was speaking of the fullness of life. Here Jesus is talking about the fact that through his mission, believers will now have the capacity to have the fullness of life that was lost due to the Fall. In essence, He was referring to a restored humanity, now in proper relationship with God and ready to bear fruit.

The theological minutia surrounding the discussions of justification and sanctification can be both confusing and distracting. Although gaining an understanding of these concepts is important, for our present conversation going into depth about such matters would be an unnecessary distraction. For now, let’s just suffice to say that understanding and accepting who we are in Christ is central to the process of spiritual formation. Further, it is important that we see that our adoption into God’s family is an act of grace. Neil Anderson tells us:

Only as we see ourselves as sons and daughters of God can we really grow in holiness (see Romans 8:15). Only as we are free from the task of trying to gain a relationship with God by our own righteousness or cleanness will we be free to appropriate His righteousness and holiness for our growth.  

Without Christ, his work on the cross and in rising from the tomb, we could not even begin to progress in terms of spiritual formation. In order to grow in spirit, we have to be connected to God. Just as a fish cannot thrive unless it is in water, we cannot thrive outside of our natural environment, which is proper connection with God. Christ’s mission accomplished this reconnection with our Maker and made all spiritual formation possible. Without the regeneration provided by the mission of Christ, we would remain in a state of separation from God. Listen to Neil Anderson as he so accurately elaborates this theme:

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with God, who is the fountain of spiritual life. Only through this relationship can we bear new seed or tap into the root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can take place. So unless there is a root of life within the believer – that is, some core of spiritual life – growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow.

The thrust of what is being said in this article is centered on the fact that we need to seize our proper identity in Christ, but in doing so, we must also understand the work of Christ on the cross and through his resurrection and ascension. Underlying this vital comprehension is that fact that we cannot be who and what we were intended to be without being in proper, intimate relationship with God. In order for that to be possible, our relationship must be restored. That’s where the Blood of Christ comes into play. Through his death, in some mysterious way Christ paid the debt for our sin and made reunion with the Father possible.

Beyond that, through his dying to self and rising in new life, we, too, may also die to our old way of being and rise in newness of life. But the story doesn’t end there. Christ, through his ascension into heaven, made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. As Christ himself said, “Unless I leave, the Spirit won’t come.” As stated, Christ’s departure and his seat at the right hand of the Father make possible the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Now, just as the Father walked in the garden with the first couple, the Spirit walks along side of us. Even more important, he has also taken up residence within us.

It is not enough to die and rise again. We must also live in a new manner and it is the Spirit that makes this new way of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating possible. Grasp that, and you are well on your way of appropriating your new identity in Christ.

To be continued . .

(c) L.D. Turner/ 2017/ All Rights Reserved

Christian Success Principles

L.D. Turner

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new

Creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Since I was a child, I have had a passionate fascination with bears. It all started when I was around five-years-old and my family took a vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was on this memorable trip that I saw my first bear and it was love at first sight.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I took every opportunity I could to go and see a bear, whether it be in a carnival, a traveling circus, or in a zoo. I also spent hours studying about bears in encyclopedias and books. I guess no one can really explain why a young person develops these sorts of interests. For many, the fascination passes as adulthood arrives with its myriad responsibilities and other interest. For me, however, I still love bears.

With this information as a backdrop, you can imagine how excited I became back in the early 90’s when I learned that the Miami Zoo had obtained a rare, Tibetan Bear. I was living in Miami at the time and read about the bear in the newspaper. The next day I drove out to the zoo to take a look at the Tibetan Bear.

The zoo in Miami is of the modern type. Animals are not kept in cages, but instead roam with relative freedom, separate from spectators by large ditches, canals, or non-descript fencing. I arrived at the zoo and inquired as to the whereabouts of the Tibetan Bear. I strolled over to the area where the bear was being kept and I was in awe.

A relatively smallish bear, the Tibetan Bear has long hair, brownish red, and a face with much character. The bear was near the small canal that ran between the walkway where I stood and the enclosure where it lived. After observing the animal for several minutes, I noticed something quite odd about its behavior. The bear paced endlessly in the same pattern. It would take eight steps in one direction, slowly pivot on one of its front feet, turn, and take eight steps in the opposite direction. The creature kept this up for the entire time I was there, a total of almost thirty minutes.

Inquiring about this strange behavior, the zookeeper told me the bear was about six-years-old and had lived its entire life in a cage. The eight steps was the exact distance from one side of the cage to the other. The bear had implanted a deep pattern of behavior based on its former environment. It had never been able to take more than eight steps in one direction and now, even though it had the freedom to roam as far as it wanted, it still only took eight steps. According to the zookeeper, a trainer worked with the bear each day in an attempt to help it “unlearn” the old pattern of restrictive behavior. The zookeeper said that most animals that had lived in cages for most of their lives had similar patterns of behavior.

On my way home I reflected on this and had one of those moments of personal epiphany. I realized that I, like the bear and a majority of the Christians that I knew, had a similar problem. Through Christ’s mission on earth, we have had our bars removed as well. The cage of sin and self has been removed and we captives have been set free. As the scripture from 2 Corinthians that opened this article states, “we are new creations.” The old has gone and the new has come. This is part of the good news of the gospel and the result of the healing work Christ’s victory has obtained. Each of us, when we accepted Jesus as Lord, was given a new identity “in Christ.”

So why is it we continue, like the bear, to walk as if we were still behind bars? Why do we continue to behave in the same destructive ways that we did before? Why is it that so few of us seem to walk in the newness of life that Christ promised and Paul spoke of so often?

I think there are many reasons for this unfortunate reality. Part of the reason is just the sheer force of habit. Whenever we repeat a behavior over and over, we tend to eventually do it automatically. In a real sense, we become machine-like. Our world pushes a button and we respond in a predictable way. Another reason is our faulty thinking. Let’s get one fact down deep. Our behavior starts with our thinking or, as said often, the thought is the ancestor of the action. Until we change our thinking, we won’t effectively change our behavior.

Paul realized how important our thinking was to our behavior. That’s why he said we needed to “renew our minds.” All lasting change starts with a mental makeover.

One other reason why we continue to walk in our old ways, even though scripture screams we are new creations, stems from the fact that either we don’t realize that we are new creations or we don’t believe it. Perhaps this needs a bit of clarification.

The Church as a whole has been expert at preaching the gospel of the blood and forgiveness of sin. Christ died as a ransom for many and, even though we don’t deserve it, we can now come into God’s presence as if we were spotless. As great a message as this is, it only half the story. Yes, Christ won our forgiveness but he also did something else. He won our victory over our sin and our sinful nature. Go back and review Romans 5-8 to get a true picture of all this.

By his resurrection and his ascension Christ has made possible, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our sanctification, meaning, we are now operating under a new set of circumstances, with the Holy Spirit working inside of us. Many Christians are unaware of this reality for two primary reasons: first, the vast majority of believers are biblically illiterate. Recent studies by George Barna more than bear this out; and second, pastors typically preach more about the blood than they do the resurrection, the ascension, and our subsequent empowerment.

Other Christians are aware of the fact that they are new creations in Christ, but just don’t believe it. This is a tragedy because just the act of believing what scripture says about us goes a long way toward helping us to manifest this new reality in our lives. Look at it like this: we receive salvation by accepting Christ’s atonement by faith; why don’t we also accept the second half of the gospel by faith? Why don’t we, using our faith in all that Christ has accomplished, accept the gift of our own progressive movement toward receiving the “fullness of Christ?”

In essence, a big part of our problem as Christians is the fact that we sell ourselves short. We don’t understand who we are and what we are in Christ. Even more devastating, we don’t accept and apply our new identity to daily living and we end up only being marginally effective. Like the Tibetan Bear, we pace back and forth in the same old ruts, the same old worn out ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. If we continue to do this and expect results any different than what we have experienced in the past, we are sadly mistaken.

No, my friends, it is time for a change and that change begins with recognizing, understanding, accepting, and applying the blessed gifts of being “in Christ.” I encourage you to not put this off another day. Start today by taking a few minutes out of your schedule, sitting down and getting quiet and centered, and ask God to reveal to you the full understanding of your status as his child. Ask God to show you, especially in scripture, just what Christ accomplished for you in his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his successful mission into this world.

Begin a personal Bible study in which you explore this whole business of being “in Christ.” Keep a notebook handy and jot down your thoughts, insights, and ideas. They may be useful reminders as you move forward in the process of appropriating your new identity.

In closing, let me recommend a couple of books for you. The two titles are, Victory Over Darkness and God’s Power at Work in You. Both of these great books are by Neil Anderson, noted author and teacher. By and large, much of Anderson’s teaching is a bit too conservative for my taste. However, I can say without reservation that he has done perhaps the best job of spelling out the reality of our new identity in Christ that I have ever encountered. Further, he does an excellent job in detailing things that we can do to appropriate that identity and make it a day – to – day reality. Another title by Anderson, Bondage Breaker, is also very good.

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

The Christian Call To Sacrificial Living

L.D. Turner

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 that the hinge upon which the Christian faith swings is obedience, or, to express it quite bluntly, putting his teachings into practice. I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect in this regard, a reality my wife is especially fond of pointing out when we are in disagreement over some matter.

Still, we cannot afford to ignore the importance of manifesting the principles that Jesus pointed out that constituted the true Christian life. Jesus did not call us to a lukewarm form of discipleship. Instead, he called us to take up our personal crosses and follow him. This is truly a call to sacrificial living and becoming more “other-centered” and less self-focused. Much has been written on this aspect of the Christian life. One of my favorite descriptions of this sort of life-focus was penned by Steven Manskar in his book Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household. Referring to the United Methodist General Rule of Discipleship Manskar states:

The General Rule of Discipleship begins with the idea that disciples are people who are witnesses to and for Jesus Christ in the world. A witness is someone who has an experience to share, a story to tell. Disciples share their experience of Jesus Christ by telling and participating in his story, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Disciples tell the good news of God’s love for the world made flesh and blood in Jesus Christ by living as though Christ lived in them. They are living by their words and actions, his continuing story of salvation, healing, wholeness, compassion, and justice (shalom) in their daily lives. . . . . . .Their faith is integrated into their daily lives and is not limited to the confines of the church. They are the living, breathing body of Christ working in the world to point the way to God and God’s kingdom of compassion and justice.

Disciples witness to Jesus Christ in the world by following his teachings. They live his story by making his teachings, his life, his commandments part of their lives. This is how they live out their covenant relationship with God and God’s church. Disciples bring good news to the poor, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind and liberate the oppressed (Luke 4:16-18). They feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked (Matthew 25:37-40). Disciples love God and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). They love one another as Christ loves them (John 13:34-35). They forgive as Christ forgives them (Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, disciples order their lives according to the teachings and commandments of their teacher, their Lord, their brother and friend: Jesus Christ. They do this so the light of Christ may shine through them for the world, making them channels of grace.

A person is a channel of grace when he or she witnesses to Christ and follows his teachings.

I think these words of Manskar are both profound and practical. The call to the Christian path is, contrary to popular belief, a call to sacrificial living. It is a call to place the needs of others above the petty needs that we might have. If we want a clear picture of what this call entails, all we have to do is carry out a detailed study of the life of Jesus.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2017

God Does Not Accept Letters of Resignation

L.D. Turner

I had the good fortune of spending most of my formative childhood years growing up on the southwest coast of Florida. The area from Tampa Bay south, all the way down the coast to Naples, was a haven for two types of people in general: “snow birds” who were mostly retired and lived half the year in northern states like Michigan, Ohio, New York, and the like; and other retired folks who lived in the Sunshine State year round.

From a fairly early age, I was an observant sort of child who never took things at face value, but instead, looked to find the reasons for the way things worked as they did. I soon noticed that for some reason, aside from obvious health or economic issues, some of the retired folks seemed happy, active, and more than content with their lot in life, whereas others often walked around our little town looking for all the world like they had just been baptized in pickle brine.

A generally curious child, I set about trying to discover the reasons for this dichotomy that existed among the retirees on Florida’s “Sun Coast.” Space does not allow for an in depth sociological analysis of this issue, nor am I capable of pulling of such a undertaking. I will, however, offer up what I think may have been, and remains to this day, the primary cause of such a difference in the quality of life among these senior citizens. Put simply, what I discovered, and many social researchers have since validated, is this:

Those retirees that had a happier and more positive quality of life had a clear sense of meaning, purpose, and calling in life. Those who had a more negative life experience did not.

I mention all of this because I think it points to a vital issue in healthy aging and also gives us a clear revelation of the kind of God that is the creative force behind the universe. The fact that those retirees exhibiting a more positive, rewarding, and useful lifestyle possessed a sense of purpose and calling points to a reality that scripture repeatedly affirms. God places a personal and unique purpose or “calling” in our lives and when we work toward fulfilling that purpose or calling, our life experience is more positive and rewarding. Further, the Creator equips us with the very gifts we need in order to carry out that unique mission that is ours.

These spiritual realities and how they connect with the issues of aging and retirement are critically important in this age we find ourselves in. In America, the population is aging and the Baby Boomer generation is entering their golden years. Although the economic realities of this age make retirement a pipe dream for more than a few boomers, there remain a significant number who are or soon will be leaving the work force.

Others may have to cut back on working hours or leave employment altogether for health reasons. Even though we have made great advancement in terms of medical care, illness still strikes with alarming regularity and for many, disability becomes a reality that must be faced.

I speak of these matters from more than just an observational or academic perspective. I have lived and am currently living it. I have been struggling with progressive heart disease since my mid-forties and throughout it all, God has given me a number of challenges and callings that, when I took risks and followed his leading, proved fruitful beyond my greatest expectation.

Over the years my own personal callings have led to the formation of a thriving ministry to the homeless, a coalition of service-oriented partnerships among Chinese congregations in South Florida, serving five years on the mission field in Mainland China, and the founding of LifeBrook and its ongoing development.

The unfortunate reality is many people reach their retirement years and feel like they are used up – like they have nothing left to offer. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You have a lifetime of experience to draw upon and I am certain that there are people that are in need of exactly what you have to offer. God knows you, and he knows what people need. Flowing from this divine knowledge, he may very well plant a seed of calling in your heart. Your job is to be sensitive to that calling, however faint it may seem, and act upon it. You are never too old, too washed out or washed up. God can use you and will use you. Frank Damazio, in his fine book Attitude of Faith speaks the truth when he says:

God has a plan for you, a word for you, a future for you. God has something great in store for you. You are not too old to believe and imagine. There have been people in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties who didn’t allow their ages to limit their abilities to imagine and, as a result, brought about their greatest life accomplishments in their latter years.

The fact is, the pages of the Bible are filled with the exploits of older individuals who, following God’s leading, accomplished things that would have seemed impossible to most. Abraham and Moses, for example, were far from spring chickens when God called them out and set them on their way to great accomplishments. I don’t care how old you are, God can and will call you as well. The question again remains: How will you respond? Will you say yes to the Master’s call to a great adventure or will you refuse, choosing instead to stagger across the finish line of life instead of going out at full gallop?

I assure you that if you respond in a positive, proactive manner to the Creator’s calling, you can realistically expect that he will meet you where you are. Yes, you may encounter difficulties and setbacks in pursuing the vision God has placed in you, but you can trust God to do his part and, in the end, you will succeed. I love this version of 1 Samuel 2:8 from The Message:

God puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives – a place in the sun!

Yes, God is in the business of restoring burned-out, tired people and rekindling forgotten dreams. He is the source of all that is and he wants you to succeed in the purpose to which he has called you. For this reason you can approach the future with positive expectation. Once again, let’s listen to Frank Damazio:

God wants to rekindle a fire in your heart. If you are confined to a sickbed, He is with you. If you are trapped in a hopeless situation, He will bring hope to your heart. He will give you a fresh expectation for what He can do in and through you, starting right where you are. He has His hand on you, and He will use you where you are to do great things for Him.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been, and what you have done. That divine purpose still exists inside you and with a little effort and a lot of faith, you can discover it. Start with prayer, asking God through the Holy Spirit to reveal his divine plan for your life. Be persistent in your asking; be vigilant in waiting for an answer; and be confident that the answer will come.

Also, keep in mind that it is never too late to get started on the dreams God has for you. God created you to accomplish extraordinary things and no matter how old you are, how sinful you have been, or whatever afflictions you may suffer from, God can and will use you because that is one of the primary purposes you were created in the first place. Listen as Jim Graff speaks clearly to this issue:

God uses ordinary people – with all their flaws and problems – to accomplish extraordinary dreams. You and I don’t have to wait until we have it all together, achieve a certain degree of fame, earn a specified amount of money, get a better job, or meet the right person. Instead, we can start today to embrace who we are and how God made us, knowing that he will use us. From this knowledge, wellsprings of confidence water our hearts. That confidence allows us to see our dreams and visions as God’s road maps to significant lives.

A significant life – that is what God created you for. Make a consecrated commitment right now to lead a life of excellence in cooperation and divine partnership with the Holy Spirit. The life of excellence is what Jesus demonstrated for us and it is that same kind of life to which each of us is called. Sure, we may foul up things from time to time, but God is right there with us offering a hand to pick us up, dust us off, and send us on our divinely appointed way.

© L.D. Turner 2013/2017 All Rights Reserved

Daily Living: Grist for the Mindfulness Mill

One of the cultural drawbacks we seem to have here in the West is the tendency to separate things into various and sundry categories or typologies. This is especially true when it comes to the spiritual life. Our culture has a habit of separating the spiritual path from daily living. The result is that many things that happen in our lives either go unnoticed or are trivialized and, as a result, we often miss important spiritual lessons. The fact is all of life can be our teacher. Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck speaks clearly to this issue:

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or desperation, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath.

I often hear students pursuing spiritual development complaining that life is too demanding, too hectic to allow for real spiritual transformation. The thought of finding time to meditate, for example, seems totally beyond the scope of reasonable expectation:

“Did you ever try to get two kids and a lazy, chronically distracted husband to school and work on time?” So remarked a thirtyish participant at one of LifeBrook’s introductory Zen classes. “I face that five mornings a week, and that’s before I start getting ready for my job.”

No doubt many can relate to the chaos this woman is describing. I know I can. I have found that most folks can find the time to squeeze in at least a brief meditation period at some point during the day. These brief periods, if pursued with commitment and discipline, can be far more beneficial than you think. However, that is not my main point for writing this article. What I hope to get across is that meditation, as important as it is, is only a small part of mindfulness practice.

One helpful way of making sense of mindfulness practice is to define it in terms of formal practice and informal practice. In our formal practice, what we are doing is meditation. This aspect of mindfulness practice can take many forms but most often, it involves sitting quietly and observing the breath. Informal practice involves maintaining periods of mindfulness throughout the day. Informal practice can also take many forms, from something as simple as pausing a moment to watch your breath each time you turn a door knob or cross a threshold. Informal practice can be something as seemingly mundane as walking the dog or changing a baby’s diaper.

Given the frenetic pace of modern life, mindfulness practice offers us a way to incorporate our spiritual practice into the very fabric of our daily lives. And when you think about it, that is exactly where our spirituality should be. Lama Surya Das, an American Buddhist teacher trained in the Tibetan tradition makes a cogent point regarding this aspect of spiritual practice:

Today it seems to me that we have little choice but to assimilate all we experience into our spiritual lives; it is all grist for the mill, manure on fertile fields of spiritual flowers. The sacred and the mundane are inseparable. Your life is your path. Your disappointments are part of your path; your dry cleaning and your dry cleaner are on your path; ditto your credit card payments. It’s not helpful to wait until you have more time for meditation or contemplation, because it may never happen. Cultivating spirituality and awareness has to become a full-time vocation, and for most of us this has to take place within the context of a secular life here in the Western Hemisphere.

Whether we are sitting on our cushion or seat in formal meditation or whether we are folding laundry or drying the dishes, the principles of mindfulness remain the same. Our practice is the same in the zendo and in the traffic jam: we are to fully engage the moment as we pass through it. Lama Surya Das continues:

For you, the seeker, what matters is how you attend to the present moment. This includes motivation, intention, aspiration, desire, hope, and expectation. This is not just about what you do but how you do it. The present moment is where the rubber actually meets the road. Your traction on the path, spiritually speaking, depends on how you apply your heart and soul.

In order to “gain traction” on the spiritual path it is best for us to be realistic and reasonable with ourselves. What this means on a practical level is that we have to be both perceptive and honest. We have to be perceptive enough to realize that we cannot train ourselves like monks and nuns – not while we are living in the contemporary world. By accepting this fact, those of us who are highly committed to the path we have chosen can relax a bit and go easy on ourselves. We can come to the realization that five minutes of solid, committed practice of meditation and/or mindfulness can be of tremendous benefit. We also freely understand and accept that on some days, five minutes may be all we can spare.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have to be honest with ourselves about our commitment to practice. Many times I have found that people who insist they don’t have time for practice actually have plenty of time, but they lack the discipline and will to get down to doing it. Like many in our “quick fix” culture, these folks want the benefits of mindfulness training and meditation practice without the effort required to secure those benefits. Like the “Beauty School Dropout” in the musical “Grease,” these seekers” have the dream but not the drive.”

Beyond perception and honesty, we also need sincerity. Taking up spiritual practice requires a consecrated commitment if it is to be fruitful. Dabbling here and there, taking a little of this and a dab of that is interesting and spiritually stimulating, but does not reap lasting rewards. If you want to move forward with your spiritual practice, whatever the tradition, brace yourself for some hard work. Again, sincerity is essential. Buddhist writer Andrew Weiss tells us:

Offering ourselves sincerely to the moment is the key to good practice. Our intention in practicing mindfulness is more important than any technique. Many meditation teachers have pointed out that all the skill and effort in meditation will not yield fruit if we do not have this sincere desire to wake up…..Five minutes of practice with the sincere desire to wake up to the present moment is worth more than a lifetime of practice without it.

Our daily lives, rather than posing obstacles to spiritual practice, offer the optimal venue for growth. This is especially true when it comes to mindfulness training. Our task is to train in the ability to completely give ourselves to the present moment, whatever we may be doing. Although initially challenging and at times frustrating, if we persevere at this task we will find that the benefits will be well worth our efforts.

(c) L.D. Turner 2010/ 2017 All Rights Reserved

A Call to Sacrificial Living

L.D. Turner

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 that the hinge upon which the Christian faith swings is obedience, or, to express it quite bluntly, putting his teachings into practice. I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect in this regard, a reality my wife is especially fond of pointing out when we are in disagreement over some matter.

Still, we cannot afford to ignore the importance of manifesting the principles that Jesus pointed out that constituted the true Christian life. Jesus did not call us to a lukewarm form of discipleship. Instead, he called us to take up our personal crosses and follow him. This is truly a call to sacrificial living and becoming more “other-centered” and less self-focused. Much has been written on this aspect of the Christian life. One of my favorite descriptions of this sort of life-focus was penned by Steven Manskar in his book Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household. Referring to the United Methodist General Rule of Discipleship Manskar states:

The General Rule of Discipleship begins with the idea that disciples are people who are witnesses to and for Jesus Christ in the world. A witness is someone who has an experience to share, a story to tell. Disciples share their experience of Jesus Christ by telling and participating in his story, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Disciples tell the good news of God’s love for the world made flesh and blood in Jesus Christ by living as though Christ lived in them. They are living by their words and actions, his continuing story of salvation, healing, wholeness, compassion, and justice (shalom) in their daily lives. . . . . . .Their faith is integrated into their daily lives and is not limited to the confines of the church. They are the living, breathing body of Christ working in the world to point the way to God and God’s kingdom of compassion and justice.

Disciples witness to Jesus Christ in the world by following his teachings. They live his story by making his teachings, his life, his commandments part of their lives. This is how they live out their covenant relationship with God and God’s church. Disciples bring good news to the poor, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind and liberate the oppressed (Luke 4:16-18). They feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked (Matthew 25:37-40). Disciples love God and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). They love one another as Christ loves them (John 13:34-35). They forgive as Christ forgives them (Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, disciples order their lives according to the teachings and commandments of their teacher, their Lord, their brother and friend: Jesus Christ. They do this so the light of Christ may shine through them for the world, making them channels of grace.

A person is a channel of grace when he or she witnesses to Christ and follows his teachings. (26-27)

I think these words of Manskar are both profound and practical. The call to the Christian path is, contrary to popular belief, a call to sacrificial living. It is a call to place the needs of others above the petty needs that we might have. If we want a clear picture of what this call entails, all we have to do is carry out a detailed study of the life of Jesus.

Think about it

© L.D. Turner 2017