Advent #1 Hope

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Merry Christmas!

For those who are not familiar with the tradition of lighting a candle for each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day— it is a tradition that dates to the 300’s at a meeting of church leaders called the Council of Sargossa. It gradually developed into a season that stretched across the month of December. One of the first mentions of an Advent calendar appeared in 1851 in a children’s book by Elise Averdieck. The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world. The candles are often set in a circular Advent wreath.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day.

So, let’s start— HOPE.

America has recently witnessed an upheaval in civil indecency, half-truths, murders, and mass migrations and confinements of immigrants against their will. It’s hard to find hope these days. So many people are suffering. So many accusations are flying as to who is to blame.

A century ago, in response to a newspaper article that asked, “What is wrong with the world today?” the British journalist G.K. Chesterton purportedly wrote a letter to the editor which read, simply:

I am.”

Hope is a decision to see through the quagmire, to peer into our darkness and find light, if ever so faint; to create solutions in the dark. Hope is what Christ brought into our world when he was born.

            This Christmas, I want to give hope to those around me. How will you give hope to people this giving season? Our world is in desperate need of hope. Be creative!

Give hope,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ An ADVENT of FAITH

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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.

Give Thanks

thanksgiving-brownscombe

What are you thankful for? Before you answer let me reflect on “being thankful” for a bit.

            Most of us have so much we grow comfortable with what we have and assume we will always have the means to replenish or buy more. Canada just observed Remembrance Day about 11 days ago. Armistice Day was just commemorated across Europe. In the US we have Veterans Day: a day becoming more solemn even though world conflicts lessen.

            Now, in the US, our Thanksgiving is upon us. Question: What are you thankful for? Here are a few things I am thankful for—

  1. You! Because you take the time to read what I write. For your love and friendship.
  2. My wife of almost 48 years— Starr.
  3. Josh & Blair; Jax & Caleb.
  4. Bethany & Jeff; ‘Bekah, Duke, & John.
  5. My mom & dad. Technically, they’re both dead; but not in my heart.
  6. My wacked-out sister Carol Norton. I love you sis! J
  7. William H. VanArtsdalen, Jr.— who keeps a roof over our heads.
  8. An ability to write. Still.
  9. A clear mind. A clear mind. A clear mind. And umm, oh— a memory.
  10. Being forgiven. I cannot imagine who I would have been without the grace of Christ that stalked me.
  11. Health— mostly.
  12. My incredible education!
  13. Usefulness for some Christians: more useful to many of the normal people around me.
  14. NEED’s Board of Directors scattered all over the world.
  15. Melanie Lamere— my right-hand man in New England.
  16. Ian Montgomery— my comrade-in-arms. The other half of the devious-duo.
  17. 40 Years in New England. Autumns.
  18. 1 year in Colorado. Mountains.
  19. Financial backers who believe in what I am doing. You’re all crazy.
  20. A perspective on life that the best is yet to come. I’m not done yet.

Giving thanks,

Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President
www.CluelessChristianity.com  

Getting from Here to There Part 2

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Now about the corporate expression of our faith— within the church: it is not enough to live your Christian life in isolation— the Lone Ranger Christian, going it alone in the evil world. Christ called us to be a body of believers…, His Body. We stand or fall together. But if individual Christians re-gear their faith and the church does not, then we will have what sociologists call a paradigm conundrum. Individual Christians will be expressing their faith in one mode while the church still expresses its beliefs in another, older format— one that was appropriate when developed (1654 or 1945, take your pick) but has since lost its significance to the postChristian heart.

What follows are suggestions that the church-at-large needs to consider if it is to make sense—  both to twenty-first century Christians and to the rising tide of millennials/mosaics.

  1. The church will have to Rethink the Nature of Theology itself. Please do not take this as a rejection of any or all theological constructions of the past 500 – 1,600 years. It is not. But the last major rubric of theology was constructed during the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when priest Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, a critique of many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In similar ways we will need to construct a theology based on a new examination of Scripture, in the context of specific cultures, rather than simply another polishing of a theology based on a previous structure. Polishing American Colonial furniture doesn’t make it Danish modern.

The life of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross are our model for living the Christian life, today, throughout history, and across cultural variances. My guess is that this new Biblical Theology will arise in a people-group-specific, image-based format, and somewhat generationally-considerate. What will that look like in reality? Who knows?!? I’ll leave that to my successors.

  1. Redesigned corporate spirituality— The church will need to try on a new suit of clothes, spiritually speaking. It will need to try to express the Christian faith in multiple formats. What has been accepted as traditional will have to make room for newer forms of expression, previously foreign to our Christian traditions. And it will have to embrace these new expressions even if it feels terribly risky to do so. Remember, though, that we are in transition (versus a phase), in a time of paradigm shift; things are in flux. The Truth will remain constant while its expressions can vary with generation, region of the world, and culture.

            But please take note— we will have to allow for multiple forms of expression within the same local church as well, even within the same congregation. Decide to learn from those who express their faith in manners different from your own. Extend your comfort level to embrace expressions that call you to God in new ways. Our society isn’t what it used to be. Church shouldn’t be what it used to be either. New wine; new wine-skins… .

  1. Immersion vs. isolation…, not an option— One aspect of being a church is that we will no longer have a choice of opting out of our culture or its societal issues. The church of Jesus Christ must take a lead in healing our society’s sicknesses, from media to medical treatments, to definitions of life, death, and what it means to be a healthy human being. We have too long held back for fear of rejection or recrimination; it is time we took a stand. One thing we must not do is supplant our Savior’s role as Judge. That is not our place. Our place is to come along side of our fellow sinners and serve as their guide to freedom and life! The church in the first century understood this; so also must we. Jesus immersed himself in the lives of those around him, making little distinction between his followers and those who needed him. He served both: He loved both: He saved both.

Will the church be accepted readily upon first re-entry back into the society?  Not likely. Trust in any relationship is something that must be first gained, then if lost, regained with great commitment and agony. The church has a lot of negative history to overcome that our world remembers with a vengeance. But we can no longer afford the luxury of isolation, of feeling good about ourselves as long as we don’t have anything to do with the world outside. That, if anything, is true blasphemy. Jesus did not go to the cross so we could go to church.

  1. Cooperative— Remember that classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street? Kris Kringle was encouraging people at Macy’s to look for what they needed that Christmas at Gimbals’, across the street. Management, as first, was enraged; then they saw the light: customers were surprised and delighted to see this new cooperation-over-competition between the two stores. Since the Reformation the church in the West has been more about separation than about cooperation. The modern era saw western denominations first forming and then defining themselves injuxtaposition to one another. But we must learn to cooperate across denominational lines, despite different worship styles and theological preferences. Labels need to go away.  They must move aside for a new nomenclature— genuinely Biblical, Christ centered, locally missional, accepting, and alive to life.
  2. Sacrificial Servants— For the church in North America to truly have an impact on its culture it must shift its mentality and present itself as a sacrificial servant of the society, not as a judge of its illnesses. When people are sick, they need a doctor, not a critic. We must learn to give graciously to our world— much more graciously than we give to build our modern cathedrals of comfort. We must learn to give up rather than to calculate next year’s pledge units. We must also provide places where the normal people of our society can find solace and safety, and see Jesus Christ embodied in those who go by His name.  Another Gordian knot to be cut.
  3. One Lord, one Faith, one Language…— In the same way that individual Christians need to learn to express their faith in common everyday language, so also does the church need to learn to use the metaphors, idioms, and common expressions of the day to express Biblical Truths. Oddly, the stories of the Bible can stand on their own with little amplification about their context. We must learn to be culture sensitive. The only place most of us use Christianeze is in church or when trying to explain our faith to someone else (a.k.a. evangelism).

            Many years ago comedians Lou Abbot and Budd Costello performed a baseball Vaudeville dialog titled Who’s on First?[i] It was a classic example of miscommunication due to a misunderstanding of the use and definition of words. “Who’s on First? What’s on Second. I-don’t-know’s on Third.” Their dialogue was funny: the Christian miscommunication block to a confused world is not funny. We dare not have an in-house language which only Christians can understand, vs. a normal language that we use to talk with the world around us. How much easier would it be if we had one language pattern that everybody could understand? Think of it, you could talk about your faith in church the way you would naturally talk about it in the rest of your life; no stomach knots, no translating, no shifting language/emotional gears. Just breathe.

  1.  We need Leaders who will go out on a limb. One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain— “Why not go out on a limb!? That’s where the fruit is.” The last shift that the church in postChristian society will have to make is one of leadership. Our leaders will actually need toLEAD! Too many Christian leaders have become conciliatory politicians, mediating their way to church peace or to a better position with more prestige and/or money. Others have become theological authoritarians, sweeping their will and interpretation of Scripture over their congregations. Why? Because theology is safe…, you can nail-down just about everything.

Genuine leadership, not merely positional leadership, is a risk. It goes with the territory. Just get used to it. There was an ad from a brokerage firm in NYC that used to read—  The only real risk in life is not taking one. May Christian leaders in North America become a risky bunch!

*   *   *   *

            So, where do we go from here? To the trenches of life, to the committee meetings and shopping malls, to the days and family gatherings with ol’ lip-sticked Aunt Maude who always kisses her grandchildren on the cheek? We go back to living. I cannot convince you of the exuberance that comes when you start to morph your life, your church, or your family to a postChristian faith. It’s quite a ride! Risky…, with the outcome yet to be written. Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.

Hopefully, making a difference.

Gary

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

UPGRADING OUR FAITH #9, implications of upgrading our faith # 2

green-update-button-hiImplications of upgrading our faith Part 2

 Whenever you change something, there are ramifications not foreseen, especially in the Church of Jesus Christ. What follows are some of the implications of upgrading our faith to become more concurrent with the situation in which we live.

  1. Any new construct of theology must be visibly reflected in real LIFE. Taking a saying from the modern-era church , if correct belief produces correct action, then all the more so in a reformatted theology. “Faith without works is dead.” says James.  Or, as we say around our office—Talk’s cheap: action’s everything. Theological belief as a foundation, per se, will have to be reflected in the lives of people changed by the power of God. It cannot stand alone. A systematic or Biblical theology will never become irrelevant to forming the Christian life, but it will acquiesce to the demonstrated work of Christwithin the believer. LIFE will replicate Truth. We truly ARE forgiven.
  2. Building on the previous platform, living with forgiveness will require that we learn to grasp guiltless living. So many of my friends, who are far from Christian, comment that “You Christians may claim to be freed by the power of Christ, but you still come across as motivated, even driven, by guilt. At least I don’t live my life riddled with guilt.”  Therefore, they don’t see any advantage to becoming a Christian. They have a point. Unless we shift our “encouragement” from constantly reminding each other that we can never be good enough for God to one of being truly FREE in Christ, then we can never even begin to believe that our guilt is taken away. (Nor can they.) It’s time we started to live like God intends us—  guiltless before Him, truly forgiven, new creations, through the work of Christ on the cross.
  3. Once God has cleaned out your soul, cleared your spirit of so much stuff, a funny thing happens—  you can see things more clearly. In other words, having a clear view to God, and allowing Him to have a go at cleaning out your life, opens a window for you to gain a clear perception of things around you; like people, problems, life’s normal situations, and the effects of sin on life. When our spirits are clean before God, if we have accepted the forgiveness and freedom Jesus purchased for us on the cross, we can see His point of view and understand His way more clearly.  Living the Christian life then ceases to be a chore or a duty and becomes more like a great challenge or an adventure. In John 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery is thrown at Jesus feet.  The law said she should be stoned. Jesus takes the situation in hand by admonishing those calling for her stoning: “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” After everyone has faded away, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers are. “There are none, Lord.” she replies. Jesus simply says “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He saw the forgiveness he would purchase on the cross and bestowed some of it on her… early. Do we see people who don’t understand, whose lives are driven by guilt, who think they can never measure up to the standards of God; do we see them like Jesus did? I wonder. We need to develop that same clear perception our Lord manifested if we are to live in the new realities of North America’spostModern, postChristian culture.
  4. A fourth characteristic of this new reality for the Christian is the need to be immersed in the surrounding society. But first a warning. To genuinely immerse yourself in your surrounding society, you need first to be a committed member of a Christian community. You need the emotional and spiritual support of like-minded believers who know the importance of being a clean, genuine Christian.  It is imperative if you are going to be immersed in a hostile (though somewhat passive-aggressive) society. Make no mistake, North America is adapting a more contrarian position to the Christian one on almost everything. There are so many preconceived assumptions about Christianity (judgmental, bigoted, racist, anti-environment, anti-abortion, pro-war, to name a few) that, at least in the area where we used to live, to answer the question Are you a Christian? in the positive could bring an extremely negative reaction. Before I answer it, I ask “Well, what do you mean by ‘Christian?’ That can be a somewhat pejorative word.” In your community, what would be an appropriate answer to the question—  Are you a Christian? What would the reaction most likely be? Most of us never find out. Why? Because for many of us, our lives come across as so marginally Christian that no one would think to ask. Still other Christians are so weird, out of it, dork-like even, that normal people in our society don’t want to know. We’ve already confirmed their suspicions.
  5. Oddly the last ingredient of faith in this new reality brings us full circle.  If people will not believe in a Truth they cannot see, then there must be some explanation provided for what they do see. In short, we need Christian explanations for the behavior of people who claim the name of Christ. This returns the Christian to become once again the student of the Bible and of the world. For any Christian explanation of a Biblical principle must be set forth in a manner which can be understood by Normal, everyday people. I said earlier that Talk’s cheap: action’s everything. That’s where belief hits reality. But action needs both context and explanation. We do not want postModerns thinking Christians are good people just to be good. The motivation to act must also be understood as well. It’s the why of life that gives our actions meaning and context. And for anyone who has had an experience with God (and many I have met have) it is absolutely tantamount that they understand their experience through the filter of Christian faith and Christian Truth. Their experience can only be validated through filtration and reflection in the Bible. To validate it through any other source would be to invalidate it as a genuine experience of God.

    Truly, it is time for an upgrade to our faith. It is time for a reformatting of how we believe. Postmodernism’s myths have forced us into it. BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, how do we do it? How do we express our faith in the language, idioms, and formats of our culture and still present our faith in Christ as the only legitimate way to God? Well, that’s the next chapter. Read on if you dare. I mean that. For the next chapter will stretch you about how you perceive and present your life of faith to others. And it all starts inside your soul. Is all this feeling a little unnerving for you yet? Good.

NEXT— Tune in two weeks from now for—

Getting from Here to There: what to do, what to do…?

  Gary

Clueless Christianity, #8- UPgrading Your Faith- #1

fish-upgradeUPGRADING OUR FAITH— reformatting the expressions of faith…, probably part 1.

     Innovations in inventions & language are changing at a rate that has accelerated beyond being measurable. Ever notice that within a month (or week) of purchasing a new App for your laptop or smartphone, you receive notification that it has an update.

            The same is true in the exchange between the church and the world. When James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) went to China in 1854, he had much to learn. As with most foreign missionaries of that era he first had to learn the language. Through careful observation he continued to learn about cultural mores, kinship relationships, and the subtleties of cultural protocol and nuance. He learned how to dress appropriately so he would be more approachable, in the clothing of his host culture. He had to learn how to communicate the Christian faith to the Chinese culture within a Chinese framework. But the biggest shift Taylor had to make was that of expressing his own faith in a Chinese format. Western formats of faith would have been inappropriate here.

    Though cultural changes and shifts have accelerated at increased velocity Western cultural expressions of faith are just now catching up. This International evangelistic program known as ALPHA is highly successful in communicating the basics of the Christian faith worldwide. It’s a great experience, where great food and growing friendships abound. But…! I spoke with a youth worker who was also attending, and was not surprised when he told me, “This is great, but I cannot use it with my kids.” Why? I asked. “Because it answers questions that are totally foreign to their thinking.”

     This early 21st century finds us in a time where Christian leaders need to reexamine the premises of our faith. This is not a challenge to the Bible or questioning its authority:  it is reassessing, a repositioning, if you will, of how we approach the Bible as our founding source. The theological constructs of the past had no need to deal with the new definitions of life prevalent in North American today. Former approaches to the Bible were couched in concerns for the issues of their day. The Church in North America needs to address our present culture’s felt needs, pluralities, diversities, and philosophical fancies, and then implement a new kind of Christianity appropriate to the expressions and approaches to life of our time.

     What are the foundational premises we need to establish for a vibrant Christian faith to flourish in our generation?  These are the non-negotiables in the next wave of Christian life and expression in western society.

  1. The nature, purpose, and rubric of Christian theology need to be reformatted to fit this present cultural, generational, western society. I am sure you are aware that in any era, ALL theology happens through the interplay between the church, the culture, and the Bible. [Of course, individual personalities, personal positioning and church power politics are also a great part of the mix.]

     The last major theological construct in western society was Reformed Theology, circa 1517/1520. This theology grew out of a sense of injustice in the way clergy represented the faith to the people of Western Europe. Martin Luther’s cry was “The just shall live by faith!” and nothing else. Though that is still very true, the issues of North America in this 21st century are much more multifaceted. Time for an upgrade?

  1. The Christian community and individual believers alike need to start living their lives as if they were truly forgiven by God. One winter, NEED’s CHINA Consultant, attended an Emergent Convention in San Diego. Upon her return I asked her opinion of the conference. To my surprise she said she was confronted with her own reticence to accept Christ’s forgiveness for her sins and to stop feeding her guilt. She never believed that she was truly forgiven. Today, she is a different person with far more freedom in her life, and a freedom to fail before God, again…, and to be forgiven, again.

     For whatever reason, so much of the Christian faith is about doing more to assuage your guilt and/or to prove yourself to God as worthy [i.e., being moral]. Please, people, it’s time we trust in God and stop this nonsense. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again.” Is this true? Isn’t this enough!? Isn’t this what is proclaimed every time we celebrate Holy Communion? CELEBRATION!? Everything that is necessary for us to be reinstated into a relationship with the God who made us has been accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. We are forgiven. This is foundational to the Christian life; without forgiveness there is only fruitless.

  1. Building on a new sense of genuine forgiveness, we must move to the holiness granted us by God. God declares us to be HOLY. Therefore, holiness too, becomes for the genuine Christian, foundational.  I’ve often wondered if holiness isn’t more of a platform for launching the Christian life than a goal to be striven toward. In my own life I have carried on a conversation with God that runs something like this—

“Now come on God, how can you declare me holy. You know my life. I know my life. There is just no way I am a holy person. So how can you declare that I am holy?” And the Lord God of the Universe would reply, “Listen to me, my son. Through Jesus I have declared you holy. Now live like it.” End of scenario.

     He has declared us holy…, live with it. We are still to seek after God and personal holiness; but we must always remember that He has already declared us holy…, as odd as that may sound. Therefore, living as if we hold within us a clean spirit is essential to any new foundation of the Christian life.

  1. The Body of Christ must truly become the Body of Christ. Commitment to Christian community is foundational to twenty-first century faith. Yet so many of us live in isolation, with little commitment to a church or even to a small group of believers. We need to be more a part of each other’s lives in a society where there is so much pain and fragmentation. Any profile of the Millennial/Mosaic generation reinforces the need for genuine Christian community. And that community might not be defined in terms of your immediate geography. Thanks to the marvels of our postmodern, technological society, our “community” can be pin-boarded on a worldwide map. My personal community also extends to places around the world. Our world has shrunk!

You know the mantra think globally, act locally? Well, it’s changed—think locally, think globally now act locally, act globally too. We are all part of something bigger than we could ever have imagined 35 years ago. The answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” has grown exponentially.

  1. The last foundational premise is the power of God, which is able to draw unbelievers into relationship with their Creator. He alone is the author and designer of life: he alone has the power to bring people into a relationship with himself. Remember, God’s Word, though foundational for all we believe, is still purely a historical recounting of the descriptions of the works of God on earth. It is not simply that Truth brings people to life— it is the Author of Truth Himself who does. Any new foundation for emerging generations of believers must be founded, not on Truth alone, but on real life encounters with God, on the God of the Bible who stands behind the Bible. We all must learn to trust in our experiences of God as much as we do in our beliefs about God (the Bible); one is validated by the other. This past year a local teenager came to me with a question. “What is a Christian?” A somewhat odd question from a liberal-based youth culture. So I responded with questions— What is your interest in Christian faith? Why do you want to know? What happened to you?  It was then that he launched into monologue about dreams and experiences he had gone through recently. He called them encounters— encounters with God. I described the context for Christian faith in creation, the context for Christ’s death to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law, the mark of His deity verified in His resurrection, His call to repentance and trust. [Not using those words, of course.] In essence I was explaining the Christian faith as the context for his experiences. He responded, “Oh, that’s it…, that’s what happened to me! This is great! I’m a Christian aren’t I!?” And so he was.  For postmodern, experience-based individuals will not believe in Truth alone.  This istheir way to come to faith; until they see it working its way out in people’s lives, Truth is no more than descriptive words. But when they see Christian life lived, and the power of God demonstrated in other peoples’ lives, and subsequently experience it in their own lives, then, our Biblical explanations have a context—  they make sense. Frankly, I find this amazingly wholistic.

     These Foundational Premises lay the groundwork for a new kind of freedom wherein Christians can grow and flourish with less spiritual baggage, less ecclesiastical classification, and less theological fuss. If implemented, these premises create a framework for us to explore new and different avenues of Christian life and thought. Each Foundational Premise, in turn, evokes an ensuing response that must be joined with its principle, and implemented. Do you think you’ve got that? Sorry to be so obtuse; this form of thinking doesn’t exactly proceed along linear/sequential lines.

NEXT— Implications of UPgrading

  Gary