Whatever Your Past, You Are Still A Needed Servant

Mick Turner

Josh is a brilliant man and is one of the most creative, visionary people I know. Possessing the uncanny ability to look at a problematic situation, size up its parameters, and come up with positive, workable solutions to address the problems, Josh would be an asset to any organization that employed him. People with the visionary foresight and strength that Josh has are few and far between.

That’s why it is so hard for me to believe that Josh just completed his fourteenth year employed as a stockroom worker at a retail shoe store. A college graduate and now in his mid-thirties, Josh is working the same job he obtained while working his way through school. It’s not that Josh has not had opportunities; it’s just that he doesn’t take advantage of them. On several occasions he has been offered good positions with local social service agencies after fellow church members, aware of Josh’s talents, have put in a good word for him. Each time Josh turned down the job.

After providing invaluable help to his pastor in getting a couple of community projects off the ground, Josh was asked to take a leadership role in an exciting development and expansion program his church was undertaking. Predictably, Josh declined.

Unfortunately, there are many like Josh who go through life under-employed, under-utilized, and unfulfilled. Although this is not what God had in mind, these talented individuals sabotage themselves and never leave the starting gate.

This happens for a variety of reasons. Some folks feel inadequate to the task of manifesting their vision in the reality of the day-to-day life in which they dwell. Others, top put it bluntly, are just too plain lazy to do what it is they are called to do. Still others lack basic motivation and for unconscious reasons quench the passion they feel for their purpose in life. Like the Beauty School Dropout in the musical Grease, they have the dream but not the drive.

Many, however, simply cannot believe God wants to use them due to past failures and disappointments. This was basically Josh’s problem. In his late teens he was involved in several crimes in which someone was seriously injured by accident. Josh was never caught and has no criminal record. Still, he feels responsible for what happened and, although God has forgiven him, he hasn’t forgiven himself. Moreover, Josh is convinced beyond a doubt that what he did disqualifies him for service to the Lord.

Josh and other believers like him choose to ignore the many biblical examples of heroes used by God even though they failed in the past. Think of Moses for example, a murderer who delivered his people from bondage in Egypt. Think of David, an adulterer who was also involved in a murder conspiracy. This sinner became a great king, an ancestor of Christ, and “a man after God’s own heart.” Think of Peter, who denied Christ three times on the night He was arrested. It was upon the “rock” of Peter that the NewTestamentChurch was built.

No, my friend, you are wrong if you think God will not use you because you failed in the past. Your failures, your shortcomings, your screw-ups – oddly enough, in God’s way of doing things may be your chief qualification for service to the Creator.

I want to use this article to encourage you to understand and accept the reality that God put a potential and purpose in you before you were born and, further, he still wants that purpose to be realized. Stop looking back at the past and instead, step forward into the service that God has for you. You cannot change the past but know this: whatever happened is history in God’s eyes and in God’s heart. As a Christian you have been forgiven so turn your eyes forward instead of keeping them riveted in your rear view mirror.

Do all that you can to let this truth sink deep into the depths of your heart: where you are going, what is in your future is far more important that what’s behind you. Scripture tells us that with God, all things are possible. So if it seems your dreams have died, let the Lord resurrect those dormant dreams and allow those dreams to drive you and motivate you to be all that you can be for the glory of God and the sake of others.

Our world is a hurting world and there are many areas of need. The dream God placed in your heart is designed to deal with one of those areas. More than anything, the church, the Body of Christ, needs compassionate people of noble character and a heart of service. That’s you, my friend.

Take the gifts God has given you and put them to work in service to something larger than yourself. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place in your life if you consecrate yourself to using your talents for God’s plans and purposes.

Also, keep in mind that God would never place a dream in your heart without giving you all the talents you need to bring it to completion. I encourage you to take this principle on faith and act on it. Just put one foot in front of the other and start taking small steps toward making that God-given dream a bit closer to manifestation. Again, just trust that God has placed in you everything you need to succeed. Pastor Joel Osteen speaks clearly to this issue:

God would never put a dream in your heart if He had not already given you everything you need to fulfill it. That means if I have a dream or a desire, and I know it’s from God, I don’t have to worry whether I have what it takes to see that dream fulfilled. I know God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t call us to do something without giving us the ability or the wherewithal to do it…You have to realize that God has matched you with your world. In other words, even though at times you may not feel that you are able to accomplish your dreams, you have to get beyond those feelings and know deep inside, I have the seed of Almighty God in Me. Understand, God will never put a dream in your heart without first equipping you with everything you need to accomplish it.

In contrast to my friend Josh, Marty is an amazing example of how God often uses our areas of failure as a way of carrying forward his kingdom purpose on earth. Marty, a native of New York, had moved to South Florida in an attempt to find a geographical cure for his long standing addiction to heroin and cocaine. Had his thinking been even half way rational, Marty would have reasoned that moving to Miami, the hotbed of the drug world, was a mistake. Finding that drugs were much cheaper in Miami, mostly due to lack of transportation mark up, Marty quickly returned to his old ways. Quickly spiraling downward, Marty soon hit bottom. Arrested for an assortment of petty theft charges, Marty found himself in jail awaiting his hearing. He had neither bond money, nor any friends in the area. Marty had no choice but to cool his jets in the Dade County Stockade.

Marty’s time in jail provided him with an opportunity to face his situation honesty and he didn’t like what he saw. The Holy Spirit also went to work on Marty and helped ripen him for what was to come. After over five weeks in the slammer, he was informed that a local pastor was coming to give a talk to the inmates and, if he so desired, he could attend the lecture.

Feeling an almost magnetic pull to go to the presentation, he initially resisted. Marty feared that this pastor would be someone from the straight world and highly judgmental, he almost talked himself out of going. Still believing he had nothing to gain, he went anyway.

Sitting near the back of the room, Marty listened as the stockade chaplain introduced the speaker, Brother Larry. Marty was confused because the chaplain was the only person sitting at the front table. Maybe he hadn’t noticed that this Brother Larry wasn’t there, thought Marty. Next, a rather large man stood up from his seat in the front row. He walked to the podium and when he looked out at the crowd, Marty almost fainted.

Brother Larry was a large man with waist length hair and tattoos all over his arms and hands. He had a large scar on his right cheek, evidently from a knife wound suffered long ago. Then, as Brother Larry began his sermon, Marty almost fell out of his chair.

Not only did Marty recognize Brother Larry, he realized that it was he who had cut the preachers face. Many years earlier, in a drug deal gone sour in Queens, a fight had ensued and Marty found himself being pummeled by a large man. Reaching in his boot, Marty took out a dagger and slit his attacker’s cheek to the jaw bone. His attacker that night was none other than Brother Larry.

To make a long story short, Brother Larry spoke of his addiction, his crimes, and his eight-year term in Attica State Prison. He also spoke of how, as the result of a visit from a volunteer with Prison Fellowship, he found Christ and his life was turned around. Brother Larry now ran a halfway house in South Miami that gave recovering addicts a place to stay after they were released from incarceration. His ministry found them job training, gave them work to do, and made certain the residents were well connected with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Marty wondered if Brother Larry had recognized him that evening at the meeting in the stockade. He did. Two days later Brother Larry showed up to visit Marty. After being released, Marty lived for two years at Brother Larry’s halfway house. And that’s not all. Brother Larry recognized potential in Marty and encouraged him to return to college and finish his degree. He told Marty he had managed to get a donor to pay for Marty’s tuition, but the truth was Brother Larry paid for it out of his own pocket. Displaying true Christian forgiveness, Brother Larry never mentioned the scar he would carry for the rest of his life, nor any resentment toward Marty for inflicting it upon him. Instead, he paid for Marty’s college education and, after Marty had graduated, encouraged him to go on to seminary.

Marty graduated from seminary two years later and now runs the ministry begun by Brother Larry. Under Marty’s guidance and with God’s help, two more halfway houses were opened in nearby cities and are full with long waiting lists. One week after Marty’s graduation, Brother Larry had left this earth for his heavenly reward. He left behind a legacy, as well as a successor.

God used Brother Larry and he used Marty in the very arena where both of them had failed, hurt others, and suffered. Instead of punishing this pair of wayward prodigals, God exhibited a healing love to Brother Larry, who in turn, gave this same forgiving love to Marty. Brother Larry gave flesh to grace, just as Jesus did when he came to visit this planet.

The next time you think God can’t use you, think again. What do you think would have happened if Brother Larry had felt God could not and would not work through him? Certainly Marty would not be where he is today.

Look around you, my friend. Find a need and get busy doing something to meet it. You may very well be surprised what God can and will do through you if you just give him a chance.

Think about it.

 

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

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Spiritual Complacency and Quiet Desperation (Part Three)

Icon of the Pentecost
Image via Wikipedia

Mick Turner

Continued from Part Two

Many of us start out well, accomplish numerous positive things in our lives, and then settle into a pattern of general comfort and complacency. We live not to grow, but to maintain the status quo. This is a tragic mistake.

God did not create you to rest on your laurels. Instead, he hardwired you to keep on moving – keep on growing. So beware of settling in for too long. “But wait a minute,” you might be saying. “We all need to rest. All work and no play makes for a dull boy.” Yes, that’s true. We do, indeed, need to take time off from time to time in order to rest, recuperate, and recharge our spiritual batteries. However, these periods of recuperation were never meant to be a career. No, we have to keep on moving.

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. Let’s listen now as popular pastor Joel Osteen, in his fine book Become a Better You, speaks about the importance God places on your dreams:

Scripture teaches that we have a valuable treasure on the inside. You have a gift. You have something to offer that nobody else has. You didn’t just show up on planet earth by accident. You were handpicked by Almighty God. He saw you before you were formed in your mother’s womb and placed you here for a reason. You have an assignment. There’s something that God wants you to accomplish. Somebody needs your touch. Somebody needs what you have.

It is a cardinal truth of the spiritual life, my friend. Somewhere right this minute someone you don’t yet know needs you. Someone needs exactly what  you are equipped to offer. Just as God has organized all of creation with a finely-tuned balance that is so incredible that it is beyond comprehension, He has also organized the great dance of spiritual life in such a way that we each have a part that only we can contribute. If we don’t realize our potential and live out our deepest dreams, we rob the world of something of immense value. We rob the world of the optimal version of who we are and when we do that, everyone loses and the Holy Spirit is grieved.

Be careful that you don’t take your talent to your grave. Leave your legacy, your gift here so that others can prosper from the simple fact that you lived and cared enough to live rightly.

It is highly important that you also realize that your dreams and your God-given potential are intimately related. God gave you your dream and He also blessed you with what you need to make that dream a reality right here in this hurting world. This doesn’t mean that manifesting your dream will be a piece of cake. No, most often those things that are truly significant are going to meet with a bit of resistance, from either other people, the world in general, and especially the enemy. Still, God has equipped you and given you authority to overcome and overwhelm all three of these areas of friction.

You potential is like a seed and, until you allow that seed to grow, your dream will remain just that – a dream. God gave you this potential and, with the right environment, that seed potential will grow and develop into something quite magnificent. Dr. Myles Munroe speaks of these issues cogently:

“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.

And where does this journey begin? It begins with the decision to become the optimal version of yourself for the glory of God and the benefit of others. It begins, my friend, with a firm commitment to excellence.

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.

Contrary to popular belief, living a life committed to Christian excellence is far from a tedious, joyless affair. When Christ calls us, he does not call us to a life of drudgery and boredom; he does not lead us into a life characterized by a restrictive morality and a scowling face. Christ’s call and claim on our life is a challenge to our limited ways of being in the world. When the Lord whispers in a person’s ear, saying, “Follow me,” he is issuing an invitation to an exciting journey of exploration and spiritual discovery. Erwin Raphael McManus, noted author and pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, tells us:

“Jesus calls us to a life of unimaginable adventure. It begins the moment we choose to follow Him. It is no less than to pass from existence to life. Though we are not taken out of time and space, we are translated into an entirely different dimension of living. Jesus tells us that He is the portal into this life and the quest that follows. Jesus describes Himself as a door, a gate, a portal. In other words, an escape hatch. He has come to lead us out of the mundane and into the extraordinary. Strangely enough we find it hard to trust Him, while all the time he has been trying to lead us out of the dark dungeons we have created for ourselves and let us run free in the light of day. When we come to Him, he translates us into an entirely new realm of living. His promise is that in Him we will find the life that our hearts have always longed for.”

The process of realizing the potential God placed in us is individual in nature. One person may see his or her potential unfolded in one way while someone else may have a different experience altogether. Still, there are several truths that hold firm for each of us as we journey forward with the Holy Spirit. Let’s discuss three of them: the need for discipline; the need for persistence; and the trap of complacency.

Discipline is not a popular word in post-modern culture. Instead, we are encouraged to “follow our bliss” and “do our own thing.” The world pays lip service to the importance of discipline and self-control in daily living, but the over-arching message is in actuality much different. Often, instead of encouraging individuals to delay gratification, defer rewards, and develop character, our culture tells us, “If it feels good, do it.” No one ever manifested divine potential by adhering to this advice.

Scripture repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, self-control, and personal morality. Without personal discipline, we squander our energies, waste precious time, and lose direction and focus. If we want to become the persons God intended us to be, we have to be disciplined individuals governed by an internalized biblical value system.

As we move forward in this sacred journey of spiritual development, we will experience periods of accelerated growth as well as times when it seems we are advancing at a snail’s pace. This unpredictable pace of spiritual formation is to be expected. There will be times of elation and excitement a you realize the positive changes God’s Spirit has brought about in you life. At other times, you will experience something quite different as you struggle with a particular habit, sin, or negative personality trait. This can be a critical juncture in your growth process. It is easy to become discouraged when change does not come at the pace we would prefer. However, the important point to remember is: “Don’t quit.”

There is an old saying: “Never rest on your laurels.” Basically, this means that we should never be satisfied with what we have accomplished. Reaching a goal is satisfying, but we shouldn’t allow this to be the final act in the play. We must continually press forward toward new goals that will allow us to manifest the best version of ourselves. Also, it is important to keep in mind that we should never focus our mental energy on what it is we think we cannot do. Rather, we should believe in ourselves and always refuse to let what we cannot do interfere with what we can do. By focusing on doing what we can do, and doing it better, we make progress. Moreover, we facilitate our continuing spiritual development by challenging ourselves to reach higher. Both personal experience and deep study has taught me that the optimal method for moving beyond where we are is by “stretching ourselves.” By this I mean it is highly advantageous for us if we encourage ourselves to move beyond what we are now capable of, even if only to a small degree.

For example, I enjoy playing table tennis. I am far from a great player, but I can achieve some degree of success when I am at the top of my game. (Of course, I played much better when I was younger and my reflexes were quicker.) Early on, I discovered I could not improve my play by competing against players who I could easily defeat. By the same token, I could not get any better by playing against opponents who were my equal. If I wanted to improve, I had to play against competitors who were more skillful than I was. I soon discovered that if I took on players whose skills were slightly above mine, my play gradually but consistently improved.

 The same is true in terms of realizing our potential in any endeavor. If we want to improve at something, we have to challenge ourselves; we have to stretch ourselves to get to the next level.

Dr. Myles Munroe, the highly respected pastor and Bible teacher mentioned earlier, begins one of his books on divine potential by observing that the richest place on earth is not the vault of a large bank or even Fort Knox. Instead, Dr. Munroe points out, the world’s greatest wealth is often found in the cemetery. It is here, in the graveyard, where many dreams lie buried – dreams that were never realized, missions that were never accomplished, and potential that was never realized.

 

As I reflect upon the tragic reality of Dr. Munroe’s observations about the wealth lying beneath the grave stones, I ponder another possible tragedy, equally distressing. I wonder how many people are going about their daily rounds, oblivious to the potential placed inside them by the Creator. How many of us will squander this precious life that we have without realizing and manifesting their God-given potential? How many will have their potential buried with them? I, for one, have made a covenant commitment with God not to allow this to happen to me.

 How about you?

 © L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Hope springs eternal
Image by Pandiyan via Flickr

The enemy in your mind says you don’t have what it takes; God says you do have what it takes. Whom are you going to believe? The enemy says you’re not able to succeed; God says you can do all things through Christ…The enemy says you’ll never amount to anything; God says He will raise you up and make your life significant. The enemy says your problems are too big, there’s no hope; God says he will solve those problems; moreover, He will turn those problems around and use them for your good. Friend, start believing what God says about you, and start thinking God’s thoughts. God’s thoughts will fill you with faith and hope and victory. God’s thoughts will build you up and encourage you. They will give you the strength you need to keep on keeping on.

Joel Osteen

(from Your Best Life Now)

Believers’ Buffoonery and Other Shenanigans

Mick Turner

Believers’ Buffoonery and Other Shenanigans

 

When I employ a bit of rigorous honesty with myself I am very much aware of the fact that faithfulness to the Christian path has not been my strong suit. Sometimes I am not even sure it qualifies as any kind of suit. The fact is, like Jonah of old, I can get bent out of shape and hit the bricks with the best of them. Nineveh be damned; I’m taking the next boat West. I don’t exaggerate a smidgen when I say that the crusty old guy in the belly of the whale “ain’t got nuthin’ on me.”

 

Discussions with many other Christians and former believers have revealed that I am not exactly in a minority here. It seems quite a few people entertain notions of leaving the faith from time to time. I was a bit surprised at this but I guess I shouldn’t have been. For quite awhile I thought I was the only guy who wanted to run off and become a Buddhist. Lo and behold, there are quite a few more of me it seems.

 

What I have discovered is that my reasons for being more than a little unfaithful over the years are somewhat unique. Whereas many people leave the faith or at least consider it often stems from some conflict they have had with members of their church or with their pastor. Others have left because they found other things they wanted more than their spiritual life, like drugs, alcohol, junkets to Vegas or another person’s spouse.

 

In my case, it was not these things that tempted me to flee behind cloistered walls where no one could find me and start chanting sutras in a cloud of smoky incense. More often than not, it was either something a Conservative, Evangelical, or Fundamentalist did or said that sent me reeling. I not only would become frustrated with what they might have said or did, but more to the point, I would become upset over the fact that these folks have hijacked the religion of Jesus and turned it into something worse than the stinking corpse faith of the Pharisees that the Master railed against some 2,000 years ago.

 

In the past, these events often centered on the Religious Right’s illegitimate marriage to the Republican Party, which eventually devolved to the point that a Baptist pastor in North Carolina threatened to excommunicate anyone in his congregation that had the audacity to vote for a Democrat. After successfully choking off an almost uncontrollable urge to regurgitate, I considered either leaving the faith or something even more drastic in nature.

 

You see, I am a bit of a loner. Worse still, I am a contemplative loner and in the best of circumstances that left me only two options: I could become either an English teacher or an assassin. Gun shy, I went to China and taught English.

 

Just last night I experienced another one of these episodes, but with God’s help I only briefly considered moving on down the spiritual pike. I was watching a video clip on You Tube that showed a group of shouting, screaming fundamentalists accosting people on the street. At first I thought they must have been outside an abortion clinic but I was mistaken. These folks were standing outside Lakewood Church on Sunday morning, preaching at the throng gathering to hear their pastor Joel Osteen.

 

Calling Pastor Osteen everything from an apostate, end times false teacher to the Brother of Beelzebub, these folks were evidently upset that the smiling preacher didn’t froth at the mouth enough about sin, the cross, and their favorite topic, the Blood. Fixated on the Atonement, which is only half of the gospel message at best, these self-proclaimed “Watchmen on the Walls” seem to think that the whole idea of empowerment by the Spirit to live a higher quality life is heresy and Brother Joel is a messenger whose breath reeks of brimstone. Somehow, in their zeal for doctrinal goose stepping, these storm troopers seem to have overlooked Jesus’ message in John 10:10.

 

One thing stands out, for certain. You would be hard pressed to find an example of agape in this bunch.

 

Personally, I find the Gospel an amazing phenomenon. You see, the mission and message of Jesus is a seamless whole but, at the same time, it has a little something for everyone. The Gospel is like a giant prism. When you shine light through a prism, you see a different color, depending on where you happen to be standing. On one side you might see red and on another side, a different color. The problem comes in when you think the color that you see is the only valid color there is. Those folks who see yellow, for example, must be mistaken.

 

It’s the same with the Gospel message. Depending on your need and your character, you are going to be focused on one aspect of the message more than others. This is both fine and natural but please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that is the primary message of Jesus. To look at the cross, the blood, and forgiveness of sin as the most important aspect of what Jesus accomplished is to walk lockstep in line with the school of theology that has held sway in American Protestantism for three or four centuries. That does not mean, however, that it is the only aspect of the mission of the Master, not does it mean it is primary. All it means is that it is the aspect of the Gospel that you hear most often and thus, relieves you of the necessity of thinking very hard about the situation. A friend of mine calls it “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Salvation” and he is not far from correct.

 

I am not saying that the Atonement is heresy. All I am saying is that when you make any one aspect of the Gospel the “only truth” or the “preferred truth,” you are not only limiting yourself; you are also insulting Jesus and discounting all that he did. And what is equally disturbing, you end up creating disunity, animosity, and fissures in the Body of Christ.

 

I am convinced that when the Master sees the blatant buffoonery like what was taking place outside of Lakewood, he must feel much sadness. I know I do. When I witness such silliness, it makes me want to run from the Nineveh to which I have been called and head straight for the harbor. Even the belly of a whale is preferable to listening to babbling of these “Watchmen on the Walls.”

 

In the words of Archie Bunker: “Stifle!”

 

© L.D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved