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

Wise Words on Obedience

One of the primary reasons that I like reading the work of David Platt is the fact that the man pulls no punches. Although he is a man that exudes Christian love from every pore in his body, he is not reluctant to slam Christian traditionalists right in the kisser when such a blow is needed. For example, in his excellent book Follow Me, he calls the church to task for watering down the teachings of Jesus:

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

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

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

Wise Words for Today

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

David Platt

Lenten Practice

I noted here on LifeBrook back in 2009 that I was undertaking the Lenten tradition of giving up something for the season leading up to Easter, albeit with a bit of an intangible bent. That year I vowed to give up something that fed a longstanding stronghold in my life: negative thinking. As I look back on my journals from that period of time, I saw that this was quite a struggle. There were more than a few days that this chronic negativity had a life and a momentum of its own. Yet, at the same time, I did see that there were also more than a few days that I became less prone to negative cognition and even when I did have a pessimistic thought, I immediately became aware of it and was able to, as that wise sage Barney Fife told his friend Sheriff Andy:”Nip it in the bud.”

I mention all this because this year I have once again taken on this anti-negativity challenge as part of my Lenten practice. It is not so much that I have slid back into chronic negative thinking – no – in fact, the Holy Spirit has helped me immensely in this area. It’s just that I realize that this issue is one that has been a powerful force in my life and I want to take yet another step in getting on top of it. I will let you know from time to time how things are going.

I would be most interested in hearing what sort of things you folks are considering dealing with this Lenten season.

Blessings,

Mick

Spiritual Complacency and Quiet Desperation (Part One)

Mick Turner

Even a cursory exploration of Scriptures from many faith traditions will reveal that Universal Intelligence, by whatever name we choose to call it, wants us to be successful. It is to no one’s benefit if we allow ourselves to wallow through life in the muck and mire of mediocrity. No, experience reveals that what we here at LifeBrook often refer to as Sacred Light wants us to succeed in achieving our dreams, provided those dreams and desires are in accordance with positive universal principles and spiritual laws. In addition, we live in a universe that is limitless and fill with everything we need in order to lead rewarding, fulfilling, and successful lives

Yes, scriptures from the whole range of faith traditions point to the reality that we are called to lives of success. Here I am not speaking necessarily of financial abundance, the prosperity gospel, or teachings related to money, although success can be manifested in that way. What I am talking about is being a success in the spiritual sense and the best way to do that is to become the absolute best that you can be. God did not create us and give us a mandate to slog our way through a life of mediocrity.

The problem arises, however, when one takes an honest look at what seems to be going on in the daily lives of most people. The vast majority of sincere, earnest, and spiritual people are not particularly happy. Even those that do profess a degree of happiness, when pressed, admit to a vague sense of dissatisfaction with life. Many exist rather than live. Thoreau had it right many years ago when he mused that most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.

What causes such a tragedy?

Obviously, the issues that contribute to such a widespread, complex phenomenon are many. To make our task in this particular writing a bit more manageable, I want to emphasize two problems areas that seem to beset many folks, especially those who consider themselves spiritual individuals. This pair of problematic obstacles to our God-given drive for success consists of: lack of focus and complacency.

I have a confession to make. In my life I have wasted a significant amount of time and energy, running here and speeding there, chasing what I thought was brooks living water but turned out to be a series of dust-filled wells. Putting it in honest terms, I was busy but not effective.

As I look around me now, I can see that I am not the only person who is engaged in these fruitless races. On a near daily basis I encounter sincere people who have convinced themselves they are diligently racing toward a meaningful goal, only to find that like Solomon, they are chasing after the wind. These individuals, like myself, expend time, energy, and other resources in pursuit of self-defined visions that, in the end, are empty and unsatisfying. Others never quite reach the intended goal, but instead, waste valuable efforts chasing their own, self-designed greased pigs.

I vividly recall when this issue came to a head for me. One Sunday morning, as is my habit, I arose early. I spent time asking Sacred Light to speak to me regarding an issue I had been struggling with for some time. As is often the case, my tampering with this problem eventually led me to a state of perplexed paralysis. It was an issue related to how I was to proceed with one aspect of my professional life.

After praying, I sat quietly and gradually began to feel the peace of Sacred Light fall over me. It was nothing earth shattering and no burning bushes spoke to me, nor did any donkeys give utterance, but I had a palatable sense of the Sacred Light’s presence. This is significant in that it had been months since I had felt any sense of light in my life. It seemed that in my busyness, God had somehow gone on sabbatical. I longed for Light’s touch, even if only brief and subtle. I was, in essence, in a stark period of spiritual dryness.

I had several books at my side that I had been reading prior to my prayer time. I opened one of the books and soon came across these words by the French mystic Francois Fenelon:

Be silent and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues that will please Him. Let all within you listen to Him….

Now comes the good part!

Don’t spend your time making plans that are just cobwebs – a breath of wind will come and blow them away. You have withdrawn from God and now you find that God has withdrawn the sense of His presence from you. Return to Him and give Him everything without reservation. There will be no peace otherwise. Let go of all you plans – God will do what He sees best for you.

Fenelon’s words hit me between the eyes like a Louisville Slugger. I knew immediately what I needed to do, even if it was going to be difficult. Like the Old Testament story about Abraham and Sarah, I had grown impatient waiting on God’s timing and gave birth to an Ishmael. I needed to return to God, wait in silence, and trust his promise of an Isaac. Basically, in my own anxiety and uncertainty of potential outcomes, I took charge of the situation and ended up at what seemed a dead end.

Trusting God to guide us and lead us to the place we need to go is not an easy proposition. This is especially true for those of us who are used to “making things happen.” I made the decision that Sunday morning to let the entire project go. I put it in God’s hands and, in his time, not mine, the situation worked out better than I could have ever manipulated on my own.

In practical terms, I discovered how important it was to be patient and wait on God’s benediction before I moved too far down a particular path of endeavor, be it spiritual or otherwise. In short, I learned the value of focus.

Recall for moment the adventure Peter had when he saw Jesus walking toward the disciples’ boat during a raging storm. Noted for his impulsive, impetuous nature, Peter jumped in and, with his attention riveted on Jesus, he, just as his Master, walked on water. Things were going swimmingly (I couldn’t resist that pun) until, for whatever reason, Peter took his focus off Jesus. Perhaps the howling of the wind or the high waves crashing over him distracted the lead disciple for a moment. For reasons really known only to Peter and Jesus, this loss of focus was an unmitigated disaster. Peter began to sink fast.

One of my favorite Christian authors, Erwin Raphael McManus, discusses this very scene from the gospel narrative and relates it to the issue of having a personal focus. McManus goes on to make the following insightful comments:

Part of what costs us the life we were created to live is that we don’t lock in. We lose focus because we become distracted by our circumstances. We get pulled out of the direction we’re supposed to be walking because we start looking in the wrong direction…..It’s so easy to get distracted by all the things going on around you. If you resolve to live the life of your dreams, if you refuse to settle for a life other than the one God created you to live, you’re going to see the waves and the wind. And it’s going to terrify you and you’re going to begin to sink. You have to decide to focus and lock in on the direction God has called you to live your life.

I wish I had been able to read these words from McManus’ excellent book Wide Awake years ago when I was struggling with the issue of focus. Chances are I might well have saved valuable time. Still, by God’s grace, I was able to become more zeroed in on the mission God had for me. It took a major health issue to accomplish this lesson in priorities and being sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Yet once I followed the directions of the Spirit, I was better able to create an environment where the spiritual gifts and talents that lay within me could be manifested, honed, and utilized. McManus speaks to this aspect of focus as well:

Your potential becomes talent only when it is harnessed and developed. Your talents become strengths when they are focused and directed. It is here where you begin to discover who you are and the potential God has placed within you. A destiny is not something waiting for you but something waiting within you.

As we have seen, lack of proper focus can be a major stumbling block when it comes to realizing our potential and making our personal vision a reality. It is, however, not the only obstacle we face.

From consistent observation, I have found that one of the most fundamental problems confronting genuine spiritual seekers in these admittedly challenging times has little to do with external forces and factors. It is easy enough for us to sit back a distance from the “heathen culture” that surrounds us and wag our fingers at a society that by just about all indicators, appears to be heading toward moral and ethical bankruptcy at breakneck speed.

Indeed, it is not a difficult task to define and identify those aspects of the world around us that we find falling far short of the standards set forth by the Bible in general and Jesus in particular. Easy as these options may be, my observations have led me to the inescapable conclusion that our most significant problems as the church universal do not exist “out there.” Our weightiest issues rest within the parameters of our own walls.

We have met the enemy, and it is us.

I don’t mean to be trite or sarcastic here. Instead, with a heart of sincerity and sadness I want to confront at least one of these problems that seem to be draining the Body of Christ of its vitality and its power. I am not speaking of some sinister or deep rooted problem that will take great energy and countless committees to “study and investigate” the issue at hand. I am not talking about some vague, wispy metaphysical or doctrinal dilemma that, like a parasite, is eating away at the very fabric of our faith. I am talking about something far more simple in concept and personal in terms of solution.

I am talking about Christian complacency.

Far too many of our churches are experiencing a decline in vitality due to a creeping, insidious blight that normally goes unnoticed until the congregation is on the cusp of a suffocating death, vainly gasping for even a drop of breath, a touch of the Spirit to restore a chance at life and a rebirth of hope. This metaphor of life and death and breath and spirit may seem a bit dramatic and perhaps it is. It is highly appropriate, however. Many churches are dealing with issues of life and death as a result of decades of settling for maintaining the status quo. Further, the absence of breath and the absence of Spirit are synonymous. Man did not become a living being until God breathed life into him. Even more relevant is the fact that in many languages, the words for breath and spirit are the same.

The implications of this are readily apparent. Where there is no Spirit, there is no life. And where there is no life, there is death and disintegration. What is more tragic is the fact that much of this could have been avoided had it not been for that demon we are speaking of: complacency.

To Be Continued. . . . .

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