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The Apologetics of Incarnational Living

Mick Turner

Any thoughtful, observant Christian should be aware by now that the Western church is in crisis. Don’t be deceived by the growth of the so-called “mega-churches” and the various and sundry “evangelistic explosions” that we see taking place. The fact is, people are leaving the faith in droves and fewer new faces are coming through the doors. Moreover, these dwindling numbers, along with our culture’s increasing negative view of Christianity, have relegated the church to a position of peripheral social influence.

Once the bedrock upon which our culture’s value system was built, the church is now little more than marginal voice in the constantly shifting tides of post-modern America. Identified by most Americans as joined at the hip with Right-Wing Conservatism, the church is viewed with increasing disdain and animosity. Traditional attempts at evangelism and apologetics only seem to make the situation worse. Evangelism is seen as an attempt by elitist Christians to ram their faith down people’s throats and apologetics is viewed as an archaic attempt to make the unreasonable make sense.

If the church is to survive, drastic changes must take place. It should be obvious by now that the old ways of “doing church,” especially evangelism, is doomed to failure.

Personally, I have come to believe that the most effective form of Christianity involves being faithful to our calling to incarnate Christ to a hurting world. This is the essence of what is often called “Kingdom living.” It is a lifestyle which, if carried out with compassion and commitment, will in and of itself draw people to the faith. It involves a simple paradigm: find a pressing social need and address it.

Put simply, it means giving flesh to grace. This is what Christ did and we are called to no less.

When people of faith express the love of God through acts of service and kindness, people take notice. These simple acts of grace accomplish far more than reasoned arguments, stadium rallies, popular seminars, and best-selling books. These simple acts of grace, especially given the church’s increasingly negative image in our culture, are the most effective forms of evangelistic activity we can engage in. It was not so different in the early church, which can serve as a model for what we should be doing.

In the middle of the Third Century a terrible plague devastated the Mediterranean world, dealing death to large swaths of the population. Many of those stricken with the disease were sent out of the cities, destined to die agonizing deaths alone and terrified. The Christian faithful, however, responded in a much different fashion. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, describes the acts of grace this way:

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting t heir pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

Many people were drawn to the fledgling church by the acts of service and sacrifice that so typified the early Christians. I am of the belief that it is here that the modern church can find its methodology of renewal. Crafting theological arguments is not the answer in today’s post-modern culture; nor is allying the church with a political party or ideology. Withdrawing into our own “Christian culture” is equally misguided. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves into the hurts of this world and find creative ways to bring God’s healing light to those hurts. Anything else misses the point.

Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words about the final judgment as recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.

Michael Frost, in his excellent book Exiles, points out that this incarnational living is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:

Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.

Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.

This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.

As “living epistles” we have the opportunity to meet God in the divine moment, what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the “epicenter of God’s activity.” When we consistently engage in these acts of Christian kindness, we in essence become what Gary Thomas accurately calls “God Oases.” Thomas explains:

A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy men and women are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out, and they will have something to say.

I find this description of godly men and women highly inspirational, not to mention vivifying. Thomas’ words encourage us to sensitize ourselves more and more to God’s activity in this world and further, to take compassionate action in emulating Christ’s acts of grace and healing. In ways both great and small, we can locate that epicenter of God’s activity and get to work.

It is nothing less than our calling, our responsibility, and our honor. And in so doing, it is my earnest prayer that more and more of us can become living epistles – God oases – and give incarnation to the godly image described in Isaiah 32:2:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind

and a shelter from the storm,

like streams of water in the desert

and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

© L.D. Turner 2010/ 2014/All Rights Reserved

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The Apologetics of Incarnational Living

Evangelistar von Speyer, um 1220 Manuscript in...
Evangelistar von Speyer, um 1220 Manuscript in the Badische Landesbibliothek, Karlsruhe, Germany Cod. Bruchsal 1, Bl. 1v Shows Christ in vesica shape surrounded by the “animal” symbols of the four evangelists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Any thoughtful, observant Christian should be aware by now that the Western church is in crisis. Don’t be deceived by the growth of the so-called “mega-churches” and the various and sundry “evangelistic explosions” that we see taking place. The fact is, people are leaving the faith in droves and fewer new faces are coming through the doors. Moreover, these dwindling numbers, along with our culture’s increasing negative view of Christianity, have relegated the church to a position of peripheral social influence.

Once the bedrock upon which our culture’s value system was built, the church is now little more than marginal voice in the constantly shifting tides of post-modern America. Identified by most Americans as joined at the hip with Right-Wing Conservatism, the church is viewed with increasing disdain and animosity. Traditional attempts at evangelism and apologetics only seem to make the situation worse. Evangelism is seen as an attempt by elitist Christians to ram their faith down people’s throats and apologetics is viewed as an archaic attempt to make the unreasonable make sense.

If the church is to survive, drastic changes must take place. It should be obvious by now that the old ways of “doing church,” especially evangelism, is doomed to failure.

Personally, I have come to believe that the most effective form of Christianity involves being faithful to our calling to incarnate Christ to a hurting world. This is the essence of what is often called “Kingdom living.” It is a lifestyle which, if carried out with compassion and commitment, will in and of itself draw people to the faith. It involves a simple paradigm: find a pressing social need and address it.

Put simply, it means giving flesh to grace. This is what Christ did and we are called to no less.

When people of faith express the love of God through acts of service and kindness, people take notice. These simple acts of grace accomplish far more than reasoned arguments, stadium rallies, popular seminars, and best-selling books. These simple acts of grace, especially given the church’s increasingly negative image in our culture, are the most effective forms of evangelistic activity we can engage in. It was not so different in the early church, which can serve as a model for what we should be doing.

In the middle of the Third Century a terrible plague devastated the Mediterranean world, dealing death to large swaths of the population. Many of those stricken with the disease were sent out of the cities, destined to die agonizing deaths alone and terrified. The Christian faithful, however, responded in a much different fashion. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, describes the acts of grace this way:

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting t heir pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

Many people were drawn to the fledgling church by the acts of service and sacrifice that so typified the early Christians. I am of the belief that it is here that the modern church can find its methodology of renewal. Crafting theological arguments is not the answer in today’s post-modern culture; nor is allying the church with a political party or ideology. Withdrawing into our own “Christian culture” is equally misguided. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves into the hurts of this world and find creative ways to bring God’s healing light to those hurts. Anything else misses the point.

Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words about the final judgment as recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.

Michael Frost, in his excellent book Exiles, points out that this incarnational living is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:

Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.

Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.

This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.

As “living epistles” we have the opportunity to meet God in the divine moment, what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the “epicenter of God’s activity.” When we consistently engage in these acts of Christian kindness, we in essence become what Gary Thomas accurately calls “God Oases.” Thomas explains:

A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy men and women are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out, and they will have something to say.

I find this description of godly men and women highly inspirational, not to mention vivifying. Thomas’ words encourage us to sensitize ourselves more and more to God’s activity in this world and further, to take compassionate action in emulating Christ’s acts of grace and healing. In ways both great and small, we can locate that epicenter of God’s activity and get to work.

It is nothing less than our calling, our responsibility, and our honor. And in so doing, it is my earnest prayer that more and more of us can become living epistles – God oases – and give incarnation to the godly image described in Isaiah 32:2:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind

and a shelter from the storm,

like streams of water in the desert

and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

© L.D. Turner 2010/2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...
First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!

David Foster

(from Renegades Guide to God)

Living as a New Creation (Part Two)

English: Ascension of Christ
Image via Wikipedia

Mick Turner

(continued from Part One)

When we encounter our consistent difficulties in living out the Christian life as Christ intended, one of the reasons is our lack of understanding of who and what we are “in Christ.” It often saddens me to the core to hear genuinely sincere followers of the Christ speak of themselves as “miserable sinners” or “totally depraved humans.” We speak of humanity as if we were some sort of low-grade pond scum without merit or moral fiber. What’s worse is the reality that this stilted, sinful (yes, I said sinful) view of our station as human beings has been foisted upon the church not by its enemies or other faith systems, but instead, by many of its own leaders and teachers. I find this especially shameful.

As redeemed and spiritually reborn persons, our humanity is our crowning glory. Born from above, we have been restored to the pristine glory that God originally intended for us. God has done this for us through the being, the mission, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ. Further, he has provided everything we need in order to lead a godly life (see 2 Peter 1:3) and for us to not claim this renewed life and all that it implies is sacrilege in its most rebellious form. In essence, through Christ God has restored us to righteousness and this gift of right standing with the Father is eternal. What we have to grasp is the fact that we are right now, at this very moment, as pure and as righteous as we are ever going to be. We have to be because the Father’s unfathomable holiness could not tolerate our presence at his right hand, where scripture tells us we now reside with Christ. Andrew Farley, in his great little book entitled The Naked Gospel tells us:

We find it difficult to grasp the idea that God calls us righteous because we actually are righteous. It feels more humble to believe we’re filthy worms awaiting a future change into beautiful butterflies…………..Jesus stated it best. He said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:20). So if we Christians don’t claim to possess perfect righteousness, we are lowering God’s standard. We are watering down the gospel. We insinuate that Jesus can unite himself with sin. And we insult the perfection of God.

The point Farley is driving at is what Paul tells us time and again in Romans: we have to come to a point where we live the reality, not just believe it, that our old self has been crucified with Christ. It is dead and gone. From a spiritual perspective, this is the only possible reality. As Christians, we are now united with God through Christ and further, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us. On top of all this, we are also filled with Christ (see Ephesians 4:10). As hard as it may be for us to fathom, we are now the “Temple of God.” In the old temple in Jerusalem, God dwelled in the inner most room of the temple, called the Holy of Holies. Nothing impure or imperfect could enter there and even the High Priest only ventured in once each year.

Friends, we are now the Holy of Holies. We may not feel like it. We may not understand it. We may look at other followers of Christ and, knowing their shortcomings, find it hard to believe that they are the Temple of God, the very Holy of Holies. I guess that is one reason we are told that trusting our feelings is a tenuous, risky business. Scripture affirms that we are now the dwelling place of God and if God lives in us, our true being cannot be imperfect. That is why the old self had to die with Christ. Andrew Farley continues:

The risen Christ doesn’t join himself to filthy worms. The Holy Spirit doesn’t dwell in dirty sinners. Christ only unites himself with those who are like him in spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t reside in someone who remains even 1 percent flawed by sin. . . . . . . .But we have been perfectly cleansed. We have been made perfectly righteous at our core through spiritual surgery. This is the way we can enjoy even a moment of relationship with Jesus Christ.

As we look at all this, again, some of us may find it hard to believe, especially those of us who struggle with chronic, long-standing strongholds and negative emotions. We need, however, to not only believe it but live it. By that I mean we must base our thoughts, decisions, and actions upon this reality. We must come to view ourselves in precisely the same way God sees us: pure, holy, whole, and righteous.

(c) L.D. Turner 2012 / All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...
Image via Wikipedia

…..the Spirit of God now calls his people to live from an adequate basis for character transformation, resulting in obedience to and abundance in Christ. This really is something different. The present moment is not an occasion to keep on doing the same things Christians have been doing in the recent past – except now “really meaning it.” It is time to change our focus, individually and in our Christian groupings.

If we as Christ’s people genuinely enter Christ’s way of the Heart, individuals will find a sure path toward becoming the persons they were meant to be: thoroughly good and godly persons, yet purged of arrogance, insensitivity, and self-sufficiency. Christian assemblies will become what they have been in many periods of the past and what the world desperately calls for today: incomparable schools of life…  

Dallas Willard

(from Renovation of the Heart)

Wise Words for Today

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...
Image via Wikipedia

If we do not stop traveling down the road we are on, we will not just destroy the planet and everyone on it but continue to betray the heart of Christianity. Our task now is not just to demythologize Jesus. It is to let the breath of the Galilean sage fall on the neck of the church again. First we have to listen not to formulas of salvation but to a gospel that is all but forgotten. After centuries of being told that “Jesus saves,” the time has come to save Jesus from the church.

If the door is locked, we will break in through the windows. If anyone forbids us to approach the table, we will overturn it and serve communion on the floor. If any priest tells us we cannot sing this new song, we will sing it louder, invite others to sing it with us, and raise our voices in unison across all the boundaries of human contrivance – until this joyful chorus is heard in every corner of the world, and the church itself is raised from the dead.

Robin Meyers

(From:  Saving Jesus from the Church)

The Advent of Advent

Adventkranz (liturgisch)
Image via Wikipedia

As we begin the season of Advent, let us pause and give thanks for the reason for the season: The birth of light in darkness. It is my earnest prayer that the Light of Christ may be born in the manger of each and every heart as the Creator bathes the earth with new and vital energies. Today may we be aware of the prophecy of Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of great darkness — on them, light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2 NRSV)

I am also aware that in many cases these days, the “land of great darkness” has been the Body of Christ itself. May we who dare to take up the mantle of “Christian” become  aware of what a truly magnificent being Jesus Christ was and is and further, may we become deeply aware of the blessed Light that shines on us and especially, shines within us. May our lives be that of living epistles, giving honor and glory to that Light.

Have a great Advent.

Mick