Living the Resurrection Life as the Body of Christ

Posts tagged ‘PERSONAL REFLECTIONS’

THE ANOINTING OF RUBY

BY STEPHEN DUNN

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

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“I DO DEATH”

God has always blessed me with a sense of peace in the presence of death.  As a pastor I have stood by many a person and their family as the neared that threshold into eternity that is known as death.  I have even had the boldness and the God-granted confidence that God will take someone home to be with Him.  Funeral homes are not intimidating places.  ICUs are simply another place to be the reminder of God’s presence.  Even accident scenes, as gruesome as they may be, are not a place I fear to tread.

More than once I have been asked to accompany someone to a funeral home.  In hospital rooms where siblings are fighting and grieving while Mom breathes, God has allowed me to be His presence and to anchor them once again to the Rock of our Salvation.

Once I was with a family at the hospital after their father had been taken in following a serious heart attack accompanied by other complications. He had made his living will several years before and had given me a copy. He had explained very carefully to his family that once he reached a semi-vegetative state with his organs only surviving on life support, there were to be no extraordinary measures taken.  This was the third trip within a few months and each one had become progressively worse. He was in a coma, non-responsive with only a 10% survival chance and no chance that his organs would operate again without serious and costly assistance.  The family had made their peace and said “good bye” and indicated that they were prepared to adhere to the living will.  Then the doctor balked saying he’d like another day before withdrawing life support,  which then itself sent the family into a crisis mode.  And I had to duty to talk the doctor into adhering to the patient’s wishes, the family’s consent and to surrender his feeling that he could not be at peace with allowing a dying man to die.  And this I did without hesitation and inner strength.

“I do death.”

No, that does not mean I advocate assisted suicide or callously consent to agreeing to let a patient die because his survival could bankrupt his family.

It’s because I know that one someone has placed their trust into God’s hands of salvation, when I myself have become one of His Easter People – that nothing will separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  I affirm with the apostle Paul that we who have passed from death to life need no longer fear death.  It is not an unwelcome intruder.  Death has been defanged by our Living Hope.

“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:54 New Living Translation

So when someone must walk in the deep valley of  the shadow of death, they can count on me as a willing travel companion.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

G.B. MILLER – AN UNLIKELY MENTOR, CONTINUED

G.B. Miller had only finished third grade. Like a lot of men from his era, school had to end when the needs of his family became paramount.  Yet that did not mean G.B. was uneducated.  He read prolifically and studied the Bible with a thirst for knowledge that would put many of us to shame.

“Knowledge puffs up” says God’s Word. G.B.’s pursuit of knowledge was quite purposeful. He wasn’t learning to impress people but to serve people.  He wanted to understand the world so that he could effectively minister to the people of the bayou country of Louisiana.  As a result, G.B. was a man of great wisdom.  And his wisdom was particularly adept at seeing how the people around him lived and how he might best encourage them.

One noon time, I was sitting with my family, G.B. and his diminutive bundle of energy spouse, Evelyn.  We were sitting down to one of those wonderful “southern cookin'” meals.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot rolls, blackeyed peas and plenty of cold, refreshing sweet tea.

A young man came to the door.  A book salesman.  Many a young college student crisscrossed the South in teams to earn tuition money by selling books and Bibles.  Children’s books were this boy’s product.  He had barely started his pitch when Brother Miller stopped him.  “Son, I know that you need to sell books but you don’t need to waste time.  I have no grandchildren in need of those books and I am well past my childhood.”

The young man nodded quietly in agreement and started to turn away from the door heading for another house when G.B. stopped him.  “You’re probably not going to make much money up that road today, but I can still help you.” The boy perked up and Brother Miller offered, “I can’t help you sell your books but I know they don’t pay you much if you don’t sell anything and I’ll bet you’re hungry.”  Pointing towards his table, he said, “Sit down and join us for lunch, please.”

And so that young man instead of spending a fruitless hour selling books to a man who didn’t need them received physical nourishment. He also received G.B.’S attention as my friend coached him on sales (after all, G.B. was a preacher and in those days preachers were salesmen of a different sort). He went away well fed, physically refreshed, and motivated to work hard.

So often since then I have found myself in a situation where I was ready to step away from someone knowing I couldn’t give them what they were asking for. And then the Holy Spirit slows me down and asks, “But what do they need that you can give?” And so often I have found that a little attention and informed encouragement is what they needed anyway on the dusty roads of life.  I have men liked G.B. to thank for it.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn

This post is a continuation of one published in EASTER PEOPLE on July 24, 2010. Check the archives.

RENEWING THE MIND OF A NATION

Just before the election, R.R. Reno, Senior Editor of First Things Journal published this observation on the blog AROUND THE SQUARE:

“At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay.

As the midterm elections approach, it’s worth remembering that the future of America will turn on culture, not politics: the poetry of our moral and social imaginations, not punditry. So by all means vote, but don’t neglect the real and deeper sources of public life.”

The entire journal entry is fairly complex, but the takeway for me is clear. It is not political action that shapes a nation, it is the worldview that ultimately does so.  A world view is a way of looking at how the world works – or how you believe it should work. A world view has to do with our core values. Actions (and political actions) can be manipulated and are; but deep down it is the convictions of the heart that people keep returning to. It is the ground beneath our feet.

Many Christians (and many non-Christians) are troubled by the moral decline of our nation. Things have become issues that were once settled questions.  Our first tendency is to pass a law or promote a program to enforce values that we consider more moral.  But if the populace (and its leaders) don’t hold those values as a conviction of their heart; the laws, policies, and rules of the community will change every election cycle.

Instead of trying to capture people’s behaviors, we need to be concerned with capturing their imagination.  How would the world be different if people believed the different were better?

Paul reminded us that transformation comes from a renewed mind which is the product a renewed heart (Romans 12:1). That is what produces more praiseworthy behaviors and a nation that is strong.

How do you renew the mind of a nation? By renewing its heart and mind. Maybe we need to spend more time loving our neighbor than lobbying them. Maybe we need to spend more time living consistently by all of God’s values instead of trying to embed them in the law books.  Maybe we need to be the salt and light that Jesus declared all Christians to be.  Salt that retains its flavor because it is full of the Spirit. Salt that is ruled by the law of love so that it does not become destructively salty.  Light that brings illumination to a people living in darkness simply because it shines undimmed in the darkness instead of demanding the spotlight.

No matter who is in “power”, Christians live by the power of God – standing with Him and for Him but letting the battle truly be His; instead of just one more crusade to preserve our earthly preferences.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L. Dunn

G.B. MILLER – AN UNLIKELY MENTOR, PART 1

I lead an on-line Bible study called Biblical Joy.  It’s for persons who desire the discipline of an inductive and interactive learning experience but don’t have time for a small group.  (Too view this blog site go to JOY) Right now we are studying The Book of Acts and the experience of the disciples at Pentecost. Those rough, backwater Galileans were amazing the citizens of Jerusalem with their insight, power and passion as the Holy Spirit poured out God’s message through them. But some discounted them, deciding that they were not spirit-filled, but drunk.  Our mutual observation in the Biblical Joy group was that we often discount any messenger or mentor who does not fit our pre-determined idea of who is qualified.

This is often the case in some circles of the Church.  I now have a B.A. magna cum laude in religion, an M.Div. summa cum laude and a D. Min. with a 400 page dissertation on transformational leadership to back in up. Generally, I no longer fight the battle of legitimacy or authority.  But in my profession, many make educational experience and academic titles a litmus test. Or the professional rank of licensed vs ordained.  And many church people, especially among the over 40 crowd and people with professional or business backgrounds give me credence that they would not extend others who lack my credentials.

One of the most profound influences in my life was a Louisiana preacher with an ill-fitting suit, who had only obtained a third grade education, served a little church in the bayou country, and whose ordination was considered by some to be an impulse by a country church instead of the product of intense doctrinal scrutiny and readiness for ministry testing.

His name was G.B. Miller.

I first met G.B. I took a youth camp team to work in Mississippi and Louisianna. He and his diminutive wife, Edith served the Bethel Church of God near Bethel LA. It was a country church, almost impossible to find unless you knew where you were going. It was the days before Mapquest and personal GPS’s but I think Bethel would have stymied both tools.  Bethel was a lively, old-fashioned, intergenerational church that loved to sing gospel music, thrived on passionate lengthy sermons, and embraced the church pot luck dinner as if it were a spiritual gift.  Later I returned with my family to preach a set of southern revival services. It was a tall order for a young seminary-trained pastor still not thirty and certainly wet behind the ears. It was during my people-pleaser years and I was going in part to represent my largely “Yankee” denomination that had entered into a partnership with Bethel and its sister churches in the Mid South.

Sinners rarely came to southern revivals, but a whole lot of saints packed them out. My first evening there were well over 100 people packed into that little church, many from sister congregations come to hear the Word preached by that young Yankee.  It had the air of a family reunion and I felt more like a new suitor seeking the hand of their daughter than a person who was a part.  My anxiety level was high.

Just before the service, someone came to Brother G.B. with the word that their sister, a stranger to me known only as Sister Smith from North Carolina, had been critically injured in a traffic accident. When it came time to pray, Brother Miller asked me to offer the intercessory prayer for her healing, which I dutifully accomplished in my best praying preacher personna. Then I went about the nervous business of delivering that sermon intended not to save anyone’s souls; but to impress them with my denomination’s spirituality.  It came off pretty well because God was at workj and preaching is one of my gifts.

The next night I actually was eager to get to the pulpit, basking in the warm reception of people who had welcomed me as one of their own.  Then something unexpected happened, returning to my state of pastoral and professional anxiety.  “Sister Smith died,” Brother GB told me just as the service began.

As the service began, my thoughts raced with that insecurity. “Boy, they are really gonna question my spirituality tonite.  I prayed and the lady died. Guess he has no “in” with God.

G.B. took the podium to introduce me, but just before he did that he said. “Last night, Brother Dunn led us in prayer for Sister Smith who had been critically injured in an auto accident. Well, God answered Brother Dunn’s prayer and healed her, healed her perfectly, by taking her home to be with Him in heaven.

Up until that day I had possessed a fairly utilitarian view of prayer. We want, we ask, God provides. And most of my answers had to do with solutions confined to temporal circumstances and immediate physical needs.  Brother G.B. opened my prayer vista into a whole new realm where my prayer life and my confidence in prayer could grow. And where my understanding of the purpose of prayer could mature.

(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn