Something to Think About

L.D. Turner

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 that the hinge upon which the Christian faith swings is obedience, or, to express it quite bluntly, putting his teachings into practice. I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect in this regard, a reality my wife is especially fond of pointing out when we are in disagreement over some matter.

Still, we cannot afford to ignore the importance of manifesting the principles that Jesus pointed out that constituted the true Christian life. Jesus did not call us to a lukewarm form of discipleship. Instead, he called us to take up our personal crosses and follow him. This is truly a call to sacrificial living and becoming more “other-centered” and less self-focused. Much has been written on this aspect of the Christian life. One of my favorite descriptions of this sort of life-focus was penned by Steven Manskar in his book Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household. Referring to the United Methodist General Rule of Discipleship Manskar states:

The General Rule of Discipleship begins with the idea that disciples are people who are witnesses to and for Jesus Christ in the world. A witness is someone who has an experience to share, a story to tell. Disciples share their experience of Jesus Christ by telling and participating in his story, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Disciples tell the good news of God’s love for the world made flesh and blood in Jesus Christ by living as though Christ lived in them. They are living by their words and actions, his continuing story of salvation, healing, wholeness, compassion, and justice (shalom) in their daily lives. . . . . . .Their faith is integrated into their daily lives and is not limited to the confines of the church. They are the living, breathing body of Christ working in the world to point the way to God and God’s kingdom of compassion and justice.

Disciples witness to Jesus Christ in the world by following his teachings. They live his story by making his teachings, his life, his commandments part of their lives. This is how they live out their covenant relationship with God and God’s church. Disciples bring good news to the poor, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind and liberate the oppressed (Luke 4:16-18). They feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked (Matthew 25:37-40). Disciples love God and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). They love one another as Christ loves them (John 13:34-35). They forgive as Christ forgives them (Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, disciples order their lives according to the teachings and commandments of their teacher, their Lord, their brother and friend: Jesus Christ. They do this so the light of Christ may shine through them for the world, making them channels of grace.

A person is a channel of grace when he or she witnesses to Christ and follows his teachings. (26-27)

I think these words of Manskar are both profound and practical. The call to the Christian path is, contrary to popular belief, a call to sacrificial living. It is a call to place the needs of others above the petty needs that we might have. If we want a clear picture of what this call entails, all we have to do is carry out a detailed study of the life of Jesus.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2017

Holistic Optimism: Radical Acceptance

L.D. Turner

One of the key principles that we emphasize here at LifeBrook is the importance of optimism. The reasons for stressing the development and maintenance of an optimistic outlook on life are many, but perhaps the most important benefit of optimism is obvious.

Optimism is the womb of hope.

More significantly, as Christians, we have every reason to be optimistic. God has given us, through his grace and love, everything we need to live a complete, fulfilling, and rewarding life. Further, the Bible tells us repeatedly that we are now wholly redeemed and acceptable to the Father and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that should be enough to allow optimism to works its roots deep into the soil of our hearts. Moreover, in Romans Paul reassures us that all things work for our benefit, even if we are sometimes blind to the fact.

In brief, God accepts us and blesses us. So, why is it that many of us have trouble fully accepting this free gift of grace? Why is it that a significant number of God’s family displays such a negative mindset? Why is it that church pews are often filled with people wearing either plastic smiles or, even worse, displaying such a sour countenance that visitors might think these folks had been baptized in vinegar instead of water?

Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that many of us, deep down in our spiritual hearts, just don’t believe that we have really been accepted. If we are among that number, our situation is such that we are actually rejecting the very gospel we proclaim.

A renowned Christian theologian, I think it was Paul Tillich, once said that the key to the whole Christian gospel was the fact that God accepts us. In fact, he went on to say that the way to appropriate God’s grace was to accept that we are accepted. I am no theologian and, at best, possess a second or third-rate mind. But I am capable of comprehending the truth of this statement. We cannot begin the spiritual journey as outlined by Christ until we accept the gift of grace. And the most fundamental aspect of accepting God’s offer is to accept that we are accepted. Yet many Christians don’t seem to get this point. In fact, in their broken, weak state they can’t fathom that they are in any way acceptable to God. Something is wrong here. Very wrong.

The crown jewel in the center of the Christian message is that the lowliest, neediest, and most broken people are accepted if they have faith in Christ. Just take a look at the kind of people he chose to hang out with when he was on earth. He associated with thieves, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, cripples, paupers, and even a woman married five times. It now strikes me as absurd to think that I, even with my hang-ups, sins, shortcomings, and defects of character, am beyond the loving pale of God’s grace. However, many people both within and outside the church feel they are unworthy of God’s grace and thus reject the gift that was designed for them in the first place.

Consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son as told by Christ in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. We are so familiar with this tale of a wasted life saved through love and redemption than we often loose the impact that it should have on our lives. Especially if we are wastrels and rogues like the wandering Prodigal. Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, the parable of the youngest son of a wealthy landowner illustrates the incomprehensible, counter-intuitive love of God. Brennan Manning speaks succinctly about the Prodigal in all of us and God’s incredible acceptance:

“When the prodigal limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing, and womanizing, his motives were mixed at best. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of Hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father”. (Luke: 15:17-18). The ragamuffin stomach was not churning with compunction because he had broken his father’s heart. He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country had left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned. The wine soured and the roses withered. His declaration of independence had reaped an unexpected harvest: not freedom, joy, new life but bondage, gloom, and a brush with death. His fair-weather friends had shifted their allegiance when his piggy bank emptied. Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive.”

Yet even with these mixed motives, borne as much from desperation as from contrition, the wastrel was accepted by his father and a celebration ensued. Of course it is best if we respond to God’s offer with a pure, contrite heart and full acknowledgement of our failure and powerlessness. Yet how many of us are actually capable of this? Not many I suspect. I know I am not. But God accepts our response to his offer in spite of our conflicted hearts and spirits. In fact, if one is to believe what Christ teaches in the parable of the Prodigal, then he in accepts our desperation just as much as he accepts our repentance. This is truly “radical grace.”

So what is our response to what God has done? What are we to do if we truly and sincerely want to partake of God’s marvelous offer to accept us, love us and empower us to be better people? What are we to do if we genuinely desire to become Children of the Light? First, we should deeply reflect on just what it is that God has done through Christ and what He is continuing to do through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Brendan Manning again puts it in cogent and moving words:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name; our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.

Just how do we go about accepting this radical offer made by God? We just accept it. It is really that simple. There is no great mystery here, no elaborate initiation rites, no secret oaths or pledges. We just accept it because God offers it. We accept it on faith and leave God to work out the details and understanding later. The comfort we find in accepting God’s love comes after faith, never before it. Remember, it all begins with and hinges on faith.

Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.

I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was chewing on me. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.

(c) L.D. Turner 2017/All Rights Reserved

Manifesting Divine Potential

L.D. Turner

One of the most significant aspects of the Creator’s provision lies in the fact that he never sends any of us into this world empty handed. With infinite wisdom and grace, he has placed a great treasure inside each and every one of us – a treasure beyond price. Each person arrives at birth with a divine potential planted in his or her heart. This potential contains the vision God has for that particular person as well as the talents, skills, and creativity to make that potential a manifest reality. Dr. Myles Munroe, the highly-respected pastor and Bible teacher, speaks eloquently of this seed of potential planted within each of us:

“The entire creation possesses this principle of potential. Everything has the natural instinct to release its ability. The plant and animal kingdoms abound with evidences of this fact. The Creator designed everything with this principle of potential, which can be simplified to the concept of a seed. The biblical document states that God created everything with ‘seed in it according to their kinds’ (Genesis 1:12). In essence, hidden within everything is the potential to fulfill itself and produce much more than we see.”

It is vital that every person understand that we are responsible for developing the potential stored within us. We must deepen our contact with our divine potential, which I call our Sacred Self, and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true potential. Further, we must recognize that as we move forward in developing our optimal potential, we can never afford to stop. In essence, when we travel the spiritual journey, we are either moving forward or backward. There is truly no place to stand on the spiritual path.

Our journey of discovering and developing our divine potential must begin with a commitment to excellence – an agreement with our Creator that we will walk in cooperation with the Spirit to become the best version of ourselves.

Necessarily, this commitment will involve personal challenges and, at times, a degree of personal discomfort. Spiritual growth involves change and change always requires stepping out of our comfort zone. Still, the process of realizing and manifesting our divine potential is one of the greatest adventures we will ever undertake.

When we make a commitment to excellence, we are basically telling God and ourselves that we are finally getting serious about our spiritual development. When we firmly dedicate ourselves to become who God intended us to be, we get honest with ourselves about where we are, where we are not, and where God wants us to go. We then make a personal commitment to, with God’s help, become all that we were created to be, all that we were intended to be, and, in the final analysis, all that we truly are.

Contrary to popular belief, living a life committed to Christian excellence is far from a tedious, joyless affair. When Christ calls us, he does not call us to a life of drudgery and boredom; he does not lead us into a life characterized by a restrictive morality and a scowling face. Christ’s call and claim on our life is a challenge to our limited ways of being in the world. When the Lord whispers in a person’s ear, saying, “Follow me,” he is issuing an invitation to an exciting journey of exploration and spiritual discovery. Erwin Raphael McManus, noted author and pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, tells us:

“Jesus calls us to a life of unimaginable adventure. It begins the moment we choose to follow Him. It is no less than to pass from existence to life. Though we are not taken out of time and space, we are translated into an entirely different dimension of living. Jesus tells us that He is the portal into this life and the quest that follows. Jesus describes Himself as a door, a gate, a portal. In other words, an escape hatch. He has come to lead us out of the mundane and into the extraordinary. Strangely enough we find it hard to trust Him, while all the time he has been trying to lead us out of the dark dungeons we have created for ourselves and let us run free in the light of day. When we come to Him, he translates us into an entirely new realm of living. His promise is that in Him we will find the life that our hearts have always longed for.”

The process of realizing the potential God placed in us is individual in nature. One person may see his or her potential unfolded in one way while someone else may have a different experience altogether. Still, there are several truths that hold firm for each of us as we journey forward with the Holy Spirit. Let’s discuss three of them: the need for discipline; the need for persistence; and the trap of complacency.

Discipline is not a popular word in post-modern culture. Instead, we are encouraged to “follow our bliss” and “do our own thing.” The world pays lip service to the importance of discipline and self-control in daily living, but the over-arching message is in actuality much different. Often, instead of encouraging individuals to delay gratification, defer rewards, and develop character, our culture tells us, “If it feels good, do it.” No one ever manifested divine potential by adhering to this advice.

Scripture repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, self-control, and personal morality. Without personal discipline, we squander our energies, waste precious time, and lose direction and focus. If we want to become the person God intended us to be, we have to be disciplined individuals governed by an internalized biblical value system.

As we move forward in this sacred journey of spiritual development, we will experience periods of accelerated growth as well as times when it seems we are advancing at a snail’s pace. This unpredictable pace of spiritual formation is to be expected. There will be times of elation and excitement a you realize the positive changes God’s Spirit has brought about in you life. At other times, you will experience something quite different as you struggle with a particular habit, sin, or negative personality trait. This can be a critical juncture in your growth process. It is easy to become discouraged when change does not come at the pace we would prefer. However, the important point to remember is: “Don’t quit.”

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

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

The same is true in terms of realizing our potential in any endeavor. If we want to improve at something, we have to challenge ourselves; we have to stretch ourselves to get to the next level.

Dr. Myles Munroe, the highly respected pastor and Bible teacher mentioned at the beginning of this article, begins one of his books on divine potential by observing that the richest place on earth is not the vault of a large bank or even Fort Knox. Instead, Dr. Munroe points out, the world’s greatest wealth is often found in the cemetery. It is here, in the graveyard, where many dreams lie buried – dreams that were never realized, missions that were never accomplished, and potential that was never realized.

As I reflect upon the tragic reality of Dr. Munroe’s observations about the wealth lying beneath the grave stones, I ponder another possible tragedy, equally distressing. I wonder how many people are going about their daily rounds, oblivious to the potential placed inside them by the Creator. How many of us will squander this precious life that we have without realizing and manifesting their God-given potential? How many will have their potential buried with them? I, for one, have made a covenant commitment with God not to allow this to happen to me.

 

How about you?

(c) L.D. Turner/ 2017

Today’s Encouraging Word

 

God would not have put the 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. If you feel that you don’t have the necessary wisdom, talent, ability, or resources, simply remind yourself, God has matched me with my world. He has already put in me what I need.

Joel Osteen

(from Become a Better You)

Taking Thoughts Captive for Christ

L.D. Turner

Many times I find I have to remind myself to keep things simple when it comes to my walk of faith. I am a thinker, a questioner, and an unapologetic mystic by nature and taking things on face value is sometimes difficult for me. Still, I do need to keep ever before me the principle of simplicity and work hard to refrain from climbing aboard my train of thought when it pulls out of the station, bound for a destination I know from experience is not worth visiting.

I am fortunate and thankful that for some years now the Holy Spirit seems to be both alerting me when I am about to let my thoughts get the best of me and assisting me in refraining from doing so. I still have major problems with this but I am getting better.

In my own case, this admonition of the Spirit to keep thing simple means that I have to make every effort to not get caught up in my thinking. An old buddy of mine who has been sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for over 30 years now once told me that the most valuable lesson he learned early in his recovery was that when he was alone he was “behind enemy lines.” In some ways, I think this can be true in my case as well. I have a marked tendency to over-think things, especially spiritual issues, and, as a result, experience one of two mental states and neither is positive.

In the first case it seems that when I climb on board the train of my thought and allow it to leave the station with my ticket punched, I many times never arrive at a destination. Instead, I end up confused, frustrated, angry and, in the final analysis, spiritually paralyzed. This state of affairs makes it difficult for me to apply certain aspects of the Lord’s teaching to my daily life, which ends up making me even more frustrated.

These situations tend to occur when I become somewhat obsessed with some aspect of the Christian faith that I find especially hard to understand and/or accept. For example, I have major difficulty wrapping my mind and my heart around the whole notion of what theologians have long called the “Substitutionary atonement.” This is the idea that the blood of Christ, shed on the cross at Calvary, somehow appeased a wrathful God that was more than a little ticked off with us humans because of our disobedience, otherwise known as “sin.” According to this theory, we owed God big time and, to make matters worse, there really wasn’t any way we could pay up. The only solution was for God to come down here, take on flesh, and be sacrificed in order to pay the debt.

I am well aware of all the explanations of this doctrine as well as the notion that blood sacrifice of animals was a common practice among humans since recorded history began. I am also aware that it was the central practice of the Jews. On the Day of Atonement the people brought their sacrifices into the Temple and they were offered up to God as a covering for their sins. The Old Testament is filled with the details of these sacrifices and, at least to the casual reader, they make Jehovah appear to be a barbaric tyrant whose forgiveness and clemency must be purchased with the currency of life and blood. Those who support this notion of substitutionary atonement put forth the idea that Christ was sinless and the ultimate, perfect sacrifice. His death on the cross appeased God once and for all.

I must confess that I still struggle with this teaching. I cannot fathom how God, the incomprehensible intelligence that forged this universe, would somehow be moved to mercy after a man in colorful robes and a big hat walked into the Holy of Holies and slit a lamb’s throat. Even now, after all these years of being associated with the faith, as I sit here and type this I am appalled and mystified.

My reaction to Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion” was not like most. I walked out of the theater wondering, “What kind of God would require such a hideous thing?” My conclusion was: God wouldn’t.

This is an example of how I have, with the Holy Spirit’s help, learned to put certain issues on the shelf and not waste valuable spiritual energies trying to resolve them in my own way and in my own time. In terms of the “Substitutionary Atonement,” I eventually came to a resolution on the issue and, in so doing, was able to clarify several other issues as well.

In the second case, I sometimes allow the actions and thoughts of others to drive me to distraction. For example, when a Christian leader of the fundamentalist/conservative persuasion does or says something that is patently stupid and offensive, but gets a lot of press nonetheless, it tends to get me riled up more than it should. Rather than letting this slide off my back as I should, I start over-thinking the event, ruminating on how it is these very sorts of things that gives Christianity such a bad name in our society, and just in general working myself into a lather.

A prime example of this second tendency to let my mind run away with itself occurred a few years back when a very prominent Christian leader and pastor advocated “taking out” the President of Venezuela. I was mortified as were many other sincere believers. My suspicion is the Christian leader in question didn’t have his WWJD bracelet on that day.

On more than one occasion, these very sorts of happenings have nearly convinced me that it would be best if I just jettisoned Christianity altogether. I have explored many faith systems over the years and can see much benefit in many of them. When I work myself up to a near-Chernobyl state of mind over the comments or stridently voiced opinions of a believer who thinks he or she is the final authority on God’s truth, a big part of me wants to declare myself a Buddhist and be done with it.

It would seem, however, the Hound of Heaven will not allow me to take such a course of action, no matter how much I may want to. I am, at the end of the day, eternally grateful for this. I love Christ, his mission, his Holy Spirit, and his faithfulness to me when I am far less than faithful to him. Further, I believe each of us, myself included, has a specific mission to accomplish in this life and if I, like Jonah, head in a direction other than my own revealed Nineveh, I just might end up in the belly of a whale.

I am sure some of you can’t relate to this dilemma of over-thinking things that either you can’t get your mind around or you just can’t tolerate. For you fortunate souls, all I can offer is the suggestion that you express a deep thankfulness for being so blessed. As to those of you who are afflicted as I am, I can offer the strategies that seem to work for me. I hope you find that they work for you, at least to some extent. However, I also understand that we are all wired differently and what works for me may not be your solution.

I have found that with all things it is best to begin with prayer. I ask the Lord to help me where I can’t help myself. I confess that I have major difficulty accepting certain things, or that I am angry at a Christian leader who said or did something that most civilized people would consider an affront to either reason or personal dignity. I ask for a forgiving spirit and to have the capacity to put away those aspects of the faith that I can’t understand or accept. I also ask for wisdom just in case it might be the Lord’s prerogative to give me valuable insight into the issue I am ruminating about.

After prayer, I have found that focusing on the very basic principles of my worldview is of immense help in keeping things simple on the cognitive front. In essence, what I remind myself of is those things that I do firmly hold to be true and, beyond that, give the rest to God.

Fueled by prayer, I next engage in the ongoing and often difficult process of taking every thought captive for Christ. By this I mean that I do not allow myself to get past the first one or two thoughts on one of these issues. I just shut it down, period. There are times when I will pick up a troubling issue and let my mind work on it, but these days I try to do this only by appointment. In terms of my thoughts, I now try not to accept “walk-ins.”

(c) L.D. Turner; 2016/All Rights Reserved

The Blessings of Enthusiasm

L.D. Turner

The Blessings of Enthusiasm

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

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

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

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

The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek language and implies “an absorbing or controlling passion of the mind by any interest or pursuit”. A brief look at the Greek origins of the word gives us deeper insight into the definition and value of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is derived from two Greek words, “en” and “theos.” When combined to form the Greek word for enthusiasm the term is literally translated as “God in you,” or “God within.” or “full of God.” Thus, the whole concept of enthusiasm is spiritual from the beginning.

Whenever I think of enthusiasm, a number of successful and influential people come to mind. One such figure is Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the motivational classic, The Power of Positive Thinking. In that landmark book, as well as many other titles by Dr. Peale, he stressed the connection between enthusiasm and the spiritual life. For example, Peale tells us:

…you will have enthusiasm, force, and power to the extent that God is actually present within you. God gave you life; God can and will renew your life. When you get out of harmony with God, life declines, vitality ebbs, and then enthusiasm leaks away. When enthusiasm is low, vitality, energy, and power are low….Therefore, get full of God and you enthusiasm will rise and as it does you will experience new vitality, energy, force, and effectiveness. Always remember that enthusiasm was built into you by Almighty God in an original creative process. And God not only creates, He also recreates unless, by living in a non-spiritual manner, you interfere with His natural renewal processes. But if you keep in harmony with God, re-creative enthusiasm and vitality will continue to renew you indefinitely.

When we are enthusiastic, we are in harmony with God and the Spirit within us. This harmonious relationship fills us with renewed energy, vitality, and an ability to be more effective at everything we put our hand to.

What does this mean in terms of our spiritual development? It means that we must be committed to our growth, no matter what path and practice we have chosen. We must develop a passion for it and view the time we spend in pursuit of spiritual formation as time well spent. If we lack enthusiasm, we will advance slowly or fail completely. Enthusiasm gives drive to our dream. Further, enthusiasm gives emotional and psychological fuel to our growth and development on all levels. Christian Larson, an influential teacher of the early 20th Century, tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like any other principle, enthusiasm is only helpful when it becomes a part of your daily living – indeed – when it becomes a part of who you are. Developing a consistent feeling of passion and enthusiasm for your mission and calling in life is a natural process. God supplies the energy, just as he supplies the wind that carries sailing ships across the seas. If the crew of that sailing vessel wants to move, however, they have to raise their sail. In the same way, if we want to catch the wind of enthusiasm and make it part of who we are, we have to set our sail. We can do this by using positive, spiritual statements and repeating them over and over. Again, Dr. Peale, always a very practical man, offers sage advice:

…to have enthusiasm affirm, and believe as you affirm, “I am now in harmony with the spiritual vibrations that flow from Almighty God. I will now live as though I have enthusiasm. I do have enthusiasm. I am now in God’s vibration flow an am receiving enthusiasm from God.” You can demonstrate to yourself by practice the absolute reality of such affirmation. This technique is practical because it works. Deepen your faith, affirm enthusiasm, forget yourself, serve God and people, and you will attain new and higher levels of life. And you will have deeper satisfaction…When the power of enthusiastic faith is constantly maintained you will have a perpetually fresh interest. Life will never get old or stale. You will become and remain vital and effective.

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

If you are sincere about making enthusiasm a central part of your character, you may be amazed at the results when you apply yourself with discipline. And don’t be surprised when one day people come from miles away, just to watch you burn.

© L.D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved

The Blessings of Forgiveness and Acceptance

Mick Turner

One subject that often does not come up in daily conversation is Christ’s crucifixion. It just isn’t one of those topics that tend to roll easily off one’s lips and tongue. In fact, spending time reflecting on the horrors of crucifixion is not something many of us prefer to do, even in our private times of prayer and devotion. And this tendency to avoid meditating on the excruciating ordeal that Jesus suffered on our behalf is not without good reason. Let’s face facts: the Roman practice of hanging someone on a cross and torturing them as the life force slowly drained away was one of the most horrendous, sadistic methods of execution dreamed up in the darker recesses of the human mind.

With that said, let me get to the point that I want to stress. I began with the aforementioned digression because it is the crucifixion that provides the historical backdrop for the theme I want to discuss.

I want to talk about the interrelated themes of grace and forgiveness.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Christian teachings understand that grace, forgiveness, and the crucifixion are part of an interrelated whole. Any attempt to separate these three critical components of Christ’s “Atonement” is at best futile and at worst, delirious. The cross was the method that facilitated the physical manifestation of God’s grace in the three-dimensional world and forgiveness was the practical, concrete outcome of the grace demonstrated on the cross. How ironic that God took the world’s most horrific act of execution, as well as the implement used to carry out that horror, and turned it in to an act of divine love and sacrifice and transformed what was a symbol of pain and death into an emblem of love, deliverance from death, and personal salvation.

I find it extremely difficult to wrap my mind around the extent of the physical suffering Jesus Christ experienced, starting with the flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, his crown of thorns, the tortuous journey through the narrow streets carrying his cross, and culminating in the unrelenting agony of crucifixion. From the first lash of the flogger’s whip until he uttered, “It is finished,” Jesus endured torment far beyond anything we can fathom.

Yet through it all he not only endured, he exhibited a sublime level of love that was seemingly beyond comprehension. Raised up high on the wooden beam, with spikes hammered through his wrists, each labored breath was far more excruciating than anything you and I have ever experienced. Yet at the zenith of his suffering and his tormentors’ brutality, he uttered these words:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Pause for a few moments and try to wrap your mind around that.

One of the most tragic things I hear Christians or potential Christians say is something like this, “You don’t know the kind of unspeakable things I have done. God would never forgive someone like me.” Friend, I don’t know what kind of nefarious, degrading sorts of things you were involved in, but I think it is pretty safe to say that it pales in comparison to flogging, mocking, and putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus Christ, and then murdering him by crucifixion. No, I doubt your worst acts come close to this sort of thing. Compared to what went on that fateful Friday, whatever your crimes might have been, they were small potatoes. With that in mind, now spend time letting this sink down into the very core of your being:

If Christ forgave his executioners, chances are your transgressions are also forgiven.

The fact is a major part of Christ’s mission to this planet was to facilitate the mysterious process that theologians call justification, which is a fancy way of saying the through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been restored to right standing with God. In a nutshell, our sins are forgiven and we are accepted by God, warts and all. To reject this forgiveness, which is a free gift of grace, is like refusing God’s most precious gift.

Further, the Bible tells us repeatedly that we are now wholly redeemed and acceptable to the Father and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that should be enough to allow optimism to works its roots deep into the soil of our hearts. Moreover, in Romans Paul reassures us that all things work for our benefit, even if we are sometimes blind to the fact.

In brief, God accepts us and blesses us. So, why is it that many of us have trouble fully accepting this free gift of grace? Why is it that a significant number of God’s family displays such a negative mindset? Why is it that church pews are often filled with people wearing either plastic smiles or, even worse, displaying such a sour countenance that visitors might think these folks had been baptized in vinegar instead of water?

Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that many of us, deep down in our spiritual hearts, just don’t believe that we have really been accepted. If we are among that number, our situation is such that we are actually rejecting the very gospel we proclaim.

A renowned Christian theologian, I think it was Paul Tillich, once said that the key to the whole Christian gospel was the fact that we are accepted by God. In fact, he went on to say that the way to appropriate God’s grace was to accept that we are accepted. I am no theologian and, at best, possess a second or third rate mind. But I am capable of comprehending the truth of this statement. We cannot begin the spiritual journey as outlined by Christ until we accept the gift of grace. And the most fundamental aspect of accepting God’s offer is to accept that we are accepted. Yet many Christians don’t seem to get this point. In fact, in their broken, weak state they can’t fathom that they are in any way acceptable to God. Something is wrong here. Very wrong.

The crown jewel in the center of the Christian message is that the lowliest, neediest, and most broken people are accepted if they have faith in Christ. Just take a look at the kind of people he chose to hang out with when he was on earth. He associated with thieves, lepers, tax-collectors, prostitutes, cripples, paupers, and even a woman married five times. It now strikes me as absurd to think that I, even with my hang-ups, sins, shortcomings, and defects of character, am beyond the loving pale of God’s grace. However, many people both within and outside the church feel they are unworthy of God’s grace and thus reject the gift that was designed for them in the first place.

Consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son as told by Christ in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. We are so familiar with this tale of a wasted life saved through love and redemption than we often loose the impact that it should have on our lives. Especially if we are wastrels and rogues like the wandering Prodigal. Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, the parable of the youngest son of a wealthy landowner illustrates the incomprehensible, counter-intuitive love of God. Brennan Manning speaks succinctly about the Prodigal in all of us and God’s incredible acceptance:

When the prodigal limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing, and womanizing, his motives were mixed at best. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of Hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father”. (Luke: 15:17-18). The ragamuffin stomach was not churning with compunction because he had broken his father’s heart. He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country had left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned. The wine soured and the roses withered. His declaration of independence had reaped an unexpected harvest: not freedom, joy, new life but bondage, gloom, and a brush with death. His fair-weather friends had shifted their allegiance when his piggy bank emptied. Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive.

Yet even with these mixed motives, borne as much from desperation as from contrition, the wastrel was accepted by his father and a celebration ensued. Of course it is best if we respond to God’s offer with a pure, contrite heart and full acknowledgement of our failure and powerlessness. Yet how many of us are actually capable of this? Not many I suspect. I know I am not. But God accepts our response to his offer in spite of our conflicted hearts and spirits. In fact, if one is to believe what Christ teaches in the parable of the Prodigal, then he in accepts our desperation just as much as he accepts our repentance. This is truly “radical grace.”

So what is our response to what God has done? What are we to do if we truly and sincerely want to partake of God’s marvelous offer to accept us, love us and empower us to be better people? What are we to do if we genuinely desire to become Children of the Light? First, we should deeply reflect on just what it is that God has done through Christ and what He is continuing to do through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Brendan Manning again puts it in cogent and moving words:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”

Just how do we go about accepting this radical offer made by God? We just accept it. It is really that simple. There is no great mystery here, no elaborate initiation rites, no secret oaths or pledges. We just accept it because God offers it. We accept it on faith and leave God to work out the details and understanding later. The comfort we find in accepting God’s love comes after faith, never before it. Remember, it all begins with and hinges on faith.

Christians seem to have an uncanny knack for taking simple truths and complicating them through debate, dogma, and doctrine. The “Doctrine of Grace” is one thing; the reality of God’s grace is quite another. It is freely offered to all who would humble themselves enough to receive it. I suspect that each of us has his or her own way of resisting God’s grace. Some of us, as mentioned above, feel we don’t deserve it; some of us are too prideful, feeling that we can fix ourselves on our own; others think the concept of grace is just too simplistic. Whatever our reasons for struggling with this basic Christian principle, until we resolve our conflict, we will not advance very far on the spiritual journey.

I can attest to this fact from my own experience. Paul says that the idea of “Christ crucified” as the means of salvation would be foolishness to the Greeks. Well, for many years it was foolishness to me. I much preferred the complexity of Buddhism and Hinduism, or the sanity of New Thought. Still, somewhere down in the pit of my being, the Hound of Heaven was nose to the ground and hot on my trail. God was unrelenting in his pursuit of me and I, like Jonah, headed for the hills more than once. Still, God’s grace kept surrounding me and I could not escape. In fact, I came to treasure the comforting feeling of being surrounded by God. Finally, I accepted that I was accepted.

Once I stopped running; once my struggles with God came to a halt, it was like a whole panorama of spiritual reality opened before my eyes, including a deep sense of optimism and hope. As a result, I began to view the world, including its problems and pain, with a greater degree of compassion and a genuine desire for healing involvement. Once I truly encountered the reality of divine acceptance at an experiential level, grace became more than a doctrine – it became a living reality. I was in a real sense born from above and with that new birth I gained a profoundly different perspective on life in general and myself in particular.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand at a deeper level that I was in fact accepted. Accepted in my weakness because this is where the strength of Christ is seen. Accepted in my brokenness because this is where the healing of Christ is seen. Accepted in my faithlessness because this is where the fidelity of Christ is seen. Accepted in my wandering in the wilderness because this is where Christ’s true and stable mansions are eventually discovered.

© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved