Responding to God: Just Keep It Simple

Mick Turner

I think one of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the gospel message is that, in spite of past screw ups, Jesus loves and accepts us as we are. Not only that, but through the actions of the blessed Holy Spirit, he is willing to help us change. And even more mind boggling, he is planning on making us a full partner in his father’s business. Author and teacher Billy Joe Daugherty speaks to these themes in a clear manner:

This is the good news of Jesus: He loves you just the way you are, yet He sees you for what you can become…..He sees you sharing the living water with others who are dry on the inside….God has big plans for you. It may seem like you have wasted your life, but with Jesus you can make up for lost years in a short time. He will not reject you for your past failures. He welcomes you to come to him and receive living water.

As I said, I find this aspect of the Lord to be most comforting because I have certainly messed up things many times. Further, I can truly relate to that feeling of having wasted my life. Yet Jesus is willing to put that behind us now and turn both His eyes and mine toward a more positive, successful future, one where I can have a positive, beneficial impact on the world in general and my family in particular.

More amazing is the fact that I never have to go it alone. Instead, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is walking next to me and living inside me in a miraculous way I can never understand but can fully appropriate through the simple act of faith. I don’t know about you, but when I truly take time and reflect on all this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The only thing required of me to receive the healing water of Christ is faith. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand what if means to have faith. Jesus plainly told us that he has overcome the world and all that we have to do to have a life of spiritual fulfillment is to accept what He has told us in faith. As I was sitting here writing these words I was reminded of the following words, again from Daugherty:

Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It is our faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross. In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and took the keys of authority from him. Now Jesus Christ reigns forever.

Jesus reigns forever and scripture assures me that I am co-heir with Him, as are you if you have accepted his gift of grace with faith. This acceptance I am speaking of here involves more than the forgiveness of sin, although it certainly involves that. By His blood the Lord purchased our forgiveness and justified our being before the Father, but the cross also accomplished something equally significant, not to mention precious. Through Christ’s cross, his death, and his resurrection, we are empowered to live as he says we should live. Just as we could never do enough to attain forgiveness and justification before God, we can never live the full Christian life under our own power. We need something more and Christ has provided that power for us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Further, we have on the inside of us the same resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life. The ultimate nature of that power is far too profound and mysterious for me to ever get my mind completely around but, on faith, I am fully convinced that it is mine.

So what stops us from simply accepting what Christ is freely offering us? There are a number of reasons I suspect, but one I encounter with more than a few sincere believers is one you might not immediately think of. Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. I don’t mean to imply that these issues are not important. Certainly doctrine and dogma have their place. But I often wonder if Christ smiles in approval when he hears us debating his simple truths to the point that we divide ourselves into countless denominations and sects and tear asunder the Body that he meant to live in love and unity. On the contrary, I suspect this endless hairsplitting and theological nitpicking brings tears to his eyes.

During the early 1980’s I enrolled in several Religion courses at a small university near my home in north Alabama. I recall one course in particular that centered on the life of Jesus. My fellow classmates were an interesting group. Some were undergraduate students pursuing coursework in Religion and Philosophy in preparation for seminary. Others were ordained pastors of small local churches who, after preaching for a number of years, felt the need to further their education. Others, like myself, were there seeking a deeper understanding of the Christian faith as well as its history and traditions. Then there was Henry.

No one knew exactly why Henry was enrolled. He rarely spoke and when he did, it was with a soft, slow voice with a pronounced rural southern brogue. Considering the diverse make up of the class, it was natural that heated discussions would often break out. The professor often encouraged this in fact. The class argued about many issues. The nature of the Trinity, immersion versus sprinkling, the permanency of salvation, the list is endless.

I admit I often enjoyed these ballyhoos as they lent a degree of excitement to the proceedings and made the class time pass more quickly. One night the class was engaged in a verbal free for all centering on the Virgin Birth. I remember clearly hearing a wide range of viewpoints on this, mostly in support of the indisputable validity of the doctrine of virgin birth. I for one remained on the periphery of this dispute mostly out of ignorance. The doctrine of Virgin Birth was not for me an issue of central importance to my daily experience of the Christian path. In fact, unless it was brought up for discussion, I rarely consider it. It was one of those issues that I had placed on the theological back burner.

After a lengthy discussion, the professor looked to the back of the room and said, “Well Henry, you’ve been mighty quiet in this discussion. Why don’t you share your thoughts on the Virgin Birth with us?”

After a long pause Henry folded his hands on the desk, looked cautiously around the room and said:

“Well, I’ve been a settin’ here for over an hour listenin’ to you gents discussing this here thing about the Virgin Birth of Christ. I guess ya’ll know a heck of a lot more about all this than I do. You must or else you couldn’t talk about it for so long. All I know is this. Jesus loves me and I love him and try to do what he says. I reckon it don’t matter much to me what his momma done.”

Point taken Henry, end of discussion.

Instead of simply taking Christ at his word and freely receiving his gift of both salvation and sanctification, we often enter into arcane debates over issues that are not fundamental to the issue at hand. At the end of the day, we complicate a simple offer and this confuses believers inside the church and turns away many on the outside. I could give countless examples of this because I used to do this very thing. We all too often major in the minors and minor in the majors.

One issue that I have often heard brothers and sisters discussing, often in heated tones, is the order of salvation. Some say that we repent, and then we are saved. Others say that we repent because we are saved. I imagine one could make a case for either side of this issue by citing various passages of scripture but in terms of our response to God’s grace I don’t see that it matters much on a practical level. The fact is God makes His offer and we respond. The mere act of responding is in itself an act of repentance. We accept that we are accepted, complete with our cuts and bruises, our shortcomings and short-fallings. This is the meaning of grace, pure and simple.

Our role in this process is not to analyze, dissect, or debate. Our job is to respond. We either accept the offer or we refuse it. God has so arranged this process that it is really up to us.

Grace is not something we can earn. We can’t work our way into God’s grace because, in spite of our best intentions, nothing would ever, ever be enough. We can’t even pray our way into God’s grace. We can’t plea-bargain and attempt to get a lighter sentence for our sins. No, all we can do is get it through our heads, however thick, that grace flows from God to us. Our task is to accept it fully and get on with the task of letting the Holy Spirit flow into us and do His work to make us more like Christ.

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

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

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement.

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

What we can do is express our gratitude by being thankful, expressing our heart-felt appreciation for what God has done for us. Our gratitude must further be translated into positive action and a repentant lifestyle, which expresses itself in obedience, faithfulness, humility, faith, trust and, above all, a selfless love. In other words, we accept God’s gift of grace, forgiveness and adoption into his family, then get on with the work of growing in Christ-Character. Again, get this down and get it deep. Grace comes from God, not from anything you have done or will ever do in the future. Listen to Gary Collins:

Grace is not a loan from the past. It is a gift that extends through all eternity. It is a gift that helps mold our lives so that our spirituality is God-centered, Christ-honoring, Spirit-guided, life-influencing, and ultimately, fulfilling.

Don’t you just love that? God-centered, Spirit-guided, and life-influencing. Once we accept God’s gift, and importantly, once we accept that we are accepted by God, our duty is to live a life that is focused on God and makes Him the fulcrum of our thoughts, words and deeds. The amazing thing here is that God’s grace extends even to the point that we are aided in making him the focal point of life. The Holy Spirit comes along side of us, in fact, comes to reside in us and guides us as we seek to open our ears so that we can hear Him speak. As this happens, we increasingly become equipped to do Christ’s work on earth, to be his hands, his feet and his heart in a broken, dysfunctional world. Our life is influenced so we can influence other lives. In essence, once we accept God’s gracious gift, we are empowered to become God-centered, Spirit-guided servants that can make a positive difference in the world.

© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

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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

 

Wise Words for Today

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

(from Renegades for God)

Wise Words for Today

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of ...
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In this hour in which we are living, God is supernaturally revealing His keys to bring about productivity in people’s lives. People are tired of a Gospel, no matter how true it is, that they can’t get to work. Matthew 16:19 says it this way: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be (“must already be”” Amplified version) bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed (must be already loosed”, Amplified version) in heaven.” Somehow the church has managed to reduce the magnitude of this verse to semantics in prayer like, “I bind the devil,” etc. While there is some truth to this thought process, this passage is more about “keys” or laws that govern access or attract the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) is God’s rule. It is also the combination of the location and resources of God and the system by which you access them in your life. Accessing kingdom resources allows believers to dominate their environment (Genesis 1:26) and establish God’s rule and reign on earth.

Ron McIntosh

(from The Greatest Secret)

Christianity: Rugged Individuals Need Not Apply (Part One)

Christianity in the United States
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Mick Turner

Over the course of the centuries, the Christian faith has undergone numerous changes in terms of both doctrine and practice. Largely dependent upon sociological factors associated with a particular location and culture, these changes often reflected the dominant worldview of the society in which the faith existed. The brand of Christianity commonly practiced in America is no exception to this socio-theological phenomenon.

Over the course of several centuries, Christianity in America has imbibed and digested several prominent cultural ideals and this process has had a significant impact on the faith as we know it. In fact, this process of taking on cultural baggage has resulted in the “Americanized” brand of Christianity to become the accepted norm – the status quo – against which all other manifestation of the faith are judged. This, as we shall see, is highly unfortunate because the status quo brand of American Christianity is far from the faith inaugurated by Jesus and carried forward by the apostles and the early church.

If one character trait can be described as peculiarly American, it would be “rugged individualism.” In our nation, the individual and his or her freedom, rights, and property are considered sacred. This belief in the sanctity of the individual permeates all aspects of our culture and so it is not at all surprising to see that its tentacles have reached deep into the American form of Christianity. American Christianity, for all its claims to the contrary, is largely a privatized affair. One’s “personal relationship” with God and Jesus is seen as the most fundamental aspect of the faith. Although the church gathers in community once or twice a week, what really matters is the relationship between the individual and God. We can even see this phenomenon at the very outset of a person’s walk of faith, at the time of conversion. One is considered a Christian and saved if one has accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior.

Most American Christians are mortified to discover that these words are not found anywhere in scripture. In fact, the whole notion of “accepting Jesus” is also absent from the Bible, but has become a mainstay of American Christianity.

I mention all of this because it is imperative that the church return to its more original beliefs, especially those which stress community, compassion, and service to others.  The notes below are from Mike Erre’s “Death by Church.”

Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom was coded with imagery to indicate that the centuries-old exile of Israel among the nations was finally ending and that He intended to reconstitute a new community of God, formed around Himself. This means, among other things, that “what Jesus was to Israel, the church must now be for the world. Everything we discover about what Jesus did and said within the Judaism of his day must be thought through in terms of what it would look like for the church to do and be this for the world.

After setting Jesus’ mission and teachings firmly within the context of First Century Judaism, Erre goes on to draw parallels between Jesus and the church of today. As we look at these notes from Erre, it will be apparent how far away from the original teachings American Christianity has drifted.

Central to understanding this call of Jesus is the idea that it concerned itself less with the salvation of individual souls and more with the formation of a renewed Israel, a community of disciples that would collectively embody the kingdom once Jesus ascended to the Father. The kingdom of God and the community it creates are primarily public and therefore social entities. To be brought into the kingdom involves membership, citizenship, adoption into a new family, new loyalties and allegiances, and a fundamentally new identity. This is no mere “personal relationship with Jesus.” To be a citizen of the kingdom is to be given privileges and obligations that entail relationships with other people. These dimensions of kingdom life supersede individual faith, experience, and practice. Kingdom citizenship reorients our relationships to the King, to the other citizens of the kingdom of God, and to other kingdoms. That is why so much of the New Testament contains ethical teaching regarding relationships with other members of the kingdom and with those who stand outside it.

Naturally, this reorientation brought about by the kingdom perspective radically alters the nature of the church in both its mission and its teaching. No longer will the individualized religion of the status-quo rule the day. Instead, the “kingdom church” will be a collective of mutually interdependent members of Jesus’ kingdom on earth – a place where service to others holds sway over individualized religion and unity of mission trumps bruised egos and personal agendas. Erre continues:

Jesus’ announcement about the kingdom of God refers to the rule of God in our hearts and relationships. God was at hand in Jesus, living amid people and calling them to obedience. The church is the assembly of people who have welcomed God’s reign in their hearts and relationships. The church consists of citizens of the kingdom. It’s the body of Christ composed of obedient disciples following in the way of Jesus. The church isn’t a building, sanctuary, or program. It is the visible community of those who live under the authority of the King.

And this King has decreed that independence has no place in His kingdom. Instead, collective interdependence is demanded. Privacy and individual rights are supplanted by mutual submission and relational accountability. Those who yield their hearts to the King find they must yield their relationships also. The reign of God creates, orders, and sustains a collection of relationships that bind the King and His subjects together.

Given the repeated scriptural references to community and the development of one’s faith within that context, Erre expresses surprise that we Americans could have drifted so far in the opposite direction:

…….given such blatantly communal and social language in the Bible as exodus, kingdom, church, family, and household, it can be difficult to comprehend how we have managed to so thoroughly privatize New Testament faith. Pastoral ministry has now been reduced to marketing and psychotherapy – disciplines that both concentrate exclusively on the individual. The message of the gospel is treated the same way. The American gospel concerns itself solely with the inner, private world of people as they exist only in relation to God. There is usually no talk of community, tradition, or public accountability………….But this is not New Testament faith. It is not of Jesus or His apostles, nor is it the understanding of the earliest Christians. Reception of the kingdom, far from being a matter solely between the individual and God, amounts to being grafted into a new people. People believe the gospel and through it become God’s covenant people. The early church never saw itself as a collection of individuals gathering to pursue their own individual spiritual programs for growth. To view the church in these terms is to deny the very purpose for which it was called into existence: to testify to the reality of the kingdom-inaugurating agenda of Jesus Christ. By His Spirit and through His people, He is working to put everything back the way He wants it.

I truly appreciate the clarity and precision used by Erre to describe how the early church saw its primary purpose: “to testify to the reality of the kingdom-inaugurating agenda of Jesus Christ.” We contemporary Christians would do well to remember and implement this mission on a daily basis because, after all, it remains our primary task.

………to be continued

(c) L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

John the Evangelist, Russian icon from first q...
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The gospel of the kingdom is an invitation to a different reality, a different way of living. The kingdom is a new way of relating as people. Where ordinary human life is based competitiveness and defensiveness, domination and subjugation, treachery and violence, the kingdom is based on the self-giving love of God. The kingdom grows from the seed that falls to the ground and dies – it grows to new life from the death of Christ, which is God’s love exhibited to us in its most brilliant glory…The kingdom brings liberation instead of confinement, celebration instead of despair, a crown of beauty instead of the ashes of mourning. It brings solace to the brokenhearted and the good news of hope for the poor (see Isaiah 61:1-3). The kingdom is a life of flourishing (see John 10:10), an experience of the ongoing presence of a tender, protecting Father, along with His Son and Spirit (see John 17). It means a life of love, peace, self-control, and virtue (see Galatians 5:22-23)…..In short, the kingdom is a vision worth dying for. It is a life worth fighting for – against the vision of a world of isolated, self-centered and empty selves, all vying for prominence and grasping for what they feel life owes them.

J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler

(from The Lost Virtue of Happiness)

The Church as Alternative Community

Dr. Martin Luther King giving his "I Have...
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Mick Turner

If we truly desire to see positive change in the world, not just cosmetic window dressing which does little to alleviate the causes of social ills such as crime, violence, and crippling poverty, then that positive change must first be seen in the Body of Christ. The kingdom of God is not a reality to be discussed, but instead, is a body of principles that are to be lived. Just as Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk and his cohorts aboard the Enterprise had a “Prime Directive,” so we, as Christ-followers, have an overriding directive from our Master. As Christians, our prime directive is to give flesh to grace.

The church is meant to be an alternative community, a place where new principles, values, and interpersonal ethics are lived out in healthy, balanced social relationships. Gandhi nailed it when he said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If we are faithful to living by kingdom principles, people will take notice and naturally be drawn to the peace, justice, and grace they see being lived out in this alternative society. It was this very reality that led to the widespread success of the early church. People were drawn to the fledgling Christian communities because they lived the prime directive – they gave flesh to grace. Jim Wallis, long-time Christian activist and founder of Sojourners, speaks to this aspect of kingdom living, where the church:

…………is meant to be an alternative community living a new way of life, visibly demonstrating the values of Jesus and the kingdom of God. That necessarily will create a countercultural community living by different values than the surrounding society and providing a real evangelistic model of the healthier and more human way of life that the gospel offers.

Or, in the very succinct words of John Howard Yoder:

The church is called now what the world is called to be ultimately.

On a practical level, what this means is that the church, although intimately in contact with the surrounding culture and in fact deeply embedded within that culture, must not take on the core values of that culture. Although some within the Emerging Movement might take issue with this idea, I think that as a Christian community, we are called to a different reality. Throughout its history, when the church has been at its best and most influential, it has been a counter-cultural force – often a revolutionary alternative community. Jim Wallis describes the church’s position this way:

…….the Christian presence in the world is a perpetually revolutionary posture. This is not, however, another call to violent insurrection; it is much deeper and more “revolutionary” than that. . . . . . .The kingdom of God literally brings a great reversal to the values, assumptions, and norms of the world as we have known them. This is why Christianity in defense of the established order – “Christendom,” “Christian civilization,” “Christian nation,” “Christian empire,” and the rest – has never made sense.

With these counter-cultural realities in mind, exactly how does this play out in the context of our contemporary socio-economic and cultural values? If the church is to be a model of alternative community, what are some of the guiding kingdom principles that must be both visible and defining? Without a doubt, the Christian socio-economic ethic of justice and equality take center stage. As followers of the Master Jesus, we must model and ethic built upon the principles of fairness, equal opportunity, and yes, even more equitable distribution of wealth.

 As Christians we are to be guided by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount in general and Matthew 25:31-46 in particular. Perhaps this flies in the face of the current status quo and especially runs counter to those Christians who have become joined at the hip to one political party for years. Personally, as Christians, I firmly believe that it is detrimental to our witness to publically declare allegiance to or agreement with any political party. Instead, I believe we should do all that we can to work toward eradicating the causes of such rampant, systemic poverty in this nation while, at the same time, working toward helping people become more self-sufficient. In this sense, we are to all become maladjusted.

I love the following words by Dr. Martin Luther King. In my mind, they encapsulate in a highly cogent manner the Christian principle of being in the world, but not of the world.

But there are some things in our social system to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I suggest that you too ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob-rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence. I call upon you to be maladjusted. . . . The world is in desperate need of such maladjustment. Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

In this present age of social and cultural transition it is especially important for people in general and the church in particular to be maladjusted. For it is only through such concerted, unified, and purposeful non-conformity that a new social reality can emerge – a rejuvenated, vital, and equitable social order, built upon principles of economic justice and true Christian love. A significantly positive sign is the emergence of a new generation of Christians that is catching fire with an enthusiasm that has not been seen for decades in the organized church. These young firebrands may well represent the spark that sets off a conflagration of renewal passion and purpose in the Christian faith, something that is currently lacking and sorely needed. Jim Wallis describes these committed believers this way:

The greatest sign of hope…..is the emergence of a new generation of Christians eager and ready to take their faith into the world. The Christianity of private piety, affluent conformity and “God Bless (only) America” has compromised the witness of the church while putting a new generation of Christians to sleep. Defining faith by the things you won’t do doesn’t create a compelling style of life. And young people are hungry for an agenda worthy of their commitment, their energy, and their gifts. . . . . . . . . . . .This new generation of believers are waking up and catching fire with the gospel again. Theirs in an emerging Christianity that could change the face of American religion and politics. Their vision cannot easily be put into categories of liberal and conservative, left and right, but rather has the capacity to challenge the categories themselves. I’ve met these new Christians across the country and have worked with an extraordinary group of them at Sojourners. Their faith is intended to change this world, not just prepare them for the next. God is again doing something new.

Although it is hard to pin down exactly what form and what direction this new and vital force within the Christian faith will take, one thing is certain: we can no longer afford to march along in lock-step with the status quo and grant blind approval to a system which systematically fattens the pockets of the privileged few while increasing numbers of hard-working, decent people are pushed below the poverty line.

 If such an economic and social ethic is the norm, and in this country that seems to be the case, then I am proud to be a maladjusted discontent. I refuse to be contented with an economic system riddled with injustice and that keeps a boot on the throat of the last, the littlest, and the least. It is not the way of compassion and it surely is not the way of Christ.

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved