A on-line Bible study group … you are welcome to join us


Four years ago I started a study that went one week and stopped.  “Stuff” happened and I took time off from blogging.  But as we head into summer, I’d like to restart. Join me in the journey – Steve


by Stephen Dunn

The Apostle Paul wrote “Do  not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Romans 12:1)

JB Phillips had a great paraphrase of that passage: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

This is a tall order because the world does its best to define our worth, our values, and our actions.  The recent furor over Dan Cathy and Chick Fil-A rose up because there were many in the world offended by his personal convictions about traditional marriage and the homosexual lifestyle.

Christians, who for years lived in a world where Christianity was tacitly affirmed by the civil religion of America now find that to be an authentic and biblical Christian requires them to be a countercultural peeople.  Most would rather hide out in the world.

Others, who have been enamored with the health and wealth gospel, which is more often sanctified capitalism than Christianity, grow restless and even angry with the increasing costliness of Christian witness and Christian values.  They want their reward now, not in eternity.

Yet we cannot escape the stark words of Jesus spoken to his disciples on the night that he was to be betrayed. ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” Troubled by that we often miss his next words, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world ...” (John 16.33)

Living an authentic Christian faith requires us to be on mission with Jesus (my favorite definition of today’s hot word, missional.)  And Jesus early on told his disciples what that would look like.  We find these words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16)

Salt and Light are necessities of a Christian life — they are inescapable necessities.

As we move forward with this study of Salt and Light Christianity, I invite your initial comments on this text–especially your understanding of what it means to be salt and light.

I will post again next Wednesday with my reflections of the declaration/command, “You are the light of the world …”

© 2012,2016 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 For all other uses, contact Steve at 



“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18.2-4

Children in Jesus’ day, although highly treasured, were not greatly revered.  Their parents, their father in particular, literally “owned” them.  In the pecking order of a 1st century household they ranked above the servants, but only slightly.  The disciples, like many adults in that time generally thought that children should be out of sight or certainly out of ear-shot when important “adult” matters were going on.

Therefore, Jesus’ action and words here were extraordinary.  And as we know from Nicodemus in John 3, very hard to swallow.

Children are very concrete in their relationship to the world.  Something hot hurts when you touch it (although they often learn that by touching something hot).  Mothers and fathers are supposed to love their kids.  God exists and Jesus loves me.  After all, the Bible tells me so.  And although I don’t like it, if I do something bad I’m going to catch it from the adults. I don’t have to be the most important person in the room as long as I know someone loves me.

Prayer is talking to God just like you’d talk to anyone else.  There’s only one way to sing-for joy.  If I fall asleep in church, God loves me anyway.  My questions, spoken alud even in worship are honest ones that deserve an answer.

What happens in our “maturing” that robs us of the innocent trust that leads to greatness in God’s sight?

What do you think?

© 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 For all other uses, contact Steve at 







This is a reposting from an early blog of mine called EASTER PEOPLE


My teenage years were lived out in the Sixties.  It was a highly skeptical age and often quite hostile to faith.  In fact, many persons I knew in those days called themselves atheists or they bought into the philosophical position of one Karl Marx who declared “Religion is the opiate of the people.”  Persons who had a faith, especially if it carried a strong affirmation of the reality of the supernatural, were considered ignorant, naive, or perhaps even dangerous. In the academic world it was a badge of honor to deny that humanity had a spiritual side.  The spiritual side was considered an impediment or an opponent of becoming fully enlightened and fully human.

Yet as humanity has turned on the hinge of history and moved beyond the narrow framework of the Twentieth Century, we have once again accepted the truth found in the New Testament that healthy humanity acknowledges its spiritual nature.

“Oh, I am a spiritual person” is a proud claim by so many; including those of the emerging teenage generations.

Spiritual is not synonymous with Christian, but it is a common ground for once again introducing people to the “Truth that sets us free.”

Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Jesus Christ declared in the first century, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

“I’m just hungry for God.” – Austin Young

In this photo is a friend of mine, Austin Young.  In fact, I baptized him a couple of years ago.  A young man with great leadership skills, athletic gifts, a heart of deep compassion and a propensity to action.  But at the heart of his life always seemed to be a hunger for a right-relationship with God that drove his decisions and actions.

Young men like Austin have their ups and downs, their ebbs and flows, their close walks and even their falling always.  But once they have tasted of what God has to offer, they always seem to return to that anchor of personal relationship with Christ.

Easter People are hungry people.

They hunger for a confident closeness to God.

They hunger to embody the love spoken of the Bible.

They hunger to make a difference in their world.

They hunger for justice and mercy to prevail.

They hunger for grace to continue its amazing work.

They hunger to be like Jesus.

So just what are you hungering for these days?

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn


It was a grim night. The second night they had endured since Jesus had died on Golgotha. Only one of them had been there to witness the death. John in his youthfulness seemed to have no fear that the older men in their practicality had embraced. They were behind closed, locked doors. The Jewish leaders had seemed uninterested in pursuing them on that Sabbath evening when Joseph of Aramathea had hastily buried Jesus’ body. But now another day had passed and many sensed that the triumphant Sanhedrin might now turn a maliced eye towards the remaining disciples of that dead troublemaker.

The night of Jesus’ arrest had been one of turmoil and confusion. Then came word that Judas had hung himself. An impulsive Peter had followed Jesus, but by the dawn of Friday had denied Jesus three times. Then he had come slinking back in shame to join them in their grim gathering.

This night, Saturday night, a weariness had replaced some of the grief and even now some were asking if they should just slip out of Jerusalem. They were not sure of the welcome they would find in Galilee, but it might be safer for a time.

Desperate men, now discouraged and depressed.

It was Easter Saturday night.

Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:5-7
I have spent a whole lot of my 60 years going to school.  12 years for elementary through high school. Four years of college. Three years of seminary. Another almost 7 working on my Doctor of Ministry.  That doesn’t even count continuing education.
In the formal educational process students are constantly being evaluated. What are your learning? Is it right things about the truly important things? How much have you learned?  Have you really learned so it has become a part of you?
Generally that evaluation took the form of either tests or papers.  I’ll let you on a little secret. When given the choice, I always chose papers.  Even when I was working from a tightly prescribed set of questions, I found that papers (although longer to complete than a test to take) were better learning experiences and better measures of whether I understood something.  Tests often were merely proof of the current state of my memory.  And the pressure for tests we generally unpleasant.
To this day when I teach I lean towards papers rather than tests for my students.
People don’t like tests, but tests are a necessary part of life – and ironically, of our spiritual life. Paul writes to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.”

Lent is a time of self-testing. Of examining our lives up against the call and the Cross of Jesus Christ.  When we accepted his gift of salvation, we also committed to living the transformed life he makes possible.

Living in faith is the bottom line of new life in Christ. Take some time and examine yourself.  Can people see Jesus in me?

 Reading: Luke 9.23
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves  and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Children are clever and sometimes, more than a little determined.  When my children were young upon my arrival at home I would often be greeted with a request, “Dad, can I do this or that?”  I learned very quickly not the launch into an immediate consideration of the merits of their  request, but to ask a question of my own.

“What did your mother say?”
Invariably, she had said something. A something with which they did not agree.  They were coming to me to see if they could get a more favorable verdict.
I have learned that kids love to practice “divide and conquer” and a parent who is not alert to their little machinations can soon find themselves at cross purposes with their partner.The result is usually to the detriment of those they are trying to parent, especially if the cross purposes make Mom and Dad cross with one another.
At one point the Pharisees accused Jesus of being “of the devil.”  They didn’t like his authority. They didn’t like his agenda.  They didn’t like his vision of the Kingdom which threatened their vision of the kingdom.  Jesus responded to them, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”  He was the One and Only Begotten of the Father. Satan would never give Jesus any occasion for glory, no support in his efforts.  To do so would to insure his failure.

A more important question for us during Lent is “are we at cross purposes with God?”  Christ came into the world and went to the cross to reconcile us to God. The intent was so that now we could live according to His purpose, to be the servants of the Good News.

Are you living with the purpose of the cross or at cross purposes with the cross?



“By the cross we know the gravity of sin and the greatness of God’s love toward us. ”
John Chrysostom, 4th century

“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.” – Colossians 1:21, New Living Translation

One of the things that keeps us from honest confession and true repentance is that we think of ourselves simply as good people gone bad, or decent folk damaged by the sin of the world (not necessarily a sin of our own commission). We think in terms of what Dallas Willard has called “sin management” instead of salvation from our sin. We live in God’s general neighborhood and own the property upon which we rest.

The Bible is very clear on this one. Sin separates us from God. Paul makes it very clear in his words to the Colossians. Sin makes us God’s enemies. Our mind is not conformed to Christ and as a result our actions do not, cannot please God.

Until God in his relentless love intervenes for us.

Question for prayerful reflection: Are you taking your personal sin seriously? What is there that needs to be confessed to God and repented from? This is a question for seasoned saints and newly aware sinners.



This blog post is an adaptation of one that I wrote lAsh Wednesday 2012 for my main blog LIFE MATTERS.

Join me this Lent on A JOURNEY TO THE CROSS.  I will be publishing posts on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays into Holy Week.  Feel free to repost and/or share these respecting the copyright notice below.- SLD

ashwed       BY STEVE DUNN

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” .- Matthew 5:4

For a time, I basically skipped the eleven o’clock news–especially the news part of it. Serving as a local church pastor in today’s troubled and stressed out world bone-tiring and soul-draining. You didn’t need any eleven o’clock anchor person to add to your stress and disturb your sleep. (I might turn on the news in time for the sports scores, unless one of the teams I was rooting for was creating stress with a losing streak).

One Wednesday evening, I broke my rule and absentmindedly watch the news while awaiting that evening’s Big Ten basketball scores. Something seemed odd about the newscaster, but it took me a while to notice. When I finally gave it my full attention I realized he had a black smudge on his forehead.

My initial thought was, “Some make-up girl is going to get chewed out for letting him get on camera like that,” and then it dawned on me. That dark smudge was in the form of a cross. And then the next thought arrived at the station. “It’s Ash Wednesday.”

Some of you are at this moment thinking, “Ash what…?”

For the partiers among us, Ash Wednesday is the next day after the debauchery and drunkenness of Mardi Gras. If you aren’t sleeping off that Tuesday (called “Fat Tuesday” by some), you may have actually seen some news person going on air to announce that it “…is Ash Wednesday and the season Christians call Lent has begun.”

I was serving a church at that time that considered Ash Wednesday “a catholic thing”and I had actually given it little more thought than as a reminder to get next Sunday’s Lenten sermon completed.

You won’t find Ash Wednesday in the Bible (nor the word “Christmas”for that matter.) It is what is called in liturgical churches “a moveable feast.” It is the first day of Lent, a season of confession and repentance, and occurs 46 days before Easter. It was not observed formally until somewhere in the 3rd of 4th centuries.

The Bible tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness at the commencement of his public ministry–being tempted, and praying. The church uses the 40 days as a time dedicated to prayer, fasting, and repentance as a way to prepare for Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection. Sundays are excluded from the fast, hence the 46 days of Lent.

Ashes symbolize this period because ashes were used in the Old Testament.When a mourn repented of their sin, they dusted themselves in ashes as a sign of repentance and the death of the old person. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the forehead of the believer in a ceremony called “The Imposition of the Ashes.” They are placed in the form of a cross to remind us that our new life is the result of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

One of our problems today is we don’t think in terms of repentance from sin. We think of sin management.  Many people do not have a sense of personal sin.  They believe in corporate sin, and maybe even feel a sense of shame at their own imperfection.  But the brokenness that comes from mourning the loss of something precious evades us.

We need to remember that Christ did not go to the Cross for sin management, but for our cleansing from sin–for our redemption.  We want to the Cross to remind us that we are lost without a Savior.

For those who take God seriously in their lives (and how serious sin is), Lent is a time to discover true repentance by acknowledge what are sin takes away from us.

(C) 2012, 2013, 2016  by Stephen L Dunn

Reprint permission: You have permission to reprint for your ministry or repost as long as you do not alter the post and give credit to its author. An email note from you would be appreciated by the author and a link back to this blog is always appreciated. Also a link to this site or my main site



“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.” – Psalm 23.1

Many people can recite the 23rd Psalm.  It is perhaps the most easily recognized and universally popular of all the Judaeo/Christian scriptures.  It is a text often quoted at the end of life or at a graveside.  Psalm 23 is, however, a classic passage for who are daily making a discipleship journey–or as I look to say, people who daily are on mission with Jesus. But rather than look at it in its entirety, I want simply to focus on that introductory verse.

Obviously the Lord is the subject of the verse but is followed by a statement of relationship.  In fact, one of intimacy.  Shepherd has much rich meaning – guardian, guide, provider. The Psalmist goes on in the second sentence to make a statement of the Lord’s favor and perfection. – “I shall lack nothing.”

I am intrigued, however, by the personal pronoun my–a possessive one. Here is David describing the Lord of all the universe and he dares use the pronoun my. In this context it is really a pronoun of affection.

When my youngest daughter, Katie, was still basically an ankle-biter–often took it upon herself to affirm her Daddy.  She would stand and wrap her arms around my knees, squeeze hard and say, “Daddy, my Daddy.”  I cannot begin to tell you how much that gave me delight in being her “Daddy.”  And to others, she was declaring her particular connection to her Daddy.

The Lord of all the Universe invites us into just that kind of intimate, affectionate relationship.  Jesus uses the word “Abba” for his Father, which means literally, “Daddy.”

As we travel of the long and often challenging journey of discipleship, may we remember that we are loved beyond measure by our Daddy, and love Him just as deeply.  His love is our anchor.


My “little girl” Katie, now grown to be a Mom with her son Caleb–who although now three thinks of her as “Mommy, my Mommy.”

© 2015 by Stephen L Dunn
Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.



A number of people have been subscribing to this blog lately.  It is one of my oldest blogs and was originally designed as an on-line Bible study for my congregation, the Church of God of Landisville.  I am now on to new ministries, one of which is serving as an Intentional Interim Pastor.  That work and serving as an adjunct professor for Winebrenner Theological Seminary have made me to cut back on blogging.  These, and the completion of my first published book The Bridgebuilders Principle.  I am entering a phase when I can return to blogging, so I am trying to re-start Biblical Joy.  Ultimately, I’d like it to return to an on-line Bible study with a regular participating community.  So please, comment on these posts.

Our first study will be Psalms To Live By.  We start with Psalm 1.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

I once heard an enthusiastic preacher of the “health and wealth” persuasion declare:  “Dig deep into your pockets, give it to God and He will bless your socks off!”  He never did explain what he meant by blessing nor did I find out by depositing the contents of my pockets into his offering plate.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology gives us this definition:

God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.

The Old Testament Terms for blessing abound in the Old Testament, occurring over 600 times. The major terms are related to the word meaning “to kneel, ” since in earlier times one would kneel to receive a blessing.

So what are we pursuing? Bucks in the bank and a Fortune 500 business?  No, we need to return to the covenant context of this noun’s meaning.  They answers here seem to focus on three life choices that we make in response to God’s offer of a covenant relationship.

We can chose to not walk in step with the wicked.  There is always a temptation to “go along to get along.”  Fearful of standing out in a world that is hostile to God, we try to blend in instead of engaging in the countercultural path of God’s people.

We can chose to stand against those who publicly oppose God or mock his holiness.  There are people who delight in saying “there is no God” and others who mock Christian values.  Who speaks for God?  We should.

We can delight in the Law of God.  We can make His Word the treasure and truth that we live by.  We can make the study of the Word and living out its teachings our positive strategy for living.

When we submit our lives to God (kneel down), we will know blessing.