Saturday, May 30, 2009

Christian Success Principles: Claim Your Identity In Christ

L. Dwight Turner

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new
Creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Since I was a child, I have had a passionate fascination with bears. It all started when I was around five-years-old and my family took a vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was on this memorable trip that I saw my first bear and it was love at first sight.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I took every opportunity I could to go and see a bear, whether it be in a carnival, a traveling circus, or in a zoo. I also spent hours studying about bears in encyclopedias and books. I guess no one can really explain why a young person develops these sorts of interests. For many, the fascination passes as adulthood arrives with its myriad responsibilities and other interest. For me, however, I still love bears.

With this information as a backdrop, you can imagine how excited I became back in the early 90’s when I learned that the Miami Zoo had obtained a rare, Tibetan Bear. I was living in Miami at the time and read about the bear in the newspaper. The next day I drove out to the zoo to take a look at the Tibetan Bear.

The zoo in Miami is of the modern type. Animals are not kept in cages, but instead roam with relative freedom, separate from spectators by large ditches, canals, or non-descript fencing. I arrived at the zoo and inquired as to the whereabouts of the Tibetan Bear. I strolled over to the area where the bear was being kept and I was in awe.

A relatively smallish bear, the Tibetan Bear has long hair, brownish red, and a face with much character. The bear was near the small canal that ran between the walkway where I stood and the enclosure where it lived. After observing the animal for several minutes, I noticed something quite odd about its behavior. The bear paced endlessly in the same pattern. It would take eight steps in one direction, slowly pivot on one of its front feet, turn, and take eight steps in the opposite direction. The creature kept this up for the entire time I was there, a total of almost thirty minutes.

Inquiring about this strange behavior, the zookeeper told me the bear was about six-years-old and had lived its entire life in a cage. The eight steps was the exact distance from one side of the cage to the other. The bear had implanted a deep pattern of behavior based on its former environment. It had never been able to take more than eight steps in one direction and now, even though it had the freedom to roam as far as it wanted, it still only took eight steps. According to the zookeeper, a trainer worked with the bear each day in an attempt to help it “unlearn” the old pattern of restrictive behavior. The zookeeper said that most animals that had lived in cages for most of their lives had similar patterns of behavior.

On my way home I reflected on this and had one of those moments of personal epiphany. I realized that I, like the bear and a majority of the Christians that I knew, had a similar problem. Through Christ’s mission on earth, we have had our bars removed as well. The cage of sin and self has been removed and we captives have been set free. As the scripture from 2 Corinthians that opened this article states, “we are new creations.” The old has gone and the new has come. This is part of the good news of the gospel and the result of the healing work Christ’s victory has obtained. Each of us, when we accepted Jesus as Lord, was given a new identity “in Christ.”

So why is it we continue, like the bear, to walk as if we were still behind bars? Why do we continue to behave in the same destructive ways that we did before? Why is it that so few of us seem to walk in the newness of life that Christ promised and Paul spoke of so often?

I think there are many reasons for this unfortunate reality. Part of the reason is just the sheer force of habit. Whenever we repeat a behavior over and over, we tend to eventually do it automatically. In a real sense, we become machine-like. Our world pushes a button and we respond in a predictable way. Another reason is our faulty thinking. Let’s get one fact down deep. Our behavior starts with our thinking or, as said often, the thought is the ancestor of the action. Until we change our thinking, we won’t effectively change our behavior.

Paul realized how important our thinking was to our behavior. That’s why he said we needed to “renew our minds.” All lasting change starts with a mental makeover.

One other reason why we continue to walk in our old ways, even though scripture screams we are new creations, stems from the fact that either we don’t realize that we are new creations or we don’t believe it. Perhaps this needs a bit of clarification.

The Church as a whole has been expert at preaching the gospel of the blood and forgiveness of sin. Christ died as a ransom for many and, even though we don’t deserve it, we can now come into God’s presence as if we were spotless. As great a message as this is, it only half the story. Yes, Christ won our forgiveness but he also did something else. He won our victory over our sin and our sinful nature. Go back and review Romans 5-8 to get a true picture of all this.

By his resurrection and his ascension Christ has made possible, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our sanctification, meaning, we are now operating under a new set of circumstances, with the Holy Spirit working inside of us. Many Christians are unaware of this reality for two primary reasons: first, the vast majority of believers are biblically illiterate. Recent studies by George Barna more than bear this out; and second, pastors typically preach more about the blood than they do the resurrection, the ascension, and our subsequent empowerment.

Other Christians are aware of the fact that they are new creations in Christ, but just don’t believe it. This is a tragedy because just the act of believing what scripture says about us goes a long way toward helping us to manifest this new reality in our lives. Look at it like this: we receive salvation by accepting Christ’s atonement by faith; why don’t we also accept the second half of the gospel by faith? Why don’t we, using our faith in all that Christ has accomplished, accept the gift of our own progressive movement toward receiving the “fullness of Christ?”

In essence, a big part of our problem as Christians is the fact that we sell ourselves short. We don’t understand who we are and what we are in Christ. Even more devastating, we don’t accept and apply our new identity to daily living and we end up only being marginally effective. Like the Tibetan Bear, we pace back and forth in the same old ruts, the same old worn out ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. If we continue to do this and expect results any different than what we have experienced in the past, we are sadly mistaken.

No, my friends, it is time for a change and that change begins with recognizing, understanding, accepting, and applying the blessed gifts of being “in Christ.” I encourage you to not put this off another day. Start today by taking a few minutes out of your schedule, sitting down and getting quiet and centered, and ask God to reveal to you the full understanding of your status as his child. Ask God to show you, especially in scripture, just what Christ accomplished for you in his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his successful mission into this world.

Begin a personal Bible study in which you explore this whole business of being “in Christ.” Keep a notebook handy and jot down your thoughts, insights, and ideas. They may be useful reminders as you move forward in the process of appropriating your new identity.

In addition, boldly open your mouth and make firm, biblical declarations of who and what you are, now that you are “in Christ.” Confess openly that you are a child of the Living God and an heir with Christ. This is the proper use of declaration and profession.

For example, a potent biblical declaration of your new identity might be:

I take possession of the reality that in Christ I am a new creation; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Another example fosters awareness of the fact that God indeed cares for his children:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. All things work together for my greatest good.

Compose two or three such brief declarations and repeat them many times each day. With each repetition the biblical revelation of your reborn and restored status in Christ sinks deeper into the fertile soil of your subconscious mind. In time, you will find that your perception of personal identity has undergone a seismic shift and your mind will indeed be renewed.

© L.D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Further Reflections on Godly Goals

L. Dwight Turner

I am of the firm conviction that God desires that we live in a way that fosters our spiritual development, increases our capacity to serve others, and instills a consistent sense of hope and optimism for the future. I also am convinced that a primary component of such a mode of living is the establishment and fulfillment of godly goals.

What is a godly goal? A godly goal is one that is first and foremost in line with biblical principles and leads us forward in pursuing the potential and the purpose that the Lord has for our lives. A godly goal acts almost like a magnet, pulling us toward itself, helping us to become more complete individuals possessing both confidence and a commitment to excellence. In short, godly goals enable us to become the optimal version of ourselves for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

Usually you can easily discern whether or not a person has goals in his or her life. A person with clear cut, reasonable, and obtainable goals will demonstrate a sense of direction in life. He will not be seen wandering willy-nilly about in life, going four steps in one direction, then three steps in another. No, an individual with godly goals will know where he is headed, what it is going to take to get there, and will have formulated an energy-efficient plan to arrive at his stated aim.

Recognizing that time and energy is a priceless commodity in today’s hectic world, a person with godly goals wastes neither.

Another quality seen in people with clearly established goals that are biblical and directed toward divine purpose is a sense of excitement. If a person has such a goal, she is usually passionate about it and approaches each day with optimistic excitement, realizing that the day before her will provide opportunities to move closer to the achievement of her goal. It is this very passion that fuels consistent motivation, especially during those times when events may be running counter to plans and expectations.

When I think of the sense of excitement and passion that comes from having clearly defined and obtainable goals in life, my friend Dale comes to mind. Dale is a person who seems to have a boundless supply of energy. Far from manic, Dale’s level of energy is high but it is also focused. In all the years I have known Dale, I don’t think I have ever heard him complain of being tired, overly stressed, or burned out. This is remarkable, considering the pace that Dale often operates at. I once interviewed Dale for an article I was writing for medical students in their first year of studies. In that interview, I asked Dale what was the source of his seemingly unlimited store of energy and stamina. At first he told me that he always approached each day with a sense of meaning and purpose in his life and that God had clearly given him that meaning and that purpose. However, he didn’t stop there.

“Having a God-given meaning and purpose for life is essential,” continued my friend. “But what really motivates me and fills me with positive energy is having clear-cut goals that I am working toward each day. Meaning, purpose, mission…those are all important but they are also abstract. I am the kind of person that needs something I can get my hands around to get me excited. Having those short-term, achievable goals gives me that.”

In short, having goals that are not only clearly defined, but that are also attainable provide us with several important components of a meaningful life. First, they give us direction and purpose. Knowing what we are shooting for allows us to be efficient with our personal energy. Instead of running in five directions at once, we move in a straight line toward our destination. Second, goals give us a sense of excitement and passion in life. We can wake up each day knowing that we are consistently moving toward the achievement of something that is important to us.

Charles Stanley speaks clearly to the fundamental principle that Christians should keep before them when setting goals in life, whether long-term or short-term, great or small:

Every other goal must be placed under this priority goal – to know Christ and to be conformed to His likeness. If you have set for yourself a goal that is not in line with this priority goal, God will not help you accomplish it because He didn’t encourage you to set it. If a goal cannot be placed under this supreme goal of knowing Christ and being formed to His character, that goal is contrary to God’s purposes for your life, and God will oppose you in your attempts to achieve it.

The setting of godly goals should not be such a difficult process, yet many of us make it more complicated than it actually is. A Christian goal, as mentioned earlier by Charles Stanley, is based on the reality that each of us called to be conformed by the Holy Spirit into an increasingly likeness of Jesus Christ. With that matrix as a workable backdrop, we can say that we are to have goals that place us in a receptive position whereby the Holy Spirit can do the work on us that He wants to do. Charles Stanley lists the following generalized Christian goals:

To walk in the Spirit daily
• To experience the same kind of awesome Holy Spirit power that Jesus Christ experienced
• To serve God in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power
• To maximize my full potential
• To use all of my talents and abilities in the way God created them to be used
• To fulfill God’s purpose for my life
• To experience and enjoy life to its fullest
• To have a feeling of deep and abiding satisfaction that I have fulfilled God’s goals for my life
• To know the joy that comes in knowing Christ

Returning to a theme mentioned in the initial paragraphs, as Christians we can only expect these positive results from godly goals – goals that are biblical and in line with God’s overall purpose for life. The significance of setting biblical goals should be obvious. By pursuing godly goals we are making every effort to become the optimal version of ourselves. We are, in summation, working toward not only our specific goals in life, but we are also moving toward becoming the best that we can be, all for the glory of God. Here are just a few of the spiritual benefits of working with biblical, godly goals:

We will consistently walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

We will make steady progress toward realizing our God-given potential.

We will utilize our spiritual gifts in effective, Spirit-directed ways.

We will expend our personal energy in an efficient manner.

We will be a vital part of the process of establishing God’s kingdom on earth.

We will experience life to its fullest and enjoy life more.

We will become increasingly optimistic.

Pursuing godly goals that are aligned with biblical principles is the task set before each and every one of us as Christians. Many say that setting and achieving goals is important in life. No doubt this is true, but I think it goes much farther than that. I think setting and realizing godly goals is a mandate for followers of Christ.

Why do I say this? It is simple, really. God has given each of us a unique and vital purpose in life. In order to meet that purpose, I believe it is critical that we become the optimal version of ourselves. If we are to become the best that we can be, we have to set goals and achieve those goals. That way, we not only improve ourselves (with the help of the Holy Spirit), but we also glorify God by becoming all that we can be. Further, we grow into a position where we can be useful servants, working toward making life better for others while, at the same time, bringing God’s kingdom into concrete realization here in this world.

One other aspect of Christian goal setting and personal development should be mentioned and it has to do with the necessity of “stretching” ourselves. Basically, our goals should be ones that force us to grow by increasingly taking steps out of our comfort zones. For example, when I taught English in China I often told my students that they should always seek out conversation partners for practicing English that were slightly better than they were. The reason for this should be obvious. If a student practiced with someone who was at their same level or below, they would never be forced to improve. However, if they consistently practiced with a partner who had skills that were slightly above theirs, they would repeatedly be forced to expand their own skills. Granted, practicing with someone far beyond their language skills was not recommended. However, regular practice with a partner who was only slightly better was a sure way to improve their own skills.

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

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

Interestingly, we begin this process with the setting of sound, biblical goals. And, it is the continual setting of these godly goals that carries the whole mission forward. In this sense, biblical goals are both a means and an end.

© L. Dwight Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A God of Purpose - A God of Provision

L. Dwight 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 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.

The good news is, however, that we serve a God of purpose and provision. The Father of Lights has a well-planned purpose for this world which involves redemption and restoration. He is proactive in redeeming what was lost in the Garden and, joined at the hip of this plan of redemption, is the reality of restoration. Each of us, and that includes you and me, are being redeemed for the purpose of restoring God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. We are being redeemed in order to bring about the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Please note that I use the word “redeemed” not just in the past tense, but in the sense of an ongoing process. We were indeed redeemed when we acknowledged and accepted Christ for who and what he was and is, but it doesn’t stop there. The process of redemption continues and goes deeper and deeper as our bodies, our minds, our wills, and our spirits, become properly aligned with those of the Master. In essence, we were given new life and a new identity at our second birth. Now each of us is in the process of growing into that life in increasing measure. The goal is that we have, as Paul so aptly puts it, the “full measure of Christ” within us.

We are given this new life, this new status, and this new power for the primary purpose of continuing the incarnation that we saw so vividly in the life of Jesus. The Master announced the coming of the kingdom and then proceeded to go about the work of making it manifest in this world. And hear this, he charged us with the task of carrying on where he left off. Furthermore, he sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, empower us, and guide us forward in that holy process. God not only has given us a calling and a purpose, he has provided the power we need to meet that purpose and make it a living reality.

In 2 Peter 1:4 we are told that God has put us in a position where we can share in his divine nature. No, that doesn’t mean he has made us Gods, or even little gods as some have suggested. It does mean, however, that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now resides in each of us. The Father of Lights, as stated earlier, is not only a God of purpose, but also a God of provision, enabling us to meet the challenges of doing those things that he has called us to do. Friends, if you can understand that principle, make it yours through faith, and take action based on it, you can succeed at any God-directed, God-ordained calling.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Radical Optimism

L. Dwight Turner

More than a few Christians go through their days as if dark clouds were hanging over their heads and exhibiting a countenance that indicated they began each day being baptized in vinegar rather than water. Some of the worst scowls I have ever seen draped the faces of Christians as they sat like rigid corpses in their Sunday sanctuaries. These good folks had come together to make a joyful noise unto the Lord but believe me, if one of these stone-faced soldiers of the Living God ever cracked a genuine smile on the Sabbath, the ensuing shock waves would register over 7.0 on the Richter Scale.

This is not how God intended those of us who consider ourselves followers of the Master Jesus to live. On the contrary, I firmly believe that being a Christian is synonymous with being an optimist.

Both scripture and common sense screams that negativity and pessimism are not what God intended for his children. The Christian life was meant to be a joyous affair instead of an ordeal to be endured. Granted, life will always have its difficulties, but even when we face trials, I believe that God desires that we do so with as much optimism and hope as possible.

Personally, I have come to believe that one of the fundamental keys to a life of Christian optimism is to have positive expectations based on scripture and the integrity of God.

Think about it. In Romans Paul tells us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that promise should keep us in a positive frame of mind, even during times of difficulty and trial. In case you are not familiar with this passage, or if you have forgotten it, let’s take a look at what Paul says in Romans 8: 38-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

If we trust God and believe what scripture tells us, then we have every right to be completely optimistic about the present and the future. This is not a false, “pie in the sky” optimism nor is it a Pollyanna style denial of reality. No, this biblical optimism is based entirely on scripture and God’s character. God is a being of integrity and further, he cannot lie. Our optimism is based on the firm foundation of God’s promises and his character.

The enjoyment of life flows from trusting God and, through that trust, to have positive expectations in life. We have every right to believe deep in our hearts that God truly desires our happiness because he is the Father of Lights and we are Children of the Light. Indeed, scripture affirms that God wishes that we “prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)

This has nothing to do with what has come to be known as the “prosperity gospel.” Here I think John is speaking of the fact that God desires our happiness and enjoyment of life and we proper in life. Yes, this can mean financial wealth, but it can also mean emotional and spiritual wealth. We have every right to expect the best because God wants the best for his children.

John mentions here the fact that our soul prospers. What is he talking about? In brief, as humans we are tripartite beings, meaning that we have three aspects to our being. Just as God exists as a Trinity, in a real sense, so do we. Our three-part make up consists of body, soul, and spirit. The soul consists of our mind, our emotions, and our will. God’s original intention was that our spirit be in the driver’s seat and in direct communication with God. Based on this divine connection, our spirit governed our soul and our bodies. Due to the Fall, this arrangement was distorted and, because of our spiritual death, it became necessary that the soul take up the command of our lives. The results of this, of course, are quite negative and adverse to God’s intentions.

When we accepted Christ into our hearts, ideally the original order of things was restored, at least on a spiritual level. When we live from our spirit (walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh), our soul does indeed prosper and we can enjoy life and expect the best.

Having positive expectations based on scriptural promises leads to a realistic and practical optimism which impacts all aspects of life. That is why at Sacred Mind Ministries we often refer to the Christian brand of optimism as “Holistic Optimism.” Rather than a vague, generic form of positive thinking, true holistic optimism is a dynamic force that affects the believer’s life on all levels. Further, the Christian optimist is a person who is highly practical, very resilient, and enjoys life, even at times when things may not be going as we desire. The Christian optimist knows that God wants her best and wants her to prosper and enjoy life in all its magnitude and glory. Also, she is well aware that God has said very directly that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate her from God’s love.

How can we justify anything less than positive expectations which flow from a biblical worldview and dynamic optimism? Personally, I think to expect less or expect the worst is an insult to God. It is telling God you do not trust him or his promises.

Even when we feel disappointed, discouraged, or overwhelmed, we can still respond in a positive manner. It is vitally important that you understand that optimism is not a denial of the pain one encounters in life. Remember Scott Peck’s runaway best seller, entitled The Road Less Traveled? The opening statement of Peck’s book was, “Life is difficult.” Peck was right in his assessment. Life can surely be difficult at times. Buddha, over two and a half millennia ago, was even more pessimistic. The first of his Four Noble Truths said that “all life is suffering.”

Even more relevant to the Christian optimist is the fact that Jesus told his disciples they could expect trouble in life. They did experience trouble and so do we. However, Jesus also gave them two important reasons to not let these troubles dampen their optimism. The Lord said two things that are of great comfort to those with ears to hear:

I have overcome the world.

I am with you, even until the end of the age.

Armed with these promises, the Christian optimist can face any difficult situation might throw his or her way. I know that when many of you read this, the first thing that pops into your mind is, “But….” Chances are whatever words come after the “but” is an attempt on your part to either justify why you are a pessimist or to explain why what Christ said may be true for some, but not for you. For some, this process of rationalizing away what the Master Jesus clearly stated is an attempt to hold on to our negativity. I have met more than a few folks who cling very tightly to their pessimism and dark moods. As unhealthy as this sound, and it is quite unhealthy, this trend is fairly prevalent, even in the Body of Christ.

In some ways, pessimism is a coping mechanism that a believer might misguidedly employ as a means of emotional protection. I have a good friend Jeremy who fits this example. Generally a decent, caring, and devoted Christian, Jeremy is quite prone to finding a dark cloud in every silver lining.

On several occasions I have talked with my friend about this issue and surprisingly, he is quite aware of his chronic pessimism. In discussing the matter with Jeremy, I discovered that his thinking was quite different from a positive thinking Christian who expects good things in life. In fact, Jeremy expects the exact opposite. This came to light during a three-day workshop Sacred Mind Ministries taught at Jeremy’s church. Already aware of just how negative a mindset he had, I was interested in how he might respond to the training program.

On the second day, Jeremy’s team leader gave each person a scriptural affirmative statement to work with. The idea of the assignment was to see how creative each person might be in finding ways to incorporate frequent repetition of the affirmative statement into their busy schedule. When we went around the group, the various team members shared the methods they had devised and how it felt to tap into this new way of renewing the mind.

The scriptural affirmation assigned to Jeremy was, “And there shall be showers of blessing for me.” (Ezk. 34:26) The teams broke for 10 minutes of individual quiet time, during which each person would experiment with repeating the scriptural affirmation. Jeremy, however, declined to participate.

I asked my friend why he did not want to take part in the exercise. He was quite direct in his response:

“I just don’t think I can do that, mostly because it might just work,” said Jeremy. “You see, I always try to not look for or expect too much out of life. That way, when I don’t get what I expect, I am not so disappointed.”

I understood what Jeremy meant because I have heard the same words come out of the mouths of more than a few sincere believers.

“Let me ask you something, Jeremy,” I responded. “Do you figure that’s how God wants you to live?”

“Well, I never really thought about it in that context.”

“Let me ask one more question,” I pressed. “Do you figure that’s why Christ left his home in heaven, came down here into this broken world, fulfilled his mission, and allowed himself to be put to death – just so you could live in fear of expecting too much.?”

Jeremy didn’t respond, but he didn’t engage in the exercise, either. You see, Jeremy has built up a stronghold of pessimism in his mind and it has literally become a part of his coping skills. Changing this perspective will be difficult, but it can be done. I have walked through that difficult terrain myself, but that is another story. Suffice to say that with God’s help and with a person’s sincere cooperation, this type of “defensive pessimism” can be transformed into a dynamic, radical optimism.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying in this article. I am not suggesting that the Christian life is a bed of roses or any kind of journey that is without pain. M. Scott Peck begins his landmark book The Road Less Traveled with these three reality based words: “Life is difficult.” It is rare that three little words can contain such a profound and accurate view of life, especially in these challenging economic and social times. Peck then goes on in the book to express the theory that most emotional problems, especially neurosis, can be tracked back to a person’s multi-faceted attempts to avoid accepting the stark reality that “life is difficult.

The Christian optimist would generally agree with Peck; life is, indeed, difficult. The difference between a Christian optimist and a person who views life through a more neurotic lens is the Christian’s gut-level acceptance that no matter what he or she faces, the Master they serve has overcome the world and therefore, in the final analysis, has provided a way through life’s difficulties. Further, the Christian optimist has a habit of turning life’s difficulties into positive opportunities. This is no “pie in the sky” response, but instead, the Christian optimist takes to heart the scriptural promise that God will not burden any person with more than they are equipped to bear. This is especially true for the Christian.

© L.D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Renewing the Mind: The Importance of Scripture

L. Dwight Turner

In today’s world we have what can best be described as a “spiritual marketplace.” In addition to the Christian faith as well as the other major religions of the world, we have numerous splinter groups, misguided cults, and New Age groups of every color and stripe. In such an environment where so many spiritual options are available to genuine seekers of the light, it is important that we, as Christians, keep ourselves saturated with scripture. Doing so will not only protect us from the works and schemes of the enemy, but will also help us to grow more deeply in our walk with God. Charles Stanley speaks to this issue clearly:
Those who don’t read their Bible are subject to what Paul described as “every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4:14).

I can personally attest to the value of immersing oneself in scripture when confronted with the realities of the postmodern world in which we now live. Over the course of many years, I have not only studied, but delved deeply into numerous religions and spiritual paths. I can honestly say that I profited from this effort. It allowed me to see at some depth what other people believed and devoted their lives to. Further, every religion contains some degree of truth and has valuable teachings. To deny this is to be spiritually near-sighted. Some of these truths have helped me in many ways, including deepening my daily walk with Christ.
With that said, however, there is always a danger lurking in the shadows when we explore new and exotic teachings. As Paul says, we may get sidetracked by “every wind of doctrine.” I know from personal exploration that many ideas sound great but, when followed to their logical conclusion, are nothing but empty rabbit holes.

I find the following words by Charles Stanley to be, as usual, right on target:

As many times as I have read my entire Bible, I still have new insights into God’s Word every time I sit down to read it. The Bible is always fresh; it never grows stale. Often I find that God leads me to read a particular passage just when I need it the most. He reminds me of what I already know so that I will be able to use His truth in a very specific way in the hours or days ahead…….The wonder of God’s Word is that you can never understand it fully. God’s Word holds countless layers of insight and meaning and it is applicable in unique ways to an infinite number of situations. The more you grow in your relationship with God, the more insights you have into His character and into the way in which God operates. You have a growing understanding of who you are created to be and called to be.

One of the greatest benefits of immersing ourselves in scripture comes from the discovery that the Bible is not so much about us as it is about God. The Bible, from cover to cover, is an unfolding of God’s Great Story. It is a story of redemption, recovery, restoration, renewal, revival – whatever “R” word you might want to choose. In addition, it is a story of the bringing of God’s kingdom down from the spiritual realm and assisting with its manifestation here in the physical realm.
What is more amazing is the fact that each of us, no matter who we are, where we come from, or where we have been is an integral part of that great story. Each of us has a role to play in God’s great plan of redemption and revival. Our job is to discover that role and then play it to its fullest. That’s why we here at LifeBrook put so much stress on the notion of becoming the optimal version of yourself for the glory of God and the benefit of others. By becoming the absolute best that we can be, we are better equipped to do what God planned for us to do. He has called us to a great work and has equipped us to accomplish that work.

Recognizing that we have a purpose to fulfill in God’s larger, more magnificent story results in several important insights. First of all, it should give us a sense of humility in that we see that it is indeed “God’s Story,” not ours. He is the director, the producer, even the scriptwriter. Our part is to find out what role we are to play and to play it well. Second, realizing we are a part of God’s Great Story gives life a new perspective and deepens our sense of meaning and purpose. This awareness has a healing quality to it in that we feel connected to a purpose much larger than our own desires.

Many of us make the mistake of underestimating the significance and the power of the Bible when it comes to personal transformation in general and renewing the mind in particular. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with scriptures that, when planted into the fertile soil of our subconscious mind, can eventually take root and grow. As this process takes place, we find that our perspective on certain things begins to change, always for the better. It is this reason, as well as many others described above that I encourage you to never dismiss scripture as a major tool in your spiritual arsenal. It is truly the breath of the Holy Spirit and can be of great benefit when used properly.

© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Seven Mirrors of Sacred Living

L. Dwight Turner

Recently Sacred Mind Ministries has been conducting several two-day workshops using the curriculum entitled, “The Seven Mirrors of Sacred Living.” Below is a brief description of each mirror and what is covered in the work associated with each one. It is important to understand that we used the term “mirror” for a reason. Put simply, each component reflects the other components, thus forming a kind of “reflective hologram.”

Participants in the program are educated first about the fact that each mirror is defined accurately only when it is seen in connection with the other six. In this sense, no mirror stands alone. Instead, each mirror is engaged in a interactive choreography with the others. Further, the training and subsequent application of the mirrors to one’s daily life is less like a sequential ladder and more like a spiraling dance in which the mirrors sort of circle back on each other.

The Seven Mirrors of Sacred Living, briefly explained, are as follows:

Sacred Consecration

Consecration is a sacred act in which we formally proclaim our intention to do whatever it takes to tread the path of becoming all that we were designed to be. It involves a firm and consistent commitment to excellence.

Sacred Connection

Connecting with our Divine Source is foundational if we are to become the optimal version of ourselves. From the outset we must understand that:

We cannot do this alone

The Divine Source is there and wants to help

Our task is to establish and deepen our connection to the Divine Source

Fostering this vital and positive connection involves prayer, meditation, contemplation, and contact with others.

Sacred Comprehension

The universe operates according to basic laws that hold all things together and move them toward the Creator’s ultimate purpose for his creation. There are not only physical laws, but mental and spiritual laws that are equally inalterable. If we expect to move forward on the spiritual path, a practical, workable understanding of these laws and principles is indispensable. This also involves a basic comprehension of who and what we are, especially our psycho-energetic anatomy.

Sacred Cognition

Taking the principles we learned in the previous mirror, we now apply these fundamental laws and principles to our thought life. Recognizing that our thought in large part creates our reality, we begin to work diligently to take control of our thinking, however much a challenge this may be. We understand basically that positive thoughts create positive results and negative thoughts also create their own brand of negative reality.

It is here, in the mirror of Sacred Cognition, that we begin to apply the technology that will help us to get control of our thought life and its associated issues. This technology includes, but is not limited to:

Positive thinking
Positive imaging
Positive speaking
Positive action (act as if)
Positive Expectancy

We must ever keep before us the ideal of Sacred Character. Our world today needs more people of sound character and this entire program of endeavor is designed to cultivate what we at Sacred Mind Ministries call “Sacred Character.” It is the character exhibited by Christ and is marked by a foundation of integrity, love, and compassion.

Sacred Calling

The Creator planted a divine purpose within each of us prior to our birth on this planet and it is vital that we discover that purpose and bring it to fruition in our lives. Discovering and manifesting our Sacred Purpose is our “calling” in life and we cannot hope to become the optimal version of who we are without walking in our divine purpose. We also must understand that our individual purpose (our personal mission) is a component in the Creator’s universal mission.

Sacred Companions

We do not walk this journey alone. Instead, we need to form spiritual bonds with those who share a similar sense of mission and purpose. The development and establishment of healthy, vital, and committed spiritual communities is a fundamental component of the universal purpose for this age in which we live. These communities share common values, goals, and ideals and have a unified vision that fosters group cohesiveness and enhances community effectiveness. These groups may consist of as few as two members or can number in the thousands. It should also be mentioned that each member’s individual calling is enhanced and achieved within the milieu of the community’s overall vision.

Sacred Contribution

Through walking in our manifest Sacred Character we are better able to realize our Sacred Calling. In doing so we also are able to give flesh to grace. Just as Jesus did his Father’s work while on earth, we, too, are to embody God’s grace by making a positive contribution to the world in which we live. We do this in many ways, all of which flow out of our compassion and a sacred heart of service to others. By realizing our personal mission, we become the optimal version of ourselves and by doing so, we work toward being optimal benefit to others. Put simply, we incarnate God’s love and God’s light in this world.

© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved