1509758_195621363963931_11133830_nBY STEVE DUNN

“… be filled with the Holy Spirit.” – Ephesians 5:18a

      We often make statements that to others appear as self-deluding.  When I was growing up, such statements were greeted with the comment, “You are full of it.” (We will have to stop there because the etymology of that expression refers to something very nasty that you are full of.) But for Christians, being full of something refers to being filled with the Holy Spirit of God.

Some Christian groups use this command as a code word for a specific kind of religious experience or as a litmus test of a certain type of Christianity that they believe to be superior to all other forms of Christianity.  I tend to disagree with both usages but that is a theological issue beyond the scope of what I want to say today

We fill our lives with many things — jobs, family, and even religion.  All in pursuit of happiness or fulfillment or meaning.  But those things are often delusions because they are expressions of a delusional belief that say, “It’s all about me.”  For too many our highest aim is self-satisfaction not significance.  We believe our lives have meaning when we get to be who we want to be.

Such an attitude ultimately requires us  to ignore our neighbor, be indifferent to our community, and abandon any true responsibility for our world.

The one true antidote to this outcome is not saturate our lives with self but to let the Spirit indwell us shaping us and empowering us to be people whose lives are immeasurably and whose impact brings God’s wholeness to all.

(C) 2014 by Stephen L Dunn (This post originally appeared in my blog THE ROAD TO JOY)





“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 Cool is an outdated concept (or at least I don’t hear that expression much any more) but the desire to be concerned special, admired and a little bit intimidating is not.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.”



“13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16

I come from the stream of Christianity that takes the instructions in these verses very seriously. Those of us who are pastors and elders approach it with fear and trembling because we know that we are going to be instruments of an Awesome God, a God of the Impossible–a God of healing and of hope.

Many years ago I was serving a church that was making its first “baby steps” into a deeper and more authentic discipleship. I had seven elders. One had been an elder for some time, but by his own admission, at a fairly perfunctory level. One was a life elder, which in that church was an emeritus status. The other five were relatively new as elders, still engaged in some “on the job” training. Then there was me, the pastor.

We were a church that had a growing reputation as people that love. It was a new direction God had taken a congregation that had sometimes been fractious, a little too worldly, and more works-oriented than grace-formed. We had gone this direction by simply taking the commandment to love one another and loving God more seriously by being sure that we practiced in the ways that the Bible commanded of us. We were still forming this new identity, feeling our way through years of confusing church history.

Ruby was one of the members of our congregation who embodied a spirit of love. She was a widow with a southern drawl. Gentle-spoken and gracious, always dressed carefully and and with dignity. Willing to defer to others, gracious in her praise, and confident in her faith. We all loved and respected Ruby.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Ruby got cancer. They tried many treatments over a long period of time. Nothing worked to arrest its development. Without extraordinary measures, Ruby would soon die.

Ruby was invited into research protocol at the National Institute in Maryland, more 600 miles from her home. Ruby wasn’t necessarily gung ho, but she new it was important to her children that she do everything to preserve her life. A few days before she and her daughter would make that journey, I went to visit Ruby. “You know, Ruby, there is still one thing we can do. We can anoint you and pray for your healing.” Ruby was quite familiar with the words from James. She agreed and we set the appointment for the next evening.

I contacted all of the elders,but since only one of them had ever been a part of this kind of service I suggested we meet at the church at 6.30, an hour before our appointment with Ruby. She only lived a few blocks away.

All of them were busy and the schedule would be tight but they agreed to be there at the appointed time. I was the last to arrive. Just before leaving the house I had gotten into a fight with one of my sons and my attitude was not good. I wasn’t feeling very spiritual at the moment, let alone righteous. When I arrived I confessed my attitude and my anger to my brothers.

Immediately Glenn, the elder emeritus spoke. “I must confess, too, that I have harbored some attitudes towards people that I know don’t please God and I have not been behaving with a spirit worthy of being a leader of this flock.”

Next another elder opened his Bible and read to us words of counsel and encouragement. Soon each elder was confessing his own sin, some sharing scripture that God had been using to convict them. Then we gathered in that room holding hands and praying for one another that God might do His cleansing work in our lives. The hour passed quickly. We set out for Ruby’s.

Ruby greeted us along with her family, inviting us to sit. “You will stay for tea afterwards, won’t you.” We agreed. Ruby was not someone to say “no” to.

After a bit, we placed in a chair, read the scripture, anointed her with oil and then each one of us in turn prayed for Ruby. We declared upon the promises of God that we believed Ruby would be healed. Then, Ruby prayed for each one of us who had prayed for our wholeness, our healing, our faith.

Ruby left for Maryland.

Each Sunday her son-in-law would greet us before worship to share an update on her progress. For weeks there was no change.

Then one Sunday, as two of the elders and I stood in the lobby, he came up and said, “I have incredible news. Ruby’s cancer is gone. The doctor’s examined her yesterday and said where there had been a body riddled with cancer two days before, there was absolutely no sign of tumor or lesions or anything!” He said, “We cannot explain it, but Ruby is cancer-free!”

One of my elders, the youngest in fact, spoke with awe in his voice. “We prayed for that! We prayed for that! God has answered our prayers.” No shouting, just a quiet word of reverence recognizing that God had used them and their prayers as instruments of His healing of Ruby.

Ruby returned two weeks later. There was great rejoicing. She lived a very long time.

And these seven men, and myself, had a new sense of awe for what God can do and a deeper realization of what we can do when we let God work in and through us.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

The Christian Church has taken a lot of hits in recent years.  People in our culture tend to be suspicious even hostile towards Christianity as an organized religion.  With more and more people in our nation who have no significant Christian roots and with little or no contact with authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, the labels of ‘judgmental” and “hypocritical” are easily and somewhat casually pinned on the Church.

The Vienna Presbyterian Church may force some persons to pause in their contempt and rethink what happens when people truly live as biblical Christians.  Several years ago a student ministry staffer was dismissed for sexual misconduct and later convicted for contributing to the delinquency of minors. This process began in 2005.  There were many painful conversations but little more substantive action by the church.  No significant help was provided for the students whose lives had been affected by the youth pastor.

In 2009 Vienna Presbyterian’s elders began to look again at what went wrong.  In March of this year, the church’s pastor acknowledged in a sermon that the leadership “became aware that we were not caring adequately for the victims of (youth director’s) abuse.”  The church had set up a ministry to help these persons, but as part of the process made the decision to acknowledge its failings, apologize to the victims, and publicly commit to their care.

Pastor Peter James spoke in a public worship gathering to the victims: “We, as church leaders, were part of the harm in failing to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed in this church, I am truly sorry … I regret the harm this neglect has caused you.”

Powerful words of Christian integrity. Words that declared the church was committed to be agents of truth and reconciliation and healing.  Words that those victims and our culture at large needed to hear.

They were also words that put them in direct conflict with their insurance carrier and the attorney hired to defend the church.  They were admonished to say nothing publicly nor put anything in writing to admit or apologize lest this be evidence that is used against them in a court of law. This is guidance given routinely by insurance companies in our judgmental and litigious climate.  It is counsel that many churches choose to follow so as not to endanger the future of their ministry because of significant, often crippling damages that may be awarded against them.  Insurance companies give this counsel to protect the assets of their shareholders.

It is a tragedy that our litigious and adversarial judicial system coupled with the greed of so many creates such a conflict.  A church that chooses the route of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing then becomes at risk to lose their insurance coverage and endanger other ministries.

But Vienna Presbyterian Church decided that it is a greater tragedy to leave the victims uncared for and to avoid responsibility.  Again quoting Pastor James, “We won’t hide behind lawyers … Jesus said the truth will set us free.”

The healing, life-transforming ministry of Jesus Christ is set free by their faith and their integrity.  Hopefully there won’t be lawsuits (there haven’t been to this point).  Hopefully there will be healing for the victims and for a society that needs to see the Body of Christ acting like Christ.  That is my prayer.

(quotes reported in USA Today 5-10-11)

Saint Patrick, whose day at least those of us of Irish descent will celebrate today, once wrote a wonderful prayer:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Patrick was a man driven by his love of God to be a missionary to the Irish people. In “A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus,” Patrick wrote:

The Confession of Saint Patrick.

I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop.

I am certain in my heart that “all that I am,” I have received from God.

So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger for the love of God.
He himself testifies that this is so.

I never would have wanted these harsh words to spill from my mouth; I am not in the habit of speaking so sharply.

Yet now I am driven by the zeal of God, Christ’s truth has aroused me.

I speak out too for the love of my neighbors who are my only sons;
for them I gave up my home country, my parents and even pushing my own life to the brink of death.

If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples;
even though some of them still look down on me.

This excellent and yet brief video gives you a glimpse of this man of God.

“As followers of Jesus Christ we are invited into a life where our story merges with the story of God, an intersection if you will, where His dreams become our dreams and we begin a journey of faith to increasingly love him and increasingly love people.” – Nick Francis Stephens

Lately I have had the privilege to hear a lot of people’s stories. This evening it was that of a waitress named Shamire at Bob Evans. Her buoyant manner and positive attitude as she first approached Dianne and I at the table intrigued me. I found as she returned to bring us coffee, serve our food, tempt us with dessert, that I was growing interested in knowing her story. I am a professional who is benefited by the skill of starting conversations with strangers and asking questions that people seem to want to answer. Soon I learned that she was a student in the culinary arts, that she loved her family, that being responsible for herself was teaching her to be responsible, and that she genuinely liked most of her customers — even the nosy ones like me. “I look forward to serving you two again,” she said as we began to wrap up the dinner. Her story and the comfortable way she told it made we want to hear more about this young woman just staring a career and paying her dues to the basic lessons of life.

In many ways, this is what faith sharing involves. We have a story. Someone else has a story. Our stories become points of relational intersection where the stranger becomes an acquaintance and perhaps, finally, a friend. Our stories create points of identification that remove barriers and build bridges.

For a Christian, our personal story is an extension of God’s story. For God is working in and through our lives — writing a story that has his imprint upon it. So when we share our stories, stories born out of our faith experience, we create relational intersections for God and our listener.

Hopefully, that blended story will capture their imagination and draw them into it as well.