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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Whatever Your Past, You Are Still A Needed Servant

Mick Turner

Josh is a brilliant man and is one of the most creative, visionary people I know. Possessing the uncanny ability to look at a problematic situation, size up its parameters, and come up with positive, workable solutions to address the problems, Josh would be an asset to any organization that employed him. People with the visionary foresight and strength that Josh has are few and far between.

That’s why it is so hard for me to believe that Josh just completed his fourteenth year employed as a stockroom worker at a retail shoe store. A college graduate and now in his mid-thirties, Josh is working the same job he obtained while working his way through school. It’s not that Josh has not had opportunities; it’s just that he doesn’t take advantage of them. On several occasions he has been offered good positions with local social service agencies after fellow church members, aware of Josh’s talents, have put in a good word for him. Each time Josh turned down the job.

After providing invaluable help to his pastor in getting a couple of community projects off the ground, Josh was asked to take a leadership role in an exciting development and expansion program his church was undertaking. Predictably, Josh declined.

Unfortunately, there are many like Josh who go through life under-employed, under-utilized, and unfulfilled. Although this is not what God had in mind, these talented individuals sabotage themselves and never leave the starting gate.

This happens for a variety of reasons. Some folks feel inadequate to the task of manifesting their vision in the reality of the day-to-day life in which they dwell. Others, top put it bluntly, are just too plain lazy to do what it is they are called to do. Still others lack basic motivation and for unconscious reasons quench the passion they feel for their purpose in life. Like the Beauty School Dropout in the musical Grease, they have the dream but not the drive.

Many, however, simply cannot believe God wants to use them due to past failures and disappointments. This was basically Josh’s problem. In his late teens he was involved in several crimes in which someone was seriously injured by accident. Josh was never caught and has no criminal record. Still, he feels responsible for what happened and, although God has forgiven him, he hasn’t forgiven himself. Moreover, Josh is convinced beyond a doubt that what he did disqualifies him for service to the Lord.

Josh and other believers like him choose to ignore the many biblical examples of heroes used by God even though they failed in the past. Think of Moses for example, a murderer who delivered his people from bondage in Egypt. Think of David, an adulterer who was also involved in a murder conspiracy. This sinner became a great king, an ancestor of Christ, and “a man after God’s own heart.” Think of Peter, who denied Christ three times on the night He was arrested. It was upon the “rock” of Peter that the NewTestamentChurch was built.

No, my friend, you are wrong if you think God will not use you because you failed in the past. Your failures, your shortcomings, your screw-ups – oddly enough, in God’s way of doing things may be your chief qualification for service to the Creator.

I want to use this article to encourage you to understand and accept the reality that God put a potential and purpose in you before you were born and, further, he still wants that purpose to be realized. Stop looking back at the past and instead, step forward into the service that God has for you. You cannot change the past but know this: whatever happened is history in God’s eyes and in God’s heart. As a Christian you have been forgiven so turn your eyes forward instead of keeping them riveted in your rear view mirror.

Do all that you can to let this truth sink deep into the depths of your heart: where you are going, what is in your future is far more important that what’s behind you. Scripture tells us that with God, all things are possible. So if it seems your dreams have died, let the Lord resurrect those dormant dreams and allow those dreams to drive you and motivate you to be all that you can be for the glory of God and the sake of others.

Our world is a hurting world and there are many areas of need. The dream God placed in your heart is designed to deal with one of those areas. More than anything, the church, the Body of Christ, needs compassionate people of noble character and a heart of service. That’s you, my friend.

Take the gifts God has given you and put them to work in service to something larger than yourself. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place in your life if you consecrate yourself to using your talents for God’s plans and purposes.

Also, keep in mind that God would never place a dream in your heart without giving you all the talents you need to bring it to completion. I encourage you to take this principle on faith and act on it. Just put one foot in front of the other and start taking small steps toward making that God-given dream a bit closer to manifestation. Again, just trust that God has placed in you everything you need to succeed. Pastor Joel Osteen speaks clearly to this issue:

God would never put a dream in your heart if He had not already given you everything you need to fulfill it. That means if I have a dream or a desire, and I know it’s from God, I don’t have to worry whether I have what it takes to see that dream fulfilled. I know God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t call us to do something without giving us the ability or the wherewithal to do it…You have to realize that God has matched you with your world. In other words, even though at times you may not feel that you are able to accomplish your dreams, you have to get beyond those feelings and know deep inside, I have the seed of Almighty God in Me. Understand, God will never put a dream in your heart without first equipping you with everything you need to accomplish it.

In contrast to my friend Josh, Marty is an amazing example of how God often uses our areas of failure as a way of carrying forward his kingdom purpose on earth. Marty, a native of New York, had moved to South Florida in an attempt to find a geographical cure for his long standing addiction to heroin and cocaine. Had his thinking been even half way rational, Marty would have reasoned that moving to Miami, the hotbed of the drug world, was a mistake. Finding that drugs were much cheaper in Miami, mostly due to lack of transportation mark up, Marty quickly returned to his old ways. Quickly spiraling downward, Marty soon hit bottom. Arrested for an assortment of petty theft charges, Marty found himself in jail awaiting his hearing. He had neither bond money, nor any friends in the area. Marty had no choice but to cool his jets in the Dade County Stockade.

Marty’s time in jail provided him with an opportunity to face his situation honesty and he didn’t like what he saw. The Holy Spirit also went to work on Marty and helped ripen him for what was to come. After over five weeks in the slammer, he was informed that a local pastor was coming to give a talk to the inmates and, if he so desired, he could attend the lecture.

Feeling an almost magnetic pull to go to the presentation, he initially resisted. Marty feared that this pastor would be someone from the straight world and highly judgmental, he almost talked himself out of going. Still believing he had nothing to gain, he went anyway.

Sitting near the back of the room, Marty listened as the stockade chaplain introduced the speaker, Brother Larry. Marty was confused because the chaplain was the only person sitting at the front table. Maybe he hadn’t noticed that this Brother Larry wasn’t there, thought Marty. Next, a rather large man stood up from his seat in the front row. He walked to the podium and when he looked out at the crowd, Marty almost fainted.

Brother Larry was a large man with waist length hair and tattoos all over his arms and hands. He had a large scar on his right cheek, evidently from a knife wound suffered long ago. Then, as Brother Larry began his sermon, Marty almost fell out of his chair.

Not only did Marty recognize Brother Larry, he realized that it was he who had cut the preachers face. Many years earlier, in a drug deal gone sour in Queens, a fight had ensued and Marty found himself being pummeled by a large man. Reaching in his boot, Marty took out a dagger and slit his attacker’s cheek to the jaw bone. His attacker that night was none other than Brother Larry.

To make a long story short, Brother Larry spoke of his addiction, his crimes, and his eight-year term in Attica State Prison. He also spoke of how, as the result of a visit from a volunteer with Prison Fellowship, he found Christ and his life was turned around. Brother Larry now ran a halfway house in South Miami that gave recovering addicts a place to stay after they were released from incarceration. His ministry found them job training, gave them work to do, and made certain the residents were well connected with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Marty wondered if Brother Larry had recognized him that evening at the meeting in the stockade. He did. Two days later Brother Larry showed up to visit Marty. After being released, Marty lived for two years at Brother Larry’s halfway house. And that’s not all. Brother Larry recognized potential in Marty and encouraged him to return to college and finish his degree. He told Marty he had managed to get a donor to pay for Marty’s tuition, but the truth was Brother Larry paid for it out of his own pocket. Displaying true Christian forgiveness, Brother Larry never mentioned the scar he would carry for the rest of his life, nor any resentment toward Marty for inflicting it upon him. Instead, he paid for Marty’s college education and, after Marty had graduated, encouraged him to go on to seminary.

Marty graduated from seminary two years later and now runs the ministry begun by Brother Larry. Under Marty’s guidance and with God’s help, two more halfway houses were opened in nearby cities and are full with long waiting lists. One week after Marty’s graduation, Brother Larry had left this earth for his heavenly reward. He left behind a legacy, as well as a successor.

God used Brother Larry and he used Marty in the very arena where both of them had failed, hurt others, and suffered. Instead of punishing this pair of wayward prodigals, God exhibited a healing love to Brother Larry, who in turn, gave this same forgiving love to Marty. Brother Larry gave flesh to grace, just as Jesus did when he came to visit this planet.

The next time you think God can’t use you, think again. What do you think would have happened if Brother Larry had felt God could not and would not work through him? Certainly Marty would not be where he is today.

Look around you, my friend. Find a need and get busy doing something to meet it. You may very well be surprised what God can and will do through you if you just give him a chance.

Think about it.

 

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

Signs, Wonders, and the Supernatural

English: Inside Hillsong Church, Sydney
English: Inside Hillsong Church, Sydney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the supernatural realm is where the real action is in these days. As a race, especially those of us in the West, we have become so sophisticated that we discount the supernatural without adequate investigation and, by doing so, fall into the enemy’s trap. We must pay closer attention to the supernatural realm because we are involved in a supernatural battle, whether or not we understand it or accept it.

It is interesting to note that the fastest growing churches in the world are those of the charismatic/Pentecostal traditions. This is especially true in Asia and Africa, but really, it is a phenomenon that can be seen all over the world. By the same token, it is those denominations that adhere most closely with the use of reason, logic, science, and the legacy of the Enlightenment that are withering on the vine. This is not how I would have predicted things to have worked out and it surely is not how I would have wished it would have worked out. Quite frankly, some of the craziness and downright foolishness seen in the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches is an abomination in my sight. And I suspect that much of the really fringe elements of these movements will disappear as time progresses.

However, I think the core elements of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement will continue to prosper because God says he must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. And certainly, now more than ever, the supernatural side of things must be taken into account. I am uncertain as to exactly how this will manifest itself here in the West, however. One thing is certain, the church in the West will need more manifestations of God’s power in these rapidly changing times. Yet this revealing of God’s strength must be presented in a manner that is less chaotic and “sensational” than in the past. The days of flopping about, running around the sanctuary, barking like dogs and “holy drooling” have passed. It is a time for the world to see God’s power and presence in all its glory, not in patently bizarre human translations that greatly miss the mark.

As the future unfolds, one of the most needed of the spiritual gifts will be that of discernment. Pastors, teachers, elders, and others in positions of spiritual authority will need to be deeply educated in the criteria of discernment, or at least in recognizing those who have this gift, even in its embryonic forms. Anytime there is a period of increased Holy Spirit activity, and this is without a doubt one of those times, the potential for the Great Deceiver to lead many astray is great. We live in an age that is ripe for deception. Trained, gifted discerners are in critical need. James Goll speaks directly to this issue:

Lack of discernment and an unscriptural emphasis on experience beyond the confines of Scripture are major stumbling blocks for the majority of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians who are open to the supernatural and revelatory realms of God…..When it comes to gifts of miraculous powers and prophecy, we need mature elders in every church who are equipped with the gift of discernment to watch over the flock. We also need apostolic voices who will release guidelines for discernment in the years to come, as the sense of God’s Presence and power increases throughout the world – growing alongside the “tares” of this world, evidenced in soulishly and demonically induced counterfeit expressions of power. Right now, we are sadly equipped with too few apostolic leaders who are respected enough to speak the truth in love about these issues of discernment and correction. And we have too few humble church leaders who are open to correction from apostolic leaders, regardless of their denominational preferences, networks, or alliances.

Many within the Mainline denominations and Evangelical churches have such a historically “negative charge” with the Charismatic movement that they suspect anything of Spirit-filled nature as being either doctrinally lacking or worse, a product of Satan. This mind-set is not entirely their fault as there has been such excess and, yes, plain wanton foolishness in more than a few Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. Yet at the same time, it is not wise to completely slam the door shut.

At one end of the spectrum you have those sincere followers of the Master who are so turned off by what they see as bizarre extremism that they close their minds to all Charismatic experience. In a sense, these folks use too much discernment in the sense that anything even remotely resembling “Spirit-filled” experience is discounted out of hand. At the other end of the spectrum you have the fringe elements of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity that fall into all sorts of error, both doctrinal and experiential, and wind up engaging in practices that seem too strange to be true. At this extreme, too little discernment is practiced and, in some cases, none at all.

The contemporary church has a critical need for a more balanced approach to and criteria for accurate discernment of supernatural phenomena, grounded in Scripture but not so tightly bound as to handcuff the Spirit. The real challenge for the church at this point is the development of this much-needed criteria and, after that, widespread training in its fundamental applications. Understandably, this development remains a work in progress.

© L.D. Turner 2013/ All Rights Reserved

Live Your Potential and Walk in Your Calling

The life of Jesus of Nazareth plate 47.
The life of Jesus of Nazareth plate 47. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

(originally published in 2008, this article is as pertinent now as it was then. It is moved forward from the archives after numerous requests).

It is vital that every person understand that we are responsible for developing the potential stored within us. We must deepen our contact with our divine potential, which I (and our Quaker friends) call our “Inner Light,” and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true, God-given potential. Further, we must recognize that as we move forward in developing our optimal potential, we can never afford to stop. In essence, when we travel the Christian journey, we are either moving forward or backward. There is truly no place to stand on the spiritual path.

Spiritual growth is a complex subject and we could waste much time and space exploring the more arcane aspects of personal unfolding. However, I choose instead to try to keep things as simple as feasible, especially in the context of a short article. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a topic that seems to cause many sincere Christians to go off the tracks and race down many enticing but unproductive rabbit holes. I am talking here about the subject of “purpose.” The issue of purpose is intimately connected with potential and it is often difficult to talk about one without delving into the other.

Many of us are so obsessed with “finding our purpose” that we ignore more important aspects of the spiritual journey. Granted, the universe seems to be arranged in such a way that each of us came to this planet with a unique mission. In spite of this, however, all of us share components of a more generalized, universal purpose. In my own journey, I have come to define a central aspect of this universal purpose as follows:

“I must become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the sake of others.”

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” you might say. “But how do I pull it off?”

Good question. Space does not permit a detailed explanation of the complete methodology of becoming the best version of yourself and, besides, I believe that each of us must find our own personal way of unfolding our divine nature. Still, I think we can look at two practical things we can do: define and visualize.

Begin by spending time developing a definition of the best version of yourself. What qualities will your highest self possess? What kind of activities will be a central part of your life and your spiritual development? How will you earn your living? And most significantly, how will you be of service to others? Pray for wisdom, personal insight, and spiritual discernment as you begin this process and continue to pray regarding your purpose on a consistent basis. In addition to prayer, think of successful people who possess the positive traits that you want to develop and that will be essential to realizing your purpose. Study their lives and see what motivated their success.

Turn to the pages of Scripture and through prayerful study and reflection, examine the lives of those characters you hold in high esteem. And above all, look to the life of Jesus, our ultimate guide. Ask yourself, “How did Jesus go about demonstrating the optimal version of himself?” Keep in mind, Jesus was fully human. He was not some strange, ethereal being who was on spiritual auto-pilot. Jesus had to make choices, just as you do.

After spending a couple of weeks on the above exercises, take out a notebook or sit at your keyboard and write out a vision of yourself – a positive, spiritual vision of yourself as your optimal self. Make a list of the character assets you possess. Spend time in prayer discussing these traits with God and asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in making them a reality in your life. Finally, write a specific definition of the best version of yourself and how you will serve the world.

Once you have a workable definition, set aside a special time each day and see this best version of yourself in your mind’s eye. See yourself manifesting the qualities described in your definition, engaging in the activities you listed, and serving in your best capacity. This exercise of your imagination is a key component of making the best version of yourself a reality.

From the outset, you must learn to consistently see the best version of yourself and your life unfolding in your inner vision. The power of the mind’s eye is uncanny. It is through our capacity of thought and inner visualization that we are capable of taking something out of the realm of the unseen and making it a reality in the realm of the seen. This requires faith: faith in yourself and your abilities; and faith in the principles of optimal cognition. If you have a problem, see it resolved; if your have a business, see it succeeding; if you have a dream, see it unfolding according to your desire.

Let this positive image become a part of yourself, sinking down into the subconscious mind and your inner spirit, the central core of yourself.

A fundamental principle of human nature is that whatever you keep before your mind’s eye will affect you, either for good or for bad. If you consistently focus on negativity and dwell on your problems, your mindset will become darker and your problems will worsen. If you focus on limitation, lack, failure, and defeat, this is the kind of life you are going to create. Instead, try focusing your mental energy on success, victory, health, abundance, peace, joy, and happiness. Our innermost spirit, which is one with the Divine Source, has as its purpose the unfolding of your greatest good. Don’t lose sight of that truth. In order to create the kind of life you want, you have to get your thoughts and your inner vision in alignment with the power and purpose of your innermost spirit, your “Inner Light.”

This visualization process is not a fantasy or an escape from reality. It is, instead, based on centuries of practical application and positive results. When life presents you with problems, many times there is nothing you can do about it. However, you can have complete control over your response to any problem life sends your way. You can have greater peace of mind if you just choose to have the right kind of thoughts. Focus your entire being on finding solutions, rather than wallowing in the problems at hand. Work diligently to find the Inner Light, and when you do, continue to take proactive measures to deepen and maintain your contact with this sacred aspect of your being.

The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but a life that never realized its full potential. You must decide today not to rob the world of the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you. It has been said that the wealthiest place on earth is not in bank vaults, Fort Knox, or underneath Bill Gates mattress. No, the wealthiest place on earth is the cemetery.

Beneath the gravestones lie so many dreams that went unfulfilled; so much potential that was never realized; so much purpose that was never discovered and manifested. I am reminded of the poignant verses of Tagore in the Gitangali:

The song that I came to sing remains 

unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and in
unstringing my instrument.

Be persistent and keep at it in a disciplined, optimistic manner. Before you know it, you will hear your song ringing up from your inner spirit. From that point forward your life will be more positive and meaningful. And when the day comes when you leave this world, you will leave a valuable contribution to those who follow you. Whether great or small, you will leave a positive legacy.  And for certain, you won’t be making a deposit in the Bank of Dead Dreams.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2012/All Rights Reserved

 

Introducing Jesus Christ – Again (Part Two)

Cover of "Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the ...
Cover via Amazon

Mick Turner

(Continued from Part One)

It seems that over the last couple of centuries the church has become increasingly less “Christ-centered” and in doing so, has completely lost its divine grounding and its sense of direction. I remember spending time as a child on my grandmother’s farm in rural North Alabama. Whenever she wanted to fix fried chicken, she didn’t go down to the supermarket to pick up a fryer. Instead, she sent my father out to get a hen from the barnyard.

I vividly recall that my dad would decapitate the hapless bird and even without a head, the chicken would go flapping around in circles for awhile before finally keeling over. In many ways, this childhood memory is analogous to the present condition of the church. Christ is the head of the church and without a firm connection to the head, the church also runs around in misguided, uncoordinated circles before it eventually collapses. This is a reality we can ill afford in the contemporary Body Of Christ.

The remedies for this situation are multi-faceted and complex. Yet I have become convinced that whatever constellation of strategies we implement in our attempts to rectify this hapless dilemma, one thing remains constant. We must have as the central and defining element an unrelenting focus on Christ, not just as a historical or celestial figure to be worshiped. Instead, we must come to view Christ for the truly magnificent and wondrous being that he is and also come to an understanding and internalization of his role as a living, vibrant agent of transformation.

Centuries ago, for whatever reasons, the church seems to have lost sight of this aspect of Jesus Christ and his mission to this planet. In our obsessive worship of Jesus as “Savior,” we somehow managed to jettison his transformative power as an agent of personal and social change. I think this is the chief reason we see so many otherwise sincere believers walking around in a state of bafflement, aimlessness, and quiet desperation.

Last year, on this site, I posted a piece entitled, A Decapitated Church is a Lifeless Corpse. In that article I discussed these themes at some length. I also included several cogent, powerful passages from the fine book entitled, Jesus Manifesto, written by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It was my intention in that article and this one as well, to get across the same point made by Sweet and Viola in their excellent book. Stated simply, that point is that the primary task of the church in this challenging time is to reintroduce the world to Christ and his kingdom. And sadly enough, this mission begins with the church itself. I daresay that a near-majority of contemporary church-goers have only a minimal understanding of just who Christ was and is, much less what he accomplished and expects of us.

With that being said, it is critical that the church develop workable, practical strategies that will help its own members deepen their awareness of who and what it is they are dealing with. Sweet and Viola, for example, give us this introduction:

Set your eyes beyond the stratosphere and see a Christ who confounds the mind. This Christ is – present tense – the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ displays God’s image visible in the invisible realm, where He is seated in heavenly places at the Father’s right hand. To look upon the carpenter of Nazareth is to discover God in totality. To know the Nazarene is to know the Almighty, the one true Creator – He who was, is, and is to come.

But that’s not all.

This Christ is the firstborn of the entire cosmos, the first person to appear in creation, and He is preeminent in all of it. All things visible and invisible were created by Him, through Him, to Him, and for Him. He is the Originator as well as the Goal – the Creator as well as the Consummator.

But that’s not all.

This Christ existed before time as the eternal Son. He is above time and outside of time. He is the beginning. In fact, He was before the beginning. He lives in a realm where there are no ticking watches and clocks. Space and time are his servants. He is unfettered by them.

This Christ is not only before all things, but the entire universe is held together in Him. He is the cohesive force, the glue and gravitational pull that holds all created elements together. He is creation’s great adhesive, the hinge upon which the whole cosmos turns. Remove Christ, and the entire universe disintegrates. It comes apart at the seams. Remove Him, and creations wheels come off.

But there’s still more.

This Christ is the very meaning of creation. Eliminate Him, and the universe has no purpose. Remove Him, and every living thing loses its meaning.

But more than all this, the One who created the universe watched it fall. He saw the cosmic revolt in heaven and the wreckage on earth. Under the caring eye of the Father, the Lord looked upon His own creation as it morphed into an enemy – His own enemy. And then he did the unthinkable. He penetrated a fallen world.

This Christ pierced the veil of space-time. He became incarnate and took on human flesh. As such, He was touched with the same temptations, the same infirmities, and the same weaknesses as all mortals, only He never yielded. Christ entered into His own creation to reconcile it back to Himself and to His Father. The Creator became the creature to make peace with an alienated creation.

I think Sweet and Viola have put together a positive, creative, and pragmatic way of introducing Christ to those outside the church as well as those inside the Body of Christ who have, for all practical purposes, never met the Master in any comprehensive fashion. Granted, no one definition or description can cover all the bases when we are dealing with a subject that is vast, cosmic, and ineffable. Still, we can create first-rate starting points and I believe this definition by Sweet and Viola precisely this.

I would like to suggest a spiritual exercise that you might carry out in the near future. Using the description of Christ given by Sweet and Viola, take one line a day as a focus for prayer, meditation, and reflection. In a period of quiet time, begin by asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you in whatever way he deems fit regarding that one line. Read the sentence, reflect on what it says to you about the person, the nature, and the mission of Christ. Record what you discover in a journal or notebook that you keep for this particular spiritual practice. If possible, do this in the morning and in the evening. From my personal experience with spiritual practice, I feel confident in assuring you that you will come out of it with a deeper and more life-changing awareness of just what manner of being Jesus Christ was and is.

If the contemporary church is to be healed, this is where we must begin.

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

The Quest for Purpose: A God’s Eye View

Cover of Motovilov's book Serafim Talk On the ...
Cover of Motovilov’s book Serafim Talk On the Purpose of the Christian Life shows how the event is usually depicted in the modern icon tradition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

A Sublime Calling

English: Jonah, as in Jonah 2:10, "And th...
English: Jonah, as in Jonah 2:10, “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”;watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

I know without a doubt in my own life the voice of God, sometimes loudly but most often quiet and sublimely subtle, has called to me. More often than not, it has called to me through serendipitous events that suggests (it always suggests, never demands) that I return to the path He has laid out for me. It calls me to cease my endless wanderings which, if I am honest with myself, lead me not to the Light, but instead, carry me through deserts without vegetation and eventually, leave my spirit bellowing, not unlike a thirsty elephant around a dried out water hole.

This still, inner voice can take many forms. Erwin Raphael McManus speaks to the reality of the inner voice:

Ever heard that voice? It calls you like a temptress to abandon the monotony of life and to begin an adventure. It threatens to leave you in the mundane if you refuse to risk all you have for all that could be. If ignored, the voice dims to silence. Yet every now and again, like a siren, she sings and begins to woo you back. She awakens within you dreams and longings you put to bed long ago. It is rarely a conscious action to choose to exist rather than to live. For most of us we are simply lulled to sleep. But there is no rest in this condition. To sleep through your dreams is to choose a life of restless nights and unfulfilled days. To avoid the pain of fear, doubt, and disappointment we have numbed ourselves from the exhilaration of a life fully lived.

My nagging problem is that I don’t always listen to the Spirit’s voice when He calls. Instead, I turn away in resistance to what that sublime voice might be calling me to. More than once the voice has beckoned me to go in directions I had rather avoid. When this happens, I at least have a biblical role model to follow.

God directly called Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah, however, wasn’t especially amenable to God’s job assignment. Rather than heading east, Jonah hopped the first freighter leaving the port and that’s where his adventure really gets moving. As you know, God whips up a squall, the sailors get scared out of their wits and, after a fairly reasonable discussion considering the circumstances, toss Jonah overboard. He ends up in the belly of a whale, gets barfed up on the beach and finally, still muttering to himself, heads off to Nineveh. Jonah ends up preaching to the lowlifes, derelicts, and assorted ne’er-do-wells that live there and they repent. Still, Jonah sits under a bush and complains. You know the story.

I relate to Jonah all too well. God has on occasion made it clear to me that I am called to immerse myself in a certain ministry to a population I had rather not deal with. Like Jonah, I get busy with my own plans and bad things start to happen. Believe me my friends, whale bellies can take many forms. My point in sharing all this is to say that God does in fact call us to specific tasks in this day and age and further, it behooves us to listen and respond.

I say this because there seems to be quite a bit of confusion in the contemporary church regarding how God might communicate with us or whether or not he still does. Much of this confusion stems from believers taking extreme theological views about things and then attempting to foist those views on everyone else.

Some Christian writers will tell you that God communicates with them on a regular basis and that he will do the same with you. These folks, most of them well-meaning, often say things like, “God told me to…..” or “The Lord laid a clear word on my heart.” Where this sort of thing gets dangerous is when they say things like, “God wants me to tell you that you need to…..”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that God doesn’t communicate with us, for I strongly feel that he does. I just don’t really think that he talks with us like these folks often claim. I know I have never heard the Lord speak in this manner. The results can be devastating. I know a solid Christian man here in our community often has a “word” from God. A couple of years back he claimed God clearly told him he needed to quit his job working as a defense contractor and open a small restaurant selling Chicago style hot dogs.

Not one to ignore a “word” from the Lord, this man, after seeking the council of several elders in his church, resigned from his $160,000 per year position and opened his hot dog emporium. Within two years he went bankrupt, lost his investment, his car, and almost lost his house as well. When questioned about all this, this fellow chalked all this up to “the work of Satan.” The leaders at his church told him that whenever we get a message from the Lord and we are faithful to follow it, the enemy will surely try to destroy whatever we build.

Now I am not saying that all this couldn’t be true. All I am implying is that these sorts of things are often not what they seem. The result is that there is more confusion about how God might communicate with us.

At the other extreme, there are many other Christians who espouse the very liberal view that God is not personal, but instead, is an abstract principle that we cannot fully fathom. Others of a similar ilk emphasize the belief that God is a sublime force of energy that empowers us but never really talks with us. The result here is the same in that it creates even more confusion among people trying to discern the voice of God.

My take on all of this is that God does indeed communicate with us and does so in a variety of ways. I suspect that the methods God uses are individualized and designed to be clearly heard by the intended recipient. In my own case, for example, God will often speak to me through serendipitous events, those things that happen by “coincidence” that are too profound to be coincidence. At other times he clearly speaks to me through Bible reading. Verses that I have read hundreds of times suddenly take on new meaning and often that meaning is directly connected to the issue I am seeking guidance about.

I am not about to tell you how God will communicate with you. I really have no clue. But I do think, with practice and sensitivity, you can become more attuned to his methods of speaking. What I do know is that we have to place ourselves in a position of receiving. We have to dedicate time to our relationship with God. This means, more than anything else, that it is essential to set aside time for regular periods of silence and meditation. Basically, we have to quiet down enough to hear God when he chooses to speak, whatever the method.

Once God has spoken, and we have heard, we then enter the realm of obedience. Like Jonah, we have to make a choice. We can either go with God or we can flee. Among the many gifts God has given us is our free will and, like Jonah, we can choose to follow God’s direction or another way. Yet also like Jonah, we must be prepared to live with the consequences.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2012 All Rights Reserved

* This article was originally published on A Conspiracy of Compassion as well as Wellsprings and Wineskins and Lifebrook in 2008.