Thursday, October 28, 2010

Today's Encouraging Word

John 1:5Image by A. Page via Flickr

Earth’s unlimited resource is the gifts, talent, passions, imagination, and ingenuity of its citizens. You would think that we know this by now, but we often seem to miss the gift right in front of us. The world needs you to find the hero within you. The real battle is not between good and evil but between less and more. Most of us don’t choose the worst life; we just don’t choose the best. We can’t afford for you to sleep through your dreams…..The world needs you at your best. This planet is made better or worse by the people we choose to become. If you live a diminished life, its not only you who loses, but the world loses, and humanity loses. There is a story to be written by your life, and thought it may never inspire a graphic novel, it is a heroic tale nonetheless. Though you may not recognize it, there is a greatness within you.

Erwin Raphael McManus

(from Wide Awake)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, October 22, 2010

You Are Still a Needed Servant

P christianityImage via Wikipedia

L.D. Turner

Josh is a brilliant man and is one of the most creative, visionary people I know. Possessing the uncanny ability to look at a problematic situation, size up its parameters, and come up with positive, workable solutions to address the problems, Josh would be an asset to any organization that employed him. People with the visionary foresight and strength that Josh has are few and far between.

That’s why it is so hard for me to believe that Josh just completed his fourteenth year employed as a stockroom worker at a retail shoe store. A college graduate and now in his mid-thirties, Josh is working the same job he obtained while working his way through school. It’s not that Josh has not had opportunities; it’s just that he doesn’t take advantage of them. On several occasions he has been offered good positions with local social service agencies after fellow church members, aware of Josh’s talents, have put in a good word for him. Each time Josh turned down the job.

After providing invaluable help to his pastor in getting a couple of community projects off the ground, Josh was asked to take a leadership role in an exciting development and expansion program his church was undertaking. Predictably, Josh declined.

Unfortunately, there are many like Josh who go through life under-employed, under-utilized, and unfulfilled. Although this is not what God had in mind, these talented individuals sabotage themselves and never leave the starting gate.

This happens for a variety of reasons. Some folks feel inadequate to the task of manifesting their vision in the reality of the day-to-day life in which they dwell. Others, top put it bluntly, are just too plain lazy to do what it is they are called to do. Still others lack basic motivation and for unconscious reasons quench the passion they feel for their purpose in life. Like the Beauty School Dropout in the musical Grease, they have the dream but not the drive.

Many, however, simply cannot believe God wants to use them due to past failures and disappointments. This was basically Josh’s problem. In his late teens he was involved in several crimes in which someone was seriously injured by accident. Josh was never caught and has no criminal record. Still, he feels responsible for what happened and, although God has forgiven him, he hasn’t forgiven himself. Moreover, Josh is convinced beyond a doubt that what he did disqualifies him for service to the Lord.

Josh and other believers like him choose to ignore the many biblical examples of heroes used by God even though they failed in the past. Think of Moses for example, a murderer who delivered his people from bondage in Egypt. Think of David, an adulterer who was also involved in a murder conspiracy. This sinner became a great king, an ancestor of Christ, and “a man after God’s own heart.” Think of Peter, who denied Christ three times on the night He was arrested. It was upon the “rock” of Peter that the New Testament Church was built.

No, my friend, you are wrong if you think God will not use you because you failed in the past. Your failures, your shortcomings, your screw-ups – oddly enough, in God’s way of doing things may be your chief qualification for service to the Creator.

I want to use this article to encourage you to understand and accept the reality that God put a potential and purpose in you before you were born and, further, he still wants that purpose to be realized. Stop looking back at the past and instead, step forward into the service that God has for you. You cannot change the past but know this: whatever happened is history in God’s eyes and in God’s heart. As a Christian you have been forgiven so turn your eyes forward instead of keeping them riveted in your rear view mirror.

Do all that you can to let this truth sink deep into the depths of your heart: where you are going, what is in your future is far more important that what’s behind you. Scripture tells us that with God, all things are possible. So if it seems your dreams have died, let the Lord resurrect those dormant dreams and allow those dreams to drive you and motivate you to be all that you can be for the glory of God and the sake of others.

Our world is a hurting world and there are many areas of need. The dream God placed in your heart is designed to deal with one of those areas. More than anything, the church, the Body of Christ, needs compassionate people of noble character and a heart of service. That’s you, my friend.

Take the gifts God has given you and put them to work in service to something larger than yourself. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place in your life if you consecrate yourself to using your talents for God’s plans and purposes.

Also, keep in mind that God would never place a dream in your heart without giving you all the talents you need to bring it to completion. I encourage you to take this principle on faith and act on it. Just put one foot in front of the other and start taking small steps toward making that God-given dream a bit closer to manifestation. Again, just trust that God has placed in you everything you need to succeed. Pastor Joel Osteen speaks clearly to this issue:

God would never put a dream in your heart if He had not already given you everything you need to fulfill it. That means if I have a dream or a desire, and I know it’s from God, I don’t have to worry whether I have what it takes to see that dream fulfilled. I know God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t call us to do something without giving us the ability or the wherewithal to do it…You have to realize that God has matched you with your world. In other words, even though at times you may not feel that you are able to accomplish your dreams, you have to get beyond those feelings and know deep inside, I have the seed of Almighty God in Me. Understand, God will never put a dream in your heart without first equipping you with everything you need to accomplish it.

In contrast to my friend Josh, Marty is an amazing example of how God often uses our areas of failure as a way of carrying forward his kingdom purpose on earth. Marty, a native of New York, had moved to South Florida in an attempt to find a geographical cure for his long standing addiction to heroin and cocaine. Had his thinking been even half way rational, Marty would have reasoned that moving to Miami, the hotbed of the drug world, was a mistake. Finding that drugs were much cheaper in Miami, mostly due to lack of transportation mark up, Marty quickly returned to his old ways. Quickly spiraling downward, Marty soon hit bottom. Arrested for an assortment of petty theft charges, Marty found himself in jail awaiting his hearing. He had neither bond money, nor any friends in the area. Marty had no choice but to cool his jets in the Dade County Stockade.

Marty’s time in jail provided him with an opportunity to face his situation honesty and he didn’t like what he saw. The Holy Spirit also went to work on Marty and helped ripen him for what was to come. After over five weeks in the slammer, he was informed that a local pastor was coming to give a talk to the inmates and, if he so desired, he could attend the lecture.

Feeling an almost magnetic pull to go to the presentation, he initially resisted. Marty feared that this pastor would be someone from the straight world and highly judgmental, he almost talked himself out of going. Still believing he had nothing to gain, he went anyway.

Sitting near the back of the room, Marty listened as the stockade chaplain introduced the speaker, Brother Larry. Marty was confused because the chaplain was the only person sitting at the front table. Maybe he hadn’t noticed that this Brother Larry wasn’t there, thought Marty. Next, a rather large man stood up from his seat in the front row. He walked to the podium and when he looked out at the crowd, Marty almost fainted.

Brother Larry was a large man with waist length hair and tattoos all over his arms and hands. He had a large scar on his right cheek, evidently from a knife wound suffered long ago. Then, as Brother Larry began his sermon, Marty almost fell out of his chair.

Not only did Marty recognize Brother Larry, he realized that it was he who had cut the preachers face. Many years earlier, in a drug deal gone sour in Queens, a fight had ensued and Marty found himself being pummeled by a large man. Reaching in his boot, Marty took out a dagger and slit his attacker’s cheek to the jaw bone. His attacker that night was none other than Brother Larry.

To make a long story short, Brother Larry spoke of his addiction, his crimes, and his eight-year term in Attica State Prison. He also spoke of how, as the result of a visit from a volunteer with Prison Fellowship, he found Christ and his life was turned around. Brother Larry now ran a halfway house in South Miami that gave recovering addicts a place to stay after they were released from incarceration. His ministry found them job training, gave them work to do, and made certain the residents were well connected with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Marty wondered if Brother Larry had recognized him that evening at the meeting in the stockade. He did. Two days later Brother Larry showed up to visit Marty. After being released, Marty lived for two years at Brother Larry’s halfway house. And that’s not all. Brother Larry recognized potential in Marty and encouraged him to return to college and finish his degree. He told Marty he had managed to get a donor to pay for Marty’s tuition, but the truth was Brother Larry paid for it out of his own pocket. Displaying true Christian forgiveness, Brother Larry never mentioned the scar he would carry for the rest of his life, nor any resentment toward Marty for inflicting it upon him. Instead, he paid for Marty’s college education and, after Marty had graduated, encouraged him to go on to seminary.

Marty graduated from seminary two years later and now runs the ministry begun by Brother Larry. Under Marty’s guidance and with God’s help, two more halfway houses were opened in nearby cities and are full with long waiting lists. One week after Marty’s graduation, Brother Larry had left this earth for his heavenly reward. He left behind a legacy, as well as a successor.

God used Brother Larry and he used Marty in the very arena where both of them had failed, hurt others, and suffered. Instead of punishing this pair of wayward prodigals, God exhibited a healing love to Brother Larry, who in turn, gave this same forgiving love to Marty. Brother Larry gave flesh to grace, just as Jesus did when he came to visit this planet.

The next time you think God can’t use you, think again. What do you think would have happened if Brother Larry had felt God could not and would not work through him? Certainly Marty would not be where he is today.

Look around you, my friend. Find a need and get busy doing something to meet it. You may very well be surprised what God can and will do through you if you just give him a chance.

Think about it.
Enhanced by Zemanta

(c) L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Today's Encouraging Word

SuccessImage by aloshbennett via Flickr

Don’t set your target low and aim for an inferior calling. Allow God to quicken His Word to you and push your thoughts higher. Let the fuel of His presence propel you toward His thoughts for your life. God wants to pour His Spirit into your heart and mind to give you high expectations. You are more than a conqueror. You can break bad habits. You can do great things……Rise up and take what is yours. Don’t sit back and allow life to pass by. Get up and take hold of the promises of God. Get up and pursue the vision God has placed in your heart….You may have forgotten the dream you used to have, but God hasn’t. You may not believe in the dream anymore, but He does. He believes in the dream, and He believes in you. He has been working on you and your dream the whole time. It may have been a long time. Many years may have passed since you first began to dream the dream. You may have lost many precious things. You may have lost hope. The dream may have faded from delay after delay. But mark it down: it is not over yet!

Frank Damazio

(from The Attitude of Faith)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, October 1, 2010

Spiritual Formation: Align and Abide

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...Image via Wikipedia

L.D. 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". 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. As mentioned, 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 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 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.

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, walk in the Spirit.

When we are able to 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 2010/All Rights Reserved
Enhanced by Zemanta