Friday, October 31, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 25

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 25 The Hands and Feet of Jesus

 

If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  (James 1:5)

 

Dunham opens by recalling that throughout history a few people like Adam and Moses experienced God firsthand.  A few others such as Mary, Martha, John, and Matthew knew Jesus as he walked amongst them on earth, the rest of us find our encounters with God through the Holy Spirit. 

 

Imagine if you will the day of Pentecost, that time when the early followers of Jesus experienced the Holy Spirit for the first time.  Jesus had promised his followers that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that they would be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”  Notice that there is a series of events here, first the disciples were to wait for the Holy Spirit and then they would receive power and then they would be witnesses.  And we are told that this is exactly what happened to those early followers of Jesus.  There was one problem, they needed instructions as to how to be followers, how to be disciples of Christ. 

 

The thing that is often most difficult about discipleship is that it often involves hearing things we really would rather not hear.  But if these messages are spoken in love and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit these difficult words can mean all the difference in our lives.  And as we are shaped and changed by these words we are called to witness to others.  According to Dunham, “in a very real sense each of us in the Christian community is to be a priest who ministers to others.”  We are to be an affirming, loving, and forgiving presence to those whom we meet –openly accepting one another in Christ’s name.

 

Discipleship offers this enriching opportunity.  Being open to one another about our faults and our feelings and being humble enough to learn from others along the way.  To be a disciple means to be a learner and a follower.  The word disciple has the same root as the word pupil.  An apostle on the other hands is a doer.  One who goes in to the world to act out what has been learned.  Christians are at once disciples and apostles, “be-ers and do-ers.” 

 

It is believed that 77% of persons who come into the faith do so because of the testimony, deeds and encouragement of someone they trust. That’s really what discipleship is all about, you see.  Trust.  We draw strength and courage from one another, we learn form one another.  So how are we all doing with sharing our faith journey with others and in letting someone share theirs with us?  According to Jesus, the cost of discipleship is losing our lives in order that we might find them.  Jesus knew that life is found by getting outside of ourselves.

 

Remember that serving Jesus means that we are to be his disciples, his learners and followers.  And that may take us to many places we might rather not go, with people we’d rather not see and doing tasks we would rather not do.  Dunham closes with this story: “There was a well known war correspondent who paused long enough to watch a nun as she unwrapped a wounded soldier’s leg.  Gangrene had set in, and stench from the pus and blood was so repulsive that he turned away as he mumbled under his breath, ‘I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.’  She glanced up and replied, ‘Neither would I.’”  Because of who she was there was no need to add “but for Christ sake…”

 

What are we willing to do out of love?  Who will we lead, and who will we follow?

 

The Heart of the Matter

--When you hear the word discipleship, what comes to mind?  Is the term a positive, negative or mixture of both?

--Does your family of faith have structured discipleship programs?  And if so have you considered being involved?  Why or why not?

--How can discipling others help us grow?

 

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 24

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 24:  The Surest Path of All

 

When he had received the drink Jesus said, “It is finished.”

With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30

 

We are called to live in solidarity with our Lord and Savior.  In so doing, we are called to meet him on the cross.  Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  “If we are going to see Jesus, we have to see him on the cross—vulnerable and weak.  This is our Lord.  This is the One we follow. 

 

In Romans 5:3-5, Maxie tells us we find a strange thought: “we are to rejoice in our sufferings.”  It wasn’t easy to be a Christian in Rome.  “In Rome, Christians were burned at the stake to provide light for the emperor’s sporting events.  They were fed to hungry beasts to entertain the clamoring mobs.”  Paul is so certain that we are to be in solidarity with the suffering of the one who suffered in our behalf that he tells us to rejoice in our suffering.  And our strength in our suffering comes from Jesus, not our own strength.

 

As Maxie wrote: “We face situations differently according to the difference within us.  If we’ve allowed ourselves to become weak when circumstances challenge us, if we whine and grovel under affliction, then when crisis comes, we can do nothing but despair.  On the other hand, if we insist on meeting life with our heads up, determined to face and conquer obstacles, we can meet every situation with hope for victory.”

 

We need to be very clear in understanding that our faith in Christ does not save us from suffering.  Our faith itself is one based upon a God who suffers.  The cross of Jesus is how we are assured that we are not alone against the darkness of our life; no, God is with us indeed.  It would have seemed that all hope for humanity was killed on the cross with Christ, but something happened that day.  “That which first seemed to be tragedy became the greatest triumph known to humanity.”  God brings triumph out of darkness.  Because of this truth, we are able to offer our own suffering to Christ.  We can believe “that God will not waste any of our suffering and struggle,” but that all will be redeemed. 

 

Martin Luther was clear: “He who does not bear the cross is no Christian, for he is not like his Master, Jesus Christ… The cross teaches us to believe in hope even when there is no hope.  The wisdom of the cross is deeply hidden in a profound mystery.  In fact, there is no other way to heaven than taking up the cross of Christ.  On account of this we must beware that the active life with its good works, and the contemplative life with its speculations, do not lead us astray.  Both are most attractive and yield peace of mind, but for that very reason they hid real dangers, unless they are tempered by the cross and disturbed by adversaries.  The cross is the surest path of all.  Blessed is the man who understand this truth.  It is a matter of necessity that we be destroyed and rendered formless, so that Christ may be formed within us, and Christ alone be in us. … Real mortifications do not happen lonely places away from the society of other human beings.  No!  They happen in the home, the market place, in secular life. … ‘Being conformed to Christ’ is not within our powers to achieve.  It is God’s gift, not our own work.”

 

Hear Luther’s warning clearly: In both our contemplative and active lives, we can be led astray.  Both can be inviting and bring us peace of mind.  “Yet, implicit in both is the danger of betraying our Christian vocation.  Peace can be seductive and numb us to the need for a dynamic relationship and dependence on God.  The cross is essential.  Keeping the cross at the center of our awareness always-just like Paul- forces us to asses the depth of our discipleship and the degree of our surrender to Christ.

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

-         How do you think perseverance in suffering leads to character, and how do you think character leads to hope?

-         Have you experienced rebellion and / or resignation in your relationship with God?  Describe your experience.

-         What does “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” mean to you?

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 23

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 23:  Claiming the Promise 

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 

This is one of the most amazing and breathtaking statements in all of the new Testaments according to Dunnam.  Do we believe that what this statement claims is even remotely possible?  We must admit that all of us spend most of our time being satisfied with far less then God indicates is possible.

 

Consider the source.  The one who came to save the world, the one who brought forgiveness and love, who made the lame walk, proclaims these words and the blind see, the one who now sits at the right hand of God the Father.  Can you believe it, this is the one who says to you and to me that we will do even grater things than these!

 

Dunnam brings to mind a Peanuts in which Snoopy claims that Woodstock is going to be a great eagle and soar to great heights, unfortunately no sooner does Woodstock take off then he falls in a lump to the ground, as Snoopy comments ‘well maybe he will be one of those eagles who just walks around!”  Amazing, isn’t it how quickly we settle for less than is promised and far less than is possible.

 

It is important to remember that you are more than you think you are.  This is at least part of the message of this scripture reading.  Dunnam shares the story of an elderly bachelor and an old maid who began dating and after spending some time together the old gentleman decided to pop the question and blurted out “let’s get married” to which the response was a surprised “that’s a wonderful idea –but who would have us?”

 

It is so easy to slide into thinking so little of ourselves.  But these words of scripture of words like those of the 8th psalm tell us something different.  Listen to what the psalmist writes:

 

When I consider your heavens,

The work of your fingers,

The moon and the stars,

Which you have set in place,

What is man that you are mindful of him,

The son of man that you care for him,

You made him a little lower that the heavenly beings

And crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. 8:3-5)

 

We must remember that we are important to God, that we are each unique and unrepeatable miracles of God and that even if we were the only one left on earth God would still send his Son to save us. 

 

And yet there is still another affirmation that we must consider, according to Dunnam, “there is something that we can be and do, but will never be and do apart from Jesus Christ.  Dunnam shares the story of Abel and Frieda Hendricks, Methodist clergy and educators in South Africa during the apartheid.  Abel fought against the established government and was jailed on several occasions for his opposition.  At one point government officials came to him and offered to buy this poor itinerant preacher a retirement home, something they knew he would never be able to afford.  But Abel refused saying “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, I dare not risk losing my house in heaven for anything you might offer me on earth.”  Abel knew that he w knew that was living in to what God had called him to do and be and he believed what the apostle Paul had written “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me…I can do all things through his strength.”

 

Where does that kind of power come from?  Abel had discovered the source and claimed the promise of Jesus, “He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

--When you hear that you will do greater things than Jesus, how does that make you feel?  Why do you think that is?  What is your deepest desirer in that area?

 

--Have you ever gone through the Bible in search of the promises God has made to you?  If not, consider doing so now, and jotting down a few that you find.  You might also consider memorizing these scriptures, so you’ll have them immediately on hand in your times of need.

 

--Are there any areas where it’s hard for you to completely trust Jesus?  What are they?  Why do you think obstacles are present there?

 

 

 

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 22

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 22: Christ Frees Us and Fits Us

 

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,

he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life

to your mortal bodies through his Spirit. . . . Rom. 8:11

 

Where are you in your Christian journey?

 

In Day 22, Maxie talks about the difference between being freed by Christ and being made fit for the kingdom of God by and through Christ.  They are two different and necessary things.

 

Maxie gives several examples of redemption, of being freed by Christ.  He starts the day’s devotion with the following story:

 

“Among Christians in Africa, the New Testament word for redemption translates as ‘God took our heads out.’  It’s a rather awkward phrase, but when you trace it back to the nineteenth century, when slave trading was practiced, the meaning becomes powerful.  White men invaded African villages and carried men, women, and children off into slavery.  Each slave had an iron collar buckled around his or her neck, and the collar was attached to a chain.  The chained slaves would be driven to the coastlines and shipped to England and the United States.

 

From time to time, as the chain of slaves would make its way to the coast, a relative, loved one, or friend would recognize someone who had been captured as a slave and would offer a ransom for the captors to remove the collar and free the person.  Thus the word for redemption:  ‘God took our heads out.’”

 

No matter how you want to view it, it is absolutely necessary that we are freed by Christ … freed from whatever collars are around our necks, freed from whatever chains hold us back from Christian living.

 

Maxie asks us: “What about you?  What are the areas in which you haven’t yet found freedom?  What is holding you back from receiving it?

 

Do you fell burdened by guilt?  Do you feel heaviness or pain in your heart because there is a severed relationship that needs reconciliation?  Do you feel helpless becaseu you are hold in the tenacious grip of a debilitating habit?  Is your energy drained because you live too close to the line of moral compromise, preoccupied with sexual lust or addiction to pornography?  In your heart of hearts, do you know that you are more than racially prejudiced and that your feelings verge on hatred?  Does your pride often put you in the position of thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to, looking down your nose at others?

 

We could go on and on.  You may want to stop reading now and probe your own heart.  Remember that as you do, God will meet you wherever you are.  The point I (Maxie) am underscoring, however, is that we all need deliverance.  And the good news is that Christ delivers.  He comes to free us – but that’s not all.”

 

It is not enough that we are redeemed from our sins.  We also need to be made fit for kingdom living.  Through our own abilities and actions, we are not able to achieve kingdom living.  Remember the words from Paul in Romans 7:19-20: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”  Paul continues in that chapter to talk about “what a wretched man” he is.  He is not able to live into kingdom life. 

 

But Paul continues in chapter 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Here is where we are made fit for kingdom living.  By and through Jesus Christ.  In Maxie’s words: “We can’t give our sins to Jesus; We give ourselves to Jesus and he takes away our sins.”  Maybe you’ve been told along the way – “give your sins to Jesus.”  Maxie reminds us that the point is that we give our compete selves to Jesus, sins and all.  And Jesus takes away our sins.  Because of this, we are made fit for kingdom living.

 

Maxie asks the question: “Do you want to be holy?”  He asks, as it was once ask of him, because it is one we need to answer – over and over again.  We can only be holy if we agree to be made whole.  Maxie in his own life realized that he could be and would be as holy as he wanted to be.  Throughout his life, Maxie constantly asked himself, “Do I want to be holy?  Am I willing to yield?” 

 

What about you?  “Christ still has the power to show up wherever we are and to offer us whatever we need.  Sometimes that means freeing us and sometimes that means fitting us.  Remember though, that in the process of fitting us for his kingdom, God will put his ways into our hearts as well as write them on our minds.  This is, after all, the eternal mystery of grace.  Eventually we find that we want to do what pleases God.”  

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

-         If you didn’t actually stop to probe your heart regarding the questions in today’s lesson, please do so now. Pray for God’s revelation, rather than simply going by your own insights.

-         How do you understand the process by which Christ “fits us” for kingdom living?  In what ways can we help – or hinder – that process?

-         How has Christ been “fitting” you in your own life?

 

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 21

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God.                

Day 21: Dying and Rising with Christ

 

“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  (Col. 3:4)

 

This week Maxie has been sharing with us what it means to be in and with Christ.  “The Christian,” states Dunnam, “ is a new person united with Christ.  The two overwhelming events through which Jesus passed into the power of endless life were death and Resurrection.  Those who are united to him must produce in their personal spiritual histories these two events.”

 

Taking up the Cross:  How we look at the cross, and Christ on the cross is perhaps the biggest factor in determining how we live.  Our Christian faith journey begins with our acceptance of the incredible fact of our unconditional acceptance by God.  Nothing we can do will earn God’s love or prove our worth.  The value of each and every one of us has already been affirmed once and for all by the gift of Jesus the Son of God. 

 

The Essence of the Gospel:  The radiant glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ; we experience this in the incredibility of the Incarnation.  And, this radiant glory has shined in our hearts as well and it is ours to share with those whom we meet in Christ’s name.   This is known as the Christian experience.  These three truths, the Incarnation of God, the presence of Christ in our hearts, and the witness of Christ to the world, define the Christian witness; define the essence of the gospel.  Have this week’s readings given you a deeper understanding of who Christ is, what he has done and how this glory of God can be ours as well?  How have those revelations changed you? 

 

Alive in Christ:  We remember that Jesus came for only one purpose, to bring himself to us and to bring God to us.  Through Jesus Christ we are given full remission of sin and through the Holy Spirit we are given the abilities to become all that God created us and call s us to be.  In this week have you seen a new evidence of Christ being alive in you?  In what ways? 

 

Constantly Abiding:  We have the opportunity to constantly abide in Christ and the benefits are many.  We gain the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through Christ continued presence we are renewed literally recreated, as God would have us be.  Can you see evidence in your life of the places in which you have been able to “constantly abide” with Christ?

 

Humble and Available:  The person or people who are alive in Christ – the ones truly walking in meekness rather than pride – is the one who responds, “Here I am.  Send me!” whenever the Lord calls.  God has great things for us to do as long as we remain willing and humble.  What has this week taught you about the level of humility in your own life?

 

The Shaping Power of the Indwelling Christ:  The presence of Christ in our lives is both and affirming and healing presence.  Through Christ we are assured that we have been given new life.  Remember the story of the healing of the paralytic; how Jesus forgave first and healed second that the two events were inextricably linked.  It is the same today.  Are there areas in your life where you have experienced healing and forgiveness? 

 

What Christ has been and Done for Us:  We must always remember that what Christ has been and done for us we are required to be and do for others.  In order to live Christ centered lives we must live compassionately.  Direct action is one way of identifying with those who are suffering or are oppressed but another way to “be” with them is through prayer.  Are there any areas in which God has pierced your heart, people or events that you feel compelled to pray for?

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 20

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 20: What Christ Has Been and Done For Us

If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;

apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

 

What powerful words: apart from me you can do nothing. 

 

The 15th chapter of John is about the grapevine and its branches.  Visualize the imagery in your mind.  A grapevine growing along the ground with little branches shooting out, clusters of grapes along those branches.

 

The grapevine has long been a symbol for Israel.  It was carved into the temp, it was printed on coins.  It was an image of “hope that the people could be something fruitful for their God.”

 

But it was also a reminder of failure.  Branches that were not producing fruit, or were producing poor fruit, were obviously not connected to the main branch.  “God’s people, by their own efforts, could not fulfill their task in the world.”

 

Jesus brings this imagery to light on the night before the crucifixion is to take place.  Jesus was making it clear to his disciples that nothing they would do – nothing they would do – would amount to anything if ti were not grounded in Christ.  Our works must be “grounded in this essential order: not I, but Christ; not me for God, but God for and through me.”  Maxie challenges us with this gospel message: “being alive in Christ means that what Christ ahs been and done for us, we must be and do for others.” 

 

What is it that Christ has been and done for us?

 

Maxie starts to answer that question with the Hebrew word chesed.  This Old Testament word is descriptive of God, and it is meant to be the primary characteristic of all of God’s people.  Chesed.  In our narrow ability to translate this word, we sometimes translate it as “compassion,” or “mercy,” or “pity.”  Maxie points out that our one-word translations are greatly lacking.  “What is missing in every one-word translation is the dimension of action that the Hebrew language implies.”  Action!!!  “The Hebrew talks of ‘doing chesed with someone.”  It is often connected with mishpat, “the Hebrew word we translate as ‘right’ or justice.’”  So, Micah 6:8 reads, “What does the Lord require of you except to do chesed and to love mishpat…”  In the NIV it reads: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Chesed is more than a sentiment of love and pity.  It demands a ‘volitional attitude.’  That is what distinguishes biblical love from current usage of the word.  Biblical love includes justice and even judgment.”

 

Maxie point out two explicit aspects of chesed.  The first is solidarity with the poor.  As Matthew Fox said, “Compassion is not knowing about the suffering and pain of others.  It is, in some way, knowing that pain, entering into it, sharing it, and tasting it in so far as possible.”  We are not simply called to know that others suffer: we are to feel their suffering.  We are to suffer with them.  And in so doing, we are truly able to act on behalf of that person’s suffering. 

 

Maxie talks about 3 (three) ports of entry into our solidarity with the poor and oppressed.  The first port is direct action. 

 

James 2:15-17, 24: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. . . .  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

 

The second port of entry into our solidarity with the poor and oppressed is “the stewardship of my money and other resources.”   I control the way I spend my money and I make decisions as to how I will use the resources that are mine.

 

The third port of entry is through prayer, particularly intercessory prayer.  “In a mysterious way that we can never understand, prayer allows us to not only identify with, but alos take upon ourselves the suffering of others.  So rather than being private, intercession is intensely social.”

 

The second explicit aspect of chesed is also inherently social.  Alive in Christ, we are called to be instruments of blessing for those who Jesus said would be blessed.  “His beatitudes form the charter for the kingdom in which we dwell, living in him.  These Beatitudes outline the core values that are to be incorporated into our lives, and for which we must contend on behalf of others.”  Being Christ to others means we are instruments of blessing.  This “often calls for political action and social witness that expresses outrage against systems and institutions that take no account of the needs of the poor and oppressed.  We need to consider this call in a very specific way:

 

·        As Christ has been a forgiving presence in our lives, we must be a forgiving presence in the lives of others.

·        As Christ has been an affirming presence in our lives, we must be an affirming presence in the lives of others

·        As Christ has comforted us and given us hope, we must comfort and give hope to others.

·        As Christ ministered to the ‘least of these’ and gave his life as a ransom for many, we must be his present to the poor, marginalized, and sexually broken; to the immigrant strangers in our midst, prisoners, homeless, the forgotten, and the forsaken.

·        As Christ has been present with us in the valley of the shadow of death, in the agony of personal tragedy and loss, so we must be Christ’s presence for others when they are in the valley, and when hope has gone from their lives.

 

This ministry is personal, like Jesus’ ministry to us.  He deals with each of us one by one.  He meets us at the point of our deepest need, “perhaps at a point where we are embarrassed, feeling with us our estrangement and separation, our sense of despair and futility.  Christ is for the world, but he is also for me. 

 

Maxie invites us to put our own name in this extravagant affirmation found in John 3:16 – “For God so loved ___________________ that he gave his one and only Son.”

 

Let it sink in.  Let it sink it.  The deeper and deeper it sinks into our hearts, “the easier it is to pass it on.”

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

-         On a scale of one to ten (ten being the highest), how compassionate would you say you are?  Why do you think so?

-         What does it mean to you to “be Christ to others?”  Is it difficult for you to do so? Why or why not?

-         Think now of a time that someone else showed the love of Christ to you.  How did that affect you?

 

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 19

Irresistible Invitation

Day 19: The Shaping Power of The Indwelling Christ

 

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)

 

Today we examine the Christ’s indwelling presence as a forgiving and healing one.  There is no doubt that the relationship between the forgiving and healing ministries of Christ is a close one.  Mark 2:1-12 tells us the story of the healing of the paralytic man.  You recall the story, in the beginning we are introduced to a man who we are told is immobilized on a mat, being carried around by his friends.  His friends are so desperate to have there friend healed that they bring him to Jesus, so convinced that Christ can help them they break through the ceiling to get their friend into the hands of this healer.  

 

You may also recall that what happens next is rather astounding, rather than proclaim health to the young man Jesus, upon seeing the faith of the paralytic and his friends gives them absolution, proclaiming “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  (Mark 2:5)  The crowd, just like you and I must have wondered what was going on, they did not bring this paralytic there to be absolved of sin they brought him to be healed of his inability to walk.  The truth is no one doubted what was going on, they questioned instead the one who was doing it.  Mark records for us Jesus’ reason for the healing; “He said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say,  ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  (vv 8-11)  We are told that the fellow sprang to his feet and walked away, leaving no doubt about the power of Jesus to both forgive and to heal. 

 

We can have no doubt as well that our response to God’s love is always a forgiving and healing experience; this is what grace is all about.

 

 

The Heart of The Matter:

 

Has Jesus been an affirming presence in your life?  Has he been a healing one?  Describe your experience of the indwelling Christ?

 

Think of a time in your life when you pursued something with all your energy, like the friends of the paralytic sought Christ for their comrade’s healing.  What motivated your search?  How might your energies be focused more on seeking Jesus?

 

Why do you think Jesus so clearly connected physical healing and forgiveness?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 18

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 18: Humble and Available

 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matt. 5:7-8

 

Do you have any good stories about people who are walking a faithful walk in the Christian faith?  I’m sure you do.  One of the dimensions Maxie Dunham paints for us for a person who is truly alive in Christ is the dimension of “generosity of self.”  Christians who are truly alive in Christ are generous in their giving of self. 

 

In 1 John we read these words:

 

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God: but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:7-12).

 

Maxie tells us that John is saying that “God sent Jesus into the world to be the ultimate expression of himself, an expression of love.  We are to love in that same way, but we can’t do that if we’re so focused on ourselves .. that we miss the cries of the people around us.”  To get here, to be able to love in this way, we have to be able to let go of pride and instead put on humility.  “Humility is essential for our relationship with God to unfold.” 

 

If you were asked to care for a baby - a newborn, AIDS infected baby born addicted to heroin.. If you were asked to take into your home a newborn baby, dying of AIDS and born addicted to heroin – would you, could you do so?  Maxie tells a story of a community of Roman Catholic lay workers who did this for many babies.  Baby after baby needing incredible care and patience, all of whom died or will die.  When asked why they did this, the answer was: “So they will know there are people in this world who love them.” 

 

We all need to know this, don’t we?  We all need to know there are people in this world who love us.  And it is us, those of us on this Christian walk, who are to be the channels of this love – God’s love.  And in doing so, it’s not going to be at our convenience.  Maxie says: “God is not in the habit of asking us to pick the best time in our schedules to be Christ’s love to others.  That’s where humility comes in.  The person alive in Christ – the person truly walking in meekness – is the one who responds, ‘Here I am.  Send me!’ whenever the Lord calls.”  While we are not to be doormats, while we are not called to let others walk on us at their will, we are to be available to follow the tugs provided by the Holy Spirit.  When we go and do as we are called by God, great blessings follow.

 

Maxie reminds us to not become smug in our following God’s leading.  There are always those who are doing so much more than we are, giving so much more, risking so much more.  Maxie talks about times that he felt the need to run and hide from being with those who seemed to be so much holier than he.  “It doesn’t hurt us to be reminded of our weakness, does it?  Though God has given us power, strength, and courage, we must always remember the source.  We may believe we have a choice about whether we walk in humility, but for the person alive in Christ, not doing so is not really an option.  The more we see of God’s greatness, the more we realize who we are, in contrast, and the more we want to focus on God’s plans rather than our own.”

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

-         Are there any obstacles that prevent you from being more humble or available in your own life?  If so, what are they, and how can they be overcome?

-         Why is it so important for Christians to model humility to the world?

-         Recall a time when you chose to humble yourself rather than seek a reward.  What happened next?

 

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 17

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God.             

Day 17: Constantly Abiding            

 

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  (John 15:9-11)

 

This day Maxie visits with us the theology in the claim that Jesus is mine, or the way her prefers to say it “I am his.”  Whichever way we choose to speak this belief the fact remains that it’s all about constantly abiding.

 

At the very core this is the message of the gospel; the life that comes to us as we allow the presence of Jesus to find expression through us.  Jesus came for but one purpose to bring himself and thereby God to us and in so doing to give us the power to do and be all those things that God calls us to be and created us to be.  By seeing Jesus as a model for our lives and seeking to follow him, putting our lives alongside his we are reminded of all that is possible for our lives.  On a very real and practical level constantly abiding in Christ means allowing both the guiding light of Christ and the creative energy of god to be active in our lives. 

 

So the Spirit of Life gives us constant guidance and it also allows us to be re-created in the image of God.  Paul reminds us in his Second letter to the Corinthians 5:17 “he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!”  This offer of life is central to the New Testament.  John tells us in no uncertain terms that the entire purpose for which Jesus came to us was to abolish death and to bring the possibility of abundant life.  We have to remember that death does not mean non-existence and life existence.  Death is living without God and life is life with God.  The radical claim of the New Testament is that the presence of God with humanity is a reality in Jesus Christ and that reality can be experienced by each of us every day.

 

The New Testament teaches us that we begin our relationship with God by grace.  We are drawn through grace to Jesus Christ as our only and eternal hope.  It is by grace, which we are renewed, transformed, forgiven, and recreated.  In fact our entire lives are lived, according to Dunnam through grace.  We can, he states, “try struggling and straining at righteousness, mustering all our strength and putting forth all our efforts to be Christlike….but it never works.” (Irresistible Invitation pg 119) We, of course live in a do-it-yourself society and therefore one of our most difficult lessons as Christians is that we must live by the Spirit.  We are reminded by Paul that our competence in doing God’s work comes only from God.  This Dunnam refers to as “grace-full living.”  Grade full living is based on being in a personal relationship with God, not on rules and regulations we can never follow.  The more we are able to abide in Christ the more the Holy Spirit within us produces abundantly.

 

To truly abide in Christ we must enter into a healthy dependence on Christ.  It is not enough to recognize the indwelling Christ; I have to depend on Christ, and to allow Christ to work in and through me.  We must learn how to live in the now, listen to these words found in the gospel of Matthew; “therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? …See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry a bout itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matt. 6:25-34)  Once we realize this truth, that there is nothing we can do without Christ then we also realize that there is nowhere else to go but to Christ.  And once we internalize this truth about the living God in our midst then we can rest and live in the moment, abiding in the now. 

 

And finally, once we master constantly abiding in Christ then we are freed to act boldly in the confidence of Christ’s strength.  We can faithfully pray for God’s will in our lives with the intention of following that will.  Continuing to abide then, gives us the ability to walk by faith, to rely on God and to live in the awareness of the constant presence of the Spirit in the way we live and move and have our being.  And the grace-full life begins!

 

The Heart of The Matter:

 

What does abiding in Christ mean to you?  In what ways do you practice abiding in him, and in what ways do you not?

 

Is worry a constant challenge for you?  If so, what are some steps you can take to overcome it?

 

In what ways can we tap into the recreating force of the Spirit in our lives?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 16

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 16: Alive In Christ

 

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Col. 1:27

 

Maxie points out an interesting scriptural observation:  Paul, in all of his writings, never does tell about his Damascus Road experience in descriptive detail.  Paul never speaks about how and when he first knew Christ.  Luke talks about it in the Acts of the Apostles, but not Paul himself.  What Paul does talk about in great detail are the results of that meeting with Christ, the meaning of that event.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

 

Quite an extravagant claim made by Paul – one we could easily brush off.  “In Christ,” “in union with Christ,” “Christ in you” – hear the words of Paul. 

 

Extravagant, but these words are the truth.  “Jesus came for one purpose and one purpose alone: to bring himself to us, and while doing so, to bring God.”  While we often talk about our “becoming Christian” as having accepted Christ, our Christian walk is not about a one-time event.  No, it is Christ in us, the Christ who dwells within us, that is the shaping power of our lives. 

 

“To be a Christian is to change.  It is to become new.  It is not simply a matter of choosing a new lifesytle, though there is a new style.  It has to do with being a new person.  The new person does not emerge full-blown.  Conversion – passing from death to life – may be the miracle of a moment, but the making of a saint is the task of a lifetime.  The new process of saint-making is to work out in fact what is already dynamic in principle.”

 

Paul says we are new creatures, perfect in Christ.  It is the Christ in us that is perfect.  It doesn’t have to be a dramatic story, the story of our conversion.  It doesn’t have to be a Damascus Road experience.  But it is the story of becoming more and more like the Christ living within us. 

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

-         What does the phrase “hidden with Christ in God” mean to you?

-         Do you know anyone you would consider alive in Christ?  What characteristics make you think so?

-         When you gain new life, what parts of your self were you able to bury with the old?  Take a moment now to thank God for that experience.

 

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 15

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 15: The Essence of the Gospel

 

                       For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  (2 Cor. 4:6)

 

Is there any other text that gathers up the essence of the gospel any better than that quotation?  The definition of “essence” is –that which makes something what it is—that which makes the gospel what it is is here in this text.  Incredible isn’t it? The incredible glory of God shines through out all time in the face of Jesus the Christ.  This is the amazement of the Incarnation, and the fact that this radiance of Jesus Christ has shined in each of our hearts is the essence of the Christian experience.  And when we take that amazing experience of God’s presence through Christ in our lives and in our hearts to the world, we share powerful and incredible Christian witness.  All together this provides the essence of the gospel and it calls to each of us. 

 

Maxie Dunnam speaks of the incarnation in this way.  “The radiant glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. God’s ultimate revelation is Jesus Christ.  On that night when Jesus was born, in response to the cries of the righteous for an answer to the terrible silence of God, God sent and infant who, at that moment, could do little more than cry.  On that night, God stooped to our level, and bending over this violent playpen we call home, gave us troth in the only way we might possibly understand; a baby lying in a manger.  On that night, a world which couldn’t care less came face to face with a God who couldn’t care more.”  (Irresistible Invitation pg 103)

 

We find it said this way in the letter to the Hebrews, “ IN the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (1:1-2)

 

We call the amazing experience of Gods radiance shining in our hearts, the Christian experience.  Some may call it conversion or salvation or being born again.  If you have had this experience, no matter what you call if you are “alive in Christ.”  Your life is changed and you want to talk about it and you have something to show for it!

 

This leads us to the amazing practice of Christian witness.  The amazing experience of Jesus Christ shining in our lives is our to share, in fact we are obligated to share it with those who we meet in Christ’s name.  Witness is the vocation of every Christian!  This vocation is defined and empowered by the facts of the Incarnation.  Dunnam points out that “what we think about Jesus Christ and how we experience him determines the shape of our personal life and destiny.” (Irresistible Invitation pg 106)  And it determines the shape of the ministries we live. 

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

In what ways do you reflect the radiant glory of God in your life?  Are there areas where you feel a bit dim?

 

Are there certain things you think about Jesus that have shaped your life for the better?  How might some of your thoughts about Jesus be keeping you from experiencing the light of the knowledge of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ in your heart?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 14

Irresistible Invitation

 Day 14: To Live in Joy


Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. …  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  Rev 19:1, 6-7


Maxie shares with his readers a story about a butterfly found on a beach.  Maxie was on a retreat, taking time to renew and replenish.  While walking on the beach, he found a beautiful velvet black butterfly, with bright yellow splotches and orange spot on the tips of its wings.  It was stuck on seaweed, and Maxie gently pulled it free.  He looked at it briefly, while the fragile butterfly struggled to fly away.  When Maxie finally let it go, it didn’t have the strength to fly.  It fell to the ground. 


Maxie felt a moment of pain – and questioning: had he held it too long?  He looked at it closely, wishing he could perform some sort of miracle to help it.  But he could not.


In that moment, full of disappointment, Maxie experienced a deeper understanding of our human condition.  We are made for meaningful life, yet most of us are stuck in “grueling circumstances.”  Something clicked for him – the Holy Spirit – and he felt deep joy. 


He heard a flood of words rush over him. 

 

-         I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full.  (John 10:10)

-         Because I live, you also will live.  (John 14:19)

-         Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

-         God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:11-12)

-         Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)


“Do you get it?   How can we miss it?  But we have.  Every day – every day – is a now day of Resurrection.  Easter is not an annual experience.  The living Christ is not to be experienced only on occasion.  His presence is to be the dominant reality continually shaping our lives.”


Here are the lessons learned from this past week:


The Hint Half Guessed

We want instant gratification.  We want quick, easy answers.  But that is not the way of God.  God reveals slowly, through hints.  And it’s easy to miss those hints in the midst of our everyday lives.  God coming to us in the form of Jesus is a mystery, but real and powerful.  “Have you reflected on the meaning of God’s real, living presence in Jesus?  Have you received any glimpses, any divine hints, into this eternal mystery?”


Why We Still Preach the Cross

“Can’t you do something about that dreadful cross?”  Yes.  Of course.  We can let it remind us of the beauty that lies within it, the truths it holds for us in our very real and personal lives.  Remember 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Think on the fact – Jesus went to the cross and yet still lives.  This is our Christian faith.  “In reading more about Jesus this week, has your perception of the cross changed?  In what way?”


He Comes As He Came

Remember Jesus on the donkey.  Remember as he wept over Jerusalem.  He comes, even so today, showing us peace and power; kindness and compassion; and judging those who do not believe.  “Have you considered in what ways you are like your Savior – and in what ways you are not?  Take a moment to ask him now.”


A Love Like No Other

Our most profound need is to be loved.  God offers us the love that truly satisfies, that can be found nowhere else.  Remember that the way “we feel about ourselves has a lot to do with the way we believe the most important people in our lives view us.”  We can live with the confidence of the love of God, that unconditional love that we can neither earn nor justify.  “Have you come across any areas of doubt of God’s great love for you?  If so, take them to God in prayer, and ask God to show you just how precious you are to him.”


The Stone Was Rolled Away

Hard to imagine – that day the stone was rolled away.  But, remember, this was not just a one-time occurrence.  We can experience the joy and surprise as we allow Jesus to roll away our stones of sorrow, despair and death.  And when the stones are gone, hope can come and fill our souls.  As you have focused on Jesus this week, “has your level of hope increased?  Have you been able to rejoice at the now-empty tomb?”


The Gospel By Which We Are Saved

Do you recall the vivid imagery of the jaws of death and hell?  Remember the story of the young lost man who came into all sorts of trouble.  It was God’s love that brought him home again.  That same love seeks you out every day.  “Is anything standing between you and God’s great generous gift?  If so, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

 

 

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 13

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                 

 Day 13: The Gospel by Which We Are Saved

By this Gospel you are saved…  (1 Cor 15:2)

Maxie opens this day by proclaiming that it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the death and Resurrection of Jesus.  The bottom line of the gospel is the living Christ.  We are reminded that Paul is the very first person to write about what had been preached for years.  His account precedes by a number of years the accounts of the earliest Gospels.  Just imagine what it must have been like when the story was only oral!  Imagine hearing the story of Jesus’’ birth to a virgin mother, his years as an itinerant preacher, and the stories about how he came from God and would return to God.  Imagine listening, as he was condemned to death, accepted death, forgave his murderers and promised to come again.  Imagine as you hear that low and behold God raised him from the dead and he was alive!

 

Let’s try to understand the full meaning of this good news by which you and I are saved.  What would you think if a good friend told you one day that you were in the very jaws of sin and death?  You might be a bit shocked if someone said that too you but truth be told sooner or later we all realize that the things we thought would set us free have not done so.  We realize that we have not become the person we wanted to and we know we are not the people God has called us to be.  This is where faith kicks in, you see true faith is coming to Christ to be saved and delivered from our sinful nature.  It is only faith in Christ that frees us from the jaws of death and hell. 

 

The central fact of Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Had it all ended with the cross, there would be no good news to share, no community of faith to bear witness.  But there was and is a resurrection, and there is as well as Christ who is alive in us today.

 

The fact that Christ chooses to be alive in any one of us today is surely a sing of the extravagant heart of God; it is also another example of God’s gifts, this time the gift of mercy.  Mercy is one of the great words of the Bible.  Jesus uses it to boldly declare an aspect of the new covenant, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” 

 

According to Dunnam the mercy that Jesus speaks of “ and demonstrates is always active, it is sympathy in action as pity and compassion expressed in gracious deeds.”  Mercy is first an attribute of God; God’s mercy involves not only kindness but also forgiveness.  God’s mercy is the act of wiping the slate clean separating us from our wrongdoings as far as the east is from the west.  God’s mercy is enacted through Jesus and the cross.

 

The discovery of God’s mercy is always a transforming experience.  To hear of God’s power and desire to cleanse us from our wrongdoings we truly receive good news, but is also often a painful experience, because in order to receive that gift we must first admit our wrongdoings.  This however, is the gospel by which we are saved and the gospel by which we live, in the shadow of his great mercy and grace.

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

Have you ever felt that the things you wanted most and the things you thought would set you free have not done son?  How did you react to that awareness?

 

Have you ever visited the “far country?”  What drew you back home?

 

Can you identify with Paul’s statement, “By the grace of God I am what I am?”  Why or why not?

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