The Apologetics of Incarnational Living

Mick Turner

Any thoughtful, observant Christian should be aware by now that the Western church is in crisis. Don’t be deceived by the growth of the so-called “mega-churches” and the various and sundry “evangelistic explosions” that we see taking place. The fact is, people are leaving the faith in droves and fewer new faces are coming through the doors. Moreover, these dwindling numbers, along with our culture’s increasing negative view of Christianity, have relegated the church to a position of peripheral social influence.

Once the bedrock upon which our culture’s value system was built, the church is now little more than marginal voice in the constantly shifting tides of post-modern America. Identified by most Americans as joined at the hip with Right-Wing Conservatism, the church is viewed with increasing disdain and animosity. Traditional attempts at evangelism and apologetics only seem to make the situation worse. Evangelism is seen as an attempt by elitist Christians to ram their faith down people’s throats and apologetics is viewed as an archaic attempt to make the unreasonable make sense.

If the church is to survive, drastic changes must take place. It should be obvious by now that the old ways of “doing church,” especially evangelism, is doomed to failure.

Personally, I have come to believe that the most effective form of Christianity involves being faithful to our calling to incarnate Christ to a hurting world. This is the essence of what is often called “Kingdom living.” It is a lifestyle which, if carried out with compassion and commitment, will in and of itself draw people to the faith. It involves a simple paradigm: find a pressing social need and address it.

Put simply, it means giving flesh to grace. This is what Christ did and we are called to no less.

When people of faith express the love of God through acts of service and kindness, people take notice. These simple acts of grace accomplish far more than reasoned arguments, stadium rallies, popular seminars, and best-selling books. These simple acts of grace, especially given the church’s increasingly negative image in our culture, are the most effective forms of evangelistic activity we can engage in. It was not so different in the early church, which can serve as a model for what we should be doing.

In the middle of the Third Century a terrible plague devastated the Mediterranean world, dealing death to large swaths of the population. Many of those stricken with the disease were sent out of the cities, destined to die agonizing deaths alone and terrified. The Christian faithful, however, responded in a much different fashion. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, describes the acts of grace this way:

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting t heir pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

Many people were drawn to the fledgling church by the acts of service and sacrifice that so typified the early Christians. I am of the belief that it is here that the modern church can find its methodology of renewal. Crafting theological arguments is not the answer in today’s post-modern culture; nor is allying the church with a political party or ideology. Withdrawing into our own “Christian culture” is equally misguided. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves into the hurts of this world and find creative ways to bring God’s healing light to those hurts. Anything else misses the point.

Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words about the final judgment as recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.

Michael Frost, in his excellent book Exiles, points out that this incarnational living is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:

Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.

Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.

This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.

As “living epistles” we have the opportunity to meet God in the divine moment, what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the “epicenter of God’s activity.” When we consistently engage in these acts of Christian kindness, we in essence become what Gary Thomas accurately calls “God Oases.” Thomas explains:

A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy men and women are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out, and they will have something to say.

I find this description of godly men and women highly inspirational, not to mention vivifying. Thomas’ words encourage us to sensitize ourselves more and more to God’s activity in this world and further, to take compassionate action in emulating Christ’s acts of grace and healing. In ways both great and small, we can locate that epicenter of God’s activity and get to work.

It is nothing less than our calling, our responsibility, and our honor. And in so doing, it is my earnest prayer that more and more of us can become living epistles – God oases – and give incarnation to the godly image described in Isaiah 32:2:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind

and a shelter from the storm,

like streams of water in the desert

and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

© L.D. Turner 2010/ 2014/All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Cultivating Sacred Character: The Role of Spiritual Disciplines (Part Two)

Mick Turner

In Part One of this essay, we discussed the importance of engaging in the classical Christian spiritual disciplines if we are to work with the Holy Spirit in cultivating Sacred Character in our lives. Certainly scripture is not silent on this issue of discipline and discipleship. Scripture, especially the New Testament, repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, prayer, meditation, and spiritual endeavors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Consecration occurs when we have decided in the depth of our hearts that we want to experience and possess all that God has for us. Scripture alludes to the fact that God has graciously provided us with all that we need to live a life of holiness, fulfillment, and usefulness. These free gifts of grace now exist on the spiritual realm and it is part of our spiritual unfolding to bring God’s blessings for us down out of the spiritual world and into manifestation in our daily lives.

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

Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination. Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds and it is in the Discipline of Conscious Cognition that we work with the Holy Spirit to bring about this transformation of our thought life. The Discipline of Conscious Cognition is based on the reality that everything begins with our thoughts. This principle cannot be stated too often. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

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.

(c) L.D. Turner 2009/2014/All Rights Reserved

Cultivating Sacred Character: The Role of Spiritual Disciplines (Part One)

Mick Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued)

Manifesting Christ in Daily Life

Mick Turner

The process of manifesting positive character traits is one component of kingdom living that many people either don’t understand or don’t give priority. The fact is, the process of sanctification is comprised of growing more and more into the likeness of Christ. That is what the Christian path is all about.

I find that one of the most awesome aspects of Christian metaphysical spirituality is its practicality. Although some people tend to get scared off by words like “metaphysics” or “manifestation,” there is nothing mysterious or other worldly about these principles. Instead, the biblical principles of personal growth and transformation are really quite simple. Granted, we can complicate them to a great extent if we want to, but that kind of pseudo-complexity is not needed. Instead, Christian spirituality is really a process of ongoing cooperation with the Holy Spirit, with the goal of becoming increasingly Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Christian sanctification (becoming more Christ-like) is a divine partnership between God and the human being. The Holy Spirit’s part is something we cannot fully understand and certainly cannot control. We just have to trust, in positive faith, that the Holy Spirit will do exactly what scripture tells us he will do, He will transform us more and more into beings who bear the fullness of Christ. Rather than fussing and fretting over the Holy Spirit’s work, it is best to focus on what you need to do in order to fulfill your part of this transformational process. And believe me, we do have a part to play. There are those who would tell you that sanctification is entirely a process of grace and there is nothing that we can or should do. This is patent nonsense, pure and simple. Granted, the grace of God, like the wind blowing across the sea, is the power source for our spiritual growth into Christ-likeness. However, if we want to catch that wind and reach our destination, we have to raise our sails.

There are definite steps you can take in order to move forward in bringing into manifestation the Christ-like qualities that you want to inculcate in our personality. Before we get into the specific steps you can take, we need to take a look at two important principles. It is vital that you come to understand and accept two key realities that will prevent you from stumbling out of the starting gate. These two key points are:

You already have everything you need to live the kind of life God desires for you.

No one is disqualified, including you.

You Already Have Everything You Need

In a splendid passage tucked away in the second epistle of Peter we find a message of hope and guidance. The power of this passage of scripture is often overlooked, either through superficial reading or lack of reflection on what the leader of the band of apostles was actually trying to tell us. In a few short words, Peter gives us both a description of where our power to live the Christian life comes from and tells us in plain language the virtues stemming from such a life. Let’s take a look:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in world by lust.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.

Therefore, brethren, make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. For in this way entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. [2 Peter1: 2-11]

In the first section of this passage, Peter reminds us that grace and peace in our lives comes through knowledge of God and Christ. Then he makes an amazing statement. He tells us that Christ, through his divine power, has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness. He has already given us all we need to become whole in Christ and live a life of holiness. All we have to do is, with empty hands and an open heart, reach out and receive it. Further, Peter goes on to tell us that through believing and appropriating the promises made by Christ, we may become partakers of the divine nature.

Do you really realize what this means? Do you see the profound reality that Peter is putting right before our eyes? We, even as limited, fallen, and broken humans, can partake of the nature of God Himself. When I truly reflect on this statement, I tremble in awe.

In the next section, Peter lists for us the virtues that grow out of living from this divine nature. They are:

Faith

Diligence

Moral Excellence

Knowledge

Self-control

Perseverance

Godliness

Brotherly Kindness

Love

Even superficial reflection will tell us how much better our lives, and our world, would be if we would but just make these principles and integral part of our daily lives. If we looked to these virtues as the guiding factors in determining how we lived, life would truly be filled with peace and grace.

In the third section, Peter asks us to be honest with ourselves. He asks us to deeply reflect on our calling, the fact that we are the chosen ones of Christ. Do we really want the kind of life Christ is offering us? Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices? Are we willing to be led and formed into an image of godliness through the power of the Holy Spirit? If we answer in the affirmative, then we can be assured that we will not stumble. Does that mean life will be without problems? Emphatically no. Does that mean we will never have to struggle with our lower nature, the world, or ourselves? Of course not.

What Peter is saying here is that if we live our lives according to the nine virtues he outlines, we will never stumble, and we will never fall. We will ultimately succeed in growing to be more Christ-like in thought, word, and deed.

Let’s take a look at the same passage, this time from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master. Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you – your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you have been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved, and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I think Peterson’s version drives Peter’s message home in a clear, concise manner. Whichever version you prefer, the point is the same. God, in his infinite grace and wisdom, has already provided everything we now need or ever will need in order to live a godly life. Through the successful mission of Christ, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, we are not only justified in the sight of a Holy God, we are also empowered to live as new creations, capable of far more than we can ever imagine. We can, indeed, walk in Christ’s victory and operate in this world as more than conquerors; we can truly become everything that God intended for us to be and carry out our mission of being Christ’s agents here on earth; agents in carrying forward the Father’s kingdom agenda.

In the words we often use here at LifeBrook: God has provided for us all that we need in order to become the optimal versions of ourselves for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

You Are Never Disqualified

The second point we must consider before exploring the specific steps of manifesting Christ-character in daily life pertains to those otherwise sincere Christians who, for whatever reasons, feel their past sins and failures have disqualified them for service.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. This false belief is a blatant lie from the Father of Lies.

One of the greatest gifts of God to each of us is the placing of a divine plan for our lives deep within us. God has his generalized plan for humanity and a personal plan or mission for each of us. You, me, the butcher, baker, and even the candlestick maker have a divine purpose scripted on our hearts by the Creator and it is a plan just for us. More incredible is the fact that God has equipped us to carry that plan out and in so doing, help establish his kingdom right here on earth and bring great glory to his being. What a wonder! What a blessing! What a responsibility!

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been, and what you have done. That divine purpose still exists inside you and with a little effort and a lot of faith, you can discover it. Start with prayer, asking God through the Holy Spirit to reveal his divine plan for your life. Be persistent in your asking; be vigilant in waiting for an answer; and be confident that the answer will come.

Also, keep in mind that it is never too late to get started on the dreams God has for you. God created you to accomplish extraordinary things and no matter how old you are, how sinful you have been, or whatever afflictions you may suffer from, God can and will use you because that is one of the primary purposes you were created in the first place. Listen as Jim Graff speaks clearly to this issue:

God uses ordinary people – with all their flaws and problems – to accomplish extraordinary dreams. You and I don’t have to wait until we have it all together, achieve a certain degree of fame, earn a specified amount of money, get a better job, or meet the right person. Instead, we can start today to embrace who we are and how God made us, knowing that he will use us. From this knowledge, wellsprings of confidence water our hearts. That confidence allows us to see our dreams and visions as God’s road maps to significant lives.

A significant life – that is what God created you for. Make a consecrated commitment right now to lead a life of excellence in cooperation and divine partnership with the Holy Spirit. The life of excellence is what Jesus demonstrated for us and it is that same kind of life to which each of us is called. Sure, we may foul up things from time to time, but God is right there with us offering a hand to pick us up, dust us off, and send us on our divinely appointed way.

As said earlier, it matters not where you have been. In fact, your past failures and problems may be part of your qualification for the task God has for you to perform. I worked for many years in the field of addiction prevention and treatment. The most effective professionals ministering to those suffering from addiction were those people who were former addicts themselves. It is this foundational philosophy upon which Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are built.

If you think your past sin(s) prevents you from carrying out your purpose for God, you have been lied to by the Master of Deceit himself. Satan would like nothing more than for you to continue walking around half-alive, depressed, despondent, and spiritually paralyzed. That’s why that little voice tells you time and time again that there is no way God will ever use you. Granted, he may use others but you, you’re a lost cause.

Whenever I hear people speak of this voice in their head that says God can’t or won’t use them because of past mistakes, I always tell them to stop listening to the voice and spend some quality time studying sacred scripture. I love these words, written by John and Paula Sandford:

God’s children, in whom He has done mighty things, have come from checkered careers. Moses was a murderer. Look at what Jacob did with Esau and Laban. Abraham tricked King Abimelech. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Peter denied Jesus three times. James and John fought to be the highest. Paul went to Damascus breathing murder and threats. Our checkered careers, our utter sinfulness and degradation, our falling into all manner of vain seeking, become by the grace of God on the cross and in the resurrection the inevitable writing of wisdom on our hearts. Our hurts and sins have become our schooling and preparation. Would that we could learn purity the easy way. Praise God that His mercy is such that He turns the depth of our sin into the strength of ministry.

Listen my friend – God saved you and God will use you. The God Christians worship is not a God of wasted effort. God never does anything without a reason, a plan and a purpose. If you are saved, you are to be used. You are destined to be God’s instrument for something special. If you doubt what I am saying, go to Scripture and conduct a detailed study of Paul’s life.

Paul, formerly known as Saul, was there when Stephen was stoned to death. He even held the coats for the men who pelted the first Christian martyr. Saul was the most persistent and ardent persecutor of the early church. By the world’s way of reasoning, you would never expect that God would use Saul to spread the faith across the Mediterranean World. But that’s exactly what God did. God, thankfully, doesn’t necessarily think as the world thinks.

If God can use Paul, he can surely use you.

In China I knew a wonderful believer named Mr. Zhou (not his real name.) Now in his 60’s, Mr. Zhou was a successful businessman and used much of his income to support the efforts of the house churches in his Province and also to support young pastors in training. He also spent most of his free time training Chinese missionaries to live and work in Muslim countries. Mr. Zhou had many business interests in the Middle East and often used his stores for employing young Chinese missionaries.

What makes Mr. Zhou’s story so fascinating is how it is similar to that of Paul. Back in the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution Mr. Zhou was a young man and a leader in the Red Guards. His specialty, as he put it, was ferreting out Christians and torturing them. He often beat them horribly, put dunce caps on their heads and signs on their backs, and then marched them through the city streets while a gathering mob hurled insults, bricks, and bottles at them.

Later, when in his late 30’s, Mr. Zhou found Christ through the efforts of a pastor he had once tortured. Now Mr. Zhou does God’s work out of a sense of love and service. God used Paul and God used Mr. Zhou.

If God can use Mr. Zhou, He can use you.

Once you finally accept the fact that God can use you, wants to use you, and will use you, it is then time to get to work. Many times sincere believers put themselves in a holding pattern, waiting for specific directions from God as to what their ultimate purpose is. Yes, we do need to discern what our ultimate purpose is and with prayer and patience we will do just that. Yet in the meantime there is plenty that we can do. No matter where you live I am certain of one thing: there are people living there who are in need of something and who are suffering. More than likely there are already groups of Christian servants working to meet some of those needs. Find out about these groups and find a way to get involved. The real question is not so much what you should do. The real question once you know in your heart that God wants to use you as his compassionate servant to a hurting world is, “Are you available?”

Only you can answer that question.

Hopefully, you are, indeed, available. You are gifted for service my friend. And no matter what form that service may take, you can rest assured of one absolute certainty: the Holy Spirit will empower you not only proceed, but succeed. He will make sure you not only survive, you will thrive.

My primary purpose in writing this article is 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.

By now you should have internalized several key principles regarding your status as a child of the Father of Lights. First, God has already provided you with everything you need to live a life of godliness and holiness. You have been given these divine gifts in the spiritual realm and, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, your job is to bring these sublime, Christ-like traits into manifestation in your daily life. Second, you should also be clear about the fact that nothing you have done disqualifies you for these gifts, nor does it disqualify you from the responsibility to use your gifts in service to the Master.

The process of bringing these divine qualities to manifestation in the physical realm begins with a complete commitment to excellence. It means saying no to a life of mindless mediocrity and yes to fulfilling your destiny and calling as a child of the Living God.

(c) L.D. Turner 2014/All Rights Reserved

Are You A Living Letter?

Mick Turner

Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.

My experience has been that many sincere adherents of the Christian faith pay little attention to the magnitude and the importance of this calling to emulate Christ in thought, word, and deed. I don’t say this to judge, but only to record what I think is an accurate observation. I would also add that I, too, am guilty of taking this call too lightly.

I have, however, managed to take the Christ-calling a bit more seriously over the past few years. For this I am ever grateful and, at the same time, quite aware that I still have a long, long way to go in terms of character formation. Yet I press forward toward that goal, which as Michael Frost points out, is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:

Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.

Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.

This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.

The world in which Jesus carried out his grace-mission is far different than the one we live in. In some ways the world of the first century was far more difficult than our era, but in other ways, we face challenges Jesus never had to contend with. Still, if we take seriously the divine calling we have been speaking of we can’t let these challenges divert us from the task at hand. Michael Frost speaks clearly to the dilemma facing the contemporary church:

In our world today – post-Christendom and postmodern – we find ourselves a far cry from the simpler times during which Jesus lived…..we find ourselves up against challenges that we can’t imagine Jesus having to deal with. We stare vacantly at our WWJD (What would Jesus do?) wristbands, wondering just what Jesus would do when confronted with the befuddling complexities of contemporary culture. No wonder so many Christians opt to withdraw, to burrow deeper down inside their warrens in the hope that they can avoid contamination from the onslaught of the post-Christendom West. Likewise, the temptation to give in and be swept along by the prevailing mores is perfectly understandable. Swimming always against the constantly shifting flow of culture is exhausting, and it’s not incomprehensible when Christians throw their hands up and just stop swimming.

The pressing questions confronting those who are consecrated to the mission of vivifying the Body of Christ and mobilizing its resources in service of a world in great need revolve around both form and function. What kind of organization can best carry out the task of giving flesh to grace in highly varied circumstances? Once the shape is defined, how can the church best meet the needs of the community in which it finds itself?

As I have mentioned in other venues, my vision of the future church is of a body of highly committed Christians operating in groups that are creative, transformational, and incarnational. Michael Frost, writing with great promise and hope, cites six values that need to be embraced by the church of the future:

1.   To seek an approach to spiritual growth that values inward transformation over external appearances.

2.   To value a spirituality that seeks not to limit our God-given humanity, creativity, or individuality; to value diversity and difference over conformity and uniformity.

3.   To enjoy from-the-heart, honest, dialogues and avoid relationships marked by superficiality and hidden agendas.

4.   To strive to be completely honest with God and appropriately transparent with others about our inmost thoughts, hopes, dreams, emotions, shortcomings, failings, transgressions, struggles.

5.   To seek to welcome back mystery and paradox over easy explanations; to live with questions that have no easy answers.

6.   To work to honestly recalibrate our lifestyles, diets, spending patterns, and commitments to reflect our hope for a more just, equitable, and merciful society.

At first blush, these goals may seem overly idealistic and virtually impossible to bring into positive manifestation. As I study, reflect, and pray over these optimistic visions for the church, however, I find that they are not only highly pragmatic, but equally achievable if we consecrate ourselves to the task. We must also add to the equation a factor that many of us who hold a more liberal, progressive view of the faith seem to have either forgotten or cast into the dustbin of disbelief: With God, all things are possible.

Our work here at LifeBrook has demonstrated the reality that positive change is, indeed, possible. We have found that using a small group approach works best in bringing about spiritual transformation. Frost relates that in his church the formation of a small group ministry called “Life Transformation Groups” has worked quite well.

As stated earlier, our calling is to emulate Christ and become living epistles for the faith we claim. Although we face challenges that are different and, at least in some ways, more difficult than those faced by Jesus, these are exciting times for the Body of Christ. Within the context of these challenges and changes, we have the opportunity to forge a great future for Christ’s church.

 

© L.D. Turner 2010/2014 All Rights Reserved

Step Into Your Inheritance

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

Mick Turner

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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