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REFLECTING ON THE GOSPEL

BY STEVE DUNN
 
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5.1-2
 
It is the time of the year when people focus on the future.  The focus might be fleeting as the struggles of every day living draw us into a very destructive kind of focusing – fear over the future with all of its uncertainties.  And because there is so much we cannot control, we begin to worry.
 
We worry over what might go wrong in our lives and in our world.  That worry draws our attention to the mountains that we need to move or it makes molehills grow into insurmountable mountains.  It makes us believe the lie that we must be in control–although such control is futile.
 
It takes our eyes off a vital reality.  We are products of God’s grace.  It is by His power that we live.
The future, which includes ours, belongs to God.  He knows the way from the present to the future and He will shepherd us safely through today into tomorrow.  And tomorrow holds His glory in which we will share.
 
 Never second-guess the Shepherd.

Dr. Michael Cheatham, chief surgeon of the Orlando Health Regional Medical Center hospital, addresses reporters during a news conference after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Watching are Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, second from right, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.                           (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
 by Steve Dunn

A horrible tragedy occurred this past weekend in Orlando.  At a night club popular with gays and lesbians,an attack was unleashed by a man with suspected ties of Islamic terrorism.  At least 50 people were killed and 53 more injured in what is the worst mass shooting in US history.

A year ago another group of people were shocked and saddened as a young man murdered people in a Bible study in Charleston SC. 9 people including the senior pastor and the gunman died when the young man opened fire in a Bible study at the Emmanuel AME  Church.

In between those two of high profile events there have been hundreds of such incidents–often unexpected, mostly inexplicable, filled with fatality and tragedy.  Sadly, such events are almost daily in this country.

I could launch here into an emotional plea for gun control (which I do support) or some theologically judgemental pronouncement about the lifestyle of the victims in Orlando. I could rail against terrorists-Islamic and otherwise.  There are a wealth of responses and comments that can be made and will be made.

But my immediate and daily response was articulated quite well by Southern Baptist ethicist Russell who following the Orlando incident,  tweeted “Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.”

Why do I say this?  Because this is what the Bible tells me is the appropriate fist response:

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34:18
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” – Romans 12.15
He heals (God) the broken-hearted and binds up their wound”- Psalm 147.3
Would you join me in this prayer not only for this incident but for our American culture and its people?

BY STEVE DUNN

 

I have long been a fan of Bill Watterson and his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. His is not as overtly theological as was Charles Schulz in Peanuts, but every once in a while (I suspect inadvertently) Calvin makes a profound statement that triggers a scriptural truth. Here are two that I find in this particular strip.

The first is from James 4:17: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” New International Version

Then Galatians 5:6.” The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” New Living Translation.

An authentic disciple understands that omission can be every bit as significant as commission when it comes to sin. Too many of us have changed the focus from loving our neighbor as ourselves to love myself and then give my neighbor the leftovers. Or be careful of loving my neighbor too much lest I not have enough for me. Or this one – love myself spontaneously but be sure and schedule how much I will do for my neighbor in need.

Maybe we need to walk through life with eyes wide open to opportunities to be a blessing to others, praying that our love will find greater expression than merely intellectual assent or carefully orchestrated projects.

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BY STEVE DUNN
Our culture has a way of co-opting Christian holidays.  Note that Christians co-opt secular holidays, too, like Mother’s Day.  This is not a polemic against the subversion of faith.  It is just a gentle reminder to everyone, but especially Christians, why we celebrate Easter.People who are unfamiliar with Christianity tend to focus on Christmas as the key holy day of our faith.  The reality is that Christmas is secondary to Easter.  Christmas is the season of Immanuel–God with us.  Or as one commentator has said, “God who is for man.”  Easter is the season of the Savior–God with reconciles man to Himself.  Christmas is when God takes on flesh and moves into the neighborhood.  Easter is when God slams the door on death and says we will dwell with Him for eternity.  Christmas is when God identifies with us.  Easter is when God declares that we shall be like Him.  Christmas reminds us that we have not been forgotten or abandoned by God.  Easter is when God comes to dwell in and through us forever.

Christmas is about the Child who is born who is the hope of the ages.  Easter is about the Liberating King who frees us from our sin.

Frankly, if the Easter bunny finds it necessary ride on Jesus’ coattails, he’s in good company. Humanity does more than ride on Jesus’ coattails, it lives in His righteousness.

So this Easter, with March Madness into its Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, with college students invading the beaches of the Gulf Coast, with our children getting a sugar high from all that candy; let us remember that Easter is for Jesus and is about Jesus–Jesus who is alive!

(c) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn
Readers, please note–this is my Monday Morning Reflection for Holy Week 2013

BY STEVE DUNN

Blogger Karen Zacharias commented recently on Jodie Foster’s confession/nonconfession that many people interpreted as her saying she was a lesbian. Jodie didn’t really out herself but left a lot of people wondering. Zacharias said Jodie’s semi-confession reminded her of an expression they had in the South, “she went all the way around her mouth to reach her elbow.”TransparencyBlog

Transparency is a virtue of the Christian faith, but is generally in short supply in humanity’s dealings with another. And accountability (yours, not mine) is a value rarely embraced without some kind of external enforcement.

Transparency is a Christian virtue because is a value that reflects the nature and person of God. God is truth. There can be no truth truly without transparency.

Read that sentence again.

Jesus said to his followers. “You are the light of the world.” When light enters the room if drives out darkness. Darkness hides. Light illuminates and reveals.

In the Sermon in the Mount Jesus said: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) How’s that for transparency? When we find it necessary to qualify our comments we are taking a step towards deception. When we find it necessary to say more than “yes” or “no” we are expressing our fear that people will not tolerate the truth.

Now Jesus wasn’t saying give one word answers nor was he advocating the brutality that often accompanies human bluntness. Paul expresses the spirit of Jesus’ words when he says, “… speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

Our transparency is intended to be an expression of our love for our brother, our love for our neighbor. Our transparency says “my love is genuine, my motives are pure.” Transparency also is a statement of your trust of the other person. Remember Jack Nicholson’s famous line in A Few Good Men? “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!:

Transparency and truth say to the other, “I believe you need the truth and as your friend, I will help you deal with the truth.”speak-the-truth-show-your-love-85089223

121216051430-02-newtown-reax-1216-horizontal-galleryTIME TO REFRAME THE DISCUSSION

BY STEPHEN DUNN

Like many people, my attention has focused this past week on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown CN and the need to address the escalating violence in the American society. In LIFE MATTERS and through my Facebook ® page I have shared several posts from others and made my own comments. I also entered into a thread of debate stemming from comments by another pastor friend that took a strong stand against the NRA and those whose love of their Second Amendment rights appear to be thwarting any significant attempts to deal with this gun violence. The results were to be drawn deeper and deeper into the vortex of individual rights to own guns, debates over whether our gun laws are really the problems, nit-picking over the details about guns, and then the darker issues of the extreme left’s hatred of the right, and the right wing’s deep suspicion and fear over President Obama and his political agenda for America. I found some helpful insights regarding how we deal with mentally ill persons in this country, but those things were often drowned out by more comments by what I can only term as “gun worship.”

I have spent this last week with my daughter and son-in-law and 4 ½ year old grandson. And you need to know that many, many parents—many of whom sit in the political center of this nation—are fearful for the threat to their children, and absolutely frustrated by the fanaticism and intransigence that seems to define both the debate and any attempt at a meaningful solution of the simple problem of gun violence perpetrated on children and innocents both in schools and public places by mentally imbalanced persons who have easy access to whole arsenals of weapons and ammunition. And they are deeply concerned of the impact of this violent culture upon the well-being (physical, emotional and spiritual) of their children.

So hear me plainly … this is not a time for fanaticism or intransigence. Whether it comes from the left or the right, this is not the time.

It is time to reframe the discussion.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, my concern is that we address this issue with a clear perspective of the heart of this matter. And the heart of this matter is, how will we protect the innocent—our children, the weak, the defenseless—in this nation from this escalating spiral of violence.

In the Old Testament we hear clearly about God’s perspective towards children and others who are innocent and vulnerable. “ A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5) In Isaiah 1 we are told that God’s judgment against Judah comes in particular because she has not protected the children, the widows, the defenseless. This was equated with idolatry.

After the massive outrage perpetrated by Herod, commonly called, “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Matthew records, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

And then we have the words of Jesus himself, in Matthew 18:14 – “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

These innocents should not be the collateral damage to a political debate or a culture war. As a Christian, this is precisely the oppression and injustice for which the Prophets condemned Israel and was at the heart of Christ’s judgment against those who claim to belong to Him when they appear before the King in Matthew 25.

Clearly we must approach the whole issue of how we deal with persons with mental illness in this country. Our pushing them into the streets or leaving them entirely to parents who are often older and overwhelmed is not acceptable.

This means that our healthcare system must stop trying to negate benefits for such treatment and care, and governments must also help provide programs and treatment for such persons.

This means that we must stop making weapons with such firepower so easily accessible to people that such persons can have almost unfettered access to those weapons. Background checks and waiting periods clearly have proven insufficient.

This means we must protect our schools. I am not proposing arming teachers nor do I believe that encouraging our citizenry to be self-appointed law enforcement because they are armed is a solution. Only persons properly trained (including how to be in these settings with impressionable children) and authorized by the government (who scripturally I believe to be the persons responsible to restrain the lawbreakers, e.g. Romans 13) should be given these jobs.

But this is just dealing with this at one level. Since our frontier days we have been a “wild west” people for whom guns are a right and an obsession. When the Founding Fathers adopted the Second Amendment, the “arms” they protected were single-shot guns and not all that accurate. None of them could have envisioned what our human ingenuity or perversity would manufacture. Our culture’s worship of the gun is legendary across this planet. It is not a healthy legacy.

We need to address the proliferation of violent games and entertainment. We must address the excesses of violence in our sports culture.

Many of my biblically conservative friends correctly say that laws do not change people, a change of heart is what changes them. Our world will never be “right” until its inhabitants are right with God. But too often this is simply used as one more slogan in a political campaign or culture war instead of being translated into serving as God’s agents of reconciliation in this fallen world. And some of my more darkly conservative friends have come to believe that they are called to possess the guns themselves so they can be agents of God’s justice in an immoral society. I found no such justification in God’s Word.

And too many people on the other side of these issues, mock or thwart any attempt to let the values of the ultimate peacemaker, the Prince of Peace have a seat at the table or a place in the schools or an unfettered hearing in the public arena. The violence in our culture is a deeply spiritual matter and will never be solved by increasingly secularizing our society or making religion so inoffensive as to be unprophetic and unauthoritative.

The time has come to change the debate from rights and political philosophies to what has violence done to our society and what are we going to do to combat its effects—especially on the innocent.

In the mean time we must take steps, albeit small and sometimes difficult to protect the innocents. Our children, who are our future, absolutely need it.

It is time to reframe the debate.

© 2012 by Stephen L Dunn