Remedies for What Ails The Church: Christ’s Proactive Love

Mick Turner

For quite some time now I have pondered and prayed over the various reasons the contemporary church is in such a state of crisis. In addition to people leaving the sanctuaries in drove, the church itself is rapidly becoming marginalized in its impact on American culture and this, coupled with dwindling numbers and a chronic affinity for internal bickering, has left the Body of Christ in a general state of paralytic impotence.

There are many reasons for this state of affairs – far too many to catalogue in this brief article. I would like, however, to focus in particular on one specific causational factor that I think contributes greatly to the church’s current woes.  Before delving into that issue, however, I want to spend a few moments discussing the issue of “lost faith” or, as some describe it, “weak faith.”

I mention this because I think that these faith problems are related to our overall lack of understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ, his mission, and the impact of that mission on life as we know it. As we will discuss below, one of the primary factors contributing to the exodus from the church is that it has lost its most vital, life-giving focus. A side-effect of this is that many people have what those – in – the – supposed – know call a “crisis of faith.” This crisis can take many forms, but each tends to share a few common elements. The following description by Brian McLaren provides a cogent summation of what I am talking about:

One way or the other, we outgrew the faith of our childhood or youth. Now we are seeking for a faith that we can hold with adult integrity, clear intelligence, and open-eyed honesty. So, many of us need in this way to renew or replace the faith we lost – to fill the old vacancy in a new way, to see faith with fresh eyes, or better – to let a mature, refreshed faith become the new eyes through which we see life.

Others of us have faith, but it is weak or damaged. We feel that we are walking on a sprained ankle or trying to enjoy a delicious meal with a bad tooth. Perhaps we have been spiritually undernourished, malnourished, or mistreated and injured by a church or religious family member. We don’t have confidence in our faith, and it brings us more pain than comfort. Or we have a faith that is little more than a set of concepts to us. This kind of faith is often called nominal, meaning “in name only.” It doesn’t affect our behavior, at least, not positively. Perhaps for some of us, faith is like a vaccination – we have just enough in our system to keep us from getting “infected” with a full-blown “case” of vibrant faith. There’s faith there, but it needs to be “set on fire”; it needs to come alive; we need to really “catch” it. In these ways some of us need to invigorate the faith we already have.

I don’t know about you, but I can see myself and many others in this description of those in a “faith crisis.” I especially recognize McLaren’s description of those whose faith is like a vaccination, giving them just enough Jesus to prevent them from catching the real thing.

As I stated earlier, the reasons for the dwindling numbers and declining social impact of the church in our culture are many and multi-faceted. And, I might add, the responsibility for more than a few of these problems lies with the church itself. Overall, I think it is safe to say that as a body, we have done a generally poor job of carrying out the mandate given us by the Master before he departed for the heavenly realms.

One major reason for this situation flows from the fact that the church has lost focus on Christ, who and what he was and is, what he accomplished, and what he expects of us. Without this knowledge, a Christian lacks a functional compass with which he or she may navigate through the shoals of daily living. Further, when the focus on the biblical Christ is either weak or lost, an individual lacks the basic information needed to truly make a decision as to whether or not to follow Christ. I dare say that there are untold numbers of self-proclaimed Christians out there who, other than the standard “he died for my sins” teachings, have no clue as to the true magnificence of Christ’s being.

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their excellent book Jesus Manifesto, speak directly to this situation and how it impacts the most fundamental question each person who faces Christ must answer:

Can our problems really be caused by something so basic and simple as losing sight of Christ? We believe the answer is a resounding Yes. Answers other than Christ to the problems of the church today mean we are more into solvents than solutions. For that reason, this global, Google world needs a meta-narrative more than ever, and the Jesus Story is the interpreting system of all other systems in this hour…

Sweet and Viola then state that each of us needs to answer one specific question and if you think about it, every other thing that follows hinges upon how we answer that question. It is the same question Jesus put to his disciples:

“Who do you say that I am?”

I have come to the conclusion that the church has, as a whole, done a poor job of educating its members on the importance of answering this question and furthermore, our efforts at educating new believers on the incredible nature of this being we call “the Christ.” We have played the “personal savior” and “Son of God” tapes until they have lost much of their meaning. Although the importance of Christ’s role in the process of restoration of right standing with God and the remission of sins is a key element in his mission, but it is only an element. And his status as the Son of the Living God, as evidenced by Jesus’ response to Peter’s answer, is also highly significant, but this, too, is only one aspect of Christ’s identity and his agenda for coming to earth.

I am of the strong belief that until we educate new Christians (and reeducate established ones) on the truly magnificent nature of Jesus Christ, who and what he is, all that he accomplished, and his agenda for the restoration of God’s plan on earth, we cannot hope to fulfill the mandate we have been given as the Body of Christ.

I am hesitant to give a highly specific prescription for how churches might go about this educational mission, primarily because each church is a unique entity in terms of its congregational demographics, its denominational affiliation (or lack thereof), its theological orientation, and its particular mission. However, several areas of commonality may be mentioned.

To be continued…..


Whatever a particular church’s situation might be, it shares with all churches the essential task of educating its congregants about Christ, his identity, his life, his teachings, and his mission on this planet. Ideally, this education will be of a sufficient enough nature to inculcate in those who participate a sincere desire to become a genuine Christ-follower. Hopefully, the church will also give detailed instruction in what it means to be a Christian in this particular age and how to “count the costs” as per Jesus’ teaching.

After accomplishing these goals, the educational focus should shift from Christ to the individual. Hopefully, after being educated about Christ, his identity, mission, and accomplishments and also after counting the costs of true discipleship, the individual is ready to make an informed decision about whether or not he or she wants to take on the yoke of Christian discipleship. I believe this is an area where the church has failed mightily in the past and right on down to the present. I think this is especially true in Evangelical traditions where the primary concern is to get the person to “make a decision for Christ,” or “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” Focusing primarily on getting the person on their knees and repeating the “sinner’s prayer,” these “workers in the vineyard” pay little attention to the importance of educating the individual in exactly what it means to take on the yoke of Christ.

This tendency to reduce the gospel to a focus on the salvation of individual souls and on getting a ticket to heaven has not only cheapened the “good news” of Jesus; it has resulted in the creation of a cadre of confused and lukewarm Christians. The concomitant lack of spiritual fever and passion for the kingdom has contributed greatly to the marginalization of the church as described at the beginning of this article. Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. paints a very clear but distressing portrait of the situation under discussion:

More and more our gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ, or coming forward during an altar call………..It was about saving as many people from hell as possible – for the next life. It minimized any concern for those same people in this life. It wasn’t as important that they were poor or hungry or persecuted, or perhaps rich, greedy, and arrogant; we just had to get them to pray the “sinner’s prayer” and then move on to the next potential convert. In our evangelistic efforts to make the good news accessible and simple to understand, we seem to have boiled it down to a kind of “fire insurance” that one can buy. Then, once the policy is in effect, the sinner can go back to whatever life he was living – of wealth and success or poverty and suffering. As long as the policy was in the drawer, the other things don’t matter as much. We’ve got our “ticket” to the next life.

There is a real problem with this limited view of the kingdom of God; it is not the whole gospel. Instead, it is a gospel with a gaping hole. First, focusing almost exclusively on the afterlife reduces the importance of what God expects of us in this life. The kingdom of God, which Christ said is “within you” (Luke 17:21 NKJV), was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now. It was not meant to be a way to leave the world but rather the means to actually redeem it.

Right from the beginning, I firmly believe that it is imperative that new believers be educated in exactly what discipleship means. Christ certainly gave us this example. In his words, those who set their hand to the plow and looked back were not fit to be his followers. In addition, he did not sugar coat what following him entailed. Scripture relates that on occasion those hearing Christ speak would say, “These are hard teachings,” and often walk away.

After educating its members on what true discipleship consists of, I think it is next essential that churches design programs that deeply educate its congregants in what it truly means to be “in Christ.” I am convinced that the majority of Christians have little understanding and even less personal application of their status and privileges as “children of the Light.” I think this is an area where the church has been highly negligent in the past and it is high time this problem was addressed and rectified. I can say without reservation that this might be the single-most significant causative factor in the church’s impotence today. Popular Bible teacher, pastor, and author Chip Ingram shares the following cogent remarks in his book Living on the Edge:

Chip Ingram speaks cogently to this issue in his book Living on the Edge:

I can’t overemphasize this point because I think it is one of the most glaring omissions in the Body of Christ today. I meet Christians who love God and who long to follow Him with all their heart, but it is apparent that they have no real understanding of who they are in Christ. Their relationship is based solely on their experiences with God, but often not deeply rooted in the foundational truths of who they are and what they actually possess as a child of God. This lack of understanding destines sincere believers to defeat and frustration as t hey seek to live out the new life in their own power.

In like fashion, most new Christians are encouraged to get involved in Christian activities and begin the disciplines of the Christian life in order to grow spiritually. Church attendance, praying, reading God’s Word, serving, and getting involved are the messages young Christians hear – and for good reason. It is critical that we talk to God from the heart, learn to hear His voice, have our mind renewed through His Word, and enjoy the fellowship of His people; but what is missing in all these valuable Christian “activities” is specific teaching on what it means to be “in Christ.” We need to clearly understand how God sees us before we become inundated in activities for God.

To be continued……..

I find it fascinating that the churches that seem to be most negligent in educating congregants in the realities of what it means to be “in Christ” are those at opposite ends of the theological spectrum. Our liberal churches often ignore the phrase altogether or describe it as a quasi-mystical state resulting from long-term arduous spiritual training. It is described more often as a state of consciousness rather than a gift of grace through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. At the other end of the stick, many of our fundamentalist brothers and sisters are so absolutely obsessed with sin and the “blood of the Lamb” that they never get beyond the theme of atonement and justification. Themes like empowerment and sanctification rarely cross their lips.

Once we come to an understanding of who and what we are “in Christ,” we need to have a thorough education in God’s great mission of restoration, renewal, and the primacy of the Kingdom agenda. We need to know what God is up to and discover how we fit into that agenda both as a church and as individuals. This entails education regarding the kingdom, God’s “Great Story” of restoration, and our equipping in terms of spiritual gifts. Understanding the “kingdom” purpose is especially important as this was the central focus of Christ’s teaching.

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

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

Dr. Myles Munroe, author of several books dealing with God’s kingdom, echoes the centrality of the kingdom agenda for today’s Church:

“How important to the Body of Christ is the message of the Kingdom of God? Frankly, we have nothing else to teach. The message of the Kingdom is good news, and the Church exists to proclaim it. If we are doing our job, everything we are about will be Kingdom focused: every sermon we preach, every Bible study we teach, every ministry we perform, every activity we accomplish, and every worship service we celebrate…The Kingdom of God must be our highest priority; Jesus gave us no other commission.”

As individual members of the Body of Christ, it is our duty to share the kingdom message at every opportunity. In doing so, however, we must take care to present Jesus’ kingdom manifesto is ways that are relative to today’s world. Howard Snyder also points out the contrast between kingdom people and non-kingdom people. His words paint a clear portrait of why the church must educate its members in depth regarding Jesus’ concept of “Kingdom”:

The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business, people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with spiritual meaning and Kingdom significance. Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above the concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world…If the church has one great need, it is this: to be set free for the Kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends. The church must be freed to participate fully in the economy of God.

 I find the Church’s lack of focus on establishing the kingdom even more remarkable when considering other popular pulpit themes. A few years back I was conducting research on the growth of several denominations in the county where I live. This research necessitated my visiting eight different congregations over an extended period of time and provided an opportunity to hear firsthand the kind of topics preachers from a variety of denominations were expounding upon. Frankly, I was amazed. I heard at least four sermons on prosperity, four more on the reality of sin, three on the importance of speaking in tongues, two on how speaking in tongues was the work of Satan, at least two sermons detailing the importance of voting Republican in the upcoming 2008 election, and one meandering, 40-minute bombast without a discernable core.

In short, the church is supposed to be in the business of turning out “kingdom people” rather than church people. So, along with the other themes discussed in this article, I feel it is imperative that the church also include as a part of its educational agenda information on just what the kingdom is all about.

I should say at this point that I rocked along as a Christian for many years before, by the grace of God and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I began to at last encounter Christ in a more profound way. In spite of my personal beliefs and biases, misinformation gleaned from myriad sources, including the church, and perhaps most subtle of all, my own intellectual arrogance and theological snobbery, a sliver of divine light managed to break through. Augmented by much prayer and meditation, this thin beam of illumination expanded into an unexpected eruption of insight and wonder. It was as if some sort of spiritual dawn had exploded across the horizon and standing at the center of this sublime awakening was Jesus Christ – Jesus as I had never seen him before; Jesus as I had never understood him before; Jesus, as he had never impacted me before.

My reaction to this encounter was one of reverence, awe, and wonder. I think the phrase coined by Hebrew writer and scholar Abraham Heschel sums up my feelings quite accurately. When the dust settled and I began to embody the new revelation of who and what Christ was and is, I was literally overwhelmed with a sense of radical amazement.

This sense of wonder, awe, and amazement created in me a desire to obey Christ in things both great and small. I was (and I remain) far from perfect in terms of my obedience, but with divine assistance each day I get a little bit better it seems. More significantly, this revelation of Christ’s nature, his accomplishments, and his ongoing mission created in me a desire to create and maintain a level of excellence in my life that greatly exceeded the  level at which I had been operating. Cutting straight to the chase, my personal mission statement became:

To become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

The way I saw it, and still see it, is anything less than my best shortchanges Christ. I am not talking about perfection, nor am I employing any sort of legalistic program of puritanical holiness. Those flavors of teaching prove time and time again to create more problems than they solve. What I am driving at here is the importance and the necessity of making a consecrated commitment to excellence.

I am convinced that the vast majority of us are living far beneath the level we are capable of, whether in terms of our personal relationships, our professions, our level of knowledge and wisdom, and our moral values. All I am saying here is that in light of the great gift Christ has given us, we can and should do better than half-measures.

Christ gave us his best and our response should be nothing less than our best.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2015/ All Rights Reserved


God Does Not Accept Letters of Retirement

Mick 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/All Rights Reserved

Living Your Divine Calling

L.D. Turner

I am always amazed when I hear people talking about a belief in the random nature of the universe; how everything sort evolved by accident or through some sort of cosmic game of pin the tail on the comet. From my perspective, this is an exercise in absurdity. Every aspect of the universe, not to mention our own bodies, are functioning in a highly intricate and perfectly balanced manner. To think this all happened by accident or chance is beyond the realm of reason.

Considering all this, I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

The same principle applies to our lives. As we looked at earlier, God not only created the universe with a finely tuned balance and rhythm, he also planned our lives around a finely tuned purpose. God has a plan and, as an integral and intricate part of the plan, he created a unique plan for each of us.

One of the greatest gifts of God to each of us is the placing of this divine plan for our lives deep within us. God has his generalized plan for humanity and a personal plan or mission for each of us. You, me, the butcher, baker, and even the candlestick maker have a divine purpose scripted on our hearts by the Creator and it is a plan just for us. More incredible is the fact that God has equipped us to carry that plan out and in so doing, help establish his kingdom right here on earth and bring great glory to his being. What a wonder! What a blessing! What a responsibility!

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.

As said earlier, it matters not where you have been. In fact, past failures and problems may be part of your qualification for the task God has for you to perform. I worked for many years in the field of addiction prevention and treatment. The most effective professionals ministering to those suffering from addiction were those people who were former addicts themselves. It is this foundational philosophy upon which Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are built.

Whenever I explore scripture I am consistently amazed at the cast of characters that God selected to carry forth major projects on his behalf. We see in both the Old and New Testaments that God repeatedly chose people that seemed completely incapable of doing what he was calling upon them to do. God didn’t go out in search of heroes to carry our his important missions. Instead, he looked for seemingly insignificant, weak-kneed characters in need of major character overhaul. Erwin Raphael McManus speaks cogently about this in his book Uprising:

The history of God’s people is not a record of God searching for courageous men and women who could handle the task, but God transforming the hearts of cowards and calling them to live courageous lives. Adam and Eve hid; Abraham lied; Moses ran; David deceived; Esther was uncertain; Elijah contemplated suicide; John the Baptist doubted; Peter denied; Judas betrayed. And these are just some of the leading characters.

Looking through the pages of scripture and seeing how God goes about staffing his major kingdom projects gives credible hope to even a misfit like me.

If you think your past sin(s) prevents you from carrying out your purpose for God, you have been lied to by the Master of Deceit himself. Satan would like nothing more than for you to continue walking around half-alive, depressed, despondent, and spiritually paralyzed. That’s why that little voice tells you time and time again that there is no way God will ever use you.

Listen my friend – God saved you and God will use you. He is not a God of wasted effort. God never does anything without a reason and a purpose. If you are saved, you are to be used. You are destined to be God’s instrument for something special.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Are You Really a Follower of Christ? (Part One)

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.

To be continued:

(C) L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Kingdoms in Conflict: Culture vs. Christ (Revised and Expanded)

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of ...
English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Platt, in his landmark book Radical:
Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
, describes how he, like the
majority of American Christians, had rocked along for years with little awareness
of the true implications of Jesus’ teachings regarding our obligation to the
poor. And, also like most American Christians, Platt relates that he had even
less awareness of the plight of those living in oppressive poverty, much less
how this had anything to do with his spiritual journey. He then goes on to
describe his personal epiphany regarding poverty, suffering, and its connection
to the teachings of the Master he professed to follow:

Suddenly I began to realize that
if I have been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and if poverty is
rampant in the world to which God has called me, then I cannot ignore these
realities. Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the
earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to
demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry. If
I am going to address urgent spiritual need by sharing the gospel of Christ or
building up the body of Christ around the world, then I cannot overlook dire
physical need in the process.

spiritual awakening was life-changing and, in his role as a pastor and writer,
the impact of his personal transformation was even more far-reaching. Platt’s
voice, along with an increasing number of spiritually-astute Christians, is
sorely needed in today’s world, a world in which each day an estimated
twenty-six thousand children die of starvation or preventable disease. If
Christ physically walked the earth today, there can be little doubt that he
would not stand for such a tragedy. The ironic thing is this: Christ does walk the earth today, in the
form of the church, yet we pretend these dying kids don’t exist.
In spite
of our Christian claims of compassion and service, we are successful in our
ignorance of the true extent of the problems in our world. Platt continues:

…..I have turned a blind eye to
these realities. I have practically ignored these people, and I have been
successful in my ignorance because they are not only poor but also powerless.
Literally millions of them are dying in obscurity, and I have enjoyed my
affluence while pretending they don’t exist.

But they do exist. Not only do
they exist, but God takes very seriously how I respond to them.

words in Matthew 25, describing the final judgment and the separation of the
sheep and the goats leave little room for doubt as to how serious he takes the
plight of those in need. The chapter closes with some of the Master’s most
severe teachings regarding the treatment of those in need. Jesus equates
turning away from those in need with turning away from himself:

Depart from
me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his

for a moment and prayerfully reflect on what Christ just said here. In the
overall scheme of things, I can’t imagine the pain and suffering awaiting the
enemy and his minions. As God’s divine story of redemption and restoration
winds toward its conclusion, the judgment and justice that will be meted out to
Satan and his followers is a horror that defies description. Yet think of it – the very same fate awaits those who turn a
blind eye, a deaf ear, and an empty hand to those in dire need.

will rarely hear a sermon on these themes preached in contemporary churches.
This is a teaching that runs counter to the values of our culture and certainly
is politically incorrect for those Christian joined at the hip with the more
fiscally conservative of our two political parties. The fact is, however, no
matter how you try to rationalize it, explain it away, ignore it, or even deny
it – it is right there in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. As
uncomfortable as it may be, a so-called Christian ignores this teaching at his
or her own peril.

emphasis on compassionate action toward the poor should come as no surprise to
any biblically literate Christian. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Christ began his
comments in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth with these words:

The Spirit
of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent
me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that
the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Jesus, these statements were far more than sugar-coated platitudes or uplifting
affirmations. Instead, these power-filled words were a pronouncement of the
coming of God’s Kingdom to earth and a challenge to the status quo. These
words, which Jesus boldly stated were fulfilled in that synagogue that very
day, were a shot across the bow of the people’s religious comfort zone. No
wonder they tried to throw him over a cliff.

his ministry the principles taught by Jesus in his kingdom agenda ran counter
to those of the existing cultural and religious structure. Oddly enough, in a
nation that claims to be “Christian,” Jesus’ kingdom manifesto remains in stark
conflict with the essential values held by the majority of Americans. The
“Sermon on the Mount” contains a tightly-knit summation of the teachings of the
Master. Brian McLaren offers a cogent paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching on the


Be poor in spirit, mourn, be
meek, hunger and thirst for true righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart,
be a peace-maker, be willing to joyfully suffer persecution and insult for
doing what is right.

Be salt and light in the world –
by doing good works.

Do not hate or indulge in anger,
but instead seek to reconcile.

Do not lust or be sexually
unfaithful in your heart.

Do not presume to make vows, but
have simple speech, where yes means yes and no, no.

Do not get revenge, but find
creative and nonviolent ways to overcome evil done to you.

Love your enemies, as God does,
and be generous to everyone as God is.

Give to the poor, pray, and fast

Don’t let greed cloud your outlook,
but store up treasure in heaven through generosity.

Don’t worry about your own daily
needs, but instead trust yourself to God’s care, and seek God’s kingdom first
and foremost.

Don’t judge others, but instead
first work on your own blindness.

Go to God with all your needs,
knowing that god is a caring Father.

Do to others as you would have
them do to you.

Don’t be misled by religious
talk, what counts is actually living by Jesus’ teaching.


culture’s values, and in many cases, the values quietly but deeply held by
those professing to be Christians, run counter to the teachings of Jesus. This
is especially true when it comes to material possessions in general and
personal wealth in particular. I recall in the last Presidential election one
candidate was consistently criticized for wanting to “redistribute wealth” in
America. Ironically, those most vocal in calling this candidate to task over
this issue were Christian Republicans. The fact of the matter is, however, that
a redistribution of wealth was exactly what Jesus consistently called for and
the practices of the early church were much closer to Socialist ideals than any
form of capitalism.

culture, steeped in praise and admiration for individualism and free
enterprise, has infiltrated and weakened the gospel in America. This is not a
recent phenomenon, but has been taking place since the founding of our nation.
I am not saying these principles are necessarily wrong or sinful, but please,
let’s not blaspheme Jesus by somehow insisting that he would approve of so much
wealth being in the hands of one percent of the population while 26,000
children die each day from starvation and preventable disease. If you want to
rail against sin, this kind of thing is the real sin.

understand that what I am saying is not popular nor is it in keeping with the
conservative political agenda of Republican Christians. Nevertheless, it is
high time those on the Christian Right prayerfully examined the “faith and
values” they hold so dear. Some ideas of those on the Christian Right may have
a degree of merit, but please, let’s not degrade the Master by putting our
words in his mouth. They just don’t fit. I conclude with the following words by
famed scholar and writer Houston Smith, which although lengthy, are a great
summation of the topic being discussed:

…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have
been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover
their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper
over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so
counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic
plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek.
The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are
told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that
friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on
the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating;
it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are
told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are
perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the
procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would
prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The
world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to
enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world
honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who
weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the
rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of
freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us
want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was
evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts
are still too small for his message.

I encourage you to spend time over the next
few days prayerfully considering these words of Houston Smith as they echo the
words of Christ and present them in stark comparison to the values of our culture.
Ask the Holy Spirit to assist you in becoming deeply aware of all of your
clever strategies for rationalizing and avoiding the difficulty of Jesus’

After completing the above reflections and
prayers, meditate on these words of Jesus:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine
and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain
fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not
fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words
of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house
on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat
against the house and it fell – and great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27 NRSV)

the Holy Spirit for help in discerning where and how you place our culture’s
values above those of the Master. For me, this was a humbling yet eye-opening
experience. I trust it will be for you as well.

© L.D. Turner 2011/2013 All Rights Reserved

Discipleship: Keep It Simple (Part I)

name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marr...
name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marriage of Christ and the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Increasingly, I am coming to see that the essence of discipleship
is simply to live as Jesus did. If we are truly serious about pursuing an
authentic Christian spirituality, then everything we do must be Christ-driven.
And it will not be difficult for us to ascertain how well we are progressing
along our walk of faith. All we need to do is observe ourselves as we go about
our daily rounds and see to what extent our lives are beginning to resemble the
one Jesus modeled for us.


We need not get too obsessive about this evaluation. Instead, all
we need to do is take an honest inventory of the extent our daily lives
manifest principles such as love, compassion, service to others, obedience to
God, discipline, integrity, honor, humility, etc. We must ask ourselves, “To
what extent am I living as Christ lived?” If we have difficulty developing a
list of Christ-like traits, we might use the nine “fruit of the Spirit” listed
by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control. Another possible list of
character assets can be found in 2 Peter 1:5-7: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance,
godliness, brotherly kindness,
and love.


I have come to firmly believe that making every attempt to live
such a life constitutes the most rewarding life possible. God loves us,
scripture assures us that nothing can separate us from that love (Romans 8:28),
and ultimately, God is in control. What I personally draw from these facts is that
no matter what might be going on, no matter how dark a situation may appear, in
the end, things will work out. Believing this and trusting in God’s love and
provision, I can therefore let go of many petty worries and concerns, stop
wasting vital energy, and instead, devote myself to the task at hand: living as Christ lived. I especially
like what Johnnie Moore says regarding making a decision to live such a life:


“What if we decided that to the best of our ability, we would no
longer live a hypocritical, halfhearted Christianity that results in unbelief
and disappointment? What if we decided to not be lukewarm? What if we took all
the energy we spend in doubt and frustration and used it to trust and believe?
What if we went on a pursuit to actually answer our nagging questions instead
of using them as excuses to avoid commitment? What if we chose to run toward
God even when our disappointment with hypocrisy threatens to chase us away from
him? What if we decided to actually live what we believe to the extent that
people’s destinies are changed and Christ is more famous because of Christians
and not in spite of them?”


Our superficial approach to discipleship has created a culture of
shallow and hollow faith that leaves genuine spiritual seekers frustrated and
empty. Is it any wonder these seekers are leaving the church in droves due to
their inability to find authentic spiritual experience in its sanctuaries? Dick
Staub doesn’t pull any punches as he describes this process:


“Today, most of what we call spiritual searching is in fact a sham
and a vain exercise better described as pseudo-seeking. We seek and do not find
because we seek a God who will improve our life and make us happy without
making any demands on us . . . . . . . . . . We seek and do not find because
our superficial culture trivializes all that it touches, including our ideas of
God and the spiritual. Euphemisms like “the man upstairs,” vagaries like
“higher power,” print ads for a product named “Eternity,” a TV ad for Direct TV
announcing that “someone up there is watching you,” a commercial for a resort
claiming that it is “like heaven without the long term commitment,” or any one
of hundreds of inane interviews with celebrities about their latest faddish
dalliance with the “god in me”; all these shallow glosses on God and the
spiritual obscure what is truly involved in the deeper inner wellness available
through the pursuit of a transcendent yet imminent deity.”

The fact is many of
us have grown quite comfortable with this superficial approach to discipleship.
Making a sold-out, no-holds-barred commitment to Christ resulting in a
willingness to do whatever it takes to go deeper in our walk of faith has
become an alien concept in the contemporary Body of Christ. Jesus warned those
considering becoming his disciple to count the cost of obedience to his
teaching and his way of life. I am increasingly dismayed that complacency has
become the gold standard in today’s church and further, many Christians do not
count the cost of discipleship because they have never been taught the true
ramifications of obedience.

To be continued:

(c) L.D. Turner/2013

Wise Words for Today

British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible ...
British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible – Matthew’s Gospel (Ge’ez script) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The first thing for the Christian
is to recover the gospel – to relearn and fall in love again with that
historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling,
all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching,
spiritually fulfilling good news of God’s love………….Following Jesus in the
twenty-first century demands that his disciples relearn the full meaning of the
Gospel story, recovering the culminating theme of restoration that runs
throughout the whole of Scripture. This begins by seeing the Gospel as the
central solution to humanity’s age-old questions and self-conflict. But this
story isn’t static; it dynamically continues to unfold today, displaying God’s
original goodness and ultimate intention for all his creation. The good news
for humankind is that we are all made in God’s image, given a path through
Jesus to be reconciled from our sin, and purposed to partner with him to renew
and restore the creation to its fullest potential.

Gabe Lyons