More from Michael Kelly and his blog Forward Progress.



What destroys the work of the gospel in a person?

All kinds of things, but certainly not least on that list would be self-righteousness. Confidence in ourselves, being proud of how good we are, or internally harboring the belief that “we’re really not all that bad” runs contrary to the core of what the gospel message is. Think about it with me – what do you have to know to come to Jesus?

Not a lot, truth be told. There’s not a class you must take; no certificate you have to earn. But you must know at least two things:

1. Who He is. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, crucified and then risen, not because of His own sin but as a willing sacrifice for yours, which leads us to the second thing:

2. Who you are. Not who we should be; not who we would like to think we are; not who we aspire to be; but the rock bottom realization that we are, at our core, wicked and in need. That sin is not just something we do, but is the driving force behind who we are, and it’s from this reality that we must be rescued.

And that’s precisely why self-righteousness is so destructive. With each bolstering run on the ladder of our egos, we knock down the sufficiency of the cross. We are, if not in word, crying out at the cross that this really didn’t have to happen. Not for me at least. With our self-righteousness, then, we simultaneously deceive ourselves and rob the Son of God of His rightful glory. It’s clearly, then, something that we should be on guard against. And yet, like so many other idols of the heart, our sense of self-righteousness does not often come on us suddenly, but instead creeps into our thinking slowly, over the course of time, until we unknowingly have begun to resist the truth that we are rightfully condemned before a just and holy God.

But there is an occasion, at least in my own life, that provides an opportunity for me to self-diagnose this creeping kind of idolatry. I can know whether or not I am giving in to my own ego by my reaction to God showing grace to another.

I remember a story Jesus told about a vineyard in Matthew 20. In it, a landowner goes and hires a group of laborers early in the day. They agree to the wage for their service, and the workers start putting the nose to the grindstone. Then, later in the day, the same landowner goes back to where he hired the first group only to pick up a few more workers. And then a few more workers even later in the day. When the day reaches its end, it came time for the money to be handed out. Much to the initial group’s surprise, they got the wage they had agreed to… and so did the other workers. The same wage, for unequal amounts of work.

And Jesus says this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And everything in me rises up and says, “It’s like what? Like unfairness? Like injustice?” And that’s when I know.

I know that it isn’t really a sense of righteous injustice rising up in me; it’s my self-righteousness laying claim on what I think I deserve. It seems I have forgotten, based on my reaction, that what I truly deserve is the very condemnation Jesus has rescued me from. It’s at this moment that I, or maybe you if you’re tracking with this, have two options:

1. We can harbor our resentment at the generosity of God, and in so doing refuse to acknowledge the truth that we are still broken people no matter how many classes we’ve been to and Bible stories we’ve read. If we do, that bitterness will grow over time and cause our hearts to calcify until we no longer see the need for grace for anyone, much less ourselves…


2. We can take the invitation to stop complaining and start celebrating. This is what the father asked of his older son in another one of Jesus’ stories, when this older son was so offended at his father’s generosity. And if we choose this route, sure, it might be a little awkward at that party first, and we might look around at all the younger brothers who came to work later than we did, but as the party wears on, we will be reminded that it’s only by grace that we got the invitation in the first place.

And then we dance.




Came across this interesting in Crosswalk by Dr. Julie Barrier. Think about it.


A scruffy homeless dude pops through the door of the church house with his motley entourage. The trendy thirty-somethings sitting near the aisle gagged at the stench of their sandals reeking of foot odor.

Honestly, is this the new pastoral candidate? And who is his crew? They weren’t invited! The parking lot attendants were already upset. The fig trees shading the front door were a little scraggly, but one word from the new guy and they curled up and withered. Instantly. This man was a wizard.

He strode confidently to the front, set the pulpit aside, and sat down. Nina Smothers spent hard-earned cash for that wooden lectern in honor of her dead, departed hubby Harold. She dashed out of the sanctuary in a huff. With great authority, this Jesus asked all of the wealthy elders to stand. These guys were the cream of the crop. They never missed a Sunday, lived exemplary lives and were model husbands and fathers. He commended them for their efforts.

Here’s the kicker! Jesus asked them to withdraw all of their savings, cash in their 401K’s, stocks and bonds. Porsches and BMW’s must be returned to the dealership and their pricey suburban homes listed immediately. Everything must go. (Sounds like a “going out of business” sale…) Finally, He challenged them to turn over their net worth to the World Vision fund to help dying widows and orphans in Bangladesh. This tight-knit group of top-shelf leaders shook their heads, grabbed their stylish children and sadly left the room.

The crowd was definitely thinning.

Finally Jesus delivered His “sugar-stick” sermon from Luke 8:5-15. The remaining congregation perked up their little ears. Francis Chan described Jesus’ words in this way: Jesus started His sermon by saying, “Gee, it’s great you all came…be sure and bring a friend next week!” Not. He told an enigmatic tale about sowers, seed, paths, rocks, thorns and good soil. “He who has ears, let Him hear.” Then He retired to the front row. Even His band of brothers scratched their heads. Peter piped up, “What a weird story! What was that all about?” Jesus’ cryptic answer still confounded His boys. “To you it’s been given to know. I speak in parables-seeing they may not see, hearing they may not understand.” The natives were getting restless. Pew-huggers in the back slinked out when Christ was not looking. Jesus whispered, “I’m not going to spend my ministry watering rocks or fertilizing thorns!”

Now here’s the conundrum. Luke 14:25 tells us great crowds accompanied Him. This place was a mega-church. Big video screens, screamin’ band, cushy seats and a coffee bar out front. Why would Christ blow this amazing opportunity?

Christ stood to offer the invitation. “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t love me more than Father, Mother, even his own life, he can’t follow me.” (Matthew 10:37-39) Jesus continued,  “Are you really sure you should be here? Hate your father, wife…leave them all for me. Count the cost. I’m telling you about the cost of following me up front. Pick up a cross and come and die.” The silence in the church was palpable. Instead of an emotional invitation with crowds streaming to the front, there was a massive exodus through the back door. One kid filmed the fuming mob’s departure on his smart phone and uploaded it to YouTube. Two million hits.

The smelly twelve were left. Jesus mumbled, with great sadness in His voice, “You’re not going to stick around either, are you?” (John 6:67)

Peter piped up, “Where else shall we go? You’ve got the truth, the living words.”

The offering was non-existent. No money was raised for the offsite campus with the video feed. In fact, if we were true to Scripture, Jesus would have whipped the ushers, turned over the offering plates and screamed that this was “God’s house of prayer.” However, the ushers and the rest of the comfortable Christians split a long time ago. The scraggly teacher never made it past His first Sunday. He was fired on the spot. An Abercrombie model with killer people skills took His place.

Francis Chan ended his sermon on this subject with this compelling statement. “Are we obeying the most obvious truths of Scripture? I want to be real salt, good soil…the real deal. Be intimate with Jesus. Love Him enough to take up your cross no matter what!”

If Jesus were the pastor of your church, would you go?

This article was inspired by Francis Chan’s compelling sermon “If Jesus Were the Pastor of Your Church, You Probably Wouldn’t Go.”  




Duck Dynasty is everywhere. The largely unscripted reality show has captured the cable-waves and rocketed A&E Network to the top of the charts. It has already generated a fortune for Walmart and other retailers–secular and religious–by pasting the face of the Robertson clan on every imaginable household item.

Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil Robertson and his clan are conservative Christians, staunchly patriotic, sometimes outrageous in their opinions, and firm in what they value–which leans heavily towards traditional American values.

I’ve enjoyed a few episodes with friends, but my reality TV tends to lean towards The Voice, The Sing-Off, and Major League Baseball.

It was only a matter of time before these high profile and often delightfully humorous self-proclaimed Christian rednecks would fall afoul of the media and liberal political establishment with their narrow definition of “free speech.” Phil set off a firestorm.

Now A&E has suspended him, his family has threatened to stop making the show without him. (I don’t believe for a minute that a profit-driven network is going to jettison its most profitable possession nor that the Richardson family will abandon their income and platform.)

I am both offended and troubled.

I am offended when the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution continue to extend the defense of free speech to pornagraphers, the worst of America’s haters here and abroad, people whose sexual orientation offends so many of their neighbors, and people whose politics are left of center; but have singled out conservative and evangelical Christians as people whose views threaten to destroy the fabric of society. The bias has now become so obvious that even some of my most liberal friends have pointed it out (although I see few pushing back against it).

Phil Robertson is an American citizen–living in the land of the free and the home of the brave–a land governed by its Constitution. He is entitled to the same rights and at the very least, the same tolerance that we extend even to most unsavory citizens of this land.

But I am also troubled by my conservative Christian friends, many of whom profess to share the same belief in the truth of the Bible as God’s Word and the commitment to live by its commandments and teachings–who roar back like cornered lions every time they are not treated with respect, or where their rights are undermined. People who now often define their worth and identity by the rights they have in the Constitution, rather than in living by God’s truth.

And this is my reason–three statements by Jesus.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 5:11 New Living Translation

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16.33 New Living Translation

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15.18-19 New Living Translation

I simply am concerned that we as Christians take the world’s views PERSONALLY, as attacks on us when they are really attacks on Christ. Too many Christians want to stand up for Jesus without paying the price of rejection and opposition that Jesus said to expect if we were being faithful to him in a world that WOULD BACK AWAY.

We have a persecution complex, or better yet–a rejection complex.

And in our vehemence and in the manner of our communication we often show the world that we do not really trust in God to make things right-and that the acceptance of men is more important than faithfulness to God.

Or that being left alone to believe what we want to believe (even if it is the truth) than paying the price of truly being salt and light where we will stand out from the crowd who often cares little about God.

Something to think about and to pray about.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn


This comes from the blog PROVOCATIVE CHRISTIAN LIVING by Don Lachich.  All I can say is “Amen.” – Steve

 Once again under the category of Stupid Things Christians Do, we have the story of a pastor complained about a tip for an Applebee’s waitress. And of course the story went viral which is what prompted this post. When the bill arrived it included an automatic tip for 18% due to the size of the party. The pastor wrote a note on the receipt saying, “I give God 10% why should you get 18″, then wrote zero in the additional tip line. Originally I thought she scratched out the 18% and gave nothing. Thanks to a reader who pointed out the error I was corrected. But that still left me thinking that the pastors response was just not the kind of story and behavior we want to connect with followers of Jesus.

Sadly, when you have a few billion people on the planet who call themselves Christians, there are going to be regular examples of people who embarrass the rest of us and give fuel to anyone who wants to attack, God, religion, or religious people. I am guilty of this myself on occasion. When I first heard this story I thought, no, can’t be. No pastor would be that short-sighted. Surely this is an atheist posing as a pastor in order to create a story, please let it be so. No such luck. It turns out an actual pastor of an actual church is the guilty party. We know this because she complained to the restaurant manager that the waitress violated her privacy by posting a picture of the offending note on the web. Now the pastor and her church are getting their fifteen minutes of infamy.

It was bad enough that the pastor in question complained to the waitress in writing and pulled God into the fiasco. Then she compounds it by protesting that the waitress is the one behaving badly. Because of her complaint the waitress was fired! She lost her job because a pastor who acted badly in the first place complained that she was caught. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (sorry, I had to scream at that point before my head exploded)

Here’s the deal. I understand that you may find the automatic tip of 18% to be a bit cheeky. But that is no reason to bring God into it. He is happy with the 10% He asks for and seems to have no problem with people being blessed with a bigger percentage. When the standard tip in the USA was 15% I never heard God complain about that. In fact as I read Scripture I am fairly certain you can make the case that God would love it if we gave all we have to people who are poor, or in need.

Second, we are told to love others as we want to be loved. Seems obvious to me that no one wants to be loved by receiving a note like that about how much someone loves God instead of you. Jesus gives us the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then adds that loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important. He makes the two go hand in hand. It’s like what Sinatra said about love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, “you can’t have one without the other”. So waitress stiffing pastor who claims such a love for God that you tithe, God is not impressed. You didn’t love your neighbor and tried to justify it by your love for God. That just doesn’t fly with The Almighty.

Jesus dealt with some religious leaders who claimed they couldn’t help their needy parents because they dedicated the money to God. He rebuked them soundly. I think He wanted to smite them as well but thought better of it. The point being, people have been using God as an excuse for sometime in order to not give to the needs of fellow human beings. God wasn’t buying it then and He isn’t now.

If anything, Christians, especially pastors, should be known as big tippers, givers to all in need, people who hold their resources in open hands for others to share. After all, those resources come from God for the purpose of meeting our needs AND blessing others. At Northland Church, one of the seven responses we think we need to make to God, based on who He is and what He has done for us, is to Live Generously. That means to give freely of our time, talent, and treasure to anyone in need, for the glory of God. After all, God so loved us that He generously gave His only son to die on a cross, be risen again, and ascended into Heaven, so we might have eternal life. Surely we can give a little bigger tip to someone who has served us in this life. Love your neighbor as yourself. It is that simple and clear.




Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature
of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Arrogance is just ugly.

Whoever you are and whatever your message may be and however important that message is to me, if you deliver it with arrogance, I will not hear it.  It really is that simple…that cut and dried.  Maybe it is just me, I honestly do not know, but arrogance just so rubs me the wrong way that (despite my best efforts) I simply cannot get past it to hear the message behind it.

My bet with this blog post is that I am not alone in this perspective.

To me, there are just not very many character flaws uglier than arrogance.  I say that with a touch of self-deprecation, because I know with certainty that I am capable of this particular flaw myself.  I really, really hate it when it comes out in me, because I believe it is so very ugly when I see it in anyone else.

The more I read and listen to people outside the church about why they are not interested in being inside the church, when you start cutting through to the essence of their complaints, when you boil them all down, they mostly seem to come down to arrogance on the part of the church in one form or another.  But the interesting thing is, I don’t think we (the church) are all that in touch with our own arrogance.  So here are some areas of  ”latent arrogance” on our part…arrogance to which we may be blind but which is very real to the outside world:

1.  Theologians, We: Do you believe it is possible to have a right theology and a wrong heart?  Indeed, my theology can be perfect, i.e., my interpretation of scripture can be right on the money without my having even the slightest evidence of the Spirit of God living in me.  I see it here in the blogosphere all the time…people chiming in to theological debates with such venom and vitrious, it makes me (the lawyer) blush!  Part of the problem here is that we forget the Biblical truth that “for now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror”.  We hold our theology as if we see everything perfectly clearly, thank you very much.  How can we believe we see all Spiritual truth perfectly clearly when our best source of Spiritual truth tells us that, in fact, we see it all pretty dimly for now?  For more on this issue, I love this post from Donald Miller.

2.  Insiders, We: I recently posted here on the problem of having our own “denominational vocabulary” and how that tends to disconnect us from those outside our church.  The first time I published that post, a particularly insightful comment (thank you, David!) reminded me that we are never in more danger of being arrogant than when we are feeling like an “insider” in any organization or institution, particularly including the church.  Like Peter, who was in the exclusive “inner circle” of apostles who got to see the Transfiguration, we run the risk of thinking we are something when we are not, and a humiliating correction is probably in our near future!

3.  Moralists, We: Granted, there are obviously plenty of social issues upon which even Christians do not agree, but we do agree on an awful lot, assuming a Biblical worldview.  What baffles me is that we somehow expect the rest of the world to see these issues the same way we do, and when they do not, we (arrogantly) decide they are just ignorant heathens, devoid of any redemptive value.  What’s more, we then rail against them and boycott them unless they relent and agree to act like Christians.  Frankly, some of our camps spend more time and energy trying to get non-Christians to act like Christians than we spend trying to get our own brothers/sisters to act like Christians.  Here are some important words from Paul to the Corinthian church who was dealing with moral issues of its own: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” I Corinthians 5:12-13.  Judging those outside the church is, well, arrogance.

I could go on and on, but we’re already way too long for this post.  But seriously, friends, can we just get over ourselves in these regards and begin earnestly seeking the mind of Christ in our attitudes toward others?  Oh, what a difference that might make in the world!

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website:


The singer Bono from U2 is not a Christian and he has deep respect for the faith and its mission. Yet he is often critical of how Christians carry out that mission.  Bill Hybels interviewed Bono in 2010.  The exchange is worth our consideration as we keep our eyes wide open as the church of Jesus Christ.


by  Stephen L. Dunn

I had my first ministry assignment in 1971 when I was hired as the part-time Youth Pastor of the Newville (PA) Church of God.  That was forty years ago. It was a time when, particularly in small towns, churches were the centers of the community, church people were viewed as solid citizens, and pastors were positions of honor and respect.

Forty years have pretty much changed that. The ecclesiastical landscape is not a pretty sight.  During those 40 years our society has seen a seismic shift in its values and perceptions.  Churches are now considered by many postmoderns as entities that squelch true spirituality.  Church people are often viewed as political enemies of reasonable, “normal” people.  Clergy types are viewed with suspicion.

Scholars, social commentators, and religious historians speak of a shift from being a churched culture to a … you fill in the blank.  Whatever the case, churches and Christianity no longer hold home field advantage.

In the churched culture, people thought being good folk was synonymous with being good Christians.  In a culture that tracked with the church (Robert Bellah said this was because the culture had a civil religion that resemble Christianity), people thought of their churches as organizations that recruited members, provided benefits to those members (including status in the world and eternal life in the next). But because church and culture were basically on a parallel course, few churches concerned themselves with making disciples.  They just were recruiting and indoctrinating members with shared values).

Evangelism was replaced with church marketing.  Good people became the goal (good people who knew how to navigate a prayer book/hymnal) rather than transformed people.  But even choosing to become a Christian was relatively costless because the culture would affirm you anyway.  Most of the emphasis was on the outward appearance of faith and the willingness to do our “Christian duty.” Many, many mainline denominations continue to operate from this premise.  Many, many evangelical ones have chosen to be cultural curmudgeons.

Somewhere the idea of being Christ’s disciples was replaced with being a Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and members of the Republican Party (if you were a social conservative) or the Democratic Party (if you were a social liberal).  The church and our culture have suffered immensely by this loss of true identity – of biblical identity.

When Jesus walked on planet Earth and lived in our neighborhood, he spoke of people becoming his disciples.  Of being people who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom by following Him.  FOLLOWING HIM.

In fact, that’s how Christians came to be called Christians.  They were recognized as followers/disciples of Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it time to stop being members of a church, or advocates of a particular doctrinal distinctive, or members of a political force in the nation’s culture wars – TO ONCE AGAIN BEING CHRIST’S DISCIPLES?

(c) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

Step out of the boat

Permissions: You have blanket permission to reproduce any original post by STEPHEN DUNN on this blog, as long as it is not altered in any way, is not part of a resource for sale, and proper attribution is made to the author.  A link to this blog is appreciated.  A copy of your use is appreciated as well. Send it to



Two kinds of Christians undermine the witness of the Body of Christ.  The first are people who believe that faith is defined by believing in a set of doctrinal propositions and focusing on that belief as their “ticket to heaven.”  A right set of beliefs is more important than actions that reflect those beliefs.

The second is the group of Christians who still embrace the world’s evaluative standard of “what’s in it for me?”  They are often looking for a method or program that will make them happy. And they want to find such a solution that costs them as little as possible.

“Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:18, New Living Translation

Ultimately faith works. By that I don’t mean faith is simply effective for coping with living. I mean faith, if it is true faith, works.

The world is concerned with tangible benefits. But tangible almost always has to do with material things.  A place in my Father’s House in the future is a tangible thing, and rightly so. But if it makes me so heavenly minded that I stop worrying about those who are poor and oppressed on this planet, or those whose lives are a shambles on this side of eternity, then I have lost the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am my Father are one.”

If all faith is to me is a means to make life easier on this planet, then I will be loath to put those tangible benefits at risk to share my faith or to lay down my life for a friend.  I will never choose the way of sacrificial servanthood.

Ultimately faith works.  It takes what it believes and daily applies it to the utmost to do what Jesus came to earth to do and commissioned us to do until he returns.  Truth faith is neither a set of beliefs or a set of tools. True faith is a lifestyle that reflects what Jesus would have us to do.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L. Dunn