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

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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

Cultivating Sacred Character: The Role of Spiritual Disciplines (Part Two)

Mick Turner

In Part One of this essay, we discussed the importance of engaging in the classical Christian spiritual disciplines if we are to work with the Holy Spirit in cultivating Sacred Character in our lives. Certainly scripture is not silent on this issue of discipline and discipleship. Scripture, especially the New Testament, repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, prayer, meditation, and spiritual endeavors.

It is apparent, however, that the church lost its focus on the practice of spiritual disciplines over the years. As mentioned in Part One, I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the historical “faith/works” controversy. The result has been a general sense of confusion on the part of the Christian community in terms of the spiritual technology available to those who desire a deeper walk of faith.

One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” Dallas Willard speaks directly to this tragedy:

For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional.

This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers. Willard understands this necessity:

Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world. Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of this age. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.

The notion that deep discipleship was optional was not a part of the early church. Willard continues:

…there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggest that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him.

In Paul’s remarkable prayer to the Ephesians (3:19) he petitions the Lord that “you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Have you ever really reflected on the magnitude of what the Apostle is saying in these few words? Basically, what Paul is asking God is that the believers in Ephesus become like Jesus. Any close examination of scripture reveals that the goal of our development as disciples of Christ is to become Christ-like; in essence, we are to cultivate Sacred Character.

Later on in Ephesians (4:15) Paul goes on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This statement by Paul should not surprise us. Two verses earlier he flatly that in achieving maturity, we are to attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I don’t know about you, but when I read this statement two things immediately occur within me. First, I am strongly convicted about how far I am from manifesting this kind of maturity in my daily life but, secondly, I am filled with hope that it is at least remotely possible. Paul would have never put it this way, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, unless it was indeed true.

In addition to the church’s general lack of focus on the spiritual disciplines and their strategic necessity in the life of the believer, two other problems seem to complicate the issue and result in either lackluster commitment to practicing the disciplines or, even worse, a general paralysis on the part of Christians when they attempt to make the disciplines a vital part of their walk of faith.

First, even though many churches are now speaking directly to the importance of the spiritual disciplines, it seems that this renewed focus spawns a loud and most often irrational outcry from fundamentalist believers who feel practicing the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow either a “New Age infiltration of the church,” or worse still, “the work of Satan.” This resistance is usually based on the general lack of understanding of what advocates of the spiritual disciplines are trying to accomplish. Writers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, and countless others are branded “arch-heretics,” “apostates,” and even “dupes of the enemy.” This is highly unfortunate because nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of leading people away from the truth of the gospel, these authors are, instead, making a compassionate attempt to direct people toward experiencing the very heart of the gospel.

The blather and fear-based banter of these self-appointed doctrinal “watchmen” only serves to confuse sincere Christians even more and many times prevents them from finding the true heart of the gospel message. Even worse, keeps them bound in the chains of a narrow, rigid world view which is devoid of spirituality and arid when it comes to Christian love.

A second problem stems from the fact that the classic spiritual traditions were formulated centuries ago and are often wrapped in language and tone that is quite alien from our 21st Century world. I know from personal experience that studying the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages is a very fruitful endeavor, but can be quite a challenge due to the archaic language used in the texts. What is needed is a reformulation of the disciplines that is both understandable and engaging to the modern reader.

With this thought in mind, here at LifeBrook we have developed a method of exploring the principles that are contained in the classical spiritual traditions that is hopefully more pertinent and practical when it comes to life in the 21st Century. In brief, we teach workshops, seminars, training programs, and e-courses based on the following breakout of the disciplines:

Discipline of Consecration

Discipline of Connection

Discipline of Cognition

Discipline of Contribution

Discipline of Community

Discipline of Comprehension

Discipline of Calling

Discipline of Cultural Engagement

Discipline of Cultivation

Consecration includes: decision, determination, diligence, commitment, perseverance, patience, etc. Consecration occurs when we have decided in the depth of our hearts that we want to experience and possess all that God has for us. Scripture alludes to the fact that God has graciously provided us with all that we need to live a life of holiness, fulfillment, and usefulness. These free gifts of grace now exist on the spiritual realm and it is part of our spiritual unfolding to bring God’s blessings for us down out of the spiritual world and into manifestation in our daily lives.

Connection includes: prayer, meditation, contemplation, solitude, nature

Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination. Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds and it is in the Discipline of Conscious Cognition that we work with the Holy Spirit to bring about this transformation of our thought life. The Discipline of Conscious Cognition is based on the reality that everything begins with our thoughts. This principle cannot be stated too often. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

Contribution includes: sacred service; spiritual gifts; mission; sacrifice, and most importantly, continuing incarnation.

Community includes: our family and friends; our church; our community; our nature; our world.

Comprehension includes: sacred study of Scripture and other inspirational writings; understanding of God’s Great Story; realization of where we fit into the “Big Picture,” including the role of the church in the coming years.

Calling includes: discovery of where we, as individuals, fit into God’s unfolding story in terms of our calling, our mission, and our vision of how to live out our God-ordained destiny.

Cultural Engagement includes: making ourselves ready to incarnate God’s plan within the context of post-modern, post-Christian culture in general and our own unique cultural setting in particular.

Cultivation includes: ongoing growth in Christ-character by internalizing a Christian value system and acting in accordance with it; and the development of a Christian worldview, along with the capacity to have our actions consistently flow from said worldview.

We fully recognize that this methodology does not represent the final word as far as contemporary expression of the spiritual disciplines is concerned. We have found, however, that looking at the spiritual technology of the Christian tradition in this way helps students and seekers understand the disciplines more clearly.

It is my profound hope that an increasing number of churches will come to understand the importance of equipping congregants with practical, time-tested methods for deepening the Christian walk of faith.

(c) L.D. Turner 2009/2014/All Rights Reserved

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings: Part One

English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida's Chur...
English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida’s Church, Horton The reredos is early 18th century raised plaster work, coloured and gilded. The Dove in the centre symbolises the Holy Spirit; the four cherubs are said to be the four children of a vicar of the parish who died as infants. The “Pelican in her Piety” above is an emblem of Jesus Christ “by whose blood we are healed”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

Solomon wisely tells us in the Book of Proverbs:

Keep watch over your heart, for therein lie the wellsprings of life

 The question that often comes as one reflects on these words of wisdom is simply this: How am I to go about keeping watch over my heart?”

 Throughout the history of the faith, one of the primary ways that sincere followers of the Master have gone about keeping watch over the heart, the deepest part of ourselves, is through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Meditation, prayer, sacred study, self-examination, confession, service, worship – all of this classical spiritual traditions have a role to play in helping us become more aware of ourselves and our behavior and, as a result, have withstood the test of time as quality ways in which we can deepen our walk of faith.

As Christians, scripture tells us that we are to increasingly grow into the character of Christ – in other words – become more Christ-like. Left to our own devices, this would be an impossible demand. Tainted by sin and mostly dominated by our lower nature, who among us could generate even a sliver of hope of emulating Jesus in thought, word, and deed?

Fortunately, scripture tells us that we have an omnipotent ally in this process of spiritual formation. The Holy Spirit walks along side of us, giving us strength to offset our weakness, wisdom to overcome our ignorance, and divine love to gradually eradicate our extreme self-centeredness. It is this promise of the Holy Spirit that gives us a reason to proceed down the road of spiritual formation and further, provides us with a legitimate assurance of success.

Still, we cannot fold our arms, lean back, and wait for the Holy Spirit to magically turn us into exact replicas of Christ. Over the centuries countless numbers of Christians have tried this approach with predictable results. Scripture is clear in stating that we have a part to play in the attainment of what we here at LifeBrook call “Sacred Character.” Sacred Character is based on the character and integrity exhibited by Christ during his mission here on earth. By studying the character of Christ, we can gain valuable insight into what it means to live our own lives from the sure foundation of Sacred Character.

As Jesus walked this earth, he revealed the character of God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Christ and in this statement he revealed a profound truth. Christ was so intimate with the Father that his character and his behavior were perfect reflections of his heavenly parent. Our goal, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is to live in the same intimacy with Christ as he lived with the Father. If you want to gain a deep and abiding perspective on this kind of intimate relationship, I suggest that you prayerfully read through the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

In order to grow into this type of intimacy with Christ and increasingly manifest Sacred Character in our daily lives, we must engage in certain activities that foster spiritual development in a positive and proven direction. These activities have a long and valuable history in the Christian tradition. Here I am speaking of the classic Christian spiritual disciplines.

In some quarters, sincere believers become edgy just at the mention of spiritual disciplines. Steeped in the theology of God’s unmerited and unlimited grace, these well-meaning Christians believe that pursuing the practice of the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow “salvation through works.” This kind of thinking is both incorrect and unfortunate. It is incorrect in the sense that the spiritual disciplines are not related to salvation or the final destination of one’s soul. Pursuing spiritual disciplines is more concerned with placing ourselves in a position of receptivity to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Christ. Although this spiritual formation is ultimately a work of the Spirit, we are told to do all that we can to assist in the process. As the great Quaker writer Rufus Jones once said,

“The grace of God is like the wind blowing across the Sea of Galilee; if you want to get to the other side, you have to raise your sail.”

 The notion that practicing the disciplines is “works” is also highly unfortunate in that this misguided belief has prevented countless Christians from availing themselves of the very thing they need in order to foster the deeper, more effective walk of faith. I am of the belief that the great “faith/works” controversy of the 16th Century, although beneficial in many ways, gave birth to a trend in Protestant Christianity that resulted in pews filled with believers that were both powerless and confused. This tragic trend continues even today.

As the Body of Christ moves forward in this challenging age, establishing ministries focusing on vibrant, dynamic discipleship is of paramount importance. Unless the church develops consistent ways to grow its members deeper in the faith, it runs the danger of becoming, at best, irrelevant to the contemporary culture, or at worst, dead.

To begin, I think it is critical that we come to understand just what a disciple is. From all evidence, it would seem the church at large has lost touch with a crucial element of its mission – disciple-making. Just prior to his ascension, Christ did not tell his inner circle to “go and make converts.” No, he told them to go and make disciples. It is obvious that constructing a workable definition of a disciple is a high priority. Margaret Campbell gives us a great jump-start:

A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to live in attentiveness to Jesus. We live in attentiveness in order to become like Jesus on the inside and, thereby, able to do what Jesus would do on the outside. As maturing disciples we progressively learn to live in attentiveness, adoration, surrender, obedience, and thankfulness to God, and all of this, without ceasing. Through the hidden work of transformation, God writes his good way on our minds and hearts and this is very good. By his grace, our hearts are divinely changed. We are progressively conformed to be like Jesus in mind and will and soul and word and deed. What we say and what we do more consistently reflect the glory and goodness of God.

 If that isn’t clear enough, let’s listen to George Barna:

True discipleship is about a lifestyle, not simply about stored up Bible knowledge. Often, churches assume that if people are reading the Bible and attending a small group, then real discipleship is happening. Unfortunately, we found that’s often not the case. Discipleship is about being and reproducing zealots for Christ. Discipleship, in other words, is about passionately pursuing the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ.

 From these two definitions it should be clear that real discipleship, the kind of Jesus-following that makes a difference in a person’s life and the life of others, involves more than wearing a “What would Jesus Do?” bracelet.

It is apparent, however, that the church lost its focus on the practice of spiritual disciplines over the years. As mentioned in Part One, I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the historical “faith/works” controversy. The result has been a general sense of confusion on the part of the Christian community in terms of the spiritual technology available to those who desire a deeper walk of faith.

One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” Dallas Willard speaks directly to this tragedy:

 For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional.

 This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers. Willard understands this necessity:

Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world. Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of this age. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.

 The notion that deep discipleship was optional was not a part of the early church. Willard continues:

…there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggest that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him.

to be continued…….

(c) L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013/All Rights Reserved

Live Your Potential and Walk in Your Calling

The life of Jesus of Nazareth plate 47.
The life of Jesus of Nazareth plate 47. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

(originally published in 2008, this article is as pertinent now as it was then. It is moved forward from the archives after numerous requests).

It is vital that every person understand that we are responsible for developing the potential stored within us. We must deepen our contact with our divine potential, which I (and our Quaker friends) call our “Inner Light,” and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true, God-given potential. Further, we must recognize that as we move forward in developing our optimal potential, we can never afford to stop. In essence, when we travel the Christian journey, we are either moving forward or backward. There is truly no place to stand on the spiritual path.

Spiritual growth is a complex subject and we could waste much time and space exploring the more arcane aspects of personal unfolding. However, I choose instead to try to keep things as simple as feasible, especially in the context of a short article. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a topic that seems to cause many sincere Christians to go off the tracks and race down many enticing but unproductive rabbit holes. I am talking here about the subject of “purpose.” The issue of purpose is intimately connected with potential and it is often difficult to talk about one without delving into the other.

Many of us are so obsessed with “finding our purpose” that we ignore more important aspects of the spiritual journey. Granted, the universe seems to be arranged in such a way that each of us came to this planet with a unique mission. In spite of this, however, all of us share components of a more generalized, universal purpose. In my own journey, I have come to define a central aspect of this universal purpose as follows:

“I must become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the sake of others.”

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” you might say. “But how do I pull it off?”

Good question. Space does not permit a detailed explanation of the complete methodology of becoming the best version of yourself and, besides, I believe that each of us must find our own personal way of unfolding our divine nature. Still, I think we can look at two practical things we can do: define and visualize.

Begin by spending time developing a definition of the best version of yourself. What qualities will your highest self possess? What kind of activities will be a central part of your life and your spiritual development? How will you earn your living? And most significantly, how will you be of service to others? Pray for wisdom, personal insight, and spiritual discernment as you begin this process and continue to pray regarding your purpose on a consistent basis. In addition to prayer, think of successful people who possess the positive traits that you want to develop and that will be essential to realizing your purpose. Study their lives and see what motivated their success.

Turn to the pages of Scripture and through prayerful study and reflection, examine the lives of those characters you hold in high esteem. And above all, look to the life of Jesus, our ultimate guide. Ask yourself, “How did Jesus go about demonstrating the optimal version of himself?” Keep in mind, Jesus was fully human. He was not some strange, ethereal being who was on spiritual auto-pilot. Jesus had to make choices, just as you do.

After spending a couple of weeks on the above exercises, take out a notebook or sit at your keyboard and write out a vision of yourself – a positive, spiritual vision of yourself as your optimal self. Make a list of the character assets you possess. Spend time in prayer discussing these traits with God and asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in making them a reality in your life. Finally, write a specific definition of the best version of yourself and how you will serve the world.

Once you have a workable definition, set aside a special time each day and see this best version of yourself in your mind’s eye. See yourself manifesting the qualities described in your definition, engaging in the activities you listed, and serving in your best capacity. This exercise of your imagination is a key component of making the best version of yourself a reality.

From the outset, you must learn to consistently see the best version of yourself and your life unfolding in your inner vision. The power of the mind’s eye is uncanny. It is through our capacity of thought and inner visualization that we are capable of taking something out of the realm of the unseen and making it a reality in the realm of the seen. This requires faith: faith in yourself and your abilities; and faith in the principles of optimal cognition. If you have a problem, see it resolved; if your have a business, see it succeeding; if you have a dream, see it unfolding according to your desire.

Let this positive image become a part of yourself, sinking down into the subconscious mind and your inner spirit, the central core of yourself.

A fundamental principle of human nature is that whatever you keep before your mind’s eye will affect you, either for good or for bad. If you consistently focus on negativity and dwell on your problems, your mindset will become darker and your problems will worsen. If you focus on limitation, lack, failure, and defeat, this is the kind of life you are going to create. Instead, try focusing your mental energy on success, victory, health, abundance, peace, joy, and happiness. Our innermost spirit, which is one with the Divine Source, has as its purpose the unfolding of your greatest good. Don’t lose sight of that truth. In order to create the kind of life you want, you have to get your thoughts and your inner vision in alignment with the power and purpose of your innermost spirit, your “Inner Light.”

This visualization process is not a fantasy or an escape from reality. It is, instead, based on centuries of practical application and positive results. When life presents you with problems, many times there is nothing you can do about it. However, you can have complete control over your response to any problem life sends your way. You can have greater peace of mind if you just choose to have the right kind of thoughts. Focus your entire being on finding solutions, rather than wallowing in the problems at hand. Work diligently to find the Inner Light, and when you do, continue to take proactive measures to deepen and maintain your contact with this sacred aspect of your being.

The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but a life that never realized its full potential. You must decide today not to rob the world of the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you. It has been said that the wealthiest place on earth is not in bank vaults, Fort Knox, or underneath Bill Gates mattress. No, the wealthiest place on earth is the cemetery.

Beneath the gravestones lie so many dreams that went unfulfilled; so much potential that was never realized; so much purpose that was never discovered and manifested. I am reminded of the poignant verses of Tagore in the Gitangali:

The song that I came to sing remains 

unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and in
unstringing my instrument.

Be persistent and keep at it in a disciplined, optimistic manner. Before you know it, you will hear your song ringing up from your inner spirit. From that point forward your life will be more positive and meaningful. And when the day comes when you leave this world, you will leave a valuable contribution to those who follow you. Whether great or small, you will leave a positive legacy.  And for certain, you won’t be making a deposit in the Bank of Dead Dreams.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2012/All Rights Reserved

 

Discerning the Deceitful and the Delusional

Prophet Jeremiah, Russian icon from first quar...
Prophet Jeremiah, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Recently, while looking through the writings of Jeremiah, I ran across highlighted scriptures that caught my eye on several occasions in the past. I vividly recall how, when I reflected on these passages in a prayerful manner, their current relevance jumped off the page with an unmistakable clarity. It was as if the Holy Spirit especially wanted these words to come alive for me and that they did. Like I have commented in the past, at times like these scripture ceases to be just printed words on a page and instead, morphs into a living organism.

The subject matter here comes from Jeremiah 23 and deals with his observations that many religious leaders, including priests and prophets, are deceiving people with dreams, prophecies, and other revelations that they claim to be from God, but are actually made up from their own imaginations or worse, their own treacherous hearts.

When I read these words from the prophet Jeremiah I am reminded so clearly of what I hear going on in many corners of the church today. I hear various preachers, teachers, self-proclaimed “prophets” and “apostles”, along with lay brothers and sisters who have what they claim to be a “word” from the Lord, or a “vision,” a dream, or some other form of divine revelation. I am certain that in some cases these phenomena are exactly what they are said to be, but in the majority of cases my internal “discernment alarm” goes off loud and long. Instead of a true “word” or revelation from the Holy Spirit, my fear is that many of these self-styled “teachers” are either deceiving themselves, being duped by the enemy, or worst of all, deliberately leading others astray in order to advance some personal agenda, often financial.

The prophet Jeremiah dealt with a similar infestation in his day, and that is exactly what it is my friends, an infestation. In Jeremiah’s time many religious leaders, motivated by their own personal agendas as well as self-deception, were leading followers down various paths laced with deception. Reading the 23rd chapter of Jeremiah, you cannot help seeing this issue with great clarity. In graphic terms, the prophet describes the impact of these “prophets” on himself and on the nation:

My heart is broken because of the false prophets,

And my bones tremble.

I stagger like a drunkard, like someone overcome by wine,

Because of the holy words the Lord has spoken against them.

For the land is full of adultery and it lies under a curse.

(Jeremiah 23: 9-10 NLT)

After further describing these false teachers, Jeremiah expands upon the effect of their erroneous teachings. He then warns the people:

Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,

Filling you with futile hopes.

They are making up everything they say.

They do not speak for the Lord.

(Jeremiah 23: 16 NLT)

Speaking through the prophet, the Lord makes it clear that these false teachers were not sent by him and that they do not speak for him. As I listen to so many preachers, teachers, evangelists, and “apostles” speaking today, it strikes me as clearly evident that God did not send them, either. Sure, they may claim to have a “word from the Lord” or a “holy vision.” And perhaps a small percentage that makes this claim are genuine. But in my estimation, many are engaging in their own dreams, fantasies, and vain imaginings. As stated earlier, some are merely self-deceived, while others have darker motives of personal gain or advancement of the enemy’s agenda.

This state of affairs is made more critical by the fact that the church is at such a pivotal point in its history. Marked by a massive exodus from their ranks, the older Mainline denominations are, at best, hanging by a thread. Even the Southern Baptist Convention, long the solid backbone of Evangelicalism, is now losing members and yearly baptism numbers are at record lows. The only churches that seem to be growing are generally of an independent, charismatic nature, but researchers are sometime cautious about the statistics associated with this group, along with the Word of Faith churches, because it appears the membership rolls are constantly shifting, with new members flowing in and at least an equivalent number flowing out.

My point here is that the church, floundering as it is with these problems, can only be further weakened by false teachers, prophets, and the like. Already viewed in a generally negative light, every time a prominent Christian leader is caught in some sort of scandal, usually either sexual or financial, it only deepens the public image of Christians as little more than hucksters and hypocrites.

I am of the firm conviction that now, perhaps more than ever, each Christian must take it upon himself or herself to take responsibility for deepening their capacity for discernment. Granted, some are gifted in this area, but gifted or not, each of us needs to become as sharp as possible when it comes to discerning the spirits. Otherwise, we run the very real risk of wasting valuable time, resources, and energy running here and there chasing windmills, rather than going about the kingdom business we are all called to: deepening our relationship with Christ, making disciples, and serving others in his name.

There is no magic formula for developing discernment and chances are you already know how to do it, you just haven’t seen the necessity of it and taken the time. Here is a list of a few basic strategies that, if consistently applied, should help you deepen your level of spiritual discernment:

  • Pray diligently, asking the Holy Spirit to help you specifically in this area.
  • Immerse yourself in scripture. The key principle for evaluating any teaching or preaching is making sure that it is aligned with biblical principles.
  • Read several books that discuss how to deepen your level of discernment. Also, explore relevant material on the Internet and apply what you learn.
  • If you know someone who is gifted in the area of discernment, ask them to mentor you for a period of time.

Christianity in the West is at a crucial crossroads. The church finds itself in a time of shifting sands and changing landscapes. In a metaphorical way, this state of affairs is like being in the desert or, like the ancient Hebrew people, wandering about in the wilderness. We may wander off the path in countless ways, certain we are traveling in the right direction, only to discover we have been chasing a mirage. In other cases, we become mesmerized by a certain teaching, an innovative program, or, as is often the case, a highly personable teacher. In this mesmerized state, we are prone to drift far off the course set for us by the Master.

It is vital that we train ourselves in the ways and means of biblical discernment, especially in these changing times. To neglect this critical need, for whatever reason, is not a viable option.

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Christ icon in Taizé
Christ icon in Taizé (Photo credit: lgambett)

Set your eyes beyond the stratosphere and see a Christ who confounds the mind. This Christ is – present tense – the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ displays God’s image visible in the invisible realm, where He is seated in heavenly places at the Father’s right hand. To look upon the carpenter of Nazareth is to discover God in totality. To know the Nazarene is to know the Almighty, the one true Creator – He who was, is, and is to come.

But that’s not all.

This Christ is the firstborn of the entire cosmos, the first person to appear in creation, and He is preeminent in all of it. All things visible and invisible were created by Him, through Him, to Him, and for Him. He is the Originator as well as the Goal – the Creator as well as the Consummator.

But that’s not all.

This Christ existed before time as the eternal Son. He is above time and outside of time. He is the beginning. In fact, He was before the beginning. He lives in a realm where there are no ticking watches and clocks. Space and time are his servants. He is unfettered by them.

This Christ is not only before all things, but the entire universe is held together in Him. He is the cohesive force, the glue and gravitational pull that holds all created elements together. He is creation’s great adhesive, the hinge upon which the whole cosmos turns. Remove Christ, and the entire universe disintegrates. It comes apart at the seams. Remove Him, and creations wheels come off.

But there’s still more.

This Christ is the very meaning of creation. Eliminate Him, and the universe has no purpose. Remove Him, and every living thing loses its meaning.

But more than all this, the One who created the universe watched it fall. He saw the cosmic revolt in heaven and the wreckage on earth. Under the caring eye of the Father, the Lord looked upon His own creation as it morphed into an enemy – His own enemy. And then he did the unthinkable. He penetrated a fallen world.

This Christ pierced the veil of space-time. He became incarnate and took on human flesh. As such, He was touched with the same temptations, the same infirmities, and the same weaknesses as all mortals, only He never yielded. Christ entered into His own creation to reconcile it back to Himself and to His Father. The Creator became the creature to make peace with an alienated creation.

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola