Fresh Wind and Raised Sails: Fresh Perspectives on the Christian Faith

Mick Turner

The Grace of God is like the wind blowing across the sea; if you want to reach the other side you need to raise your sail.

Rufus Jones

Over the past decade author and teacher Brian McLaren has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy within the church, particularly among those believers of a more conservative, fundamentalist bent. Fueled by his own spiritual journey as well as a deep understanding that the church must find new wineskins in which it can spread the life-giving teachings of Jesus, McLaren has stepped on more than a few theological toes along the way.

McLaren clearly understands that his mission is a daunting one, yet he continues to move forward in spite of a constant din of criticism coming from the more rigid, backward-looking quarters of the faith. As a person who cares deeply about the church, McLaren also knows that unless these new wineskins are developed, the massive exodus from the sanctuaries across America will continue.

In A New Kind of Christianity McLaren lists ten questions that might frame the discussion, which leads to a fresh definition of the faith. These questions are:

  1. The narrative question: “What is the overarching story line of the Bible?”
  2. The authority question: “How should the Bible be understood?”
  3. The God question: “Is God violent?”
  4. The Jesus question: “Who is Jesus and why is he important?”
  5. The gospel question: “What is the gospel?”
  6. The church question: “What do we do about the church?”
  7. The sex question: “Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?”
  8. The future question: “Can we find a better way of viewing the future?”
  9. The pluralism question: “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?”
  10. The-what-do-we-do-now- question: “How can we translate our quest into action?”

In describing the current context in which these vital questions are being asked, McLaren makes the following cogent remarks:

These ten questions are, to recall Dylan’s epic line, blowing in the wind around us. Even if we’ve never heard them articulated, they have been hovering just outside our conscious awareness. They trouble our conventional paradigms of faith just as the ten plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, and hail plagued the Egyptians in the Exodus story. When people tell us to be quiet and accept the conventional answers we’ve been given in the past, many of us groan like the ancient Hebrews when they were forced to produce bricks without straw. We cry out to God, “Please set us free!” We cry out to preachers and theologians, “Let us go! Let us find some space to think, to worship God outside the bars and walls and fences in which we are constrained and imprisoned. We’ll head out into the wilderness – risk hunger, thirst, exposure, death – but we can’t sustain this constrained way of thinking, believing, and living much longer. We need to ask the questions that are simmering in our souls.”

If recent history tells us anything for certain, these questions are indeed being raised. And one more thing – if sincere, thinking, seeking followers of Jesus cannot find the freedom to explore their questions, doubts, and concomitant gray areas within the parameters of the traditional faith, they will find that freedom elsewhere. The exodus from organized Christianity over the last half-century proves this beyond any question.

I sincerely believe McLaren’s voice is a prophetic one and his message, although he would never admit or assert this, is of divine origin. God is calling to his people, insisting that they come out from the theological and denominational prisons religious leaders have fabricated over the centuries. A fresh wind is blowing my friends, a wind that carries a message of liberation, hope, and rejuvenation.

And just as in those biblical times so long ago, anytime a prophetic wind sweeps across the landscape, voices of opposition arise in an attempt to quell the latest movement of God. Shamefully enough, more often than not those contrary voices come not from the non-religious, but instead, from our religious leaders themselves. This is no less true today than it was at the time of the Master. Jesus contended with the Pharisees of his day and so do we. With an agenda bent upon maintaining the status quo at all cost, these critics are loud, judgmental, and fearful. McLaren has been accused of apostasy, heresy, and everything from being the brother of Beelzebub to creating a limp-wristed Jesus.

Turning briefly to another angle on all of this, it is important that we understand that the term “Christian” has taken on a generally negative connotation in contemporary culture. Perhaps this is somewhat less true in the Bible Belt where I live, but for the most part, when people hear the word “Christian,” it brings to mind a stereotype of “rigid, judgmental, narrow-minded, homo-hating bigots.”  Whether this reality is justified or not is open to debate, however, the fact is such a reality indeed exists. Perhaps this has occurred as a result of far too many professing Christians have settled for an empty shell of the real thing. Jesus charged us with making disciples, not Christians. McLaren explains:

We might say that “Christians” are people who have entered a certain sedentary membership or arrived at a status validated by some group or institution, while “disciples” are learners (or unlearners) who have started on a rigorous and unending journey or quest in relation to Jesus Christ. It’s worth noting in this regard that the word “Christian” occurs in the New Testament exactly three times and the word “Christianity” exactly zero. The word “disciple,” however, is found 263 times.

I can say without reservation that what we need today is not more Christians, but instead, more disciples of Jesus. By that term I don’t mean a cadre of holier-than-thou Morality Marshalls or Thought Police and certainly not a mega-flock of Super Christians out to convert the heathen and keep an eye on the Democrats.

I am talking about an increasing number of highly committed, consecrated disciples of the Master who seek to deepen their vital connection with the Divine and bring about his kingdom on earth – a noble mission if there ever was one. Driven by a heart of compassion flowing from an internalized understanding of the interconnection of all existence, these rejuvenated disciples form communities that thrive on consistent, loving service to others while, at the same time, seeking to establish religious, social, economic, and political institutions based on kingdom principles of equality, justice, and compassion.

Brian McLaren is but one of a host of fresh voices being used by God in this exciting yet challenging time. Like McLaren, many of these relatively new voices are calling for a reevaluation of all that has gone before. And believe me when I say this is no small, isolated movement. It is, instead, a groundswell emerging from the spiritual grassroots. Fueled by the energy and passion of many young, vital believers this new Christianity is attracting a great deal of positive attention from those outside the traditional church culture. Social researcher George Barna puts it this way:

The United States is home to an increasing number of Revolutionaries. These people are devout followers of Jesus Christ who are serious about their faith, who are constantly worshiping and interacting with God, and whose lives are centered on their belief in Christ. Some of them are aligned with a congregational church, but many of them are not. The key to understanding Revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, it’s their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives.

Giving a more personal face to this new breed of Christ-follower, Barna, in his seminal volume entitled, Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary, describes a “Revolutionary” by the name of David this way:

David, you see, is a Revolutionary Christian. His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advance the Kingdom of God – despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God – much more – in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.

Increasingly, we see more of the old faith structures crumbling, often from their own ineffectiveness and lack of relevancy. As this process goes forward, we also are witness to many of the walls and barriers that formerly separated people and cultures falling as well. To say this is God’s will is a vast understatement. Jesus’ entire ministry was an example of reaching out to those considered unclean or unapproachable. Jesus stressed unity at every turn and this theme was echoed time and time again in the writings of Paul.

This process of tearing down walls of separation and creating avenues of connection and unity has at its heart a desire to resurrect and implement a fundamental Christian principle that has generally been lost in the American church. Our nation was founded on and developed through a people driven by a central cultural icon: rugged individualism. The positive progress engendered by this peculiarly American value is without question. However, we must understand that no matter how theologians, preachers, and laypersons alike have tried to marry this individualism to the Christian faith, they have created a form of Christianity that runs counter to the faith envisioned by Christ.

Fortunately, more and more of these new, revolutionary disciples are coming to understand that a core mission fueled the practice and the success of the early church and it is precisely that core mission that was mentioned at the beginning of the preceding paragraph. The way of living increasingly exemplified in the lives of this new breed of disciple is rooted in the ancient Christian practice known as the common good. Author and social researcher Gabe Lyons explains:

This simple phrase means “the most good for all people.” Aristotle first conceived it, but Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century Roman Catholic philosopher, honed it well as a Christian conception of how Christians ought to live alongside others in society. This strict definition of the common good – the most good for all people – doesn’t prefer one human being over another; instead, it values all human life and wants what is best for all people, Christian or not. It motivates these next Christians to care for all people, whether young or old, disabled, impaired, unborn, or otherwise different from themselves in race, religion, socioeconomic status, or worldview. . . . . . . .Practicing this common good mentality – where good deeds are also seen as integral to Christian mission – can actually have a positive impact on culture at large.

I find it highly refreshing to see this long-standing Christian conception of “common good” begin to reemerge into the light of day. As mentioned before, our culture’s obsession with individuality, coupled with Capitalisms “every man for himself” ethic has submerged the spiritual principle of common good, relegating it to the spiritual hinterland where it only makes an appearance as a trite platitude around the holidays. When you look at the life of Jesus, you quickly see that he placed common good at the very center of his worldview and more importantly, his daily lifestyle. As his followers, we are called to no less.

We began this article by looking at the ten questions posed by Brian McLaren; questions which we can use to frame our discussions of how we, as followers of the Master Jesus, may proceed. As we look at these questions we also discover that our personal spiritual formation and the corporate mission of the church are intimately connected. When things are working as they should, the latter provides direction and support to help facilitate the former. Experience has shown, however, that this is rarely the case. As the future unfolds, rectifying this kind of spiritual misfiring has to be rectified if the church hopes to survive.

More often than not, when we analyze the factors that contribute to the church’s failure to follow Christ’s command to “make disciples,” we find old, time-worn paradigms taking center stage. “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” and “If it was good enough for Grandma Becky, then it’s good enough for me,” or similar refrains echo down the vacant pews in near-empty sanctuaries. Still, one can hope and the new, vibrant kind of Christians we have discussed in this article give us a reasonable foundation upon which we can base that hope. And the church, with all its warts, blemishes, and even its scandals, can still surprise us at times with its resiliency and its ability to transcend the ball and chain of irrelevant tradition. These are special times when something sublime – something mystical – something life-changing is taking place. McLaren describes these experiences this way:

Rare moments come to us in our journey when the penny drops, the tumblers click, the pieces fall into place, the lights come on, and our breath is taken away. The old paradigm falls away behind us like a port of departure, and we are won over to new possibilities, caught up in a new way of seeing, looking toward a new and wide horizon. The Lord has more light and truth to break forth, we believe, and so we raise our sails to the wind of the Spirit.

(c) L.D. Turner 2011/2014/All Rights Reserved


Wise Words for Today

Poverty stands right in front of you
Poverty stands right in front of you (Photo credit: torephoto)

Power is both the means and the end of politics in Washington, DC, but God’s politics is most concerned with the powerless – the least of those among us, whose interests are the most absent in election years and yet are the very ones Jesus would always have us “voting” for. This means we must care most about what happens to the poor and vulnerable, especially when both parties will make their appeals to the middle class voters and wealthy donors they desperately need. It means protecting human life and dignity and promoting the actual health and well-being of families instead of just substituting rhetorical devices around hot-button social issues in the pursuit of votes.

It means lifting up the people who have no political influence: undocumented immigrants, who are the “strangers” among us living in the shadows of a broken immigration system; low-income families and children, who face losing their nutritional and health-care support because others want to protect the subsidies and benefits to the wealthy people and interests that fund all political campaigns; and the poorest of the poor globally, who will die of hunger and preventable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis because of cuts in foreign aid programs . . . . . . .

Jim Wallis

(from On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About 

Serving the Common Good).

Lazarus: Come Forth (Part One)

Plurality religion by state, 2001
Plurality religion by state, 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

As the new century begins to unfold, we often hear many so-called and often self-proclaimed “experts” on culture and religion predicting the extinction of Christianity. If one listens closely to these pundits, it would seem the faith is already in its death throes, gasping vainly for its final breath. Are these doomsday prophets correct? Is the ancient and once-vibrant church universal on the cusp of being relegated to the dust bin of sociological irrelevance?

The answer is clear: Yes and no.

If one is speaking of the Church in its traditional form and structure, securely anchored to its dated and increasingly ineffective methodology of encountering the world, then the answer is a resounding yes. The Church of yesterday is rapidly becoming just that – the Church of yesterday. Stubbornly clinging to a Jurassic vision of its mission, function, and structure, the traditional church is incapable of successfully navigating the shifting shoals of the post-modern world. To make matters worse, people outside the Church have an increasingly negative view of Christianity in general and Christians in particular.

There can be little doubt that we are living not only in the post-modern age, but the post-Christian age as well. Some of our more cocooned brothers and sisters may be in denial of this fact, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. And now hear this, things are not going to go back to the good old days. As the old saying goes, once it’s a pickle, it ain’t gonna be a cucumber ever again. Don’t just take my word for it, take heed of these statistics, culled from the research of several prominent church historians and sociologists, as well as renowned researcher George Barna.

Historians postulate it took from the beginning of the church to the year 1900 for followers of Jesus to make up 2.5 percent of the world population. In the seventy years beyond that, it more than doubled. By 1970, the number of committed believers in the world expanded to over 6 percent. From 1970 to 1992 the number doubled again. So right now, in the world it is something like 12 or 13 percent. These are flowers of Jesus Christ, people who say, “I am born again.” Here’s what’s really interesting. Seventy percent of this growth happened in the last fifteen years. All of that sounds pretty good, Turner, so why are you waving all these red flags in our faces? Well, here’s why:

Seventy percent of that growth is happening outside the United States.

The trends on our shores are just the opposite. In America today, over 85 percent of the churches are stagnant or dying. And while the appearance is there is an abundance of churches, the truth is most are nearly empty buildings with an average attendance of fewer than seventy-five. Every week more churches close their doors. Even in Nashville, the buckle of the Bible Belt and home to numerous large para-church ministries, churches are being turned into storage buildings, office complexes, and strip joints. Some downtown churches are more famous for the architecture than for the person and purpose they were built to glorify.

“America is fast becoming the land of empty church buildings and hollow religion,” said David Foster, founding pastor of one of Nashville’s largest congregations. “Out of   450,000 Protestant churches, we lost fifty thousand churches in the ‘90’s. I heard a denominational leader say recently roughly 5,000 ministers are leaving the ministry every month. These are obscene and sobering numbers.”

Not such a pretty picture, is it? I live in the heart of the Bible Belt, where people still go to church in large numbers and Christianity remains a strong force in the cultural mix. We have no real shortage of churches and, except for several crisis-driven denominations, few churches are actually closing their doors. Still, the trend of declining numbers is more apparent in the larger cities in the Bible Belt, like Nashville, Memphis, and Atlanta. In other parts of the country, entire denominations seem to have on foot in the morgue and the other on a banana peel.

Denominational leaders and church leaders tend to react in one of four basic ways: outright denial; panic-fueled tail chasing, like a dog running in circles; blaming everyone but themselves; or trying to find new, creative ways to fix the mess. Only Number Four has the proverbial snowball’s chance.

A significant section of the Body of Christ has arisen, showing not only signs of life, but also a freshness of vision, a flexibility of methodology, and a contagious optimism. Often referred to as the “EmergingChurch”, this proactive, mission-driven force in the Church is proving that the demise of the Christian faith is, to echo Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated.

In my mind’s eye, I often see Christ standing before the fetid tomb of Mary and Martha’s brother. With a calm, reassuring voice, Jesus spoke:

Lazarus, come forth!

Some of those assembled there initially expressed concern:

But Lord, he has been dead four days. He stinketh.

In spite of the odor, Jesus called his friend back to life and Lazarus responded. Still wrapped in his burial cloths, the once-dead man now walked with new life. As the vision progresses, it is no longer Lazarus who I see resurrected at the Lord’s call, but the contemporary Church. Particularly, I see the revitalization and renewal of the old Mainline denominations, so rich in tradition and resources. These denominations have experienced the greatest loss in terms of numbers and influence, yet it is these very segments of the Church that have the most to offer.

To be continued……

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

Wise Words for Today

Cover of "A New Kind of Christianity: Ten...
Cover via Amazon

What if the Christian faith is supposed to exist in a variety of forms rather than just one imperial one? What if it is both more stable and more agile – more responsive to the Holy Spirit – when it exists in these many forms? And what if, instead of arguing about which form is correct and legitimate, we were to honor, appreciate, and validate one another and see ourselves as servants of one grander mission, apostles of one greater message, seekers one ultimate quest? That, I’d say, sounds like a new kind of Christianity.

But what would that one mission, message, and quest be? Around what one grand endeavor can we rally? What one great danger do people need to be saved from and, more positively, what one great purpose do they need to be saved for? Around what melody can we harmonize without trying to homogenize? Of many possible answers, there is one to which I am continually drawn, embarrassingly obvious and simple to understand, but also embarrassingly challenging to do: the church exist to form Christlike people, people of Christlike love. It exists to save them from the great danger of wasting their lives, becoming something less than and other than they were intended be, gaining the world but losing their souls.

Brian McLaren

(from A New Kind of Christianity)

Resurrecting the Church: Why I Am Optimistic (Part One)

Church of the Holy Spirit in Dúbravka
Church of the Holy Spirit in Dúbravka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Christ left his heavenly abode and came down to earth in order to accomplish a multi-dimensional mission. His task involved setting in motion in the physical realm God’s plan to restore humankind to spiritual life and right relationship with him, to provide a mechanism whereby we might be cleansed of our sins, teach us the proper way to live in relation to God and to one another, and to pave the way for the advent of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Christ accomplished numerous other themes, some quite subtle and others quite obvious. His primary mission, however, we have yet to mention.

Christ came to this planet first and foremost to inaugurate his kingdom on earth. This is how he kicked off his mission, by admonishing listeners to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Christ indeed made progress toward laying the foundation of his kingdom on earth, but when he left our world and went back to the celestial realms, there was a monumental amount of work left to do. Amazingly, he left us in charge of carrying out that mission. Frank Laubach cogently speaks to this startling fact when he says:

When Christ was here on earth, He was limited to performing His ministry in one place and at one time. He was one man, walking beside one sea in one little corner of the earth. He healed whatever He touched, but His touch was necessarily limited by time and space.

Now, does it make sense that the Father would send His son for this limited ministry? I don’t think that is tenable. He made provision to carry on the work through the Holy Spirit: we are to complete His mission. We are his multiplied hands, His feet, His voice, and compassionate heart. Imperfect and partial to be sure, but His healing Body just the same. And it is through the Holy Spirit (Christ’s love which is everywhere at once),  that we receive the power to carry on the work of the apostles. It is a challenging and sobering thought: when we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we receive the same urgent and life-giving force that led our Master.

Whenever I sit down and prayerfully reflect on the fact that Christ left us in charge of establishing his kingdom here on the planet, I am amazed and awe-struck. Yet that is exactly what he did. When taking an objective look at the church and all its foibles, it would not be a reach to conclude that maybe the Master, in his exuberance and his love for us, may have over-estimated our talents and capabilities. Even a superficial examination of the problems and petty squabbles that have typified church history, along with the current chaotic state of doctrinal disunity and dwindling membership, points to we have, at least to this point, fallen quite short of where we should be.

In spite of these facts, I am hopeful that the Body of Christ will eventually move forward and make great strides in laying a positive foundation for Christ’s kingdom on earth. In fact, I am more than hopeful, I am downright optimistic! A few weeks ago, as we were discussing these very issues, a good friend was stunned when I told him I was optimistic about the church’s future and that I felt that the prognosis was far more positive than generally  forecasted by the many pessimistic, hand-wringing naysayers who have all but blown Taps on the church in America.

“How can you possibly be optimistic about the church and the kingdom?” said my friend as he almost choked on his fish taco. “Given the fact that so many people are leaving the church and so many churches are closing their doors, I see no grounds for hope, much less optimism.”

In truth, as a firm believer in the integrity of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament, I cannot be anything but optimistic. Although the numbers of this and the statistics of that are anything but positive, I am optimistic because I rest on the promises given to us by God in the Holy Scriptures.

To be continued…

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

The Path of Sacrificial Service

English: The Lord Jesus Christ in the image of...
English: The Lord Jesus Christ in the image of Good Shepherd. Early Christian trsdition of symbolism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

In examining Jesus’ life we have seen that he was a complete incarnation of God’s wisdom and compassion. In conducting his life the Master exhibited these traits consistently in thought, word and deed. These twin foundations of Christian spirituality, wisdom and compassion, are not ends in and of themselves. Instead, wisdom and compassion are the means leading to another end: sacrificial service.

Even the most cursory examination of Jesus’ life, from his first miracle at the wedding at Cana, right on through his washing of his disciples’ fetid feet and his death on the cross, we see clearly the consistent theme of sacrifice. Indeed, the Master’s life was one continual incarnation of his teaching that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground” and his words to the rich young wanna-be, “ go and sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor.”

Yet this kind of sacrifice does not come natural to us. At least I know it doesn’t come natural to me. I have within me a fibrous root of self-centeredness that, without divine assistance, will rule my life and in the long run, bring me to ruin. Scripture teaches that we all have this selfish core and left unchecked by the Holy Spirit, can infiltrate and poison all aspects of our being. Tyler Edwards, in his excellent book entitled Zombie Church, describes how this tendency toward self-cherishing can even get its tentacles into our prayer lives:

It sometimes seems like we want God to be a genie in a bottle. Sometimes we pray asking God to do everything for us and then expect it will just magically happen. We pray for patience and want to wake up a more patient person. We pray for wisdom and expect that God will just download it into our heads. We just want to put it on the Almighty Santa list and wake up with it under the tree. Then when God puts us in a situation where we can learn the very things we asked Him for, we get upset. We don’t want to have to work at it; we just want God to make it happen. I know I’ve tried to use Him like this………………..I have tried to make my faith a spiritual investment where I get as much out of it as I can while putting in as little as possible. Ever done that? This attitude degrades the church. Oftentimes we show up looking for what we get, not what we have to give.

“Ever done that?” I know when Tyler Edwards asked that question in the quotation above, it hit me right between the eyes. Yes, I have done that, many times over. Thank God I am less prone to do that than I once was. Increasingly, I have come to see the Christian walk of faith, contrary to what many of the “Prosperity Gospel” teachers will tell you, is more about what I can give than what I can get. The fact is, if you really deep down get what  the gospel is all about, you fully understand that you can never give enough to equal what you have already been given by God. When I truly and prayerfully reflect on what Christ’s mission to this world did for me, I am humbled beyond description, filled with not just thankfulness, but more than that, I am imbued with a motivational gratitude that creates in me a desire to be of service to the divine source that has been so gracious to me. Consider:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

Or this:

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (2 Peter 1: 3-4 NLT)

Just prayerfully reflect for a time on what has been said in these scriptures. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. In the “heavenly realms” does not mean they await us after this life, but instead, means that these blessings are already ours. All we have to do is be open and receptive in order to move these blessings down from the spiritual realms. Once we grasp this, once we fully understand that God has already provided everything we could possibly need, we take possession of these blessings by “reckoning” that it is so. (See Romans 6:11 ).

Even more astounding, however, it that in addition to all these promises and blessings that are ours through God’s gracious provision and Christ’s completed mission, we are also able to “partake of the divine nature.” We share the very nature of Christ and from a personal perspective, when I truly grasp this incredible truth, I am rendered speechless.

In an often overlooked passage of scripture, we get a glimpse of how this is possible. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:10 that Christ ascended “higher than the highest heavens so that he may fill all things with himself.” Just chew on that one for awhile. With Christ’s ascension into these realms, the entire universe underwent a complete change. Since his ascension, everything that exists has within it the fullness of Christ. Granted, for some aspects of existence, that fullness remains latent, but if scripture is to be trusted, it is there nonetheless and only needs to be awakened. These are metaphysical mysteries too great for me to get my understanding around completely, but even taken on faith, they stagger the mind.

As followers of Jesus we must understand a cardinal truth when it comes to these spiritual blessings. We are not to squander them. Instead, we are to do everything we can to appropriate these blessings, especially spiritual gifts. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, we develop these gifting and, in the process, become closer to the optimal version of who and what we are. In essence, we become what the Master intended and what scripture describes when it talks about being “in Christ.”

My point in discussing these spiritual blessings and our spiritual gifts, along with the process of becoming the kind and caliber of beings God intended, is that we engage and develop our blessings and gifts in order to bless others through sacrificial service. Just as Christ was wholly obedient to the Father through his service to others, so we are obedient to the Master by our service to those in need. In this way we become the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus in our hurting, needful world.

In essence, we can say that God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. In doing so, we emulate Christ in carrying out much-needed sacrificial service. Jesus’ entire life can be seen through the lens of what biblical Greek terms “kenosis.” Kenosis is typically translated as “self-emptying love” and from beginning to end, Jesus’ mission exemplified this spiritual virtue.

It is this very concept of kenosis that makes the Christian path unique. Even within the faith itself, it seems there were and are still many who missed the boat, so to speak, in terms of understanding what Jesus was bringing into manifestation on this planet. Traditionally, the path of spiritual development has been seen as one of “ascent,” where the spiritual aspirant engages in spiritual practices in order to purify themselves. Growth is seen as an upward spiral or ladder.

His entire life can be seen through the lens of what biblical Greek terms “kenosis.” Kenosis is typically translated as “self-emptying love” and from beginning to end, Jesus’ mission exemplified this spiritual virtue.

Paul gives us a clear description of how Christ’s entire life and mission was characterized by this kenotic ethic:

Though his state was that of God, yet he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to.

Rather, he emptied himself, and assuming the state of a slave, he was born in human likeness.

He, being known as one of us, humbled himself, obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

For this, God raised him on high and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name.

So that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

And so every tongue should proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord!” – to God the Father’s glory. (Phil. 2:9-16)

Built upon the twin pillars of wisdom and compassion, the spiritual formation within the Christian tradition is kenotic – a journey of self-emptying love and sacrificial service. Although most faith traditions have an element of sacrificial service within their framework of spiritual development, the Christian faith tradition is somewhat unique in that it places the ethic of kenosis at its core.

Granted, many contemporary churches are far from this ideal, choosing instead to go off the rails in terms of theology, practice, and especially political alliances. Still, there remain pockets of genuine kenotic spirituality and it is in these pockets that the true presence of authentic Christian spirituality may be found. It is in these living, vibrant churches that the vision and tradition inaugurated by Jesus is alive and well, making life better for all who come in contact with its heart and spirit. It is in these authentic pockets of Christian practice that the people understand that on the path begun by Christ, the motivational emphasis shifts from “me” to “we.”

© L.D. Turner 2012/ All Rights Reserved

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings (Part Two)

English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:...
English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:14-15. Vignette with rays of light emanating from a Hebrew inscription including the name of God; letterpress in two columns above. 1800. Inscriptions: Lettered below image with production detail: “P J de Loutherbourg del”, “J. Heath direx” and publication line: “Pubd by T. Macklin, Fleet Street”. Print made by James Heath. Dimensions: height: 485 millimetres; width: 395 millimetres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

*Continued from Part One…

 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.

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

 Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination.

 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.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013 All Rights Reserved