Empulse #12 A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart

kermit_the_frogSarah had come to faith in Christ during  college. After two years in the campus group she showed up in our home out of frustration. She was visibly distraught. Her Christian staff worker had told her she “just needed to trust Jesus.” “That,” she said, “just was too simplistic.” She was aggravated, angry, and very near the detonation point. As we sat that evening in front of our wood stove she collected herself to tell my wife and me a story we could hardly believe.

            Sarah[i] had grown up in a proper family in a rural area in New York; mother, father, two sisters and one brother, older. On the surface everything appeared to be status quo. But just below the surface lay insidious evil. Sarah’s older brother had been raping her every day of her life since she was eleven years old. One of her sisters found her in tears one day after one of her brother’s assaults. In the process of trying to shield her brother, Sarah’s sister Jennifer[ii] guessed what had been going on and told Sarah that she, too, was also being raped by their brother every day. When they confronted their brother he threatened to commit suicide. Sarah and Jennifer told Bob[iii] that he had to tell their parents within the week or they were going to the police.

            The two sisters were resolute in their determination and insisted that Bob follow through and tell their parents what he had done to them. Instead, to their shock, Bob committed suicide. He left a suicide note for his parents blaming Sarah for everything (leaving out any mention of Jennifer).  Sarah began to sob, scream, curse, and go completely out of control as she told us that her parents believed what her brother had written in his farewell letter. They told her that she would just have to admit her complicity in the ongoing, five year “affair” she had had with her older brother. After Bob’s funeral, Sarah’s and Jennifer’s older sister told them that she too had been raped by him, repeatedly; but they did not want to speak about it, ever again.

            It was now close to midnight. Starr and I were having trouble staying awake. As I put another log in the wood stove, Sarah cried, “How can I ever ‘just trust in Jesus!?!’ He suffered and died for my sins once and for all…, and it was done with. I died every day of my life for seven years. He has no idea what I went through.”

            Sarah’s story is not the only one of its kind. In my role as a counselor I have heard similar stories more times than I would have imagined.  There is truly a lot of pain out there. Not that the pain in our era is any greater or more severe than at any time. Each epoch inflicts its own form of tribulation and torture on its populace. Wars, genocides, rapes, wholesale slaughter of entire peoples and other gruesome agonies have found their way into our history books.  They remain glibly reported events of a distant past. But for those who lived through them, who suffered through assault, or war, or witnessed genocide, the actuality was excruciatingly devastating and left lifelong scars. Life was lost to an evil enemy from whom there was no escape; there seemed no end to suffering. But people always held out hope— hope of rescue, hope of survival, hope in their God. Hope that, in the end, things could be worked out.

Until now.

As we have shifted into this postChristian era any spiritual basis for hope has been totally obliterated.  It has been supplanted by forms of pragmatism, hedonism, self-absorbed isolationism, or a simple denial of the harshness of personal and global tragedy.  People are also disappointed in a god who is not there. Hope has become a contrived notion of a cynical society, held out like a carrot on a stick. Hope in a god, any god, is perceived as a naïve pretense couched in the spiritual jargon of religion.  Empty words.

So how can the message of hope that is offered by Jesus Christ be heard, understood, and believed in such a truth-weary & broken culture?

This is the question that we will now seek to answer. And the answer will cross many lines of safety, many given definers of the gospel and how to present the truth claims of the faith.

            On a personal note, this part of the series is not easy for me to write. I know Sarah, and others like her, who have sought hope in the Christian gospel and Christian community, and found only glib patronages.

Offering hope, in a deforested war zone.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart: part 2

[i] Not her real name.

[ii] Not her real name either.

[iii] Not his real name.

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Getting from Here to There: what to do, what to do? #1

 wandiligong_mazeIn many ways this EMPulse is what you’re really looking for in this series.  For those interested in the shift from a Modern worldview to a postModern/postChristian worldview you are well aware that we have analyzed this shift to death. Between George Barna and George Gallup we have compiled enough statistics to fill a barn. But understanding is not the issue. It’s what to DO about the shift that is the real issue. That is what this section will address. What follows are some simple things you can do to change, adjust, adapt, cope, whatever— first, on an individual level, and then, [Part 2] corporately as a Body of Christ. On the one hand, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and on the other hand, we have entered into a new phase in history. An entire generation has been born in the West with no Christian history, no Christian memory or experience whatsoever. Any semblance of “Western Christian culture” is fading into oblivion as a forgotten archeological relic. Let’s begin… .

 Paradigm Pioneers Get Shot First: ~don’t be too quick to sign up!

            First, a warning! You need to understand that as someone who is concerned, frustrated, or even angry at Christianity’s seeming inabilities to adjust to a new set of cultural rules, you will not be a popular person, especially with the powers that be. True Christian leadership within this postModern mentality is what is desperately needed. We’ve all seen those SUCCESS sections in Flight magazines—  you know, the ones with motivational posters to put up in your office. [You can find another series at the website www.despair.com that offers a truly different slant on motivational posters.] The one I find most germane to being a paradigm pioneer depicts an eye-level bright green lawn, with one blade of grass standing taller than all the rest. The caption reads— Remember…, it’s the tallest blade of grass that gets cut first. Get the picture? Ask yourself— “Are you more interested in a position of authority, where you are respected within the Christian matrix, or are you convinced that you want to lead the way in reshaping our faith in this emerging postmodern/postChristian world?”

If you find yourself in the latter position, then you must adjust your self-perception to a new reality— YOU are a target. To be sure, ALL Christians are targets…, it’s just that some are more selected targets than others; they are the tallest blades of grass. If you are sure, then rest assured you will take the first shots. The sad thing is that the shot is more likely to come from the back— not from enemy lines. Christians across North America have long valued their own comfort and safety over frontline battle. If you do find any comrades-in-arms you will probably find them on the fringes of faith. Outfielders, without whom the ball game would be lost.

            But every new wave of the Spirit of God always starts with committed, called, set-apart men and women of vision, courage, and risk. In short, any changes or ideas to be implemented in the Christian community must be initiated by people like you. It’s up to you. Are you up for it? If so, you will not find yourself alone, but you will find yourself scarce. Such are the postmodern/postchristian prophets—  you, a Christian paradigm-pioneer. You will be the first to take the shot. If this sounds like fun to you, keep reading.

            Another preemptive move must be addressed before we tackle the practical stuff. Your spiritual health and your spiritual perception are the primary armor you will need to do battle in a postChristian context. Do not even attempt to pioneer anything without a firm grounding in personal cleanness and righteousness before the Lord God. Leadership in postChristian times is always a matter of sticking your neck out. This has been true throughout the history of the church. So…, let’s go.

  1. Express your faith through life experiences. Realign your faith to balance experiencing God with understanding God. Western Christianity in the Modern era has swung the pendulum of understanding to the extreme. Faith is about belief and theology more than it was about life. But faith is really more akin to trust and risk than it is related to understanding. Remember, TRUTH is first personal, in the person of Jesus Christ; then propositional, explaining the life of faith. Like Jesus, we need to learn to think of our faith as stories, metaphors, and experiences ofah-ha! Faith is a journey, not an outline. Make sure your beliefs are in line with the teachings of Scripture; then spend more time in solitude, in prayer, and immersed in a world that doesn’t have a clue.
  2. Learn to speak the language of YOUR culture. Every subculture has its own language pattern. Football has its nickel defense, fullbacks and wishbones; computer geeks talk about Clouds, TCPIPs, i9s, i10s, and now interdependent devices. We Christians have our pre-mills, post-tribs, and supralapsarians. Notwithstanding, we need to learn the nuances and innuendos in the language of our surrounding culture. We need to learn to express our faith in a language pattern that they can understand.  They may not agree with it, but we need to express it so they can comprehend it. Remember too, that Christian expressions of faith are generationally delimited with little crossover to younger generations. Ask your Christian teen to translate “the Lordship of Christ” into their generational mindset. You’ll see.
  3. Let go of your sin. The greatest roadblock to Christians living out our faith is our own sinfulness. Until Christ comes back our sin will be ever with us. On one hand we are forgiven through the work of Christ; on the other hand, we still find ourselves wallowing in the guilt of confessed, even forgiven sin. This is in no way a healthy dilemma. We need a genuine trust in Christ, sins forgiven, new beginning in progress, a done deal! Then we need to get on with life as if our sins are actually forgiven. The reality is they actually ARE!
  4. Learn to love. If letting go of sin frees the Christian for living in a postChristian era as if those sins were actually forgiven, then learning to love makes that life come alive. This may sound quite simple for virtually any Christian, but it is not. All of us have become more cautious and guarded in our love lives; so much so, that we generally withhold love because it’s simply safer that way. And so the greatest of Christian virtues becomes our greatest matter of concern and risk. But isn’t that what the Christian life is about anyway? Risk! I cannot imagine any other model for Christ’s love for the world than for it to be exhibited through us. Because love is a definitive corollary of safety. More than anything else, postChristians crave safety— safe places, safe people, safe activities.
  5. Lose the intensity [you don’t need to win]. A lot of western Christianity in the modern era has become pretty intense. Intense about theology, intense about denominationalism, intense about appearances, intense about proper relationships, etc. People who aren’t Christians see it and conclude that Christianity isn’t for them— too intense, too judgmental, and too narrow. We Christians seem to feel safest when we have as much as possible nailed down, quantifiable and definable. I wonder if God intended us to spend more effort defining our faith than in living it out among those who truly need to see Him in us? We don’t need to win. He has.
  6. Don’t do everything, give God some room to work. If any attribute characterizes everybody in these early years of the twenty-first century it is busyness. Most of us are over-worked, over-booked, over-committed, out-of-time, frantic fanatics about squeezing as much into life each. You are probably reading this EMPulse as you fall asleep. And, you are t-i-r-e-d! One foot in front of the other… .

   Or, is there another way? Try not doing so much. Breathe more. Slow down, cut some commitments (even for your kids), and take a hike. Throughout all life there are growth-plateaus where our bodies and minds must come to rest.  Are you moving so fast that you must slow down to even hear God? Please, for Jesus’ sake, STOP! Let your spirit catch up to your body. Pressurized postmoderns need to see that kind of tranquility, that kind of s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s, and that kind of trust in our God.

  1. Open a conduit to Christ—  keep it open. This sounds so simple, yet, in a compartmentalized society we tend to pigeonhole even our relationship with God. We go to church, rather than being the church. We have times of prayer, but then manage our life as if God has little to do with it.  Instead, let me propose to you that we learn to pray without ceasing, in a sense. Our Lord is always ON, always THERE. Why not merely shift the direction of your conversation from horizontal, with whomever, to triangular, with whomever, and with God? This pre-positioning of God in our midst makes much more sense than getting ready to come into His presence. I admit that coming into His presence is nothing to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, we are, in actuality, never out of His presence. Ever!

I actually wonder if God didn’t create prayer solely for our benefit, for our sense of connection, communication, and closeness to Him?

NEXT TIME~ Reinventing Church:  

 Gary

BEING a CHRISTIAN in a NEW ERA— it’s a generational thing. Part 1

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“We must become what we seek to create.”— Mohandas Karamchang Ghandi

(Oct 2, 1869 – Jan. 30, 1948  —assassinated on his way to evening prayers.)

     The fact of the matter is that people are different now. Young people find it difficult to relate to the church’s way of doing things. When family structures and society were more stable people did come to church to find answers, to find community, to worship God in a traditional manner. But the breakdown of our society, the dissolution of so many marriages, the Iraq wars, renewed racial conflicts, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and our present political conundrum, have all contributed to the fragmentation of society and isolation of the generations. We have ceased to learn from the older and wiser; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE (their children) does, in fact, dominate our world.

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[i] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented networked reality. They find generational separation. They find “lecture style” instruction. This is NOT true of every church; but it is true of far too many.

But fear not! Facebook has now has 2.3 billion subscribers, bringing us all back together…, maybe, sorta.  In recent years, more of the Silent Generation is flocking to Facebook to see their grandchildren. So their kids are fleeing for their lives to Instagram and Snapchat. If the Church could do anything to correct this generational drift, it should re-kindle intergenerational relationships; not online, but face to face.

Two American sociologists, Neil Howe and William Strauss, have categorized our generational differences in ways that might also be helpful in our understanding of those differences and in the efforts to bridge the gaps between us… and them. Check out MILLENNIALS RISING: the next great generation, (Randon House; New York, 2000). In essence, generational characteristics must be taken into account when any presentation of the Christian faith is expressed. If they are not considered, both our communication of the faith and its comprehension levels drop into the abyss of vacuity.

The Question for us becomes— How will I express my Christian faith in a way that is appropriate to my culture, to my generation, yet sensitive to other forms of expression, as well as to the world at-large?  In the church context—  how should my worship honor God in the Body of Christ?

Between early 2005 and 2015 NEEDinc conducted a series of interviews with genuine Christians across North America [“Genuine” being defined as a faith whose principles influenced at least 75% of their daily activities]. Each interviewee was drawn from a different generational grouping; each expressed answers to the interview questions in a manner with which they were comfortable.

What we learned from the interviews surprised us a little.

  1. Some saw church as central to their Christian worship while others did not. A common frustration and disappointment in the state of the church crossed all generational lines.
  2. Though all were genuine believers and held a rich faith in Christ, they expressed that faith through worship, music, and societal involvement in different ways and to different extents. This observation followed generational lines and complied with their peer group expressions.
  3. Though younger generations held a respect for their elder’s expressions of faith, it was not reciprocated. Older believers knew little about the formats and subtleties of twenty-somethingexpressions of faith. They judged the younger generation’s faith too emotion-based, too relational, and not grounded enough in a Biblical, comprehensive worldview.
  4. Everyone was willing to consider the other person’s faith expression…, in theory. In practice, well, that didn’t work out so well. “Getting together” at all was the first hurdle to overcome.
  5. ALL considered themselves in process; that is, they understood they were each at different places in their spiritual journey and had much growing yet to come.

Reflection

How would you respond to these five observations? How would you imagine older/younger Christians responding? What commonalities have you observed between different generations of Christians? What issues do you believe still exist between diverse generations? What passions might they share in common? How might different generations of genuine Christians teach each other about their own individual expressions of faith?

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era—  Part 2

Gary

[i] I am well aware that to employ the phrase “churches generally,” is impossible. What is at stake here is the general reaction of unchurched youth to traditional Christian worship, whether or not they employ more contemporary worship music.

[Note— If you can find a copy of James O. Gollub’s THE DECADE MATRIX: why the decade you were born into made you what you are today (Addison Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1991), currently out of print, you will learn that the title just about says it all.]

 

OF PASSION & PROPOSITIONS: growing a non-balanced faith

6874balance_scale     When I was in the final stages of producing my doctoral dissertation I ate out a lot. Escapism, most likely. During one such luncheon at Panda East, a Chinese restaurant in Amherst, MA, I opened a fortune cookie which read— Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without passion. I thought of some of the great names throughout history for whom this proverb has proven true— Hammurabi, Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan— all were driven by passion and tenacity to accomplish something beyond themselves.

     Yet, the church in North America seems driven by balance— balance in life, in our families, in faith, in our behavior— moderation in all things, no rocking the boat. Straight-forward, rational explanations of life should suffice to renew the mind and focus our resolve. It is almost as if being out of balance, or slightly extreme in any way, is viewed as the real threat to the church and to the stability of our individual faith.

     But if Truth is primarily personal (though certainly not exclusively), found in the Person of Jesus Christ, there are some very critical implications for us that impact our Christian lives, balanced or otherwise, and how we exhibit our faith to others. This will probably flip me from the frying pan into the fire, but it is time we examined belief and emotion in light of Scripture. After a great deal of scrutiny, I must admit that I do not find a lot of only believe-ism in the Bible.

     In many churches across America, there are large banners running across the front or the back of the sanctuary— TO KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN. Now hear me out on this one. I find no fault with this banner. But I do find it curious that it seems to be all about the knowing. It is assumed that everything else will flow out of that, even the “making him known” part. There are many churches that excel in fulfilling the first part: teaching their members to know a great deal about their faith.  But I find very few exerting much effort in training their members to fulfill the second part: making Him known (to those outside the church). Most sorrowfully, our interface with those outside the church has become solely an effort to pass on the information about Christ, rather than any genuine immersion in the lives of normal people.

     Why is this? I fear it might be due to our fear of the outside, or, much worse, a simple desire to remain in control. If we learn anything in our walks of faith it must be that God is in control…, not us. I’ve often wondered if the failure of our evangelical culture in the West to be part of our culture is that we fear being out of control.

     We need to learn to grow a nonbalanced faith: one where God is in control, where we don’t have all the answers, in which our passion for people, and for our Lord, takes over our whole being. For reference, I point you to an account of the revival of religion in Northampton in 1740-1742 as was reported in “The State of Religion at Northampton in the County of Hampshire, About 100 Miles Westward of Boston.” The letter was published in The Christian History, January 14, 21, and 28, 1743, written by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, [ http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/jeaccnt.htm ].

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era:  it’s a generational thing.

Balancing my faith on one foot…, now the other one; whoops,

  Gary

Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

From the Archives

Small_USPS_TruckFrom March 1998

Personal encounters with an obvious Work of God.
An obvious work of God-something that seems kind of rare; you don’t experience it everyday. So it’s nice to relate one such encounter for your reflection.
She was a postal worker; someone who had taken our packages and letters (like NEEDnews) and mailed them out for us over the past 10+ years. In many people’s eyes, someone just to glass over and get on with your life. But God had arranged a divine encounter, as it were.
My executive  assistant, was mailing out some correspondence for me last week when Anne noticed the NEED letterhead on the envelopes, “oh, you must work for Gary. Could you have him call me; there’s something I need to talk over with him.”
So Anne and I met at The Pub for some munchies. “I’ll be direct. I need to find a spiritual path for my life and I have no idea how to find one. You are one of the few spiritual people I know who will shoot straight with me. Where do I look?”
Anne went on to tell me of the personal unhappiness she carried with her, even with “the best husband in the world.” She talked about the 2-3 years of counseling she had just completed when her therapist told her “I don’t know what else to do for you.” She talked about her dreams and the weight of feeling unfulfilled as she approached 50. Then she said, “How would you guide me in the quest for a spiritual path?”
It was obvious that the Lord was drawing her to himself. It was his Spirit at work in her. I was just the guest at the party, the interpreter, the navigator.
So I told her of how Christ came to reestablish a connection between us and our creator. I told her that our ancestors rejection of God’s perimeters for our protection (that’s sin for most of us) had broken our relationship with God and badly damaged our human relationships.
“What you need, Anne is to be reconnected with the God who made you and loves you.”
“But that’s a big step, Gary, and I’m not a risk taker.”
“Anything in life worth going for is a risk, Anne.”
“I know. That’s why I need your help.”
“Well, okay. But really need to talk to God himself. He’s a lot more help than I’ll ever be.”
We just gave her the Guide Book, a Bible.
Gary

Learning to Love…Again

dr gary davis, love, hurt, relationships, clueless, christian, learning to love again

    “It hurts like hell; and then, one day, it doesn’t.”

-Ari Eastman’s mother.

From I PROMISED YOU

I WOULDN’T WRITE THIS.

 

Learning to love again takes everything you’ve got. You have to relearn trust, transparency, touch, and to risk speaking truth. You have to remember love is more giving than taking; that people are not perfect; that flaws and faults always come with the territory.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” [1 Corinthians 13:11. NKJV]

Learning to love again is a matter of maturity, fortitude, and determination. It does not “just happen.” It is a decision based on ongoing healing and forming new relationships. It is time to take a chance with new experiences that confirm trustworthiness. It is involves making a commitment to dropping your protective shields and allowing another to know you more fully. It is an adult thing to do. Children simply get mad or sullen, but only for a time. Some adults I have known never move beyond. They wallow in hurt, spite, and revenge. They never forgive, or forget. Somehow, they fester vile to feed their anger; what they do not realize is that this venom is slowly poisoning them from within, like a cancer. Let it go!

To overcome your fear and bitterness, your isolation, you will need to awaken these 4 qualities—

  • Trust (risk). We live in community, not separation.
  • Faith. More likely than not relying on God is a much better idea than stubborn independence.
  • Heart. Activating your passions, your emotions, and fear are worth the risk. Learn to feel again.
  • Commitment. Make a decision to commit is stepping out of your comfort zone. You will have to do it sooner or later. To NOT decide, to NOT commit is a decision to die.

Failure to embrace these 4 qualities will leave you in emotional and relational limbo, encased in the darkness of your soul. It will take work to emerge from your cocoon a new butterfly rather than rotting within a decaying caterpillar shell.

Learning to love again will take real effort on your part. Do not love simply as a response to someone else’s love for you. Initiate love from within. Sponges in the ocean have little more function than to suck up the impurities around them. You are not a sponge.

Again, love is a give and take, not the other way around. You must be proactive, not passive.

This concludes our series Learning to love, maybe again or for the first time. Where would like us to go next?

Awaiting with baited breath,

Gary