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

      Wondering if I have made a difference over these past 40 years, my mind wandered back to the first days of NEEDinc. Since those New England Evangelism Development, Inc. days began, our ministry has crisscrossed America, spanned the globe, and reconsidered the properties and presentation of what we call “the gospel.”

       We’ve become aware that the “gospel” is so much more than the transmission of a simplistic summary in four sentences. It has as much to do with God making it possible for us to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ as it does with our being forgiven by Him.

       In many senses our lives ARE the gospel.

       In those first days of NEEDinc we ran a tagline of Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together. We haven’t shifted from that original inspiration over these past 40 years.

       What has changed significantly is the culture surrounding our message. When I first became a Christian we were all about spreading the gospel. Then it shifted to immersing ourselves in the culture; learning to “share” the gospel in its various adaptations to the diverse cultures around the world.

       But for us at NEEDinc [now CluelessChristianity.org] it has always been about loving. In the West, Biblical Christianity has become far too cerebral, too theological, and divisive. What if we could all go back and start over with loving? Loving God, first. We’re not too good at that. Everything has to be quantified, analyzed, categorized.

       Loving God isn’t that complicated.

       But I have to raise the question— How do we love God? We think of service first; but does He? Feed My sheep. Of course. Still, what about our heart issues? Are there any feelings, emotions, senses involved in our loving God?

       We have so quantified our Christian faith that there is little room left for simply loving.

       For us, at NEEDinc, this has been an ongoing bugaboo, challenging the cohesiveness of our faith within an angry, broken world. We even created a definition of evangelism based more on the heart, than on mission. Our purpose is to LOVE THE HELL OUT OF PEOPLE. Think about it. This definition is both theologically and socially accurate. But that is a discussion for our next EMPulse— loving people.

       So, I ask you, how are you doing loving God these days?

Honor God, honor people, Make a difference!

Gary

Web: www.cluelessChristianity.org

Letting God Mold You

     “Get your hands off my life!”

     Most of us love to learn. Not all subjects, but we narrow down what we like and don’t like. [Math is something that has always driven me crazy.] We love to be taught by people who care about us and know what they are talking about.

     But I would go so far as to declare that most of us do not like to be told what to do. [Yes, even in the military. Get used to it.] Remember the first time you crossed your parents and found out that your actions had consequences?!?

     Being a Christian isn’t all freedom and forgiveness and we go our merry way. It’s not just about obeying God’s Law either. Think The 10 Commandments and all the other stuff.

     It’s about letting God mold you into what He needs you to be in this present time and in your particular situation. He did not merely draw you to Himself. He created you to fulfill a role in the great scheme of things—  The Great Dance!

     I think our Lord gets quite sad and disappointed when we choose to clutter our time with the little things, the trivial, the sidebars of our lives.

     Being sculpted by God is no simple task. First, He has to mix up our clay a little bit differently, making sure there are no sinister pockets hiding deep within. He has to make sure our clay is of the right consistency and cohesion able to withstand the more severe times of His hands supplanting ours.

     In my own time on the Potter’s Wheel it also seemed that there was a good degree of heat generated. I think the Lord found my substance to be a bit resolute, fighting the shape He was forcing me into. Grrrr. In the end it turned out that the problem was with me. I didn’t want to be shaped into His Image. I was just fine with my own image, thank you. I think most of us are just fine with our own selves, just the way we are.

     For the most part, though, I do not believe our own selves are all that pleasing to the God who wants to shape us to be so much more. Do you think you measure up? Me neither. How can we reject such goodness to settle for just our own stuff?!?

     Most normal people, and too many Christians, don’t like God dictating what they should and should not do. It’s unAmerican! It’s an insult to our discernment and judgement.   What… we don’t know what’s best for us?

In Christ our Lord,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Growing moldy  

Power to Overcome Ourselves

One of our greatest struggles in life is with ourselves. We let our moods, our disappointments, our life-situations defeat us in the most devastating ways.

     Friends or spouses try to help, but we rebuff their efforts. It is almost as if we want to wallow in our sadness, our forlorn isolation, our despair.

     Seriously, what is wrong with us?!?

     Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it. We have lost ourselves and our definers of who we are. Worse, we have never thought about who we are. One foot in front of the other. Do the next thing. One foot in front of the other.

     Most of us have been there. Some of us are still there. We can’t seem to get past square ONE. Sadly, there are some of us who don’t want to face ourselves. Too many regrets, too many failures. “I’ll never overcome myself.” So we get stuck in the vicious currents of our own self-fulfilling prophesies. [Or, we give in and let our depression govern who we are and how we act.]

     “I can’t.” becomes our mantra. How about we go for “I can!”

     Inner fears are the hardest to overcome. Fear of failure, of rejection, fear of not being approved. Nobody sees these, but they are there. Sometimes just below the surface, waiting to crack…, or explode.

     Where can we find the power to overcome these demons?

     You do not have the power within you to defeat this. It is outside you. It comes from the source of your being— the God Creator Jesus Christ.

     May I sugest that you need to do is get %#&! mad at yourself. You were NOT designed to be like this. Do not turn to drugs, drink, or sex; but to a friend who will fortify your resolve and help you get you out of that pit.

     Second, create an activity what you really enjoy and get into it. [Unless it’s bank robbing.] For me, that’s writing books, posts, and articles that challenge people in their lives, or getting up high, above 14,000’.

     Third, get outside your misery. Adopt a new sport, learn to make kielbasa. In my depression when I was in graduate school I learned to play guitar. Surprised myself.

     Finally, find a genuine Christian who knows how to love people. You don’t need judgement, condemnation, or more “helpful” advice. YOU NEED A FRIEND. Hopefully, that person will help you untangle the threads of God woven throughout your life. I still struggle with this battle.

     We were created to be Whole Persons, not whining little creatures who let every attack or rejection plunge us into the spiral to the pit.

Why are you in despair, o my soul?

… and why have you become disturbed within me?

Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him

For the help of His presence.

     Fight Hell and fight like hell! Just so you know, this is still a battle for me.  

In Christ our Lord,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT—  still thinking about it. 

Being a Christian in a postChristian context

If you do not know that we are in a postChristian world, please crawl out from under your rock. Even Pauxatawney Phil crawled out a couple days ago and supposedly saw his shadow, [I, for one, do not believe he could have clawed his way through 3’ of ice hard snow to see anything. Except more snow.]

 First we doubt God exists. Then we question whether Jesus is actually, or fully, God. Then we believe ALL religion is a fabricated fantasy of human. So, what are we left with? We proclaim that we, mankind, are the creator and ruller of all the universe.

 But, seriously, when we remove God, especially a God-Creator, from the equation, what else, beside aliens, is left but…— us?!?

 Very few people have any sense of a need for forgiveness, restoration, new life, or vibrant living. Some, just want to get by. Others, want to stay below the radar. But there are those who strive for success, only to find it somewhat satisfying. They are all, or some, of the finest people in the world. But they are lost within themselves, with no safety hook to give them an anchor.

 How much they need genuine, loving, transparent Christians in their lives is incomprehensible. Jesus said we are the light of the world. If ever there were a time when we who follow our Lord need to come alongside of successful/silent people in this world, it is Now.

 Do we merely need to express our faith in an updated flavor past the 1950s one-size-fits-all? Again, move the Groundhog aside and crawl out of your cave. It’s 2022. NOT 1922, or 1970. How do people hear the Christian message today? And, do you really know what “the Gospel” actually is?!? Tell me. Tell me so a truly clueless postChristian can understand it in their context.

 Better yet, ask a genuine “normal” person what they think Christianity is all about. You will be unpleasantly surprised. FYI, most of us never bother to ask. We just start in with our speil.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Being alone

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

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  

Challenging Challenges: ReShaping our Faith

Some years ago, a man argued with me that drums in worship were of the devil— especially the snare drum. Why? Because they were used in dance halls. It reminded him of women’s bodies shaking.

      Well, we’ve come a long way baby.

      Although the former Pentecostal movements of the 1940s-1960s may have gone too far, the pendulum has now sung the other way where many Christians are turning back to the rich liturgy of the 14th Century.

      Please consider this— that both have gone to the extreme in reformatting their expressions of faith to accommodate the worshiper.

      Over the years and through my travels I have observed that our Christian faith to be aligned to fit the expressions of the host culture.

      Latin American expressions of faith are different from many North American expressions. African expressions differ from Western and Eastern expressions. And Chinese expressions are as diverse as the country is vast.

      So, how do you express your faith, both within the church and out there, among normal people? I pray its’ expression is neither too archaic nor too avant-garde. Our faith should be communicated in the idioms and expressions of our host culture, no matter our geographic location.

      But ALL must have certain common concerns.

1.       A broken heart for the poor and needy.

2.       Proactive in seeing social justice done.

3.       A heart for God; not simply a head.

4.       A deep passion to draw others to the feet of Jesus.

5.       A love of life!

6.       A hunger to immerse ourselves in God’s WORD!

7.       A calling to involve ourselves in this neutral or aggressive pagan world around us.

8.       A deep longing to see God.

9.       Joy in being with God’s people.

10.   A practical prayer life that summons the power of God to intervene.

     However you reshape your faith, make sure these ingredients are contained in its new awakening.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Isolation

Challenging Challenges: Making our Relationships Count

   Ok, Ok…, after you’ve stopped laughing at the photo let’s think about this.

How do we make our relationships count?!?

It’s one of the greatest challenging challenges of our era. Yes, divorce rates have dropped; but that’s only because people aren’t bothering with marriage so much anymore. Or, as one of my friends put it “I done with letting the law dictate my personal relationships.” Long term commitments are predicated on What’s in it for ME?

     As a genuine Christian I want to challenge this present mindset in direct opposition. At a reception after the wedding I heard the father of the bride comment “Everyone knows the words don’t mean anything anymore.” Mind you, this was at the reception, immediately following the wedding service and the exchanging of vows.

     Seriously?!? I was truly offended.

     Let me offer you some of what I’ve learned that makes a relationship count.

1.       Psalm 15 admonishes us to Swear to our own hurt and do not change. (v4). That means keeping our commitments, come hell or highwater. For my part, I’ve done that. You?

2.       Betray no one. It builds a track record of distrust. Not smart. Let your YES be Yes; and your NO be NO. [Matthew 5:37] Remember the KISS Principle?

3.       Immerse yourself in building up other people. It will make a difference in who you become.

4.       Love with all the kindness and compassion you have!

5.       Always forgive first! Especially when you know you’re right. It’s about the relationship, not the argument.

6.       Invest in things that matter. Not so much gifts, though they can be super nice. Rather, experiences that build up others.

7.       When our kids were growing up we would always tell them, “If you assume the higher position, there’s only one direction you can go. If you take the lower position, there’s only one direction you can go.” ‘Nough said.

8.       So many training courses today encourage us to be a servant of all if we are to rise in this world. Our Lord tells us, simply, to be a servant of all. ‘Nough said again.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Reframing Our Faith

After There’s Nothing Left: Soulfood – Learning silence

     Many people will eat whatever is set before them; I’m too picky. Thus has a mindless obesity taken over our land. The same seems true for many followers of Christ. They eat whatever soul-food is set before them, with little thought for its quality, character, or value. They suck it down, often devoid of spiritual, Biblical nutrients, and then wonder why their lives are in a constant state of depression and dissipation. Biblical Junk-Food. Faith-Fluff.

      What my soul needs is the kind of food that rebuilds strength, balances the needs of the many with the fulfillment of Christ’s resolve for the rest of my life. I am a persnickety eater. I hardly remember ever dining on Christian mush or platitudinous slop. Nor do I find spiritual food to be equated to intellectual erudition. Feeding the mind, my mind, is not equal to feeding the soul, my soul.

      My soul is fed as I remain still & silent before God. My soul is fed in those serendipitous moments when I happen upon those magical-works-of-God in process (phrase intentional) and find that I was already integrated into them all along. My soul is fed when I make a difference in another person’s life, male or female, old or young, Christian or otherwise.

      Three resources for my SOUL FOOD at present come from three unlikely sources— first, from the books I write— Clueless ChristianityEMPulsive ThoughtsWhen there’s Nothing LeftThe Whiskey Chronicles. They tear at my own soul and drive me to Christ. (If you’ve ever tried to write anything, you understand.) And second, through a fairly obscure man of God in Colorado Springs— Josh Lindstrom, one of the pastors of Woodman Valley Chapel. And he doesn’t even know it; he doesn’t need to. But he has fed my spirit more than anyone over these past 3½ years.

      Third, when we lived in Massachusetts, a man half my age entered my life— Bill Hodgeman, the new pastor (since 2015) at The College Church in Northampton, MA. He has been there just over 6 years so far. He has a grasp of Scripture and culture like few men I have met in my travels. He is a surprise gift of God to me.

      So I ride this underlying current rummaging around for more kinds of soul food I have yet to identify. Here is what I am finding so far—

  1. Seeking Silence opens a window for surprise treats from the Lord. I am not particularly looking for anything; but tasty morsels of His majesty suddenly fall into my mouth and I am full of His presence once more. Yum!
  2. My Emotions become more open to God as I worship Him. This is not a “renewing of your minds…. It a releasing of my spirit into His Spirit which clears the way for Him to feed me once again. The odd thing is that I am worshiping Him…, yet I am the one who is being fed.
  3. Prayer is a form of soul food for me. It is the time when I am the most vulnerable before God. It has become a time when my ongoing conversation with the Lord gets down and dirty, mixing praise with pleading, confession with deeper commitments, and an openness between the Father and me that is dangerously transparent— for me. It is a frightening thing to be an open book before God.
  4. People are another source of food for me. No, not eating them, but listening for God’s voice in them through our conversations and interactions. I can never forget the time I heard God speaking to me, feeding my soul, through a someone whom I was supposed to be counseling. Totally not what I expected. God is full of surprises… .
  5. The writings of certain authors are also soul food for me. The works of Alan Loy McGinnis, Henri Nouwen, David Rupert, C. S. Lewis, Herman Dooyeweerd, Leonard Sweet, and Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch also feed my soul. But these are mere starting points providing spiritual energy for the journey ahead. They provide meat as my sustenance; but I still need dessert.
  6. This is where I relish God’s provision of soul food— in the dessertFor me, this involves spending time with my friends who do not know Christ as their God. God invigorates my soul within through the banter, the congenial or combative conversation on the surface that draws any one of them closer to understanding and accepting the life God the Father is offering them through His Son Jesus Christ. For me, evangelism is not an endeavor, a chore, an obligation of the Christian life, it is food for my soul. Probably, it is the primary reason I enjoy the company of healthy (or not-so healthy) “normal people” so much. They renew my soul and strengthen Christ’s Spirit within me; and my prayers gain more of an eternal context, rather than merely daily problem solving. And, since God is the author of salvation I simply have to show up and enjoy what He is doing!

      So what feeds your soul? Do you know? Do you know where to find it again? You need to know where your sustenance will come from in those times of spiritual leanness, when you’ve lost some spiritual depth and context. You know the times— you just can’t seem to find your way around in your faith anymore. And, if I might suggest, (my mother would kill me) start with dessert. It just tastes better and enhances your appetite for the meat (vegetarians forgive me) of your spiritual appetite.

Honor God, honor people, & learn to be quiet,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— After There’s Nothing Left— soul love.