A New Years Prayer

Holy Spirit Stained Glass
Holy Spirit Stained Glass (Photo credit: hickory hardscrabble)

Mick Turner

I first published this prayer back in 2009 and it first appeared here on LifeBrook on New Years Day, 2011. I think it is a powerful little prayer and I have benefited in many ways from its use. I suggest that you give it a try. Like most declarative or affirmative prayers, speak the words with the positive faith and conviction that comes from the awareness that we serve a God of integrity and love, a God who loves us and desires the very best for us:

Today is indeed the first day of a blessed New Year, and today is also the first day of the rest of my life.

I affirm that this year, 2015, will be a year of resurrection, renewal, and restoration and I greet this year with enthusiasm, confidence, and passion. This confident passion arises from my acceptance that in Christ I am a new creation, and that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Today I know that the old is passing away and that the new has been born. I am a being of Light, Love, and Spirit, committed to spiritual growth, service to others, and to becoming the optimal version of myself.

Today I passionately declare that through the power of the blessed Holy Spirit I am forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are ahead. I press forward into this new year toward the goal and the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.

In the name of Jesus I pray,

Amen.

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Step Into Your Inheritance

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

Mick Turner

 

I am convinced that few of us truly understand our true potential as
children of the Father of Lights, the Living God. By remaining ignorant
of who and what we are, we end up limping through life rather than
soaring. We end up settling for scraps from the table when we should, in
fact, own the table and the house that it sits in.

 

For many years I either failed to understand the blessings of the
full gospel or I misunderstood it. Either way, I wasted a lot of time
thinking I knew what I was talking about when, in fact, I didn’t. I
would be greatly saddened if that happened to you and this, my friend,
is one of the main catalysts that gave birth to LifeBrook and Sacred
Mind Ministries. God etched upon my heart the need for sound teaching
and quality educational materials that would foster deeper awareness of
the Christian’s true potential and identity “in Christ.” Further, I
began to understand that the primary purpose of having this blessed gift
of a new identity and new personal power in Christ is to assist in the
establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. It is to this mission that we
at SMM remain committed.

 

Understanding our true identity is intimately connected with the
realization of our divine potential. These issues are among the deeper
things God, working through the Holy Spirit, wants to impart to us. All
we need to receive these vital revelations is an open mind and a
receptive heart. We don’t need to wait until we arrive in heaven to gain
awareness of these gifts – in fact, by the time we get to heaven we
will have already been utilizing our divine power here on earth for many
years. Dr. Myles Munroe speaks clearly to these themes:

 

God has prepared so many deep things about who we are. Our eyes
can’t see them, nor can our minds conceive them, yet God is revealing
them to us through His Spirit. God doesn’t want us to wait until heaven
to know our full potential. He didn’t give birth to us so we can develop
our potential in heaven…..God wants us to realize here on this planet
who we are. That is His purpose in creating us. We need the Holy Spirit
because eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, nor has it entered the
minds of men who man really is. Only the Holy Spirit searches “the deep
things of God.”…..God beckons you to take another step into a deeper,
more relevant knowledge of your potential in Christ – Though you may
have been saved for years. You need to take this step because you still
don’t know who you are.

 

 You see, friends, most of us claiming to be followers of
Christ are well intended but poorly equipped to make those intentions a
reality in daily living. This statement is not intended to be a
criticism of the modern church or a slap in the face of well-meaning
Christians who are committed to bringing God’s kingdom out of the
spiritual realm and making it manifest right here on earth. Instead, I
say these words because they are true. Most of us do not have a clue as
to what we can do to not only make our lives more fruitful and
productive, but also to bring success to the calling that God has placed
in each of our hearts.

 

If we read scripture with diligence and an open mind, it becomes
obvious that we humans were created with a purpose and a holy mission
from the Father of Lights. We were to be his representatives here on
this earth, to have dominion, and to be the spirit-beings through which
God’s kingdom principles were translated from heaven to earth. Just
because of the Fall and its effects, nothing has really changed. How can
I say that? It is simple, actually.

 

I can safely say that our mandate has not changed because of the
work accomplished by Christ, when according to his calling and his
mission, he journeyed far from his Heavenly Home and took up residence
here on this world. Through the successful work of Jesus Christ, God
reclaimed all that was lost when humankind was exiled from the Garden
and sent “East of Eden.” I have little doubt about the fact that we
humans, with our finite understanding, have but a faint – a very faint –
awareness of the mysteries involved in Christ’s mission to this world
in general, and his work on the cross, his death, and subsequent
resurrection and ascension. In the words of the Apostle, we see through a
glass darkly. We do know and can take assurance of this cogent reality:
What was once lost has now been reclaimed by God and part of that
reclamation is the re-establishment of humankind’s dominion rights and
authority.

 

Christ sacrificed much so that we might once again live in freedom
and in intimate fellowship with God. Now Satan is forced to operate
underground, or in more subtle ways. One of his strategies, as we have
seen, is to convince us that rather than joint heirs with Christ and
God’s children of the Light, we are nothing more than sinful worms, with
no power or status under God. It is a lie from the pit of Hell.

 

Your choice, my choice – the choice before every believer is whether
or not we will live according to Satan’s lie or Christ’s empowerment.
As for me, I choose the latter. I will take possession of my status as
God’s representative here on earth and step into my inheritance as a
joint heir with Christ.

 

(c) L.D. Turner 2009/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)

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David
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.

Platt’s
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.

Jesus’
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
angels.

Pause
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.

You
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.

Jesus’
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.

For
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.

Throughout
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
kingdom:

 

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
secretly.

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.

 

Our
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.

Our
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.

I
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’
teaching.

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)

 Ask
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

Wise Words for Today

English: The healing of the paralytic : wall p...
English: The healing of the paralytic : wall painting in the baptistry of the domus ecclesiae in Dura Europos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Jesus
is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious
artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here
now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on
earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then
continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock
of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you,
doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break
free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church
everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose
hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s
return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!

David Foster

The Path of Sacrificial Service

English: The Lord Jesus Christ in the image of...
English: The Lord Jesus Christ in the image of Good Shepherd. Early Christian trsdition of symbolism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

In examining Jesus’ life we have seen that he was a complete incarnation of God’s wisdom and compassion. In conducting his life the Master exhibited these traits consistently in thought, word and deed. These twin foundations of Christian spirituality, wisdom and compassion, are not ends in and of themselves. Instead, wisdom and compassion are the means leading to another end: sacrificial service.

Even the most cursory examination of Jesus’ life, from his first miracle at the wedding at Cana, right on through his washing of his disciples’ fetid feet and his death on the cross, we see clearly the consistent theme of sacrifice. Indeed, the Master’s life was one continual incarnation of his teaching that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground” and his words to the rich young wanna-be, “ go and sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor.”

Yet this kind of sacrifice does not come natural to us. At least I know it doesn’t come natural to me. I have within me a fibrous root of self-centeredness that, without divine assistance, will rule my life and in the long run, bring me to ruin. Scripture teaches that we all have this selfish core and left unchecked by the Holy Spirit, can infiltrate and poison all aspects of our being. Tyler Edwards, in his excellent book entitled Zombie Church, describes how this tendency toward self-cherishing can even get its tentacles into our prayer lives:

It sometimes seems like we want God to be a genie in a bottle. Sometimes we pray asking God to do everything for us and then expect it will just magically happen. We pray for patience and want to wake up a more patient person. We pray for wisdom and expect that God will just download it into our heads. We just want to put it on the Almighty Santa list and wake up with it under the tree. Then when God puts us in a situation where we can learn the very things we asked Him for, we get upset. We don’t want to have to work at it; we just want God to make it happen. I know I’ve tried to use Him like this………………..I have tried to make my faith a spiritual investment where I get as much out of it as I can while putting in as little as possible. Ever done that? This attitude degrades the church. Oftentimes we show up looking for what we get, not what we have to give.

“Ever done that?” I know when Tyler Edwards asked that question in the quotation above, it hit me right between the eyes. Yes, I have done that, many times over. Thank God I am less prone to do that than I once was. Increasingly, I have come to see the Christian walk of faith, contrary to what many of the “Prosperity Gospel” teachers will tell you, is more about what I can give than what I can get. The fact is, if you really deep down get what  the gospel is all about, you fully understand that you can never give enough to equal what you have already been given by God. When I truly and prayerfully reflect on what Christ’s mission to this world did for me, I am humbled beyond description, filled with not just thankfulness, but more than that, I am imbued with a motivational gratitude that creates in me a desire to be of service to the divine source that has been so gracious to me. Consider:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

Or this:

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (2 Peter 1: 3-4 NLT)

Just prayerfully reflect for a time on what has been said in these scriptures. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. In the “heavenly realms” does not mean they await us after this life, but instead, means that these blessings are already ours. All we have to do is be open and receptive in order to move these blessings down from the spiritual realms. Once we grasp this, once we fully understand that God has already provided everything we could possibly need, we take possession of these blessings by “reckoning” that it is so. (See Romans 6:11 ).

Even more astounding, however, it that in addition to all these promises and blessings that are ours through God’s gracious provision and Christ’s completed mission, we are also able to “partake of the divine nature.” We share the very nature of Christ and from a personal perspective, when I truly grasp this incredible truth, I am rendered speechless.

In an often overlooked passage of scripture, we get a glimpse of how this is possible. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:10 that Christ ascended “higher than the highest heavens so that he may fill all things with himself.” Just chew on that one for awhile. With Christ’s ascension into these realms, the entire universe underwent a complete change. Since his ascension, everything that exists has within it the fullness of Christ. Granted, for some aspects of existence, that fullness remains latent, but if scripture is to be trusted, it is there nonetheless and only needs to be awakened. These are metaphysical mysteries too great for me to get my understanding around completely, but even taken on faith, they stagger the mind.

As followers of Jesus we must understand a cardinal truth when it comes to these spiritual blessings. We are not to squander them. Instead, we are to do everything we can to appropriate these blessings, especially spiritual gifts. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, we develop these gifting and, in the process, become closer to the optimal version of who and what we are. In essence, we become what the Master intended and what scripture describes when it talks about being “in Christ.”

My point in discussing these spiritual blessings and our spiritual gifts, along with the process of becoming the kind and caliber of beings God intended, is that we engage and develop our blessings and gifts in order to bless others through sacrificial service. Just as Christ was wholly obedient to the Father through his service to others, so we are obedient to the Master by our service to those in need. In this way we become the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus in our hurting, needful world.

In essence, we can say that God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. In doing so, we emulate Christ in carrying out much-needed sacrificial service. Jesus’ entire life can be seen through the lens of what biblical Greek terms “kenosis.” Kenosis is typically translated as “self-emptying love” and from beginning to end, Jesus’ mission exemplified this spiritual virtue.

It is this very concept of kenosis that makes the Christian path unique. Even within the faith itself, it seems there were and are still many who missed the boat, so to speak, in terms of understanding what Jesus was bringing into manifestation on this planet. Traditionally, the path of spiritual development has been seen as one of “ascent,” where the spiritual aspirant engages in spiritual practices in order to purify themselves. Growth is seen as an upward spiral or ladder.

His entire life can be seen through the lens of what biblical Greek terms “kenosis.” Kenosis is typically translated as “self-emptying love” and from beginning to end, Jesus’ mission exemplified this spiritual virtue.

Paul gives us a clear description of how Christ’s entire life and mission was characterized by this kenotic ethic:

Though his state was that of God, yet he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to.

Rather, he emptied himself, and assuming the state of a slave, he was born in human likeness.

He, being known as one of us, humbled himself, obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

For this, God raised him on high and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name.

So that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

And so every tongue should proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord!” – to God the Father’s glory. (Phil. 2:9-16)

Built upon the twin pillars of wisdom and compassion, the spiritual formation within the Christian tradition is kenotic – a journey of self-emptying love and sacrificial service. Although most faith traditions have an element of sacrificial service within their framework of spiritual development, the Christian faith tradition is somewhat unique in that it places the ethic of kenosis at its core.

Granted, many contemporary churches are far from this ideal, choosing instead to go off the rails in terms of theology, practice, and especially political alliances. Still, there remain pockets of genuine kenotic spirituality and it is in these pockets that the true presence of authentic Christian spirituality may be found. It is in these living, vibrant churches that the vision and tradition inaugurated by Jesus is alive and well, making life better for all who come in contact with its heart and spirit. It is in these authentic pockets of Christian practice that the people understand that on the path begun by Christ, the motivational emphasis shifts from “me” to “we.”

© L.D. Turner 2012/ All Rights Reserved

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings (Part Two)

English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:...
English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:14-15. Vignette with rays of light emanating from a Hebrew inscription including the name of God; letterpress in two columns above. 1800. Inscriptions: Lettered below image with production detail: “P J de Loutherbourg del”, “J. Heath direx” and publication line: “Pubd by T. Macklin, Fleet Street”. Print made by James Heath. Dimensions: height: 485 millimetres; width: 395 millimetres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

*Continued from Part One…

 In Paul’s remarkable prayer to the Ephesians (3:19) he petitions the Lord that “you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Have you ever really reflected on the magnitude of what the Apostle is saying in these few words? Basically, what Paul is asking God is that the believers in Ephesus become like Jesus. Any close examination of scripture reveals that the goal of our development as disciples of Christ is to become Christ-like; in essence, we are to cultivate Sacred Character.

Later on in Ephesians (4:15) Paul goes on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This statement by Paul should not surprise us. Two verses earlier he flatly that in achieving maturity, we are to attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I don’t know about you, but when I read this statement two things immediately occur within me. First, I am strongly convicted about how far I am from manifesting this kind of maturity in my daily life but, secondly, I am filled with hope that it is at least remotely possible. Paul would have never put it this way, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, unless it was indeed true.

In addition to the church’s general lack of focus on the spiritual disciplines and their strategic necessity in the life of the believer, two other problems seem to complicate the issue and result in either lackluster commitment to practicing the disciplines or, even worse, a general paralysis on the part of Christians when they attempt to make the disciplines a vital part of their walk of faith.

First, even though many churches are now speaking directly to the importance of the spiritual disciplines, it seems that this renewed focus spawns a loud and most often irrational outcry from fundamentalist believers who feel practicing the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow either a “New Age infiltration of the church,” or worse still, “the work of Satan.” This resistance is usually based on the general lack of understanding of what advocates of the spiritual disciplines are trying to accomplish. Writers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, and countless others are branded “arch-heretics,” “apostates,” and even “dupes of the enemy.” This is highly unfortunate because nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of leading people away from the truth of the gospel, these authors are, instead, making a compassionate attempt to direct people toward experiencing the very heart of the gospel.

The blather and fear-based banter of these self-appointed doctrinal “watchmen” only serves to confuse sincere Christians even more and many times prevents them from finding the true heart of the gospel message. Even worse, keeps them bound in the chains of a narrow, rigid world view which is devoid of spirituality and arid when it comes to Christian love.

A second problem stems from the fact that the classic spiritual traditions were formulated centuries ago and are often wrapped in language and tone that is quite alien from our 21st Century world. I know from personal experience that studying the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages is a very fruitful endeavor, but can be quite a challenge due to the archaic language used in the texts. What is needed is a reformulation of the disciplines that is both understandable and engaging to the modern reader.

With this thought in mind, here at LifeBrook we have developed a method of exploring the principles that are contained in the classical spiritual traditions that is hopefully more pertinent and practical when it comes to life in the 21st Century. In brief, we teach workshops, seminars, training programs, and e-courses based on the following breakout of the disciplines:

Discipline of Consecration

 Discipline of Connection

 Discipline of Cognition

 Discipline of Contribution

 Discipline of Community

 Discipline of Comprehension

 Discipline of Calling

 Discipline of Cultural Engagement

 Discipline of Cultivation

  Consecration includes: decision, determination, diligence, commitment, perseverance, patience, etc.

 Connection includes: prayer, meditation, contemplation, solitude, nature

 Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination.

 Contribution includes: sacred service; spiritual gifts; mission; sacrifice, and most importantly, continuing incarnation.

 Community includes: our family and friends; our church; our community; our nature; our world.

 Comprehension includes: sacred study of Scripture and other inspirational writings; understanding of God’s Great Story; realization of where we fit into the “Big Picture,” including the role of the church in the coming years.

 Calling includes: discovery of where we, as individuals, fit into God’s unfolding story in terms of our calling, our mission, and our vision of how to live out our God-ordained destiny.

 Cultural Engagement includes: making ourselves ready to incarnate God’s plan within the context of post-modern, post-Christian culture in general and our own unique cultural setting in particular.

 Cultivation includes: ongoing growth in Christ-character by internalizing a Christian value system and acting in accordance with it; and the development of a Christian worldview, along with the capacity to have our actions consistently flow from said worldview.

  We fully recognize that this methodology does not represent the final word as far as contemporary expression of the spiritual disciplines is concerned. We have found, however, that looking at the spiritual technology of the Christian tradition in this way helps students and seekers understand the disciplines more clearly.

It is my profound hope that an increasing number of churches will come to understand the importance of equipping congregants with practical, time-tested methods for deepening the Christian walk of faith.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013 All Rights Reserved

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings: Part One

English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida's Chur...
English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida’s Church, Horton The reredos is early 18th century raised plaster work, coloured and gilded. The Dove in the centre symbolises the Holy Spirit; the four cherubs are said to be the four children of a vicar of the parish who died as infants. The “Pelican in her Piety” above is an emblem of Jesus Christ “by whose blood we are healed”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

Solomon wisely tells us in the Book of Proverbs:

Keep watch over your heart, for therein lie the wellsprings of life

 The question that often comes as one reflects on these words of wisdom is simply this: How am I to go about keeping watch over my heart?”

 Throughout the history of the faith, one of the primary ways that sincere followers of the Master have gone about keeping watch over the heart, the deepest part of ourselves, is through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Meditation, prayer, sacred study, self-examination, confession, service, worship – all of this classical spiritual traditions have a role to play in helping us become more aware of ourselves and our behavior and, as a result, have withstood the test of time as quality ways in which we can deepen our walk of faith.

As Christians, scripture tells us that we are to increasingly grow into the character of Christ – in other words – become more Christ-like. Left to our own devices, this would be an impossible demand. Tainted by sin and mostly dominated by our lower nature, who among us could generate even a sliver of hope of emulating Jesus in thought, word, and deed?

Fortunately, scripture tells us that we have an omnipotent ally in this process of spiritual formation. The Holy Spirit walks along side of us, giving us strength to offset our weakness, wisdom to overcome our ignorance, and divine love to gradually eradicate our extreme self-centeredness. It is this promise of the Holy Spirit that gives us a reason to proceed down the road of spiritual formation and further, provides us with a legitimate assurance of success.

Still, we cannot fold our arms, lean back, and wait for the Holy Spirit to magically turn us into exact replicas of Christ. Over the centuries countless numbers of Christians have tried this approach with predictable results. Scripture is clear in stating that we have a part to play in the attainment of what we here at LifeBrook call “Sacred Character.” Sacred Character is based on the character and integrity exhibited by Christ during his mission here on earth. By studying the character of Christ, we can gain valuable insight into what it means to live our own lives from the sure foundation of Sacred Character.

As Jesus walked this earth, he revealed the character of God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Christ and in this statement he revealed a profound truth. Christ was so intimate with the Father that his character and his behavior were perfect reflections of his heavenly parent. Our goal, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is to live in the same intimacy with Christ as he lived with the Father. If you want to gain a deep and abiding perspective on this kind of intimate relationship, I suggest that you prayerfully read through the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

In order to grow into this type of intimacy with Christ and increasingly manifest Sacred Character in our daily lives, we must engage in certain activities that foster spiritual development in a positive and proven direction. These activities have a long and valuable history in the Christian tradition. Here I am speaking of the classic Christian spiritual disciplines.

In some quarters, sincere believers become edgy just at the mention of spiritual disciplines. Steeped in the theology of God’s unmerited and unlimited grace, these well-meaning Christians believe that pursuing the practice of the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow “salvation through works.” This kind of thinking is both incorrect and unfortunate. It is incorrect in the sense that the spiritual disciplines are not related to salvation or the final destination of one’s soul. Pursuing spiritual disciplines is more concerned with placing ourselves in a position of receptivity to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Christ. Although this spiritual formation is ultimately a work of the Spirit, we are told to do all that we can to assist in the process. As the great Quaker writer Rufus Jones once said,

“The grace of God is like the wind blowing across the Sea of Galilee; if you want to get to the other side, you have to raise your sail.”

 The notion that practicing the disciplines is “works” is also highly unfortunate in that this misguided belief has prevented countless Christians from availing themselves of the very thing they need in order to foster the deeper, more effective walk of faith. I am of the belief that the great “faith/works” controversy of the 16th Century, although beneficial in many ways, gave birth to a trend in Protestant Christianity that resulted in pews filled with believers that were both powerless and confused. This tragic trend continues even today.

As the Body of Christ moves forward in this challenging age, establishing ministries focusing on vibrant, dynamic discipleship is of paramount importance. Unless the church develops consistent ways to grow its members deeper in the faith, it runs the danger of becoming, at best, irrelevant to the contemporary culture, or at worst, dead.

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

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

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

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

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

It is apparent, however, that the church lost its focus on the practice of spiritual disciplines over the years. As mentioned in Part One, I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the historical “faith/works” controversy. The result has been a general sense of confusion on the part of the Christian community in terms of the spiritual technology available to those who desire a deeper walk of faith.

One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” Dallas Willard speaks directly to this tragedy:

 For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional.

 This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers. Willard understands this necessity:

Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world. Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of this age. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.

 The notion that deep discipleship was optional was not a part of the early church. Willard continues:

…there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggest that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him.

to be continued…….

(c) L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013/All Rights Reserved