by Steve Dunn

I posted this on another blog last week before the Iowa caucuses.  It still is meaningful from my perspective. – STEVE

Just a day until the Iowa caucases.  The rhetoric is ratcheting up as two close races see the front-runners either feeling the heat and/or sensing blood in the water. The lies, innuendos, half truths, etc. crowd even sensible debate to the back pages.  My heart is heavy lately as I watch the nominating process unfold here in my country.  Even more than in previous years there is a de-volution in the quality and character of the candidates that Americans seem drawn to.

Donald Trump has once again made shocking comments on his campaign trail, this time alleging that his supporters are so devoted to him that they would still vote for him even if he were to shoot someone.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Sioux Center, Iowa. “It’s, like, incredible.”

“My people are so smart,” he says in the clip. “They say I have the most loyal people.”

Trump’s comment is being labeled highly insensitive in light of the heated nationwide arguments over gun control. He also referred to fellow Republican candidates as “soft,” criticizing their small numbers of supporters.

He has ridiculed Muslims, women, even the fact that President Obama was watching Star Wars. {By the way, I went to see the latest movie and it was simply Space Cowboy fun.)

So often he campaigns by insult, dismissive opinions, and outrageous remarks that make normal insensitivity appear tame.

Two weeks ago, a young pastor friend of mine whose church is making a significant difference in a community that has been buffeted by the waves of crime, economic distress, and racial biases, posted this on Facebook.  Andrew Thomas Draper wrote:

“Over the past few months, I have watched Donald Trump publicly mock a person with disabilities, call Mexican immigrants “rapists,” propose that an entire religion of 1.6 billion people be kept out of this country, have a campaign opener of young girls in skimpy USA dresses singing about destroying people with our military, say that two non-white politicians aren’t natural born citizens, call black people in Baltimore “thugs,” and refer to women by their body parts.

I haven’t made public comments about this because I thought this was all a joke and that it would blow over soon. I thought that certainly no reasonable person would ever take this man seriously. Now he is up 13 points in the polls with 3 weeks until the primaries.

Let me make this clear: I honestly believe that most of Trump’s appeal is that many who have been holding their racist thoughts inside now think it’s OK to let it all out. I do not think that everyone who supports Trump is motivated by racist ideology. I think there can be good reasons to be conservative. However, I have read countless accounts of racist rhetoric down through the years (my PhD dissertation was a historical theological study of race issues) and what Trump and his supporters are saying is mean and hurtful. Trump is not a hero standing up to political correctness; he is fanning the flames of hatred for his own political gain.

I am deeply saddened tonight. I thought we as a nation had healed from a lot of these wounds. Please, this is not a joke anymore.

A friend of mine, Don Dennison, posted this observation of the popularity of men like Donald Trump.

“People want good leadership–an ability to work with others and get things done in the most efficient and effective manner. It is interesting during this current presidential campaign cycle that the leading voices have been “outsiders.” Neither Trump, Cruz, nor Sanders are the darlings of their party leadership. So why have these outspoken outsiders gained so much traction? It appears that FRUSTRATION and FEAR have pushed the electorate to give up on the established politician who has demonstrated either an unwillingness or inability to get things done.

People are frustrated…that problems are not getting fixed. Out-of-control spending continues and escalates the national debt despite which party is in charge. Current laws are not being enforced. Campaign promises are soon forgotten once past the election. People are tired of trusting only to be betrayed again.

People are fearful…that their government is not adequately protecting their rights or their borders. Violent crime is growing unabated, and terrorism is an existential threat to our survival. The economic outlook is bleak–unless you’re a politician or lobbyist.

It’s no wonder that “outsiders” have appeared more attractive to potential voters this season. If the rationale is: “what have we got to lose?”, the possible answer is “plenty!”

For me, most Presidential election choices comes down to “the lesser of two evils.” That option has become even more apparent this year. But I do not want to make my selection on the basis of such negatives as “frustration” and “fear.” We deserve better!”

I do not consider Hilary Clinton a good choice for America.

With the Iowa caucuses now just a few days away, I have this reflection—coming from one who has been a registered Republican for 43 years.  The Republicans can surely do better.

BY STEVE DUNN

My mother was a beautiful woman – both physically and spiritually.  If she was still living, today would be the 66th wedding anniversary of Marilyn Reames and A. Gail Dunn.  My mother died in 2000 of cancer, just a few months past their 50th wedding anniversary.

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They were married on New Year’s Day in the just completed chapel of the new College First of God by their pastor, Dr. Darrell Linder.  Both were students at my denomination’s school Findlay College.  Gail, a native of Columbia City IN was a history major and a cheerleader, a year younger than Marilyn.  He also sang in a quartet called The Gospel Five and was preparing for the ministry.  Marilyn was ultimately training to become a medical technician.  A high school beauty and a member of the College Choir, she came from Zanesfield, Ohio-the daughter of a nominally Christian family that was attending a Friends Meeting when she enrolled in college.  The first time Dad saw Mom, the very first time, he said, “I am going to marry her.”

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My paternal grandparents, TA and Mary Ruth Dunn, were very excited about their beautiful new daughter-in-law; especially she since was a warm, outgoing, and mature Christian.  Her parents did not attend the wedding.  My maternal grandmother, Wynona Reames thought her daughter could have done better than being married to a preacher.  I suspect her husband Robert, who came from a staunchly Methodist family didn’t share her opinion, but Grandma won most arguments in their family.  For the record, a few weeks later, she changed her mind and they showed up at the newlyweds humble lodgings (remember they were both college students) with wedding presents and kisses.  Over the years she came to love my Dad, especially since he loved her only daughter.  (My strong-willed grandmother, however, always insisted on picking up the check.)

A year later Mom dropped out of college to have me.  Dad graduated and was ordained to the ministry of the then Churches of God in North America.  My mother was a stay-at-home Mom

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as they had three more children.  After the youngest, Mark, was born. she went back to college earning her degree in medical technology and enduring the trampoline in gym class, graduating 17 years later as the oldest member of  her class.

Mom and Dad always went to lunch on their anniversary, a tough task since it was New Year’s Day and many restaurants were closed.  Their favorite was the Embers in Carlisle PA.   The first anniversary that Dianne and I enjoyed we went to the Embers, a high class place for college students. Yes, we got married in college, too but Dianne managed to graduate 10 days before our first child was born.

Gail and Marilyn were devoted to one another.  And they passed that devotion to one another in marriage–and a devotion to Jesus Christ, that inspired many.  Later, when Dad became the conference superintendent, they made a ministry of inviting clergy couples to their home for dinner, fellowship and encouragement.  To this day, I continue to meet pastoral couples who consider the ministry Marilyn and Gail provided to them one of the best blessings God had bestowed on them.

I thought celebrating them, especially because of their New Year’s Day wedding, would be my most appropriate first blog post of the New Year.  Better them than the celebs and pols and villains that will occupy center stage in the broader world.

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© 2016 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 

BY STEVE DUNN

Grandpa and his newest granddaughter, Emmaline

It’s 10:00 pm on December 28th as I begin this post.  My wife and I are en route back to Pennsylvania following a delightful Christmas Week with three of our kids and their families in the Midwest.   I am wide awake in the Comfort Inn in Somerset PA and got the urge to blog – urge or inspiration, never quite sure which word is correct.  My thoughts have turned not to 2016, but the months that I have passed through in 2015.  So here are some of my thoughts on what God was doing in me and through me in the year that is about to be history.

IMG_20151219_192058229Dianne and I celebrated 43 years of marriage.  No small accomplishment in a world where relationships are so transient.  Dianne and I have been sharing a journey of ministry, child-raising, and serving that has been a challenge at times because of what the Lord has called us to do.  But it has been an incredible blessing as I have experienced over and over the joy of loving and being loved by one of the most beautiful people God has created.

We continued serving as an Intentional Interim Specialist/Pastor, moving in January from an assignment that involved a church of nearly 700 to one that served 100.  The Newport First Church of God in Perry County, Pennsylvania proved to be one of most pleasant pastorates–healthy people who loved each other, loved God, and loved us. We were able to help them find a pastor in nine months and my assignment ended two months later. I am now awaiting the next assignment having developed a new love–helping churches navigate the often difficult, uncertain and even grieving time when they lose their pastor.  Churches often rush to fill the void and end up “marrying on the rebounds” which unfortunately ends as well as marriages on the rebound between a man and a woman.

I am teacher by gifting and passion.  For the last several years I have served as an adjunct professor for Winebrenner Theological Seminary.  This summer I was invited to the multiple-hat, daunting and yet highly satisfying responsibility of being hired as the Academic and Institutional Liaison for the Scotland PA location.  It is a new venture with incredible potential to impact the Kingdom in our region.  And on top of it I have been able to continue teaching, helping shape men and women to be resilient, healthy, faithful and fruitful pastors and ministry leaders.  This took me into a new realm of ministry that like Intentional Interim work has renewed my passion to serve Jesus.

 In January, I realized a life-long dream–to be published.  My first book The Bridgebuilder Principle was released.  It was a clear stating of what I have devoted much of my life to–helping churches effectively reach their unchurched neighbors.  Helping them be healthy, outward focused and on mission with Jesus as they build bridges of truth and grace to the Bridge – Jesus Christ. Not only was it gratifying to know people were reading and using this fruit of my labor, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to autograph their copies.  (Hey, there’s a little egotism in all of us.)

All of this comes with a price.  A friend, Mark Hosler and I were invited to join a committee to develop a program of training for interventionists who help a church deal with the dismissal of their pastor for moral or legal reasons.  (Isn’t that a sign of our times?)  In the early going, though, we weren’t sure why we were working on a project that was staffed with some powerful spiritual and mental health professionals.  When we asked why, the young chairwoman said (reflecting that this all would have to pass through ecclesiastical hoops) “because you are two old guys with clout.”  The clout part was okay but the “old guy” provoked some troubling thoughts.

There’s a lot more and I may write more; but for now my initial reflection is that I simply chose to be obedient to God as I walked through my 64th year of life and He blessed me immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.

P.S. – My time at Newport allowed me for the first time since I was in high school that I got to walk in a parade (the 175th Anniversary Festival Parade.)  It was a hoot!

BY STEVE DUNN

One of the songs that has always grabbed me at Christmas is called, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  It is based on a poem write by that classic American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was written in 1863 in the midst of the bloody, family-dividing American Civil War.

In March 1863 at age 18, Charles Longfellow had joined the Union Army. He was the oldest son of Longfellow and his wife  Fannie Elizabeth Appleton. Two years earlier Fannie had died when her dress caught on fire and Longfellow himself had burned severely while trying to save. Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.  He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Charlie was severely wounded in battle near New Hope, Virginia later that November.Before that he had only seen battle partially at Chancellorsville. That Christmas the widowed Longfellow, the father of five children with his oldest in the midst of a long recovery penned the words of the poem that became a classic Christmas carol. (These details based on “The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Justin Taylor.

Listen as Casting Crowns shared their version of the powerful carol.

Christmas 2015 is a time when many around the world from places like Paris, Afghanistan, Syria, northern Mexico, the Ukraine, and even here in the U.S. would echo Longfellow’s sentiment:

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

But in the midst of this we must keep our ears tuned to the Bells that will ring on Christmas Day.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

More than 70 years in the hellish bowls of a Nazi concentration camp, a dying Betsy ten Boom reminded her sister, Corrie– “You must tell them that there is no pit so deep where God is not deeper.”

No matter had corrupt humanity may become, no matter how strong the insanity of violence may grow, no matter how much the shame may mount – we are reminded that God can and will overcome it all.  That;s His role in history. Our is to love and trust Him through it.

Ultimately Christmas is a reminder that gave Longfellow hope in the midst of his pain and suffering.  A hope ground in this confession of the Apostle Paul.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 8.35-39

BY STEVE DUNN

It is the day before Christmas–the morning to be exact. I have traveled the 400 or so miles to my daughter’s house where we will be Christmas morning. I have finished my shopping and just a few minutes ago, my wrapping. That Christmas haircut was accomplished yesterday. The pre-Christmas bills are all paid and even some that would normally appear after Christmas. We opened some presents last night with my daughter Katie and her family, so they can travel today to join her in-laws for Christmas Eve. Unless I want to work on a lecture for one of my seminary classes, I have nothing to do until the Christmas Eve Service we will be attending tonight. I don’t need to worry about the cookies and milk for Santa. My grandson Jake has that one covered.

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This is not my car, but if it was I might be cruising around in it

It is really a good time for reflection–so here goes.

Christmas comes around every year whether we are ready for it or not. Those of us of the Christian faith try to prepare for it with a season called Advent–where we reflect on the hope, love, peace, and joy that Christ’s first arrival was meant to represent. Many of us–Christian and otherwise, look for neighbors -both known and strangers-to share gifts and necessities to brighten what is sometimes for them a grim existence. The media is filled with reminders of how many shopping days are left and what bargains can still be obtained. Packages are mailed and travel plans made. Work days are shortened by on-line shopping and holiday parties. Grief groups ramp up for heavy traffic, as do airlines as well. Christmas is quite complicated and often chaotic. I wonder what Mary and Joseph camping out in a Bethlehem stable would make of what their tax-collected journey would induce.

Christmas 2015 is certainly not peaceful. Oh yes, we have the Star Wars release to distract us and lower gas prices are a pleasant surprise. We are in the pre-primary season and we have Donald Trump blasting profanity and half-truths in the name of politics nightly and the Democrats once again championing political correctness so that manger scenes still come under fire. ISIS has left a layer of terroristic fear that makes shopping and church-going an act of courage. In my own state schools may have to close in the new year because politicians playing hardball refuse to pass a state budget.

Recent violence in Paris and San Bernadino have Americans playing the dangerous game of considering a religion test for immigration, including those seeking asylum because of the evil being done by others in the name of their religion.

As Christmas 2015 nears its dawn, I take hope in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The children walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And that is my prayer this Christmas Eve morning–that people everywhere will see that light who is called “Emmanuel” (God with us) and trust in Jesus (He shall save His people). For we ARE his people.

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© 2015 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

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BY STEVE DUNN

Reading: Matthew 2.2-12

We think there three of them. But that is an assumption based on the number of gifts they brought with them on their journey. They were not Jews, not worshipers of Yahweh. They were wise men, men who studied the stars–and they were kings. The were kings looking for a king.

They had seen his star in the East–a new star they believed to herald something world-changing. A king worthy of worship. And so they left their home and places of honor to honor one they did not yet know. Two years they traveled until they found the One they sought.

In the church calendar, their story belongs in Epiphany, the season that follows Christmas. But I want to think it today. Advent is about expectation, about seeking, about hope yet realized and joy yet experienced.

Finding that for which you hope requires seeking and seeking requires belief that it exists and is worth journey. And at first that hope requires a sign.

When you are person who lives expectantly–you do not miss the sign. But when you have given up expecting or one who doesn’t care–you rarely find the kind of living Hope that can change your life.

I pray that this season you have not grown callous or uncaring or inattentive that you miss the “Star”that is there on the horizon. Keep on seeking Jesus.

© 2015 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

 

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BY STEVE DUNN

“I wasn’t always the cool person you see standing before you today.”
The Fonz.

The Fonz IS cool – or was. Cool is an outdated concept (or at least I don’t hear that expression much any more) but the desire to be concerned special, admired and a little bit intimidating is not. People are still obsessed with image–and the wealthier among us have been known to hire someone to manage that image.

And some of us live in fear of what other people think of us. We go to great lengths–including doing some pretty ridiculous things so people will give their approval of our personhood. A lot of people buy electronic devises the cannot afford, or get elaborate tattoos in embarrassing places, or volunteer for causes they do not understand because they want people to think we are “cool.”

Anonymity is to be feared. No one wants to be a number, and few want to be lost in a crowd. So we even pursue notoriety in order to avoid anonymity.

As a result our heroes tend to be celebrities. We overlook their eccentricities. We applaud their narcissism. It is character that is often lost in the cloud of dust raised by a posse pursuing the latest trending idol. Good deeds are done to beef up resumes. The least and the last in our world are dismissed from our responsibility to love our neighbor. Someone else will waste their time and take the risks.

In the end human praise and affirmation is fleeting. The prize we seek becomes worthless in world of planned obsolescence. Even if they raise a statute to us, sooner or later someone is going to gaze on it, read the inscription and say, “Oh, just some old dead guy.”

Jesus challenges us to seek our worth in serving. Mark 9.35 records his words: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The ultimate cool in the Kingdom of God is to be a blessing to others, especially to “the least of these.”

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