Irresistible Invitation 40 Day Reading Book: Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God

Overview

Accepting the invitation begins with a few quiet moments each day spent on deepening your relationship with God. From this time of reading and reflection, you will then meet with your Sunday school class or small group and discuss how God is leading you to become more connected with your church family and ultimately how you will work with your congregation to be God’s invitation to the world.

Each Week the Sunday sermon will reinforce the concepts in the reading book. This ...

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Overview

Accepting the invitation begins with a few quiet moments each day spent on deepening your relationship with God. From this time of reading and reflection, you will then meet with your Sunday school class or small group and discuss how God is leading you to become more connected with your church family and ultimately how you will work with your congregation to be God’s invitation to the world.

Each Week the Sunday sermon will reinforce the concepts in the reading book. This enables the individual reading to become part of a community experience.

Everyone participating in the study, older youth and adults, will need a copy of this book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780687648795
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Maxie Dunnam is the chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary; the pastor emeritus of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee; and the vice-chairperson of World Evangelism of the World Methodist Council. He is the author of several books, including Going on to Salvation: A Study of Wesleyan Beliefs; This Is Christianity; Alive in Christ; and The Workbook of Living Prayer.
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Read an Excerpt

Irresistible Invitation

Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God


By Maxie Dunnam

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2008 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-2954-6



CHAPTER 1

INCANDESCENT AMAZEMENT

Day 1


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen. 1:1


The singer Mary Martin used to say that her grandmother, who lived to be ninety-nine years old, spent her life in a state of "incandescent amazement." Isn't that a marvelous term? It's what I feel when I ponder God's eternal nature, and when I read that first line of the Bible: "In the beginning God ..."

Few phrases have stimulated the mind and imagination as much as this opening verse. Numerous poets have tried to find words for the day that Shelley describes as "when God first dawned on chaos." Philosophers have written volumes reflecting on its wisdom. Scientists continue to debate aspects of its truth. And theologians—that's us, when we think and talk about God—find in these words both the beginning of God's story and our own story. We begin here as we explore our relationship to God, what the Christian faith is all about, and how we live out that faith day in and day out.

When asked in 1989 what book most influenced her during the past year, author Madeleine L'Engle responded:

There is no question that the book that has been most influential for me this past year is the Bible's first one: Genesis.... The marvelous story of the creation is for me filled with incredible joy ... the words shouting all things into being in a great cry of joy. Genesis is also filled with marvelous people—flawed and human—and underlines for me that God does not choose "qualified" people to do the work of love.... Genesis has everything—all the human vices and glories, love and hate, murder, sacrifice, and a great story. There is no end to plumbing its depths.


She's right. There is no end to plumbing its depths. In the first eleven chapters of Genesis, you have God's version of the human story and also our version of God's story.

You may wonder why I refer to only the first eleven chapters. As you read the book of Genesis, you will find there is a distinct, though unannounced, change of tone that begins at Chapter 11. It is there that the story of Abraham and his descendants begins. William M. Logan reminds us:

From that point on, the record has a more concrete sound. It moves more slowly and gives more details. It does not cover a thousand years in a single breath. It slows down to a pace with which we can keep up as it traces the life story of men and a nation. In contrast, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are epic in their scope. Their sweep is tremendous. Incomprehensible periods of time are covered in a few words. Stupendous events are described with brevity and matter of factness of a child's fairy story.


This is history, not in the sense of the chronological recording of people and events, but rather the nature of humanity and our spiritual journey. These chapters explain history not in terms of what, when, and how things happened, but why. Here's more from William Logan:

The stories are told in such manner that when I read them, I realize that I'm not reading an account of history; I'm looking in a mirror! This is not Adam I'm reading about; this is myself. This is not a tower built long ago in a faraway country: this is my own society in action, and I am part and parcel of that society.


GOD IS ETERNAL

Perhaps you've heard a child ask—because just about every child asks at some time or another—"Who made God?" The answer is, "No one." God has always been, God is and will always be. God existed before the world and before human history, and God will exist after the world and human history are dissolved.

Someone once asked Martin Luther what God was doing before the world was made. The old reformer replied, "Cutting switches with which to flog those who ask foolish questions!" Foolish or not, this question certainly makes us think. God is eternal, and when we begin to understand that, our relationship to God comes into clearer view.

There is something more we need to rest on: in the beginning, God created. Listen to the second verse: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Gen. 1:2).

The world in all its complexity did not come into existence by chance; the odds are too great for that.


It's interesting to note that the Hebrew word used here for created is one that is used only in reference to God in the Bible. The truth is, the word implies work that is utterly beyond human imitation or comprehension. The world in all its complexity did not come into existence by chance; the odds are too great for that.

Someone has said that if you put ten pennies minted in consecutive years into your pocket, the odds of taking them out in order are one in ten billion. Can you imagine—those being the odds—that this universe, of which we are a part, could have just happened by chance?

William Herbert Carruth describes his sense of incandescent amazement at God's creation in his poem "Each in His Own Tongue":

A fire-mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jelly-fish and a saurian,
And caves where cave-men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty
And a face turned from the clod—
Some call it Evolution,
And others call it God.


As we begin our forty-day journey together, I invite you to ponder these foundational concepts that speak to the heart of our Christian faith: in the beginning, God created everything that exists. God is bigger than any concept we can hold in our minds, yet God in his infinite love desires a personal relationship with us. The chaos that we sometimes feel overwhelmed by is actually an illusion; God's reality is law, beauty, and order breathed into creation in divine wisdom.

As we go about the details of living our lives, it's easy for us to lose sight of the big picture. When we're running through our days on autopilot, we can miss those moments of incandescent amazement when God reveals something beautiful to us. But if we are willing to listen, we soon realize that God is calling us to slow down and pay attention to these moments of wonder.

We might hear truth in a song lyric, glimpse the divine in a flowing stream, or see the face of God in the eyes of a child. If we tune in to God and open ourselves to seeing the creation with fresh eyes, we'll begin to experience more and more moments of incandescent amazement.

At this point, you might have more questions about God than you have answers. You may even doubt God's great compassion, or God's willingness to be intricately involved in your life. That's okay; you're far from the first person to feel this way. But if you'll agree with me right now that God could literally change your life through this study—that you'll allow God to teach you new things and reveal himself in new ways—there's no telling what could happen next.


THE HEART OF THE MATTER

* What do you feel when you reflect on the first few lines of Genesis? How does this feeling color your perception of God?

* How could a deeper understanding of the creation story affect your relationship with God? Does this story challenge any of your previous assumptions?

* Have you experienced moments of incandescent amazement? If so, how have those experiences informed your understanding of God?

CHAPTER 2

GOD'S CREATION Is GOOD

Day 2


God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Gen. 1:31


Yesterday, we centered our thinking on incandescent amazement. God calls creation out of chaos—and rejoices. Now let's take it a step further. "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:3).

The writer of these first chapters of Genesis doesn't describe a God who looks down on creation as an engineer, scientist, or technician who has created a model that is flowing off some production line. No, the God of creation is an artist, painter, and sculptor—and the creation is his masterpiece.

Note that after each dimension of the creation, there is the phrase, "And it was good." We need to hang on to that phrase, because our temptation is to see the world and all that is in it as evil. When the darkness of our circumstances makes life seem dark, we grow frightened and sometimes faithless. We find it difficult to believe that God is near, and fear that God has forgotten us. We long for the light in the midst of our darkness.

Have you ever read John Keats' poem, "Ode to a Nightingale"? In the poem, Keats expresses a longing to escape from his pain-filled life and join the pleasant-sounding nightingale, which lives apart from the trials of human beings. He asks for a cup of poison to drink, and says:

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Keats had felt the emptiness, darkness, and hopelessness of life. We all feel this way from time to time: the darkness of our particular circumstances makes us believe that all of life is dark, and so we become frightened and faithless.

What we need to know, however, is that God owns the darkness as well as the light, and that God is present in the night as well as in the day. There's a marvelous verse in the book of Isaiah which says, "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness" (Isa. 45:6-7). Isaiah knew—because he believed the creation story—that the entire universe belonged to God. No aspect of human experience is without God's presence. The psalmist knew it too, so he could sing:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there....
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Ps. 139:8, 11-12)


Not only does God bring deliverance from darkness; sometimes God reveals himself most vividly in the darkness. We may not understand it or be able to explain it, but we can know full well that God is in the midst of everything.

We may not understand it, but we can know full well that God is in the midst of everything.


Of course, the providential care of God does not protect us from the bumps and bruises of life, nor from the struggle—and sometimes tragedy—of living. Brothers betray brothers. Husbands desert wives. Good people lose their jobs. Teenage girls get pregnant. Teenage boys use drugs. The young die too early. The old live against their will through feeding tubes and breathing machines. Hurricanes devastate cities. Tornadoes destroy trailer parks and rivers flood towns. An earthquake in the middle of the ocean causes a tsunami a thousand miles away.

As such, it may not always seem apparent that every part of God's creation is good. But we can be confident that God is always working out his magnificent plan of redemption.

We have to be honest here and say that sometimes people— the height of God's creation—don't act according to the image in which they were created. But what a wonderful surprise when they do. We finish today's study with a beautiful example of God's creation reflecting his glory—and his great compassion.

Some time ago, the Associated Press carried the story of Manuel Garcia. Garcia was a poor man who suffered from cancer, and he needed to be treated with chemotherapy. He had always been proud of his full head of hair, but now he had to surrender to its loss.

When the time came for Garcia to leave the hospital and return home, he felt embarrassed by his baldness. As he entered his house, his five-year-old son came running to him. The little boy threw his arms around his father and shouted, "Daddy, I love you!" Garcia was surprised when he realized that his son was completely bald; he had shaved off his hair so he could look like his father.

Then, in a few minutes, the doorbell rang. Garcia opened the door to find some fifty neighbors and friends standing on his front lawn. They had all shaved their heads in a sign of solidarity and support. What a picture of God! God may not save us from our troubles, but he will save us in them. God's creation may sometimes seem dark and evil, but in the full picture, the long view, it will prove to be good.


THE HEART OF THE MATTER

* Have you been aware of God's presence in a time of darkness and suffering? Describe your personal experience.

* Have there been times of hardship in your life that, looking back, you are able to recognize as forming your character for the better? Are you aware of a purpose in those times of struggle?

* Have you given or received a show of love like the one described in the story of Manuel Garcia? If so, how did that experience affect you?

CHAPTER 3

A GRACIOUS GOD

Day 3


I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10


We've all been there: uncertain, unqualified— even, at times, unfit. It doesn't matter our position, our calling, or our training; sooner or later, we all experience that sinking feeling that we're absolutely, completely in over our heads.

I've been known to feel that way during the seemingly simplest of tasks: heading to the grocery store to pick up one or two items for my wife. Let's just say that the grocery is not exactly familiar (or comfortable) territory for me, and I get there only when a state of near-emergency is declared at home.

But there have been other times far more serious. I remember, in particular, when I was called to join the staff of The Upper Room, charged with directing a ministry, calling people to a life of prayer, providing direction and resources for growth in that area, and giving structure to a united expression of prayer by people around the world. Feeling very much the novice, I recall telling Dr. Wilson Weldon, then the editor of The Upper Room, that the search committee—and the church as a whole—must be in desperate straits to consider me for the job, I was such a novice in the area of prayer life and its development.

Looking back, though, I have to admit something: God met me there in a profound way. The responsibility forced me to be even more deliberate and disciplined in my own life of prayer. But it also introduced me to a wider dimension of spirituality than I had ever known.

I became intensely interested in the great devotional classics. The Upper Room had published a collection of little booklets—selections from some of the greatest spiritual teachers of the ages, whose names I barely knew and to whose writings I was a stranger: Julian of Norwich, William Law, Francois Fenelon, Francis of Assisi, Evelyn Underhill, Brother Lawrence, and an array of others. I began a deliberate practice of "keeping company with the saints," seeking to immerse myself in their writings which have endured through the centuries.

I have continued this practice for more than thirty years now. As I have kept company with the saints, I have observed some characteristics they have in common:

* They passionately sought the Lord.

* They discovered a gracious God.

* They took Scripture seriously.

* They experienced a living Jesus.

* They practiced discipline, at the heart of which was prayer.

* They were convinced that obedience was essential to their life and growth.

* They didn't seek ecstasy, but surrender of their will to the Lord.

* They were thirsty for holiness.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunnam. Copyright © 2008 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,
INTRODUCTION,
WEEK ONE: COMING HOME TO GOD,
Day 1: Incandescent Amazement,
Day 2: God's Creation Is Good,
Day 3: A Gracious God,
Day 4: The Picture of God,
Day 5: Coming Home,
Day 6: A Roadmap for the Journey,
Day 7: Taking It All In,
WEEK TWO: A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER,
Day 8: The Hint Half Guessed,
Day 9: Why We Still Preach the Cross,
Day 10: He Comes as He Came,
Day 11: A Love Like No Other,
Day 12: The Stone Was Rolled Away,
Day 13: The Gospel by Which We Are Saved,
Day 14: To Live in Joy,
WEEK THREE: ALIVE IN CHRIST,
Day 15: The Essence of the Gospel,
Day 16: Alive in Christ,
Day 17: Constantly Abiding,
Day 18: Humble and Available,
Day 19: The Shaping Power of the Indwelling Christ,
Day 20: What Christ Has Been and Done for Us,
Day 21: Dying and Rising with Christ,
WEEK FOUR: FIT FOR KINGDOM LIVING,
Day 22: Christ Frees Us and Fits Us,
Day 23: Claiming the Promise,
Day 24: The Surest Path of All,
Day 25: The Hands and Feet of Jesus,
Day 26: Communion Through Conversation,
Day 27: Planted by the Water,
Day 28: Choosing to Be Whole,
WEEK FIVE: THE HOME OF GRACE,
Day 29: The Dwelling Place of Wonder,
Day 30: The Body of Christ,
Day 31: What Defines Christian Community?,
Day 32: The People of God,
Day 33: Essential Characteristics,
Day 34: The Priesthood of All Believers,
Day 35: A Church Shaped by the Great Commission,
WEEK SIX: PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL,
Day 36: Privileged Partakers in the Promise,
Day 37: Prayers,
Day 38: Presence,
Day 39: Gifts,
Day 40: Service,
Day 41: Epilogue,
ACCEPTING JESUS,
OTHER WORKS BY MAXIE DUNNAM,
SOURCES,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    Irresistible Invitation

    I have a friend who as a child had been taught that God was unforgiving and harsh, hince as a adult she turned away from God. She had not lived a Christian life in her opinion and since she just knew that God would never forgive her why not just do whatever she wanted she had already been condemned. She asked me one day how I could have such a sunny outlook and disposition on life and what made me that way. I really did not have a way to answer her but the following Sunday the pastor was out and a fellow member delivered the message and she started by describing this book and how this one phrase was repeated throughout. "God loves us as if we were the only person in the world to be loved", and it ocurred to me that this was the answer for my friend. I quickly ordered the book for her approaching birthday and she was quite happy to read it.
    I read through the book before giving it to her and I was able to appreciate it for its very eloquent words. This book truely shines as a testament for Gods love for us. It is organized, easy to read and understand and at the end of each chapter to has reflective questions that help the reader to get a clear picture of the topic. It uses scripture, but it also uses quotes and sources from other authors and notable persons. If you have ever questioned or been questioned about your relationship with God and were unable to give an answer, this book is a good tool to help explain.

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