Advent – Candle of Faith

The Second Candle in Advent represents FAITH. So few people have faith in anything these days. Faith in government is shot, faith in marriage vows has all but vanished, faith in a God who has our best interests at heart has failed all over the globe. We have truly descended to become a faithless generation.

Well, except for faith in money. We truly believe that money, lots of it, more of it, will save us. At one of the URBANA Mission Conferences I recall Rev. John R.W. Stott, then chaplain to the Queen, recounted a story of officiating at the funeral of a wealthy English Lord. A friend of his, a Dowager, leaned into him to ask, Vicar, how much did he leave? Rev. Dr. Stott wisely responded My Ladyship, he left it all!

Faith in money is foolish.

  In my cancer treatments, I am putting a lot of faith in my doctors. [I think I have four at present.] I am out of my element when it comes to radiation therapy. I have little choice but to put my faith in their training and treatment plan.

  It is much like that with Christian faith. There is little we can do to save ourselves. That was left to the Son of God as He poured out His life on a Roman cross. People often ask me if I am assured of my salvation. My response is that I do not have to be…, that rests in my Father’s hands. For the most part I enjoy being a Christian and living by the principles and precepts Jesus has laid out for us in Scripture. But then there are times when living the Christian life becomes quite difficult, especially inside the Christian community. Other believers can be so unforgiving and judgmental at times.

  So faith, our faith, needs the context of personal trial and error, where it has been tried and tested and proven under fire. Personally, I wish it were not so, but it is.  “   for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” [James 1:3 ESV] And I’ve never been good at tests.

  Danish Theologian Søren Kierkegaard [1813-1855] proposed that faith is like throwing yourself back into the darkness and finding that there is a God there to catch you. Well, I’m not so sure that is a great definition of faith. We have too much verifiable evidence from historical accounts and subjective validation that our faith has been proven over and over again.

  Can faith be explained away by skeptical and “rational” argument? Well, yes. But not without prejudice. Can the miracles of our faith be challenged? Of course. But they are not so easily dismissed. Too many eye-witnesses.

  Can the internal validation of faith be brought into question? Absolutely! But you would be hard pressed to argue with millions and millions of Christ-followers spanning 2,000 years of history that they were WRONG.

  So when you question your faith, or have doubts, remember the myriads of believers who went before you. They were beaten, tortured, burned alive, banished from their homes, their communities, judged and exiled from their homes and countries, and, more so in our era, ignored. Yet I have often found in my life that people are hungry for what Starr and I have— an abiding peace in times of uncertainty, a stability they cannot attribute to financial security, and a life-joy that drives them crazy.
  So get an Advent wreath and light ‘er up! Consider where your faith lies.


  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— the Shephard’s Candle— JOY

Advent – Candle of Hope

 Advent Candles & wreaths are meant to draw our thoughts to the coming of the Christ child. Traditionally, they are four candles, representing Hope, Faith, Joy, and Peace. Sometimes a fifth candle is added, the Christ Candle, placed in the center, to commemorate the coming of our Lord Jesus.

      In these COVID19, racially tense, Capital Riots, school shooting and economic inflationary times, not to mention our political oppositionalism, these five candles can draw us apart from the immediate concerns of this world and give us some Godly perspective on everything going on.

      The first candle, the Hope candle is also known as the Prophets candle. Those who prophesied the Coming Christ who would draw all men to His salvation and new life. In these present days there doesn’t seem to be that much hope floating around. Too many people I see are in some level of depression, deep within their own agony with little hope of ever recovering. Others despair over the plagues covering our globe or attacking their own

families. And still others struggle with borderline poverty, broken relationships, sickness, and family deaths. Could it get any worse?!?

      Well, yes…, especially for those who follow Christ. Genuine Christians have always been marginalized and singled out for social and governmental discrimination. Why? Our principles for living go against the powers that be in almost all societies. We can accommodate, blend, acquiesce, concede our place in history to deconstructionism, or live under ideological intimidation; but we can never back off from our commitment and resolution to love and honor Jesus Christ.

      To do so would disavow our faith, bring shame on His works, and deny that we have any hope in these convoluted days.

      So, how do we have hope in these troubling days? Psalm 42 comes to mind first…—

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvationand my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me,    a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock:
 “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
 [ESV]

        Hope is as close as our bended knees.

      MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Faith in Uncertain Times

No Thanks

     It’s been a hard year. Hard to find things for which we’re thankful. Yet here we are— at Thanksgiving 2021.

      In our lives, we’ve both had covid, I have cancer, race relations and government conflagration have never been in such a rage, and our economy isn’t anything to rave about. Except negatively.

      So…, how can anyone be thankful? Here are some of my reflections.

·         Our world is not engaged in any full-scale wars. Praise God!

·         Climate change is finally being addressed (somewhat).

·         The natural beauty of this world still amazes us. [although some snow might be nice.]

·         COVID19 is not devastating the world as the FLU did in 1918-1919.

·         God still surprises us with His unexpected miracles.

·         The US economy is still resilient.

·         Starr & I are mostly healthy. Although afternoon fatigue afflicts both of us.

·         Ministry continues to glorify Christ, with some modification.

·         My 14-year-old Volvo is running in top-notch shape.

      Still, life has gotten a tad strange, hasn’t it? I do not believe we can define the new-normal quite yet. But the old normal is indeed gone.

      So here is my challenge to all of us. We are the ones to define the new normal under the principles that Jesus Christ has given us. Honor God, honor people, make a difference. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” [~James 1:27 ESV]  “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  [Colossians 3:17 ESV] 

      Are these things hard to do in times such as these? Yes! Remember the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf in Lord of the rings?  “I wish it need not have happened in my time, said Frodo. So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us.”

      We all live within the strictures of our times. May we, who hold the name of Jesus dear, rise above the fray and chaos, and offer thanks to God for all He has given us. So, instead of no thanks…—

      Happy Thanksgiving!

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Being Christian at Christmas

The Gospel in Context

      Although we in the West too frequently assume that our Gospel can be summed up neatly in a four-point outline that is not necessarily true for much of the rest of the world. If we are honest with ourselves, four-point gospel outlines are no longer appropriate here either. They assume too much background knowledge on the part of the hearer. It is no longer there.

      It is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi as saying Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Whether he said this or not, the saying has a point. WORDS alone are not the gospel. ACTIONS must proceed, accompany, and follow its explanation.

      More recently, we had The Wordless Book, where the black page represented our sin, the red page pointed to Jesus blood shed for us, the white page depicted our cleansing from sin, purity, and the gold page our reward in heaven. Sounds great if you’re a white evangelical American Christian, right. Great for children.

      But if you are an African black man, the booklet represents something quite different. Black is the color of life. Red is the color of white man’s warfare. Gold is what the war and bloodshed is all about. And White is the color of Death. So much for The Wordless Book as a tool of explaining the gospel.

      The Gospel of Christ is always bounded by at least four qualifiers— the Scriptures, the surrounding culture, the personality of the presenter, and its accompanying acts of kindness and love. If we do not take into consideration ALL of these factors, then our offer of Christ as Lord and Savior will be out of context for those we want to draw to Him.

      Another concern we must take into account is our own heart. Do I love this person? Do I know how to love this person? Sometimes I think that the language of romance is more appropriate to evangelism than any formatted presentation. Is my heart into this stuff? Or is this just another academic practice of the Christian agenda?

      Some years ago, when we were looking for a good definition for evangelism, the phrase to love the hell out of a person rose to the surface— theologically and practically. It just seemed to make sense.

      Missionaries throughout history have been spurred on by their passionate love for a people who they knew very little about; yet, somehow, grew to love them with the sacrificial love of Jesus. Are you there? Or is evangelism still simply about commando-raids into our evil culture?

      I pray that God will break your heart for one, two individuals and you will fall in love with them and want them to have what you have. Not heaven, but heaven here in earth— a tight meaningful relationship with the God who made them— Jesus Christ.

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— working on it

The Gospel for People Who Know Nothing – pt.2

  

What we are facing is the new blank mind of people around the world losing their ability to imaging our gospel. It is not good news to them. It is the memory of European and American oppression. Throughout history Christian aggression and suppression have been the purveyors of our Christian faith.

      In America, the decline of Christian influence can be followed through the founding deists, separatist Puritans, our own Civil War, and two World Wars. Interspliced with seasons of revival meetings and a deeper divide between what we profess and how we live.

      How did we come to this?  

      Scripture speaks of people who have a form of godliness but deny its power. [2 Timothy 3:5] Since the close of the American Revolution (Colonial Revolt) our evolving country has given credence to a deity and its influence over land. But it has been more a matter of lip-service than reliance or acclaim. God is a convenient Deity. To counter this casual reference schools of higher learning were established to teach a more indepth understanding of God and His Word: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, to name a few.

      Overtime, they lost their cutting edge regarding our basic faith. Other “schools of higher learning” also shed their Christian moorings and limited their focus to the sciences, arts, and more practical concerns. It is not yet clear whether our nations colleges and universities will again respect the role and substance that Christianity provided for their foundations. But at this point they are primarily turning out well educated students with sparce knowledge of the Christian faith. A blank-mind. They know little, nothing, of our faith.

      What can be done about this?

      First, let’s admit that Christians have lost the culture wars, at least in America and Europe. Then we need to move on to construct wise courses offered alongside university courses, hopefully for credit, to educate genuine followers of Christ along side of any who want to learn the truth about our faith. Parachurch groups (IVCF, Cru, & Navs, etc.) have made some inroads; but now they are being challenged by antiChristian administrations across this country.

      Next, we need to uPgrade our Sunday schoolsand adult education in churches to address these objections to the claims of Christ. No more sweet bible stories or flannelgraphs about Jesus.

      Finally, and probably not really finally, we should enter into conscious service and love to those around us. Truly caring for their sorrows and hurts. Not as a ploy for the gospel, but as the gospel itself. Our job is to be salt and light, not condemnation, doom & gloom. It is God who will give them life: not us.

      We just need to walk in their midst and be light. Clear representatives of what genuine Christianity is all about.

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— the Gospel in context

The Gospel for People Who Know Nothing – pt.1

     Over the past 50+ years we have witnessed two major shifts in Western society that have yet to achieve total fruition: the death of a belief in any absolute, final truth, and, the emergence of anger as a preferred response to any challenge. Couple these two shifts with a general milieu of indifference to the Christian message as well as a diminishing understanding of what it’s all about and we have a pre-proclivity to toss aside the Christian faith as having anything meaningful to say.

     Houston, we have a problem.

     In western culture the historical context for the Christian message, the gospel, has all but vanished from the public consciousness. And in some cases, even the Church has lost sight of its message, and probably its original purpose as well.

     To put the gospel of Jesus Christ in a postChristian context is to pull Truth out of thin air. “Truth” in a postChristian mindset does not exist. There are multiple truths, held by each individual that works for them individually. To tell them they have a sin problem makes no sense. What is “right from wrong” anyway?

     If they have time to think at all, getting them back to Where did all this stuff come from? is a real trick. More people spend their energies on anger than anything else. If it’s not anger, it’s brokenness. We have a lot of lovin’ to do before most people can wonder about where did all this come from, let alone have a context for our gospel.

     The gospel wasn’t given to tell people they are sinners. That has no context in today’s world. It is given to tell them they have hope. The whole world is not doom & gloom. Nor is it a negative encouragement (?) to simply confess their sin(s). The Christian message for this shattered, scattered, twenty first century is that you can only become all you want to become in life, all that’s good and noble and right, through reconnecting with the God who made you. Once you understand the greatness of God you will know you need to repent for the life you are now living.

     God’s design was for us to enjoy Himself and the world around us. For that to be in place and activated we must re-ignite our vertical relationship with Him.

     In a sense, none of us is fully human without a vertical connection to the God who made us; a vertical relationship that gives our horizontal relationships a completed context. To go through life without a vertical connection to our Creator lessens our humanity. We are NOT all God intended us to be.

      What I’m getting at is that people in our postChristian society have no clue of any of this. They simply think that Christians think we are better than they are and that we think they have a problem.

      If Christ’s message of salvation is to be understood and acted upon we need to present it in such a way that their blinded-blank brains can receive it. With little to no conception of the effects of sin on their standing before God might I suggest that we point them to consider their own lack of fulfillment in life? Their brokenness, their sense of loss, their buried distances from other people, their loneliness in this world.

            Pascal (1623-1662) was right— “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

-This is from page 75 of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées’ (New York; Penguin Books, 1966)

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— the Gospel for people who know nothing. Pt.2.

Jerks-for-Jesus… revisited

     It’s not that they were evil or unkind; they were merely afraid and judgmental, wanting to protect their own faith and that of their families. Any true believer could not have friends who were in the world. This turned our witness in this world into commando raids, followed by a regrouping and a debriefing session back in the safety of a Christian conclave.

     I judged this model of evangelism and condemned it. I was wrong.

      These were simple people in postwar America who wanted to escape the horrors of man’s hatred of man.

      Unfortunately, this pattern dragged into the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s to become a format for the evangelical sector of Christians in our country. Forty years later, it still holds sway over some expressions of our faith.

      Today, in these early decades of the 21st Century, true followers of Jesus cannot be afforded the safety of cocooning within our fortresses of Christian fellowship. Our world has lost any historical understanding of the nature of our faith; and the media seems only interested in reporting the aberrations. And there are many.

      Might I suggest we adopt the example of our Lord Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

      If Jesus could forsake the glory and safety of Heaven and take on the form of common man, can we do any less?!? Our mission is to this world, to those around us, to those He has placed in our path. We do not have to go very far to find the mission our Lord has created for us. But we DO have to come alive to the consciousness that it is there.

      The waitress, the banker, the business associate, the neighbor, the sales-person, the little league coach, the golf partner, the fellow mountain climber risking their life right beside (or below) you, the biker, fellow soldier, the auto repairman, the barber, er, stylist, the insurance agent, the backyard football fanatic, your kids, others peoples’ kids, or even your agnostic angry relative. Really, they’re just not that hard to find.

      All Jesus wants us to do is to make time for them in our over-packed schedules and to love them. It will feel intentional at first; but once you fall in love with the people God has placed in your path, you will never do evangelism again. You will simply be drawn to draw them to your Savior & Lord.

      Oh, yeah, the Jesus model.

Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— the Gospel for people who know nothing. Pt.1.3  

If You’re Going thru Hell… Keep Going.

 Jean Paul Sartre a famous existentialist philosopher [1905-1980], once quipped that Hell… is other people. He was not known for his people skills.

     Winston Churchill, on the other hand, got it right— If you’re going thru Hell… Keep Going.

     Too many of us wallow in our guilt, or pity, or lamentable state until we find the right person, or persons, to drag down with us. I used to comment on someone we know quite well (name withheld) who seemed to live by the axiom Life is a bitch…, then you die. Actually, for this individual, that would have been a step uP.

     It is further said that Misery loves company. Well, no it doesn’t. Who wants to be around a chronically miserable person?!?

     In the Christian Bible we are admonished to Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. [Phillipians 4:4, ESV] There have been times when, if someone had said that to me, I think I would have clocked ‘em. The loss of a parent, a child, someone you love, loss of a job, a tragedy, financial ruin, etc. What you want/need is someone to come alongside you and weep with you, to grieve with you.

     I’ve had such friends— they were/are life to me.

     So IF you’re going through Hell, keep going. But go through it with a friend; someone you love/someone who loves you. Even our Holy Trinity is Three in One. Our God understands the importance of friendship, companionship, a soulmate.

     If you’re trying to make it on your own, you won’t. But if you turn your eyes to God and cry out “God, please help me!” He might answer you through the love and gentleness of a friend.

     Don’t be an island. Our Lord is there to help you get through the tough times. You are worth it. He thinks so. (I think so too.)

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Jerks for Jesus…, revisited.

Finding God: Pulling It All Together

     Everyone’s journey to find God is different. The way you were brought up plays a big role in the process. Life experiences. Tragedies. Disappointments. Even those amazing moments where you could proclaim— ‘I DID IT!’

     But there comes a time in our search for God when it feels like the shoe is on the other foot. When you’ve exhausted all your avenues of find God and the path comes to a WALL.

     In my journey I studied philosophy for 3 years, trying to live by the precepts of each path. I tried to live by the teachings of other religious leaders— Mohammed, Buddha, the Torah, Hari Krishna…, all to great travail. In truth, I knew God wanted me, Jesus, specifically. So I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction; trying to escape the God Who, I learned, sought me.

     I hid in philosophic debate, academic prowess, theater, romantic relationships, and cross-country adventures. The end of my 3½ attempted escape all culminated in a prayer of “I give up. I cannot fight you.” sitting under the alter in an Episcopal church in lower Manhattan. My new life in Christ was inaugurated at about 3:00 a.m. that morning. No one was more surprised than I.

     My fledgling days as a new Christian brought new attitudes and actions into my daily routine. The biggest realization that dawned on my soul was, in all my efforts to find God, God was actually looking for me; boxing me in at every turn to draw me to Himself.

     So in your own search for god/God, don’t be too surprised when you find yourself leaning in a certain direction, on a path you had not previously intended to follow; irrespective of your religious background, cultural heritage, or academic pursuits.

     Pulling it all together, God is not some academic exercise that we postulate and create in our image. He is an amazing entity who resides outside this created realm. It is His to judge, to direct, to condemn, and to salvage. Do you really want to be on the wrong side of history when He comes to take what is His? Do you want to remain on the fence, waiting to see how things go, how things turn out, before His arrival?

     One of the greatest challenges of our time is a fear of commitment. Be it personal relationships, business commitments, or decisive decisions of any kind we hedge our bets. Something better might come along. Might?!? So we never fully commit to anyone, anything. This is not a good idea.

     Our God is a God of promises. He’s not messing with your life to screw you over.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— “When you’re going through hell… .” — Winston  Churchill.

Finding God: Overcoming Chaos

 

When I was studying art history at the Philadelphia Museum of Art one of my favorite paintings was by mid-twentieth century abstractionist Jackson Pollack (1912-1956). It depicts the randomness of oil paint dripped onto unprimed canvas. It is a h-u-g-e painting, covering most of a wall.

     When I first saw it I asked the museum’s curator, How much did we pay for this? I was shocked at the price-tag.

     Granted, I am not a connoisseur of abstract art. But it did reflect the sentiment of the age— CHAOS.

     Having just emerged from the chaos of WWII the world was searching for new definers; we were not who we were. But what were we?

     Historically, in the times following tragedy, people are searching for a new interpretation of the world around them and for some personal understanding of themselves. This was such an era.

     So also is our time.

     Amidst the civil, racial, and political unrest of the past decade the West has been plunged into a time of finding new definers to understand ourselves. For Christians it means discovering new ways of integrating our faith with the rest of our lives, and the world around us. Here are some of my ideas…

1.       STOP! Put your life on pause for a morning. Get away. Take a note-pad. List your observations.

2.       STOP! Spend time listening to God in prayer.

3.       Talk with someone who is NOT a Christian. Ask how they are making sense of it all.

4.       Talk with someone who is a Christian. Get their take on these impending challenges.

5.       Take time to let the Bible read you. I do not suggest a genealogy.

6.       Unless you live on the west coast, take time to breathe the fresh Fall air.

7.       If you are married, have a leisurely meal with your spouse to roll things around.

8.       Pray together for some kind of united front. You’ll need one another a lot more in these days.

     I’ll not beleaguer you with more ideas in the hopes that you will discover better ideas than mine. But do keep in mind, Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. [Proverbs 16:3]

     God is full of surprises. [You know the rest.] Not all is chaos.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Finding God— Pulling it all together pt. 5.