The Essence of Spirituality: Radical Compassion

Mick Turner

Jesus Christ was not a man of compassion; he was a man of radical compassion. From his voluntary mission to this broken world, to his mysterious ascension back into the heavenly realm, there was no theme he stressed more in both word and deed. From his opening salvo quoting Isaiah about bringing release to the captives and good news to the poor, to his dying plea of, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus exemplified a compassion far beyond what the world had seen before. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Jesus’ stories about the Prodigal, the Good Samaritan, and his treatment of the woman caught in adultery all point to the need for a compassion that transcends the normal boundaries defined by contemporary culture, then and now. Indeed, it was and is a radical compassion.

Radical compassion is compassion with legs; radical compassion is a verb. Just as the Bible tells us in the Letter of James that faith without works is dead, also, compassion without concomitant action is a lifeless phenomenon. Many sincere aspirants have the mistaken notion that the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment. Although a sincere desire for motivation is one of our most treasured possessions, it is actually penultimate. The real aim of the spiritual journey is simply this – Sacred Service. All that we do is dedicated to the greatest good of all beings in all the worlds. Our gain is their gain, our loss is their loss, our advancement is their advancement, and it is to this sacred reality that we offer our benedictions at the end of our times of meditation and prayer.

In the Christian faith especially, personal enlightenment takes a back seat to serving others, spiritually and materially. Perhaps no where in the sacred writings of the world is this reality presented so directly as in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and you, your band of rag tag friends, and the Master arrive at the Upper Room after a long, tedious, dusty day going about your business. You sit for a moment to catch your breath and unwind a few moments before you go wash up for the evening meal. You close your eyes for a few minutes, only to feel something or someone taking off your sandals. And to your utter disbelief, kneeling in front of you is the Master Jesus with a basin and a towel. Incredible….

The Master taught his disciples, and all of us who have read of this amazing episode, a clear and concise example of the essence of spirituality: selfless service with a heart of humility. If only more of us, especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus, would take this lesson to heart, our world would have much less pain.

The Kingdom of God is a divine realm of proactive compassion. This is the message that Jesus came to deliver and through his actions as well as his words, he delivered it consistently. In all that he did and he said, Jesus revealed to us the nature of God. This incarnational revelation was hinted at in the Master’s magnificent prayer in John 17. In the 21st verse the Master says:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

In the Bible’s most well known verse, John 3:16, it is stated that for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (NLT)

Now, to make this even clearer, let’s look at one more verse in John 17. In verse three John records:

And this is the way to have eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (NLT)

Putting all this together, Jesus gave us a powerful but very real theology in this prayer and his disciple, John, fully caught its significance by saying in 3:16 that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save it. On God’s part, this was a perfect example of “proactive compassion” or what we often call “grace.” Motivated by the purest form of love, God was moved to have compassion on we fallen creatures, even in our blind ignorance, and he literally gave that compassion flesh by sending us the Master Jesus.

In order for compassion to become more than just a nice idea or a sentimental feeling, it must flow out of the internalized wisdom of the ages, particularly as related to the reality of “interconnectivity.” The idea of interconnectivity, now confirmed by the field of quantum physics, has been around for many centuries and is at the core of interspiritual mysticism, that one aspect of world religion that seems to transcend culture, time, and especially theology. It is a mystical connectedness that promotes compassion and engaged action to make the world a better place for all who dwell here. In essence, it is a deep wisdom that gives flesh to grace. The great spiritual writer Kahil Gibran spoke of this interconnected reality when he said:

Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. Who knows but that your neighbor is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would yourself. He too is a manifestation of the Most High.

In India, for example, we have the story of Indra’s Net, which is strung throughout the universe with a precious jewel at the places where the cords of the net intersect. These jewels, in turn, reflect all of the other jewels. Similar to the modern discovery of the hologram, the image of Indra’s Net is filled with symbolic wisdom depicting the interconnectivity of all that is. Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book entitled, The Dancing Wu Li Masters tell us:

…the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics is that all things in our universe (including us) that appears to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.

In the Christian tradition, the writings of the great mystic teachers echo these same truths, often in symbolic and metaphorical ways. Julian of Norwich especially comes to mind as well as Hildegard of Bingen and Madame Guyon. The writings of Saint Theresa of Avila and the life and work of St. Francis also point to the interconnectivity of all life and the necessity of having a heart of radical compassion.

The great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley have voices that ring loudly with the sense of the interrelated aspects of the natural world and their American counterparts, the Transcendentalists, in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, also echo this theme of divine connectivity. And then there is the work of that master of the arcane, William Blake who spoke of the mystic’s ability:

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

The world that we interact with each day only appears to be solid. In point of fact, it is an intricate dance of sub-atomic waves and particles that obey none of the traditional or expected moves of predictable choreography. At its core level, our apparently solid, material world is less like classical music and more like jazz. Just when we think we have a handle on how things are, these very things change, morphing into something totally unexpected and often totally mysterious. Someone wise, I forget who, once said the life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. How true, and the sooner a person grasps this fundamental truth, the less frustration will appear in his or her life.

It is not my intention to travel too far down this road of quantum physics at this juncture. Suffice to say that contemporary science is increasingly coming to grasp the same fundamental truths that mystics and shamans have voiced for many centuries. Simply put: Everything is interrelated and interdependent and when one part is affected by something, at a very core level, every other part is also impacted.

In teaching about the interrelated aspect of the universe, I often use a simple analogy that explains these principles in a basic way. I use the example of raisin Jell-o. Imagine you have concocted a delicious tub or raisin Jell-o. Choose your favorite flavor if you like. The raisins are the important thing, here. Now, what happens when you take your index finger and thump one of the raisins? All the raisins move. Crude as this metaphor is, it makes the point that all the raisins in the bowl are connected and if one raisin moves, they all move. This is what the mystics, and the quantum physicists, are talking about when they speak of interconnectivity.

As the church moves into the second decade of the 21st Century it has already become apparent that great changes are in the wind. I feel some of these changes are connected with an increased understanding of how God’s magnificent creation is put together in this incredible holographic manner in which each part contains the totality of the whole and every aspect of his world exists in an interdependent relationship with every other part. This is no romantic sentimentalism I am speaking of. Instead, it is a living, vibrant reality that, when one takes it to heart, changes everything. For the church, the message of the gospel become less of “let me show you the way,” and more of “What do you need?”

This move toward proactive compassion is a move of grace. Perhaps you are not accustomed to looking at grace that way, but grace is what we are dealing with. As stated earlier, a major part of Christ’s incarnation and our ongoing mission is to give flesh to grace. Caroline Myss makes this cogent observation in her book, Invisible Acts of Power:

What really happens inside you when you respond to someone in need? Why do some people jump out of their seats to help another person, while others look the other way? No doubt, some people have been taught to be kind and others may be naturally thoughtful. But I think something greater than compassion or good manners is at work, something beyond the motivation of the strong to help the weak or the wealthy to help the poor. I think it is the invisible power of grace, moving between the open hearts of give and receiver. The action itself, the lifting of a heavy piece of luggage or the drink of water offered to the thirsty man, may be small. But the energy that is channeled through that action is the high-voltage current of grace. It contains the power to renew someone’s faith in himself. It even has the power to save a life.

It should not be too difficult of an intellectual jump to see why this concept of interrelated reality should lead to a true and radical sense of compassion. What happens to me in the ultimate sense, happens to you and vice versa. When a child dies of hunger or disease in a poverty stricken nation, some part of each of us dies. We may not feel it, understand it, or even recognize it. Still, it is a fundamental spiritual and quantum truth. It is wise to remember the words of the 17th Century poet John Donne as he spoke of the custom of the time which involved ringing the town’s bell whenever someone died:

Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind;

Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved

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The Necessity of Obedience

Mick Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Almost unknowingly, we all have a tendency to redefine Christianity according to our own tastes, preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable. We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.”

These words may be hard to hear for many of us, yet they still ring true in you think about it. This has been especially true since the rise of the Religious Right on one end of the political spectrum, and Liberation Theology on the other. Whenever we wed the faith with a political movement or join at the hip with a political party, we usually wind up with a distorted Jesus that bears little resemblance to the real deal. On a more personal level, many of us tend to mold Jesus into a more palatable commodity, one that doesn’t create too much change or stress in our lives. In essence, we seek to serve a Jesus that affirms our status quo and many of us whittle away at his true character until he becomes what we need him to be.

David Platt

(from Follow Me)

Resurrect Your Spiritual Dreams

Mick Turner

One of life’s greatest blessings is our ability to dream. I am not talking so much about the dreams we have at night when we are sleeping. Instead, I am talking about the dreams we have for our lives, those things that we can envision ourselves doing that create a sense of happiness, accomplishment, and well-being. These kind of dreams, especially when they are God-given and truly inspired, create passion in our lives and provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose. I like to call these visionary blessings “Kingdom Dreams.”

A kingdom dream is one that is aligned with God’s overall plan and purpose for life on this planet, which is to restore humankind to its intended status as spirit beings created in His image. God’s great story is one of restoration, renewal, and spiritual revival and is aimed toward the establishment of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Our personal kingdom dreams are those that are connected with this universal purpose.

This world, however, is not always conducive to fostering kingdom dreams. Instead, the values of this world are in many ways opposed to the kind of principles and values that are inherent in God’s kingdom. When we are over-exposed to the world’s values and voices without any counter-balancing influence, our own personal dreams often end up withering away. More than a few of us meet with discouragement, disappointment, and a cacophony of negative voices that end up stifling our God-given passion for a particular dream and we end up either putting it on the back burner or forgetting it altogether.

This process of “dream defeat” begins with our thought life. We begin to doubt our abilities and our circumstances and in the final analysis, we even doubt our God. That is why the Apostle Paul warned us to take every thought captive for Christ and to tear down those strongholds of defeat and discouragement. In essence, Paul was telling us to master our minds. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do just that, but it is a process that takes place over time.

When we make progress in mastering our thought life, one thing we become increasingly aware of is how we have allowed others to place limitations on us. “You’ll never amount to anything,” a teacher may have told you. “If you can screw something up, you will,” another authority figure may have told you repeatedly. I remember my Dad often told me that I was careless and irresponsible. ‘If you live to see 21 it will be a miracle,” he often said.

My point in saying these things is that you come to understand that only two entities in this universe can set limits on what you can accomplish: you and God. It is vitally important that you come to have a deeper understanding of just how God sees you and then come to view yourself in the same way. We will talk about that a little later on. Right now, what I want to put before you is the importance of your dreams. Others may have put limitations on you or told you your dreams were unrealistic. Well, it is now time to resurrect those delayed dream , dust them off, examine them, and, if you still are passionate about that dream, take it before God. If you determine that God has that dream for you as well, then get busy. The only one that can stop God’s dream for your life is you.

I strongly appreciate these words by Erwin Raphael McManus. If you haven’t read his book “Wide Awake,” I suggest that you do so. McManus tells us:

What you expect from yourself and your life has a direct effect on what you will get out of life. How you imagine yourself and your future has a huge effect on what actually happens. Creating the life of your dreams begins with the dream. It begins with the ability to imagine yourself different than you are and your life differently than it is.

The fact is I have a potential placed in me by God Himself and it is God’s desire that I find my mission and get moving. You, too, have a mission – a divinely ordained purpose and it is God’s great wish that you take up the challenge of finding that purpose, manifesting your potential and talents, and achieving your dreams. And be assured of one other truth: God would never place a dream in your heart without giving you the talent to make it a reality. It may take hard work and a strong commitment to excellence, but your dream can be realized if it is aligned with God’s purpose for your life and you put forth the necessary work to make it happen.

We can see firsthand the power of a dream whose time has come when we look at the first disciples. We have only a small record in scripture of the interactions between Jesus and his disciples, yet we can imagine that they engaged in many profound conversations as they traveled from one place to another or as they shared meals together. I think one of the things that the Master must have taught his disciples is how to engage daily life in a realistic, positive manner. He was clear with them that they would face trials and tribulations, yet he balanced that cautionary teaching with a healthy optimism by telling them that they could realistically expect to have an abundant life because he came. He also told them not to worry because he was leaving and he promised them the advent of the Comforter who would instruct them and empower them.

Jesus knew that with the power of the Holy Spirit, this very same ragtag assortment of men would soon change the world completely. And change the world they did. The Master expects the same thing from us in the current age. With the wisdom and the power provided by the Holy Spirit, we are to become Christ’s hands, feet, and heart in this hurting world. If your dream, no matter how long you have put it off and no matter how impossible it may seem, is in line with these kingdom themes, then your dream is a kingdom dream.

If you have a long-forgotten or misplaced kingdom dream, let me encourage you to resurrect that dream without wasting another moment of God’s precious time. It doesn’t matter what size the dream is – kingdom dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you want to start a ministry; maybe you want to teach a class; maybe you want to start a business; maybe you want to write a book. Whatever the dream, if it fits in with God’s plan of restoration and the establishment of the kingdom on earth, then bring it out of mothballs and get motivated. Pay no attention to the naysayers and the voices of discouragement and doubt. If the dream is from God, there is no way you can fail.

One of the most significant aspects of the Creator’s provision lies in the fact that he never sends any of us into this world empty handed. With infinite wisdom and grace, he has placed a great treasure inside each and every one of us – a treasure beyond price. Each person arrives at birth with a divine potential planted in his or her heart. This potential contains the vision God has for that particular person as well as the talents, skills, and creativity to make that potential a manifest reality. Dr. Myles Munroe, the highly-respected pastor and Bible teacher, speaks eloquently of this seed of potential planted within each of us:

The entire creation possesses this principle of potential. Everything has the natural instinct to release its ability. The plant and animal kingdoms abound with evidences of this fact. The Creator designed everything with this principle of potential, which can be simplified to the concept of a seed. The biblical document states that God created everything with ‘seed in it according to their kinds’ (Genesis 1:12). In essence, hidden within everything is the potential to fulfill itself and produce much more than we see.

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

Our journey of discovering and developing our divine potential must begin with a commitment to excellence – an agreement with our Creator that we will walk in cooperation with the Spirit to become the best version of ourselves.

 Necessarily, this commitment will involve personal challenges and, at times, a degree of personal discomfort. Spiritual growth involves change and change always requires stepping out of our comfort zone. Still, the process of realizing and manifesting our divine potential is one of the greatest adventures we will ever undertake.

When we make a commitment to excellence, we are basically telling God and ourselves that we are finally getting serious about our spiritual development. When we firmly dedicate ourselves to become who God intended us to be, we get honest with ourselves about where we are, where we are not, and where God wants us to go. We then make a personal commitment to, with God’s help, become all that we were created to be, all that we were intended to be, and, in the final analysis, all that we truly are.

Please understand that your kingdom dream is intimately connected with your divine potential. In fact, it is the realization of your potential that will allow you to make your dream a reality. And also understand that the development of your potential and the realization of your kingdom dream is the major part of the spiritual path that will allow you to become the optimal version of yourself. When, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, you do that you begin to walk in personal excellence and more importantly, you are of optimal benefit to others.

Don’t allow yourself to do what so many other talented people have done – take your dream to the grave with you. Don’t allow your kingdom dream to, along with your bones, turn to dust. Instead, understand this central point: the world needs you and your dream. Take to heart these words by Erwin Raphael McManus:

Earth’s unlimited resource is the gifts, talents, passions, imagination, and ingenuity of its citizens. You would think we would know this by now, but we often seem to miss the gift right in front of us. The world needs you to find the hero within you. The real battle is not between good and evil but between less and more. Most of us don’t choose the worst life; we just don’t choose the best. We can’t afford for you to sleep through your dreams…..The world needs you at your best. This planet is made better or worse by the people we choose to become. If you live a diminished life, it is not only you who loses, but the world loses, and humanity loses. There is a story to be written by your life and though it may never inspire a graphic novel, it is a heroic tale nonetheless. Though you may not recognize it, there is greatness in you.

With these thoughts in mind, bring back your forgotten dreams and reexamine them in light of the principles discussed in this article. Begin to prayerfully formulate a plan for taking the first steps toward getting your kingdom dream off the ground. You can move forward in the confident assurance that you don’t have to go it alone. God has got your back and you can count on Him. Trust the scripture when it says:

For I am confident of this very thing – that he who began a good work in you will perfect it…(Phil. 1:6 NAS)

© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved

Jettison the Negative: It’s Time to Shake and Shine

Mick Turner

(Originally published by Lifebrook Communications back in 2009)

Starting with Freud and moving forward in its history, the practice of psychotherapy and counseling has had a morbid preoccupation with the past. Although there are doctrinal differences between many of the schools of psychology, a majority of these systems operate under the belief that by dredging up the issues in one’s past, a person can gain valuable insight into how and why they behave the way they do in the present.

The industry of “insight psychotherapy” continues to be highly popular, not to mention profitable to those who practice it. For what its worth, however, I personally believe that lasting change and personal transformation is a rarity in insight psychotherapy. I should also say that as a counselor, I practiced this form of treatment for more than a few years. I came to the conclusion that clients were far better served with an approach to personal change that was grounded in biblical principles and Cognitive Psychology. I would add to that mix what is now known as Positive Psychology.

These fields of cognitive and positive psychology are more oriented toward the present and the future and one can certainly say that the Bible, although grounded in history, is geared toward spiritual transformation in the here and now.

Other than gaining a degree of minimal insight, nothing positive can be gained from dwelling on our past. I love the analogy that compares our need to look forward rather than backward to an automobile. Cars have a large windshield and a small rear view mirror. It is the same with life. Whereas we need to glance toward the past from time to time, we only need to look briefly, not become riveted. When you are driving, it is much better, not to mention safer, to keep your eyes on the road in front of you. When navigating through your life, the same principle applies, especially when you are dealing with your dreams and visions. The fact is, your dream will be realized in your future, not in your past.

When dealing with negativity, you also have to be proactive. This is especially true if you are dealing with depression, despondency, or discouragement. Get up, get moving, get busy doing something. Above all, don’t sit around moping and ruminating over negative and unproductive thoughts. By doing so, you will only dig yourself into a deeper rut and never forget my friend, a rut is nothing but a grave with the ends kicked out.

If you find yourself stuck in self-perpetuating cycles of negative thinking and chronic discouragement, take a proactive approach and do it right away. Begin by going to the Master in prayer and being open about what you are thinking and feeling. Ask for the Spirit’s help in overcoming chronic negativity and further, ask for an increased sense of boldness and confidence in dealing with your thought life and your emotions. Scripture tells us that we were not given a spirit of timidity, but instead, we have been empowered and equipped with personal boldness, which possesses a great amount of spiritual power.

After prayer, your next step should be one of commitment. Make a firm commitment to God and to yourself that today is, indeed, the first day of the rest of your life. Don’t do this in a slovenly manner, but with all the strength at your command, make a bold (there’s that word again!) commitment that today will be a day that you will someday look back on and see as a turning point in your life.

As an affirmative component of your commitment, begin to speak positive blessings over your life. I am not talking about some pie-in-the-sky “I am a great person” sort of affirmation. No, I am suggesting that you make positive, bold, biblical statements about yourself, based on what God says about you in scripture. If God says something positive about you, then you can bank on it being true. Speak blessings over your life such as:

I take possession of the reality that in Christ I am a new creation; and I can do all things because He strengthens me.

Speak this over your life several times each day and in a month you will see positive changes in how you think, feel, and act. There is great power in giving voice to positive, constructive, biblical statements. Speaking biblical principles is one of the most effective agents of personal change that God has placed at our disposal. Although a number of Christian writers and teachers have put forth theories as to why this sort of positive speaking helps bring about positive results in our lives, I tend to think it is a mystery that no one fully understands. Our lack of understanding, however, does not in any way negate its power. I don’t have a clue as to how electricity works, but I know that when I flip the wall switch, light comes on in my room. Think of speaking biblical principles in the same way. Just do it because it works.

Pastor and teacher Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston gives the following suggestion:

If you will set aside five minutes a day and simply declare good things over your life, you may be astounded at the results. Before you start your busy day, before you leave the house, drive to work, or take the kids to school, take a few minutes to speak blessings over your life…..Always make sure you can back it up with God’s Word. Then get alone with God and take a few minutes every day to declare good things over your life. Remember, it is not enough to read it or merely think about it. Something supernatural happens when we speak it out. That’s how we give life to our faith.

I suggest these steps not only from theory and study, but also from personal experience. Although the Holy Spirit has helped me make great strides in becoming a more optimistic, hopeful person, for many years I operated as if a dark cloud engulfed me everywhere I went. It was only through making a sincere commitment to live in a different way that change began to take place.

I recall finally reaching a point where I was, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired. Through exposure to the teachings of Positive Christianity and Cognitive Psychology I came to a workable understanding that my problems began in my thinking and if I wanted to change, that is where I had to start. Further, I came to understand that Satan knows these principles as well and is a master and applying them in an effort to destroy us. I knew I had to take action.

I rented a small cabin on top of one of my favorite mountains in North Alabama and isolated myself from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. I used this time to do several things. First, I consecrated myself to the task of cognitive change and followed this by an extended period of prayer, seeking God’s help and assurance as I began this journey. I spent a good bit of time that weekend reflecting on the patterns of my thinking and how I came to be the way I was. By the time I left the mountaintop on Monday, I was enthusiastic and spiritually ready to tackle my thinking head on.

I can’t tell you that it was an overnight success. The process of turning my thinking around took quite a bit of time and, in some ways, it continues right up until today. Still, through taking positive action, associating with others who were committed to a similar process, and much positive, affirmative prayer, the results in my own life have been highly beneficial.

When applying biblical principles for positive life change always keep in mind that this sort of transformation is a process not an event. By that I mean that change and growth normally takes place incrementally rather than suddenly. It took you many years to develop your negative ways of thinking, behaving and relating. By the same token, it will take time to change.

Have you ever been to a modern zoo, the type where the animals are not caged? Instead, they usually are separated from zoo patrons by either large ditches, small canals, or non-descript fencing. I lived in Miami for 15 years and often visited the zoo, at least in the winter when the weather was not too hot. Whenever I went to the zoo, I could easily spot the animals that had been kept in cages for most of their lives. Now, even with the freedom to roam over a much larger territory, most of them just walked back and forth in an area the size of their former prison. Nothing held them in that confined space except the force of habit.

Even if we are sincere about our spiritual growth, we may often behave in ways similar to these zoo animals. Like the zoo animals, we are now free to choose new ways of living – and a fresh approach to life. Tragically, many of us keep walking in our old familiar ways, even though a new, exciting world awaits us if we progressively allow ourselves to be controlled by our spirit rather than our ego. We know we are on the spiritual path, but we don’t act like it. Instead of exploring fresh and free ways to be salt and light in this world, we just pace back and forth within the confines of the ruts our negative, habitual behaviors have created for us. Positive change will eventually come, just as it does for many of those animals that were raised in cages. However, the process take time.

The key principles here are patience and persistence. Do not become overly agitated when change doesn’t come overnight but instead, let your personal growth into Christ-character proceed along God’s timetable, not yours. And above all, don’t give up. It is critical that you remain proactive in your spiritual practice, especially when it comes to prayer and positive thinking. The enemy will seek to derail you, especially during vulnerable times when progress is slow and unsteady. The key here is to trust God. Believe the Great Apostle when he says:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

This passage of scripture alone is assurance that God will not abandon you, nor will he forget the restoration project he began in you. It is the will of the Father of Lights that you become a shining likeness of his only begotten Son and Jesus himself said that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

If you are, indeed, sick and tired of being sick and tired; if you are, indeed, ready to commit yourself to the process of spiritual growth into a replica of Christ-like character, then take that vital step of consecration. You have lived far too long under the thumb of those old destructive patterns of negative thought and behavior. It is time to step our into the light of Christ and begin to live as the optimal version of yourself. It is time to see yourself as God sees you – a positive, spiritual being whom he has given a purpose and equipped with everything needed to realize that mission in life. It is time to realize that you are both salt and light.

My friend, it is time to step into your destiny – it is time to shake and shine.

© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved

 

We Are Christ’s Ambassadors

Mick Turner

Although there are many factors that seem to contribute to the general impotency of many Christians in terms of manifesting a deeper walk with Christ in daily life, it has dawned on me that one of the central problems is a lack of understanding of just what Christ has accomplished through the cross and resurrection. Further, we fail to truly understand and appropriate who and what we are in Christ. This lack of understanding leads to a lack of power, power that God intended for us, his earthly ambassadors, to have.

And that is just what we are called to become – Emissaries of Christ.

Over the years, I have studied just about every religion you could imagine and probably a few you couldn’t. With some spiritual paths, I have waded only in the shallow end and that was more than enough to discover there was truly no depth at the other end. In others, I have plunged deeply and found some things of value that have served me quite well in navigating this often tiring conundrum we call life. In still yet other spiritual paths, I have skirted the periphery but, like a moth hovering about a source of light, never landed. I don’t think this was so much out of fear of being turned into tinder, but instead, I found nothing to really land on. I think you may understand what I mean.

I guess these experiences with other faith systems have taught me two significant lessons. First, religions or systems of faith, whatever term you want to use, will not get us to God. And, at this risk of alienating many readers at this point, I include Christianity in the above statement. Institutional Christianity has accomplished many things and has more positive qualities than I can count. Yet helping a person truly find God is not one of them. In fact, I have discovered that Christianity, as it is commonly understood, often poses a great obstacle to advancement in spiritual matters.

Why is this?

I think this is true for many reasons, perhaps too many to detail in the context of this article. Still, I feel compelled to offer a few of the factors that I believe have caused traditional Christianity, in its liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, and charismatic traditions, to fail in its mandate to make disciples. I have come to believe that the institutional church has many times become more of an obstacle to genuine spiritual formation than its advocate and facilitator. I know this is a heavy charge to levy against the church and I do not make this charge lightly. Still, if one takes even a cursory look around at the goings on at most congregations, you will find little more than lip service paid to the importance of growing deeper in the faith. Granted, we can begin to witness a certain amount of change in select churches, but my impression is that this is the exception and not the rule. Further, research, especially many of the fine studies carried out by George Barna, validate what I am saying.

First of all, Christianity as a formal religion was not what Christ called us to. He did not call us to a religion; he called us to a Kingdom. Myles Munroe speaks clearly to this issue when he says:

Misunderstanding Jesus has caused Muslims to reject Him, Hindus to suspect Him, Buddhists to ignore Him, atheists to hate Him, and agnostics to deny Him. But it just may be those who claim to represent Him the most – Christians – who have in fact misunderstood and, therefore, misrepresented Him the most…..Christians have misunderstood Him as the founder of a religion and have transformed His teachings and His methods into customs and His activities into rituals. Many even have reduced His message to nothing more than an escapist plan for getting to heaven and His promises as a mere fire insurance policy for escaping the pains of a tormenting hell…..And yet a simple study and review of His message and priority reveals that Jesus had only one message, one mandate, and one mission – the return of the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Don’t get me wrong. I value the church. I sincerely feel the organized Body of Christ has contributed greatly to the advancement of the cause of Christ around the world and it is my fervent hope that it can and will continue to do so. However, my fear is that it will not. Does that mean the church is dead? No, I don’t think so. Does that mean that the Christian religion, institutionally practiced as we have known it in the last couple of centuries is dead? You betcha! You can get on board with that or you can get left out in the cold. The fact is my friend, the train is leaving the station and more than a few say it has already left.

Lest you think what you are reading is the raving of some lunatic on the fringe of the Emergent Church movement, you need to understand that Christian teachers and leaders from every denomination and every stripe and sounding the same clarion call. And believe me folks, these are not religious basket cases wandering around dressed in loin cloths and eating bugs. These are sincere, educated, and insightful Christians who have had their ear to the ground for many years and have heard the train coming. As an example, let’s listen to the noted and respected Charismatic pastor Rick Joyner:

Radical change is coming, and those who are not discerning enough to see it, and become part of it, will not survive much longer. This is not a slam against the church as it is, which has been effective in its time and a powerful salt and light in the earth in its generations. The church is also the mother of the great, last-day ministry which is soon to emerge. However, just as Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin (see Genesis 35:16-19), the last son born to Israel, the same will happen to the church when the last-day ministry is born.

Joyner goes on to say that the church, as we know it, has served a great and useful purpose. However, it has now outlived its mission and it is time for the next corporate manifestation of the Body of Christ to be birthed. Like anything else, however, when we try to hold on to something that has outlived its usefulness, that very thing we grasp so tightly becomes an enemy, not an asset.

Over the centuries the church has drifted far from the original moorings put in place during the Apostolic Age. This drifting was in many ways unavoidable and to be expected as believers became increasingly removed from Christ in terms of distance and time. As a result, the Body of Christ not only lost a great deal of its vitality and purpose, it gradually began to replace divine revelation with man-made truths. Space here does not permit a detailed analysis of all the ways in which this has occurred, but the following brief list is just some of the ways in which the institutional church has gradually drifted into stagnant waters that are bereft of wind – what is so appropriately called by sea-farers “the doldrums.”

Domestication of Jesus

Faith/Works Controversy

Ignorance of the Holy Spirit

Reliance Upon Professional Clergy

Overly Focused On The Salvation Half of the Gospel, to the Exclusion of the Empowering half.

Deification of Scripture

One other area of drifting needs to be mentioned and that is the tendency on the part of the church to offer a “comfortable, watered-down gospel.” Now please, don’t misunderstand me here. I am not talking about preachers who espouse positive thinking and positive living. I firmly believe in what these folks are saying. Without a positive focus, nothing can be accomplished. What I am talking about is the fact that few churches ever really get down to the nitty gritty of what a person has to do in order to become a productive disciple. In a word, they have to die!

Jesus told us this and we can take him at his word. Paul echoed these teachings, as did John and Peter, each in his own way. Friends, we are now moving into an age in which it will be increasingly difficult to be a Christian. In America, chances are we won’t have to die for our faith, but we can count on increasing isolation as the culture becomes more Post-Christian in orientation. Moreover, if we are going to become the kind of Christ-followers needed to meet the challenges of the coming years, we have to get down to it. We have to become gut-level honest with ourselves about the seriousness of our commitment to Christ.

J.I. Packer, the great theologian and Bible teacher, once wrote a great piece entitled “Hot Tub Religion.” In it he talked about religion that helped people to cope, to relax, unwind, and feel good. There is nothing wrong with this. We all need to do these things. But we need another aspect of spirituality as well. Whether you can see it or not, every day things point to increasing difficulties ahead, not just for Christians, but for everyone. The increasing tensions throughout the world and the economic woes we are experiencing are just the tip of the iceberg I am afraid.

I am not an alarmist nor am I a Doomsday prophet. But I am a realist and part of that realism sees the fact that we, as Christians, will have an important and unique role to play in the coming days. We have to be ready. By being ready I don’t mean politically discerning. What I mean is, we have to get back to brass tacks in terms of God’s call upon us. A major part of that call upon us is to be a “Holy People,” called to a special work. Each of us must ask in our heart of hearts, “Am I ready? Am I willing?”

No one can answer that question for you.

Just this morning I was over at the local high school talking to the football coach for an article I am writing for the paper. It is mid-July and this is the South. In a word, it is hot. The players were out running wind sprints, long races around the field, and drilling endlessly. These kids wanted to play and some of the marginal players just wanted to make the team. As I watched them, I was again reminded of the words of Rick Joyner:

To be called as an emissary of the King of kings is the highest calling that one can have on this earth. If we do not want our place in Christ more than an athlete wants his place on a team, then we certainly are not worthy of such a position…..One of the biggest thieves in the church today is called “the easy way.”

It is additionally imperative that we understand that the first realm of our unique work is with ourselves. We have to get down to a level of ruthless honesty with ourselves. God has called us to holiness and to nothing less. We have to work along with the Holy Spirit to remove the motes from our own eyes before we start trying to change the world for Christ. There are too many believers today that avoid the necessary internal change by focusing on the need for the world to change. Get this down deep: before the world can change, we have to change. The so-called culture wars are being fought by unprepared troops on both sides. Let’s forget the military metaphors for now and take an honest, hard look at ourselves.

As Rick Joyner says, there are no easy ways. Repentance is the first thing Christ called for at the inauguration of his mission. True repentance means to “turn around.” What each of us must ask ourselves is, “Have I really turned around?” If our answer is yes, we then ask, “Am I ready to assume the responsibilities of being an emissary of Christ?”

It’s time to take a stand with yourself, one way or the other.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2014/All Rights Reserved

Confronting a Double Mind

Mick Turner

These days I am increasingly convicted my own ways of being unfocused and uncommitted in my walk of faith. I am committed, don’t get me wrong, but I have my own unique ways of casting myself adrift. The Holy Spirit is rubbing my nose in this and I must say that although unpleasant at times, it is overall a positive thing.

Jesus tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand and certainly an individual divided against himself or herself cannot stand, either. I am guilty in spades and confess that I am chronically double-minded. James (James 1:8) warns against this and says that a double-minded man is unstable in all ways. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, echoes the message of Jesus and his brother James when he says:

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. (NLT)

Jesus words about a house divided and the passages cited by James and Paul all point to the dangers of double-mindedness. The Master says we cannot stand, but instead, will fall. James does not mince his words – he plainly tells us that this lack of commitment leads to instability in all areas of our lives, and Paul says that it leads to corruption and susceptibility to false teaching.

In another relevant passage of scripture, the disciples spot Jesus walking on the waves and Peter, in an initial act of faith, heads out across the water to greet his Master. At some point, however, the disciple discovers what he is actually doing, doubt sets in, and he sinks like a stone. Jesus, in his response to Peter, asks him, “You of little faith. . . .why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31). What does this have to do with double-mindedness? Plenty!

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on this passage, tells us that the word translated as doubt actually has the meaning of “standing uncertainly at two ways.” Peter ended up with little faith because he saw two ways of proceeding and in that momentary paralysis, sank with the weight of uncertainty. This is a vivid example of the dangers of a double mind.

Held firm in our walk of faith by our firm commitment to Christ, we are encouraged to deepen our connection to the Master and in all things, to remain focused on Jesus, the author of our salvation and the Holy Spirit, the choreographer of our sanctification. In all these things, the implication is to avoid double-mindedness. Paul tells us:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body (Col. 2:6-9 NLT).

In my personal walk of faith, as I have mentioned here and elsewhere, double-mindedness has been a consistent stronghold the enemy has built up over the years. The Lord has been faithful where I have been unfaithful and he, like the shepherd looking for the one sheep that left the fold, has come to fetch me on many occasions. I don’t mean to say that I have wandered into deep sin or anything like that. Instead, my unfaithfulness has been more in seeking spiritual solace in places other than the Christian faith. The thing the Holy Spirit finally helped me to see was that there is a huge difference between the person of Jesus Christ and the religion that bears his name.

Understanding that one simple truth has made a world of difference for me. Now, I find much comfort in the “God of All Comfort” and have come to understand that he is, indeed, with me always and at all times.

And as I have come to be less double-minded, I am much less a house divided against itself. I have become more spiritually mature and less likely to wander down some seemingly fascinating theological rabbit hole, yet I do admit that sometimes the temptation still arises.

And it is in this growth that I have discovered another salient truth about the Christian walk of faith. As we become more single-minded in our commitment to Christ, we do become more mature from a spiritual perspective. We become more stable (not unstable like James warned us about) and less likely to be taken in by what Paul called “high-sounding nonsense.” In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us further wise counsel:

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Eph. 4:14-15)

Double-mindedness, lack of focus, and inconsistent commitment are all counterproductive to an effective walk of faith. I hope in some small way this article has helped to illustrate that cogent fact. And without a doubt, the scriptures cited point to the need to address these obstacles if, in fact, they do exist in your life.

I would encourage readers to spend some prayer time over the next week, asking the Master to reveal to you any areas in your walk of faith were these issues may be lurking. Also, ask for power, guidance, and wisdom in addressing whatever may arise as you do this.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2014/All Rights Reserved