Tuesday, December 31, 2013

END OF THE YEAR REFLECTIONS

BY STEVE DUNN

It is the custom of our culture to greet the New Year by making resolutions: self-promises to bring focus and direction to our lives as we face the canvas of a fresh new year.  Some resolutions are revolutions, as people vow to make radical changes in their life to fix what has not been working in the previous years or even before that.  Revolutions often fail because we are not true believers of a new world but merely creative reactionaries against the old one.

Some resolutions are merely wishes, not even dreams.  They remain merely wishes (if they are not simply forgotten in the bustle and busyness of a new year) because they are neither grounded in an honest self-appraisal nor connected to a practical plan for their achievement.

My best experiences in planning for a new year is to spend some honest time reflecting upon the one through which I have just passed.  Let me share some of those which I believe might be helpful beyond my own circumstances and character.


1. Dianne and I started the new year (2013) waiting for a new job to which I was committed; but by its arrival I would have been out of work for seven months.  For three and a half months we lived in the home of a dear pastoral friend from seminary, Dennis Hall and his wife Ruth.  Their gracious hospitality made the waiting doable and along the way we found the incredible value of friends, especially those who have the gift of hospitality.
      Reflection:  A person's life is immeasurably enriched when they have friends who are more concerned about what you lack than what you require of them.  Find those friends.  Embrace them.  Appreciate them.  Imitate them in your dealing with others who need a friend.

2.  I have worked since March as the Intentional Interim Senior Pastor.  My job is take a church, assess its strengths and weaknesses, help it resolve its conflicts. correct its shortcomings, embrace a fresh vision, and wait patiently for their next leader.  It is a job where candor is essential.  People need the truth.  It is one where you need to name names and take prisoners, i.e., you need to help controlling and misdirected be accountable to the common good.  But in the process you need to believe in people and help them believe in the vision God has for them.
     Reflection: People and groups need the truth in order to be healthy and whole and fruitful. Our capacity for rationalization and denial are incredible, and incredibly destructive if someone does not speak the truth to us.  But those who speak the truth must speak the truth in love or defensive walls go up, instead of  destructive ones coming down.

3.  Dianne and I entered the year with the knowledge that the home we were making would be temporary.  If were successful, like John the Baptist we would have to decrease so someone else could increase.  We knew where we would live but did not know where we would dwell.  And as this year has processed, we know that next December we will not be here.  But by the nature of our job, we will not really have a clue until just a few weeks before this assignment ends.  Although that leaves us with uncertainties and questions, we are at peace.  We do not know all the answers but we know the One Who does.
     Reflection:  People find rest, security and peace not in a place but in a relationship.  When we have a relationship with Christ, we know that nothing will separate us from Him and any place we must go, He will go before.  If Christ is your "home". you will always have a home.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

Reprint permission: You have permission to reprint for your ministry or repost as long as you do not alter the post and give credit to its author. An email note from you would be appreciated by the author and a link back to this blog is always appreciated.
  

Monday, December 30, 2013

TOP POSTS OF ALL TIME - INVICTUS REVISITED AGAIN

One more to complete this journey into the past This first appeared in May 2010 - Steve


INVICTUS REVISITED AGAIN

The most popular post to date on Life Matters is called “Invictus Revisited.” It is accessed almost daily since its original publication on March 14, 2010. 17 visits in fact. People may be coming to the site to read the poem itself. But the original purpose of the post was to present Dorothy Day’s revisiting of the poem and her rewritten version.

The original poem was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley, but not published until 1888. Henley’s personal story. Henley contracted tuberculosis in the bone at age 12 and amputation was the only cure. He lived with and overcame his disability in age when persons with handicaps were given little assistance or encouragement. “Invictus” was written from a hospital bed; but Henley, true to the sentiment of his poem, lived an active life until age 53 when he died.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

When I was in high school in the late 60s and pastoring in the 70s and early 80s, “Invictus” was the staple of many a valedictorian’s graduation speech. As you read its word, you can understand why it appealed to young men and young women ready to start out on the challenges of adulthood, claiming the confidence that every fresh, and yet unseasoned grad often operates by.

Invictus means “unconquered” in Latin and speaks of taking responsibility for one’s own destiny. An anonymous commentator on the poem referring to is popularity recently wrote to the “Upstage” blog of the Indianapolis Star:

“Invictus” pits the speaker against “the fell clutch of circumstance” and various dire threats, including death, and demands that we admire his courage and steadfastness. How does such rigid, robotic poetry become famous? Because it captures attitudes people like to entertain with so little ambiguity that it can seem the last word on the matter.”

I confess that I generally share this observation without its caustic remark about the poetic style of Henley. People are drawn to this poem in part because it captures attitudes people like to entertain, whether those attitudes are helpful or rooted in reality.

Not every soul is unconquerable. Many persons born into poverty or tyranny, left unassisted and defeated by the principalities and powers of their culture descend into a kind of despair and self-image that forever leaves them prisoners of their self-image.

Not every one is the captain of their fate and the master of their soul. Try saying that to a child who is abused. Try saying that to some who is illiterate and is denied any education. How about wage slaves? How about women in societies that have no rights and are maimed and brutalized in the name of their cultural values or religion? How about the employee of a corporation who is tossed aside after 40 years and has his pension fund looted by the corporate leaders?

Yes, we must take personal responsibility for our actions and not easily surrender to rationalizations and self justifications that defeat us before we even begin. But none of us truly has final say or ultimate power over our own lives and certainly over the universe in which we must live.

For us to rise above it all requires help. On the basic level, we know that we are interdependent not independent human beings and this required some shared values and cooperation in order to survive, let alone conquer. A popular rewriting of Psalm 23 that appeared in the Sixties, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil–for I am the meanest S.O.B. in the valley. In a world of real evil and destructive sin, there is always a meaner S.O.B. in the valley. And to choose that “arms race” usually destroys your soul.

For a Christian – that necessary help comes from the true Master of Our Soul – Jesus Christ. In my next post I will comment on that.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn

Sunday, December 29, 2013

TOP POSTS OF ALL TIME -BRIAN'S QUESTIONS - CREATION

Top posts continue.  Questions about God, religion, Christianity are among the most viewed.  A young man named Brian started probably one of the most popular "series" first published October 27, 2010.  This is one of my favorites, as well. - Steve

BRIAN'S QUESTIONS - CREATION AND SEVEN DAYS

"Is it possible that the 7 days of creation was not (literally) in actual days?" - Brian

Brian,
The answer I am about to give will offend some of my Christian brothers but here is my understanding. First of all, the Bible teaches that God accomplished creation in six days.  On the seventh day He rested from His labors. So now we're down to six days to accomplish the task.

Because we believe that God was doing the creating, and He is, after all ... God, it is entirely possible that He did this in six days ... literally.  Except the Bible doesn't say that exactly.  It uses the word day, but does that mean a 24-hour unit of time?  Elsewhere, David, inspired by God to do his writing declared "A thousand years are like a day in your sight." The ancient Hebrews also spoke of a day as a general description of time and here the suggestion is that what man calculates as a thousand years is only the rough equivalent of a day as God might measure it. In this interpretation God could have taken as many as six thousand years to accomplish the work of Creation.

Elsewhere we hear day used as a description of a season or an era of history as in the days of Elijah. The length of time to which that refers because we have the reference point of the historical record of Elijah and his ministry. Unfortunately for us there is no historical record of the time of Creation for which we can assign a specific number of years to it ... like thousands or millions.  So that avenue of interpretation seems closed to us if we want to be true to the scriptures as a record of the work of God.  That position would make a whole lot of people more comfortable with at least the time normally assigned by evolutionary theory, but that simply reminds us that the Bible does not profess to be a book of science.  It is a book of the work of God, which by definition cannot be tested in a tube or in a carbon dating chamber or under a microscope.

For Christians trying to be faithful to God's Word, the surest statement is this ... God created the heavens and the earth.  What we have is no accident nor mindless evolutionary process. It is not natural selection. It is intelligent design accomplished at the hand of God as an expression of His goodness and love. The selection comes via a supernatural involvement in nature that creates dependable Laws of Nature to sustain that creation and all of us creatures who inhabit it.  It is a Creation that always had humanity in mind, and intended humanity to be the crowning part of that Creation.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TOP POSTS OF ALL TIME - FANTASY BASEBALL

Christmas Eve 2011
More of the top LIFE MATTERS original posts of all time.  Sports, especially baseball, have been good to me.  Proves that for my readers, baseball is America's past time - that, or fantasy is.

FANTASY BASEBALL


Yesterday was the draft for one of the teams in my Fantasy Baseball Leagues. (My wife Dianne now knows that I have more than one team. Don't worry, dear. I'll manage them on the computer before you get going in the day.) I don't participate in live drafts. That's far too much work. I let the computer draft for me and then I enjoy the challenge of trades, identifying free agents, and setting a roster each week to see if I can produce a winner. I had one team last year, the Landisville Sluggers, who finished third in their division and became one of the two wild card teams (my team was also third out of the league's 12 teams). Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Evan Longoria were the stars. And my beloved Detroit Tigers pitching staff.

Now for a little honest confession:

Sometimes I think I spend too much time on the computer. I know my wife thinks so, especially when it’s her computer I seem to be hogging. I blog and FACEBOOK. I email, I web surf for great sites about religion and life.

But in the summer this all ramps up as the Major League Baseball season begins because it also signals the beginning of the Fantasy Baseball season. Last summer I ventured in to it a small way, entering the Landisville Sluggers into one of MLB.Coms thousands of leagues. Trading, seeking free agents, setting weekly lineups were a new rush. Then there was watching my game in progress (and watching the real games in progress via computer that added points to “my game”) could consume an entire evening.

I am out of market for my own beloved Detroit Tigers, so I watch their games on computer, too. So caught up was I by my Sluggers that sometimes I only gave a few moments to my Tigers. Am I just a little bit out of touch with reality or what?

Well this summer I have added Leyland’s Powerhouse to my MLB holdings. And I have opened a new front in the CBS Fantasy Game with the Dunn Tiger Cats in the King Jesus League. So far, I have promised myself (and by extension, my wife) to check results in the early hours when I first arise and remind myself that watching the game live (if it can be called that when you’re talking about a computer simulation of a fantasy game) may put too great a stranglehold on my life.

Nonetheless, Opening Day is less than a week away.

Friday, December 27, 2013

TOP POSTS ALL TIME - THE LOST VALUE OF COMMUNICATION

 Continuing this week's emphasis on the best of the posts of LIFE MATTERS that are originally written by me. This one first appeared February 5, 2011 - Steve

THE LOST VALUE OF COMMUNICATION

 Karen Spears Zacharias pointed me to a new blog and these profound words:

"Poor communication doesn’t disconnect souls. It’s the disconnected souls who poorly communicate." - Ann Voskamp,  A HOLY EXPERIENCE

As a pastor, I deal frequently with the effects of poor communication.  Lives broken because someone was not careful in their communication, embedding lies into someone's heart through de-humanizing or manipulative communication.  Relationships gone sour because someone did not understand that listening is part of communicating. Dreams unrealized because of a fear of expressing one's heart or dreams shattered because someone crushed the vulnerability of the dreamer beneath words spouting from a critical spirit. "Speaking the truth in love," is the counsel of the Bible but a soul disconnected from the Source of that Love will never truly communicate truth.


Not only is communication a lost art for many, but the commitment to communicate in civil and constructive ways has become a forgotten value in our culture.  Such a development is a measure of the poverty of our souls.

(c) 2011 BY STEPHEN L DUNN

While we are at it, another of my favorite personal photos:

Can you tell he's a Tiger's fan>? - July 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TOP POSTS ALL TIME-CELEBRATE THE EXCEPTIONS


BY STEVE DUNN

It has been my privilege to share my thoughts and passions with you through this blog for the past five years.  Life Matters was my first blog (there are now 22 that I am writing on two blog engines).  The first offering of this began in March 3, 2009.  You have graciously read my offerings, shared your thoughts, reblogged them and shared them via Facebook (Networked Blogs is my chief syndicator.)  According to Google, my number one original post in 2013
One of my favorite photos-grandson Jake and I in 2012
was "I Am Offended and Troubled" which appeared just six days ago and had 608 views on the very first day.  Politics, sports, and religion have always been the topics you have responded to the best, plus anything with cartoons in it.

Throughout this week until New Year's, I am reposting some of your favorites.  I am focusing on those written originally by me.  This one has been among the most popular of all time.  It's called CELEBRATE THE EXCEPTIONS and first appeared April 11, 2012.  It is also one of my favorites:


CELEBRATE THE EXCEPTIONS, BUT LIVE BY THE RULES

One of my great challenges as a pastor is to teach people how to make wise decisions.  Andy Stanley says the best question ever in terms of decision-making is the question, "Is it wise?"  Wisdom comes from God's Word and Stanley is telling us to ask, "Is my decision consist with what the Word of God tells on how to live?"

I find that people who even know what God says still have trouble embracing wisdom because it is not what they want to do. When I point out that there are moral laws that cannot be violated without consequences, they begin looking for a loophole.  Quite often they point to the laws of nature and what we have learned about human nature.  There they can sometimes point out to something that does not always work out the way you think.  So then they use that as an excuse to go ahead and do what they want.

"See, Pastor, there are exceptions."

My response, there appear to be exceptions (or variations) to the laws of nature and our knowledge of human nature; but the vast majority of the time it works the way those laws say they will.  Jump from a precipice and the law of gravity tells us we will plummet like a rock.  And if the fall is far enough, you'll break something or get killed.  The application, "Don't leap from a precipice. You will injure yourself.'

But because there have been a few people who survived falls without breaking anything, people say there is an exception which will then be their justification for leaping off a cliff.

My response, "Celebrate the exceptions, but live by the rules." 

But God's moral law gives us no loopholes. No exceptions.  For every transgression there is a consequence and unless God intervenes or picks up the pieces, we will suffer the consequences.

The wages of sin is death.  And death always collects its due.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

CHRISTMAS MORNING REFLECTIONS

BY STEVE DUNN


"One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly" ~Andy Rooney

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift." - 2 Corinthians 9:15

Sitting at the dining room table at 7:51 am waiting for Dianne to arise so we can begin our Christmas morning celebration.  It may be another hour.  Two Christmas Eve services last night, one ending at midnight and a  little unwinding afterwards at our favorite diner kept us up later.  Plus, no kids or grandkids at our house to push the agenda forward.  (I understand from my daughter Christi on Facebook that my grandson Jake already has them up and ready.)  Later today my Dad, sibs, their spouses and offspring will be at our house for Christmas dinner so we won't be alone.  It will be, I am sure, a full day--filled with the joy that comes from family at Christmas time; but more than that, the joy that comes from God who has blessed us with the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

I know that not everyone reading this has these twin blessings--some, neither of them.  My heart, although filled with the joy of Christ, grieves for you.  God did not intend for us to be alone. Psalm 98:6 tells us, "God sets the lonely in families ..."  I would encourage you, if it is within your power, to reach out to your family and not let this day pass without that connection.  I know in some cases that will be messy--not the glorious mess of a living room following the family's celebration--but some of God's best miracles come when things are messy.

But even more, if you do not yet find yourself in a personal relationship with Christ--could I urge you to respond today to his invitation to be a part of his Forever family.  Our biological families--may and do--fail us.  God will not.

May you know the peace and the joy that comes from receiving that indescribable gift made possible by God's amazing grace and unconditional love.

Monday, December 23, 2013

AS WE PREPARE FOR YET ANOTHER CHRISTMAS --- REMEMBER

As we prepare for another Christmas - remember --- God is still at work among us.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

THE STORY OF SILENT NIGHT AND A MODERN RENDITION

I am reblogging this from another blog and both of us must note that we have no knowledge of the source of this story--but would welcome any information you might have so we can give due credit.-STEVE


In the winter of 1818 at St. Nicholas’ Church at Obendorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria, Joseph Mohr, the assistant to the priest, faced a dilemma. It was just days before Christmas, and the church organ which was so important to providing music for the Christmas services was broken. Since the organ repairman was not a local of the village it would actually be months before the repair could be made, and Christmas would be long past.

His solution to the problem of the broken organ resulted in one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time. In 1816 Mohr had written a simple poem that the villagers could understand expressing the wonder of the birth of Jesus. He asked his friend Franz Gruber who was the organist at St. Nicholas to write music to accompany his poem so that they could sing it together using a guitar to accompany their singing.

They first performed their newly composed Christmas carol at the Christmas Eve midnight service on December 24, 1818. It did not instantly receive the worldwide recognition it has come to know, however. It was not until years later in 1825 when Carl Mauracher was rebuilding the organ at St. Nicholas that a handwritten copy of the words and music was found in the organ loft.

Mauracher was from an area in the mountains of Tyrol which had many traveling folk choirs who performed throughout Europe. He carried the carol back home, and it became a popular song with the choirs as they traveled and spread its popularity wherever they went.

In some versions of the story it is told that mice had eaten the bellows of the organ. Others say that Gruber himself had broken the organ. It is believed that there was frequent flooding of the area that caused rust and mildew to affect the condition of the church organ often making it unplayable. It is actually not known however if the organ was truly broken at Christmastime of 1818. Some say that Mohr simply wanted a new carol for the service and was fond of the guitar as an instrument. Some stories tell that both the poem and the music were hastily written that Christmas Eve. A manuscript for “Silent Night” in Mohr’s hand was discovered in 1995 which is dated 1816. In the manuscript Mohr credits the melody used for the carol to Franz Gruber.




Friday, December 20, 2013

I AM OFFENDED AND TROUBLED


 BY STEVE DUNN

     Duck Dynasty is everywhere.  The largely unscripted reality show has captured the cable-waves and rocketed A&E Network to the top of the charts.  It has already generated a fortune for Walmart and other retailers--secular and religious--by pasting the face of the Robertson clan on every imaginable household item.  

     Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil Robertson and his clan are conservative Christians, staunchly patriotic, sometimes outrageous in their opinions, and firm in what they value--which leans heavily towards traditional American values.

     I've enjoyed a few episodes with friends, but my reality TV tends to lean towards The Voice, The Sing-Off, and Major League Baseball.

     It was only a matter of time before these high profile and often delightfully humorous self-proclaimed Christian rednecks would fall afoul of the media and liberal political establishment with their narrow definition of "free speech." Phil set off a firestorm.

     Now A&E has suspended him, his family has threatened to stop making the show without him. (I don't believe for a minute that a profit-driven network is going to jettison its most profitable possession nor that the Richardson family will abandon their income and platform.)

     I am both offended and troubled.

     I am offended when the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution continue to extend the defense of  free speech to pornagraphers, the worst of America's haters here and abroad, people whose sexual orientation offends so many of their neighbors, and people whose politics are left of center; but have singled out conservative and evangelical Christians as people whose views threaten to destroy the fabric of society.  The bias has now become so obvious that even some of my most liberal friends have pointed it out (although I see few pushing back against it).

     Phil Robertson is an American citizen--living in the land of the free and the home of the brave--a land governed by its Constitution.  He is entitled to the same rights and at the very least, the same tolerance that we extend even to most unsavory citizens of this land.

     But I am also troubled by my conservative Christian friends, many of whom profess to share the same belief in the truth of the Bible as God's Word and the commitment to live by its commandments and teachings--who roar back like cornered lions every time they are not treated with respect, or where their rights are undermined.  People who now often define their worth and identity by the rights they have in the Constitution, rather than in living by God's truth.

     And this is my reason--three statements by Jesus.

"God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers." - Matthew 5:11 New Living Translation

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." - John 16.33 New Living Translation 


 If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you." - John 15.18-19 New Living Translation

     I simply am concerned that we as Christians take the world's views PERSONALLY, as attacks on us when they are really attacks on Christ. Too many Christians want to stand up for Jesus without paying the price of rejection and opposition that Jesus said to expect if we were being faithful to him in a world that WOULD BACK AWAY.

     We have a persecution complex, or better yet--a rejection complex.

     And in our vehemence and in the manner of our communication we often show the world that we do not really trust in God to make things right-and that the acceptance of men is more important than faithfulness to God.  

      Or that being left alone to believe what we want to believe (even if it is the truth) than paying the price of truly being salt and light where we will stand out from the crowd who often cares little about God.

     Something to think about and to pray about.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

 

Monday, December 2, 2013

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS: PRIORITIES

by Steve Dunn 

This past week,  a friend of mine, Jim Stanley, shared this photo on his Facebook Page.


It was an interesting variation on the common anti-Black Friday rant on how it steals from the celebration of Thanksgiving or setting a tone that takes Christ from Christmas.  It really was a photographic critique of our priorities.

The message is plain--we will cut short a holiday, stand for hours in the cold,  risk bodily harm from fanatical shoppers, abandon all self respect and dignity--to purchase that "item"at outrageously bargain prices; but cannot be enticed or guilted into a commitment that benefits the well-being of our community.

Priorities.

What are your priorities in life--in the investment of your time?  What are the values that you embrace that are reflected in those priorities?

Jesus once said, "Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also."

Where do you invest the treasure of your time, your relationships, your commitments?

It is where your heart is.  All the Black Friday marketeers are doing is listening to your heart.

(c) 2013 by Steve Dunn

Sunday, December 1, 2013

WEB SIGHTING: THE AGONY OF ADVENT

From one of my favorite writers and bloggers comes this reflection on Advent, which begins today.-Steve

Agony of Advent

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot…” Isaiah 11: 1
Advent.
It can be hard, hard, hard.
This waiting.
You tell yourself that this thing you hope for, it will come.
One. Day. Soon.
All in due time.
You only have to be patient.
And good.
You have to persevere.
You have to try harder.
Pray without ceasing.
And never, ever lose hope.
But when this child, you are waiting so desperately for, doesn’t appear,
You are tempted to despair.
You tell yourself conception didn’t happen because
You weren’t good enough.
You weren’t patient enough.
You haven’t persevered long enough.
You feel like a failure because
You can’t do the simplest of human things -
You can’t reproduce.
Fifteen-year-olds, who haven’t the sense God gave a goose, can make a baby in the backseat of a car thirty minutes after the last school bell rings.
But you?
You have stood on your head in a corner, en pointe the floor of heaven, willing the agony of this advent to produce a glorious new birth.
When that method, like the dozens before, didn’t produce magic, either, you withdrew to that dark place, where you alone battle a despair fertile women will never know.
Waiting.
Praying.
Hoping.
There is no joy in Advent without the Promise of an infant child. 
There is only certain hopelessness. 
Without an infant child there are only the desolate tears of a motherhood and fatherhood denied.
Ann Voskamp speaks of this in her book on Advent – The Greatest Gift:
Because without the genealogy of Christ, the limbs of His past, the branches of His family, the love story of His heart that has been coming for you since before the beginning – how does Christmas and its tree stand? Its roots would be sheared. Its meaning would be stunted. The arresting pause of the miracle would be lost.
Because in the time of prophets and kings, the time of Mary and Joseph, it wasn’t your line of credit, line of work, or line of accomplishment that explained who you were. It was your family line. It was family that mattered. Family gives you context, and origin gives you understanding, and the family tree of Christ always give you hope.
We are the perpetual Advent people, Voskamp reminds us.
Advent. Latin. Coming. Waiting.
And so it is this Advent season,
We kneel beside you and pray
We wait in silence
Weeping with you
And hoping beyond the despair that one day very soon
You will hold close a blessed infant child and whisper of the family that endured the Advent alongside you.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

ALL WE NEED FOR CHRISTMAS

ALL WE NEED FOR CHRISTMAS

We have just come through Black Friday, often a day of retail madness and debt enslavement. (Actually this year it became Gray Thursday as the aspirations of Black Friday leaked forward into our Thanksgiving celebrations.)  The basic consumerism of our age rears its ugly head and launches us into Advent thinking of the flesh instead of the spirit.

If we are not careful, the Spirit of God goes almost unnoticed except for Sunday morning worship (unless of course we are skipping worship to do some family Christmas activity, or to snatch some overtime wages).

Rewind the tape to the beginning of the first century.  Let your Google satellite map zero in on the nation of Israel, now called Palestine or “the land of the Jews.”  It is an occupied nation seething with political rebellion. It is a poor land and its people poor from subsistence farms, greedy religious leaders, and ruinous Roman taxation.  It is a nation of wounded pride and frustrated hope where people struggle to keep favor with a God who has been silent for a long time.

It is a place where people live in deep darkness trying to navigate their way through the valley of the shadow of death.

Long before the birth of Christ, a prophet named Isaiah spoke the words we now find in Isaiah 9.1-7.
1. Read verse 2. What is the key word here?
2. What do you believe is the promise contained in “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”?
3. What does the metaphor of a light appearing at dawn add to that promise?
4.  Where is the area of darkness or spiritual night that you struggle with?
5.  Ask God to bring light into those places for you.
6. Pray that God will bring light for you this Christmas.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

Thursday, November 28, 2013

LINCOLN'S 1863 THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION

October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States
A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
         Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, November 24, 2013

IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE SO

BY STEVE DUNN

"At present we are on the wrong side of the door, but all the pages of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so." - CS Lewis

Tim Hansel once wrote, "The problem with life is that it is so daily."  I would have to qualify that comment with my own statement, "The problem with life it is so difficult."  I am by nature neither a pessimist nor a sayer of doom.  I am, however, that many live each day with a high level of anxiety and frustration.  Some even rise to the level of Henry David Thoreau's critique: 

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” 

I do not always know what to do with fellow Christians who are unrelentingly cheery, especially when I think they life verse is not biblical but something from Madison Avenue, "Never ever let them see you sweat." 

Nor do I deal well with Christians who complain how hard things are or believe their circumstances must perfect or comfortable because they are God's people.  Jesus himself had a thought on this:

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16.33b

Like persons both Christian and non, I have good days and bad ones--days of anxiety and days of confidence.  But in all days I have a sense of peace, a peace that really is beyond understanding.  It is rooted and grounded not in my circumstances nor my moods, but in a relationship.

"If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." - Romans 14:8

And that is grounded in a even greater truth:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:38-39

So for now, I live on this side of the door,with all of its imperfections and limitations, challenges and crises,  content with the "rustling of the rumor that it will not always be so."

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

PREPARING FOR WORSHIP - BE YE GLAD

BY STEVE DUNN

Tomorrow is the primary day of worship for Christians around the world.  A day on which we celebrate again and again the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and his resurrection from the dead. This delightful song from the group Glad reminds me of this as I prepare for worship.

Monday, November 18, 2013

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS - AMEN, CALVIN

BY STEVE DUNN

Walked into Panera's this morning I order a cup of coffee and a cinnamon crunch bagel.  I needed to get a head start on my sermon for the week.  I was greeted by this sign:

Please do not put the to go cups in the microwave!

My first thought was "of course not," followed by "that's a no-brainer." Apparently from some it's rocket science.

Then there was the girl who was sitting in front of me at a stop light rapidly texting.  "I hope she stops when it's time to drive."  The evidence is overwhelming that texting leads to fatalities on the road.  The light changed, she rolled forward still banging the keyboard.

Or the guy I saw passing me doing 80 in a 65-mile an hour zone and then passing the state trooper who I was following still doing 80.  Soon those red lights began to flash.

The list could go on and probably will. I imagine I will see even more evidences of these kind of behaviors before I get home this evening.

There are times when the level of practical intelligence exhibited is so low that it's ridiculous.  We humans seem intent at times on not using the brains God has given us (if we believe in God at all.)  Remember the lady who sued McDonalds because her hot coffee spilled and burned her as she carried away from the counter?  What did she think hot coffee would do if you walked with it without allowing for the laws of motion and gravity at work in a cup that you had taken the cap from?

Life is not intended to be lived in obliviousness to life.  There are laws of nature, there are laws of action and consequence, there are laws risk and result.  There are laws of our spiritual nature.  These are part of the Creator's design--not to inhibit us, but to give us boundaries that protect us from the foolishness born of our basic depravity.  And He gave us a brain to observe, to learn, to act.

Maybe it's time we learned to use those brains wisely.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

Saturday, November 16, 2013

PREPARING FOR WORSHIP - I EXALT THEE

More from the group Jesus Culture to help prepare you for worship.- Steve

Monday, November 11, 2013

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS - VETERANS DAY


BY STEVE DUNN

"Never was so much owed by so many to so few" - Winston Churchill

I have too few words and none is sufficiently eloquent to express my heart on this day - especially for those men and women - husbands and wives - mothers and fathers who continue to serve in harm's way in places like Afghanistan.  I offer these images which I can only see through tear-drenched eyes.

 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

PREPARING FOR WORSHIP - REVELATION SONG

Saturday is a day that I try to begin preparing for worship. Here is one a reminder of the reason many of us will go to a church tomorrow. - Steve

Thursday, November 7, 2013

ALL CREATION SING WITH ME NOW

 JD Blom is one of those bloggers that I read regularly.  He writes his own excellent stuff and reblogs items from others.  Here's one that warmed my heart greatly and engages in the whole conversation YOUR LIFE MATTERS TO do.

ALL CREATION SINGS WITH ME NOW

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!”  Psalm 66:1-2
The electron microscope creates images from a beam of electrons.  This microscope reveals details of the microscopic world by exposing it to magnification of up to 10 million times.  These details have never been knowable until Hans Busch developed the first electron microscope in 1926.
Humans have been oblivious to the precision of shark’s skin, the geometric beauty of a fly’s eye, the symmetry of a butterfly’s wing, the wonder of a human egg, for a majority of human history.

READ MORE ....


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS-ORPHAN SUNDAY

BY STEVE DUNN

This past Sunday representatives from this group spoke at the church I serve in Shippensburg PA.
I share this video with you as an excellent example of what you can do if you believe the command found in James 1:27 --  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Orphan Sunday 2012 from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

IF YOU EAT TOOTSIE ROLLS FOR BREAKFAST, YOU HAVE TO EAT BROCCOLI FOR DINNER


BY STEVE DUNN

"If you eat tootsie rolls for breakfast, you'll have to eat broccoli for dinner." 
- Becky Jarrett on Facebook

Becky Jarrett, philosopher and mother
I think it had something to do with the Halloween Aftermath.  You know, that period of a few days when kids have enough candy to set a whole city block on a sugar high and the desire of their heart is to eat everything before Mom and Dad sneak in and eat the Snickers.

Before you think this is one more blog on wise eating, grab a handful of Tootsie Rolls and reflect with me on one of life's important truths.

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; ..." - Ecclesiastes 3.1-8, ESV

Most of us live in the moment. That moment's desires and joys or its problems and demands tend to capture our minds and dominate our attitudes.  There is a natural tendency in most humans to binge on the happy stuff and run as quickly as we can from the bad things.  For kids, the seasons to be embraced are the Tootsie Roll ones and the one to skip has broccoli in it.

Yet it is the diversity of these seasons that shape us.  They deepen our self-understanding and grow our character.  Any athlete knows that you learn something from both winning and losing.  You may only want to celebrate the former but the latter is often the greatest test of your resiliency.  Times of preparation are as important as times of celebration.

The seasons of life fill us with a rich diversity of experience.  They give us a time of testing, but also a time of resting.  They remind us that God is a God of New Beginnings.  They remind us that God's presence is so rich that it is with us in green pastures and valleys of the shadow.

I am glad that God gives me seasons for Tootsie rolls; but I am also grateful for the broccoli.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn


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