Living the Resurrection Life as the Body of Christ

Archive for the ‘FAITH IN ACTION’ Category

LOVE WINS–BUT AT WHAT COST?

From Karen Spears Zacharias comes this powerful story ….

I worry about The Marine sometimes.

He would scoff at me for that, so I’ve never made mention of it until now.

The news reports of 29-year-old Jaman Iseminger of Indianapolis, In. are a reminder to me that there is a real cost to serving others the way Jaman did, the way The Marine does.

Jaman, a pastor at Bethel Community Church, was reportedly shot and killed by a 49-year-old homeless woman on Saturday as he and others gathered to clean up a nearby cemetery. Something that many do routinely as part of the preparations leading into Memorial Day.

Those who knew him best say that Jaman “believed the church of Jesus Christ was not to be in these four walls, but to actually love the least of these.”

While others argue about how the Christian life ought to be exemplified, The Marine is out doing what others are arguing about.

I’ve witnessed The Marine’s faith in action.

The way he speaks with respect and honor to the fellow wearing fishnet hosiery and high heels.

The way he coddles the toddler of a teen.

The way he banters with the group of homeless men gathered around a coffee pot.

And I see it in the way the homeless respect him.

He is the real deal and they know it.

Still, I worry when I hear the reports that a homeless man that was drinking coffee the morning before has stabbed someone.

Homeless requires a certain mental toughness and a raw vulnerability.

Mostly it just requires that every other safety net in your life has been ripped wide open.

You become homeless because of a whole host of reasons, but you don’t become homeless because you prefer freezing your ass off or because you like sleeping on hard concrete in a pouring rain.

Living like that could turn most of us into wild-eyed loons.

It might make us act in ways we never imagined.

Not that any of us ever imagine we will be homeless.

And that’s part of the problem.

We might not admit it but there’s this small part of us that entertains the notion that homeless people are homeless because they aren’t as smart as the rest of us, who thus far have managed to escape the fate of the homeless.

The Marine doesn’t think like that.

He understands what most of us don’t.

He understands that the only thing separating “us” from “them” are the numbers in our cell phone.

We have people we can call when things go bad for us.

They don’t.

So he set out to become that person.

The one they can call.

No matter what.

He’s not trying to fix them.

His main agenda is to be a friend to the homeless.

Even if being that friend cost him his life.

The way it did Jaman Iseminger.

In order for love to win, somebody has to be willing to pay the cost.

That’s why I worry sometimes.

And pray often for Hugh Hollowell.

 

TORNADO !!!! PASTOR DERRICK RESPONDS

Massive destruction at hospital in Joplin MO

There are as few things in all of nature as fearsome as a tornado.  Sunday evening as many as 116 people died in Joplin MO as half-mile-wide tornado blasted much of this Missouri town off the map and slammed straight into its hospital.It was the nation’s deadliest single tornado in nearly 60 years and the second major tornado disaster in less than a month.National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said the storm was given a preliminary label as an EF4 — the second-highest rating given to twisters. The rating is assigned to storms based on the damage they cause. Winds reached 190-198 miles per hour. At times, it was three-quarters of a mile wide.

A new friend of mine, Pastor Derrick serves the Way Fellowship in Kansas City.  This is a new church plant of the Western Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference.  In many ways it is an atypical church for those of you expecting stained glass and steeples and preachers who look like–well preachers.  But being a congregation on mission for Jesus, it believes in responding to human need, following God’s prompting and going where people need a hand of compassion.  Here is a YouTube video  Pastor Derrick made as they responded almost immediately to this disaster.

Pastor Derrick has been on the road tirelessly and sacrificially, part of the quiet army of volunteers who work alongside the FEMA workers and disaster relief crews.  They are the extra hands and feet and heart that often fills in the gaps.  Pastor Derrick wrote on Facebook Wednesday: “This week I have cried, hit my knees, hugged, kissed, embraced, asked why, shook my head in disbelief, held tight to faith, fed people, clothed people, prayed with people and loved people! It has been a long time since I felt this close to God!”

Since the first century, Christians have been on the ground bringing relief and hope where there are people in deep need.  Despite the criticism heaped upon the institutional church, God’s people who are the church keep moving ans serving.  Thank you Pastor Derrick.  Even if people in Joplin never become a part of your church or any church; you have fulfilled the command of God, bringing God’s light into the darkness.

PRAYER AND AN EMBEDDED FAITH

A friend of mine and a gifted writer, Kenneth Kemp, posted a blog today about Bethany Hamilton. Bethany was a budding surfing star when a shark attacked her, tearing off a leg.  This young woman’s career and life, for that matter might have been over.  But Ken writes:

“Her family surrounded her bedside, along with the entire surfing community on Kauai and from around the world.  But it was her church that led the prayer vigil.  Bethany’s faith had been implanted some years before.  It was about to blossom into a full-voiced message of hope, recovery and victory.

The stump that once was her arm healed rapidly.  Bethany, a determined, exceptionally strong teenager, set her sights on rehabilitation.   She adjusted, meeting life’s ordinary demands with a single arm; a single hand.  Everything from getting dressed, doing her hair, making a sandwich, carrying her books – all of it – new.  A state-of-the-art prosthesis provided by well wishers just got in the way.  She discarded it.  But hardest of all was getting back on the surfboard.  She could not quit.  She would not quit.  Just thirty days after the shark tore away at her young body, she was back in the water.  Paddling with one hand.  Catching the wave.  Getting up on her feet.  Balancing across the face.  All the old moves.  All new.

Her parents watched through their tears.

Now Bethany is twenty years old.  She competes against the best women in the world.  In 2005, she took first place in the NSSA National Championships.  The trophies fill a case displayed prominently in her home.”

Read the rest of her story on Ken’s blog LeaderFOCUS

So often as adults we are so concerned with our own struggles that we have trouble finding faith ourselves, let alone focusing on embedding a faith in our children. Blessed is the parent who does not neglect that task. And blessed is the church that prays.

LOVING PEOPLE – REALLY LOVING THEM

One of the great scandals of contemporary Christianity is what Craig Groeschel calls “Christian Atheism.”  This is where we say we believe something and then live like we do not believe it.  The lawyer of Luke 10:25-28 stands up and asks the quintessential question of a seeker,  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” At the end of the chain of discussion Jesus leads the man to the answer.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ In fact, Jesus punctuates it with, “Do this and you shall live.”

Even non-Christians know, and many practice, the latter half of that commandment. We call it the Golden Rule.

But for many persons, including many Christians, there is more intellectual assent than real life application. We know we should practice it, and we do … up to a point.

Up to the point when….

Demonstrating that love requires us to sacrifice a significant amount of time.

Loving them requires us to wade into the mess in which they find themselves living where we might get messy, too.

Loving them calls us to sacrifice something precious rather than what is convenient or superfluous.

Loving them demands us to see them as persons for whom Christ died rather than simply objects of our good works.

Loving them is met with rejection or contempt.

I am reminded that God loved a world where people were His enemies.

He loved a world that killed his prophets and dishonored His holiness.

He loved a world where people keep asking, no, demanding His help and then squandering the blessing.

He loved a world that He knew would crucify Jesus.

Love, genuine God-inspired and empowered love is unconditional and incarnational and sacrificial.

Any less is not really love.  It is a counterfeit.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

HEADING FOR THE LAND OF THE LIVING

When John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed, his secretary wrote in his name to a friend, “I am still in the land of the living.” “Stop,” said Owen. “Change that and say, ‘I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.”

Paul Azinger spoke of this when he shared his testimony of his battle with cancer. In that same moment, something Larry Moody, the man who leads our Bible study on the PGA Tour, has said to me many times came to mind: “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying, trying to get to the land of the living.” To read this golfer’s full testimony go to this link:
AZINGER

As a pastor, I have often said, “I do death.”  By this I mean that I have no fear or discomfort with death and dying,  I know the Author of Life and the reality of death and what my death will ultimately mean. Because of this understanding I find that ministering to people who are touched by death is something that I do with confidence and into which I believe I bring peace and comfort.

My mother, Marilyn Dunn, once said while leading a memorial service for Christian leaders, “We rejoice because they are now in the nearer presence of the Lord.”

In our culture today many simply see death as annihilation. Death is not only an end to life as we know it–it is the end. All that was of value is erased except for one’s legacy.  It can be a compelling reason for goodness or a powerful license for evil. There is no reward nor is there retribution. Unless one has an extremely high level of tolerance for suffering for suffering’s sake, then a whole lot of life’s experience is also meaningless,

If we lived in a perfect world where there is no trial nor temptation nor tragedy then maybe we could be assured happiness in this life.  In that perfect world, personal goodness would be its own reward. Our impact on others would always be constructive. Meaning would come from simply getting up in the morning. Hope would be unnecessary.

We do not live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen one. And hope is what keeps us alive and moving forward.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” – I Thessalonians 4:13, New International Version.

Our hope is in Jesus Christ. He has conquered death. And through  our relationship with Him, we are assured that death will not have the last word,  Death will not separate us from Him. The good we do now will be rewarded. But because we have been united with Him on this side of death’s door all that we do now participates in His magnificent plan to demonstrate His love and transform us all into people of purpose.

Suffering in this life does not mitigate this truth. Death does not deny this truth. Death confirms it.

THE POWER OF PERSECUTION

Chapter 7-8 of the Book of Acts tell us an amazing story. First we are told about Stephen, a man full of grace and the Holy Spirit, who is taken before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council to answer charges of blasphemy. (If you don’t know blasphemy is a very serious crime in any religion and in first century Judaism, it was a capital offense.) Like Jesus before him, Stephen seems to be facing a sort of kangaroo court, intending to justify an action many had already decided to take.  Stephen responds powerfully and in the end accuses his accusers of blasphemy.  The result is a foregone conclusion and Stephen is stoned.

A zealous and extreme Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus also plays a part in this story. Emboldened by the death of Stephen, he becomes the point man on a massive persecution of Christian community in Jerusalem. “Young Saul went on a rampage–hunting the church, house after house, dragging both men and women to prison.” (Acts 8:3, the Voice: Reader’s New Testament.)

What follows is a church on the run. Everyone who had not been imprisoned left town–everyone except the Apostles.  But when they leave town, they do not go into hiding, just exile.  And in their exile they seem determined to tell others about Jesus Christ. Acts 8 continues with a description of the fruitfulness of the church, pressed into exile by Saul’s persecution.

In fact, Acts tells us they left Jerusalem from Judea and Samaria. Remember the Great Commission? “First you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria …” The immediate impact of the persecution is to move the church to the next stop on their assignment to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The early chapters of Acts, especially 1-5 speak of a church energized by its success.  The Holy Spirit is doing powerful things and they are taking bold steps–some like, holding everything in common. a powerful and attractive dynamic.  I suspect they were really enjoying being the church in those heady days following Pentecost.

It has been the experience of many churches in many ages and settings that exciting times lead to a certain kind of “comfort zone.”  The spiritual adrenalin is pumped. We like the feeling. We could go on for all eternity on top of the mountain. Being on the mountain top distances us from many of the challenges of the world below (where most people live) and that distance often removes the passion to be challenged.  Without challenge, we often cease to grow.

Someone once gave me a tea bag with a little slip of paper it attached.  On the paper were these words.  “Christians are like a tea bag. They really are no good until they get into hot water.”

A profound truth.

The real world is not on the mountain top, but in the valley below. A valley that is very much “in the shadow of death.” The test of one’s faith is not how it operates on the mountain top but its power in the valley.

Persecution is the real test of a faith. When faith costs you something valuable, faith begins to grow. As Paul (that persecutor Saul turned apostle) tells us “My (God’s) strength is made perfect in weakness.” Persecution puts us in positions of weak, situations we cannot control, and we we really learn to walk by faith.

Those Christians who were driven from their homes in Jerusalem arrived in the towns of Judea and Samaria “and wherever they went they were not afraid or silent. Instead they spread the message of Jesus.” (Acts 8:4b, the Voice:Reader’s New Testament).

HOW MUCH FAITH DO WE NEED?

Jesus was away on a field trip into the mountains with Peter, James, and John.  The other nine are left to cool their heels. As always there were people hanging around waiting for Jesus, particularly those who had come to desire his healing miracles. A father arrives, no doubt disappointed to find Jesus out of the office; so he engages the services of those remaining disciples. His son is possessed by a demon who is inflicting horrible seizures which are so great that he stumbles into fires or falls into rivers.  Dad is desperate. The disciples take a shot at healing. The whole thing misfires.

But Jesus finally arrives, and the desperate, frustrated father immediately comes to Jesus with a request and a complaint. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

Jesus is not happy.   “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replies, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebukes the demon, and it comes out of the boy, and he is healed instantly.

The disciples suffer the rebuke in silence; but later it is just too much to bear. After all, they had tried. So once they are alone with him, they ask:

“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replies, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Step away from the biblical narrative a bit and go directly to the question it poses.  How much faith is enough? Jesus answer is counter-intuitive. “Not as much as you think.”

Wait a minute, Jesus. Moving a mountain is no small feat.  I won’t need a giant earth-mover or dynamite, simply a faith-filled command, and that big rock will move? What in the world is going on here?

We often think of faith like fuel. We need to fill up our tank in order to perform a task. Some tasks require no spiritual fuel at all, just a little human energy.  And when we live from that perspective we tend to opt in and out of a life of faith, thinking that we can exist without faith in God.  We only go to God when life is too much for us to manage by our own power.  So are considered with having a quantity of faith on hand for those emergencies.

But faith is not fuel, faith is a relationship. It is what we have not because of momentary necessity. It is what we have because we are continuously  connected to the author and completer of our faith. We move mountains not because we have enough faith, but because the faith we have is the real deal. Our faith is authentic. We don’t simply tap into the faith pipeline when things are rough or challenging.  Faith comes from a relationship of trust in God that produces all the power needed to deal with life.

Faith in ourselves–our abilities, our goodness, or our intelligence will not move mountains. Faith that blindly spins the dice and hopes that fate treats them kindly in a counterfeit that will ultimately fail us.

But faith in God who loves us and whose love empowers us will move mountains and more.

(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn