Christians have an important role to play in contending that no human life is "devoid of value." We can do so through courageous protest, as happened in Germany, as well, as in compassionate care for the most vulnerable members of society, as Mother Teresa did. In both approaches theology - what one believes about God and human life - matters. The world desperately needs that good news.
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Capitalism rules worldwide, and a society whose economic fabric depends on constant growth requires that its citizens have ever-expanding needs and wants... In the West, it will take one with soul force equal to Gandhi's to change the prevailing dogma of ever increasing GNP. We may be forced to change our profligate ways some day, when the soil is depleted, the aquifers drained, the icecaps melted, and all the oil wells pumped dry. But the crisis will wait another fifty years or so; we'll leave those problems to a generation yet unborn.
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John Wesley taught that the gospel of Christ involved more than saving souls. It should have an impact on all of society, and his followers worked to accomplish just that. They were dispensing grace to the broader world, and in the process their spirit helped change a nation, saving it from the revolutionary chaos that had spread across Europe.
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Christians fail to communicate to others because we ignore basic principles in relationship. When we make condescending judgments or proclaim lofty words that don't translate into action, or simply speak without first listening, we fail to love - and thus deter a thirsty world from Living Water. The good news about God's grace goes unheard.
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Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.
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Faith is not simply a private matter, or something we practice once a week at church. Rather, it should have a contagious effect on the broader world. Jesus used these images to illustrate His kingdom.: a sprinkle of yeast causing the whole loaf to rise, a pinch of salt preserving a slab of meat, the smallest seed in the garden growing into a great tree in which birds of the air come to nest.
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God reproduces and lives out His image in millions of ordinary people like us. It is a supreme mystery. We are called to bear that image as a Body because any one of us taken individually would present an incomplete image, one partly false and always distorted, like a single glass chip hacked from a mirror. But collectively, in all our diversity, we can come together as a community of believers to restore the image of God in the world.
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The church works best not as a power center, rather as a countercultural community - in the world but not of it - that shows others how to live the most fulfilled and meaningful life on earth. In modern society that means rejecting the false gods of independence, success, and pleasure and replacing them with love for God and neighbor.
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Our confused society badly needs a community of contrast, a counterculture of ordinary pilgrims who insist living a different way. Unlike popular culture, we will lavish attention on the least "deserving" in direct opposition to our celebrity culture's emphasis on success, wealth, and beauty.
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Someone asked the Swiss physician & author Paul Tournier how he helped his patients get rid of their fears. He replied, 'I don't. Everything that's worthwhile in life is scary. Choosing a school, choosing a career, getting married, having kids--all those things are scary. If it is not fearful, it is not worthwhile.'
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The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. Christ came down from heaven, and whenever his disciples entertained dreams of prestige and power he reminded them that the greatest is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up, the ladder of grace reaches down.
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If we insist on visible proofs from God, we may well prepare the way for a permanent state of disappointment. True faith does not so much attempt to manipulate God to do our will as it does to position us to do his will. As I searched through the Bible for models of great faith, I was struck by how few saints experienced anything like Job's dramatic encounter with God. The rest responded to the hiddenness not by demanding that he show himself, but by going ahead and believing him though he stayed hidden.
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The camera follows a young woman as she makes her way through the stands to an area set aside for repentance and conversion. But Jesus' stories imply that far more may be going on out there: beyond that stadium scene, in a place concealed from all camera lenses, a great party has erupted, a gigantic celebration in the unseen world.
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Followers of Jesus stake their claim on the firm belief that God will one day heal the planet of pain and death. Until that day arrives, the case against God must rely on incomplete evidence. We cannot really reconcile our pain-wracked world with a loving God because what we experience now is not the same as what God intends. Jesus himself prayed that God's will "be done, on earth as it is in heaven," a prayer that will not be fully answered until evil and suffering are finally defeated.
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As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church and every other such gathering in God's name. (p. 68, Church: Why Bother?)
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If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.
I interviewed ordinary people about prayer. Typically, the results went like this: Is Prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often to you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes - well, maybe seven. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure. They regarded it as important, even paramount, and felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves. Does this sound familiar? (pp. 14/Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)
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And yet when I wish to explore how faith works, I usually sneak in by the back door of doubt, for I best learn about my own need for faith during its absence. God's invisibility guarantees I will experience times of doubt. Everyone dangles on a pendulum that swings from belief to unbelief, back to belief, and ends - where?
I used to feel spiritually inferior because I had not experienced the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit and could not point to any bona fide 'miracles' in my life. Increasingly, though, I have come to see that what I value may differ greatly from what God values. Jesus, often reluctant to perform miracles, considered it progress when he departed earth and entrusted the mission to his flawed disciples. Like a proud parent, God seems to take more delight as a spectator of the bumbling achievements of stripling children than in any self-display of omnipotence. From God's perspective, if I may speculate, the great advance in human history may be what happened at Pentecost, which restored the direct correspondence of spirit to Spirit that had been lost in Eden. I want God to act in direct, impressive, irrefutable ways. God wants to 'share power' with the likes of me, accomplishing his work through people, not despite them.
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To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control his Son's suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to human beings, "I LOVE YOU." Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to - because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice. Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God's scheme ultimately leads back to the cross.
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