Tuesday, December 25, 2018

CHRISTMAS MORNING TRADITIONS

BY STEVE DUNN

I was up early today.  5:55 to be exact.  Lately that has been "sleeping in" for me.  Spending this particular Christmas at home of my daughter Christi and her husband Tim in northern Kentucky. A little after six, I heard the first stirrings of my grandson Jake, a 5th grader, who will have the responsibility of waking everyone "when it's time."

Long ago our family began a Christmas tradition that I have discovered is now part of the Christmas tradition in all the families my adult children have established.  Before we open the presents, my wife Dianne will read to us from the Nativity account in Luke 2.  Then we will thank God for the incredible (and most costly) gift we have ever received--the gift of his Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.



And then, we will open what this year appears to be a "ton" of Christmas presents (the evidence you can see under their Christmas tree).



Last night we kept another tradition, attending a Christmas Eve Service together.  Not returning to a church that had been our family church forever (my family church closed almost a decade ago) nor in a small church steeped merely in nostalgia, but this year in a large mega-church quite different than where we would normally gather but in a place but with a group that shared our deep-rooted believe that the Birth of that Bethlehem Baby brought hope, eternal living hope to our world.

My adult children have added to their family traditions - interactive Advent calendars that they use to teach their children and variations on "elf on the shelf" that break the routine of ordinary days by adding little adventures to their day.

Like many others who still value "family" or have families to value, we will intersperse the days with phone calls to loved ones.  Those calls used to go to parents and grandparents of our families, but that category is down to one set.  Dianne and I are now the grandparents, so our calls go out to children and siblings spread across the land.  Still, this tradition persists in our lives reminding us of connections formed first in the birth canal and shaped by shared lives.

Tradition sometimes gets a bum rap in our ever-changing culture.  It's given the labels of progress-impeding or relevance-ignoring. Sometimes, tradition is indeed an justification for not being open to the new thing that God is doing in our lives or in our world.  But tradition can also be the anchor that keeps us from shallowly accepting the newest fad which will soon disappear and then struggling to find a new anchor as the rip tides of our this present age send us careening into dangerous waters.

As a Christian I reminded that tradition can also keep us connecting to something deeper.  A faith that is ancient, that was conceived in the mind of God at the foundation of the world.  Not the empty ritual practiced by so many but the vibrant faith that comes from a religion rooted a relationship that sustains us in all seasons and all decades.  Not the faith that worships the forms but the one that serves the Person, who is the living God,

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it ... The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." – John 1.1-5,9-14

I pray that each of you are blessed by and keep those traditions that provide a richness rooted not in the passing, but in the eternal.



A LITTLE CHRISTMAS HUMOR

Thought these would bring laughter after all the presents and unwrapped.  - Steve


Sunday, December 23, 2018

HEARTS OCCUPED BY JESUS




BY STEVE DUNN

My devotions this morning were from John, chapter 1.  It is sometimes referred to as John's "Nativity Story."  In that chapter speaking of Jesus' arrival in the flesh, John writes:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1.4-5 ESV

Sadly this Advent and Christmas I have found myself reflecting too often on the dark times in which we live.  Our economy is not in good shape, the homelessness problem unabated,, the worship of guns and the random or terroristic violence in our streets has grown.  

The government is now in a shut-down.  The President has dismissed or chased away any advisors who disagree with him or would offer a counter way of looking at the world.  The political atmosphere in our country is beginning to resemble the Watergate days of my college years. Both major parties seem more intent in cultivating the ideological extremes on both ends of the spectrum rather than find a middle way that is best for all.  

Russia and other powers that have long been the enemies of democracy are once again ascending in influence and power.  People are fleeing the crime-ridden nations in which they live but are being rejected and feared by a nation that fears they will impact the places where they seek asylum.  

Oxycodone and other drugs have invaded the homes of the Middle Class.  The Church is viewed with increasing suspicion because of the child abuse coverups in a portion of the churches in our land.  Trade wars being fought in the name of our workers are hurting the workers in many industries and on farms.  Secularity has taken deep root in the worldview of our culture while evangelicalism has been badly diluted by the so-called "self-identified evangelicals" so pursued by the politicians and media.

It is a depressing list.  Yet I could name anecdotally hundreds of stories of ordinary people and local church communities and neighborhoods rallying in their small way to combat the darkness that has descended upon their individual communities  

But I know that they alone will not be enough.

What the world needs is the One who is "the light of men. The light that shines in the darkness" The Light which the darkness CANNOT overcome.  More than keeping Christ in Christmas, we need to
keep Christ in our hearts transforming into people of light.  We need this to be going on daily.  And we need to be inviting and assisting people to let this light into their hearts,

It will not be enough for our politicians and leaders and schools and government and communities and churches to become more "enlightened."  The growing belief that there is "fake news" allows us to hold onto darkness and that darkness will always find a welcome home in a heart that is not occupied by Jesus.

Now, more than ever, the world needs Jesus.



Friday, December 21, 2018

WE WENT A LITTLE CRAZY THIS YEAR

BY STEVE DUNN


I confess.  Dianne and I went a little crazy this Christmas.  Our adult children and their families live in four different cities in the Midwest and we live in Pennsylvania.  The combination of work, small and school age children, busy lives, and now two adult grandchildren made it impossible for us to gather together for Christmas.  (Most years we can only get two of those families together anyway).  Since I have just finished a transition interim pastorate, we actually had the freedom to take two weeks and visit them all in their homes.  

We also had a little more money than usual at this time and the thought of watching them open their presents, Kohl's availability and bonus bucks, and my wife's newfound love of on-line shopping meant that we had a completely full trunk when we headed west--full of presents. (We actually had to stack our suitcases on the back seat). The scene on this post is just some of the aftermath of what will actually be four " Christmases" by the time we are finished December 26th.


But part of it was also a commitment I made to the Lord to be a person who practiced generosity.  So much of the time, our sometimes tight finances had caused to hold back when God was prompting me to go the second mile.  And also to understand how little people experience generosity that those
"unexpected" acts of generosity often are an incredible encouragement to people who feel unnoticed, unappreciated, and uncared for.

Waitpersons have had tips above the 20% (why quibble about the 50 cents that rounds the tip to the next dollar?)  Generosity has led me to listen to what people need at this time and understanding that I am part of the provision.

"You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us." - 2 Corinthians 9:11"  This is a promise that has reinforced what God was speaking into my heart.  In our generosity, God produces thanksgiving in its recipients.  Hopefully, that thanksgiving will remind them that God cares because one of God's people care.  Generosity is rooted in God's blessing to us and that generosity allows us--no encourages us to be the blessing we are blessed to be


.

A MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS

Friday, December 14, 2018

HEAR YE THE WORD OF THE FACEBOOK PROPHETS

Back with the Facebook Prophets.  I suspect they are speaking the Word the Lord in contemporary terms to us today. - Steve






Monday, December 10, 2018

MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS: IS IT WORTH IT?

BY STEVE DUNN


Sitting in my warm office on a very cold Monday afternoon.  My office is located in a very large church but in an area which during the weekdays sees little traffic.  So it's also very quiet.  I arrived at work around seven this morning. Except for a brief lunch of tomato soup and an Ann Hillerman mystery, I have been working non-stop.  Working so diligently and productively that most of my "to do" list is done.

Until recently, not many of my days reached this point.  Like so many other Americans and religious professionals, I always seem to be working on something.  And when you reach the end of the day's work, there is sometimes a difficult existential moment when you wonder whether or not you should go in search of more work to do.  You certainly don't want to be guilty of becoming "lazy."

I have met a lot of undisciplined people, but not a ton of lazy ones.  I meet a whole lot of driven people, pursuing agendas that will never be accomplished, seeking to possess more and more things which will be obsolete or reduced to clutter far too quickly.  Often we use this driven spirit to avoid reflecting on what really matters or "pursuing" it.

What's the "it?"  A relationship with the Living God, a connection with the One who sees us as more valuable than we see ourselves.  The One who says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."  The One for whom the holiday we are about to celebrate gets it its name - Jesus Christ.

He's the One who warns us, "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?"  

Is your life too busy or are you too driven to cultivate that relationship?  For your sake and the sake of those who you influence or provide for, I hope that's not true.




Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I LOVE YOU

Reflecting on the last words of George Herbert Walker Bush
BY DR. STEVE DUNN
A man I had come to greatly respect, former President George H. W. Bush passed away Friday, November 30, 2018 at age 94. In his eulogy of his father, son George W. Bush, also a former president, reported that in his final conversation with his father, he told him that he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.
The elder Bush responded, “I love you, too.” Those were his last words.
Dan Rockwell noted in his blog, “I notice that the younger Bush didn’t say, “You were a wonderful President.”
Clearly his son and many of us considered the elder Bush to be a great president; in fact, what may be the last of a breed of men in that office whose strong faith was reflected clearly and consistently in his love of his wife, his family, his friends, his nation—and the world beyond the boundaries of his country.
The elder Bush’s pastor spoke on the essential expressions of the Christian faith, “Love of God and love of neighbor.” For those of us who genuinely follow Jesus Christ, they are not words to be idly spoken and they are words for which Almighty God will one day call us to accountability.
Paul told us that without love, none of our actions, no matter how popular or even beneficial, mean nothing. Political agendas, economic goals, pursuit of national security, preservation of “our” way of life will mean nothing when we stand before the Judge of All the Universe. Maybe it’s time—no, IT IS TIME for our nation to return to living by those two great LOVE commandments.
When my former President and brother in the faith, stood before God last Friday, I have no doubt that the Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome into you reward.”
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© 2018 by Stephen L. Dunn. You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to http://www.drstevedunn.com. For all other uses, contact Steve at sdunnpastor@gmail.com

Thursday, November 29, 2018

AN OLD TRUTH THAT MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN

by Steve Dunn

"Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world."

I learned that little song while a small boy in Sunday School.  It spoke to a truth that God's love knew no boundaries of race, granted no "favored-nation status" to one country over another.  God held a passionate and sacrificial love for children living in democracies, political dictatorships, hostile religious movements.  Where man would build walls, He had sent His son, Jesus Christ, to break down those walls.  He grieved the death of the unborn and watched over the first steps of the newborn.  Crack babies, refugee children, children of privilege, and children with handicaps--crippled, ADHD, autistic, or illiterate.  They are precious in His sight.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." - Matthew 7.12

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." - Mark 12.30-31

It is so tragic for the children of the world that they share the planet with adults who have forgotten these two non-negotiables from God. (And sad that so many of those adults would still claim to be Christians."

For the sake of all the children of the world - and all those "grown up" children God loves as well -- LET'S GET THIS RIGHT !!!!!!!







Sunday, November 25, 2018

I DO DEATH

This post originally appeared in 2011in a blog of mine called EASTER PEOPLE. - Steve



BY STEVE DUNN

God has always blessed me with a sense of peace in the presence of death.  As a pastor I have stood by many a person and their family as the neared that threshold into eternity that is known as death.  I have even had the boldness and the God-granted confidence that God will take someone home to be with Him.  Funeral homes are not intimidating places.  ICUs are simply another place to be the reminder of God's presence.  Even accident scenes, as gruesome as they may be, are not a place I fear to tread.
More than once I have been asked to accompany someone to a funeral home.  In hospital rooms where siblings are fighting and grieving while Mom breathes, God has allowed me to be His presence and to anchor them once again to the Rock of our Salvation.
Once I was with a family at the hospital after their father had been taken in following a serious heart attack accompanied by other complications. He had made his living will several years before and had given me a copy. He had explained very carefully to his family that once he reached a semi-vegetative state with his organs only surviving on life support, there were to be no extraordinary measures taken.  This was the third trip within a few months and each one had become progressively worse. He was in a coma, non-responsive with only a 10% survival chance and no chance that his organs would operate again without serious and costly assistance.  The family had made their peace and said "good bye" and indicated that they were prepared to adhere to the living will.  Then the doctor balked saying he'd like another day before withdrawing life support,  which then itself sent the family into a crisis mode.  And I had to duty to talk the doctor into adhering to the patient's wishes, the family's consent and to surrender his feeling that he could not be at peace with allowing a dying man to die.  And this I did without hesitation and inner strength.
"I do death."
No, that does not mean I advocate assisted suicide or callously consent to agreeing to let a patient die because his survival could bankrupt his family.
It's because I know that one someone has placed their trust into God's hands of salvation, when I myself have become one of His Easter People - that nothing will separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  I affirm with the apostle Paul that we who have passed from death to life need no longer fear death.  It is not an unwelcome intruder.  Death has been defanged by our Living Hope.
"Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: "Death is swallowed up in victory." - 1 Corinthians 15:54 New Living Translation
So when someone must walk in the deep valley of  the shadow of death, they can count on me as a willing travel companion.


FACEBOOK PROPHETS ARE BUSY

A popular feature, some of the interesting posts I have found lately on Facebook - Steve




Friday, November 23, 2018

BLACK FRIDAY

BY STEVE DUNN
I admit it. I did some shopping early on Black Friday. I was at the Verizon Store at eight AM to try purchasing a new smart phone at a discounted price. I also dropped in at a LIFEWAY store to pick up something available only on Black Friday that I wanted to give us a Christmas present. Before this, the only time I had entered a store on Black Friday was at Walmart several years ago at 6 PM.
The mea culpa goes a little deeper. I stopped at Kohl’s at 5 pm on Thanksgiving itself to pick up a package for Dianne that she had purchased on-line in the “pre Black Friday” sales and ended looking for some inexpensive Christmas presents. (To be clear, our Thanksgiving celebration had been over for several hours and the only thing the trip conflicted with was the Cowboys-Redskins game. Dianne was down for a late afternoon nap, so relational time was not lost and I had spent time earlier in the day reflecting on and expressing my thanks to God for his blessings.
Sorry if this changes your opinion of me for the worse.
Black Friday has become a cultural tradition in the US, which lately has faced some backlash pushing some of  "Friday" starting on Thanksgiving evening back a little later and causing some retailers to return to a Friday start itself. (A.C. Moore, Christopher and Banks, Costco, Home Depot, IKEA, Lowe's, Sam's Club, Staples were among the 70 retailers who chose to wait for Friday.)  Part of the temptation are the deep discounts and as early as we can get to them, we want to do it. (Ironically now, a lot of retailers like Walmart, Kohls and Amazon have had "Black Friday" on-line for several days now.
Hopes for an inexpensive Christmas shopping season are not in themselves a bad thing (unless you overdo it and max out your credit cards). The irony is that we place so many hopes on a commercial holiday and go to great lengths to realize them and often ignore or downplay a more important Black Friday.  It's one that occurred long before the birth of our consumer culture.  It was the Friday that Jesus went to cross and a dark day on a hill called Calvary, poured out his life so that we might have eternal life.  Today we will call it Good Friday but I guarantee on that day in Israel before the Resurrection, it was the blackest day of all for thousands who had put their hope in Jesus.
The hopes we will realize by a successful shopping season WILL FADE when the wrapping paper is scattered on the floor beneath the tree, or when what we paid so much for is broken or obsolete, or something equally finite is created to long for something new.
But there is only one Black Friday that offers eternal savings.
© 2018 by Stephen L. Dunn. You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to www.drstevedunn.com. For all other uses, contact Steve at sdunnpastor@gmail.com

Thursday, November 22, 2018

THANKSGIVING AND GRATITUDE

BY STEVE DUNN

Which of the scenes to my right resemble the main activity of the way your family will celebrate
Thanksgiving? Will your celebration be shortened because you have an appointment with Black Friday--which is still arriving despite recent campaigns--on Thanksgiving Thursday afternoon? Will the meal be scheduled around the big football game or consumed on TV chairs instead around a family table?  Will you have an elaborate family meal marked with some words of gratitude and a prayer, savored in its fullness until you are forced to push back from the table?

I know that every year someone will launch into a critique or diatribe against the erosion of the
sacredness of the Thanksgiving swept up in the madness of sports and even great madness of battling the frenzied crowds in shopping centers.  That's not my intent today as I and my family observe the Thanksgiving holiday.

My desire is to reflect with you on a truth that has shaped my life for much of the past 67 years and recently become an even more precious value.  Let me lead into this with some quotes:

"Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; 

but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude." - E.P. Powell

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~Melody Beattie

Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. - ~ John Ortberg

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. - Psalm 103.1-5

Do you hear the thread that works way through these thoughts?  True thanksgiving comes from grateful hearts-hearts that recognize that all that we have is a gift from God.  Not the least of which is our lives, but also our families, our gifts, our opportunities, and yes--even our challenges .  Long ago Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and I will say it again--rejoice!"

Too many of us focus on what we don't have or worse, we believe that we are self-made men and women who author our own blessings.  Too many of us look at what God has given us and measure against what He has given others and feel cheated.  Or we elevate what God has given us to a place He never intended.  Like the Pharisee in the parable, "Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other men … like this sinner over there."

"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” - Luke 8.9-14

True thanksgiving is recognizing the indescribable gift that God has given us--which outweighs anything else we possess--and living lives that express our gratitude in the way in obedience to Him.

















Monday, November 19, 2018

A LITTLE PRE-THANKSGIVING HUMOR

These are a little off the wall, but VERY funny. Have a good laugh before tackling travel on the busiest two days of travel of the year. - Steve






Wednesday, November 14, 2018

REAL FREEDOM

Freedom is a dream for so much of humanity, but the freedom they pursue is often fleeting or easily lost or stolen away by despots and political systems. This song reminds us of what real freedom is and the source of it. - Steve