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Spiritual transformation is not so much a process of creating a “new you” – but instead, is about becoming the “real you.” As we increasingly grow “in Christ” we are led by the Holy Spirit into a deeper level of self-evaluation and, as the Spirit reveals to us both our strong and weak points, we gain understanding into who we are and why we do what we do. It is sometimes a painful process as we begin to see who and what we are behind the various masks we create. Still, this is a part of the process that we must undergo if we are to become useful vessels in God’s kingdom.
In essence, it is all about becoming a person of “authenticity.” An authentic person is a person who is guileless and consistently exhibits impeccable integrity. If more of us displayed just these traits, an absence of…
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For decades now, sociological research has indicated that organized Christianity in America is on the wane. Except in the non-urbanized areas of the Bible Belt, all of the old Mainline denominations like Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ have undergone a mass exodus resulting in empty sanctuaries and boarded up doors and windows. Now, just a few months back, the Southern Baptist Convention, long the stalwart bastion of conservative Evangelicalism, has admitted to decreased membership and a dramatic drop in baptisms.
The reasons for this decline are myriad and analysis of these etiological factors is certainly beyond the scope of this short paper. Suffice to say that the Christian faith, as it is practiced in the West, has largely gone off the tracks. Granted, independent, non-denominational churches have grown in terms of membership rolls, as have some of the non-affiliated Charismatic…
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I am an admitted book addict and have been an avid reader since childhood. I guess there are worse things one could be and, other than spending more than I should for books on occasion and having a head full of somewhat useless knowledge, I don’t think my life is any worse for wear as a result of my excessive reading.
I mention all this because I am going to do something I rarely do in these pages: I am going to recommend a series of books by a particular author. I normally shy away from doing this because I understand that readers have a wide range of tastes and, as a result, what appeals to one may not be pleasing to another. However, from time to time I run across a book, or in this case a group of books, that are so outstanding –…
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If we ever hope to grow into the fullness of Christ as Paul promised we could, we not only have to imitate Christ. Although the “What Would Jesus Do?” teaching was both admirable and beneficial, it did not go to the core of the issue. If we want to manifest the character, the mind, and the heart of Jesus, we have to live as he lived. This means, among other things, that we have to practice the spiritual disciplines of our faith.
I am always fascinated by those folks who are threatened by the spiritual disciplines and especially those writers and teachers who warn us against practicing the disciplines. These folks go so far as to infer that the practice of spiritual disciplines is at best unscriptural and at worst, from the bowels of hell.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I don’t know…
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(continued from Part One)
Our nation has evolved a Christian faith that is a far cry from the one Christ intended. Blended with our culture’s worship of individualism, materialism, and personal freedoms, the Christianity that developed in America was, and remains, more American than Christian. The fact is, and few of us want to face this reality, our minds and hearts remain too small for Christ’s gospel. The following words by Houston Smith, renowned scholar of comparative religion, ring far too true:
…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.
For those of us steeped in Western culture and raised within the walls of the church, it is hard to fully grasp the true revolutionary, radical nature of Jesus’ teachings. Yet when compared to the general religious worldview of his day, as well as the practices that went along with that worldview, the Master’s approach to the spiritual life was a complete anachronism.
We get the first hint of this on the occasion of Jesus’ first public miracle – the turning of water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana. The magnificence of the miracle itself, the changing of water into wine, often overshadows a more subtle, symbolic aspect to the events of that day. The water Jesus changed into wine was not just any water – and the vessels holding the water were no common containers. Instead, Jesus told the servants to fill six stone jars to the very top with water. These stone jars were the ones used for people to wash themselves in compliance with the dictates of their religion. By this act, Jesus used his first public miracle to deliver a symbolic yet very real message.
Rather than ritualistic cleansing, rules, and regulations, through Jesus God was bringing something totally new into life on this planet, something much more intimate and celebratory. Through Jesus, God was indeed bringing joy, good news to the people. As the Master said when he quoted the prophet Isaiah, he had come “to set the captives free.” And the irony of all ironies is that his people were not enslaved by the Egyptians as in the time of Moses. No, and the enemy was not just the Romans, either. Instead, I am convinced that Jesus saw his mission as intricately tied up with subverting the existing religious order, which had turned what was intended as a vital, dynamic, and intimate relationship with God into a burdensome shackle of trivial religious laws. Bruxy Cavey, in his excellent work entitled, The End of Religion, describes the subversive, radical nature of the Master’s mission:
I was faced with an unexpected but undeniable fact: Through his first miracle, Jesus intentionally desecrates a religious icon. He purposely chooses these sacred jars to challenge the religious system by converting them from icons of personal purification into symbols of relational celebration. Jesus takes us from holy water to wedding wine. From legalism to life. From religion to relationship……Jesus seems to be saying that his message of love – a radically accepting love – is too great to be contained by the old ways of religious tradition. His new wine demands new wineskins (see Matt. 9:17).
As Cavey later points out, and as any astute reader of the four gospels will soon discover, Jesus did not come as the meek and mild savior with a flower in one hand and a white dove in the other. No my friends, Jesus made it quite clear from the outset that he came to shake things up. If you have any doubts about this, go back and carefully read through the gospels. Pay particular attention to the Master’s words in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount. See how often he prefaces his teaching by saying, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” Jesus challenges the old teaching and then replaces it with a new one.
Jonathan and Jennifer Campbell, in their remarkable, insightful book entitled, The Way of Jesus, make the timely observation that:
God is bringing forth new wineskins for a fresh outpouring of wine, and it does not look like anything we’ve ever seen. So we must focus on Jesus and the wine he is pouring out, and not on the wineskin. Remember, the purpose of the wineskin is to furnish the appropriate environment for the juice of the choice grapes to ferment and season at just the right time. We should be open and flexible, like new wineskins, in order to have Jesus fill our hearts and communities. This new wineskin must be very simple and able to expand and grow with the new wine.
Renewal is not enough. We all need to go through a conversion something like what the apostle Peter experienced in Acts 10 and 11. Peter’s conversion from an ethnocentric Jew to an advocate for Gentile missions was one of the most significant paradigm shifts in the history of the church. Likewise today, the church must repent of any cultural tradition that hinders the movement of the gospel across cultures. The current spiritual-cultural crisis calls for nothing less than complete repentance, what the Greeks called metatonia, a transformation of the mind, a change of heart, and a new way of living. Just as Gentiles received salvation free of Jewish tradition, so all people have the right to follow Jesus without having to become Western or institutionalized…………Jesus calls his followers to undergo a systemic shift that goes to the root of our identity – one that questions all the assumptions of the Christendom model. What we really need are people living the life of Jesus in community, drinking the new wine of the Spirit and living as fresh wineskins in the world.
From all that has gone before in this article, it should be apparent that as followers of Christ we have a divine calling that is both real and urgent. Our world is wounded and hurting and there is a strong need for grace and healing. Yet if any degree of healing is to take place, we Christ-followers must deeply understand that it has to begin within our own walls. It is imperative first of all that the Body of Christ become more unified in both theology and purpose. Yes, there is indeed a place of diversity, but diversity must never devolve into divisiveness. As Christians, we have to get our minds and especially our hearts around the concept that no matter what our differences might be, we have a divine calling to give flesh to grace and that his calling, given by the Master himself, transcends any sectarian differences that may exist.
Listen to Richard Stearns again as he speaks to the missing link in our gospel understanding as well as points us in the right direction.
I believe that we have reduced the gospel from a dynamic and beautiful symphony of God’s love for and in the world to a bare and strident monotone. We have taken this amazing good news from God, originally presented in high definition and Dolby stereo, and reduced it to a grainy, black-and-white, silent movie. In doing so, we have also stripped it of much of its power to change not only the human heart but the world. This is especially reflected in our limited view of evangelism. Jesus commanded His followers to take the good news of reconciliation and forgiveness to the ends of the earth. The dictate is the same today.
Christianity is a faith that was meant to spread – but not through coercion. God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated. Our job is not to manipulate or induce others to agree with us or to leave their religion and embrace Christianity. Our change is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love in tangible ways. When we are living out our faith with integrity and compassion in the world, God can use us to give others a glimpse of His love and character. It is God – not us – who works in the hearts of men and women to forgive and redeem. Coercion is not necessary or even particularly helpful. God is responsible for the harvest – but we must plant, water, and cultivate the seeds.
Just as Christ knelt before his disciples and washed their filthy feet on the night before he died, we are to do the same. No, this does not necessarily mean that we have to wash each other’s feet. What it does mean is that we must be sensitive enough to discern where need exists and willing to go forth in faith and love to address that need. This requires each of us to transcend our own tendencies toward self-absorption and personal preoccupation. We must, with the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, become “other-focused” and willing to get down and get dirty if need be. Christ embraced the lepers of his time and in our own day and age, we are to do no less.
I am of the firm belief that if we who follow the Master consistently exhibit this kind of servant evangelism, we can do much good in this world. And while we are at it, we might make great strides toward healing the title “Christian” as well.
© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved
- A New Reformation is Upon Us (and it’s about time)! (lifebrook.wordpress.com)
- Proactive Compassion and Authentic Christianity (Part One) (ldturner.wordpress.com)
- Living in the Tension of Jesus’ Love (six11.wordpress.com)