The Path of Sacrificial Service

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

Mick Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© L.D. Turner 2012/ All Rights Reserved

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

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

L.D. Turner

*Continued from Part One…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discipline of Consecration

 Discipline of Connection

 Discipline of Cognition

 Discipline of Contribution

 Discipline of Community

 Discipline of Comprehension

 Discipline of Calling

 Discipline of Cultural Engagement

 Discipline of Cultivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fullness of God and Spiritual Formation

Stained glass window 1: Jesus Christ
Stained glass window 1: Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

As Christians, each follower of Christ is not called to a lukewarm, mediocre walk with God. Instead, if we are to be the best version of ourselves, we are to pay close attention to just what it is Christ is calling us to be. At times, when we truly analyze the claim and responsibility placed on us by Jesus, we might think it anything but an easy yoke. This is especially true when we read between the lines of what Paul is telling us is several of his letters.    

Taken singularly, it is easy to perhaps miss the magnitude of the goal of Christian spiritual formation. I think this is one of the reasons that many Christians so often become so complacent in their faith. Each week they get dressed, go to church, sing a few hymns, take part in corporate prayer, listen to a sermon that waters down the gospel message, put their envelope in the collection plate, then speed to their favorite eatery before the waiting line gets too long.

To tell you the truth, somehow I think Jesus and Paul had more than this in mind. What Jesus had in mind was spelled out with clarity in the Sermon on the Mount, sort of a compact distillation of the kingdom principles he brought with him when he left the glories of the heavenly court and came a’callin’ on earth at that stable in Bethlehem. Let’s have a closer look at Paul’s take on what happened as a result of Christ’s mission.

I am certain you are aware of Paul’s idea, repeated in one way or another throughout his correspondence with the fledgling churches, of the relationship between Jesus and God. Paul tells us that all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ, which meant that God and Jesus were in some mysterious way the same being. In the Jewish culture of his day, Paul was making an incredible claim here. Jews were not supposed to make any image of God and even to speak his name was considered a capital offense. Now, here was Paul echoing Jesus by implying that the great and mighty Jehovah was in essence a loving, cosmic “Daddy” who was not only the Father of Jesus, but was also Jesus himself. And the reverse was true. Jesus was not only a great teacher and a skilled Rabbi; He was not only a great healer and the leader, the Grand Poobah of a band of shady-looking disciples. Jesus, according to Paul, was Jehovah Himself.

Standing alone, that sort of statement was enough to give the High Priest a prize-winning wedgie. Paul, however, wasn’t finished. In fact, he was just getting started. If you take a look at Ephesians 3:19, the Apostle tells the early church members that he prays “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (NSRV) Here Paul was pulling no punches; instead, he went straight for the knockout. Paul basically was saying that he prayed that, as Christians, the new believers were expected to become like Jesus.

No wonder the religious establishment saw Paul as a dangerous, if not demented, man. Equating Jesus with God was a reach. Saying that a human being could become like Jesus was beyond the pale of acceptability.

In case his readers missed his point, the Apostle repeats this theme in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. In verse 13 he equates Christian maturity with the achieving “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” He then drives home the point two verses later by stating:

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NRSV).

In case you might be thinking that this message was somehow only for the believers in Ephesus, think again. Let’s wander over to Corinth and take a look at one of Paul’s letters to this stressed out church. After briefly covering a few topics, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that we “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18). Aiming his words in a different direction, Paul tells the Philippians to emulate the same manner of being that Jesus had (Phi. 2:5-8).

By now it should be clear that that Paul felt it essential to get this message across. He believed that in order to function as effective Christ-followers in their world, the members of the early church had to work, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, in securing personal change and continually grow toward the full stature of Christ. This was the goal for the early church and it is our goal for today.

The logical question at this point is: How am I supposed to pull this off?

It is here that we are confronted with one of the many paradoxical conundrums of the spiritual life. The first shall be last – the last shall be first – to save your life you must lose it – etc. For the theme we are discussing, we are confronted with the riddle of Christian spiritual formation. There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves or sanctify ourselves; it is all a free gift of grace and we just have to accept it. Still, Paul tells us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” So what gives here?

Some sincere believers will tell you to stay away from spiritual disciplines because they are, at the end of the day, useless. We are powerless to change ourselves; only the Holy Spirit can pull that one off. Some of these Christians will go so far as to tell you that engaging in the classical spiritual disciplines is like sleeping with Satan….all this spiritual formation mumbo jumbo smells like smoke and brimstone.

Other equally sincere Christians will tell you the opposite. Even though personal transformation is a free gift of grace, we have a responsibility as well. We have to place ourselves in a receptive position in order to maximize our potential for change. I confess that I am more in this camp than in the former. I believe that spiritual formation requires a good deal of effort on our parts. God makes it all possible, but we have to appropriate what he has made possible. It’s like the great Quaker mystic Rufus Jones often said:

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

© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Introducing Jesus Christ – Again (Part One)

English: the first of the Epistles to the Colo...
English: the first of the Epistles to the Colossians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

The contemporary church is in the midst of radical change and it is hard to predict just what the Body of Christ will look like even five years from now. Yet in recent weeks the Spirit has increasingly led me to see that no matter what shape emerges out of the current chaos in the church, one thing remains radically clear. We must return to a Christ-centered faith with the principle task and mission being to educate Christians and those outside of the faith about the true and spectacular nature of Christ.

Many sincere believers frequently say that it is time for us to “go beyond” Christ or to “go deeper” into the mysteries of the faith. While there is some truth in the point that we all need to deepen our walk of faith, we must not lose sight of the central figure of our faith. It is precisely because we have lost sight of Christ that the church finds itself in such a predicament as is seen today. Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet speak to this theme:

 The person who believes that a Christian or a church can graduate beyond Christ has never fully seen the Jesus that Paul of Tarsus preached and declared. Instead, such an individual has very small Christ, one who’s far less than the one who fills the pages of the New Testament.

Sweet and Viola go on to illustrate their point by mentioning Paul’s words to the Philippians, written in his waning years:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:7-8)

Religious scholars and church historians are uncertain as to the exact nature of the erroneous teaching that was infiltrating the church at Galatia. Yet whatever the content of the teaching, Paul handled it in a very skillful way. Sweet and Viola point out:

What a unique way to combat error – drown God’s people in a revelation of the image of the invisible God, who delivered us from darkness, redeemed us, and made us part of His eternal kingdom.

This alone should cause us to pause in reflection. In times of crisis, the church doesn’t need rules established, laws passed, or wolves shot. She needs a seismic revelation of her Lord – the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.

The Christ the Colossians knew was simply too small. That was why they became susceptible to chasing other things – including religious ones – in the first place…..

This statement by the authors really speaks to the situation the church finds itself in today. Over the past few decades people, many of them sincere, spiritually-sensitive people, have stampeded out of the church in droves. There are many reasons for this phenomenon and no one answer covers all the bases as to why people are leaving and not coming back. One factor is the reality that the spiritual marketplace is much more competitive than it was even fifty years ago. America is a veritable spiritual smorgasbord with all the world’s major religions are present in significant numbers and lesser known faith systems are thriving as well. As for cults, there are far too many to list.

My point here is this: there is a lot more competition these days and people are more spiritually astute. They are looking for deeper, more life-changing answers and the fact is the church is woefully inadequate on this front. Rather than giving people real bread and “living water,” most churches serve up rubber chicken at Wednesday’s potluck and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi with the fizz long departed. Rather than feeding the flock this tasteless pabulum, it is high time the church returned to offering the real thing, and I don’t mean Coca-Cola. Jesus said that he gave living water and people would not be thirsty ever again. Paul understood that the church at Colasse needed the real Jesus and Sweet and Viola describe his thinking in a very cogent manner:

Paul’s goal was to strip away every distraction that was being held before their eyes and leave them with nothing but Christ. He dared to displace all rules, regulations, laws, and everything else that religion offers, with a person – the Lord Jesus Himself. As far as Paul was concerned, God hadn’t sent a Ruler of rules, a Regulator of regulations, a Pontiff of pontifications, or a Principal of principals. He had sent the very embodiment of divine fullness. So, he reasoned, if the Colossians could just get a glimpse of the glories of Christ, He would be enough. The Spirit would electrify their hearts and restore them to a living relationship with the head of the body. So Paul threw down his trump card – the Lord Jesus Christ. He presented a panoramic vision of Jesus that exhausts the minds of mortal men.

As Viola and Sweet so cogently point out, Paul felt that if the Colossians could gain a true and accurate perspective on the nature and purpose of Jesus many of their issues would be resolved. This dire need that Paul discerned in the Colossian church is also relevant to today’s church. If those within the church rediscover the true magnificence of this being they claim to worship and follow, I am convinced the mass exodus would slow to a mere trickle. Further, if those outside the church come to understand just who and what Jesus was and is, as well as witness the true heart of Christian service flowing from a revitalized, kingdom oriented church, they will likely become less negative and critical toward the faith and more than a few might be drawn to join in the good work that is taking place.

To be continued…..

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

Encouraging and Prophecy: Divine Compatibility

English: Orthodox Church of Holy Spirit in Med...
English: Orthodox Church of Holy Spirit in Medzilaborce, Slovakia Polski: Cerkiew Świętego Ducha w Medzilaborce, Słowacja Slovenčina: Pravoslávny chrám Svätého Ducha v Medzilaborcach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

During a recent quiet time in which I was praying about and reflecting on the book of 1 Corinthians, the Holy Spirit brought the following verse to my attention, along with an insight that I believe was significant.

But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them and comforts them. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

Paul makes this statement in the context of a discussion about the spiritual gifts in general and about the problems associated with undue preference for the gift of tongues. What the Apostle is telling us here is that prophesy, as a spiritual gift, is intimately connected with the gift of encouragement and brings both encouragement and comfort to the individual and to the church. The Greek word Paul uses here for encouragement is paraklesis, of the same root as Paraclete, the word most often used for the Holy Spirit. So in this one short verse, we see a divine triad consisting of the Holy Spirit, the gift of prophecy, and the gift of encouragement.

All of this may seem obvious to some of you and wonder what the big deal is and why I am writing about it. My reasons are also simple. When I read 1 Corinthians 14:3 that morning, it was the first time I had the insight of how the pairing of the gifts of prophecy and encouragement could work together. Perhaps due to the dullness of my mind I had not made this vital connection before and this fact may also explain why this new insight was such an epiphany moment for me.

The gift of encouragement seems to be one of my primary gifts. Both personal experiences over the years as well as multiple versions of spiritual gifts tests bear this out. The novelty of that morning’s insight was the pairing of this gift with prophecy. I had previously understood how the gift of encouragement connected will with my other primary areas of gifting from the Holy Spirit, principally teaching and wisdom. Armed with this new revelation, I was able to look at the issue of gifting by the Holy Spirit in a new perspective.

If you think about it, a person gifted with prophecy either needs to be additionally gifted with encouragement or, if that is not the case, have a partner who is a master of encouragement. Why? The answer is simple. If the prophet has a powerful word for the church or an individual, and especially if that word is either confrontational or requires much work from the recipient, without encouragement the church or individual is going to hear the word and feel overwhelmed and defeated. Unless there is a healthy dose of encouragement to go along with the word, the recipient may wind up in a worse situation than before receiving the word. Worse still, if the person receiving the word of prophecy is left without direction or an uplifting message that change is possible, said person may end up feeling quite hopeless.

When I think of these issues, I am reminded of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I worked for many years in the field of Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency, right in the middle of Dade County, Florida, an area noted for drug and alcohol abuse. The 12 Step Program was the most effective paradigm in dealing with problems of addiction and I believe there are three primary reasons for its success. First, the program has a spiritual heart. In fact, spirituality is the very cornerstone of recovery. Second, the 12 Step Program, like the Christian walk of faith, cannot be walked in isolation. Instead, it is group based and group facilitated. Finally, and this is most pertinent to the topic of discussion here, the program begins by defining the problem and then goes on to offer a solution. If the addicted person admits the problem but has no access to the solution, there is no hope.

The same is true with prophecy. Without encouragement the recipient of prophecy is in a dark place, indeed. So, where does all this lead us?

From a personal perspective, I have come to believe that if you have the give of prophecy you need to do one of two things. You can pray for the gift of encouragement and earnestly ask the Holy Spirit to gift you in this vital area. Having the gift of encouragement is a perfect counterbalance to your gift of prophecy. By having both gifts, you are in a position to offer a healthy word of prophecy to an individual, a group, a church or whatever and, at the same time, offer encouragement that a solution is also possible.

Secondly, if you resist this gifting of encouragement or if you find that God does not want to gift you in this area, then I believe it is vital to partner with someone who operates primarily out of the gift of encouragement. I think you can see why this is important based on what has been said in the preceding paragraphs.

I have additionally looked at the other Gifts of the Spirit and have discovered that most spiritual gifts exist in a harmonic partnership with at least one gift. If you have an interest in studying the topic of spiritual gifting, I encourage you to read the relevant portions of scripture and pray for insight into how these symbiotic relationships of spiritual gifting might operate. I trust you will find such an endeavor quite enlightening and well worth the time spent.

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

The New Age Movement: Filling a Void Left by the Church (Part Two)

"School of Athens" Fresco in Apostol...
“School of Athens” Fresco in Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican City, by Raphael 1509-1510 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Continued from Part One

Whenever asked for input on evangelistic endeavors, especially by those young in the faith or those who have little experience with evangelistic outreach, I generally recommend that people spend time prayerfully reflecting on Paul’s actions in Athens as described in Acts 17. We are told that Paul was deeply troubled by the many idols and religious shrines that he saw in all parts of the city. He immediately set about speaking in the synagogues and also with the Gentiles, telling them about the One True Light. However, Paul never went on the attack. Instead, scripture reveals that the great apostle treated his listeners with respect. When speaking to the philosophers of Mars Hill he says:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples and human hands can’t serve his needs – for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything.” (Acts 17: 22-25 NLT)

As we can readily see from this passage, Paul opened the dialogue by honoring the Athenians’ evident spirituality. Rather than chastising them for worshipping many Gods, he used one of the existing shrines as an avenue for him to introduce the true God and his great story to the assembled philosophers. It is this sort of approach that we should use whenever we want to introduce our faith to someone of another belief system. In the case of New Age adherents, there are many positive aspects to their spirituality and we should mention these as we seek a way whereby we might introduce them to Christ and the Father of Lights.

Furthermore, it is important that as followers of Christ we recognize that the New Age Movement has filled a vacuum created by the church. For several centuries now, the church has been overly focused on doctrinal “belief” at the expense of fostering an experiential relationship with God. Additionally, since the Enlightenment and the rise of analytical exegesis and the dismissal of the supernatural aspects of the faith, many sincere spiritual aspirants have had to seek elsewhere for a well-rounded, balanced spirituality.

The mass exodus from the church over the last half-century should speak volumes to those of us who remain within the Christian faith. It should serve as a clarion call to do things differently, especially where rigid, legalistic, and over-dependence on doctrine is concerned. Many decent, sincere seekers, more than a few who are in the church, are in need of a balanced, holistic, and vital faith that does not kill the spirit with doctrinal doldrums and discount the existence of the supernatural realm by being too rational and analytical. Rev. Maurice Fuller, quoted above, continues:

The very best antidote for the New Age teachings is for Christians to enter into and live fully in the supernatural. This is certainly no time to draw back from supernatural living and retreat into a mere defense of orthodoxy. Because we have adopted this stance for the last half-century, we have opened the door for the New Age to fill the vacuum. There is a longing in the human heart for communication and a relationship with the Divine. Since the dawn of history, when God’s people do not preach, proclaim and model the genuine article, men and women will wander into whatever appears to offer the fulfillment of their spiritual quest. We need to cast aside our hesitation and proceed strongly forward, the Word and Spirit as our unfailing guide.

There is much wisdom in what Rev. Fuller is telling us here. As followers of Christ, we must recognize that those spiritual seekers who follow paths other than ours are not “evil heathens” or morally bankrupt people. Granted, there are some cults and organizations that are unsavory and should be avoided, but it should also be noted that the same can be said for more than a few Christian ministries and organizations. My point here is that we will not be able to engage in any sort of serious spiritual dialogue with people from other belief systems if we approach them with a condemning, belittling, or condescending attitude.  Like Paul in Athens, it is better to acknowledge the positive aspects of a person’s spiritual endeavors and use that respectful encounter as a starting point.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

The Unfolding of Sacred Potential (Part Three – Revised and Expanded)

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...
The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Continued from Part Two…….

I Have Made a Commitment to Excellence. Now what?

Once we become serious about fulfilling our God-given potential, it is imperative that we come to some degree of understanding of how this process of divine unfolding works. Having a map of the territory enables us to better understand how God works in facilitating our spiritual growth, exactly what our role is, and what positive (or negative) contributions others may make as we proceed.

The first thing we need to understand is the fact that the process of unfolding our divine potential does not exist in a vacuum. All along the way we will encounter both positive assistance and problematic obstacles arising from other people, our environmental circumstances, and even our faith community.

We should also realize that when we finally become serious and consecrate ourselves to manifesting our full potential, the potential that God placed inside of us, the enemy and his minions will begin to take notice of you. Expect that problems and issues of a darker nature may also begin to appear and that there is nothing abnormal about this. Satan’s primary goal is to thwart God’s plans and any committed spiritual aspirant, including you, is a threat to the realization of his schemes. I say these things not to create fear or set your teeth on edge. Instead, I say these things to prepare you for what is to come. You have nothing to fear from the enemy and if you prepare yourself spiritually, the enemy and his powers and principalities can do little to knock you off course.

I have written extensively on the map of divine unfolding and am in the process of publishing a book entitled, Divine Unfolding: Becoming Who and What God Intended. The book will be available in both print and e-book formats. In that work I make the statement that although no map of the terrain of realizing your divine potential is completely accurate, we can see certain phases of the work taking place. Let’s take a little time a look at the how this flow normally takes place. Briefly, we can say that our growth into Christ-like character and into the optimal version of ourselves moves through seven interrelated phases.

Acknowledging and accepting our new identity “in Christ.”

Understanding our “Seed Potential.”

Discovering our “Call to Purpose”

Living with “Vital Vision.”

Our “Harvest of Glory.”

Walking in “Spiritual Excellence.”

Serving through Radical Compassion

Our New Identity in Christ

It begins with the acknowledgement that we are not functioning anywhere near our true potential and, at least initially, this stems from the fact that we believers have little idea of who and what we are “in Christ.” For many reasons, the church has jettisoned the vital half of the gospel, choosing instead to focus on the blood and forgiveness at the expense of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

It is as if you own a house with an exquisite, one-of-a-kind door. You fell in love with this door and worship it so much that you never cross the threshold and go inside the house, which is even more beautiful. Likewise, many Christians become so immersed in Christ’s atoning work on the Cross and the cleansing of his blood they never grasp why he did this in the first place. He didn’t go through what he did so we could live life half-way, filled with doubt, inadequacy, and spiritual instability. Christ did not die just to get us into heaven my friend; he died in order to get heaven into us. Christ rose, met the disciples, breathed the Holy Spirit into them, gave them a Great Commission, and ascended into heaven, thus making the Pentecost possible.

In light of these realities, our first task is to understand and accept just what Christ accomplished with his death, resurrection, and ascension. We have a new identity and in the words of Paul, the old has passed away and the new has come. We are new creations in Christ and what’s more amazing, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Until we grasp the character and the ramifications of our new identity, we will only grow in fits and starts, if at all. It’s time to walk on through the door, grand as it is, and see what blessings have been placed inside.

Understanding Our Seed Potential

God has placed a potential on the inside of each of us and I am convinced this occurred before we were ever born. This seed has the fulfillment of our calling, purpose, and vision in its core, just as an acorn has a mighty oak hidden within its fibers. God-given potential is like a seed and, with the proper environment, that seed can develop, grow, and manifest those things hidden within its hull.

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.”

Basically, we can say that “divine potential” is the God-given blessing to each of us that equips and allows us to fulfill God’s purpose here on earth and our specific calling in relation to that larger purpose.  Divine potential is that force lying within you that, when tapped, can create miracles in your life and help you to achieve godly goals and divine dreams. It is an aspect of God’s presence within you that brings those things that are yet unseen down into the realm of the seen. In essence, divine potential turns dreams into reality.

Divine potential is one of God’s greatest blessings. Imagine if you will for a moment, that the Creator of all that is has prepared everything you will ever need in order to rise above mediocrity, stand above the crowd, and become the absolute optimal version of yourself. This was part of what Peter was getting at when he wrote:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

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 and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true mission and purpose. 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.

To be continued…….

(c) L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved