An Uphill Climb

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You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well, you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain step-plod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light . . . all the attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling.

― Friedrich von Hügel

Dangerous Heights

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The heart that we need

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Give me O Lord, a steadfast heart,
which no unworthy affection
will drag downwards.
Give me an unconquered heart,
which no tribulation can wear out.
Give me an upright heart,
which no unworthy purpose
may tempt aside.

–Thomas Aquinas

Love seeks our wholeness

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To ask that God’s love
should be content with us
as we are is to ask that God
should cease to be God.

–C. S. Lewis

Published in: on 03/02/2016 at 7:19  Leave a Comment  
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When Holiness Came Down

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THE BIGGEST AND MOST DECISIVE EVENT that has ever happened or can happen on this planet took place. The Incarnate Creator visited our world—and we rightly sing: “O, Holy Night.” His entrance into time made that night, and in a sense every night, holy. His incursion into the human race underscores the sacredness of every human life. His presence in our world turned a stable into a holy place, and since He walked the soil and breathed the air of our planet, it too has become a holy place. He labored as a carpenter, making work a holy vocation. He finally died on a cross—and transformed that instrument of the curse into something holy.

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When He comes into our lives He fulfills the original design that we should be holy and without blame before Him. And when He finishes doing what He is going to do all things in heaven and earth will be reconciled to God and goodness. He will make every molecule in the universe vibrate in delightful harmony with his holiness. In Christ all things return to wholeness and happiness.

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This is cosmic news—the Good News that will make every planet, every cell, every thing dance with joy at the wonder of it.

Holy moly.

–Jurgen O. Schulz

A time to kill

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“For everything there is a season, and a time
for every purpose under heaven
. . . a time to kill” (Ec. 3:1,3).

“Thou shalt not kill” clearly puts murder out of bounds for everyone. It’s Command #6 of the Big Ten.

End of discussion.

However, there is one important exception, and it comes straight from the apostle Paul. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 NIV).

There’s a death warrant out for the “misdeeds of the body,” and we are authorized—yea, commanded—to kill. Every last one of them is to be put to the sword. We are to listen to no pleas for mercy. Not one is to be spared.

Why such drastic action? Is this not an extreme measure?

The apostle pulls no punches. His argument is simple and strong—if you don’t put them to death, they will put you to death. Somebody is going to die, it’s either you or them. There’s a battle going on. Your life is on the line.

We are to soften the sentence for none of these fiends.

To “live according to the flesh” looks most attractive. Its forbidden pleasures are tantalizing—but make no mistake. They’re out to kill. Your soul is at stake.

Death and life are before you. The Spirit is willing.

You choose.

–Jurgen O. Schulz

Climbing higher

climbing rock copyAnd now because you are His child, live as a child of God; be redeemed from the life of evil, which is false to your nature, into the life of goodness, which is the truth of your being. Scorn all that is mean; hate all that is false; struggle with all that is impure. Live the simple, lofty life which befits an heir of immortality.

–Frederick W. Robertson

Liberating acceptance

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I believe we must know
that we are unconditionally
loved and accepted by God
before we can deal with
the issue of our sins.

–James Bryan Smith

Overcoming the world

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The best way to overcome the world
is not with morality or self-discipline.
Christians overcome the world
by seeing the beauty
and excellence of Christ.
They overcome the world
by seeing something more attractive
than the world: Christ.

–Thomas Chalmers
(1780–1847)

Learning from the Master

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Somehow Jesus had mastered
the ability of loving people
whose behavior he disapproved.
That’s a lesson the church
has not been so good
at learning.

–Philip Yancey

Delighting in Christ

Beautiful-Sunset-Mountain-Wallpapers-3-300x300Anyone can use the word, of course, but without Christ holiness tends to have all the charm of an ingrown toenail. For, very simply, if holiness is not first and foremost about knowing Christ, it will be about self-produced morality and religiosity. But such incurved self-dependence is quite the opposite of what pleases God, or what is actually beautiful.

God is not interested in our manufactured virtue; he does not want any external obedience or morality if it does not flow from true love for him. He wants us to share his pleasure in his Son. What is the greatest commandment, after all? “Love the Lord your God” (Mt 22:36–37). That is the root of true God-likeness. Nothing is more holy than a heartfelt delight in Christ. Nothing is so powerful to transform lives.

–Michael Reeves
Christ Our Life

God’s obstinate love

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Love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds . . . it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more . . .

Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed.

And our God is a consuming fire.

―George MacDonald
Unspoken Sermons

photo via www.flickr.com

Published in: on 11/16/2014 at 15:08  Leave a Comment  
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Getting it all right

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“You haven’t got it right!” says the exasperated piano teacher. Junior is holding his hands the way he’s been told. His fingering is unexceptionable. He has memorized the piece perfectly. He has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But his heart’s not in it, only his fingers. What he’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping. He has succeeded in boring everybody to death, including himself.

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Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees were playing it by the book. They didn’t slip up on a single do or don’t. But they were getting it all wrong.

Righteousness is getting it all right.
If you play it the way
it’s supposed to be played,
there shouldn’t be a still foot
in the house.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Sanctification

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In “Beauty and the Beast,” it is only when the Beast discovers that Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.

In the experience of Saint Paul,
it is only when we discover
that God really loves us
in all our unloveliness
that we ourselves start
to become godlike.

Paul’s word for this gradual transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is sanctification, and he sees it as the second stage in the process of salvation.

Being sanctified is a long and painful stage because with part of themselves sinners prefer their sin, just as with part of himself the Beast prefers his glistening snout and curved tusks. Many drop out with the job hardly more than begun, and among those who stay with it there are few if any who don’t drag their feet most of the way.

But little by little—less by taking pains than by taking it easy— the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person, the healed person to become a healing person, the loved person to become a loving person. God does most of it. The end of the process, Paul says, is eternal life.

  –Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Artwork: Scott Gustafson

Holiness is a flood

green - waterfallWe should strive for holiness, but holiness is a flood, not an absence. Are you the kind of parent who can create joys for your children that they never imagined wanting? Does your sun shine, warming the faces of others? Does your rain green the world around you? Do you end your days with anything resembling a sunset? Do you begin with a dawn?

We say that we would like to be more like God. So be more thrilled with moonlight. And babies. And what makes them. And holding on to one lover until you’ve both been aged to wine, ready to pour. Holiness is nothing like a building code. Holiness is 80-year-old hands crafting an apple pie for others, again. It is aspen trees in a backlit breeze. It is fire on the mountain.

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Speak your joy. Mean it. Sing it. Do it. Push it down into your bones. Let it overflow your banks and flood the lives of others.

At his right hand, there are pleasures forevermore. When we are truly like him, the same will be said of us.

–N. D. Wilson
Lighten Up, Christians

Published in: on 09/21/2014 at 5:37  Leave a Comment  
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Transformation

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The sinful heart
is never transformed
by conformity to
the imperatives
but only by relationship
with the One who
cleanses hearts.

— Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Holiness is Christlikeness

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“Be holy as I am holy”
means God is not like us
and he does not want
us to be like us.
God is like Jesus
and he wants us
to be like Jesus.

–Mark Moore

Published in: on 06/03/2014 at 13:00  Leave a Comment  
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Wonderful “imposition”

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It’s not tyrannical
for God to “impose”
his will on ours;
it’s the most loving thing
he can possibly do.

–Scotty Smith

Published in: on 05/13/2014 at 11:20  Leave a Comment  
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Drawn not driven

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The Gospel
is more powerful
in wooing us from our sin
than the Law is
in frightening us
from it.

–Frederick Dale Bruner

Not done in vain

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What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.

You are—strange though it may seem . . .
accomplishing something
that will become in due course
part of God’s new world.

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

– N.T. Wright
Surprised by Hope

Higher ground

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There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness… (That seems to be why) dissatisfaction – coupled with a longing for peace and truth – are the only way we set off on the pilgrim path of wholeness in God…

As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he or she acquires an appetite for the world of grace.

–Eugene Peterson

Under God’s hand

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No natural feelings are high or low,
holy or unholy, in themselves.
They are all holy when
God’s hand is on the rein.
They all go bad when
they set up on their own
and make themselves
into false gods.

–C. S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Overcoming sin

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He who does not give up prayer
cannot possibly continue
to offend God habitually.
Either he will give up prayer,
or he will stop sinning.

-St. Alphonsus Ligouri
(1696 – 1787)

The power of forgiving love

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Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favour can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this.

–Horatius Bonar
God’s Way of Holiness

Sublime extravagance

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Holiness is love of God
and of others carried to
a sublime extravagance.

–Jean Baptiste H. Lacordaire
(1802 – 1861)

Dreams of blessedness

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Like Adam, we have all lost Paradise; and yet we carry Paradise around inside of us in the form of a longing for, almost a memory of, a blessedness that is no more, or the dream of a blessedness that may someday be again.

―Frederick Buechner 
The Magnificent Defeat

When beauty beckons

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There you are, standing at a window, watching oak leaves flutter down from dark boughs, and without warning your whole body fills with a longing for something you can’t name, something you’ve lost but never had, that you’re nostalgic for yet don’t remember. You sense a joy so huge it breaks you, a sorrow so deep it cleanses.

Or in line at a store one day, you turn and look at a child who doesn’t notice you. The skin on her face curves down flushed and smooth along her cheekbones and creases into delicate folds at her eyes. There is a wild hope in those eyes, and her beauty pierces you in a way you don’t understand.

. . . And you wonder, How can this be?

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This is how: You want to go home. The instinct for heaven is just that: homesickness, ancient as night, urgent as daybreak. All your longings—for the place you grew up, for the taste of raspberry tarts that your mother once pulled hot from the oven, for that bend in the river where your father took fishing as a child, where the water was dark and swirling and the caddis flies hovered in the deep shade—all these longings are a homesickness, a wanting in full what all these things only hint at, only prick you with. These are the things seen that conjure in our emotions the Things Unseen. “He has set eternity in the hearts of men,” the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:11).

–Mark Buchanan
Things Unseen

Nothing else will work

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The Gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved—loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us!” (1 Jn. 4:10).

As the lord of the vineyard, after sending servant upon servant to the husbandmen in vain, sent at last his “one son, his well-beloved” (Mk. 12:6), so, Law having failed, God has dispatched to us the message of His love, as that which is by far the likeliest to secure His ends.

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With nothing less than this free love
will He trust our fallen race.

He will not trust them with law, or judgment, or terror (though these are well in their place), but He will trust them with His love! Not with a stinted or conditional love, with half pardons, or an uncertain salvation, or a tardy peace, or a doubtful invitation, or an all but impracticable amnesty—not with these does He cheat the heavy laden; not with these will He mock the weary sons of men.

. . . He knows that there is nothing
in heaven or earth so likely to produce holiness,
under the teaching of the Spirit of holiness,
as the knowledge of His own free love.

It is not law, but “the love of Christ,” that constrains! “The strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56), so the strength of holiness is deliverance from the Law (Rom. 7:6). Yet are we not “without law” (1 Cor. 9:21), neither yet “under the law” (Rom 6:14), but “under grace,” that we should “serve in newness of Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

–Horatius Bonar
God’s Way of Holiness

True love involves anger

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One wants to have love alone, not seeing that by denying God’s holiness and wrath, God’s love is deprived of its true depth and meaning. Is it not so even in human experience?

The man who cannot become angry,
cannot truly love.

The man who passes over treachery, infidelity, breach of confidence as if it were nothing, cannot be a true friend and cannot be faithful himself. It is here that a decision of the first order takes place: he who refuses to hear of God’s wrath, judgment and condemnation, will never understand Jesus Christ. The living God is the God whose love is united with holiness.

This paradox of holiness and mercy is . . .
the essence of the biblical doctrine of God.

–Emil Brunner
The Scandal of Christianity

Love does not mean approval

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We often confuse unconditional love
with unconditional approval.
God loves us without conditions but does not
approve of every human behavior.

God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that
God continues to love us even when
we say or think evil things.

God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love.

–Henri Nouwen
(emphasis added)

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