Preparation Anyone?

John the Baptizer called the Jews of his day back to the wilderness, the place where God traditionally informed and shaped His people. There, in the wild, a way was to be prepared for the Coming One, the Messiah. John the camel hair dressed prophet, eating locusts and wild honey, baptized synagogue attending Jews! It was close to someone telling the regular “church goer” to Get Right With God. Who, ”ME?”

Since we are all in an unexpected “wilderness” at some points in our life perhaps we should listen in! And what better time than the Advent time of waiting for Christmas joy and peace and hope. Advent is really more than cards, parades, parties, and shopping! Any of the latter can express The Reason For The Season but can also “hide” the great need for spiritual introspection, preparation, and personally meeting God again and again throughout our life’s journey. God always accepts us where we are but doesn’t want to leave us as we are!

John the Baptizer is a good one to listen to but because he is pointing to the One to come. Jesus brings the Spirit to our wildernesses, our finding our way forward, and all our relationships both in family, community, and nation. Prepare a way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3)! Make this 2nd Sunday in Advent a time of preparation for your spiritual renewal with God in Christ!

Pastor Barry

Hope on Arrival

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 1:26–27, esv).

Times were tough in the nation of Israel. Occupied by the Romans, tyrannized by a capricious lunatic King Herod, they never knew what a day would bring. Helpless to change the situation or protect their own families from all of the dangerous, frightening uncertainties, the people of Israel faced a fearful future. These were desperate times.

Hope meets us where we are.

So when you come to Luke 1:26, where “the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,” it’s important not to gloss over this Christmas moment and fail to see its true historical setting.

Don’t view it through the lens of a modern-day nativity scene, everyone with glowing faces and embroidered clothing.

Mary lived among common, ordinary people who were overwhelmed by challenging and difficult circumstances. They were left with only one thing to hang onto: the promise of the Messiah.

Just as today we’re waiting for Christ’s return, they too were waiting. All the prophets had talked about it—Isaiah, Micah, Malachi, and many more.

All the hope of Israel was tied to the coming Messiah, a promise they could only wait for. But then Gabriel came with the announcement—Jesus was coming.

Hope meets us where we are. Hope finds us.

I mean, look where it touched down: Nazareth. Remember Nathanael’s question? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46)?

Nazareth was seventy miles away from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a small, rural place known mostly for being the nondescript, disrespected home to fewer than two thousand people. Why would God choose to send the Messiah by way of Nazareth? How could that be?

It’s because God meets us where we are. We don’t have to make our own dreams come true. All we’re told is to be faithful, to do what God has given us to do. Then, even with all the things our heart may look and long for, hope can find us. Like hope found Mary.

Where are you this Christmas? What are your fears? What are the things about which you’re secretly in anguish? What’s causing you to feel . . . hopeless?

Maybe you fear time, not knowing how much longer you can keep doing what you’re doing.

Maybe you fear loss of control, watching something slip out of your hands that you’ve tried to make happen, realizing now that you can’t orchestrate it on your own.

Maybe you fear something that would be irreparable, a series of events that, if the dominoes keep falling, can never be fixed or made right again.

But hope says God can still make things right. God can make amazing things out of ashes and clay. The great unknowns that are troubling you and your family the most right now have not escaped His notice or attention. Unlike us, He sees the future perfectly. So let Him meet you where you are.

Mary was a poor woman from an obscure town who found hope because God found her. He sent word to this faithful betrothed girl, announcing that He had not forgotten His promises.

God pursues us.

He comes after us.

Hope finds us.

Blessings,

Rob Dunbar, Chaplain, Maj, TN ANG

A Promise in the Pain

When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted. – Psalm 138:3

About five seconds outside the womb I think we all discover that this life isn’t easy. And it seems that the older we get the tougher it becomes. Some people have problems or are attracted to difficulties like fleas to a dog. Others make it through life with relatively little difficulty.

But most likely, you’ll face some tough times in life, and it’s not important how your challenges stack up to the challenges of others. Sometimes you might wonder if you are going to be able to make it through, and you will if you hold onto God. He’s promised to see you through.

Are you weighed down? Do you feel overcome with grief or alone in your struggle?

You can choose to take steps to walk through your challenges and come through them a stronger person.

Remember, believing in God and in Jesus Christ doesn’t mean you won’t have problems. But it does mean you have resources, people, and God’s Spirit who will see you through your problems. What could be better?

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. – William A. Ward

Blessings,

Ch. Dunbar

Lonely Souls

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. – Romans 12:11-12

In his lifetime Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting. Today he’s known for his passion and artistic genius. And he’s remembered as a lonely soul. In a letter to his beloved brother, Theo, Vincent wrote:

‘Our inward thoughts, do they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, and no one ever comes to warm himself at it; the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney and pass on their way. Now, look you, what must be done? Must one tend that inward fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down near it, to stay there maybe?’

What great fire has God impressed upon your soul? Do passers-by see more than just a little bit of smoke? Are you tending the fire?

Van Gogh expressed his passion in his art. Look for the best expression of your passion that will honor and glorify God.

The passions are the winds that fill the ship’s sails. Sometimes they submerge the ship, but without them, the ship could not sail.- Voltaire

Blessings,

Chaplain Dunbar

Rob Dunbar, Chaplain, Maj, TN ANG

Persevering Amidst Hardship

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. – Romans 5:3-5

In 1741 George Frederic Handel wrote Messiah, one of the finest and most inspiring musical scores ever composed. In the time leading up to his greatest accomplishment, Handel’s health and fortunes had reached a low ebb. A stroke had left the right side of his body paralyzed: and he worked under the threat of imprisonment on account of crushing financial debt.

I can’t help but wonder whether Handel would’ve chosen the tenuous life of a composer had he known ahead of time the suffering he’d endure. If not, the world would’ve missed the blessing of this timeless and beautiful composition of praise.

Like Handel, we don’t know what our future holds. But we can be confident that God does, and that He uses every hardship to mold our character and accomplish a plan that remains perfect despite our inability to comprehend it. I pray that today you persevere in that certain hope. And you find trust that you are always in God’s hands.

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. – John Quincy Adams

Rob Dunbar, Chaplain, Maj, TN ANG

Check Your Attitude

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18, esv).

The world is a cold place, and life on this earth can lend itself naturally to miserable attitudes. There will always be enough injustice and irritation to keep us in the wilderness if we choose to murmur, complain, criticize, covet, doubt, and rebel.

“The very same circumstance in life can feel like the Promised Land or the wilderness—depending on your attitude.”

On the flip side, though, life also offers plenty of people and situations to generate thankfulness, love, faith, submission, and contentment—attitudes that cause life to flow with the “milk and honey” of God’s blessing and abiding presence. The choice is truly ours.

Of course, some of our choices are limited. At different times, we reach forks in the road of life where we cannot control much. Sometimes we can’t control where we work, where we live, who the authorities in our lives are, and how they treat us. The only thing we can control is our attitude.

You choose your attitude. Sometimes it is the only thing you can choose—and it dwarfs your circumstances. The very same circumstance in life can feel like the Promised Land or the wilderness—depending on your perspective.

God’s Word teaches us some clear truths about the power of our attitudes.

First, the attitude reveals the true person. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,” Jesus said (Matthew 15:18a). Your attitude reveals who you truly are. You can get your external behavior in order but still be a mess inside. God isn’t interested in soldiers that just look the part; He wants His followers to be the part, for real. When God looks at you, He sees through to your heart, because that’s where the true person resides. His goal is not a makeover but real heart transformation—changed attitudes.

Second, the attitude predicts the future. “For as [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, nkjv). Attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time. You can’t think in critical, negative, faultfinding, complaining ways without becoming that person. In spiritual terms, you are what you think! God is fired up about this, because how you think foretells who you become.

Third, the attitude is primarily vertical. Most sin has a horizontal dimension. Stealing and lying, for example, affect personal relationships, though those choices are against God as well. But attitudes are clearly vertical—implicit accusations against and rejections of God and His provision. God considers our attitudes to be directed at Him, which is why He takes them so seriously.

So what are you choosing? Are you following your feelings or deferring to a default attitude based on your circumstances? Negative, critical attitudes make life feel like a wilderness—desolate, dry, barren, hard, and joyless. In contrast, positive, grateful, God-honoring attitudes make life feel like the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. The choice is yours. Check your attitude.

Prayer
Lord, forgive me for what often comes out of my mouth, flowing from ingratitude and selfishness in my heart. Please forgive me for the rebellion against You that is ultimately revealed by these murmuring, complaining, faultfinding attitudes. Father, You have given me new life. I pray that You would fill me with Your Holy Spirit, and empower me to see the choices before me through Your eyes. Thank You for saving me, giving me breath, and guarding my steps. Thank You for Your provision, for new mercies every morning, and for the love You continually lavish on my life. Help me to never stop thanking You, and grant that my attitudes would increasingly shine with Your goodness and grace. In Jesus’ matchless name I pray, amen.

Rob Dunbar, Chaplain, Maj, TN ANG

Apocalyptic Partners?

“Hurry up and wait.” This is an expression often associated with troops waiting in drudgery, boredom, and routine until suddenly they are called to action, to the fury of battle. The texts of Isaiah and Mark warn of the coming Day of the Lord filled with awe and destruction, apocalyptic world changing events. We are called to wait. But called to be alert in the waiting. Advent as alertness!

Paul in 1st Corinthians 1:3-9 also speaks of the End and revealing of our Lord Jesus but in that time of waiting Paul says we “have all we need, e.g. wisdom, knowledge and spiritual gifts.” And he tops off all this encouragement by saying we are in a “partnership” (CEB) with Jesus (!). That says a lot about how our Lord sees us: if not equals we are still valued as partners working together. Imagine going into the office or whatever workplace and there is a fellow partner… Jesus! Certainly THE Senior partner but nonetheless a partner. Maybe that’s why we often refer to one another in church as a “prayer partner.” We are in this together. We’ve “got each other’s back!” We “saddle up together” and ride toward the horizon, the future, the Sunset.

Pick your favorite image! The point is we go together with each other and with Jesus. Perfect “partnership” casts out fear, if I can paraphrase I John 4:18. Partner up with the best!

Blessings on this First Sunday in Advent!

Pastor Barry

In All Things Give Thanks

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

With the thanksgiving holiday in the rearview mirror and Christmas stress on the horizon, I wanted to pause once again to remind you that what we celebrated on thanksgiving can last all year.

Sometimes, in the rush of everyday living, we simply don’t stop long enough to pause and thank our Creator for the countless blessings He has bestowed upon us.

When we slow down and express our gratitude to the One who made us, we enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us. Thanksgiving should become a habit, a regular part of our daily routines. God has blessed us beyond measure, and we owe Him everything, including our eternal praise.

As Christians, we are called to give thanks in all the things. Not just the good things, not just some things but ALL things. Are you a thankful person? Do you appreciate the gifts that God has given you? And, do you demonstrate your gratitude by being a faithful steward of the gifts and talents that you have received from your Creator? You most certainly should be thankful. After all, when you stop to think about it, God has given you more blessings than you can count. So the question of the day is this: will you thank your Heavenly Father . . . or will you spend your time and energy doing other things?

I hope you will join me today in giving thanks to God for all that we have. No matter what we must go through today, we are blessed!

We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world along with the hope of our eternal country. – C. S. Lewis

Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. – Thomas Merton

It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thanksgiving with the mouth stirs up thankfulness in the heart. – John Piper

Blessings,

Chaplain Dunbar

Water for the Thirsty Soul

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water” (John 4:7–11, esv)?

For anyone who is serious about becoming more like Jesus, this exchange between Him and the woman at the well in Sychar is a conversation to study.

“The Lord wants to draw your focus beyond the immediate to the eternal.”

Jesus’ opening line, “Give me a drink,” may read rather abruptly, but the woman’s reply reveals that His tone was a genuine request rather than an order. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

Her response could have been taken by Jesus as a personal affront. But He was not put off. When she asked, in effect, “Why are You talking to me?” His answer took the conversation to a whole new level: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus was basically saying, “You hesitate to give Me water I deserve; but I am not going to hesitate to give you living water you don’t deserve.” What an awesome way of expressing what He might also say to each of us: “You hold back your life from Me, when I am freely offering you eternal life.”

The Samaritan woman didn’t have this insight—she did not realize what He was telling her. She lacked the knowledge of two things: the gift of God and the identity of the One with whom she spoke. Her focus was on the impossibility of drawing water from a deep well without a bucket. She revealed she was stuck in the physical realm. Jesus wanted to give her a spiritual reality, but she couldn’t think beyond her immediate circumstances.

How often have we been stuck on what’s going on around us when the Lord is trying to take us into a spiritual reality? How often do we limit God to the ways and means we can see rather than remembering who He is? It’s so easy to have our attention focused on earth and glance at heaven, instead of fixing our eyes on the final prize and leaving the world to our peripheral vision. This woman shows us how we often miss the spiritual point.

How often do you do the same thing? How carefully are you listening and watching for God’s efforts to speak into your life? You’re in the middle of a busy, hectic day, going a thousand miles an hour—and God is trying to get your attention, trying to take you to the mat with the full weight of who He is.

God has something better for you. He wants to draw your focus beyond the immediate and obvious to the eternal and less-than-apparent. If your soul is thirsty, if you’re not hearing from the Lord or seeing Him at work, but you want to, maybe it’s time to slow down and pay attention.

Pray
Heavenly Father, I want my eyes to be more open and my heart more tuned to hear Your voice. Help me listen for Your true and eternal Word among the lies and distractions that surround me. Keep me aware that the life You have for me goes beyond my physical senses, and You invite me to fix my mind on things in heaven, not on things on earth. Thank You for drawing me into Your presence. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Rob Dunbar, Chaplain, Maj, TN ANG

A Confession

I have a confession to make. The person you know as Travis Perry, isn’t the same person who was born a very long time ago. That Travis was a very insecure, shy individual with an inferiority complex who could easily be a loner. Now, what you see is evidence of the power of God to change an individual. Romans 12:2 “Let God transform you into a new person” (New Living Translation).

The Lord can take a person with a mixed-up childhood (I attended six different elementary schools, living in public housing as a teen without any real mentor or guidance) and allow him to become an ordained minister. At times, it’s even hard for me believe it happened. I know I would never have been able to do it on my own.

When I was a child, they didn’t have all the designations for troubled children, like ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). If they had, I’m sure I would have been included. I remember one time when a childhood disease was going around and I didn’t catch it. My Grandfather Blankenship said I never stopped long enough to catch anything. Even today, it is difficult for me to be completely still. Some part of me is always moving. I even like chairs that move.

I was in the second of those six elementary schools for nearly three school years, so if you do the math, I was averaging two schools per academic year. Childhood asthma keep me excused from physical education classes, so I missed out on activities that would connect me to other boys. While living in public housing as a teen, I attended the second wealthiest high school in San Diego. I never felt like I fit in.

I was never a good student, and received no academic honors. I was never taught phonics so spelling is a struggle, as is pronouncing long words. I sometime wonder how I was able to obtain a degree in Industrial Management from San Diego State University. I entered to become an engineer, but math changed it to management. I never finished seminary, thanks to Greek and Hebrew.

Even today, it still hard for me to make friends. I’ve traveled around the world, but some days never spoke to another person other than someone I had to. They say that one of most people’s greatest fears is public speaking. Not me. I’d rather be in front of a group than one-on-one. Small talk is not my thing. I still prefer working with groups. I never tried to learn a second language; I’m still trying to learn English.

The Lord obviously has a sense of humor. Why else would He have lead me into people businesses? I cannot believe I have been able to accomplish everything I have been able to do. That’s why I want to give all that glory to Christ who changed me and adopted me into His family. I am a new person.

Bro. Travis