Friday, September 18, 2009

Formation in Christ: Align and Abide

L.Dwight Turner

If a person is discerning enough to see beneath the sea of “Sunday smiles” and outward displays of spiritual satisfaction, it would quickly become apparent that many Christians seem to be living, in the words of Thoreau, lives of "quiet desperation.” It is as if many sincere believers are staggering about under a dark cloud of disappointment and, deep in their inner core, asking themselves, “Is this all there is?” Although Jesus came to give abundant life, it is quite commonplace to see depression, anxiety, fear, and a host of other negative emotional states ride on the backs of sincere Christians and, to make matters worse, most have no clue as to why.

Even the most superficial scan of scripture will reveal that this is not the way things were intended to be. We are, in fact, promised to "have life more abundantly" (John 10:10). So what is the basic issue here? Why are so many within the Body of Christ so beset?

The basic issue here seems to be one of misalignment. Let me explain this in brief. Scripture reveals that we are composed of three aspects, Body, Psyche, and Spirit. Space does not permit a detailed description of this tripartite makeup of our being, but a few words of explanation or in order.

1. Our body is the home of our being while here on earth. God created us primarily as spirit beings, but in order to dwell in the physical world, we need a physical home, thus our physical bodies.

2. Things become a bit more complicated when discussing our mind. The biblical term most often used to describe this aspect of our being is “soul” and the Greek word is “psuche.” It is obvious that our English term “psyche” is derived from this word. Our psyche includes our cognitive life (thoughts), our emotions, our will and our habituated responses to life (our habits). Since the Fall, our Spirit has been inactive and our soul or psyche has been in charge. This was not what God intended and the results of this usurpation of power have been dismal.

3. Our Spirit is the key to living a life in accordance with God’s will and plan. Our human spirit became inactive at the Fall, and was dethroned by our psyche. Yet, God intended for our human spirit to be the vehicle whereby the Holy Spirit could communicate with each of us. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for the human “spirit” is “pneuma” and is the same word as the one used in Holy “Spirit.” Obviously, God intended a strong connection between our spirits and the Holy Spirit. Further, it was our human spirit that God intended to be used when we communicated with the spiritual world.

Once our spirit is reactivated through conversion, we are supposed to live a life where the Spirit is in the pilot's seat so to speak, directing the thoughts and actions of the mind and body. But here is the rub. Just because we become Christians, the mind doesn't just go away. The old mind remains strong and active. Here perhaps a better word is psyche. The psyche is composed of our thoughts, feelings, temperament, and affections.

It is important to understand that the psyche has a life of its own and, more importantly, it has its own agenda. All of our life, the psyche has been in charge. The psyche has called the shots and it isn't about to give up this role without a fight. So the fact of the matter is that as soon as we enter the Christian walk, a battle is set up inside between the psyche and the spirit. This battle is basically between our old self and our new self or, as Paul puts it, between our flesh and our spirit.

As Christians, we are called to walk in the Spirit. What does this mean? It means the Spirit is supposed to take precedent in our lives. The Spirit is the presence of God within us. This is our new command center. But, as stated earlier, there is an internal war in progress and the fact is, our enemy in this sense is our psyche. It is our psyche that has to be put under control of the spirit. This process is never easy and we can never accomplish it on our own. But we are not left alone to fight this battle. God has promised to empower us to emerge victorious. He has said in Ezekiel that He will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh; a new and living heart, controlled and directed by the Holy Spirit.

The problem is most Christians lose this battle on a daily basis because they have not been taught, or if they have been taught, they have resisted, the methodology of how to procure the necessary tools to fight the enemy and ultimately gain victory over their old self.

The solution to this problem is complicated on some levels perhaps, but basically it is quite simple. We have to undergo a realignment whereby our bodies, psyche, and spirit become a functioning whole with a unified purpose. This new alignment is under the direction of the Spirit. As we go through the process of this alignment, we are also told by Christ that we are to abide. "Abide in me.." he tells us. So we can say that what we are called to do is to align and abide. The problem is that most Christians never learn how to do this. There are many reasons for this but space does not allow for a discussion of that here. At its core, this problem I think has resulted from the ongoing faith/works controversy and has placed much of the church in a position of being dis-empowered and paralyzed spiritually. What the church must now do is to rediscover how to align and abide. I say rediscover because the methodology for this process has been around since the beginning of the church.

One other note here. Any discussion of alignment should include the fact that this process has an inner dimension and an outer dimension. Actually, there is no real distinction in essence, but to define it in these terms seems more comprehensive. The inner dimension involves achieving an alignment as follows:


The outer dimension involves the alignment spoken of by Christ in the Gospel of John when he prays that we are in Him as he is in the Father. So the outer dimension looks like this:


Looked at from this perspective, the inner dimension reflects the reality that the mind, when controlled by the Spirit in proper alignment, is the mediator between the Spirit and the body and thus, the mediator between the Spirit and our actions in the world. That is why we have to "renew our minds" or, again in the words of Paul, "have the mind of Christ". Only by doing so can we then effectively incarnate the Spirit through us and into the world. The outer dimension reflects the reality of the Gospel in its essence. It is only through Christ that we can connect with the Father and this awareness sheds light on Jesus' statement that he who has seen me has seen the Father. It is also scripturally sound in that it reflects the words of Paul that alludes to the fact that there is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ.

How then are we supposed to bring the needed realignment about? The process is quite simple to understand, but sometimes difficult to apply. What we have to do is:

1. Trust God to do what He says he will do. We have to trust in and rely on the Holy Spirit.

2. We have to look to Christ as our model of how to walk in faith.

3. We have to rediscover the value and the power of "Spiritual Disciplines"

4. We have to directly confront and, with the help of the Spirit, deal with the psyche in all its subtle ramifications and retrain it to be subordinate to and in line with the directions of the Spirit. This is accomplished by following the Spirits lead as it "convicts of sin.” Many times what we call "sin" is a direct result of "misalignment". I think it can also be said that our problem with misalignment began with the Fall, when the original couple tried to “be as god” and wound up putting the soul (psyche) on the throne where Spirit should rule. That is where all behavior that we call sin comes from.

5. At LifeBrook, we often stress what we call “conscious cognition” as a vital part in abiding. Basically, this refers to the process of renewing the mind in general and dealing with our thought life in particular. Conscious Cognition involves directly dealing with our thoughts, taking thoughts captive for Christ, tearing down strongholds, and learning to think in more positive, optimistic, and constructive ways.

6. Perhaps the most significant aspect of establishing a life that is aligned with God and continues to abide in His will is obedience. More than anything else, obedience allows us to abide in God’s will more continuously and to manifest that will in proactive ways.

A misalignment where the psyche is dominant and the Spirit negated, even if it accomplishes much, can accomplish nothing that does not, at least at a subtle level, bear the taint of selfishness. Secondly, in order to accomplish this realignment we must "renew our minds" and I can think of no better way to do this than by actively sowing the seed of the Word of God into our hearts. Remember, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

The sequence is important: first we align, and then we abide. Abiding is nothing more or less than maintaining our connection with the life giving Spirit of Christ. We must ever keep before us the words of the Master:

Apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

We align by initiating a practice of spiritual disciplines that have been used for centuries in the church; practices such as prayer in its various forms, meditation (sacred silence and listening to God), study of and reflection upon Scripture, submission, service, and any other practice that is biblical, places Christ at the center, and seeks to discern God’s will and carry it out.

Again, proper alignment is central to every aspect of the Christian life. Without proper alignment we are more prone to walking in our own illusions and making mistakes, sometimes big and sometimes small. And what is it we are to align with? The answer is a simple one. We are to align with the Spirit of God that has been placed within us by the loving hand of the Father. At conversion our human spirit again became what it was in Genesis, alive. The Hebrew word for this is chay and the Greek is Zoe. New Testament writers almost always used this word, zoe, to describe life. Zoe is not ordinary life – the Greek word for that is bios – the root of our English word biology, which refers to the study of life. No, zoe was something far more significant. Zoe referred to “the life of God.”

This life, which God breathed into humanity at creation, was the animating force that gave life to our human spirit. With the Fall, this “zoe” or “chay” departed and in a way that was both real and symbolic, the human race became spiritual dead. Why? Because we no longer existed in union with God and, more to the point, we no longer had communion with God. Making matters worse, there was absolutely nothing that we humans could do about it. In and of ourselves, we were powerless to fix it. If a solution came, it would have to be from God.

Fortunately, God did provide a solution. We read about that solution in the famous Prologue to John’s Gospel. In the 18 verses that introduce his gospel, John paints a vivid picture of creation, the Fall, and God’s creative intervention to re-establish communion with his creation and restore life to the human Spirit. The whole drama centers of the person of Jesus Christ and provides us with a very clear picture of who and what Christ was (and still is). In a verse most telling, John tells us in regards to the Master:

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

Sometimes what an author doesn’t say is as important as what he does say. In his prologue, John doesn’t say “In Him was bios,” which is the Greek word for physical life and the root where we get our English word biology. No, John instead chooses to say “In Him was zoe,” which implies “God’s life.” In essence, John is saying that in Christ the same life, God’s life, that existed in the Garden, was once again returning to earth. Something that had departed eons before with a bite out of a piece of fruit, was now returning with a birth in a stable.

As we are able align and abide, our zoe, our very life, becomes more vital and spirit-filled. More importantly, with proper alignment it is spirit-controlled. We then abide and, in the words of Paul, by abiding we are able to walk in the Spirit.

When we arrive at this point where we are able to truly walk in the spirit, with our renewed minds and our spirit-controlled body in proper alignment, we tend to experience the polar opposite of those harshly negative mental and emotional states discussed early in this post. Instead, Paul speaks clearly to us, saying that if we walk in the Spirit we will experience such blessed states as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Accepting God's Promises: It's Your Choice

L. Dwight Turner

Christ calls us and, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live lives of glory and significance. Many of us have spent years accepting a gospel that is only partially presented. Yes, we may have grasped the importance of the cross and what Christ accomplished in terms of atonement, justification, and putting us back in right standing with the Father. This is, of course, the essential foundation of the gospel message, but it is far, far from the whole story.

Through the events of the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost, Christ accomplished far more than many of us understand and, to put it quite frankly, far more than any human may be capable of understanding. The real tragedy in all of this, however, is the reality that so many of us have failed to grasp even those aspects of the whole gospel story that are clearly understandable. As a result, many sincere followers of the Master are living far beneath their God-given and Christ-ordained potential. I am certain this must be a cause for great sadness in the heavenly places.

I have hope, however, that this situation can be rectified and that more and more of us can come to a place of understanding of the complete gospel message. I firmly believe that part of God’s purpose for the age in which we live is to have increasing numbers of Christians come to understand and apply the divine principles that will allow us to appropriate the full measure of the blessings the Lord has already provided. These principles are clearly outlined in scripture and once we consistently put these teachings into practice, our lives can and will change dramatically.

Although there are many aspects of life that are beyond our control, the one place we do have control is in our reactions to life events. Let's face it, life can be difficult. Each day we face myriad responsibilities, problems, challenges, duties and tasks. Each of these realities has the potential to derail us if we let them. Each of these daily realities can drain us of vital energy and cause us to lose sight of our goals and dreams. Yet the amazing truth is that, even though we have to face many challenges and difficulties in life, we do not have to allow them to send us off the tracks. Granted, there are many circumstances that flow into our lives that are beyond our control. But equally true is the fact that we can control how we respond to these events.

We have it in our power to respond to events in our lives in either a negative manner or a positive manner. It is up to us to choose. The sooner we learn that our quality of life depends on our quality of thought, and that the quality of our thought depends on what we choose to think, the sooner we will find ourselves rapidly accelerating down the road to self-improvement and spiritual fulfillment.

In my case, it took me far too long to accept responsibility for what I could control in my life. As a result, I wasted valuable time spinning my wheels and basically feeling miserable and desperate. It was only through God’s infinite patience and steadfast pursuit of me that I finally woke up and came to my senses. I finally came to understand that I have a choice about how I react to things. Shortly after this revelation, another important truth dawned in my mind.

I realized that I had a choice about whether or not to accept Christ at his word as revealed in scripture.

Now, please, understand what I am getting at here. I have come to realize that many of us say that we believe and accept what Christ tells us in those red-letter sections of our Bibles. Christ said it so it must be true, right?

Well, the fact is, we may say that we believe it but our actions and our emotions tell us otherwise. If we believe, for example, that if we have faith we can say to a mountain be thou removed and it will be removed, why are we not doing so? If we believe that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to accomplish miracles in our lives, why are we not exercising that tiny grain of faith? If Christ promised that we could do everything he could do and even more, then why are we walking around under the weight of so much spiritual oppression, allowing the enemy and his minions to hammer us like a birthday piƱata?

The fact is maybe we really don’t believe what Christ told us.

This was the second revelation that came upon me, shortly after the first awareness dawned that I, in fact, had a choice in many things that happened in my life. I also realized that I had a choice whether or not to accept Christ at his word. And you, my friend, also have that choice.

So the question becomes: What will you choose?

We all have our mountains in life: mountains of illness, poverty, betrayal, persecution, addiction, disharmony in relationships, employment – the list goes on and on. If you choose to take Christ at his word, it is time to start speaking to those mountains. It is time to pick up the mantle of authority that Christ left for you and start using it in your daily life. You have a lot more power and authority than you realize. The only thing standing in your way is your failure to choose correctly. So it is vital to ask yourself once again: Do I believe, really believe, what Christ said?

If in the final analysis you find that you don’t believe it, I would encourage you to pray for insight into the issue. If you do believe it, however, then it is time to start dealing with those mountains.

In my younger days I was an avid bicyclist and specialized in doing long distance rides. It was not uncommon for me to go out on a weekend and take part in rides of 50, 80, and occasionally, 100-mile century rides. The hard part, of course, involved hills and/or mountains. I found that the best way to deal with these obstacles was to get a running start. That made the first part of the climb much easier.

The same principle holds true for dealing with the mountains in your life. Get a good running start by becoming completely familiar with the promises God has made in the Bible. Spend some significant time studying passages of scripture where your rights, privileges, inheritance, and blessings as a child of God are discussed. You will be surprised at things you may have missed or forgotten – promises made by Christ and by the Father. God is a God of integrity and scripture tells us he cannot lie. You can count on those promises. You can take them to the bank.

So begin right there, by studying scripture and get yourself a good, running start. Then start speaking to those mountains in your life and remove all doubt from your mind. Believe the spiritual laws and principles Christ taught you and you will not be disappointed.

© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved