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

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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

Restoring Passion and Releasing Divine Potential

MIck Turner

Over the course of many years, I have talked to a significant number of people who are, for any number of reasons, growing stale in their spiritual walk of faith. These folks are not necessarily lazy, shallow, or complacent Christians, although this description fits some quite well. For the most part, these are fairly sincere followers of Jesus Christ who seem to have lost their spiritual momentum.

As I said, there are a number of reasons that a person might find himself or herself in such a state of spiritual doldrums. Time and space does not allow for a detailed listing of all the possible reasons that conspire to cause a well-meaning Christ-follower to stall out. Whatever the specific reason might be, in most cases it flows out of one of several sources: personal strongholds, imbibing too deeply of the world’s value system, or strategic and subtle attacks from the enemy or his minions.

Releasing your potential requires a willingness to move beyond the familiar into the realm of possibilities. . . . . . If you attempt new things and make choices that stretch your horizons, you will embark on an exciting journey. You will begin to see the marvelous being God created you to be – a being filled with more capabilities than you ever dreamed possible. The journey begins when you gain an understanding of what potential is and how you can release it. For once you understand the magnitude of the wealth God gave you, to turn from consciously and conscientiously unwrapping God’s gift is to abort your potential and refuse to fulfill the purpose for which He gave you life. The knowledge of what you have failed to use to benefit yourself, your contemporaries, and the generations to follow will judge you on the great day of accountability. Potential is given to be released, not wasted.

Like most significant aspects of the spiritual journey, whether or not we release our divine potential hinges upon our making a personal decision.

Once we truly come to understand who and what we are in Christ, as well as the magnificent gift God has placed inside of us, we are immediately confronted with a decision. Are we going to step forward, put our hand to the plow, and walk with boldness headlong into the destiny and the high state of being to which we are called? Or, like Jonah of old, are we going to take the first boat out of town? You see, it really boils down to that kind of fundamental choice.

No one can make the decision for us. It is our responsibility and it is wise to follow Christ’s advice: we need to count the cost. Taking on Jesus as Savior is one thing, taking him on as Lord is quite another. Our churches are crowded with many who have done the former but not the latter. In counting the costs, however, it is important to realize that by taking on Christ and walking in the life path he demands is the only way to truly realize the spiritual potential within us. The late Dr. Myles Munroe speaks cogently to this theme:

What lies behind you is history and what lies before you is future, but these are both tiny matters compared to what lies within you. You may not be able to change your past, and your future is yet unlived, but the present provides you with opportunities to maximize your life and the ability that lives within you. You must take responsibility for your ability….Are you living a stillbirth? Are you aborting your entire purpose for living? I encourage you to take responsibility right now for your ability. Determine to activate, release, and maximize your potential for the sake of the next generation. Leave your footprints in the sands of the history of your country. Live fully so you can die effectively. Let your life write the speech of your death and give your potential to the family of man for the glory of God. Remember “well done” is much better than “well said.” Don’t just talk about your potential dreams, visions, and ideas. Step out now and determine to do them. Dare to believe that you have already accomplished is but a minute percentage of what you can do.

It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, nor does it matter how sin-stained you may think you are. It may very well be that some of the mistakes that you have made in the past are perfect prerequisites for the task to which the Master is calling you.

You may think you are a misfit, a malcontent or worse. And the fact is, you may very well be just that. Great. What that means is that you are the kind of person that God often chooses to carry forward his greatest plans. Moses, David, Peter, Paul – the list goes on and on – all had major weaknesses and defects of character. Still, scripture tells us of the ways in which God used each of them to further his agenda on this planet.

So consider yourself in good company.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Forgetting About God’s Will Long Enough to Do It

Mick Turner

“If only I could really discover God’s will for my life, it would make all the difference in the world.” How many times have you heard sincere Christians make statements like this? I’ll wager that you have heard it quite a few times. I know I have. And if the truth be known, I can recall making that same statement myself, especially during times of spiritual floundering.

I mention this because I have come to understand that this sort of statement reveals a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s purpose for our lives and how he goes about communicating that purpose so we can grasp it. Granted, I believe that God has a unique, overriding purpose for each of us, has gifted us with certain talents and abilities that help us to become successful in carrying out that purpose, and has empowered us, through the Holy Spirit, to bring that mission to a successful conclusion. I have also come to believe, however, that God also given each of us daily tasks to perform – tasks normally associated with the environment we have been planted in. It is his will that we identify and carry out these daily callings with dedication and consistency.

Unfortunately, many of us are so busy trying to figure out that one great calling God has placed on our lives that we miss his will for us in the divine present, in the holy moment that exists right under our noses. He communicates those callings in ways we can all recognize – sudden insights, little hunches, or sudden feelings or memories that may come over us. I know in my own experience, I frequently have these sorts of impulses to take certain actions when I am reflecting on passages of scripture. All too often we fail to pay sufficient attention to these callings and, as a result, frequently miss discovering God’s will for us for that one divine moment. If we do this over a long period of time, we run the risk of losing vital contact with the Holy Spirit. A.W. Tozer tells us:

…….to expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us and, if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence.

Don’t keep reading as if the profundity of Tozer’s statement somehow escaped your attention. Pause and reflect for a few moments of what he just said. If we repeatedly ignore of disobey those nudging from the Holy Spirit he may just stop communicating with us.

It is understandable, really.

If you had a close friend, a person you care for deeply, consistently ignore or refuse to listen to your suggestions for how he might improve his life or solve a particular problem, would you continue to make those suggestions indefinitely? No, I doubt you would. I know I would eventually reach a point where I would just keep quiet.

Although I firmly believe that God has a unique mission for each of us, all too often I have seen deeply committed, sincere Christians get so distracted in the search for this calling that they consistently overlook clear service opportunities right in front of their noses. More often than not, the will of God can be found in those small, seemingly mundane task that cross our paths each day. Perhaps it is something as simple as opening a door for someone, picking up a bit of litter on the ground, or helping someone carry their groceries to the car. Perhaps it is something as routine visiting a sick friend in the hospital, giving a person a ride to the pharmacy or a medical appointment, or simply providing a listening ear to a friend who needs to unload what is on his or her heart.

It is in these everyday situations where we find the true epicenter of God’s activity and where we find consistent fulfillment of God’s will for our lives. Yes, it is also true that each of us has a unique and important calling and for some of us, that mission may be a great one. For all of us, however, these little everyday encounters are where we most often can give flesh to grace by answering the call of the moment.

It is precisely that consistent practice of paying attention to the small duties of our daily round that makes a life of excellence possible. Moreover, no one ever slouched his or her way to greatness. Let’s listen to the wisdom on James Allen:

The great man has become such by the scrupulous and unselfish attention which he has given to small duties. He has become wise and powerful by sacrificing ambition and pride in the doing of those necessary things which evoke no applause and promise no reward. He never sought greatness; he sought faithfulness, unselfishness, integrity, truth; and in finding these in the common round of small tasks and duties he unconsciously ascended to the level of greatness.

Let me share a brief story from my childhood that points out how attention to the small can lead to the unfolding of God’s greater will. The story also illustrates how attending to the small and mundane can have unforeseen, far-reaching impact. I recall a conversation a middle-aged man had with my parents in a picnic area just across the road from Casey Key Beach in Nokomis, Florida, where I grew up. I was about 11 years old at the time and my hand was in a cast (I had broken it a few weeks before playing baseball).

I vividly remember the gentlemen telling my parents that he was walking off the beach, heading to his car when he saw a pair of empty trash bags blowing down the beach near the water. He related that he started to leave, but felt that he should go and retrieve those bags and put them in a trash receptacle. “I think all of us who live down here should take responsibility to keep our beaches clean,” I recall him saying. Rather than leaving, he returned to the water’s edge to retrieve the garbage bags.

The man went on to relate than as he was reaching for the garbage bags he heard a distant cry for help. He looked up but did not initially see anything but then heard the cry again. Scanning the water he spotted an empty beach float and saw two arms frantically waving above the water’s surface. Racing into the surf the man swam out just beyond the float and found a small boy going under the water. He grabbed the boy and brought him back to shore. Panic-stricken, the boy took the man to his parents, who were just across the road from the beach.

If you haven’t guessed by now, that small boy was me. I was leisurely floating on my rubber raft when a wave knocked me off. The water was about two feet over my head and, with my hand in a heavy cast, swimming was impossible. I had gone under for the third time when the man reached me.

I tell this story because I am personally aware of how fortunate I am to be alive. Had that man not taken the time to return to the water’s edge and pick up the garbage bags, I would in all likelihood have drowned. I would not be writing this blog, which is part of God’s will for my life, nor would you be reading it right now. Yes, my friends, this gentleman’s decision to take responsibility for a small thing has had far-reaching effects, indeed.

Attention to the small is really God’s will for our lives. And in so many ways, the small is no different from the great in God’s eyes. James Allen continues:

Neglect of the small is confusion of the great. The snowflake is as perfect as the star; the dew drop is as symmetrical as the planet; the microbe is not less mathematically proportioned than the man. By laying stone upon stone, plumbing and fitting each with perfect adjustment, the temple at last stands forth in all its architectural beauty. The small precedes the great. The small is not merely the apologetic attendant of the great, it is its master and informing genius.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to do great things. Yet this calling should never become an obsession that causes us to miss the opportunities that are presented to us in each “divine moment.” It is in the context of these moments that we discover God’s will for us in the here and now. It is also in the fabric of these sublime moments, the “holy present,” where we connect with the “Holy Presence,” the unshakable power that enables us to carry out that calling with confidence and compassion.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

The Blessings of Forgiveness and Divine Acceptance

Mick Turner

One subject that often does not come up in daily conversation is Christ’s crucifixion. It just isn’t one of those topics that tend to roll easily off one’s lips and tongue. In fact, spending time reflecting on the horrors of crucifixion is not something many of us prefer to do, even in our private times of prayer and devotion. And this tendency to avoid meditating on the excruciating ordeal that Jesus suffered on our behalf is not without good reason. Let’s face facts: the Roman practice of hanging someone on a cross and torturing them as the life force slowly drained away was one of the most horrendous, sadistic methods of execution dreamed up in the darker recesses of the human mind.

With that said, let me get to the point that I want to stress. I began with the aforementioned digression because it is the crucifixion that provides the historical backdrop for the theme I want to discuss.

I want to talk about the interrelated themes of grace and forgiveness.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Christian teachings understand that grace, forgiveness, and the crucifixion are part of an interrelated whole. Any attempt to separate these three critical components of Christ’s “Atonement” is at best futile and at worst, delirious. The cross was the method that facilitated the physical manifestation of God’s grace in the three-dimensional world and forgiveness was the practical, concrete outcome of the grace demonstrated on the cross. How ironic that God took the world’s most horrific act of execution, as well as the implement used to carry out that horror, and turned it in to an act of divine love and sacrifice and transformed what was a symbol of pain and death into an emblem of love, deliverance from death, and personal salvation.

I find it extremely difficult to wrap my mind around the extent of the physical suffering Jesus Christ experienced, starting with the flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, his crown of thorns, the tortuous journey through the narrow streets carrying his cross, and culminating in the unrelenting agony of crucifixion. From the first lash of the flogger’s whip until he uttered, “It is finished,” Jesus endured torment far beyond anything we can fathom.

Yet through it all he not only endured, he exhibited a sublime level of love that was seemingly beyond comprehension. Raised up high on the wooden beam, with spikes hammered through his wrists, each labored breath was far more excruciating than anything you and I have ever experienced. Yet at the zenith of his suffering and his tormentors’ brutality, he uttered these words:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Pause for a few moments and try to wrap your mind around that.

One of the most tragic things I hear Christians or potential Christians say is something like this, “You don’t know the kind of unspeakable things I have done. God would never forgive someone like me.” Friend, I don’t know what kind of nefarious, degrading sorts of things you were involved in, but I think it is pretty safe to say that it pales in comparison to flogging, mocking, and putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus Christ, and then murdering him by crucifixion. No, I doubt your worst acts come close to this sort of thing. Compared to what went on that fateful Friday, whatever your crimes might have been, they were small potatoes. With that in mind, now spend time letting this sink down into the very core of your being:

If Christ forgave his executioners, chances are your transgressions are also forgiven.

The fact is a major part of Christ’s mission to this planet was to facilitate the mysterious process that theologians call justification, which is a fancy way of saying the through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been restored to right standing with God. In a nutshell, our sins are forgiven and we are accepted by God, warts and all. To reject this forgiveness, which is a free gift of grace, is like refusing God’s most precious gift.

Further, the Bible tells us repeatedly that we are now wholly redeemed and acceptable to the Father and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that should be enough to allow optimism to works its roots deep into the soil of our hearts. Moreover, in Romans Paul reassures us that all things work for our benefit, even if we are sometimes blind to the fact.

In brief, God accepts us and blesses us. So, why is it that many of us have trouble fully accepting this free gift of grace? Why is it that a significant number of God’s family displays such a negative mindset? Why is it that church pews are often filled with people wearing either plastic smiles or, even worse, displaying such a sour countenance that visitors might think these folks had been baptized in vinegar instead of water?

Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that many of us, deep down in our spiritual hearts, just don’t believe that we have really been accepted. If we are among that number, our situation is such that we are actually rejecting the very gospel we proclaim.

A renowned Christian theologian, I think it was Paul Tillich, once said that the key to the whole Christian gospel was the fact that we are accepted by God. In fact, he went on to say that the way to appropriate God’s grace was to accept that we are accepted. I am no theologian and, at best, possess a second or third rate mind. But I am capable of comprehending the truth of this statement. We cannot begin the spiritual journey as outlined by Christ until we accept the gift of grace. And the most fundamental aspect of accepting God’s offer is to accept that we are accepted. Yet many Christians don’t seem to get this point. In fact, in their broken, weak state they can’t fathom that they are in any way acceptable to God. Something is wrong here. Very wrong.

The crown jewel in the center of the Christian message is that the lowliest, neediest, and most broken people are accepted if they have faith in Christ. Just take a look at the kind of people he chose to hang out with when he was on earth. He associated with thieves, lepers, tax-collectors, prostitutes, cripples, paupers, and even a woman married five times. It now strikes me as absurd to think that I, even with my hang-ups, sins, shortcomings, and defects of character, am beyond the loving pale of God’s grace. However, many people both within and outside the church feel they are unworthy of God’s grace and thus reject the gift that was designed for them in the first place.

Consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son as told by Christ in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. We are so familiar with this tale of a wasted life saved through love and redemption than we often loose the impact that it should have on our lives. Especially if we are wastrels and rogues like the wandering Prodigal. Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, the parable of the youngest son of a wealthy landowner illustrates the incomprehensible, counter-intuitive love of God. Brennan Manning speaks succinctly about the Prodigal in all of us and God’s incredible acceptance:

When the prodigal limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing, and womanizing, his motives were mixed at best. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of Hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father”. (Luke: 15:17-18). The ragamuffin stomach was not churning with compunction because he had broken his father’s heart. He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country had left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned. The wine soured and the roses withered. His declaration of independence had reaped an unexpected harvest: not freedom, joy, new life but bondage, gloom, and a brush with death. His fair-weather friends had shifted their allegiance when his piggy bank emptied. Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive.

Yet even with these mixed motives, borne as much from desperation as from contrition, the wastrel was accepted by his father and a celebration ensued. Of course it is best if we respond to God’s offer with a pure, contrite heart and full acknowledgement of our failure and powerlessness. Yet how many of us are actually capable of this? Not many I suspect. I know I am not. But God accepts our response to his offer in spite of our conflicted hearts and spirits. In fact, if one is to believe what Christ teaches in the parable of the Prodigal, then he in accepts our desperation just as much as he accepts our repentance. This is truly “radical grace.”

So what is our response to what God has done? What are we to do if we truly and sincerely want to partake of God’s marvelous offer to accept us, love us and empower us to be better people? What are we to do if we genuinely desire to become Children of the Light? First, we should deeply reflect on just what it is that God has done through Christ and what He is continuing to do through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Brendan Manning again puts it in cogent and moving words:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”

Just how do we go about accepting this radical offer made by God? We just accept it. It is really that simple. There is no great mystery here, no elaborate initiation rites, no secret oaths or pledges. We just accept it because God offers it. We accept it on faith and leave God to work out the details and understanding later. The comfort we find in accepting God’s love comes after faith, never before it. Remember, it all begins with and hinges on faith.

Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.

I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was nose to the ground and hot on my trail. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement. Once I truly encountered the reality of divine acceptance at an experiential level, grace became more than a doctrine – it became a living reality. I was in a real sense born from above and with that new birth I gained a profoundly different perspective on life in general and myself in particular.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

How Life’s Difficulties Serve a Larger Purpose

Mick Turner

Sometimes the simplest spiritual truths are hidden, right in front of our eyes. For many reasons we fail to see them and this shortcoming is always to our detriment.

Recently, I have become aware of one such spiritual principle that is both simple and profound and when discovered and clarified, can lend much benefit of ourselves in general and others in particular. The principle I am speaking of relates first of all to a theme that is found throughout scripture, start to finish. The principle under consideration can be summed up something like this:

In the world’s wisdom, the primary question underlying any situation is basically this: How can this benefit me? In the world’s value system, self is the consistent point of reference. Everything is viewed from the angle of me.

In God’s kingdom, this worldly principle is turned on its head. Throughout his daily actions, his teachings, and ultimately, his death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated the centrality of a kingdom principle that was opposite of the world’s wisdom: How can this benefit others?

The dichotomy between the world’s central focus and that of Jesus stands out in stark relief and when it comes to practical application, virtually all areas of life’s activities come into play. In the space of this short essay, I have no intention of going into great detail nor do I intend to give numerous examples of how these ethical principles exist in stark juxtaposition. Instead, I will speak of only one area where the Holy Spirit blessed me with a degree of insight.

I don’t know about you, but in my life there is one general situation that is a sure bet to send me spiraling into a web of suffocating self-absorption that entangles me quicker than Br’er Rabbit’s Tar Baby. I am speaking of those times when I find myself in some difficult situation, whether it be related to work, personal relations, finances, and more subtly, when I am dealing with some cognitive or emotional stronghold the either the world or the enemy constructed in my mind.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate these kinds of problems, more often than not making them far worse than they actually are or ramping up my stress level by ruminating on these difficulties sometimes for days on end. I’ll wager more than a few of you know exactly what I am talking about.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the word “ruminate” comes from the same root word as the word used to describe a cow’s cud, that thing the cow chews on over and over and over – and just like the cow and its cud, I have a marked tendency to chew on my problems over and over and over. Again, I doubt I am alone in this mental habit.

From the above, it is easy to see how I become totally self-absorbed. Thoroughly trained in the world’s value system of “me,” first, I lose connection with God’s perspective. Yet the irony of the situation is that I have found that by taking the time and the initiative to try to refocus on God’s principles, I come out of my self somewhat and muster enough strength and wisdom to free myself from the pesky tar baby. This often occurs in two ways, one you are most likely familiar with, and another that may be new to you.

I have consistently found that the most effective means I have at getting myself unstuck when ruminating over personal difficulties is to get up, go out, and do something for someone else. This does not always solve my problem, but it does buy me valuable time, it broadens my perspective, and it gives me a clearer picture of just what it is that is important in life. I need to get my focus off of myself and put it on others and on God.

The second way that I have found a bit of freedom from self-absorption with life problems comes from trying to see things from God’s perspective. I know from working many years in counseling and particularly in substance abuse, alcoholism, and other addictive disorders, that the best resource a person has is to connect with another individual who has gone through the same difficulty. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, etc. works so well. People are getting help from those who have walked in their shoes.

And then it dawned on me. Whatever major difficulty, or minor one for that matter, that I was experiencing had a meaning and a purpose. Perhaps one day a few years down the road someone just might need the wisdom I had gained through the difficulty I experienced. Remember, in God’s value system the focus is always on the other, not the self. My current problem could very well be God’s way of preparing me to be of help to another person at some point in the future. When I actually sat down and took the time to prayerfully reflect on this revelation, it opened my eyes to a bigger picture that transcended the narrow focus of my chronic self-centeredness.

This broader perspective allowed me to see an angle of life’s difficulties that was larger than my own self-interest – it allowed me a glimpse of things from a more divine perspective.

Again, this insight did not solve the problem, but it gave me a more sublime awareness on why I might be going through what I was going through and how it might indeed serve a larger purpose.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

God stampeded the first century society with swaybacks, not thoroughbreds. Before Jesus came along, the disciples were loading trucks, coaching soccer, and selling Slurpee drinks at the convenience store. Their collars were blue, and their hands were calloused, and there is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were smarter or nicer than the guy next door. The one thing they had going for them was a willingness to take a step when Jesus said, “Follow me.”. . . . . . .Are you more dinghy than cruise ship? More stand-in than movie star? More plumber than executive? More blue jeans than blue blood?

Congratulations. God changes the world with folks like you.

Max Lucado (from Outlive Your Life)