Tuesday, December 11, 2018

O LIITLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM




Part of a Series: Prepare the Way

by Steve Dunn

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past." - Micah 5.2 NLT

I don't know if you have every given Bethlehem much thought beyond singing the Christmas carol or the words of scripture faithfully read at Christmas time.  Some of you may know that in addition to Jesus, Bethlehem was the birthplace of another highly significant  hero of the faith.  King David was born in Bethlehem.

Despite that first famous son, Bethlehem was pretty insignificant at the time Jesus was born. An unwalled village about five miles south of Jerusalem with little more than a hundred persons during the Herodian period.  It's population had been swollen beyond reason because of the dictate of Caesar Augustus. It's no wonder there was no room in the inn.  Actually, I doubt if Bethlehem had that many inns at all.

Small things are where God often does his best work.  A mustard seed, a young boy's small lunch, a widow's seemingly insignificant offering, a young slave girl in the house of a mighty general.

Yet we tend to think of small as insignificant.  And often we despise the small in a world that pursues the "big."  It's no wonder that Zechariah would chide Israel, ""Who has despised the day of small things?"  - Zechariah 4.10

Perhaps the best way to prepare for His coming is to look for God at work in the small things, and in the small places, and what is happening in the lives of people who seem insignificant at first glance.



Sunday, December 9, 2018

BAIL OUT

Part of a Series "Prepare the Way"

by Steve Dunn

Reading: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: 
The old has gone, the new is here!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17

Bailout has become a bit of a dirty word in our language.  It implies charitable initiatives intended to help some get back on their feet or stimulus packages to turn under-achievers and failed performers into fruitful workers or industries.  Our recent political and economic experience has generally resulted in failed expectations, some times out and out abuse of our generosity, and more often than not increased cynicism and even despair as we spiral deeper and deeper into economic and national chaos.

The problem with mere bailouts is that they assume by a timely addition of resources (like an infusion of capital) that essentially flawed industries can turn themselves around. They assume that the only flaw in those recipients is faulty judgment or bad breaks instead something embedded in the group's DNA.

The Fall has embedded something relentlessly destructive and deadly into humanity.  It's called sin - and the wages (the returns) of sin is death.  And death always collects its due.  Although we are created in the image of God, sin corrupts our spiritual hard drive even more relentlessly and completely than the most insidious computer virus.  Those of us who experienced such an infection know that at some point the only choice is to completely clean the hard drive or start over with a new hard drive.

When Christ came into the world it was not for a bailout or simple repair.  It was for a transformation, an entirely new creation.  Only when the image of God is   re-embedded through his work of atonement and grace do we have any hope of breaking free from both the power and penalty of sin.

Thank God He provided us more than an incentive or more than a bailout.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS?



Part of a Series: Preparing the Way

by Steve Dunn

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” – Revelation 22:17

My wife and I finished our Christmas shopping yesterday.  Actually except for a couple of items, we have been finished for several days.  We didn't really ask our grandchildren or children what they wanted for Christmas.  In the case of the former, their requests could have easily bankrupted us considering the hype of peers and television putting ideas and desires into their heads.

Instead we went shopping both in store and on-line with an eye of what we thought they would really appreciate, enjoy or get some longer term benefit from.  We found ourselves getting pretty creative and selected gifts that were more personal.  In fact, we're hoping some of these gifts draw the best out of our loved ones--which would be a gift to us, as well.

Blaise Pascal wrote, "There is a god-shaped in us that only God can fill." (Billy Graham borrowed this from the 19th century philosopher-mathematician.)  Because of this God knows what we need and has designed us to desire it as well.  It's life.  Not just living, but abundant life.  Jesus even declared his intentions for coming into the world.  "I have come that you might have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

John declares here that God invites us to unwrap this present from his heart.  But there's more.  It is "life without price."  This means that it is of incomparable worth.  But it also means it is truly a gift, You cannot purchase it.  Jesus already has.  He comes into the world to give his life on the Cross so that we might possess this gift of life at his expense.

Deep down, isn't that something that you desire more deeply than an electronic gadget that will break or become outdated, than clothes and music that will become outdated, crazy stuff that will go in the closet once the novelty wears off.

The present is yours.  Claim it and unwrap it.



Sunday, December 2, 2018

STEPPING OUT OF THE DARKNESS




Part of a Series: Preparing the Way



by Steve Dunn


Israel had long lived in darkness—far too long.  They lived under an oppressive, occupying power.  Their own leadership—both political and religious—had been installed by Rome and were willing participants in its tyranny.  Some out of fear, some out of economic advantage, some out of their own desire for power, some out of a limited and even secularized view of God.



Although they were chosen people, the pattern of sinfulness had created a self-fulfilling prophecy of disfavor with the very God upon whose love they needed.  But help was on the way.  Help in the person of a child, born in insignificant circumstances and unexpected surroundings.  A child whose arrival had been proclaimed long before in the words of a prophet named Isaiah.



“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light … For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” – Isaiah 9:2, 6



The Voice translation expresses this in words we can all understand.



The people who had been living in darkness

    have seen a great light.

The light of life has shined on those who dwelt

    in the shadowy darkness of death.

And You, God, will make it happen. You bolstered the nation,

    making it great again. You have saturated it with joy.

Everyone in it is full of delight in Your presence,

    like the joy they experience at the harvest,

    like the thrill of dividing up the spoils of war.



    There will be a new time, a fresh start.

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,

    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.

And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.

    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.

His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—

    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,

    Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.

His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—

    sustainable peace for all time.

This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,

    to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.

He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.

    The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,

    will carry this to completion. Isaiah 9.2, 6-7



When God arrives on the scene, in a clear and unmistakable way—in the person of a child whose name is called Jesus. “There will be a new time, a fresh start. Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,

    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.”



In Advent we focus on Preparing the Way—preparing ourselves for his coming so we can prepare others.

Darkness has a way of creeping back into our lives, even those of us who follow Jesus.



But the way of stepping out of the darkness is to fix our eyes on Jesus.  To realize that Jesus has come. To realize he dwells among us shining his great light of hope.  To step into the light who is Jesus.




Friday, November 30, 2018

DEALING WITH THE SILENCE


Part of a Series: Preparing the Way
By Steve Dunn
Text: Romans 5:6
For basically 400 years, God went silent.  After centuries of prophets calling us people to repent and return to the way of the Lord, no new prophets were raised up.  Malachi, was center stage from 417-437 was the last of a line if spokespersons for nearly 400 years before that beginning with Joel (835-796 BC) and Obadiah (850-840 BC).
How did Israel and Judah deal with this silence?  By growing increasingly under the influence of the Greco-Roman culture and its values.  By degenerating into a highly legalistic religion that focused on separation and performance instead of genuine repentance and obedience. And in their weakened, divided state become unruly vassals of the Roman Empire.  For many a generally a frustrated physical and empty spiritual life.
Did you ever wonder why God went silent?  I often think of the adult leading a group of loud, unruly and disrespectful batch of kids.  The leader needs to gain control of the situation by getting them under control, but first he has to get their attention.
I believe that God used silence to get their attention so that when he entered the world, they might finally recognize the state of their lives and the world and be ready for something new.  The Good News of the Kingdom.
God’s ways are often beyond our comprehension. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, Berean Study Bible)
What is important is the understanding that He does His work when He thinks we are ready to finally receive it. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”
Are you close to God at this time or far away?  Are you still banking that your way is the best way or is it finally time to follow the way of the Lord?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS

BY STEVE DUNN

Part of a Series: Preparing the Way

    Reading: Luke 3.2b-6

It has begun already.  If you turned on your radio on Black Friday or wandered in the malls, you heard it. You know what "it" is; I know you know.  I am talking about Christmas music.  Now it's not what I call Christmas music, Handel's "Messiah," or classic Christmas carols, or even newer classics like Michael W. Smith's "All is Well."

It's "Sleigh Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman" and "I'll Be Home for  Christmas" - the syrupy, sentimental, secular stuff that brings a smile but not good old-fashioned JOY to the world that could use a multi-dose of joy.

For Christians, at least those of us who are deeply in love with Jesus Christ - the One Who brought joy to the world; those things and the consumer madness and the mad round of parties - this season is special and holy.

And as much as the marketers and the Hallmark Channel would prefer to be otherwise, it's also not Christmas.  It is Advent.
 

Advent is the season of preparation FOR Christmas, but it is not Christmas.  Advent is based on a little bit of biblical history.  This from Luke 3.2b-6.

 ... the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’

John the Baptist was the son of a priest.  He was a man with a mission. His mission was preparation--preparing people for the coming of Jesus.  He was the man whose preaching and call to repentance were intended to get people's attention for the One who would change the world forever.


John fulfilled the prophecies of persons like Isaiah who announced the universe altering reality that God would end humankind's bondage to sin and separation from Him.  That he would do it by coming to the earth into our lives.

Advent's purpose is to focus our minds and souls first on our need for God, then on the promises of God, so that when the angels sing "Joy to the World" once again in a few weeks, we won't miss what it really means.  Advent begins preparing us to be and do what God desires to do in and through us.  And we prepare so that we can help others find the "Way, the Truth, and the Life."




Tuesday, June 7, 2016

WISHFUL THINKING OR FAITH-FILLED HOPE


BY STEVE DUNN

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for ... These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. - Hebrews 11.1-2, 39-40

A lot of us live by wishful thinking.  We say and do things that reflect a basic denial of reality.  I cannot tell you how many times as a pastor I heard someone say,"I know what you're saying, but my experience is different.  I am an exception to that rule."  Usually what they were saying was, "I want to do what I want to do, but don't want to be held accountable for my choices.

Before someone accuses me of being a hypocrite or Pharisee,I need to confess something.  Diabetes runs in my family.  Almost 20 years ago my doctors dropped the adjective "borderline" from their diagnosis.  They told me how to combat it, particularly the importance of diet.

I really didn't make that many changes, except to slow down on regular soft-drinks. I would eat carefully for a few days and then in times of boredom or at buffets, I would abandon all boundaries.  Now hundreds of milk shakes later, I find myself taking drastic measures to get that diabetes under control.

Wishful thinking can be very dangerous, especially when God has made it clear that only His way works.  There are no exceptions to his rules.

But one of his rules is "with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  In our faith life some of us are so grounded in being practical or realistic that we think that only the things man controls are to be pursued.  Comfort zones are where we choose to live.  Walking on water is for Jesus and foolish humans. After all, look what happened to Peter.

The problem with that is that God Who always keeps His promises feels no need to provide instant gratification and whose rewards which are eternal start closer to eternity than the present moment.

Be careful of wishful thinking.  If it is contrary to God's word or way of acting - it is foolishness, often tragically so.

But when God says let go, look beyond, follow me - the foolishness is in our comfort-zone, control-obsessed response.

© 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