Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Primer on Affirmative Prayer

prayer wallImage by ratterrell via Flickr

L.D. Turner

One of the most effective tools that we have in the process of following Paul’s injunction to renew our minds (see Romans 12:2) is “Affirmative Prayer.” My personal experience with this positive method of prayer, along with that of many clients over the years, has demonstrated to my satisfaction the effectiveness of affirmative prayer in bringing about remarkable gains in spiritual formation and personal change, provided it is carried out with commitment, consistency, and especially, simplicity.
Affirmative prayer is a fairly straight forward process but, as with many things, we humans have a marked tendency to complicate it. I know this from past experience because I have been as guilty of exhibiting this “genius for complexity” as anyone – probably more than most. It was with some degree of difficulty that I eventually learned that with most things it is best to keep it simple. With this truth in mind, let’s see if we can simplify the basics of affirmative prayer by stating the following:

When we use our affirmative thinking, put into the containers which we call words, and animate it speaking with living faith, we are able to manifest that which we desire, providing of course, that it is in alignment with God’s will.

There is really no need to mystify the process any more than that. Granted, the underlying laws and cosmic principles associated with affirmative prayer can seem a bit mysterious, but in actuality, even the laws are not all that complicated.

It is essential that we understand that this process begins with our thinking and moves forward from there. Everything that we see began somewhere as someone’s thought. Creation in all its glory began as God’s thought and came into being at God’s command, using His words. He literally called things into existence from the world of the unseen, into the world of the seen. On a smaller scale, this is how we manifest reality as well. Our thoughts begin the process and or faith-filled words empower and animate the process that results in the creation of the thing desire.
Two important factors are also involved in the process of bringing our desired outcome down out of the spirit world and into concrete manifestation. These are emotion and intention. Centuries of working with these principles has revealed that the more deeply you feel about your desired goal, the more readily it manifests in physical reality. I have found that this is precisely where imagination comes into play. When we clearly visualize what it is we desire we arouse our feeling nature, which is a natural part of our soul. We facilitate this by focusing not only on repetition of our positive prayer, but we also form a clear, concise image of the desired outcome and bring our attention to bear on that outcome. We allow the feelings that arise to become magnified and these feelings, along with our thought, image, and faith-filled words form a powerful magnetic force that will pull our desired outcome out of the spirit world, where it already exists, down into physical reality.

Intention is perhaps the most important component of affirmative prayer. Your intention is what gathers and focuses your cognitive energy in a specific direction. It is for this precise reason that your intention must be constructed carefully and spoken clearly. This is not some sort of cosmic, New Age mumbo jumbo, but instead, is a fundamental principle of positive cognition. Your words of intention accomplish several vital functions in the process of affirmative prayer. First, speaking your intention gives direction to your energy and gives firm direction to your prayer. Second, your intention lets your subconscious mind know exactly what it wants to bring down from the spirit realm and why. And finally, your spoken words contain the power necessary to animate the unfolding of the process of affirmative prayer. As stated before, your words, especially when joined to a vital foundation of faith, serve as a magnet to attract the very thing you desire.

So keep these two aspects of affirmative prayer before you at all times. Positive emotion amplifies the power of your prayer and positive intention supplies even more punch to the process. Without these two vital aspects of prayer, you may find your prayers unfocused, impotent, and ineffective.
Another key principle when using affirmative prayer can be expressed this way: use frequent repetition in present tense. Your patterns of negative thinking and behaving were not formed overnight. Instead, these unhealthy thoughts were repeated over and over again until they were firmly planted in your subconscious mind. Once that happened, these damaging thought patterns seemed to have developed a life of their own. This same principle of repetition, however, can also be utilized to your benefit. First, understand that positive thoughts are more powerful than negative thoughts. Formal research and well as the experience of countless pilgrims who have used these methods of cognitive reprogramming have confirmed the fact that one positive thought can counteract many negative ones, provided the positive thought is constructed in the present tense and is repeated many times.

The principles we have discussed here are basic but essential to the process of creating and using affirmative prayers. As stated at the outset, these principles are not overly complicated, unless of course we choose to make them so. My suggestion is that you study the relevant literature available on affirmative prayer, positive thinking, positive imaging, and the Law of Attraction. By doing so you can deepen your understanding of what is going on when you utilize affirmative prayer as a part of your spiritual path. However, don’t let your studies lead you into any unnecessary confusion or complexity. Above all:

Keep it simple!

© L.D. Turner 2010/ All Rights Reserved
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today's Encouraging Word

IconImage via Wikipedia

By faith, call those things that are divine truth in the spiritual realm into being in the natural realm. It is not a magic formula or wishful thinking. It is operating within the laws of God’s Word. Remember: Proverbs 18:21 says death and life are in the power of your tongue. You can bring death or life into every situation you face. Do not use your words to conform or mold negative situations in your life. Use your words and God’s Word to change those situations. Jesus confirmed the power of the spoken word in John 6:63, “Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making.” (Message)……God’s Word out of your mouth is filled with the same power it had coming out of His mouth. God’s Word never goes out without producing an effect. It is never powerless (see Isaiah 55:11). When you speak His Word, His power is behind it.

Duane Vander Klok
(from Unleashing the Force of Favor)
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Renewing the Kingdom Calling

FAITHImage by loswl via Flickr

L.D. Turner

Jesus opened his earthly mission with an announcement regarding the Kingdom of Heaven. He went on to speak of the kingdom repeatedly and let it be known in clear and concise ways that this whole notion of “kingdom” was the core of his mission. In addition, he passed on that mission to us. Just as Christ stressed the importance of the establishment of the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” so too are we to do everything in our power to lay the foundations for his kingdom rule.

The overriding problem is this: We haven’t done a very good job at carrying out this mission.

As individual members of the Body of Christ, it is our duty to share the kingdom message at every opportunity. In doing so, however, we must take care to present Jesus’ kingdom manifesto in ways that are relative to today’s world. The concept of “kingdom” has little meaning to most people, especially in the West. Perhaps it is time to seek new metaphors for explaining kingdom concepts. Before we can do this, however, we must formulate more accurate and effective ways of defining and describing the gospel message. Moreover, we have to reintroduce Jesus to the world and to ourselves.

Further, as we go about reformulating our methods of presentation of the gospel and of Jesus, we will meet challenging obstacles and barriers. Some of these challenges come from the world, some from the enemy, and remarkably, some come from ourselves.

A critical factor in exposing our culture to the radical manifesto that Christ taught is to be straightforward about its content. For too long now, the Church, especially in America, has promoted a gospel stressing individual salvation as the highest priority, with social action coming in a distant second. There were, of course, notable exceptions to this trend. Groups like the Quakers and the early Methodists faced head on issues such as economic injustice, poverty, and slavery. Be that as it may, for the large part the Church in the West has served the existing status quo at the expense of hiding the true gospel that the Lord came to deliver. Over time, the Church seems to have even hidden Christ’s gospel from itself. What we ended up with was a domesticated Jesus that patted children on the head, held lambs in his arms, and, by extension, supported our culture’s view of justice.

One tragic consequence of the Church’s support of the status quo was a distortion of the meaning of “God’s justice.” Over time the Church came to view God’s justice as mostly related to humanity’s sinful nature. God’s justice was what we would have to deal with were it not for the sacrifice of Jesus. In essence, the Church said that God’s justice, if carried out, would turn us to toast unless we repented and brought Jesus on board as savior. While there may be a smattering of truth in all this, the line of thought adopted by and preached by the Church saw the opposite of God’s justice as humanity’s sin.

I don’t think this is what Jesus was getting at. I firmly believe that, for Jesus, the opposite of God’s justice was humanity’s injustice. His mission in preaching, teaching, and applying Kingdom principles was aimed at rectifying this situation by placing God’s justice at the heart of our world, instead of humanity’s injustice.

Jesus called for a new system that ran counter to that of the world, not only in his time, but in ours as well. He called for compassion, justice, caring, service, forgiveness, and a host of other themes that are both startling and challenging. As we go about sharing Jesus’ vision, we must also be honest about how the Church, for whatever reasons, has diluted, distorted, and at times deceived in its presentation of the real “gospel” of Christ.

As the Body of Christ, it is time for us to get honest with the world we are trying to reach and even more crucial, it is time to get honest with ourselves. The image we teach, preach, and exhibit to the world through our behavior is lacking in both scope and depth. Starting with our teaching and our preaching, it is imperative that we begin to allow Jesus to be who and what he was, and still is, instead of a malleable figure from an era long ago. Moreover, we need to get to know Jesus ourselves. It is time to stop watering down the gospel and it is especially time to stop fooling ourselves into believing that he supports our political persuasion, whatever that might be. The fact is, Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical, and a thorn in the side of the religious establishment of his day. If the Lord showed up today, I can envision him being an even greater irritant to those who claim to be his followers in this day and time. I think he would especially be a menace when he dealt with the leaders of today’s Christian movements, ministries, and organizations.

The fact is the Body of Christ as a whole has done a significant amount of damage both to its witness and its reputation over the past 25-30 years. I don’t want to enter into a political debate here; that is not my intention. Both political parties have more skeletons in their respective closets than can be counted. However, a few things must be faced if we are to go about restoring Christ’s church to a position of effectiveness in post-modern culture.

The first thing that has to be tossed unceremoniously on the trash heap is our faith’s unthinking and almost mechanical marriage to the Republican Party. Since 1980 and the rise of the Reagan era, the fundamentalist, conservative, and evangelical wings of our faith has increasingly become in lockstep with the Republicans. This has done untold damage to Christianity as a whole and, if we are to find any degree of restoration and social impact, this unholy marriage has to end. Rather than a relationship that is built on Christian principles, this alliance has been more of a pact with the Devil.

Over a period spanning four years (2004-2008) I kept an accurate count of the number of times this very issue has come up in conversation with genuine spiritual seekers who were increasingly desirous of becoming involved in Christianity. During this four-year time span, no less than 508 individuals, either in casual conversation, coaching sessions, or at workshops, lectures, and training programs, have made the following statement, or something very similar with an identical meaning.

“Well, I studied the teachings of Jesus and read the Bible almost every day. I visited a number of churches and actually found a few I liked and thought I might like to join. But I can’t make myself do that.”

“Why not? What’s stopping you?”

“Well, if I want to be a real Christian, I would have to be a Republican and I just can’t bring myself to do that to myself or my family.”

This sort of statement happened no less than 508 times. That’s 508 potential converts that never happened. That’s 508 real, genuine spiritual seekers who have not been able to find Christ due to an erroneous assumption. That’s 508 people who have never been able to get actively involved in the faith and discover how truly beautiful our faith can be. That’s 508 people that have not been able to utilize and share their spiritual gifts and talents for Christ in a positive, meaningful way.

That’s 508 people with eternal futures that are, at best, uncertain.

I think this misconception on the part of people occurs for several reasons. First, it occurs because our faith, as a whole, is overly identified with the Republicans. Secondly, it happens because the news media focuses just about all of its attention regarding matters of faith on the Religious Right, ignoring the reality that there exists a multitude of Christians who are either moderate or liberal in their political and religious persuasions. Lastly, it happens because too many members of the clergy attempt to control how their congregants vote. Take for example the moronic attempts a couple of years ago by a Baptist pastor in North Carolina to expel anyone in the church who voted for a Democrat.

Please, pardon me for getting on my soap box about this, but if we as a body of faith are to have any chance of healing our image, we have to become more politically discerning and independent.

One of the primary missions of the contemporary church is to reintroduce Jesus to the world. I say “reintroduce” because, over the course of time, the vision of Jesus painted in the pages of the gospels has been eroded. In order to effectively present a more accurate image of Christ to the world, we must first be reintroduced to Jesus ourselves. The image many of us carry in our hearts is often quaint, cuddly, and gentle. Most of us are familiar with the descriptions of the Lord as the good shepherd and “Jesus, meek and mild” that have been so much a part of portrait created by the church over the centuries. Granted, the Christ was all these things, but he was so much more.

He was, in a word, a rebel.

An honest appraisal of the character and mission of Jesus presented by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John bears witness to a more raw and earthy being, one who stood in open opposition to the established order and challenged religious authority whenever he thought it necessary.

He was, in a word, a revolutionary.

The teachings presented by Jesus not only ran counter to those of established Jewish tradition, but also were in stark contrast to the wisdom of the world. I find the following comments by Houston Smith, well known scholar of comparative religion, to be so accurate and succinct, I include them in their entirety:

“…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating; it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts are still too small for his message.”

Yes, I suspect that our hearts, like those Jewish leaders who first encountered this radical personality, were too small to contain the immensity of his message. Further, the threat posed by someone who carried such a message as this was enormous. Small wonder Pilate avoided dealing with him; small wonder the religious leaders took drastic action. Jesus was many things, but one thing he was not was a person to be ignored. Dorothy Sayers, that great lady of the faith, made the same point regarding the domestication of our Lord:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium.

As the Body of Christ we are now in a similar cultural milieu as existed at the time Jesus walked the earth. Granted, times are different, but the themes are much the same. Like it or not, the Church now lives in a post-Christian culture. America is Christian in name only, certainly not in practice. Over the past 50 years the dominant worldview and subsequent value system has undergone marked change. Post-modernism and situational ethics now hold sway. It is within this mix that the Church must now carry out the essentials of its mission. The question at hand is: How will we reintroduce Jesus to the world, given the realities of the culture we now live in?

Answering this overriding question is a complicated affair, certainly beyond the scope of this short article. Additionally, we, as the Body of Christ, need to reflect deeply on how we may best go about meeting this aspect of our calling. Much prayer is called for. One thing is certain, however. We must present a more realistic portrait of who this man Jesus was, and still is. When he enters a person’s life, things are not always meek and mild. In fact, taking on Christ often results in an inner revolution.

As we take Jesus on board we must recognize we are giving accommodation to what can be a dangerous entity; one capable of challenging our own conventions, our own preferences, our own habits, and ultimately, our own character. Jesus does not come into a person in order to affirm the status quo. Quite the opposite, this dangerous being takes up residence within your inner kingdom with the stated aim of revolution. Yet for most of us this inner revolt is sorely needed. It can, in fact, change us from wandering, confused, and empty vessels into vibrant, vital, world changers. David Foster gives us a glimpse of just what Jesus is up to:

Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!

Listen closely. In your inner sanctuary, your heart of hearts, can you hear him calling you? Will you go with him, even if it means breaking free of convention and challenging the Christian establishment when it is in error? Will you follow him, even if it means you stop going to church and start being the church?

© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today's Encouraging Word

Chateau de FenelonImage by chelmsfordblue via Flickr

Be silent and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues that will please Him. Let all within you listen to Him….

Don’t spend your time making plans that are just cobwebs – a breath of wind will come and blow them away. You have withdrawn from God and now you find that God has withdrawn the sense of His presence from you. Return to Him and give Him everything without reservation. There will be no peace otherwise. Let go of all you plans – God will do what He sees best for you.

Francis Fenelon
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An Suggested Prayer

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...Image via Wikipedia

Try saying this wonderful, brief prayer by Ernest Holmes three times each day for the next 28 days. You will be amazed at the results.

My thoughts are radiant with the Light of Spirit.
There is no darkness in my mind.
I am directed by the Spirit of Wisdom.
I am guided into right action, into happiness and success, because the Light of Spirit shines from the very center of my being.
This Light illumines my path and makes straight the way before me.
This Light is God, the Living Spirit Almighty.
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Sacred Mind and the Inner Light

L.D. Turner

When we talk about our “Sacred Calling” we are talking about our purpose and/or mission in life. From the beginning of your journey, it is vital that you come to understand several key points. First, each person has a universal calling and what we here at LifeBrook term “particular calling.” Your universal calling has to do with God’s universal mission and purpose. There are certain things that each of us are to do and more importantly to be. Our particular calling is just that – particular to us as individuals. It is a personal mission that only you can fulfill and is normally based on your natural talents and proclivities.

An important aspect of your universal calling is “walk in your divinity,” which is another way of saying you need to live each day from your Sacred Mind. Paul, using the biblical language of his time, told us the same thing when he encouraged us to live from the Spirit and not from the flesh. Your Sacred Mind is directly related to you Spirit, and the flesh is your lower, false self – often referred to as “ego.”

Unfortunately, people are incapable of consistently operating out of their Sacred Mind without help from the God and a significant amount of mindful awareness about what they are doing from one moment to the next. This, in turn, requires work.

Each of us has as a part of our inner world, a Sacred Mind and a Lower Mind. The Sacred Mind is what the Quakers called your “Inner Light.” It is that part of you that is created in the image of God and reflects God’s character, wisdom, and love. When we act from Sacred Mind, we act with reverence, honor, integrity, and grace. The Lower Mind, on the other hand, is that which is often called the “ego,” and it is a useful part of ourselves that most of us have turned into an enemy. We do this by giving the Lower Mind more authority over our lives than it should have. The results are disastrous on personal, collective, social, and global levels. Confronting and dealing with the Lower Mind is an essential component of the spiritual journey and should always be viewed as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event.

Get one fact planted firmly in your mind right at the beginning of your dealings with the ego: the Lower Mind (ego) is a complete illusion; a fabrication that you created in order to help you deal with the world and, at the same time, develop an identity for yourself. In this sense, the ego has an important service to perform. It helps you understand how the world works and it helps you navigate the world’s sometimes turbulent and treacherous waters. Further, the Lower Mind helps you discern who you are and who you are not. So, in relation to these two important factors, the ego is a great tool to have.

The downside to the ego is the fact that it has a heartbeat of separation, not unity. The ego views all things from a me/them perspective. More often than we would like to admit, this turns into a me versus them mentality. Cooperation, a necessary component of unity, is jettisoned in favor of competition. This leads to many obvious problems based in conflict between one person’s needs and another person’s needs. The ego runs on the premise that there is a limited amount of “stuff” around and this “stuff” is of vast importance. The purpose of life is seen as accumulation of “stuff,” often at the expense of other people getting enough “stuff” to live comfortably. The Lower Mind, however, is not too concerned about this state of affairs. After all, the ego, like all successful egos, understands several fundamental laws:

Always look out for Number One first

It is the fittest who survive and the strongest who thrive

I deserve to have my share of the pie (and maybe even more)

It’s my way or the highway

If I end up stepping on someone’s toes, they shouldn’t have put them under my feet

The Lower Mind’s focus on self results in a chronic sense of estrangement. When you are dominated by the ego, a part of you is always wary of others and your true, deep friends are few and far between. More telling, when you are under the sway of the Lower Mind, God usually takes a back seat or worse, is taken completely out of the picture. It is no stretch of fancy when wise people say the ego stands for “ease God out.”

When God is taken out of the picture the person puts ego in the driver’s seat and, although successful for a time, things usually come unraveled. The reason for this is simple. God is our true source of power and enduring success. When separated from our power source, the lights go out. Not only do we become confused and lost, we realize we are alone and don’t have any real answers. What’s worse, we even ask the wrong questions.

Lower Mind’s most consistent question is: What’s in it for me?

What kind of world does all this create? Guns n’ Roses summed it up pretty well with “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Conversely, when we live from Sacred Mind we see things from a much different perspective. Sacred Mind is focused on the whole more than the parts and attempts to create unity rather than division, cooperation rather than competition, encouragement rather than criticism, peace rather than conflict, joy rather than stress, and order rather than chaos.

Remaining connected to God requires living from Sacred Mind and this is not as hard as you might think. Regular spiritual disciplines, especially prayer, meditation, and study of sacred writings help immensely. The important thing is not the method used, but the resulting sense of connection to that universal Spirit that is at the base of all things. You must keep before you your true identity, which is a divine being created in the image of God, designed by God, and loved by God.

Your Sacred Mind is your Inner Light, that part of you that is most like God. No, you are not God and that is vital to understand. However, God did place in you a spark of Spirit that contains everything you need in order to carry out his universal mission and your personal calling. When you connect with and live from Sacred Mind, you have many of the answers that you need in order to become the optimal version of yourself. You don’t have all the answers because only God is all-wise. However, at least now you can ask the right questions.

Sacred Mind’s most consistent question is: How can I help?

© L.D. Turner 2010/ All Rights Reserved
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Reflections on Biblical Change

L.D. Turner

Many of us assert that we want to grow spiritually. We tell God and others that we desire to be more Christ-like and chances are, we believe what we are saying. Yet I have found that in more than a few cases, people are not as desirous of spiritual growth as they claim. The reason for this can be found in one word: change.

The fact of the matter is, many of us want to change and to grow, so long as it does not involve any pain, sacrifice, or drastic changes in our lives. We want to become more Christ-like, so long as we are not inconvenienced in any way. In some amazing way, myself included, we are experts at mental gymnastics. We are somehow able to twist things in our minds in such a way that, in the final analysis, we convince ourselves that we can hold on to outworn, unproductive, and self-destructive beliefs and behaviors and still increasingly become like Christ.

We are, in a very real sense, cognitive contortionists.

Have you ever seen a real contortionist? When I lived in China I saw several performances by Chinese acrobats, who are among the world’s best at this amazing art. In most programs, at least one contortionist was featured and these folks could twist their bodies into positions that most of us couldn’t even imagine, must less achieve.

What these artist/athletes do with their bodies, we manage to do with our thoughts. Just as they can twist their bodies into shapes that would make a pretzel jealous, we Christians can manipulate our thoughts around in such a way that seems to make the implausible sound reasonable. And one of the ways this occurs most often is with our thoughts about spiritual growth and change. We say we want the prize but deep down, we are less than willing to do what it takes to obtain our goals. Great contortionists that we are, we then manipulate our thoughts in such a clever way that we come to believe that we really do want to make the necessary changes.

In reality, change is difficult for most of us. New behaviors, new ways of looking at life, and new ways of relating to others are all uncomfortable, especially until we get used to them. As a result, we often resist taking that big first step toward making positive changes, simply because our status quo is at least familiar.

In many ways, this is like a dilemma I once faced involving something as seemingly unrelated to spiritual themes as an old softball glove.

From the time I was five years old I have been an avid baseball fan. I played the sport throughout my school years and, after becoming an adult, played competitive softball for many years.

I normally played middle infield, either second base or shortstop. For many years I used the same softball glove. In fact, I used it so long that the strings kept breaking, all the padding was gone out of the pocket and the leather was cracked in several strategic places. Nevertheless I refused to buy a new glove, in spite of the frequent protestations of my teammates.

The reason was simple. I was comfortable with this old glove. It molded to my hand perfectly over the years and it felt reassuring to put in on before I took the field. All too often, however, I would catch a hard line drive right in the pocket and my hand would sting, then remain numb for several minutes. Still, I wanted no part of a new glove.

A new glove, as anyone who has played the sport knows, is very troublesome for awhile. It feels funny, awkward and stiff. It is easy to make errors with a new glove, at least until it is broken in properly. No, my old glove was find thank you very much.

One day our third baseman wasn’t able to make the game and I played the so-called “hot corner.” Things went okay for the first two innings. Then, in the third inning the batter hit a hard liner right at me. I responded quickly and raised my glove, only to have the ball break right through the ancient webbing and hit me square in the forehead, knocking me out cold.

Two days later I bought a new glove.

My experience with my old softball glove is not unlike my experience with the behaviors that flow from my old self. No matter how much I try to take off the old and put on the new, the old keeps rearing its head and biting me. I suspect that I am not alone in this predicament.
Many of my old behaviors, like my old softball glove, may hurt me time and time again. But, they are comfortable in the sense that they are familiar and predictable. My old self resists change and it is here that we are vulnerable to our habitual responses to life, however unhealthy and painful they may be.

It is like the old adage, “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.”

God, however, does not operate by our rules. He has his own set of principles and by any measure, they are superior to ours. Yes, his way of growth involves frequent change but in the end, those very changes are the agents of our transformation. And, if you really think about it, spiritual growth implies change. To grow is to change.

When the Master walked the earth, he consistently put this principle of growth through change before those who would dare to be his disciples or followers. He consistently challenged people to leave behind old, outworn behaviors and paths of life and embrace the new, the radical, and the unknown.

Jesus was a mold-breaker and to follow Jesus required a person to break his or her most cherished molds.

It is no different for us today.

Jesus walked by Simon and Andrew and called out to them. He did not say, “Stay right where you are, do what you have always done, and I will come back and make you better fishermen.”

No, he called these two mariner brothers to take up the mantle of a great challenge – a challenge that eventually changed the entire world.

“Follow me,” said the Master. “And I will make you fishers of men.”

To the rich young ruler, Jesus issued another challenge. He did not say, “Go and make even more money and set an example as a great businessman.” No, the rich young man received one of Christ’s sacrificial callings:

“Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Come and follow me.”

Such a demand was far beyond the young man’s willingness or capability. Yet please, don’t miss what Jesus asked of the young man. In one word, again – he demanded change.

For the poor woman lying in the dirt, about to be stoned to death for her sin, Christ again called for change. After shaming the Pharisees with their arms full of stones, the Master’s last words to the woman were words requiring change:

“Go and sin no more.”

In exploring the pages of scripture, few characters were required to make more drastic changes than Saul, later to be known as Paul the Apostle. Raised in the bosom of the Hebrew faith, Saul was a Hebrew and among Hebrews. Taking his faith quite seriously, he arrived in Jerusalem from his hometown of Tarsus with plans to study with the best Rabbis in the Holy City. And Saul did just that.

Saul’s rise to prominence among the elite of the Hebrew faith was right on course until, on a mission to wipe out the fledgling Christian community in Damascus, he encountered the great mold-breaker. Temporarily blinded, Saul’s life was turned completely upside down. It would have been completely expected had Jesus sent Saul into Damascus and, after restoring his sight, instructing Saul to stop persecuting the Christians. That would have been a significant enough change for Saul.

Jesus, the mold-breaker, had something more life-shattering in mind.

Saul became Paul, and after a period of training and pruning, morphed into the greatest Apostle the Christian faith has ever known, not to mention its greatest evangelist. On top of that, he authored much of the New Testament under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s transformation was radical to say the least. This great figure of the Christian faith changed and that change opened him up to great suffering – shipwrecks, snake bites, stonings, trials, incarceration many times over, and eventually death. Christ demanded Paul’s status quo be disrupted in a major way and it was. And Paul’s obedience to Christ’s calling on his life is a testament of true devotion and complete discipleship.

The call on our lives is no different. The circumstances of God’s call on my life may involve one type of change and the call on your life may require another. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that both your calling and mine will involve one common element – change.

Next time you feel God calling you to some area of service or sacrifice, think of these great biblical characters – people like Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Andrew, the other disciples, the woman caught in adultery, and especially Paul. Change and suffering are an integral part of the spiritual journey for those of us with the audacity to call ourselves Christians. Change often involves sacrifice, but in many ways my friends, that sacrifice is redemptive.

Life is always better when we embrace our personal crosses and walk in obedience to the great mold-breaker.

© L.D. Turner 2010/ All Rights Reserved

Today's Encouraging Word

Life works by direct affirmation. There is no other way for it to work. This is why we are told to be still and know that all things are possible to God. We are told to affirm, positively to assert, to declare this truth, in the face of all apparent opposition; to proclaim abundance in the midst of poverty; to affirm health in the midst of sickness; to decree joy in the midst of sorrow; and to announce the kingdom of God here and now….Why are we told to do this? Because this is the way Life works. It knows nothing about discord or fear; It forever sings the song of Its own being. This song bursts forth from the joy of Its own inner wholeness. We, too, could become part of this celestial choir if we knew how rightly to affirm Life.

Ernest Holmes

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Commitment to Christ: A Dangerous Proposition

Mick Turner

As the Body of Christ we are now in a similar cultural milieu as existed at the time Jesus walked the earth. Granted, times are different, but the themes are much the same. Like it or not, the Church now lives in a post-Christian culture. America is Christian in name only, certainly not in practice. Over the past 50 years the dominant worldview and subsequent value system has undergone marked change. Post-modernism and situational ethics now hold sway. It is within this mix that the Church must now carry out the essentials of its mission. The question at hand is: How will we reintroduce Jesus to the world, given the realities of the culture we now live in?

Answering this overriding question is a complicated affair, certainly beyond the scope of this short article. Additionally, we, as the Body of Christ, need to reflect deeply on how we may best go about meeting this aspect of our calling. Much prayer is called for. One thing is certain, however. We must present a more realistic portrait of who this man Jesus was, and still is. When he enters a person’s life, things are not always meek and mild. In fact, taking on Christ often results in an inner revolution. The Revolutionaries fully understand this and also understand that Jesus calls for a radical change that fuses the personal with the social and the spiritual with the political.

As we take Jesus on board we must recognize we are giving accommodation to what can be a dangerous entity; one capable of challenging our own conventions, our own preferences, our own habits, and ultimately, our own character. Jesus does not come into a person in order to affirm the status quo. Quite the opposite, this dangerous being takes up residence within your inner kingdom with the stated aim of revolution. Yet for most of us this inner revolt is sorely needed. It can, in fact, change us from wandering, confused, and empty vessels into vibrant, vital, world changers. David Foster gives us a glimpse of just what Jesus is up to:

Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!

If you decide that you are fully ready to commit to this deep calling deep brand of Christian spirituality, recognize that you may very well experience responses that are less than positive. These negative reactions to your commitment to Christ may come from people important to you, like your friends, your family, and especially from other believers. It is for this reason that each of us must individually and prayerfully follow the advice of the Master who told us to simply “count the costs.”

I think one of the reasons that Christians as a whole are at best lukewarm in their commitment to following Christ stems from the church’s long-standing efforts to tame the Master. Instead of the subversive revolutionary that he was, Jesus has long been presented as a non-threatening cardboard figurine on burlap bulletin boards, either holding a lamb in his lap or rubbing children on the head. Rarely have we seen him for the rebel that he really was and as a result, the church has given a false impression of Jesus “meek and mild” and by proxy, turned God the Father into a distant and kindly Daddy who expects little from us other than a modicum of worship and a check in the collection plate.

This is not the Jesus nor the God revealed in scripture.

Annie Dillard, one of my very favorite writers, talks about how Christians ought to be a bit more reverent in the presence of God. In her provocative yet compelling style she says:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have any idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.

Dillard’s point is clear and to a large extent, irrefutable. Far too many of us who claim to follow Christ either don’t really believe what we profess or we have never taken the time to truly consider what it is we signed on for. I personally think it is high time that we became more honest with ourselves. Here is a diagnostic indicator: If you faith has yet to make you very uncomfortable, you might want to spend some time in prayer and reflection trying to discover what is amiss.

When we fail to understand what the Christian faith is all about, we wind up with a church that misses the boat in terms of its vital functions of worship and teaching. Pastor Robin Meyers gives this biting but wholly accurate assessment of what we often find in sanctuaries today:

Worship consists of high-tech, high-volume, effusive praise and tearful thanksgiving for what God has done on behalf of each and every one of us – followed by preaching that circles the wagons of what is falsely assumed to be a besieged and righteous minority doing battle against the forces of secular humanism. The rhetoric is that of a western movie, the “last stand” between the chosen but misunderstood and legions of depraved liberal heathens whose worldly logic has led them to worship false gods (mostly in the temple of the flesh) and who are out to destroy the only true religion by removing it from the public square……For those who would never think to raise their hands in worship (because they sit on them), mainline and liberal churches offer something as tedious as many evangelical services are self-centered: a dull and droning list of politically correct announcements that go on interminably. No detail is too minor and no story too trivial to escape the sentimental displays of communal therapy. The hymns are often contorted by a preoccupation with inclusion at the expense of meter and particular power, and the sermon continues in the same vein – offering enlightened ways to cope with the aches and pains of daily life, instead of submitting to a vision so compelling as to redeem suffering and death itself.

No matter which side of the theological aisle you find your pew, you ought to be sweating bullets by now. In case you are among the especially insensitive, however, rest assured that Meyers is not quite finished:

In a world that is desperate for something real, many mega-churches today are like Disney World plus God, while too many mainline churches are serving up bits and pieces of the Great Books Club. One wonders which fiction is most cruel, that all your dreams come true if you pray the “Prayer of Jabez” or that discipleship is the same thing as enlightenment. Odd as it may sound, we need to recover something as old and dangerous as it is transformative: following Jesus.

For many Christians, whether Evangelical or Mainline, such a shrill indictment is hard to swallow. Surely there are exceptions, but what Meyers is describing here is not those few. Instead, he is taking direct aim at those of us who find way too much comfort in the status quo; those of us who start accumulating sweat on our upper lips at just the mention of thinking out of the box. Meyers, in very direct terms, is talking about the frozen chosen.

In juxtaposition to these lukewarm pew-fillers stand the renegades, rascals, and revolutionaries mentioned earlier. These sincere Christ-followers understand that if the church is not only to survive, but thrive, it must get back to its roots in obedience to Jesus. We need to imitate Christ, not “believe in” him. With the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we need to push forward with every effort to become more like the one we profess to serve. Many of this new breed of Christ-followers understand this and apply this wisdom to their daily living. Robin Meyers speaks clearly about what we must rediscover if we, as a faith tradition, hope to survive:

If the church is to survive as a place where head and heart are equal partners in faith, then we will need to commit ourselves once again not to the worship of Christ, but to the imitation of Jesus. His invitation was not believe, but to follow. Since it was once dangerous to be a follower of The Way, the church can rightly assume that it will never be on the right track again until the risks associated with being a follower of Jesus outnumber the comforts of being a fan of Christ. Until we experience Jesus as a “radically disturbing presence,” instead of a cosmic comforter, we will not experience him as true disciples.

Meyers concludes by stating that churchgoers need to answer one basic question before all else:

What am I willing to give up to follow Jesus?

Sociologist and researcher George Barna speaks at length about the movement of committed Christ followers that he calls “Revolutionaries.” Barna speaks particularly well to the issue of sacrifice that is so often part of the life of the “Deep Calling Deep Christian.” If you are seriously considering this path of consecrated endeavor, then pay attention to Barna’s words:

Know this: just as the prophets of old were unwelcome in their own hometown, so are Revolutionaries looked at askance by even their closest friends and family members. The skepticism of those who lead conventional spiritual lives is a palpable reminder that growth always comes with a price tag.

Be forewarned: just as Jesus Christ, the ultimate lover of humanity, was scorned, misunderstood, persecuted, and eventually murdered for His extreme love, goodness, compassion, humility, wisdom, and grace, so are Revolutionaries abused by a culture in crisis. The mere presence of Revolutionaries makes the typical American citizen – yes, even the typical churchgoer – uncomfortable. It is not uncommon for Revolutionaries to meet with rejection – verbal, intellectual, relational, or experiential – simply because of their determination to honor the God they love…..Like their role model, Jesus Christ, they ignite fierce resistance merely by being present and holy. It is perhaps that holy presence that will get Revolutionaries in the deepest trouble they will face – and that will bring lasting healing to a culture that has rebelled for too long against its loving Creator. These Christian zealots are radically reshaping both American society and the Christian Church. Their legacy is likely to be a spiritual reformation of unprecedented proportions in the United States and perhaps the world.

These ideas that Barna discusses and more cogently, that are lived out in the daily lives of countless “Revolutionaries,” bring to mind the spiritual philosophy and practical tactics used by Doctor Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. Basing his own methods on those of Gandhi, Dr. King used radical non-violence to expose the injustice, brutality, and prejudice of the existing social order. The more the powers that be reacted to those involved in the movement, the deeper the darkness of their hearts appeared to all whom witnessed what was happening. Perhaps in a similar way, the commitment, sincerity, and Christian love exhibited by these Revolutionaries may well shed light on how far many in the status quo church are from the true example set by the Master.

Describing David, an example of this new breed of Revolutionary Christian, Barna writes:

His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advance the Kingdom of God – despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being a part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God – much more – in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.

Two questions are immediately relevant, my friend. Do you want more – much more – of God in your life? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get it?

Listen closely. In your inner sanctuary, your heart of hearts, can you hear him calling you? Will you go with him, even if it means breaking free of convention? Will you follow him, even if it means you stop going to church and start being the church? Are you ready to be counted among the Jesus people? Are you ready to join the revolution?

If so, welcome aboard!

© L.D. Turner 2010/ All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fresh Wineskins: Transformational and Incarnational

L.D. Turner

Many sincere Christians within all denominational groups, as well as those in non-denominational churches, are aware that something significant is missing in their walk with Christ. These Christ-followers have this gnawing and nagging sense that the way in which they have been taught to approach their daily practice of Christianity is in some way lacking. Most of these folks can accurately be described as spiritual seekers – seeking a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus and, at the same time, a clearer sense of ultimate purpose and direction.

Whenever we take the time to truly look at the writings in the Bible in general and in the New Testament in particular, we are confronted with a salient truth: the path of Christianity is intended to be and designed to be a transformational walk of faith. In other words, becoming a Christian should initially change us in some fundamental sense and further, our ongoing path of discipleship should solidify those initial changes and usher in a more profound spiritual transformation.

The dilemma of many Christ-followers as described in the opening paragraph is born out of the fact that, as a whole, this transformational character of the Christian faith appears to have disappeared or, at best, has gone into hiding. The vast majority of Christians, when pressed to engage in honest self-confrontation, will confess that they consistently find themselves asking, “Is this really all there is?”

I am no psychic and I make no claims at having special revelations from God. However, I think I can safely say that this state of affairs in the contemporary church must bring a tear to the eye of Christ. I do believe, however, that change is coming and, in fact, is already here. A few months back I discussed some of these ideas concerning “post-religious” culture on this blog. Since that time, I have become even more convinced that this radical change of the practice of Christianity will congeal and eventually itself come to be the dominant version of Christian community.

These days it is common parlance to state that American culture is now both Post-Modern and Post-Christian. In most ways I suspect this is an accurate statement. Our culture increasingly holds post-modern beliefs as sacred and Christianity, long the bedrock of America’s spiritual life, has receded in terms of status and influence. I would add to these realities a third idea: American culture is increasingly “Post-Religious.”

Even adherents of established religious traditions have realized that small group settings are more conducive of authentic spirituality. Many churches break down their membership into such enclaves; small groups of Buddhist pilgrims, loosely affiliate with a major teaching center in another locale, are springing up all across the country; and an increasing number of Yoga groups are forming to deepen members’ awareness of the philosophy behind the postures and practices they regularly perform.

If we indeed are moving toward a post-religious culture, and I believe that we are, there is an interesting paradox in all of this. The fact is that Americans are becoming far more spiritual while at the same time becoming far less religious. I am aware that the phrase “I’m spiritual but not religious” has been uttered so often it has become trite. Still, hidden behind these frequently repeated words there is a distinct reality: While we are becoming less dependent upon organized religion as a culture, we are becoming an increasingly spiritual nation.

As the next ten years unfold, I believe we will see the ministry of small groups of believers, similar to “house churches,” will increasingly dominate the landscape of Christianity. As this process evolves, these small groups may or may not band themselves together into larger bodies of varying association. One possibility is that over time these small groups will unite to form the equivalent of new denominations within the larger context of the Christian faith. Chances are, however, that the great majority of these groups will come to so cherish their independence in purpose and practice that denominational organization will be unthinkable. From a sociological perspective, this process should be interesting.

I am of the belief that Christianity as it has been known and practiced over the last two to three centuries is waning rapidly. New, vital, and dynamic embodiments of the path of Christ are emerging and this trend will continue. I think one important characteristic of the new wineskins that we see taking shape is the emphasis placed on the Divine Laws of the universe and what these laws mean to our walk of faith. Although it may not be totally accurate, it may be possible to say that we are in the early stages of a new Reformation.

The explosive growth of the Christian faith in the southern hemisphere, in China, and in the former Soviet Union is an example that something new is being birthed by God. Further, the rapid growth of the Word of Faith Movement is also an indicator that Christians and non-believers are both seeking a more experiential and practical faith. Granted, the Faith Movement has its problems. However, if one cuts through much of the hoopla and the bells and whistles used by its leaders, the Faith Movement is based on factual divine laws and these laws, when properly applied, do work. I think these trends point to the fact that whatever form the new spirituality takes, it will have a decidedly metaphysical core. In spite of the fears and objections of traditionalists, conservatives, fundamentalists, and most Evangelicals, I am of the firm conviction that this return to the true metaphysics of the gospel is both empowering and overdue.

There are many divergent perspectives on what the major aspects of the universal purpose of this age. These diverse views have components that are in agreement with one another and, at the same time, also have aspects that are in sharp contrast. No matter what view one holds, several things are certain:

Change is happening on a global scale and it is occurring at a rapidity never seen before.
• This age in which we live presents humankind with tremendous challenges as well as opportunities.
• Boundaries between people, nations, religions, and races are falling.
• Culture is becoming increasingly global in nature.
• The interdependence of all Creation is becoming more apparent.
• Humans are increasingly becoming less religious and more spiritual.

These are but a small sampling of the themes and issues that are taking place around the globe as the first decade of the new century winds to a close. Of particular interest is the last item mentioned: that humans tend to focus less on religion and more on spirituality. The phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious” has been uttered so frequently that it has now become trite. Still, these words reflect a growing reality in our world. People everywhere are experiencing a deep spiritual hunger and almost universally find that institutional religion will not satisfy that sublime longing.

Religions, by their very nature, will not get the job done. All religions began as an attempt on the part of humans to formalize and standardize the process of raising consciousness to a level adequate to make experiential contact with the Divine Source, no matter how it is defined. All religions began well but have ended poorly. In this age, humankind will of necessity learn to operate in a post-religious context. Formal religions will continue to exist and serve positive purposes, but will not function as a source of spiritual development beyond a certain point. Over the next ten years or so, we will witness the emergence of numerous new wineskins in which the impartation of spiritual teachings will take place. Some of these new wineskins will be highly positive and will serve the unfolding of God’s divine plan. Others will be less than what they should be and, in fact, may do more harm than good. For the individual seeker, discernment is critical.

Whatever forms the new Christianity may take, I believe it must have at least three primary elements which guide its mission and its practice. First, I see this fresh, new faith as being Creative and Progressive. By these terms I mean that the coming Christianity, while holding firmly to the core truths of its tradition, will, at the same time, find new, creative, and relevant ways in which gospel truths might be transmitted. The Body of Christ, especially in these new wine skins, will remain evangelistic but will be so in a distinctively alternative manner. Put simply, the new faith will attract potential converts through its service and its missional activities. By carrying out its Christ-given mandate to be of service, the faith will increasingly attract new members because of what the church does and what it is, not what it says and what it believes.

Secondly, the fresh, vital forms of the faith will be transformative. As stated at the beginning of this article, many sincere Christians have now sensed that something fundamental and live-giving has been missing from the traditional church for decades. The new faith bodies, small in terms of membership but highly focused in terms of purpose, will be disciple making. Spiritual formation and personal change will be the driving force of these groups of believers. Driven by the inner hunger for more of God that has been divinely placed in every heart, the new Christianity will operate under a growing awareness that God is here, he is there, and he is everywhere. Animated by that truth, the new faith understands that no one need go hungry for God. Instead, disciplines will be taught that assist individuals to become more intimate with God and generally more satisfied in their walk of faith.

Third, the new faith will be incarnational. This simply means that these small groups of consecrated believers will take seriously the Christian call to service – the privilege and the responsibility of being Christ’s hands, feet, and heart here on earth. Put simply, the new faith will have a proactive heart of service and compassion. Given the Lord these groups follow, there could be no other choice. Michael Frost, in his great book Exiles, gives a cogent description of what a serious commitment to incarnational Christianity might look like:

If we take seriously the call to follow Jesus into exile, we will find ourselves developing closer proximity with our neighborhood. It’s simply unavoidable. It will involve divesting ourselves of much of the baggage that traditional churches have loaded on us. It will mean wriggling free of the demands that churches have insisted we fulfill. It will mean practicing the presence of Jesus in our inner life as well as through our outward actions. By living expansive lives of justice, kindness, hospitality, and generosity, we model the life of Jesus to those who would never attend a church service or read the New Testament. And, of course, we would do this without recourse to large buildings, well-funded programs, and other expressions of institutionalism. We will, like Jesus, go naked and empty handed to others, with no motive other than to show grace and practice mercy….sooner or later someone is going to ask us why we live the way we do. And at that point, exiles must be prepared to name the name of Jesus in contexts where his name might never be heard.

Taken as a whole, this trio of vital elements will give the new Christianity a solid foundation upon which to operate as the 21st Century unfolds. This fresh approach to the faith should continue to evolve as we, as the Body of Christ, encounter our changing culture in a proactive manner. Being proactive is essential, I think. For too long the Church has been reactive. This is not longer an option. Given the nature and the shifting realties of the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves, we must proactively anticipate trends before they manifest and thereby be ready to offer the faith to our culture in ways that are consistently relevant.

Christ told us to go into all the nations and make disciples. Further, he showed us by the example of washing his disciples’ feet that we are called to nothing less than the ministry of the towel. We are not leaders, gurus, or swamis. Instead, we are servants. This, my friend, is the incarnational aspect of the disciple making church. In addition, we are now ready to put these realities into new wineskins and get on with the business at hand: helping establish the kingdom on earth.

© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today's Encouraging Word

The moment one realizes he can use the creative power of his thought to free himself from bondage, that moment he starts on a new adventure. He is giving birth to a new possibility. In time he discovers that he has built his prison walls himself; that the cell in which he has been incarcerated was self-created. By identifying himself with the spiritual universe, these walls crumble and he sees himself as a free soul….Only as we give the best we have to every passing experience can we hope to enter into the joy of living.

Ernest Holmes
(from The Art of Life)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kingdom Principles: Growth and Interdependence

L.D. Turner

When God places his call on our lives, it is at that point we have a critical decision to make. Are we going to answer his call, or are we going to refuse? No matter how we may try to complicate the issue, it really remains that simple. Just as Jonah had a choice to follow God’s call and go to Nineveh, we have the same choice. Hopefully, we answer in the affirmative and avoid much of the trouble that Jonah encountered.

I have grown to believe that it is essential that we see our own personal calling or mission in the context of a much larger picture. For Christians, the “big picture” context through which we must come to view our calling is “Kingdom Manifestation.” God’s great story of restoration, renewal, and redemption involves the establishment of his kingdom here on earth. It is precisely this big picture that Jesus alluded to in his model prayer for us:

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth, as it is in heaven.

As new creations “in Christ,” we are called to help manifest God’s kingdom here on earth and, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to meet this challenge. The Kingdom of God is a multi-faceted phenomenon and requires knowledge of the principles of manifestation if it is ever to be established. These principles are God’s eternal laws, built right into the fabric of the universe and it is part of our task to discern these laws and find ways to apply them in our daily living. This process enables us to become more effective as disciples of Christ and more productive in our lives.

A key aspect of God’s universal plan for humankind is that each of us should do all that we can to realize our divine potential and become the optimal version of who and what we are. Even the most cursory look at God’s creation reveals a universal principle of dynamic growth. Simple observation reveals that when something ceases to grow, decay sets in. As Christians, this principle certainly applies to our walk of faith. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to continue to grow and evolve as members of the Body of Christ.

Scripture reveals that we are expected to become more and more like Christ. For many of us, we think this an impossible goal. However, if Scripture does tell us that we are to grow into Christ-like beings, then chances are that is exactly what it means. Some scholars think that Paul was merely engaging in a bit of literary hyperbole when he asserted this, but careful reading of the text does not support this idea. Instead, we are to manifest the fullness of Christ.

Over the years, I have come to view our life “in Christ,” as being analogous to that of being in the womb. Just as a fetus spends its time in the womb being worked upon by forces that enable it to grow into a being that will be capable of surviving within the parameters of the world it will eventually live in, so it is with our life “in Christ.” As we grow in the Christian life, we are being acted upon by divine forces that will eventually transform us into beings that can prosper in the spiritual world, which will be our next home.

There is one huge difference between our being in the physical womb of our mother and being in the spiritual womb in Christ, however. In the spiritual womb, we also have a major part to play in the growth process. Granted, we cannot save ourselves and, if I can use myself as an example, we cannot sanctify ourselves, either. But we can and must do all that we can. We need to engage in consistent and committed spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, meditation, and especially, sacred service. By engaging in these time-honored practices, we place ourselves in a position of receptivity whereby these spiritual forces, namely the Holy Spirit, can carry out our proper gestation in preparation for our birth into the spiritual realm.

I have come to firmly believe that gaining knowledge of these principles of Kingdom Manifestation and how to apply them in service to God and others is one of the major revelations the Master is giving to humankind in this age. We are now in a period of intense spiritual activity in the unseen realms and this activity is having a very notable impact on our physical world. We are in a period of accelerated activity and the pace of change is rapid. The time is ripe for greater application of Kingdom Principles, with the goal of establishing God’s Kingdom on earth.

Closely related to this phenomenon of the revelation of Kingdom Principles is another teaching the Spirit is imparting to humankind in this age. I am referring to what I call the Principle of Interdependence, which implies that all aspects of creation are interrelated and what impacts one part impacts all other parts. Perhaps we need to look at this a bit more closely.

The idea of interconnectivity, now confirmed by the field of quantum physics, has been around for many centuries and is at the core of interspiritual mysticism, that one aspect of world religion that seems to transcend culture, time, and especially theology. It is a mystical connectedness that promotes compassion and engaged action to make the world a better place for all who dwell here. In essence, it is a deep wisdom that gives flesh to grace. The great spiritual writer Kahil Gibran spoke of this interconnected reality when he said:

Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. Who knows but that your neighbor is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would yourself. He too is a manifestation of the Most High.
In India, for example, we have the story of Indra’s Net, which is strung throughout the universe with a precious jewel at the places where the cords of the net intersect. These jewels, in turn, reflect all of the other jewels. Similar to the modern discovery of the hologram, the image of Indra’s Net is filled with symbolic wisdom depicting the interconnectivity of all that is. Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book entitled, The Dancing Wu Li Masters tell us:

…the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics is that all things in our universe (including us) that appears to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.

In the Christian tradition, the writings of the great mystic teachers echo these same truths, often in symbolic and metaphorical ways. Julian of Norwich especially comes to mind as well as Hildegard of Bingen and Madame Guyon. The writings of Saint Theresa of Avila and the life and work of St. Francis also point to the interconnectivity of all life and the necessity of having a heart of radical compassion.

The great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley have voices that ring loudly with the sense of the interrelated aspects of the natural world and their American counterparts, the Transcendentalists, in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, also echo this theme of divine connectivity. And then there is the work of that master of the arcane, William Blake who spoke of the mystic’s ability:

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

The world that we interact with each day only appears to be solid. In point of fact, it is an intricate dance of sub-atomic waves and particles that obey none of the traditional or expected moves of predictable choreography. At its core level, our apparently solid, material world is less like classical music and more like jazz. Just when we think we have a handle on how things are, these very things change, morphing into something totally unexpected and often totally mysterious. Someone wise, I forget who, once said the life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. How true, and the sooner a person grasps this fundamental truth, the less frustration will appear in his or her life.

In teaching about the interrelated aspect of the universe, I often use a simple analogy that explains these principles in a basic way. I use the example of raisin Jell-o. Imagine you have concocted a delicious tub or raisin Jell-o. Choose your favorite flavor if you like. The raisins are the important thing, here. Now, what happens when you take your index finger and thump one of the raisins? All the raisins move. Crude as this metaphor is, it makes the point that all the raisins in the bowl are connected and if one raisin moves, they all move. This is what the mystics, and the quantum physicists, are talking about when they speak of interconnectivity.

Christian writer and teacher Elizabeth Elliot, looking at God’s wondrous creation with both attentiveness and wisdom, grasps the profundity of this theme of interconnectedness and how it illustrates a foundation of commonality between humans and other species in God’s creation:

The closer one comes to the center of things, the better able he is to observe the connections. Everything created is connected, for everything is produced by the same mind, the same love, and is dependent on the same Creator. He who masterminded the universe, the Lord God Omnipotent, is the One who called the stars into being, commanded light, spoke the Word that brought about the existence of time and space and every form of matter: salt and stone, rose and redwood, feather and fur and fin and flesh. The titmouse and the turkey answer to Him. The sheep, the pig, and the finch are His, at His disposal, possessed and known by Him…We too are created, owned, possessed, known.

As we have seen, God’s purposes for humankind must be seen through a larger lens than our own myopic concerns and needs. As individual parts of a much larger organism (The Body of Christ), we must now view our need for growth in Christ within the framework of a much broader network. The Principle of Interdependence reveals that our actions are never completely isolated from others. In conclusion, let’s take a look at how the principle of becoming the optimal version of ourselves for the sake of others dances with the Principle of Interdependence.

This vital perspective should be obvious by now. If we fail to grow and evolve as spiritual beings in Christ, we will not only effect ourselves in a negative way, but we will be like a weight or drag on the progress of the Body of Christ as a whole. Further, it should also be apparent by now that part of our function as agents for Christ is to create conditions in which others can also grow. We are to do all that we can to become the optimal versions of who and what we are, and, as committed members of the Body of Christ, we are to also help others to grow.

When we operate from our Spirit, we naturally understand this. I am convinced our Sacred Mind, which is the Mind of Christ, understands these principles and how to apply them to their best advantage. The more we come to live and move from our Sacred Mind, the more skillful we become at accomplishing this universal task of growing and helping others to grow.

Conversely, when we live from our flesh or our “lower mind,” we cannot see the forest for the trees, nor can we overcome our egocentric myopia long enough to understand and apply these principles.

I encourage you to start today. Practice the classic spiritual disciplines and place yourself in a more centered and receptive state of being. Pray consistently for wisdom, discernment, and empowerment to carry forward your part in God’s overall process of restoration and renewal. And always remember, when you help yourself to grow, you are helping others and, when they end up helping as well, it comes back to you one hundred fold.

© L.D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

It’s so easy to get distracted by all the things going on around you. If you resolve to live the life of your dreams, if you refuse to settle for a life other than the one God created you to live….you have to decide to focus and lock in on the direction God has called you to live your life.

The first step in getting focused could be described as concentration. Concentration is directing all of our energies and resources to a specific task, idea, and direction. So to focus, you have to make this adjustment – to concentrate all your energy and resources on where you are going. Set your eyes on where God is calling you and don’t look back (and certainly don’t look around).

Your potential becomes talent only when it is harnessed and developed. Your talents become strengths when they are focused and directed. It is here where you begin to discover who you are and the potential God has placed within you.

Without a destiny, you will diffuse your energy.
When you are focused, you are your most powerful.
A destiny is not something waiting but something within you.

When Jesus calls us to come, he is calling us out into a future we cannot walk without him….The power of focus brings not only the strength of concentration but also the power of convergence – it harnesses all your talent, gifting, skills, passions, intellect, experience, the whole of you and brings it all together to unleash your highest potential.

Irwin Raphael McManus
(from Wide Awake)