Coming Away From Easter

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

The garden of gethsemane
The Garden of Gethsemane

Have you ever stopped to think how many important things in scripture take place in a garden? It all began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve rebelled; through self-will they alienated themselves from the love of God. 

It was in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus fought the greatest battle of his life. 

We have just celebrated Easter; it happened in a garden. Remember a part of the story. Mary was in that garden. She had come to that place, anxious and grieving. Her dreams and that of the small group of followers of Jesus–the dreams for a Messiah– were shattered in that garden.To intensify all those feelings of pain and despair, insult was added to injury. They discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, and the body of Jesus had been taken away. The disciples who were with Mary at the tomb that early morning had gone back home to nurse their pain and depression. 

Mary lingered in in the garden, outside the tomb. Weeping and not knowing what to do, she took another look into the tomb. And there, on the stone, where the body of Jesus had been laying, were seated angels who asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” 

Can you feel the pain in her response? What pathos! “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 

And then it happened. She turned around and there was Jesus. At first she didn’t recognize him when he asked, , “Woman, why are you weeping; whom are you seeking?” 

We have celebrated Easter, but let’s not move away too quickly. Let’s focus on some learnings for us from Mary. First, she didn’t recognize Jesus for a very simple reason: her tears. 

She was crying so much that she was blinded. It happens to us, doesn’t it? Our tears often blind us to what’s going on around us. We miss the lessons life is trying to teach us because we are so preoccupied with our own pain and grief, our disappointment and defeat. 

Sometimes our tears are selfish. We center on our loss. We don’t put our situation in perspective. How often do we do this at the death of a loved one. Our loneliness and loss is intense. We weep for ourselves, not for the loved one who has gone to be the eternal guest of God. We can be blinded by our tears. 

But there’s another reason why Mary did not recognize Jesus: She was facing in the wrong direction. Not just her eyes, but her mind was on the tomb. 

We fall into that snare? We focus on our defeat and loss. Easter calls us to look in the direction of new life, and new possibility. 

Memory is such a valuable tool. Often, when I am having difficulty sleeping, in my mind I will sing a favroite hymn, or quote scripture. Recently, I was focusing on the 23rd Psalm and came to the finale which grabbed me more powerfully than ever, Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Thank you, Lord, for memory. The poet said God gave us memory that we might have roses in December. We don’t have to leave Easter behind. Sure, we have some painful memories, and we need to deal with them. But we can do so with the overarching promise of the Psalmist, Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

We don’t have to be blinded by our tears. An ongoing Easter-life calls us to look in the direction of new life, and new possibility. 

-Maxie Dunnam  

Walk on to Easter

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

kids playing doctor

Three-year-old Ryan and his five-year-old sister were playing on the floor following a family dinner while the adults tried to have a conversation. Lisa opened her new toy nurse’s kit and convinced Ryan to be her patient. She took the little stethoscope and placed it on her brother’s heart, listened intently — as good nurses do. Suddenly she announced, “I hear somebody walking around in there.”

The adults smiled at this, but Ryan, matter-of-factly answered, “Why, that must be Jesus.”

That’s the amazing promise, and one of the central claims of the Christian Gospel — that Christ may live in us. Indeed that is Paul’s definition of a Christian. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

In Colossians 2: 6, Paul said, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him.” The King James Version has that, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” Students of Pauline thought, are agreed that the phrase “In Christ” is the central category of Paul’s thinking. This phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus”, is used by Paul in his letters 169 times.

What does Paul mean by this vital image “in Christ”? It means one, a new status; two, a new style, and three, a new strength.

Persons who are in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted. They are in Christ.

I think of that in two ways. First, from the perspective of what we might call imitation, then from the perspective of immersion.

By grace we are saved through faith.”

– Kevin De Young
praying hands with bible

We are in the Lenten Season, looking forward to Easter (Mar. 3l) I urge you to join me in being more intentional in imitating Jesus, walking in his style. But more, immerse yourself in Christ: renew your commitment to spiritual discipline…scripture reading, prayer, worship, spiritual conversation with people you know who are wanting to be “more like Jesus,”

As Christians, we are, in principle new persons in Christ., As we walk as Christ would have us walk, and immerse ourselves in Christ—that is surrender ourselves to His Spirit within, His grace will make us, in fact, the new persons we already are.

-Maxie Dunnam  

Being Preoccupied with Self

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

C.S. Lewis

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” 

– C.S. Lewis
The Secret Tape Letters book

In his classic volume, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis offers 31 imaginary letters from Screwtape, the primary personality of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior devil just starting his first assignment on earth. The purpose of the correspondence, done humorously, is to show how Hell seeks constantly to divert would-be Christians from following the ways of Heaven. 

In one note, Screwtape tells Wormwood the most productive way to overcome good people is to not only work on their pride, but infect them with a sense of false pride… 

“Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately, pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt— and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.” [1] 

We need to stay sensitive to the danger of pride. We easily fall into the pit of being preoccupied with ourselves. Jesus told a parable about this. (Jn. 18:9-14) The story is simple and straightforward. Two men went into the Temple to pray. One boasted to God of all his good qualities; the other simply asked for God’s mercy. The reason Jesus told the parable is expressed in verse 9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” 

For years I missed the connection Jesus made: how we feel about ourselves has a result on how we feel about and treat others. Get it? They were righteous and despised others.” 

Two failures are implicit here: we look at ourselves in relation to others and fail to look at ourselves in relation to God. In either case the warning is clear: don’t fall into the pit of being preoccupied with your yourself. 

-Maxie Dunnam  

A Foretaste of Glory Divine

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

Sheet music

Singing is one of our greatest expressions in the Christian faith and way, especially in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. We sing our faith. 

In our tradition, we happily express four “all” convictions about salvation: all need to be saved; all can be saved; all can know they are saved; all can be saved to the uttermost. 

As I contemplate the passing of time and our move into the new year, the third “all” is dominant in my reflection: all can know they are saved. There are few experiences that can provide more power in our lives than to have assurance of our salvation. Think what it could do for any one of us: 

Our timidity and uncertainty about witnessing would be dissolved. We would not be intimidated by those “buttonhole” witnesses who come on like gangbusters. We would know that tenderness, patience, and understanding are authentic testimonies, as well as words. 

We would not get overwrought with our Christian friends who insist on future security, for we would be assured of our present relationship with Christ. 

Fanny Crosby

We would be joyous in our service for God, but not driven in our works, or mistaken in the notion that our works would save us. 

We would be delivered from frantic preoccupation with taking our spiritual temperature minute by minute, because we could relax in our trust in the Lord. 

And all of that would help every one of us, wouldn’t it? 

We are certainly affirming the Gospel truth when we sing Fanny Crosby’s Blessed Assurance.

We can go into the new year in confidence, if we have this blessed assurance

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! 
O what a foretaste of glory divine! 
Heir of salvation, purchase of God, 
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

– Hymn by Fanny Crosby 

-Maxie Dunnam  

Christmas is on the Top of a Steep Hill

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

There is no more exciting world than the world of children. Charles Schulz, in his Peanut cartoons, perceives and probes that world in a marvelous way. One year during the Christmas season, he put into drawing and dialogue one of those common exchanges between children that has deep and uncommon meaning. Sally asked Charlie Brown, “Is it Christmas yet?” “Four more days,” responds Charlie Brown. “How come it takes so long?” Sally wants to know. Without even looking up from the TV, Charlie Brown gets off one of those off-the-cuff philosophical statements that one can chew on all day. “Christmas is on the top of steep hill,” he said, “and the closer you get to it, the steeper the hill is.” 

As I reflect, I conclude Charlie Brown is right. The birth of Jesus was on the top of steep hill, not literally, though Bethlehem is on a hill. Men had longed and prayed for the Messiah. The years of sorrow and suffering, darkness and death had dragged endlessly on. Through the prophets, God kept telling them that “in the fullness of time,” the Messiah would come. 

That time came, and Jesus was born. He said he would come, and he did. He came to give us life, and he promised to come again to fully establish his Kingdom with his followers living with him eternally. 

He will keep that promise. I want to solidly lodge two sentences in your mind for your reflection and action as you stay ready for his coming. Let this be the hill you climb as Christmas comes and your celebration will be as joyful as the children. First, we have plenty of everything, except what we need to make what we have worthwhile. Spend a few minutes pondering that before you read further………….. 

The second word: The best we have without Christ is not enough for salvation, not enough to give us abundant life. We need a Messiah, a savior, a life giver. Christmas is on the top of a steep hill of acknowledging our need. When we acknowledge that all of our getting and spending, our accumulation of things, the way we excuse our selfishness and efforts at self-justification, the way we go about trying to rationalize our un-involvement with the needs of the world, the way we seek salvation in so many places. 

When we realize that all this is futile, and wait and pray in expectation and openness, then we will see the salvation of the Lord. ‘Until he comes again, by his grace we can move from one degree of glory to another. 

-Maxie Dunnam  

He Who Signs Prays Twice

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

Woman singing and playing guitar

We hear it often, especially from the “music community, ”He who sings, prays twice. Saint Augustine added a word to that expression;, “he who sings his prayers prays twice. 

My wife and I share a morning time of devotion and prayer, in which we often sing. A few weeks ago, I was going through a season of studying, teaching, and writing about revival. One morning, during our devotion/prayer time, we were singing the old gospel song, Revive us again. As we sang, it struck me, We are praying. 

The first three stanzas of the hymn are expressions of praise, then the fourth stanza is an earnest petition, 

man hearing music

Revive us again, 
fill each heart with thy love 
May each soul be rekindled 
with fire from above. 

The chorus is praise and petition combined,

Hal-le-lu-jah! Thine the glo-ry.
Hal-le-lu-jah! A-men.
Hal-le-lu-jah! Thine the glo-ry.
Re-vive us a-gain.

I believe we are experiencing revival, and we may be just at the beginning edge of it. I urge you, now and then, sing Revive Us Again as your prayer for it. 

The singing of our sacred hymns, written by the servants of God, has a powerful effect in converting people to the principles of the Gospel, and in promoting peace and spiritual growth.” 

— Heber J. Grant 

-Maxie Dunnam  

Never Say “There’s Nothing I Can Do”. 

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

grandmothers sitting outside

Prayer means that no one of us can ever say, ‘There is nothing I can do.’” 

I first went to the Soviet Union in 1981 and came away frustrated and confused. I experienced pain to see beautiful churches turned into warehouses, factories, and communist meeting halls. For a long time after that, the picture I had of the Russian church was old women, clad in heavy sweaters and coats, sitting in the dark corners of the churches we visited, sometimes dusting the furniture, or praying before the icons. I kept asking myself, “What can these grandmothers do? How can they keep alive the faith of the church? Where are the young people? 

A few years after that, at the celebration of 1000 years of the church in Russia, when someone asked a Russian priest whether it was healthy for the church to be composed of so many aged mothers, he replied with a story: “In the early days of communism, many churches were blown up and the priests, monks, and nuns were executed. Lenin argued that once the grandmothers died, nobody would remember that there had been a church in Russia. But now, Lenin is long dead, and the church is still full of grandmothers who were children when he was alive.” 

Then he concluded, “As long as the Russian church has its grandmothers, it will survive.” 

I experienced the truth of that dramatically in the Czech Republic in 1991. Freedom had come a short time before. I was in Pilsen at the Maranatha Church. It was one of the most exciting experiences of worship and church life in which I’ve ever participated. The sanctuary of the church had been turned into a lecture hall of the university by the communist regime, but now the government had returned it to the church. Over 500 crowded in. At least 75% of them were younger than thirty—and all of them had become Christians in just the past three or four years. 

That congregation had been kept alive by a few praying people. For over 30 years, eight elderly women gathered each week and prayed—week in and week out. As a result of the faithfulness of those “praying grandmothers,” a dynamic congregation was making a powerful witness. I never witnessed such joy, such hope, such confidence, such powerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit. 

Keep that picture in your mind, remembering the word of that priest: “As long as the Russian church has its praying grandmothers, it will survive.” Add to that picture my assertion, “prayer means that no one of us can ever say, ‘There is nothing I can do.’” We can pray. 

Prayer is one of the greatest works that Christians are given to do. 

-Maxie Dunnam  

The Jesus Prayer

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

choir singing

We call it “The Jesus Prayer.”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

It is often continually repeated as a part of personal devotional practice. The prayer is particularly esteemed by many of the spiritual fathers as a method of cleaning and opening up the mind to the presence Christ.

This prayer bears the heart of prayer in the petition, have mercy on me a sinner, and the strength of all prayers in the name, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God

In my writing and teaching prayer, I often focus on NAMING as a primary dynamic of prayer: we name God as God is in our experience, we name ourselves as we are before God, and we allow God to name us. A new perspective on that has come to me.

Almost every day my wife and have a devotional prayer time together and we often sing as a part of it. Just recently it has “hit me” that the naming dynamic is powerful in our singing as well as our praying. John Newton, the converted slave trader sang about it.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds 
In a believer’s ear! 
It soothes his sorrow, heals his wounds, 
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole, 
And calms the troubled breast; 
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul, 
And to the weary, rest. 

O How I Love Jesus is a “Jesus Name” song that expresses the Gospel clearly and powerfully,

man praying

There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in mine ear,
The sweetest name on earth!

It tells me of a Savior’s love,
Who died to set me free;

It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe,

Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below.

It bids my trembling heart rejoice,
It dries each rising tear,
It tells me in a still, small voice
To trust and never fear. 

With that fresh perspective, let us pray, and let us sing,

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’r!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

-Maxie Dunnam  

Are You Listening? 

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

man with hand up to ear

I hear it too often, “Are you listening? 

The speaker wants to be sure I am listening. 

Being with another person we often sense the person is pleading, “Please listen.” 

Nothing enhances our feelings of worth more than being listened to? When you listen to me you say, “I value you. You are important. I will hear and receive what you say.” 

Martin Buber, a great Jewish thinker, spent his life seeking to share with others the importance of the relation between “I and Thou.” For the clue to this meaning he referred to the role of Spirit. “Spirit is not in the I but between the I and Thou.” The Spirit is known in relationship – Buber would say only in relationship. 

When we really listen to a person, listen with ears and heart that hear, it becomes revelation, and the Spirit comes alive in the relationship. 

Perhaps not only, but certainly in relationship is the primary mode and place of revelation of Spirit. So when I listen, the gap between me and the person to whom I listen is bridged. A sensitivity comes that is not my own. I feel the pain, the frustrations, the anguish— sometimes feeling these, and identifying a problem even when the other is not actually sharing the problem or the feelings. I listen in love and the miracle of I/Thou takes place. The sharing moves to the deep and intimate levels where the person and I really live. The Spirit opens doors hearts effecting change. 

The miraculous thing is that I do not have to have an answer for the person with whom I am sharing. In my listening I become the answer. If something specific is needed the Spirit reveals the “answer” in the listening relationship. 

Are you listening? 

When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”

– Martin Buber

-Maxie Dunnam  

How Are YOU Praying the Lord’s Prayer?

Reflections by Maxie Dunnam

altar of candles

In the Christian tradition most of us know, and can enter into praying what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is really our prayer. There are two common ways we pray this prayer. Sometimes, we wrestle against God. We receive intimations of something God wants us to do- – and we wrestle against God because we are not sure we want to respond. Or, we come face to face with an issue of God’s justice and holiness – and we resist. We don’t want to do it. 

But there is also another kind of wrestling. It is not wrestling against God; it’s a matter of wrestling with God against that which opposes God’s will. It really becomes a matter of spiritual warfare. We sense that there are forces within our world which are opposed to God’s will: sickness, hate, meanness, narrowness of spirit, fear, lethargy, prejudice, and ill will. I speak of our warfare against the forces of darkness – we wrestle against Satan himself. We set ourselves against all such forces and to them we cry, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

The whole issue is abandonment. Sometimes when we pray, “Thy will be done,” it is a declaration of submission in which we confess that we do not know what is best but we want God’s will. We struggle, we wrestle, we stay in the presence of the Lord until our hearts are made tender, and we’re ready to trust God and surrender our will to Him. 

My favorite story about Lourdes, the world known healing place, has to do with an old priest at that famous healing center who was asked by a newspaper reporter to describe the most impressive miracle he’d ever seen there. The reporter expected him to talk about the amazing recovery of someone who had come to Lourdes ill and walked away well. “Not at all,” the old priest said, “if you want to know the greatest miracle that I have ever seen at Lourdes, it is the look of radiant resignation on the face of those who turn away unhealed!” That’s abandonment! — thy will be done as a declaration of submission, confessing that all we want is God’s will – because we know that it is best for us. 

So, let us pray, Our Father…… 

-Maxie Dunnam