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

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Responding to God: Just Keep It Simple

Mick Turner

I think one of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the gospel message is that, in spite of past screw ups, Jesus loves and accepts us as we are. Not only that, but through the actions of the blessed Holy Spirit, he is willing to help us change. And even more mind boggling, he is planning on making us a full partner in his father’s business. Author and teacher Billy Joe Daugherty speaks to these themes in a clear manner:

This is the good news of Jesus: He loves you just the way you are, yet He sees you for what you can become…..He sees you sharing the living water with others who are dry on the inside….God has big plans for you. It may seem like you have wasted your life, but with Jesus you can make up for lost years in a short time. He will not reject you for your past failures. He welcomes you to come to him and receive living water.

As I said, I find this aspect of the Lord to be most comforting because I have certainly messed up things many times. Further, I can truly relate to that feeling of having wasted my life. Yet Jesus is willing to put that behind us now and turn both His eyes and mine toward a more positive, successful future, one where I can have a positive, beneficial impact on the world in general and my family in particular.

More amazing is the fact that I never have to go it alone. Instead, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is walking next to me and living inside me in a miraculous way I can never understand but can fully appropriate through the simple act of faith. I don’t know about you, but when I truly take time and reflect on all this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The only thing required of me to receive the healing water of Christ is faith. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand what if means to have faith. Jesus plainly told us that he has overcome the world and all that we have to do to have a life of spiritual fulfillment is to accept what He has told us in faith. As I was sitting here writing these words I was reminded of the following words, again from Daugherty:

Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It is our faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross. In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and took the keys of authority from him. Now Jesus Christ reigns forever.

Jesus reigns forever and scripture assures me that I am co-heir with Him, as are you if you have accepted his gift of grace with faith. This acceptance I am speaking of here involves more than the forgiveness of sin, although it certainly involves that. By His blood the Lord purchased our forgiveness and justified our being before the Father, but the cross also accomplished something equally significant, not to mention precious. Through Christ’s cross, his death, and his resurrection, we are empowered to live as he says we should live. Just as we could never do enough to attain forgiveness and justification before God, we can never live the full Christian life under our own power. We need something more and Christ has provided that power for us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Further, we have on the inside of us the same resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life. The ultimate nature of that power is far too profound and mysterious for me to ever get my mind completely around but, on faith, I am fully convinced that it is mine.

So what stops us from simply accepting what Christ is freely offering us? There are a number of reasons I suspect, but one I encounter with more than a few sincere believers is one you might not immediately think of. Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. I don’t mean to imply that these issues are not important. Certainly doctrine and dogma have their place. But I often wonder if Christ smiles in approval when he hears us debating his simple truths to the point that we divide ourselves into countless denominations and sects and tear asunder the Body that he meant to live in love and unity. On the contrary, I suspect this endless hairsplitting and theological nitpicking brings tears to his eyes.

During the early 1980’s I enrolled in several Religion courses at a small university near my home in north Alabama. I recall one course in particular that centered on the life of Jesus. My fellow classmates were an interesting group. Some were undergraduate students pursuing coursework in Religion and Philosophy in preparation for seminary. Others were ordained pastors of small local churches who, after preaching for a number of years, felt the need to further their education. Others, like myself, were there seeking a deeper understanding of the Christian faith as well as its history and traditions. Then there was Henry.

No one knew exactly why Henry was enrolled. He rarely spoke and when he did, it was with a soft, slow voice with a pronounced rural southern brogue. Considering the diverse make up of the class, it was natural that heated discussions would often break out. The professor often encouraged this in fact. The class argued about many issues. The nature of the Trinity, immersion versus sprinkling, the permanency of salvation, the list is endless.

I admit I often enjoyed these ballyhoos as they lent a degree of excitement to the proceedings and made the class time pass more quickly. One night the class was engaged in a verbal free for all centering on the Virgin Birth. I remember clearly hearing a wide range of viewpoints on this, mostly in support of the indisputable validity of the doctrine of virgin birth. I for one remained on the periphery of this dispute mostly out of ignorance. The doctrine of Virgin Birth was not for me an issue of central importance to my daily experience of the Christian path. In fact, unless it was brought up for discussion, I rarely consider it. It was one of those issues that I had placed on the theological back burner.

After a lengthy discussion, the professor looked to the back of the room and said, “Well Henry, you’ve been mighty quiet in this discussion. Why don’t you share your thoughts on the Virgin Birth with us?”

After a long pause Henry folded his hands on the desk, looked cautiously around the room and said:

“Well, I’ve been a settin’ here for over an hour listenin’ to you gents discussing this here thing about the Virgin Birth of Christ. I guess ya’ll know a heck of a lot more about all this than I do. You must or else you couldn’t talk about it for so long. All I know is this. Jesus loves me and I love him and try to do what he says. I reckon it don’t matter much to me what his momma done.”

Point taken Henry, end of discussion.

Instead of simply taking Christ at his word and freely receiving his gift of both salvation and sanctification, we often enter into arcane debates over issues that are not fundamental to the issue at hand. At the end of the day, we complicate a simple offer and this confuses believers inside the church and turns away many on the outside. I could give countless examples of this because I used to do this very thing. We all too often major in the minors and minor in the majors.

One issue that I have often heard brothers and sisters discussing, often in heated tones, is the order of salvation. Some say that we repent, and then we are saved. Others say that we repent because we are saved. I imagine one could make a case for either side of this issue by citing various passages of scripture but in terms of our response to God’s grace I don’t see that it matters much on a practical level. The fact is God makes His offer and we respond. The mere act of responding is in itself an act of repentance. We accept that we are accepted, complete with our cuts and bruises, our shortcomings and short-fallings. This is the meaning of grace, pure and simple.

Our role in this process is not to analyze, dissect, or debate. Our job is to respond. We either accept the offer or we refuse it. God has so arranged this process that it is really up to us.

Grace is not something we can earn. We can’t work our way into God’s grace because, in spite of our best intentions, nothing would ever, ever be enough. We can’t even pray our way into God’s grace. We can’t plea-bargain and attempt to get a lighter sentence for our sins. No, all we can do is get it through our heads, however thick, that grace flows from God to us. Our task is to accept it fully and get on with the task of letting the Holy Spirit flow into us and do His work to make us more like Christ.

The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.

As I have previously shared on this website, I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was chewing on me. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.

What we can do is express our gratitude by being thankful, expressing our heart-felt appreciation for what God has done for us. Our gratitude must further be translated into positive action and a repentant lifestyle, which expresses itself in obedience, faithfulness, humility, faith, trust and, above all, a selfless love. In other words, we accept God’s gift of grace, forgiveness and adoption into his family, then get on with the work of growing in Christ-Character. Again, get this down and get it deep. Grace comes from God, not from anything you have done or will ever do in the future. Listen to Gary Collins:

Grace is not a loan from the past. It is a gift that extends through all eternity. It is a gift that helps mold our lives so that our spirituality is God-centered, Christ-honoring, Spirit-guided, life-influencing, and ultimately, fulfilling.

Don’t you just love that? God-centered, Spirit-guided, and life-influencing. Once we accept God’s gift, and importantly, once we accept that we are accepted by God, our duty is to live a life that is focused on God and makes Him the fulcrum of our thoughts, words and deeds. The amazing thing here is that God’s grace extends even to the point that we are aided in making him the focal point of life. The Holy Spirit comes along side of us, in fact, comes to reside in us and guides us as we seek to open our ears so that we can hear Him speak. As this happens, we increasingly become equipped to do Christ’s work on earth, to be his hands, his feet and his heart in a broken, dysfunctional world. Our life is influenced so we can influence other lives. In essence, once we accept God’s gracious gift, we are empowered to become God-centered, Spirit-guided servants that can make a positive difference in the world.

© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Discerning the Deceitful and the Delusional

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

Mick Turner

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

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

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

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

My heart is broken because of the false prophets,

And my bones tremble.

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

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

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

(Jeremiah 23: 9-10 NLT)

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

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

Filling you with futile hopes.

They are making up everything they say.

They do not speak for the Lord.

(Jeremiah 23: 16 NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old ...
Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old book. Category:Illuminated manuscript images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that we have reduced the gospel from a dynamic and beautiful symphony of God’s love for and in the world to a bare and strident monotone. We have taken this amazing good news from God, originally presented in high definition and Dolby stereo, and reduced it to a grainy, black-and-white, silent movie. In doing so, we have also stripped it of much of its power to change not only the human heart but the world. This is especially reflected in our limited view of evangelism. Jesus commanded His followers to take the good news of reconciliation and forgiveness to the ends of the earth. The dictate is the same today.

Christianity is a faith that was meant to spread – but not through coercion. God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated. Our job is not to manipulate or induce others to agree with us or to leave their religion and embrace Christianity. Our change is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love in tangible ways. When we are living out our faith with integrity and compassion in the world, God can use us to give others a glimpse of His love and character. It is God – not us – who works in the hearts of men and women to forgive and redeem. Coercion is not necessary or even particularly helpful. God is responsible for the harvest – but we must plant, water, and cultivate the seeds.

Richard Stearns

(from The Hole in Our Gospel)

Wise Words for Today

Inside of Saint Ananias taken in 2006
Inside of Saint Ananias taken in 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In organic Christianity or this new reformation, the move of God will not simply be at the hand of a person, but all of God’s people. There will be key leaders, but their job is to equip the people to do the work of ministry (see Eph. 4: 11-12). It was God’s intent from the beginning for every believer to do the work of the Kingdom (see Mark 16: 17-18). In this new reformation, God’s people will have their identity in who they are in Christ. They will understand that when they became a new creation, God put within them, by grace, what was necessary to succeed for His Kingdom…..

Ron McIntosh

(from Organic Christianity)

Intercessory Prayer and the Alleviation of Poverty

Cover of "The Hole in Our Gospel: What do...
Cover via Amazon

Mick Turner

*** This article first appeared in Wellsprings and Wineskins in early 2011, and was also featured here on Lifebrook a bit later. Its message about poverty and the importance of prayer is as vital today as it ever was.

Crippling poverty has been a daily reality for far too many people for as long as history has been recorded. In spite of the great advances in agriculture and other life sciences, for countless people around the globe each day is a struggle for survival, a never-ending search for food and clean drinking water. It is estimated that 25,000 children die each day from starvation and illness directly related to poverty. If we lay claim to the mantle of Christian, we cannot ignore these realities.

Many of us feel there is nothing that we can do to make a dent in the problem of global poverty. We cite lack of money, lack of time, and countless others “lacks” when called upon to take positive steps of Christian love to address chronic poverty, even in our own neighborhoods and cities. I have little doubt that tears flow in the heavenly realms each time we hide behind our “lacks.”

There is one thing that we all can do, however: We can pray. If we truly believe in the effectiveness of prayer, and as followers of Jesus we have plenty of reason to believe, then we surely understand that by praying for those in poverty we can accomplish great things. Further, we can all find the time to offer up intentional intercession on behalf of those in dire need. In his book A Hole in Our Gospel, World Vision director Richard Stearns shares these words, penned by his colleague John Robb:

Wherever in the world there is significant development – people coming to Christ, health improvements, economic opportunities, adoption of kingdom values – it is the direct result of Christians praying.

I strongly believe what Robb is saying. During the years I spent working with AIDS patients, veterans, and the homeless in Dade County, Florida, I personally witnessed the miracles that can be brought about through prayer. The same is true for the five years of front line service in China. Without a strong foundation of prayer, little could have been accomplished.

Intentional intercessory prayer on behalf of those mired in poverty can be done in your private devotion time, or it can be done as a group project. Another way to make this kind of prayer a part of your daily living is to follow the seven steps suggested by Richard Stearns:

When you take your morning shower, pray for families in poor countries who do not have access to clean water, forcing mothers to spend hours collecting inadequate water and causing children suffer and even die from water-related diseases.

When you pack your lunch, or your child’s lunch, pray for the one billion people who are chronically hungry in the world today.

As you commute to your job, pray for the adults around the world who can’t find consistent work to feed their families, or pray for the millions of children forced into harmful or exploitative labor.

When you drop your child off at school, pray for children around the world who cannot get an education because of poverty or discrimination.

As you take a vitamin, pray for the families without adequate health care, leaving them and especially their children vulnerable to preventable diseases.

When you arrive home after work, pray for the children and families who are homeless due to poverty, conflict, or natural disasters.

As you tuck your children into bed, guide them to pray for the millions of children who have lost their parents around the world – especially the fifteen million AIDS orphans around the world, many of whom must survive without guardians.

Stearns suggestions are just that, suggestions. However, if you make a committed and diligent effort to make these prayers a part of your daily round for the next thirty days or so, you may very well have a significant impact on someone in need. Never discount or minimize the power of committed prayer. Time and time again it has been shown to work wonders.

I would also suggest that you pick up a copy of Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Spend quality time with this book, slowly imbibing the practical wisdom contained in its pages and the inspiration gleaned from the author’s candid revelations regarding his own journey from corporate president to a front line, leadership role with World Vision. It will be time well spent.

© L.D. Turner 2011/ All Rights Reserved

Organic Christianity: Claiming Who You Already Are

English: End of the Second Epistle of Peter an...
English: End of the Second Epistle of Peter and beginning of the First Epistle of John in the same column of the codex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Recently I completed reading Ron McIntosh’s latest book entitled, Organic Christianity. This was the second book I have read authored by McIntosh, the first being The Greatest Secret. I have found both of these works to be both informative and inspirational and perhaps even more significant, I have found them highly practical. The ideas presented are spelled out in such a way that they are made applicable to daily living.

In this brief article, I want to focus on a basic idea from Organic Christianity. McIntosh repeats the theme I have often stressed – that we have already been given all we need to lead a godly life and further, we have been imbued with the power to make that life a manifest reality.

Organic Christianity is more about renewing our minds to who we already are than trying to become who we aren’t. Remember, we’ve already been given everything we need for life and godliness (see 2 Peter 1:3). We’ve already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm (see Eph. 1:3). We already have in us everything to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we could ask or think (see Eph. 3:20. We are complete in Him (see Col. 2:10). The problem is we haven’t become fully persuaded of who God is, what he has already done, and who He has made us to be.

McIntosh then goes on to describe the path whereby we may become fully persuaded, the truths of which are housed in Romans 12:2:

  1. Be not conformed to this world.
  2. Be transformed.
  3. Renew your mind.
  4. Prove the perfect will of God

He then goes on to describe a process whereby the invisible kingdom may become manifest in our world:

Incubation (meditating on God’s Word)

Plus

Revelation (the result of meditation)

Plus

Impartation (bestowing or intertwining revelation in our lives)

Equals

Manifestation (the invisible Kingdom becoming visible in our world.)

In describing the power of biblical meditation, McIntosh states:

Meditation allows us to focus on something until we are fully persuaded of truth (or a lie for that matter), until it is imbedded in our conscious and subconscious minds. It becomes a part of the makeup of our being until it is our nature to act accordingly.

Here McIntosh touches on a fundamental and salient truth regarding the Christian walk of spirituality: in order for any spiritual principle to be personally transformational, it must become internalized.

These are just a few thoughts I have after reading McIntosh’s latest book and I wanted to share them with you. I apologize for the brevity of these comments, but my recovery from the recent surgery remains somewhat slow. I recommend this book and encourage you to take the time to read it. You will be blessed by its content.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved