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

A Prayer from Alcuin of York

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

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

Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word,

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

Give us open hands and joyful hearts.

Let Christ be on our lips.

May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion.

Let no one come to us and go away sad.

May we offer hope to the poor,

And solace to the disheartened.

Let us so walk before God’s people,

That those who follow us might come into his kingdom.

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

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

In word and in example let your light shine

In the dark like the morning star.

Do not allow the wealth of the world or its enchantment

Flatter us into silence as to your truth.

Do not permit the powerful, or judges,

Or our dearest friends

To keep us from professing what is right.

Amen

Forgetting About God’s Will Long Enough to Do It

Mick Turner

“If only I could really discover God’s will for my life, it would make all the difference in the world.” How many times have you heard sincere Christians make statements like this? I’ll wager that you have heard it quite a few times. I know I have. And if the truth be known, I can recall making that same statement myself, especially during times of spiritual floundering.

I mention this because I have come to understand that this sort of statement reveals a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s purpose for our lives and how he goes about communicating that purpose so we can grasp it. Granted, I believe that God has a unique, overriding purpose for each of us, has gifted us with certain talents and abilities that help us to become successful in carrying out that purpose, and has empowered us, through the Holy Spirit, to bring that mission to a successful conclusion. I have also come to believe, however, that God also given each of us daily tasks to perform – tasks normally associated with the environment we have been planted in. It is his will that we identify and carry out these daily callings with dedication and consistency.

Unfortunately, many of us are so busy trying to figure out that one great calling God has placed on our lives that we miss his will for us in the divine present, in the holy moment that exists right under our noses. He communicates those callings in ways we can all recognize – sudden insights, little hunches, or sudden feelings or memories that may come over us. I know in my own experience, I frequently have these sorts of impulses to take certain actions when I am reflecting on passages of scripture. All too often we fail to pay sufficient attention to these callings and, as a result, frequently miss discovering God’s will for us for that one divine moment. If we do this over a long period of time, we run the risk of losing vital contact with the Holy Spirit. A.W. Tozer tells us:

…….to expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us and, if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence.

Don’t keep reading as if the profundity of Tozer’s statement somehow escaped your attention. Pause and reflect for a few moments of what he just said. If we repeatedly ignore of disobey those nudging from the Holy Spirit he may just stop communicating with us.

It is understandable, really.

If you had a close friend, a person you care for deeply, consistently ignore or refuse to listen to your suggestions for how he might improve his life or solve a particular problem, would you continue to make those suggestions indefinitely? No, I doubt you would. I know I would eventually reach a point where I would just keep quiet.

Although I firmly believe that God has a unique mission for each of us, all too often I have seen deeply committed, sincere Christians get so distracted in the search for this calling that they consistently overlook clear service opportunities right in front of their noses. More often than not, the will of God can be found in those small, seemingly mundane task that cross our paths each day. Perhaps it is something as simple as opening a door for someone, picking up a bit of litter on the ground, or helping someone carry their groceries to the car. Perhaps it is something as routine visiting a sick friend in the hospital, giving a person a ride to the pharmacy or a medical appointment, or simply providing a listening ear to a friend who needs to unload what is on his or her heart.

It is in these everyday situations where we find the true epicenter of God’s activity and where we find consistent fulfillment of God’s will for our lives. Yes, it is also true that each of us has a unique and important calling and for some of us, that mission may be a great one. For all of us, however, these little everyday encounters are where we most often can give flesh to grace by answering the call of the moment.

It is precisely that consistent practice of paying attention to the small duties of our daily round that makes a life of excellence possible. Moreover, no one ever slouched his or her way to greatness. Let’s listen to the wisdom on James Allen:

The great man has become such by the scrupulous and unselfish attention which he has given to small duties. He has become wise and powerful by sacrificing ambition and pride in the doing of those necessary things which evoke no applause and promise no reward. He never sought greatness; he sought faithfulness, unselfishness, integrity, truth; and in finding these in the common round of small tasks and duties he unconsciously ascended to the level of greatness.

Let me share a brief story from my childhood that points out how attention to the small can lead to the unfolding of God’s greater will. The story also illustrates how attending to the small and mundane can have unforeseen, far-reaching impact. I recall a conversation a middle-aged man had with my parents in a picnic area just across the road from Casey Key Beach in Nokomis, Florida, where I grew up. I was about 11 years old at the time and my hand was in a cast (I had broken it a few weeks before playing baseball).

I vividly remember the gentlemen telling my parents that he was walking off the beach, heading to his car when he saw a pair of empty trash bags blowing down the beach near the water. He related that he started to leave, but felt that he should go and retrieve those bags and put them in a trash receptacle. “I think all of us who live down here should take responsibility to keep our beaches clean,” I recall him saying. Rather than leaving, he returned to the water’s edge to retrieve the garbage bags.

The man went on to relate than as he was reaching for the garbage bags he heard a distant cry for help. He looked up but did not initially see anything but then heard the cry again. Scanning the water he spotted an empty beach float and saw two arms frantically waving above the water’s surface. Racing into the surf the man swam out just beyond the float and found a small boy going under the water. He grabbed the boy and brought him back to shore. Panic-stricken, the boy took the man to his parents, who were just across the road from the beach.

If you haven’t guessed by now, that small boy was me. I was leisurely floating on my rubber raft when a wave knocked me off. The water was about two feet over my head and, with my hand in a heavy cast, swimming was impossible. I had gone under for the third time when the man reached me.

I tell this story because I am personally aware of how fortunate I am to be alive. Had that man not taken the time to return to the water’s edge and pick up the garbage bags, I would in all likelihood have drowned. I would not be writing this blog, which is part of God’s will for my life, nor would you be reading it right now. Yes, my friends, this gentleman’s decision to take responsibility for a small thing has had far-reaching effects, indeed.

Attention to the small is really God’s will for our lives. And in so many ways, the small is no different from the great in God’s eyes. James Allen continues:

Neglect of the small is confusion of the great. The snowflake is as perfect as the star; the dew drop is as symmetrical as the planet; the microbe is not less mathematically proportioned than the man. By laying stone upon stone, plumbing and fitting each with perfect adjustment, the temple at last stands forth in all its architectural beauty. The small precedes the great. The small is not merely the apologetic attendant of the great, it is its master and informing genius.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to do great things. Yet this calling should never become an obsession that causes us to miss the opportunities that are presented to us in each “divine moment.” It is in the context of these moments that we discover God’s will for us in the here and now. It is also in the fabric of these sublime moments, the “holy present,” where we connect with the “Holy Presence,” the unshakable power that enables us to carry out that calling with confidence and compassion.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

The Essence of Spirituality: Radical Compassion

Mick Turner

Jesus Christ was not a man of compassion; he was a man of radical compassion. From his voluntary mission to this broken world, to his mysterious ascension back into the heavenly realm, there was no theme he stressed more in both word and deed. From his opening salvo quoting Isaiah about bringing release to the captives and good news to the poor, to his dying plea of, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus exemplified a compassion far beyond what the world had seen before. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Jesus’ stories about the Prodigal, the Good Samaritan, and his treatment of the woman caught in adultery all point to the need for a compassion that transcends the normal boundaries defined by contemporary culture, then and now. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Radical compassion is compassion with legs; radical compassion is a verb. Just as the Bible tells us in the Letter of James that faith without works is dead, also, compassion without concomitant action is a lifeless phenomenon. Many sincere aspirants have the mistaken notion that the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment. Although a sincere desire for motivation is one of our most treasured possessions, it is actually penultimate. The real aim of the spiritual journey is simply this – Sacred Service. All that we do is dedicated to the greatest good of all beings in all the worlds. Our gain is their gain, our loss is their loss, our advancement is their advancement, and it is to this sacred reality that we offer our benedictions at the end of our times of meditation and prayer.

In the Christian faith especially, personal enlightenment takes a back seat to serving others, spiritually and materially. Perhaps no where in the sacred writings of the world is this reality presented so directly as in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and you, your band of rag tag friends, and the Master arrive at the Upper Room after a long, tedious, dusty day going about your business. You sit for a moment to catch your breath and unwind a few moments before you go wash up for the evening meal. You close your eyes for a few minutes, only to feel something or someone taking off your sandals. And to your utter disbelief, kneeling in front of you is the Master Jesus with a basin and a towel. Incredible….

The Master taught his disciples, and all of us who have read of this amazing episode, a clear and concise example of the essence of spirituality: selfless service with a heart of humility. If only more of us, especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus, would take this lesson to heart, our world would have much less pain.

The Kingdom of God is a divine realm of proactive compassion. This is the message that Jesus came to deliver and through his actions as well as his words, he delivered it consistently. In all that he did and he said, Jesus revealed to us the nature of God. This incarnational revelation was hinted at in the Master’s magnificent prayer in John 17. In the 21st verse the Master says:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

In the Bible’s most well known verse, John 3:16, it is stated that for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (NLT)

Now, to make this even clearer, let’s look at one more verse in John 17. In verse three John records:

And this is the way to have eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (NLT)

Putting all this together, Jesus gave us a powerful but very real theology in this prayer and his disciple, John, fully caught its significance by saying in 3:16 that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save it. On God’s part, this was a perfect example of “proactive compassion” or what we often call “grace.” Motivated by the purest form of love, God was moved to have compassion on we fallen creatures, even in our blind ignorance, and he literally gave that compassion flesh by sending us the Master Jesus.

In order for compassion to become more than just a nice idea or a sentimental feeling, it must flow out of the internalized wisdom of the ages, particularly as related to the reality of “interconnectivity.” The idea of interconnectivity, now confirmed by the field of quantum physics, has been around for many centuries and is at the core of interspiritual mysticism, that one aspect of world religion that seems to transcend culture, time, and especially theology. It is a mystical connectedness that promotes compassion and engaged action to make the world a better place for all who dwell here. In essence, it is a deep wisdom that gives flesh to grace. The great spiritual writer Kahil Gibran spoke of this interconnected reality when he said:

Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. Who knows but that your neighbor is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would yourself. He too is a manifestation of the Most High.

In India, for example, we have the story of Indra’s Net, which is strung throughout the universe with a precious jewel at the places where the cords of the net intersect. These jewels, in turn, reflect all of the other jewels. Similar to the modern discovery of the hologram, the image of Indra’s Net is filled with symbolic wisdom depicting the interconnectivity of all that is. Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book entitled, The Dancing Wu Li Masters tell us:

…the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics is that all things in our universe (including us) that appears to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.

In the Christian tradition, the writings of the great mystic teachers echo these same truths, often in symbolic and metaphorical ways. Julian of Norwich especially comes to mind as well as Hildegard of Bingen and Madame Guyon. The writings of Saint Theresa of Avila and the life and work of St. Francis also point to the interconnectivity of all life and the necessity of having a heart of radical compassion.

The great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley have voices that ring loudly with the sense of the interrelated aspects of the natural world and their American counterparts, the Transcendentalists, in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, also echo this theme of divine connectivity. And then there is the work of that master of the arcane, William Blake who spoke of the mystic’s ability:

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

The world that we interact with each day only appears to be solid. In point of fact, it is an intricate dance of sub-atomic waves and particles that obey none of the traditional or expected moves of predictable choreography. At its core level, our apparently solid, material world is less like classical music and more like jazz. Just when we think we have a handle on how things are, these very things change, morphing into something totally unexpected and often totally mysterious. Someone wise, I forget who, once said the life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. How true, and the sooner a person grasps this fundamental truth, the less frustration will appear in his or her life.

It is not my intention to travel too far down this road of quantum physics at this juncture. Suffice to say that contemporary science is increasingly coming to grasp the same fundamental truths that mystics and shamans have voiced for many centuries. Simply put: Everything is interrelated and interdependent and when one part is affected by something, at a very core level, every other part is also impacted.

In teaching about the interrelated aspect of the universe, I often use a simple analogy that explains these principles in a basic way. I use the example of raisin Jell-o. Imagine you have concocted a delicious tub or raisin Jell-o. Choose your favorite flavor if you like. The raisins are the important thing, here. Now, what happens when you take your index finger and thump one of the raisins? All the raisins move. Crude as this metaphor is, it makes the point that all the raisins in the bowl are connected and if one raisin moves, they all move. This is what the mystics, and the quantum physicists, are talking about when they speak of interconnectivity.

As the church moves into the second decade of the 21st Century it has already become apparent that great changes are in the wind. I feel some of these changes are connected with an increased understanding of how God’s magnificent creation is put together in this incredible holographic manner in which each part contains the totality of the whole and every aspect of his world exists in an interdependent relationship with every other part. This is no romantic sentimentalism I am speaking of. Instead, it is a living, vibrant reality that, when one takes it to heart, changes everything. For the church, the message of the gospel become less of “let me show you the way,” and more of “What do you need?”

This move toward proactive compassion is a move of grace. Perhaps you are not accustomed to looking at grace that way, but grace is what we are dealing with. As stated earlier, a major part of Christ’s incarnation and our ongoing mission is to give flesh to grace. Caroline Myss makes this cogent observation in her book, Invisible Acts of Power:

What really happens inside you when you respond to someone in need? Why do some people jump out of their seats to help another person, while others look the other way? No doubt, some people have been taught to be kind and others may be naturally thoughtful. But I think something greater than compassion or good manners is at work, something beyond the motivation of the strong to help the weak or the wealthy to help the poor. I think it is the invisible power of grace, moving between the open hearts of give and receiver. The action itself, the lifting of a heavy piece of luggage or the drink of water offered to the thirsty man, may be small. But the energy that is channeled through that action is the high-voltage current of grace. It contains the power to renew someone’s faith in himself. It even has the power to save a life.

It should not be too difficult of an intellectual jump to see why this concept of interrelated reality should lead to a true and radical sense of compassion. What happens to me in the ultimate sense, happens to you and vice versa. When a child dies of hunger or disease in a poverty stricken nation, some part of each of us dies. We may not feel it, understand it, or even recognize it. Still, it is a fundamental spiritual and quantum truth. It is wise to remember the words of the 17th Century poet John Donne as he spoke of the custom of the time which involved ringing the town’s bell whenever someone died:

Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind;

Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved