Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Living From Sacred Mind

L. Dwight Turner

Within each of us there exists a center of pure awareness, complete wisdom, and perfect wholeness. We may hear this Sacred part of ourselves called by divergent names, such as inner light, higher self, Self, Atman, Buddha Nature, Christ Within, and so on. I know it primarily as Sacred Mind and it is, among many other things, a pristine reflection of Divine Intelligence.

When I consistently live from my Sacred Mind my life runs smoothly. People, places, and things that once gave me major headaches now are at most, minor annoyances and many times not even that. When I live from Sacred Mind I am more like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field that Christ spoke so elegantly about. I don’t have to toil or spin, but instead, am more content to go with the perfect nature of things, exhibiting no resistance and manifesting perfect peace. When I operate from this perspective, I am practicing “wu wei,” the Daoist principle often translated as “doing nothing” but in fact, is doing everything at the perfect time.

When I live from my Sacred Mind, I practice Wu Wei naturally and without effort. Wu Wei that requires effort is not Wu Wei, but something else. Like the Tiger lying quietly in the grass watching a group of Impala, my Sacred Mind will tell me when to remain still and when to act. This way I practice Wu Wei, taking no uncertain or wasted action. I practice a perfect economy of energy. Externally I am doing nothing, but internally I am vigilant and am doing everything. When I act, like the Tiger when she strikes, there is no unnecessary action and no wasted qi. Instead, there is harmony of will, decision, and movement, all occurring within the realm of pure stillness. It is a perfect paradox and it is perfect. Nothing more need be said about it.

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Blessings of Effort

L. Dwight Turner

A few days ago, we looked at the value of developing enthusiasm as an integral part of your spiritual tool kit. Enthusiasm is one of what we at Sacred Mind Ministries call “Attitudes of Blessing.” Briefly, these are character traits that assist us in growing spiritually, achieving our goals and dreams, and becoming the best version of ourselves.

Today I would like to discuss another of these essential attitudes: effort. If we are to advance in terms of our spiritual life or any other goal, effort is required. In any arena of life, those who succeed are the individuals who make a solid commitment to excellence and who are willing to expend the energy to attain their goals. Keep in mind: no one ever slouched their way to success.

Nothing comes without cost and nothing worthwhile comes without personal effort. In practical terms, this means that if we want to achieve something in life, whether it be to deepen our spiritual life, advance in our career, make more money, or improve our character, we have to put forth positive effort. In short, we have to work at it.

In terms of overall spiritual formation, positive effort means you have to work at it. There is no magic pill that you can take that will bring you closer to God or help you master your mind. You have to put forth effort. If you have developed enthusiasm, a proper and profound sense of love for what you are doing, then effort should flow easily out of this enthusiasm. You will make every effort to grow as an individual and as a member of society. You will seize every opportunity to improve that comes your way. Make no mistake; if you don't put forth positive effort in pursuit of your goals, nothing will help you. Often, making this kind of spiritual effort will involve making sacrifices. "No pain no gain", is an eternal truth.

The Random House Dictionary defines effort as, "a strenuous attempt; the exertion of physical or mental power". What does this mean on a practical, daily basis? It means you have to exert yourself. If you are apathetic, you won't exert yourself. If you are lethargic, you won't exert yourself enough. If you are ambivalent, you won't exert yourself consistently. You have to become sincere! From your sincerity will flow enthusiasm and from your enthusiasm will flow effort. Once you begin to make sincere effort, you will improve. This is a fundamental law of the universe and it applies not only to spiritual formation, but to everything you do.

During the five years I spent teaching English in China I have observed that the one central thing that seemed to separate those who improved their language skills from those who did not was the effort put into it. The harder the student worked and the more positive the attitude with which he or she approached their study, the more their English skills improved. I could cite many examples of this truth but time and space does not allow for that in the context of this article, so I will choose but one example.

I first met Jane when she was a sophomore English major at the university where I was teaching in southern China. She was a pert and energetic girl with a pleasing smile and positive disposition. After having her as a student in my writing class for several weeks, I noticed that not only her writing skills were among the best in her class, but her oral English skills were also excellent. I soon found out why.

I have always been an early riser, usually getting out of bed no later than 5:30 AM. I often went for early morning walks around the beautiful, lotus filled pond that was a landmark of the university. Much of the year the weather was hot and humid in this southern city and the early morning hours provided an opportunity to commune with the natural environment before the heat of the day began in earnest. I usually arrived at the lake around 6 AM and every morning during my walk I usually ran into Jane. She was either reading aloud from an English text, or reciting her lessons in English, or listening to English language tapes on her Walkman.

From the beginning I was impressed by her diligence, her fortitude, her discipline, and her willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to improve her language skills. Further, it was these very positive character traits that enabled her to succeed where others did not. In the spring semester of her sophomore year Jane went on to achieve a high score on the TEM Four examination, a major test that determines whether or not the student is allowed to continue his or her English study without penalty. In addition, her marks were among the highest in all of her classes. In her junior year she placed first in the campus- wide English speech contest hosted by the Business College at our university. She eventually graduated with high honors and is now employed by a major, multi-national company. Why has Jane been so successful? The answer is quite simple. She put forth positive effort!

Before concluding our examination of the necessity of personal effort in the process of spiritual formation, one important caveat needs to be mentioned. Making diligent effort to advance toward your goals must be viewed in the context of a balanced lifestyle. It is critical that your efforts remain within rational and healthy limits. You must maintain adequate time for family, recreation, rest and relaxation, and enjoying life’s pleasures. Too much effort leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout. Allowing your diligence toward making positive efforts to evolve as a human being, no matter how noble it may seem, is a recipe for disaster. As with all good things in this life, moderation is the key.

© L. Dwight Turner/ All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Blessings of Enthusiasm

L. Dwight Turner

“Never underestimate the power of a man on fire,” said my grandfather on numerous occasions as I was growing up. “He can accomplish more in an hour than 10 good men can manage in a week.”

What do you think my grandfather meant when he was talking about a “man on fire?” Why do you think he repeated this statement often enough that it became firmly established in my memory banks? The answers are simple. My grandfather wanted me to understand the importance of having enthusiasm. Moreover, he wanted to instill in me the motivational value of maintaining an enthusiastic attitude in life.

As usual, my grandfather was right on target with his assessment of the merit of developing enthusiasm. Along with a firm commitment to excellence and a positive, proactive attitude, enthusiasm helps form a positive, energetic foundation for spiritual formation.

Enthusiasm is the emotional corollary of positive thinking. Enthusiasm grows out of a love for what you are doing and a steadfast commitment to excellence. Nothing of lasting value in our lives is ever accomplished without an enthusiastic attitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” How true these words are. When we develop a true affection for what we are doing, our actions become more efficient and we devote ourselves more diligently and consistently to our work.

The word "enthusiasm" comes from the Greek language and implies “an absorbing or controlling passion of the mind by any interest or pursuit". A brief look at the Greek origins of the word gives us deeper insight into the definition and value of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is derived from two Greek words, “en” and “theos.” When combined to form the Greek word for enthusiasm the term is literally translated as “God in you,” or “God within.” or “full of God.” Thus, the whole concept of enthusiasm is spiritual from the beginning. When we are enthusiastic, we are in harmony with God and the Spirit within us. This harmonious relationship fills us with renewed energy, vitality, and an ability to be more effective at everything we put our hand to.

What does this mean in terms of our spiritual formation as Christians? It means that we must be committed to our growth in Christ. We must develop a passion for it and view the time we spend in pursuit of spiritual formation as time well spent. If we lack enthusiasm, we will advance slowly or fail completely. Enthusiasm gives drive to our dream. Further, enthusiasm gives emotional and psychological fuel to our growth and development on all levels. Christian Larson, tells us:

“…man gradually but surely grows into the likeness of that which he thinks of the most, and man thinks the most of what he loves the best. This is the law through which man has become what he is, and it is through the intelligent use of this law that man may change for the better and improve in any way desired.”

What is Larson trying to tell us? Quite simply, he is saying, "Learn to love what you are doing and you will increase your chances of success". If you want to improve as a Christ-follower you have to develop a passionate desire for the spiritual life. Become enthused, then maintain your enthusiasm at all cost. Edward B. Butler tells us that success depends on continued enthusiasm:

“One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life.”

Enthusiasm plays a central part in any successful life. Enthusiasm gives substance to our dreams and provides us with emotional motivation to stay the course toward our goals in spite of obstacles or setbacks. Popular Christian teacher Charles Swindoll reminds us:

“What an essential role enthusiasm plays in our lives! In many ways, it is the key ingredient that frees us from the cramping, dark, overheated confinement of a task. When the odds are against us, the hours are long, and the end is not yet in view, enthusiasm rescues us from the temptation to quit - or run away - or complain. It takes the grit and grind out of boredom. It calls in fresh troops when the battle gets long and the body gets weary. Athletes feed on it. Salesmen are motivated by it. Teachers count on it. Students fail without it. Leadership demands it. Projects are completed because of it.”

Another great fact about enthusiasm is that it is contagious. Have you ever been around a person who was truly enthusiastic, a person who really loved what they were doing and applied himself or herself whole-heartedly to the task they were pursuing? People like this often infect others with their sense of enthusiasm. One of my favorite quotations is by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism:

“Catch fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”

Surround yourself with people who are serious yet fun loving and enthusiastic about their walk of faith. Their enthusiasm will infect you and, in turn, make you more energetic and positive about your own spiritual practice. In turn, your enthusiasm can have a positive impact on others.

In conclusion, I encourage you to heed the message of my grandfather that was mentioned at the beginning of this article. Do all that you can to internalize a consistent attitude of enthusiasm, especially about your spiritual life, and strive in every way to manifest your enthusiasm in your daily life. Begin this process by going into your place of prayer and discussing the matter with God. Ask God to fill your being with enthusiasm and also ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit in terms of what you can do to foster a deepening sense of enthusiasm in your life.

If you are sincere about making enthusiasm a central part of your Christian character, you may be amazed at the results as the Holy Spirit works in you to conform you to the fullness of Christ. And don’t be surprised when one day people come from miles away, just to watch you burn.

© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Extreme Makover: In Christ You Are A New Creation

L. Dwight Turner

One of the primary reasons so many Christians walk in much less victory than God intends stems from the fact that they still don’t understand the full extent of the gospel message. For much of our shared history, American Protestants have emphasized the blood of Christ and the atonement for sins. Granted, this is a portion of the gospel truth, however, the mission of Christ was far greater than that. Unfortunately, a significant number of Christians don’t fathom the rich treasures Christ has provided through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascendancy. In order to regain a full perspective on the accomplishments of Christ, our new identity as Children of the Light, and the authority and power granted to us, we need to carefully study Scripture and ascertain the full extent of the blessings of God’s provision through Christ.

Often, we toss about the word salvation and, after hearing the word so many times, lose sight of just what the word implied to the first Christ-followers and, by implication, to us as well. “Sozo” is the Greek word for salvation and it implies a sense of completion, soundness, health, and the absence of disharmony on all levels. Sozo thus refers to a reality far greater than the remission of sins, although that is an important aspect of the word’s meaning. Sozo, taken in its biblical context, refers to the fact that God’s, through Christ, has given His grace whereby we are freed from all obstacles and hindrances that could stand in the way of us becoming all that we were created to be. Salvation implies that through God’s grace we freed from bondage to anything that hinders our ability to become complete in Christ, manifesting our original nature, created in the image of God.

I think that this general lack of awareness on the part of many Christians stems from a complex constellation of factors, but for the sake of simplicity, perhaps we can focus on four sources of misinformation about the full extent of the gospel: the pulpit; the enemy; the world; our own habitual patterns of thought and behavior.

Perhaps many of you are wondering how I could imply that the pulpit may in some way be responsible for our general lack of understanding of who and what we are in Christ. The answer is simple. By choosing to consistently focus on the blood of Christ at the expense of the provisions generated as a result of his resurrection and ascension, many pastors and preachers have contributed to this miasma of misunderstanding. This in no way minimizes the blood of Christ, but instead, it completes the work done on the cross. If Christ died for our sins, but left us completely under the power of “sin,” (our sinful nature), then we would be no better off than the Israelites who were dependent each year on the placing of their sins upon the “scapegoat,” which was then release to wander in the desert until it died. After the Day of Atonement, the Jews then began the process of accumulating sin that would need atonement the following year.

Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers need to repeatedly stress that God has provided all that we need to lead a godly, holy life (see 2 Peter 1:5). Through the blood, our sins are forgiven; through the cross, our sin is dealt with. Unfortunately, the pulpit has not stressed this aspect of the gospel nearly enough.

In terms of the enemy and the world, these two forces often act in concert to minimize what we have been granted in Christ. After all, the popular views of our culture are often in opposition to what God would have us do, whether it is in terms of our actual behavior or, at an even more subtle level, how we think and how we view the world. Let’s take a brief look at how these two forces, Satan and the world, might be a formidable obstacle when it comes to understanding our true blessings “in Christ.”

In today’s spiritual marketplace, the church is often assailed by the enemy in ways both manifest and subtle. One of Satan’s main strategies is to put forth teachings that contain a grain of scriptural truth and, at least on the surface, sound good, especially from a worldly perspective. For example, many contemporary Bible teachers focus on material wealth and prosperity. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with wealth and having possessions, so long as we are not controlled by them. However, these teachers often go to scripture to support their contentions and, in so doing, often miss the point of the particular verse or portion of scripture they cite. Most of the current prosperity gospel advocates justify their teaching by quoting Jesus in John 10:10:

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

According to the prosperity teachers, Jesus was speaking of material abundance when he uttered these words. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Given the situation they were in, I doubt the early Christians were overly concerned with gaining material wealth. In the early days of the church, the prime focus was on solidifying the local church, spreading the gospel, and staying alive.

When Christ spoke of abundance in John 10:10, he was speaking of the fullness of life. Here Jesus is talking about the fact that through his mission, believers will now have the capacity to have the fullness of life that was lost due to the Fall. In essence, He was referring to a restored humanity, now in proper relationship with God and ready to bear fruit.

The theological minutia surrounding the discussions of justification and sanctification can be both confusing and distracting. Although gaining an understanding of these concepts is important, for our present conversation going into depth about such matters would be an unnecessary distraction. For now, let’s just suffice to say that understanding and accepting who we are in Christ is central to the process of spiritual formation. Further, it is important that we see that our adoption into God’s family is an act of grace. Neil Anderson tells us:

Only as we see ourselves as sons and daughters of God can we really grow in holiness (see Romans 8:15). Only as we are free from the task of trying to gain a relationship with God by our own righteousness or cleanness will we be free to appropriate His righteousness and holiness for our growth.

Without Christ, his work on the cross and in rising from the tomb, we could not even begin to progress in terms of spiritual formation. In order to grow in spirit, we have to be connected to God. Just as a fish cannot thrive unless it is in water, we cannot thrive outside of our natural environment, which is proper connection with God. Christ’s mission accomplished this reconnection with our Maker and made all spiritual formation possible. Without the regeneration provided by the mission of Christ, we would remain in a state of separation from God. Listen to Neil Anderson as he so accurately elaborates this theme:

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with God, who is the fountain of spiritual life. Only through this relationship can we bear new seed or tap into the root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can take place. So unless there is a root of life within the believer – that is, some core of spiritual life – growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow.

The thrust of what is being said in this article is centered on the fact that we need to seize our proper identity in Christ, but in doing so, we must also understand the work of Christ on the cross and through his resurrection and ascension. Underlying this vital comprehension is that fact that we cannot be who and what we were intended to be without being in proper, intimate relationship with God. In order for that to be possible, our relationship must be restored. That’s where the Blood of Christ comes into play. Through his death, in some mysterious way Christ paid the debt for our sin and made reunion with the Father possible.

Beyond that, through his dying to self and rising in new life, we, too, may also die to our old way of being and rise in newness of life. But the story doesn’t end there. Christ, through his ascension into heaven, made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. As Christ himself said, “Unless I leave, the Spirit won’t come.” As stated, Christ’s departure and his seat at the right hand of the Father make possible the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Now, just as the Father walked in the garden with the first couple, the Spirit walks along side of us. Even more important, he has also taken up residence within us.

It is not enough to die and rise again. We must also live in a new manner and it is the Spirit that makes this new way of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating possible. Grasp that, and you are well on your way of appropriating your new identity in Christ.

(C) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Realizing Divine Potential and Purpose: A Fundamental Question (Part One)

L. Dwight Turner

The issue of realizing our divine potential gets quite a bit of ink these days, and rightly so. Each of us has been provided with a God-given purpose for our lives and we have also been gifted with the divine potential to realize that purpose – to make it manifest in the world in which we live. Yes, the current focus on discovering a realizing our potential is no doubt justified.

With that being said, I would like to spend a bit of time looking at a related issue, one that perhaps underlies all the popular hubbub about our purpose, potential, and spiritual mission. In fact, the issue I am thinking of relates to an important personal decision each of us has to make when we take on the mantle of “Christian” and further, what we do with that decision may well determine whether or not we actualize our potential and realize our purpose. Cutting right to the chase, the decision we all have to make is in answer to the following question:

How far am I willing to go in following the call of Christ upon my life?

I think there comes a time in the Christian walk of faith when individual believers make a choice to go no farther with Christ. Let’s face it, Christ has called for such a radical transformation of character and world view, to fully follow his teachings would be suicide, given the realities of our post-modern world.

“Taking up the cross and following Him is not the same now as it was back in the day,” a friend of mine once said. “If I really did what Jesus said to do, I would wind up the poorhouse along with my whole family. I love Jesus, but hey, I am not an idiot. All in all, I think He understands.”

There is really nothing wrong with this logic. The problem lies in the fact that once we begin to make this compromise, a dozen more usually follow in its wake. Listen, my friend, to follow Christ in our day and time is suicide. And guess what? That’s how it’s supposed to be.

What is suicide? In a very real sense it is a voluntary death. And what is it that Christ asks us to do? We are to take up our cross and die daily. Each day, we are to undergo a voluntary death. That doesn’t mean that we literally attempt to end our lives. Heaven forbid. No, it means that we place the demands of our ego, our lower self, our flesh, on the cross. They die with Christ so that we may be raised up in new life. It cost quite a bit to be a Christian and this faith is not for the weak of mind or faint of heart. It takes a real hero to be a true Christian.

The question before us, and the antidote to the complacency that like a leech, is sucking the very life out of the church, involves each of us on an intimately personal level.

The ultimate question facing Christians in this difficult but exciting age is a question each believer must answer individually. Will you take on the yoke of Christ in all its implications and allow him to live and fulfill his mission through you? Recognize that this question involves taking an assessment of the true costs of discipleship. Yes, God’s grace is freely given but real discipleship comes with a price. And in the end, my friend, that price is yourself. How each believer answers this ultimate question will determine how effective the church will be in its mission. Dallas Willard remarks:

So the great issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or by culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of Heaven into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be his Church – to be, without human force or violence, his mighty force for good on earth, drawing the churches after them toward the eternal purpose of God?

If you think about it, the words of Willard are both motivational and frightening. Yes, most of us want to be true disciples of the Lord. We all want to learn from him and profess the willingness to do whatever he requires for the furtherance of his kingdom. However, do we really want that? Are we really willing to go to whatever lengths it requires of us? The question before each and every one of us is fairly simple to comprehend.

In my daily life, where the rubber meets the road, how far am I willing to go?

Each of us must settle this matter for ourselves. It is ultimately between the Lord and the individual believer when it comes to answering this vital question. However, our individual answers, taken collectively, largely determine the nature, the character, and the future of the church as a whole.

I am not trying to be fanatical here. I am not saying that unless you go all the way, you are not what God wants you to be. If that were really the case, I would be the first to admit that I would be toasted and toasted quickly. I think what Jesus is asking is, “How far will you go given your current circumstance?”

Also keep in mind, to avoid answering the question is to answer it. God, however, sometimes refuses to allow some of us to rest unless we answer this vital query. I know in my own life, whenever I avoid God for any length of time, particularly something he wants me to do that I don’t want to do, I can make Jonah look like a piker. Still, the Lord indeed comes after me and, in the final analysis, I am grateful.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Have Heard, Lord (A Personal Prayer)

I Have Heard, Lord

Lord, I have heard your Holy Word and I have understood. You are the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. You never grow weak or weary and no one truly fathoms the depth of your understanding.

You give power to the weak and strength to the powerless. I trust you, Lord, and, according to your promise, I will find new strength and soar high on wings like eagles. I will run and not grow weary; I will walk and not faint.

Even more Lord, I am blessed because I know you have called me back from the ends of the earth and have said, “Dwight, you are my servant. I have chosen you and will not throw you away.” For this I am ever grateful my God and I am not afraid because I know you are with me. I have abundant courage because I know that you are my God. I draw my strength from you and know that you are always there to help me when I need you. I am more than blessed my God; you hold me up with your victorious right hand.

[from Isaiah 40:28-31; 41:9-10.]

By L. Dwight Turner