BY STEVE DUNN
Many years ago I was part of a ministry team sent to Mississippi to explore connecting with churches that were seeking a denomination to become a part of.  I am not sure what criterion they were using in approaching us, but for us it was a chance to establish a presence in the South.  Over 120 years before that, our fledgling missionary efforts in the South had ended when our abolitionist beliefs ran straight into the wall of segregation and pro-slavery sentiment. In fact, our denominational magazine had been burned by postal authorities in Richmond as “dangerous and seditious.”
This was in the early 80’s and we were hoping that sentiments had changed.  But as we passed near the city of Philadelphia MS, one old preacher made what he meant to be a joke.  “You probably know what happened around here a while back to another group of boys from Ohio.”  Our denominational office was in Ohio and he was referring to the killing of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan.  Fortunately, he was an exception to the people in his church; but it was deeply troubling that such an attitude in anyone could be considered humorous.  Murder and racism are not funny.
Only 15 years before my visit to Philadelphia MS, a major event occurred in civil rights history.  In Selma AL nonviolent protestors attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.  It became known as Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), taking its name from the beating that roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists sustained at the hands of white state troopers and police who attacked them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas.
These people were simply protesting so that they could have an equal right to vote–something that African-Americans had been promised 100 years before that.  They were opposed by the embedded racism that justified segregation, states rightists who believed the state should have sovereignty over the nation, and the virulent, violent hatred of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Sadly, racism is not yet ended in America–in fact, a racism exists that often goes both ways.  And the wounds of racism are not healed and there are too many people who gain their self-worth by perpetuating it.
It is something we cannot stop battling against.

BY STEPHEN DUNN

Four days ago the Christian season of Lent began. A good part of the planet, especially in our increasingly secularized America, hardly gave it a thought. American television stations still use it as a time-filling story each year, along with sweet tooth-inducing features about fastnacts that are all the rage on Fat Tuesday. Or people noticed the day when they noticed someone with a smudge of charcoal in the shape of a cross adorning their foreheads.

You probably should know that Ash Wednesday and Lent do not appear in the Bible. Ash Wednesday, or dies cinerum, the day of ashes, was first described by medieval writers around the seventh or eighth century A.D. It has, however , become a rich observance for Christians (including this one) who observe it.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of reflection, repentance and renewal. For me personally, these passages speak to both the purpose and objective,

” If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7.14

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” -James 4.8-10

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51.7-17

Most of us and not just Christians live an unreflective life. We are busy, distracted, doing our days by triage instead with intentionality. We also live in a world where moral values seem to be all too vague or subjective, and what we have is constantly slipping and eroding under the daily onslaught of a culture is amoral at best and truth is perceived as what is good for me and my friends, not by what is undeniably true.

Those of who are committed to following Jesus Christ and developing a Christ-like character are not immune to these temptations nor perfect in our resisting that which is eternal by accepting that which is convenient, And after a while a subtle pride manifests itself as we retreat all too subtly to Adam’s sin–thinking we can run our own lives “thank you, very much.:”

That’s why we observe Lent. To build into our annual rhythm a time to reflect on the reality in which we have been living, repent of what we have allowed to go wrong, and then be renewed by the new mind that God provides.

(C) 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

BY STEVE DUNN

Just a couple of hours until the New Year arrives.  Dianne and I are at the age where a quiet evening at home is preferable to parting til the ball drops.  We both slept a little later to start the day.  Then we binged on popcorn at a nearby Regal to see “The Hobbit–The Battle of Five Armies” (4 1/2 stars out of five).  Had an early dinner at Applebees (meaning three in the afternoon).  We shared the restaurant with yet perky wait staff, families with very young children (who will probably be in bed by seven) and couples of an older persuasion trying to get off the road before the crazies come out.

This evening more popcorn, some dangerous sweets, and in about two hours, a cold bottle of sparkling cider.  Our TV fare has been a Big Bang Theory Marathon on TBS.  Since we have lost touch with the music pop culture, all the variation’s of Rockin’ New Year’s Eve have no appeal.  We will switch to Ryan Secrest at 11:45 and watch the ball drop.  Break open the cider, the annual New Year’s Eve Kiss.  Both of us will probably be asleep by 12:25.

Sound boring.–No, satisfying.

New Year’s Eve means an end to 2014–filled with memories, challenges, mistakes, and triumphs.  It means that tomorrow we will awaken on a fresh new opportunity (although  it will not look much different from this morning, still embedded in 2014.)

Satisfying is preferable to sensational, the latter often like a comet speeding across the night sky, but forgotten with the sunrise of the next day. Satisfying is a sign of contentment.

The Bible has a thought on that with which I wrap up this post.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” – I Timothy 6:6

Good counsel with which to greet 2015.

BY STEVE DUNN
Each year Time Magazine names a Person of the Year.  Men like Albert Schwietzer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, and George Bush have had this distinction.  So have women like Queen Elizabeth and Miley Cyrus have held this distinction.  Some choices have seemed odd, some have made us question the Byzantine criterion that goes about selecting them. Some have been politically a matter of taste or party. Some, like Adolf Hitler, have made you want the year to simply be forgotten.
There is no ambiguity or objectionability to this year’s choice – the Ebola Fighters.
Time magazine’s editors decided to honor the “unprecedented numbers” of doctors and nurses who responded when Ebola overtook an already-weak public health infrastructure, and Time Editor Nancy Gibbs outlined how governments were ill-equipped to respond, WHO “was in denial and snarled in red tape” and first responders were accused of crying wolf as the disease spread.
Reported  Time: “Yet many doctors and nurses, especially those from Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, responded and worked alongside local physicians, nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams, Gibbs wrote. Some were driven by God, while others did it for country and some simply had “the instinct to run into the fire, not away.”.
The fact that these medical persons would risk life to go into such Third and Fourth World basket case nations make them heroes of the first order.    And they have reminded many of  us our moral responsibility to the “least of these” who are neighbors in shrinking global world.
I am proud to add my vote of confidence to this year’s decision by Nancy Gibbs and her colleagues.

BY STEVE DUNN

“Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else,
because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you.” – Tim Keller

We live in an arrogant world in arrogant times. “It’s all about me” is the self-talk of fallen humanity. “Me-first” is measure of relationships. “I deserve the very best” is the ambition of our actions. Humility is viewed with suspicion. Entitlement trumps sacrificial servanthood. The Golden Rule is considered the philosophy of losers and the naive.

Twenty centuries ago Paul wrote these words explaining the meaning of the first Christmas:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5.6-8

The first sin was that of idolatry, to replace our Creator God with ourselves. To be our own God. Twenty centuries later, humankind continues to pursue this lie with deadly results on our planet and its people. Christmas was the First Strike that God launched to to set things right again.

And it came, ironically, through the humble instrument of a baby in a borrowed manger of rough-hewn wood in the presence of the “least of these.”

This is what Christians affirm and celebrate when we celebrate Christmas.

© 2014 by Stephen L Dunn
Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.

BY STEVE DUNN

Saturday a good friend of mine and highly regarded Churches of God pastor, Andrew Draper posted this on his Facebook timeline:

Andrew Thomas Draper
Yesterday at 12:15pm ·
“Fox News and the Southern Baptists are accusing President Obama of “rewriting” the Bible in his speech on immigration and not quoting any particular verse.

Obama: “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

We can debate the hermeneutic choice, disagree about the extent of presidential authority, and even wonder about appeals to the Bible in public policy. However, it seems like a pretty accurate paraphrase to me.”

Andrew is the Senior Pastor at the Urban Light Community Church in Muncie IN, a graduate of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Taylor University. I think his hermeneutic credentials are more than solid.

Within a few hours 67 persons clicked the LIKE box and 16 others commented on the post, some objecting to the assumed endorsement of President Obama but NONE debating the accuracy of the scriptural teaching.

The reality is that the current policies of this nation and the general political mindset of our nation are at variance with the clear teaching of the Word of God. I am not saying that the nation’s policies are obligated to follow the Bible (although our nation would find its elusive healing and hope if we did). But I object strenuously to Fox News (which claims to be the most truthful of media) and the Southern Baptists (who should know better) misrepresenting an important prophetic truth from God’s Word.

I understand the necessity of the rule of law and the need to affirm obedience to the laws of a democratic nation. I hear the complaints about jobs being taken from honest Americans by the “illegals”, although the evidence is mounting that these aliens are holding down jobs that honest Americans eschew. But I urge Christians, especially politicians who claim to be Christian, to remember that God of the Bible is the Protector of the alien and stranger in our midst and seek some solutions which are true to that truth by which we as Christians and we as a nation will ultimately be judged.

BY STEVE DUNN

advent

Thanksgiving is over. The only remnant may be those turkey leftovers jammed into the refrig. Black Friday has come and gone, except you now have a sore feet and a nasty hangover on your credit cards. In my part of the country, the male population of whole villages have ascended into the hills. Hunting season has begun. And the Disney Channel and assorted retailers are reminding you another season is underway. It’s called the Christmas Season, often accompanied by reminders of how many shopping days are left in the season.

Unless you were in a church this Sunday or a part of Christian community, you may be unaware that yesterday another season began. It is called Advent and it is observed beginning on the first of four Sundays and the intervening weekdays until Christmas actually arrives – December 25th.

Advent is a celebration of an Arrival. The arrival of God in the flesh in the person of a baby, whose name was Jesus. (Jesus means, “He shall save his people.” It is also spoken of as the First Coming, the first time God took on human flesh to reveal who he is and what he intends. This implies a Second Coming, which Christians look forward to when God will return to put an end to sin and its deadly impact on our world. When God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth in which all people will enjoy the eternal blessing of living in His undeniable presence.

Christians believe that the purpose of Christmas was for God to declare once and for all that He shall bring peace and wholeness and salvation to His people. Advent helps once again prepare to focus on the purpose of that First Coming so that we will be ready for His next one.

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