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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A Great Quotation by Max Lucado

Mick Turner

Yesterday I ran across these profound words by Max Lucado, in his excellent book Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference. I think we all might benefit from spending a bit of quiet time prayerfully reflecting on the message here:

God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

Just look at the motley crew of hillbilly net casters, crooked tax collectors, and treacherous treasurers he assembled as his first disciples. Jesus said he would build his church on the foundation of a hot-headed blowhard that denied even knowing him when the going got rough. There was nothing about this band of simple folk that screamed “I am qualified to face every kind of hardship and carry your message to the ends of the earth.” Yet that is exactly what they eventually did. With the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the called were qualified.

Does Christ do the same today? You can take it to the bank. Friends, if you feel a calling, stop doubting, questioning, and stalling. Just step out in faith and take positive action. You may well be quite surprised at what happens next.

Think about it.

(c) L.D. Turner 2015/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

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

The Changing Church and Christ’s Kingdom: Reasons for Optimism

English: Holy Spirit church: Cellingpainting: ...
English: Holy Spirit church: Cellingpainting: Assumption of Christ Locality: Heiligengeistplatz Community:Klagenfurt Deutsch: Heiligengeistkirche: Deckengemälde – Christi Himmelfahrt Ort: Heiligengeistplatz Gemeinde:Klagenfurt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, I take primary comfort in the fact that Christ did not leave us as orphans. Instead, he returned to his celestial home in order to open to door for the Holy Spirit to come into this world in a manner never seen before. Whereas in the Old Testament (and in the old covenant) the Holy Spirit “came upon” people on occasion, in the New Testament (and under the new covenant) the Spirit would incarnate within each and every disciple. I take great comfort in this and knowing that collectively, the Body of Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit I cannot imagine failure as the ultimate outcome. The church will succeed in finishing the work begun by Christ. Further, we are assured in scripture that Christ will complete the work begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

Briefly, two other scriptural revelations assure me that, even if there be fits and starts, we have every reason to be optimistic about the ultimate future of the church. First, we have resident within us the same power that raised Christ from the tomb (Phil. 3:10). I cannot imagine any scenario where sincere and committed disciples of Christ could possibly fail in their God-given, God-equipped, and God-empowered mission when operating with the assistance of this power. Second, Christ has assured us that he will always be with us, even until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

In closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention perhaps the greatest reason for optimism regarding the future church and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. As the world continues its steady drift away from the teachings and principles of Christ, we can still take comfort in the promises of Jesus. In spite of appearances, setbacks, and obstacles aplenty, the Master has already won the battle. He sums up our primary reason for positive hope when he says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

Birthing The 21st Century Church: A Wilderness Journey

English: Sterzing, Holy Spirit church frescos,...
English: Sterzing, Holy Spirit church frescos, on the northern wall, representing the infancy of Christ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

To say that the Body of Christ is undergoing major changes may rank right up there with the greatest understatements of all time. Whether we are talking about the local church or the global church, we can easily see that old structures are crumbling and new forms are gradually taking shape. Some of these forms are positive and may well be of a lasting nature while others are less attractive and hopefully fleeting.

As someone who cares deeply for the kingdom message of Jesus, I am well aware that the church’s primary mission consists of doing all that we can to establish that kingdom on earth. And I will admit that there are times that I become frustrated, discouraged, and anxious when I see little progress being made or witness the church getting bogged down in petty conflicts that accomplish little other than bring a grin to the enemy’s face. In far too many instances I am convinced that we, as the church universal, have drifted away from this central aspect of our mission and our calling.

As I was prayerfully reflecting upon the future of the church on my morning prayer walk recently, I found the Spirit nudging my mind to the story of the Israelites as told in Exodus. In their meandering journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites repeatedly lost faith, took wrong turns, complained loudly, and, on one occasion, went so far as to create a golden cow to worship. Yet in spite of their lack of faithfulness, their infidelity, and their disobedience, God never abandoned them. He came into their midst as a cloud by day and a fire by night and in doing so, led them across the Jordan and into the land where he intended for them to dwell.

Reflecting on these familiar themes, the Holy Spirit led me to see that is so many ways, the church is in a similar situation as the ancient Israelites. As the Body of Christ wanders through this present sea of change, it is easy to lose our direction, to have our faith falter, to bicker, complain, and lose our trust in God. Yet like he did with the Hebrew people, God is with us and will lead us into the “Promised Land” of a renewed and revitalized church. We cannot yet know what form that church will take but if we continue to walk forward and trust the Father, he will guide us every step of the way. Although we may not be able to clearly see the ultimate outcome of this transition process, we can trust God to reveal the next step with encouraging clarity.

I took much comfort from that revelation from the Holy Spirit that morning and I continue to derive an optimistic outlook from what I learned on that particular prayer walk. Just as the Hebrew nation was God’s chosen people in those centuries before Christ, the church now has that blessed identity and it is incumbent upon us to trust that the Father will complete the great work that he has begun with us.

It may be, however, that the various forms the church takes and the methods it uses may be far beyond the pale of what we expect. With that fact in mind I strongly encourage each and every one of you to have an open mind and a flexible attitude as God’s “new work” unfolds.

Patricia King, in the introduction to her book Spiritual Revolution, speaks with both insight and clarity as she describes the revolutionary changes taking place in the Body of Christ and the importance of having a positive attitude toward this transitional process:

We must be willing to lay everything on the altar, including our opinions, our programs, and our old structures. We must be willing to follow Him with passion and devotion as the revolution unfolds. This emerging revolution will manifest God’s goodness, power, glory, supernatural signs, wonders, and miracles. The revolution will transition a powerless church into a light-radiating Body of His presence, full of pulsating heavenly presence and power. The revolution will call us to walk like Jesus did in the Gospels and the apostles did in the Book of Acts. The revolution will call for people clothed with heavenly power and godly character.

Of course, not everyone will be open to the coming changes and resistance will be strong. King continues:

As in past historical moves of revolution, there will be those who resist and harden their heart, desiring to hold on to the old ways and mind-sets. Change is often difficult because it forces people to rethink hardened opinions and be willing to remove ourselves from the rut of our comfortable lifestyles. However, in spite of those who resist the revolution, there will be those who embrace it, jumping on board and following Jesus into new and uncharted territory. Some things that God will manifest in these coming days have never been done before, things that will stretch our imagination and challenge our intellect.

For many of us, change is very difficult. This is especially true with behaviors and beliefs that are deeply ingrained or held with great affection. The following story from my own experience, although not related to a deeply held belief, does illustrate clearly the dangers of stubbornly holding on to something that has outworn its usefulness.

From the time I was five years old I have been an avid baseball fan. I played the sport throughout my school years and, once I became an adult, played competitive softball for many years.

I normally played middle infield, either second base or shortstop. For many years I used the same softball glove. In fact, I used it so long that the strings kept breaking, all the padding was gone out of the pocket and the leather was cracked in several strategic places. Nevertheless I refused to buy a new glove, in spite of the frequent protestations of my teammates.

The reason was simple. I was comfortable with this old glove. It molded to my hand perfectly over the years and it felt reassuring to put in on before I took the field. All too often, however, I would catch a hard line drive right in the pocket and my hand would sting, then remain numb for several minutes. Still, I wanted no part of a new glove.

A new glove, as anyone who has played the sport knows, is a real pain for awhile. It feels funny, awkward and stiff. It is easy to make errors with a new glove, at least until it is broken in properly. No, my old glove was fine thank you very much.

One day our third baseman wasn’t able to make the game and I played the so-called “hot corner.” Things went okay for the first two innings. Then, in the third inning the batter hit a hard liner right at me. I responded quickly and raised my glove, only to have the ball break right through the ancient webbing and hit me square in the forehead, knocking me out cold.

Two days later I bought a new glove.

My experience with my old softball glove is not unlike my experience with the behaviors that flow from my old self. No matter how much I try to take off the old and put on the new, the old keeps rearing its head and biting me. I suspect that I am not alone in this predicament.

Many of my old behaviors and especially old, erroneous and limiting mind-sets, like my old softball glove, may hurt me time and time again. But, they are comfortable in the sense that they are familiar and predictable. My old self resists change and it is here that we are vulnerable to our habitual responses to life, however unhealthy and painful they may be. The great work that God is doing in renewing and rebirthing the church will require that we turn loose of some of our most cherished ideas and ways of doing things in order to allow the refreshed and revitalized church to take root.

As committed followers of Christ we must consistently face reality as it is. And the fact is, the church is in deep trouble and unless we make a significant course change, we could easily find ourselves on the verge of extinction. In fact, many denominations are already on the endangered species list. We can no longer afford to linger in denial of these realities, as harsh as they are. One lesson we can take from the mass exodus from our sanctuaries is simply this: business as usual is no longer an option.

The church presently finds itself in a situation where it must not only consider possible change, it must instead embrace change. As mentioned earlier, there will always be those that resist change. They dig in their heels, set their jaws, and grind their teeth until their faces take on a fossilized scowl. Yet change is not only essential to the church’s survival, it is also an opportunity for the church to renew itself and remain relevant to the world it is called to serve and save. Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell, in their book Permission Granted to do Church Differently in the 21st Century, speak to the nuts and bolts of the process of change:

Every change involves a letting go of one thing to reach out to what is next. It is death by installments – the slow death of our mind-sets, our attitudes, perceptions, and paradigms with nothing obvious to take their place. That is, we see only the replacement concept as we journey. We don’t just see it, though; we experience it. Sometimes our experience is first, and we go through something that we understand only in retrospect. It is important, therefore, if we are to journey with the Lord into new lands, that we build in time to reflect and review where we are and where we have come from. Our road map of faith must be kept up-to-date and relevant for anyone coming after us.

Paradoxically, the dwindling numbers in our churches has taken place during a time of intense spiritual hunger in our culture. America has become a veritable spiritual smorgasbord with both traditional and non-traditional religions and spiritual systems to choose from. Increasingly, people are approaching their spiritual needs in cafeteria style, taking a little from here, a smattering from, a touch of this, and a dollop of that. I have one good friend, for example, who describes himself as a Shamanic Episcopagan.

The church, for the most part, has failed to recognize and respond to this spiritual appetite that has been escalating in this country since the early 1960s. When confronted with questioning but sincere spiritual seekers outside the norm of what they were comfortable with, far too many churches circled the wagons rather than reaching out to these spiritual vagabonds. In so doing, organized Christianity wasted a golden opportunity and suffered a loss of sociological relevance in the process.

Equally tragic is the fact that the church has also failed to recognize and respond to the spiritual hunger within its own ranks. Granted, there are a number of churches that are vibrant, alive, and truly are disciple-making entities driven by Jesus’ kingdom calling. I am aware, however, that a greater number of churches have greatly missed the mark in this regard, choosing instead to offer up a palatable, non-threatening form of Christianity that makes true discipleship optional. This approach to organized Christianity is dying under the weight of its own lethargy exclusivity. It is my firm, faith-based conviction that God will replace this dying brand of Christianity with another form of the faith that will satisfy the spiritual hunger of those genuine seekers within its membership and outside its ranks as well. Patricia King elaborates on the spiritual revolution mentioned earlier:

In the coming spiritual revolution, a spiritual hunger will surface like never before. You will see hunger for the supernatural and for the raw power of God. Young people especially will search for deeper meaning to life. They are not looking for a church service to attend or for a club to join. They are searching for spiritual realities that transcend religious traditions. They are looking for models that can be applied to their lives. They are looking for what is truly real and for what is eternal. They are weary of simply hearing the words preached. They want demonstration.

The spiritual revolution described by Patricia King is not coming at some future date; it is already upon us and is progressing at lightning speed. And it is not only the young who are seeking deeper answers. As great numbers of Baby Boomers move into their retirement years, they suddenly find themselves confronted with their mortality and are increasingly seeking deeper answers in their quest for meaning and purpose in their golden years.

Rather than burying our heads in the sand, the church can instead view these new realities as both challenges and opportunities. With the Holy Spirit leading the way, serving as our guide and our comforter, we are in better circumstances than the ancient Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. In addition to the Father serving as our cloud by day and our fire by night, we have the power of the Spirit residing within us, equipping us to face the challenges ahead and to succeed in giving birth to new wineskins for the gospel message and new forms for the church assume.

We can trust God to complete the work he has begun and we can trust his integrity when he says that he will always be with us, even until the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20). If that is not enough to give us positive encouragement, we can also consider the reality that residing within us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. If that power can give us the empty tomb on Easter morning, surely it can resurrect the Body of Christ in this critical age.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

 

The Significance of Obedience

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...
The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2) Currently housed in: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

It has taken me a long time to get this basic Christian teaching past my overly active, comfort seeking, rationalizing mind: obedience lies at the very core of the Christian walk of faith. It should be easy enough to see this fundamental reality but the fact is, no matter how many pious platitudes we may utter or how much lip service we may give to the importance of obedience, the church has a major blind spot when it comes to actually following the teachings of the Master.

I don’t know about you, but when I first became seriously aware of what obedience to Christ really entailed, I wanted to run for the nearest exit. It wasn’t so much that I saw the requirements as too restrictive. Instead, my desire to head for the hills flowed out of my honest self-assessment, which screamed: Ain’t no way I can pull this off.

And it was precisely at this juncture that I needed a solid, gifted mentor in Christ  who, exuding wisdom, confidence, and agape love, would have informed me that this was the most amazing aspect of the whole gospel package: I didn’t have to pull it off. Christ was going to place a new spirit in me, and, in fact, he was going to take up residence in me and in so doing, he was going to empower me to live as he wanted me to live.

Unfortunately, no such mentor appeared. Instead, I was left with an incomplete understanding of the gospel message and how it applied to my life. Yes, I understood who Jesus was, at least marginally, and I understood that through his death on the cross my sins were forgiven. I had no inkling, however, of how Christ and the Holy Spirit were going to help transform me into new order of being.

Over the years I have come to see that the spiritual quagmire that I found myself in was not unusual. In fact, it seems to be the norm. The church has been woefully inadequate in preaching and teaching the full gospel message. Further, there appears to be a marked shortage of teaching on the role obedience plays in bringing about the godly lifestyle described in scripture. In an attempt to make the Christian life appealing to contemporary Americans, many church leaders, pastors, and teachers (far too many) have jettisoned the message of obedience in favor of a gospel of comfort, convenience, and cash flow. The result has been the creation of a Christian faith that is a superficial replica of what the Master intended.

For countless people who identify themselves as Christians, Christ is seen as their Savior but certainly not as Lord. As stated, this shallow sort of Christianity is not what Jesus intends when he issues the call, “Follow me.” Time and time again, scripture reveals that much of our inheritance as Christians hinges upon our obedience to the teachings laid down to us by the Master. Unfortunately, the whole “grace vs. works” issue has clouded this reality to the point that the vast majority of Protestant believers have little understanding of the necessity of obedience in the Christian walk of faith. If you have any confusion on this issue, I suggest you prayerfully and with reflection spend time with the closing section of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 7:21-27.

In his latest book, Follow Me, David Platt takes up the practical implications of what it means to walk the Christian path as a disciple, as opposed to a cultural or non-committed “believer.” Platt makes the point, and I have long said the same thing, that “making a decision” for Christ, or “taking Jesus as your personal savior,” or “inviting Jesus into your heart,” are all woefully inadequate in becoming a true follower of Christ. Only one thing will guarantee that you are indeed an authentic Christian: obedience.

Christ repeats this time and time again, along with his call to repentance and his teachings on the necessity of “taking up one’s cross,” which basically means to die to self. It is apparent, however, that we as a church have found all manner of clever strategies for watering down these teachings or worse, ignoring them completely. Platt laments:

With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve replaced challenging words from Christ with trite phrases in the church. We’ve taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so that it tastes better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are Christians when biblically they are not.

Earlier in the book, Platt describes how “belief,” although important and even essential, is far from the whole enchilada when it comes to treading the Christian path. The church has perpetrated a glaring disservice to “converts” by stressing the need for belief without a concomitant commitment to obedience to Christ. After all, scripture openly tells us that even the demons believe (James 2:19). Platt goes on to say:

Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured of eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying…….Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying.

Platt goes on to make the clear point that Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis of our salvation. The Master, and later Paul, makes it quite clear that only grace is the basis of our salvation. I think the point Platt is trying to make, and it is the same point I have made on numerous occasions in this blog, is that the church has put so much emphasis and stress on God’s unmerited grace, that our part in the overall Christian walk of faith has been minimized and, in some cases, completely ignored. The result has been a Christianity that is quite frankly, a shallow farce which lacks transformative power. Worse, it has deceived far too many “believers” into thinking they are authentically Christian when, in fact, they are not. Referring to Jesus words at the end of Matthew 7, Platt continues:

…….in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place.

Rather than following a knee-jerk reaction to those words, spend some time prayerfully reflecting on what Platt just said, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you just where you stand in relation to this issue. To what extent are you obedient to the teachings of the Master? Granted, no one is perfect, but how consistent are you in putting your faith, as defined by Jesus, into daily practice? Does your life indeed reflect the fruit of following Jesus?

Only you can answer these questions with any degree of honesty. If you ask the Holy Spirit, he will give you the discernment you need to make an honest, self-assessment. I know when I spent time reflecting on these themes, it was a real eye-opener that resulted in one of those life-changing, epiphany-like moments. And I hope it can become the same for you.

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved