God Does Not Accept Letters of Resignation

L.D. Turner

I had the good fortune of spending most of my formative childhood years growing up on the southwest coast of Florida. The area from Tampa Bay south, all the way down the coast to Naples, was a haven for two types of people in general: “snow birds” who were mostly retired and lived half the year in northern states like Michigan, Ohio, New York, and the like; and other retired folks who lived in the Sunshine State year round.

From a fairly early age, I was an observant sort of child who never took things at face value, but instead, looked to find the reasons for the way things worked as they did. I soon noticed that for some reason, aside from obvious health or economic issues, some of the retired folks seemed happy, active, and more than content with their lot in life, whereas others often walked around our little town looking for all the world like they had just been baptized in pickle brine.

A generally curious child, I set about trying to discover the reasons for this dichotomy that existed among the retirees on Florida’s “Sun Coast.” Space does not allow for an in depth sociological analysis of this issue, nor am I capable of pulling of such a undertaking. I will, however, offer up what I think may have been, and remains to this day, the primary cause of such a difference in the quality of life among these senior citizens. Put simply, what I discovered, and many social researchers have since validated, is this:

Those retirees that had a happier and more positive quality of life had a clear sense of meaning, purpose, and calling in life. Those who had a more negative life experience did not.

I mention all of this because I think it points to a vital issue in healthy aging and also gives us a clear revelation of the kind of God that is the creative force behind the universe. The fact that those retirees exhibiting a more positive, rewarding, and useful lifestyle possessed a sense of purpose and calling points to a reality that scripture repeatedly affirms. God places a personal and unique purpose or “calling” in our lives and when we work toward fulfilling that purpose or calling, our life experience is more positive and rewarding. Further, the Creator equips us with the very gifts we need in order to carry out that unique mission that is ours.

These spiritual realities and how they connect with the issues of aging and retirement are critically important in this age we find ourselves in. In America, the population is aging and the Baby Boomer generation is entering their golden years. Although the economic realities of this age make retirement a pipe dream for more than a few boomers, there remain a significant number who are or soon will be leaving the work force.

Others may have to cut back on working hours or leave employment altogether for health reasons. Even though we have made great advancement in terms of medical care, illness still strikes with alarming regularity and for many, disability becomes a reality that must be faced.

I speak of these matters from more than just an observational or academic perspective. I have lived and am currently living it. I have been struggling with progressive heart disease since my mid-forties and throughout it all, God has given me a number of challenges and callings that, when I took risks and followed his leading, proved fruitful beyond my greatest expectation.

Over the years my own personal callings have led to the formation of a thriving ministry to the homeless, a coalition of service-oriented partnerships among Chinese congregations in South Florida, serving five years on the mission field in Mainland China, and the founding of LifeBrook and its ongoing development.

The unfortunate reality is many people reach their retirement years and feel like they are used up – like they have nothing left to offer. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You have a lifetime of experience to draw upon and I am certain that there are people that are in need of exactly what you have to offer. God knows you, and he knows what people need. Flowing from this divine knowledge, he may very well plant a seed of calling in your heart. Your job is to be sensitive to that calling, however faint it may seem, and act upon it. You are never too old, too washed out or washed up. God can use you and will use you. Frank Damazio, in his fine book Attitude of Faith speaks the truth when he says:

God has a plan for you, a word for you, a future for you. God has something great in store for you. You are not too old to believe and imagine. There have been people in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties who didn’t allow their ages to limit their abilities to imagine and, as a result, brought about their greatest life accomplishments in their latter years.

The fact is, the pages of the Bible are filled with the exploits of older individuals who, following God’s leading, accomplished things that would have seemed impossible to most. Abraham and Moses, for example, were far from spring chickens when God called them out and set them on their way to great accomplishments. I don’t care how old you are, God can and will call you as well. The question again remains: How will you respond? Will you say yes to the Master’s call to a great adventure or will you refuse, choosing instead to stagger across the finish line of life instead of going out at full gallop?

I assure you that if you respond in a positive, proactive manner to the Creator’s calling, you can realistically expect that he will meet you where you are. Yes, you may encounter difficulties and setbacks in pursuing the vision God has placed in you, but you can trust God to do his part and, in the end, you will succeed. I love this version of 1 Samuel 2:8 from The Message:

God puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives – a place in the sun!

Yes, God is in the business of restoring burned-out, tired people and rekindling forgotten dreams. He is the source of all that is and he wants you to succeed in the purpose to which he has called you. For this reason you can approach the future with positive expectation. Once again, let’s listen to Frank Damazio:

God wants to rekindle a fire in your heart. If you are confined to a sickbed, He is with you. If you are trapped in a hopeless situation, He will bring hope to your heart. He will give you a fresh expectation for what He can do in and through you, starting right where you are. He has His hand on you, and He will use you where you are to do great things for Him.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been, and what you have done. That divine purpose still exists inside you and with a little effort and a lot of faith, you can discover it. Start with prayer, asking God through the Holy Spirit to reveal his divine plan for your life. Be persistent in your asking; be vigilant in waiting for an answer; and be confident that the answer will come.

Also, keep in mind that it is never too late to get started on the dreams God has for you. God created you to accomplish extraordinary things and no matter how old you are, how sinful you have been, or whatever afflictions you may suffer from, God can and will use you because that is one of the primary purposes you were created in the first place. Listen as Jim Graff speaks clearly to this issue:

God uses ordinary people – with all their flaws and problems – to accomplish extraordinary dreams. You and I don’t have to wait until we have it all together, achieve a certain degree of fame, earn a specified amount of money, get a better job, or meet the right person. Instead, we can start today to embrace who we are and how God made us, knowing that he will use us. From this knowledge, wellsprings of confidence water our hearts. That confidence allows us to see our dreams and visions as God’s road maps to significant lives.

A significant life – that is what God created you for. Make a consecrated commitment right now to lead a life of excellence in cooperation and divine partnership with the Holy Spirit. The life of excellence is what Jesus demonstrated for us and it is that same kind of life to which each of us is called. Sure, we may foul up things from time to time, but God is right there with us offering a hand to pick us up, dust us off, and send us on our divinely appointed way.

© L.D. Turner 2013/2017 All Rights Reserved

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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

Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: God’s Perspective

Mick Turner

These days there is a near obsession on the part of people about discovering their purpose in life. All one has to do is take a trip to one of the big book store chains in order to verify this reality. Shelves are lined with books that have titles or sub-titles related to discovering and living one’s personal life mission or purpose.

Confusion over purpose and meaning in life is not limited to those people outside the church. Many Christians are also searching for purpose and meaning. Christian book titles also reflect this search and any workshop or seminar on people of faith finding their purpose is packed to the gills, often with a waiting list. The question that comes to my mind is: Why do so many people seem to be wandering through life without having a clear and defining purpose in life?

Answers to this question are complicated, especially when it comes to the Body of Christ. It is fairly easy to understand why many well-meaning persons outside the church are confused about ultimate meaning in life. After all, with the post-modern anthem that there is no ultimate truth, it should be apparent that logic would also dictate that there is no ultimate meaning. This is the unsightly afterbirth of our cultures preoccupation with existentialism, which stressed the ultimate lack of meaning as well as the absurdity of life.

But what gives with the church people?

I think there are myriad reasons why Christians also struggle with this dilemma along with everyone else. First of all, the focus of a large percentage of Christian preaching during the first 75 years of the century just ended was not on meaning or purpose, but instead, was on salvation and other worldly concerns. Many church leaders believed strongly in the fact that if folks got their ticket to heaven, that was all they needed. Little attention was paid to a person’s needs in this world and even less to higher order needs like a genuine sense of purpose in living. As the century wound toward a close, this focus began to change for the better, but in some quarters of Christianity, there is still a lot of ground to make up.

In light of this situation, here at LifeBrook we make it part of our mission to focus on assisting people in defining a personal mission in life and, beyond that, making positive, practical plans to pursue that purpose. Space here doesn’t allow for a full treatment of the subject; in fact, that would take an entire book and there are already plenty of those on the shelves. Still, let me offer a few guiding principles that we have found effective with both our coaching programs and our training sessions.

We encourage people in search of mission and purpose to consider, reflect on, and pray about the following realities.

God has a plan and a purpose for every believer

Your plan and purpose is unique to you and can only be realized by someone equipped with the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gifted you with.

You plan and purpose will be biblical in nature and will never contradict scriptural principles in any way.

No matter how bad you have messed up in the past, God can and will still use you.

In fact, God may use your past failures in creative ways that will enable you to be of great service in a particular area.

No one is born an accident in this world. Everyone is on this planet because God wanted them to be here. Accordingly, no one need wander adrift in life without a purpose and sense of mission. God planned for you to be here and has something important for you to accomplish.

Each day of your life provides experiences designed to help you grow and become better equipped to carry out your purpose.

In order to discover you mission, you need to understand God’s mission of restoration.

In order to discover your mission, you need to undergo a paradigm shift; you must stop seeing things from your perspective and begin to view things from God’s perspective.

Once you discover your mission, you have free choice to pursue it or decline it.

All of these are important factors in discovering and realizing success in terms of one’s mission in life, however, we don’t have space here to look at all of them. In light of this, let me just expand briefly on the last two points.

Let’s face a fundamental reality here. Most of us spend the majority of our time viewing life in general and our mission in living in particular through a somewhat self-absorbed perspective. We see things from our vantage point and treat whatever we see as if it is true reality. Unfortunately, our view of reality from a personal vantage point is both limited and tainted. It is limited because we are not omniscient and it is tainted because whatever we see is filtered through the matrix of our own limited knowledge. If we are to discover our God-given purpose, we must change our perspective; we have to start looking at things from God’s perspective.

In order to get a “God’s eye view” of meaning and purpose, we have to discover God’s purpose. We do this by looking to scripture to see the unfolding of God’s great story across the span of the ages. God’s story is one of creation, redemption, restoration, and return. Whatever our individual purpose might be, rest assured it will exist as a sub-story in God’s great story. Also, we should keep in mind that whatever our mission and purpose might be, it will be related somehow to the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth.

Our two primary tools for discovering meaning, mission, and purpose are prayer and scripture. If we are indeed serious about discovering what it is God has planned for us to do, we have to discipline ourselves to spend time with him. He cannot, and will not, reveal his purpose to us if we are not even consecrated enough to seek him out and rest in his presence.

When we do discover his plans for us, we are faced with a choice. That choice is simple in terms of content: Do we accept his mission for us or do we reject it? Just as in salvation, God will not force a decision upon us. We can say yea or we can say nay. If we answer in the positive; if we say yes to God, we are in store for a grand adventure. We will continually be amazed at how God will arrange things so that we can succeed and even more amazed at how he will enable us to overcome obstacles that the world or the enemy places in our path. Will all of this require work on our part? Indeed it will my friend. Expect to work as hard as you ever have. Bringing whatever part of his kingdom he has entrusted to you into manifestation on earth will be no easy task.

However, you can bank on one eternal truth: If you do your part, God will do his.

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

Wise Words for Today

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am convinced that as Christians we’re not about programs. We’re not about bigger or better blessings. We’re about responding to people who call for help because their world is falling apart. These individuals aren’t looking to be converted – – they’re looking for help! Being their help – – by being the presence of Christ in their lives – – is the only thing we’re about. Everything else we do is secondary and can even detour us from carrying out the true purpose of the church.

Jerry Cook

(from The Monday Morning Church)

Lazarus, Come Forth (Part Two)

English: Church of Body of Christ in Kaunas. L...
English: Church of Body of Christ in Kaunas. Lietuvių: Dievo kūno bažnyčia, Kaunas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

As the Body of Christ finds its way in our post-modern, post-Christian culture, I believe we will see major chances in the way the Church goes about its business. In addition to shifts in organizational structure and a reduced role of the ordained clergy, the churches that survive will be the ones that are innovative, transformative, and incarnational.

If the Church is to reach the growing post-Christian culture in ways that are relevant and effective, several things must be seen with clarity and focus. First, the primary question that must be answered is not, “How can we evangelize these people?” Instead, the relevant question must be, “How can I help you?” It is through this sort of proactive Christian service that the Church’s evangelistic witness can be best fostered. Secondly, the Church must reconsider how it can best present the truths of the faith in new wineskins that are more appropriate than the 19th Century model that is commonly used even today. We must re-introduce people to God, to Christ, to the Scriptures, and to the Church and this must be done in ways that are both practical and palatable, given the parameters of the environment in which the Church is now operating.

One salient and ubiquitous feature of 21st Century America centers on the increased interest in all things spiritual. Increasingly, people are seeking spiritual experience, not just dogma, doctrine, and didactics. Many Americans find themselves encountering the reality that something important is missing from their lives and they are quite active in their search for an answer. It is here that the Church has consistently fallen short of the mark.

Protestant Christianity in particular has long been suspicious, even paranoid, regarding spiritual disciplines and spiritual experience. As a result, the Church as we know it has been narrowly focused on belief and doctrine, ignoring the experiential, subjective side of an individual’s walk of faith. Discipleship programs have traditionally been focused on regimented Bible study and the central aspect of the overwhelming majority of Protestant worship services is the pastor’s sermon. Is it any wonder that many churches see dwindling numbers? The spiritual seeker of today finds the typical church service and discipleship program as unsatisfying and irrelevant. As a result, they turn elsewhere. Spiritual paths such as Buddhism, Yoga, Wicca, and many self-help programs are flourishing, primarily because they are more likely to address the needs of today’s spiritual seeker.

Connected with this lack of deep discipleship on the part of the Church is a general lack of transformative experience among the faithful. According to the majority of sociological and spiritual research done by Gallup, as well as George Barna, the typical believer is not significantly different than the non-believer in terms of worldview. Our pews are filled with sincere people who are, in the words of Thoreau, living lives of quiet desperation. This unfortunate reality accounts for the fact that a tour of any Christian book store will reveal a plethora of books with dust jackets that claim the book will, “change your life.”

Why do so many Christian experience such a desperate quality of life and seek something life-changing? Precisely because the Church has not provided a consistent means for spiritual growth and fulfillment. Let’s get real about this. A few praise songs, a couple of corporate prayers, a didactic Sunday School lesson, and a sermon just doesn’t cut it. If the Church is to thrive in the context of the current culture, it must be transformative. Few people speak as clearly and consistently on this issue as Dallas Willard:

“The overshadowing event of the past two centuries of Christian life has been the struggle between orthodoxy and modernism. In this struggle the primary issue has, as a matter of fact, not been discipleship to Christ and a transformation of soul that expresses itself in pervasive, routine obedience to his ‘all that I have commanded you.’ Instead, both sides of the controversy have focused almost entirely upon what is to be explicitly asserted or rejected as essential Christian doctrine. In the process of battles over views of Christ the Savior, Christ the teacher was lost on all sides…..Discipleship as an essential issue disappeared from the churches, and with it there also disappeared realistic plans and programs for the transformation of the inmost self into Christ-likeness. One could now be a Christian forever without actually changing in heart and life. Right profession, positive or negative, was all that was required. This has now produced generations of professing Christians who, as a whole, do not differ in character, but only in ritual, from their non-professing neighbors….”

Finally, the Body of Christ must develop innovative methods of giving flesh to its primary mission: incarnating Christ. The new Church must be mission-driven and willing to get its hands dirty. I believe the 21st Century churches that thrive will increasingly be those that arise out of the culture where a need exists. These types of congregations will be largely unconventional in terms of make up and methodology. Numerous examples already exist and can serve as models upon which new, innovative churches can be built. Congregations like “Mosaic” in Los Angeles, “Solomon’s Porch” in Minneapolis, and “The Rock” in Huntsville, Alabama are but three among many examples to build upon. These churches are thriving because they encounter the surrounding culture and grow within the context of that culture.

If the Body of Christ can incorporate progressive innovation, transformation, and incarnation into its calling and its mission, the consistent answer to the naysayers who are blowing Taps on Christianity will be a resounding, “No!”

The Church faces major challenges as it learns to live within a cultural context in which it finds itself increasingly marginalized. We can either put our heads in the sand and pretend the storm isn’t on the horizon, or, we can come up with creative new wineskins to fulfill our commission being salt and light in our world. Realistically, we can assume some churches will do well, while others will become flavorless seasoning and blown out light bulbs. Some will become, in the words of Paul, a pleasant aroma to the nostrils; while others, unfortunately, will stinketh.

How individual churches choose to respond to the realities of the situation will determine whether they will die, survive, or thrive.

Redefining the Church’s Mission

Assessing the purpose of the Church is a timely issue and one subject to much debate, not to mention wailing and gnashing of teeth. As the Christian Church moves forward into the 21st Century, in all quarters theologians, clergy, and laity are all involved in the task of defining the purpose of the Church in general and the role it will play in society in particular.

Nowhere is this discussion more relevant than in the traditional Mainline denominations. Often criticized for being theologically liberal and rigid in structure and function, these denominations have seen a drastic decline in numbers over the past three decades. If these churches are to survive well into the new century, it is obvious that significant change must occur.

I am of the belief that the Church will continue to undergo radical changes over the next decade and these changes will be driven by two primary forces. For most churches, the changes will be brought about by the desire to remain relevant to the post-modern culture in which it finds itself. The second force driving change, for other churches, is survival. Across America, even though some elements of the Christian faith are enjoying growth, others are on the verge of extinction. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this critical situation is seen especially in the Mainline denominations such as the United Church of Christ, several types of Presbyterian Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the American Baptist Church, just to name a few. Unless these denominations make radical alterations to their structure and focus, they may well go the way of the dinosaur.

An exhaustive treatment of the process of redefining the purpose of the Church is beyond the scope of this article. With that caveat, let’s explore a few principles upon which any new mission of the Church must be established.

Underlying all of our efforts as the Body of Christ is the notion of working along with God to establish the “Kingdom.” I can’t stress this notion of Kingdom enough and, if you take a close look at the gospels, neither could Christ. His first public statement was “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” After beginning this way, Christ repeatedly stressed that his mission was to inaugurate the Kingdom. As ongoing agents of incarnation, it is now our mission to pick up where Christ left off. This is the foundational mission of the church. Even the great commission is aimed at this and this only: Bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.

The coming of the Kingdom is really the heart of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins and the work on the cross, although of central significance, is not the heart of the gospel. It is not that which brings life to the body. No, it is the coming of the Kingdom that constitutes the life of the gospel. Unfortunately, the church, especially since the reformation in general and Calvinist theology in particular, has primarily defined the gospel in terms of the remission of sins by the work of Christ. Again, I am not downplaying the importance of this. All I am saying is that it is not the core of the gospel. Jesus repeatedly stressed the coming of the Kingdom.  The remission of sins is part of this, but it is far from the whole enchilada.

Part of our mission also involves reintroducing the world to Christ. I don’t mean to say that the world does not know who Christ is. What I am saying is that they don’t really know who Christ is nor have a grasp on just what he said his mission was. Further, I believe it is imperative that the Church begin this process of reintroducing Christ with its own membership.

The fact is, a great many professing Christians don’t have a clue who Christ was and still is.

For over 2,000 years the church, at times mistakenly and at times deliberately, has weakened the image of Christ and smoothed over the rough edges of his message. That way, a person could be a Christian, remain a Christian, and still be comfortable with the status quo. This has nothing to do with what Jesus was really all about. The fact is, Jesus was far more radical and revolutionary than we have been taught to believe.  Listen to Bruxy Cavey as he describes what happened when he took the blinders off and got a glimpse of the real Jesus:

I entered a season in my life when I began to realize that the Jesus described in the Bible was far more attractive, exciting, and scandalous than the meek and mild Jesus many churches proclaimed. I was young and beginning to study the Bible for myself and, in the process, came to believe that I held a volatile document in my hands – one that had the potential to destroy all religion from the inside out…The writers of the Gospels – the four biblical books that record the life of Christ – us a fascinating Greek word to describe the effect that Jesus routinely had on his religious audience. They describe Jesus as a “scandalon,” meaning a stumbling block, an offense, a scandal. Their point seems to be that Jesus is a rock, but one you can trip over just as easily as build your life upon. Anyone who holds too tightly to his or her religious preconceptions will sooner or later become offended at Jesus. That is, of course, they do what countless Christians have done and tame the historical Jesus through years of conservative tradition.

As the new century progresses, an increasing number of Christians, especially those involved with what has come to be known as the “EmergentChurch,” are coming to see Jesus in a more radical light. Jesus, with his message of the kingdom, was a revolutionary in the real sense of the word.

A third foundation for redefining the Church is the need for a return to “disciple making.” In order to establish new, dynamic and transformative methods of discipleship training, I think it is important to begin with a workable definition of just what a “disciple” is.

From all evidence, it would seem the church at large has lost touch with a crucial element of its mission – disciple-making. Just prior to his ascension, Christ did not tell his inner circle to “go and make converts.” No, he told them to go and make disciples. It is obvious that constructing a workable definition of a disciple is a high priority. Margaret Campbell gives us a great jump-start:

A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to live in attentiveness to Jesus. We live in attentiveness in order to become like Jesus on the inside and, thereby, able to do what Jesus would do on the outside. As maturing disciples we progressively learn to live in attentiveness, adoration, surrender, obedience, and thankfulness to God, and all of this, without ceasing. Through the hidden work of transformation, God writes his good way on our minds and hearts and this is very good. By his grace, our hearts are divinely changed. We are progressively conformed to be like Jesus in mind and will and soul and word and deed. What we say and what we do more consistently reflect the glory and goodness of God.

If that isn’t clear enough, let’s listen to George Barna:

True discipleship is about a lifestyle, not simply about stored up Bible knowledge. Often, churches assume that if people are reading the Bible and attending a small group, then real discipleship is happening. Unfortunately, we found that’s often not the case. Discipleship is about being and reproducing zealots for Christ. Discipleship, in other words, is about passionately pursuing the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ.

From these two definitions it should be clear that real discipleship, the kind of Jesus-following that makes a difference in a person’s life and the life of others, involves more than wearing a “What would Jesus Do?” bracelet.

Without doubt, the new century presents both great challenges and vital opportunities for the Body of Christ. In some ways, these challenges and opportunities are highly unique, mostly because of the complexity of post-modern culture and the rapidity of social change in the contemporary world. Any new definition of the Church’s purpose and mission must take these factors into account. This reality means that the new wineskins that come to house the 21st Century Body of Christ must possess an inordinate flexibility and fluidity. What works this year may not work next year.

In closing, it is noticed that many people are asking the question, “Can the Church survive in these post-Christian times, even if it redefines itself, its mission, and its purpose?”

It can not only survive; it can thrive.

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

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

Dream Center service at Angelus Temple
Dream Center service at Angelus Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Life is much simpler than we make it.

God’s objective is for you to live an outward-looking life – that is, not worried about yourself, but focused on the needs of others and how you can respond to those needs. When you embrace that mind-set, you are on the precipice of influence and success because that’s a perspective that God will bless. As soon as you start thinking about the needs and burdens of others, and what you can do to alleviate them, or how you can bless and build up others, you begin to establish a new identity for yourself – your true identity.

It doesn’t take a person with unusual training or ability to change the world. All it takes is a heart that cares, a mind that’s determined, a spirit that’s willing, a cause that matters, and a person to help. 

Matthew Barnett

(from The Cause Within You)