The Significance of Living the Christian Life (Part One)

L.D. Turner

Living the kind of life Christ called us to is at times complicated and at others, quite simple. At the bottom line, it involves obedience, pure and simple.

We are given a hint at this when the Master announces what he came to accomplish on a daily basis. Paraphrasing Isaiah, Jesus proclaims good news for the oppressed:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim the captives will be released and prisoners will be freed,

Now that the Lord has given us at least a vague notion of his mission here on this planet, I think it is safe to assume he expects us to follow his lead. We can find this clearly delineated in Matthew 7, especially toward the end. What follows is an article I wrote on LifeBrook several years back.

Few sections of the New Testament have received as much attention as those chapters in the Gospel of Matthew that constitute what is traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Containing what is generally considered as a synopsis of the most important teachings of the Master, much ink has been devoted to the early verses known as the Beatitudes, and considerable pages have also been written commenting on the other teachings that come later.

Perhaps the fewest words, however, have been devoted to the closing verses of the sermon. In particular I am speaking of the seventh chapter of Matthew, verses 13-28, where Jesus pretty much wraps things up by talking about how difficult these teachings really are and warning prospective followers about false teachers and even the dangers of self-deception. After prayerfully reflecting on these verses for some time now, I have arrived at the conclusion that these passages, often skimmed over in our haste to finish this section of scripture, contain critical teachings for not only prospective Christians, but also for those who think they are firmly entrenched in the faith.

Before proceeding any further, let’s take a look at what the Master says:

You can enter God’s kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.” But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching. For he taught with real authority – quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

There is enough meat on these biblical bones to occupy us for page after page of reflection. It is a mystery to me why Bible teachers, pastors, and other commentators spend such little time on the closing verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Granted, the entire section of Matthew is worthy of much reflection, but that doesn’t minimize the importance of these concluding remarks. There is one part of the passage that has particularly far-reaching ramifications, eternal ramifications in fact, and it is to those verses that we now turn.

In verses 21-23 Jesus very clearly describes those that are his true disciples. He does this right after talking about false teachers and advising that we judge a person by the fruit they produce, not by what they say or how they appear. In doing things in this order, Jesus seems to be implying that it is important to judge the veracity of a person by how they live their lives and, at the same time, to examine how we are living as well. The implication here is that it is easy to deceive ourselves in terms of whether or not we are actually true disciples that will see the Kingdom of Heaven. Again, Jesus says in verses 21-23:

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name. But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws. (New Living Translation.)

Jesus wasn’t addressing these words to those outside the boundaries of contemporary religion, in this case those that were outsiders and not Jews. Instead, Christ was zeroing in on the very leaders of the Hebrew faith. David Platt describes it this way:

Jesus was not speaking here to irreligious people, atheists, or agnostics. He was not speaking to pagans or heretics. He was speaking to devoutly religious people who were deluded into thinking they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven when they were actually on the broad road that leads to hell. According to Jesus, one day not just a few but many will be shocked – eternally shocked – to find that they were not in the kingdom of God after all.

Let me share with you an experience I had with this passage of scripture, an experience which was, in retrospect, an epiphany of sorts. Several years ago I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount as a part of my devotional time. At the time I was working on an extended reflective essay on the Beatitudes so this quiet time studying and praying over these scriptures had been a part of my focus for several weeks. I slowly worked my way toward the end of the sermon, hoping for some sort of new insight or fresh angle from which to approach the scriptures.

Little did I know the Holy Spirit had prepared an ambush.

It is hard to put into words exactly what happened as the words of Matthew 7: 21-23 rocketed from the page, tore through my defenses, and stopped me stone cold in my tracks. I had read these verses many times before but on that particular morning, in some vivid yet inexplicable way, it was as if I were seeing them for the first time. Moreover, I was seeing quite clearly, with frightening clarity actually, exactly what the Master was getting at here.

Basically, he was saying that on the Day of Judgment many folks who think they have their ticket punched for the Promised Land are in for a rude awakening. Cry out as they may, these unfortunate souls who thought they were in the club of the chosen, who had even worked and served in the Lord’s name, were going to be told to hit the bricks.

After my initial shock, my next response was one of great sympathy for these folks. How awful it will be for these people, many of them perhaps well-meaning Christian professionals, maybe even pastors and teachers, will have their hopes dashed on that fateful day. How awful it will be for these believers to hear the Master tell them, “Depart, I never knew you.”

Then it finally hit me like a two-by-four in the back of the head:

What if he’s talking about me?

To be continued . . . . .

(c) L.D. Turner 2018/All Rights Reserved

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Wise Words for Today

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

Dr. Myles Munroe

(from Releasing Your Potential)

Wise Words for Today

God stampeded the first century society with swaybacks, not thoroughbreds. Before Jesus came along, the disciples were loading trucks, coaching soccer, and selling Slurpee drinks at the convenience store. Their collars were blue, and their hands were calloused, and there is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were smarter or nicer than the guy next door. The one thing they had going for them was a willingness to take a step when Jesus said, “Follow me.”. . . . . . .Are you more dinghy than cruise ship? More stand-in than movie star? More plumber than executive? More blue jeans than blue blood?

Congratulations. God changes the world with folks like you.

Max Lucado (from Outlive Your Life)

Let’s Cut to the Chase: Are You Really a Follower of Christ? (Part One)

Jesus calls Levi. From book: The Life of Jesus...
Jesus calls Levi. From book: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Eighty Pictures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

A few months back I read a very informative book entitled, “Not a Fan,” written by Kyle Idleman. The book got me to thinking and prayerfully reflecting on the problematic situation the contemporary church finds itself in and this essay is mostly a synopsis of that experience.

Idleman stresses the difference between what he calls a “fan” of Jesus and a “follower” of Jesus. The former may believe but does not follow. The latter believes and follows.

Many have made a decision to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Jesus. The gospel allows for no such distinction. Biblical belief is more than mental assent or verbal acknowledgment. Many fans have repeated a prayer or raised their hand or walked forward at the end of a sermon and made a decision to believe, but there was never a commitment to follow. Jesus never offered such an option. He is looking for more than words of belief; he is looking to see how those words are lived out in your life. When we decide to believe Jesus without making a commitment to follow him, we become noting more than fans.

These works penned by Idleman cut straight to the chase if you think about it. Personally, I think that many of the problems in the church today, and certainly much of the negative image Christianity has in our culture, can be traced back to this very dichotomy – the split between those who believe in Jesus and those who actually follow his teachings. Far too many of us are fans but not followers. It really is that simple.

Jesus told us that it is wise to count the costs before setting out on the journey with him. This was indeed very wise counsel. Unfortunately, the church has done a very poor job in educating its new “believers” on what they are signing up for when they become a true Christian. They are rarely told they are enrolling in a way of life in which they will be called upon to deny themselves on a consistent basis and to more often than not, swim upstream against the tide of postmodern culture. Even more rarely are they told anything about the business of dying to self on a daily basis and flat out having to choose to not do what their flesh is screaming for them to do and their own mind may well be telling them it is permissible to do.

Instead, potential new Christians are told that all they have to do is “accept Christ as their personal savior” and/or “make a decision for Christ.” All they have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and their heavenly ticket is punched. Never mind the nasty stuff Jesus says in Matthew 7: 21-27. After all, he did say his yoke was easy. And compared to the religious legalism the Pharisees were placing on the people of his day, Jesus’ teachings were indeed a light yoke. Unfortunately, far too many Christian teachers have taken this teaching to mean that the Christian path is easy. As a result, far too many “believers” are content with a shallow, feel-good faith that risks nothing and contributes nothing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.

My friends, this is not what the Master had in mind.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7: 13-14 ESV)

David Platt, in his excellent book Follow Me, sums up Jesus’ point and the crisis in today’s pews when he says:

In other words, there is a broad religious road that is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing that’s required of you is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don’t have to worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-righteousness or self-indulgence, will be tolerated along the way.

I doubt many Christians would care to admit that Platt’s words are an accurate description of their commitment to Jesus and their walk of faith, yet my fear is that in far too many cases it is exactly that – a description of the true shallowness of where they stand spiritually. And as I said earlier, as Christians, we are not called to this wide gate and easy road. Platt continues:

But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down a hard road, and the word Jesus uses for “hard” is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation, and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and hated by many.

To be continued…

(C) L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Picture of Jesus with American flag
Picture of Jesus with American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost unknowingly, we all have a tendency to redefine Christianity according to our own tastes, preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable. We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive politically correct, middle-class American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.

But Jesus isn’t customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has spoken clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. He transforms minds through his truth. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches.

David Platt

(from Follow Me)

Wise Words for Today

Dream Center service at Angelus Temple
Dream Center service at Angelus Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this morning’s quiet time, the Spirit gently led  me to these inspirational words by Matthew Barnett, taken from his book, The Cause Within You.

Life is much simpler than we make it.

God’s objective is for you to live an outward looking life – that is, not worried about yourself, but focused on the needs of others and how you can respond to those needs. When you embrace that mind-set, you are on the precipice of influence and success because that’s a perspective that God will bless. As soon as you start thinking about the needs and burdens of others, and what you can do to alleviate them, or how you can bless and build up others, you begin to establish a new identity for yourself – your true identity.

It doesn’t take a person with unusual training or ability to change the world. All it takes is a heart that cares, a mind that’s determined, a spirit that’s willing, a cause that matters, and a person to help.

In Defense of Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren (foreground) and Tony Jones, Yal...
Brian McLaren (foreground) and Tony Jones, Yale Theological Conversation, Yale Divinity School, February 2006; Photograph: Virgil Vaduva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Brian McLaren takes a substantial amount of vitriolic criticism from the Fundamentalist and Evangelical camps of Christianity. Calling him everything from an outright heretic to an ambassador of Old Scratch himself, McLaren is high up on the Public Enemy List of those in the church that are blinded by tradition, antiquated doctrine, and yes, even personal ignorance.

It is easy to see how McLaren winds up in the crosshairs of these folks so often. In his writings, workshops, speeches, and interviews he consistently calls for the need to develop new, more relevant wineskins in which to present the Christian faith and in so doing, often steps on sensitive theological and doctrinal toes in the process. The response from the more conservative faction of Christianity has been less than loving and more akin to slanderous attacks on the man, his thought, and his ministry.

I find this a tragic turn of events, because the church is sorely in need of prophetic voices like that of Brian McLaren. As the Body of Christ continues to hemorrhage members in staggering numbers and comes under an increasingly negative view from the very people it needs to reach, it is plainly evident that something new and vital is needed to stop the bleeding. And that is exactly what McLaren describes in his numerous books and articles.

Squarely facing the weaknesses in the modern church, McLaren is not timid about calling into question areas where the church has gone off the rails. For example, the American church has slowly but consistently imbibed our cultural ethics of rugged individualism, hard work, competition, and social stratification. Over time, this marriage of church and “Americanism” has given birth to an institution that is far more concerned with supporting the social status quo than serving Christ. Other writers have pointed this out, most notably David Platt, but McLaren seems to draw more fire from the Evangelical zealots. This is unfortunate because by confronting the realities of the situation as it now stands, he is issuing a clarion call for the Body of Christ to get back on track and put serving Christ back at the forefront of its endeavors. In assessing the current identity crisis in the church, McLaren cogently asserts:

……….religion, even the religion we are committed to and in which we have found God and purpose and meaning and truth, can become captive to a colossal distortion. It can become a benign and passive chaplaincy to a failing and dysfunctional culture, the religious public relations department for an inadequate and destructive ideology. It can forego being a force of liberation and transformation and instead become a source of domestication, resignation, pacification, and distraction.

This is not to say that the church in its present form does not perform much-needed service. There are numerous examples of congregations legitimately standing in as the arms, hands, feet, and heart of Christ in areas of desperate need. Yet many times these very acts, though serving a useful purpose, are often inconsistent and done from improper motivations rather than a genuine, heartfelt response to Christ.

Ideally, the church should serve as an institution of both service and education. It should educate the members in the real reason that we are called to selfless, sacrificial service in the first place. In addition, the church should be making its congregants acutely aware of the areas of dysfunction in our culture and how the message of Jesus and his kingdom apply to those dysfunctional areas. McLaren continues:

A right understanding of God and faith can train people to hold their heads high, to doubt the lies of a dysfunctional society and to work for its transformation. But a misguided understanding can be an opiate that keeps their heads down in submission or desperation so they continue to serve the societal system that is destroying them, believing its lies, performing according to its self-destructive script.

Perhaps nowhere is this process of cultural imbibing and downward spiral more evident than in the unholy alliance forged by Evangelical and Fundamentalist segments of the faith with the Republican Party. This unfortunate, illegitimate marriage took place in the run up to the 1980 election and has deepened and expanded over the past three-plus decades. As a result, study after study indicate that people are staying away from the church in massive numbers, stating that if one has to be a Republican to be a Christian, then, no thanks. For their part, the Christians seem alright with this state of affairs, evidently either oblivious to or in total disagreement with Jesus’ prime directive of “go and make disciples.” What is even more ironic about this is the fact that the typical Republican platform, at least in national politics, is antithetical to the teachings of Christ. How this phenomenon grew and continues is mind boggling.

The fact is, the church needs to distance itself from either political party. The pulpit is not a place for politics and it is imperative that the church as a whole understands this. The reality of the matter is this and I am not too timid to say it: By joining at the hip with the Republican Party, the Evangelical wing of the church has done more damage to the Body of Christ than any event in modern history. I can relate story after story after story of people who have told me they steer clear of the church because of its perceived alliance with right wing politics. Friends, this is not what Christ envisioned for his bride.

I know this may enrage some of my readers but we have to get honest with ourselves about this issue. As long as the Religious Right, and those that support them, have such great influence in the Christian church, the exodus from the church will continue unabated. Further, with dwindling numbers and an increasingly negative image in the public consciousness, the influence of the church on contemporary culture will be further eroded. I find it highly ironic that the very push to impact society through political action and partisan politics has fostered the opposite result. The sooner leaders of this wing of the church wrap their heads around these undeniable realties, the sooner healing can begin.

One thing we cannot opt for is more of the same.

I would encourage those of you who sincerely have great affection for the church and those with a vision of what a great resource the Body of Christ can be in addressing the problems of today’s world to read some of Brian McLaren’s books. I don’t agree with everything McLaren says and I doubt you will, either. Yet I do recognize a prophetic voice when I hear it (or read it). I do agree with much of McLaren’s thinking and further, I appreciate the fact that he acknowledges that he doesn’t have all the answers, yet feels hopeful that answers can be found through creative dialogue and mutual respect.

I would specifically recommend three of his books, perhaps read in this order: The Secret Message of Jesus; Everything Must Change; A New Kind of Christianity. Prepare to have your thinking challenged, especially if you are of a classical Evangelical or Fundamentalist frame of mind. Still, I implore those of you in this category not to avoid McLaren just because you might disagree with some of his ideas. The fact is, we need to have our thinking challenged on a regular basis. It is only through challenge to our status quo that we can grow and this principle is especially true when it comes to our spiritual development.

All of us, no matter what theological framework we are aligned with, need to explore thinkers from other schools of thought. It is only by engaging in this sort of eclectic study can we fully grasp the wonderful range of responses to God’s incredible act of grace through Jesus Christ. If you could see my bookshelf, you would know that in this case I practice what I preach. I have read a wide range of authors, from Chuck Colson to Marcus Borg and just about anything in between. And I have benefited from all of them in one way or another.

I am certain you will as well.

© L.D. Turner 2012/ All Rights Reserved