The Gospel Storyline

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Out of the cross comes the resurrection.
Out of weakness comes real strength.
Out of repentance and admitting
you are weak comes real power.
Out of giving away and serving others
comes real strength.
Out of generosity and giving . . .
comes real wealth.
That’s the gospel storyline.

–Tim Keller

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Published in: on 04/19/2017 at 9:59  Leave a Comment  
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Teach us, Good Lord

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Teach us, Good Lord,
To serve Thee as Thou deservest:
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to seek for reward
Save that of knowing
that we do Thy will.

–Ignatius of Loyola

We plant seeds

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It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise than is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about.

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We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and to do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are the prophets of a future that is not our own.

–Oscar Romero

Freedom to serve

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This verse has long fascinated me. “O Lord, truly I am Your servant . . . You have loosed my bonds” (Psa. 116:16). The psalmist makes a intriguing connection between bondage and freedom. He claims to be a “servant” yet “loosed.” Is this not the beautiful paradox of the Christian? Loosed, but bound. Free, but still a captive. Released to be ruled by Love. The glorious liberty of slavery to grace!

–Jurgen O. Schulz

The power to do good

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Do right, and God’s recompense to you will be the power of doing more right. Give, and God’s reward to you will be the spirit of giving more: a blessed spirit, for it is the Spirit of God Himself, whose Life is the blessedness of giving. Love, and God will pay you with the capacity of more love; for love is Heaven: love is God within you.

–F. W. Robertson
(1816 – 1853)

Working with God

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To effect the blessedness
for which God made him,
man must become
a fellow-worker
with God.

–George MacDonald
Guild Court

Published in: on 02/07/2015 at 5:42  Leave a Comment  
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Invited to participate

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Here lies the tremendous mystery – that God should be all-powerful, yet refuse to coerce. He summons us to cooperation. We are honored in being given the opportunity to participate in his good deeds. Remember how He asked for help in performing his miracles: Fill the waterpots, stretch out your hand, distribute the loaves.

–Elisabeth Elliot

Freedom

LookingWe have freedom to the degree that the master whom we obey grants it to us in return for our obedience. We do well to choose a master in terms of how much freedom we get for how much obedience…

To obey the dictates of our own consciences leaves us freedom from the sense of moral guilt, but not the freedom to gratify our own strongest appetites.

To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human.

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The old prayer speaks of God “in whose service is perfect freedom.” The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love itself, which above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

The soaring life of grace

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Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried. But the sooner we start the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.

–Eugene Peterson
Running with the Horses

Tend the inner fire

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There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby only see a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down—maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.

–Vincent Van Gogh
(1853-1890)

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

Gotta serve somebody

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I came to know . . . that each one’s uniqueness, or in modern parlance, each one’s identity, is experienced only through the Lord or through the demons to which one surrenders. No one belongs to himself or herself.

–Ernst Käsemann
(1906 – 1998)

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Lamebrains and misfits

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“We are fools for Christ’s sake,” Paul says. You can’t put it much more plainly than that. God is foolish too, he says–“the foolishness of God”–just as plainly. God is foolish to choose for his holy work in the world the kind of lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and holier-than-thous and stuffed shirts and odd ducks and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists as are vividly represented here by you and me…

–Frederick Buechner
The Road Goes On

God’s word of delight

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When Christians are unsure of the Father’s declarative word of delight over them, real Christian joy is absent; and passionate Christian living is lacking. Mobilizing Christians, who are unsure of God’s delight in them, . . . to serve . . . with unflappable confidence and joy is nearly impossible.

–Dan Cruver

Published in: on 09/24/2013 at 5:21  Leave a Comment  
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The self-giving God

Whereas Western theology tended to begin with the unity and nature of God and then sought to explain the three persons, the East began with the three persons and then sought to resolve the nature of their unity. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, therefore, it is out of the Godhead’s personal relatedness that all else flows: the creation of angels, man in the imago dei, and the great plan of redemption — all in order that finite beings might enter into the joyous fellowship of the Holy Trinity. Put another way, creation and salvation begin and end with God’s self-givingness, both internally (each to the other within the Godhead) and externally (the Triune God to all creation). And so, in the most profound sense as Trinity — and finally only as Trinity — God is love.

. . . If God were selfish, it would be hard to understand why he would create something outside himself. Perhaps a God who is only one person would create in order to satisfy his own desire (or need) for glory, for relationship or so that he might exercise his sovereignty. But in an eternal Trinity where each member glorifies the other, where profound interpersonal relationships already exist and where God is completely self-sufficient, what would be the motive for the creation? As has been alluded to earlier, various scholars conclude that the Triune God created the vast realm of heaven — with its diversity of angelic beings — and our immense universe and tiny earth — with its vast diversity of plants, animals and people — as a overflow of the life and creative love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This divine overflow is not in pantheistic or deterministic senses, but rather God’s creative artistry that gives being to the other while maintaining God’s own freedom and independence. If such a deduction is true, then all creation exists as the result of God’s own self-giving beyond the internal personal relations of the Godhead. As Luther said, creation is grace.

If earth’s very existence owes itself to divine self-giving, then the local church created in the divine image would seem called to give itself to the world as well. Believers are called to manifest the saving presence of Jesus Christ through their own collective sacrifice among a hurting and hopeless humanity.

. . . In Beasley-Murray’s words, this is “the law of the kingdom of God: life is given through death,” exemplified powerfully by Jesus giving his own life for the sins of the world. The Savior emphasizes the principle of daily sacrifice of oneself in love and obedience to God — a continual letting go of life that daily refills the believer with the life of God. Cuban evangelist B. G. Lavastida put it this way: “There are three paradoxes of the Christian life: You must give in order to receive, you must let go in order to possess, and you must die in order to live.” Together with the commands to love wholeheartedly the Lord God, our brothers in Christ and our fellow human beings, the command to let go of self is one the most repeated of all the Savior’s admonitions.

–adapted from J. Scott Horrell

Ultimate greatness

When Christ tells us
that greatness is service,
is he not telling us that
the One who is infinitely great
is the greatest servant of all—
that God is great because
His ultimate passion
is to serve?

Boasting in the Lord

“My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad.” (Psa. 34:2)

I used to make my boast in knowing the Scriptures. When someone asked where a Bible verse was found, I could usually tell him where to find it. With someone like me around, who needs a concordance? I prided myself on my knowledge of the Holy Book; it made me believe I had become quite spiritual. Now I realize that what really matters is not knowing the written Word, but knowing the living Word. Christ said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39). Knowing the book of the Lord is not the same thing as know the Lord of the book. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in how well I was doing in the Christian life. I set high standards, defended them ardently, and sought to practice them. It gave me satisfaction to think that I was a notch above many other Christians who didn’t hold to those standards, or even know about them. I even felt proud about my humility! How hard it was to realize that my critical and unloving attitudes were worse sins than the ones I looked down on others for. I was condemning splinters while carrying a log. My spirituality turned out to be a sham. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in how well I was doing in the area of spiritual disciplines. I applied myself diligently to Bible study, prayer, worship and other devotional exercises, feeling sure that I was scoring high with these benchmarks of spirituality. It was hard for me to comprehend that you don’t get points for doing these things. They were simply a means of seeking God. I had gloried in the wrong things. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in not having committed some of the scandalous sins that others had fallen into. It gave me a sense of moral superiority to think I had managed to avoid sliding into those ditches. I now see that in my heart there is the potential of committing any one of those sins. If I have not done so, it is not because of me; it is because of Him. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in being part of a movement that sought to function on the basis of New Testament Church principles. I felt that we were doing things right. It took me a long time to realize that our calling was not simply to do things right, but to manifest Christ, and in that area, we were a long way from being where we should be. Following a pattern can make you proud; following a Person will keep you humble.  NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my sound doctrinal positions. I was confident I had chapter and verse for my theological views. How well I could debate the finer points of Biblical minutiae! My theological orthodoxy gave me a sense of superiority over those who were not similarly enlightened. However, Scripture states: “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (I Cor. 8:2). I reluctantly had to learn that I fell into the category of those who know nothing. My “conceit of certainty” waned as I came to understand that at best “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). I was left with little reason to boast in my knowledge. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in having successfully avoided the many errors that abound on the evangelical landscape. As I saw others swept away by the latest unbalanced teaching, it was easy for me to be critical of them. How deplorable that others were so lacking in spiritual discernment! How few there were who were standing strong for the truth of God! However, my condescending attitude took a beating when I ran into Philippians 2:3: “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” What made me think I could have the truth of Christ, while woefully lacking the mind of Christ? My boasting was vain. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my track record in serving God. My years of sharing my faith, ministering the Word, and serving others gave me a sense of spiritual achievement. I felt that I was making valuable contributions to the work of God. I had yet to learn what Paul had learned: “I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10). Now I realize, that if a branch bears fruit, it’s all thanks to the vine. The Lord stated: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  That was an important lesson to learn. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

I used to make my boast in my performance in many different areas. I am beginning to understand that none of these things are cause for self congratulation; they are only cause for gratitude. The apostle Paul posed these convicting questions: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7 NKJV) I am learning there is only one reason to boast. NOW I MAKE MY BOAST IN THE LORD.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord…'” (Jer. 9:23,24)

“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14).

(The author of the forgoing is a missionary who is strongly tempted to boast in having written such an outstanding article.)


A true picture of God

If we accept Jesus as our God, we would have to conclude that our God does not want to be served by us, he wants to serve us; he doesn’t want to be given the highest possible status in our society; he wants to take the lowest place, without any status; he does not want to be feared; he wants to be recognized in the sufferings of the poor; he is not supremely indifferent and detached, he is irrevocable committed to the liberation of humanity, for he has chosen to identify himself with all the people in a spirit of solidarity and compassion. If this is not a true picture of God, then Jesus is not divine. If this is a true picture of God, then God is more truly human, more thoroughly humane, than any human being. He is a supremely ‘human God.’

–Albert Nolan

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