The Gospel for People Who Know Nothing – pt.1

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

     Houston, we have a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

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

If You’re Going thru Hell… Keep Going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Jerks for Jesus…, revisited.

Finding God: Overcoming Chaos

 

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

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

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

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

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

     So also is our time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

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

Finding God – Where can I find God?

     We’re all searching for something. For some, it’s money, or the things that money can buy— a beautiful house, exotic car, vacation house, top notch education. Or maybe good health, or a few more years of life; or a family, kids; peace, security, and rest.

     Whatever we desire most becomes our god. It just does. Still, deep within our soul and our psyche, this focus eclipses all else. Not a deliberate obsession…, but close.

     There is a saying within Buddhism that, “The only Zen you will find on top of the mountain is the Zen you bring up with you.” [Robert M. Pirsig] Personally, I would hope that Zen, or the God I seek, would be a little grander than that. I carry too much baggage to drag my Zen along with it.

     A lot of us create our god from temporal things, as delineated above. Some of us seek a God beyond this realm. Yet with so many religions claiming to be the path to god, how do you discern which one, or a combination thereof, is truly accurate?

     This EMPulse series will investigate the most important of today’s religious belief systems and leave you with the task of figuring it out. FYI, this is the kind of route I took on my journey to Christian faith. It was not fun.

      One of our Board members, Beverly Dowdy, a former Duke Univ. Librarian, suggested these ideas to initiate your search for god—  

1.  Find persons of faith that you can trust.  Talk to them.  See what commonalities they have that speak to you.

2.  Keep an open mind but do not turn off your brain.  Be ready to discard any baggage you may have accumulated about God.

3.  If these people of faith participate in some kind of worship, go with them.  Listen to and absorb what is going on.  Ask questions. 

4.  If worship speaks to you, continue it.  Find a place to practice it. Most people over the centuries have found that being in a sacred place is pivotal.

5.  If you cannot find a sacred place, try worshiping within a local community.

6.  Most people of faith pray.  Ask them how.

7.  Open your mind to accept intuition, intimation, or peace.  Be open to what is going on through the worship or prayer.

8.  Try reading some of the books that are traditionally considered holy.  If they do not make sense to you, ask people of faith that you trust to explain them.

     Personally, I’ve found that my walk of faith has grown over the years. What I first thought were my struggles to find God, was actually His gracious exposé of my own arrogance and superiority. Now, I find humility is a much safer stance to assume when searching for the God of the universe.

     Over the next few (or not so few) inquiries we will be honorable and open in what we learn about various spiritual paths: their differences, similarities, and disparities.

     So help us God.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— What are you looking for?  

Challenging Challenges: A Fantastic Message

One of the greatest Challenges that faces both the individual Christian and the church at large in the West (US & Europe) is a lack of motivation to take the message of Christ to the whole world. The missionary zeal of the 19th century has given way to the comfort levels of the 20th century and the fracturing in this early 21st century. Add to that our recent COVID19 isolationism and you see what we have today— Christian Cocooning.


    Too many of us have become consummate separatists. We still brush shoulders with normal people every day; yet few of them truly understand the substance of our faith in Jesus. They know we call ourselves Christians (hopefully), but that word has little content behind it.


    The Gospel of our Lord has been inadequately formulated for this postChristian culture. We still use the Problem Solving Model of the gospel formulated in the early 1950s. Dare I say that this gospel was based on the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner format— You have a problem. We have a solution. Buy our product, and your problem will be solved.


    When it comes to our message, only those who know they have a sin problem could respond to this message. C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need forgiveness.” No Mere Christian


    The summary gospels of the 1950s have left us with an inadequate gospel that has no personal or cultural context in this era. Could it be that we should consider a reformulation of what we call “the Gospel?” One that doesn’t start by telling men they have a problem. Rather, one that reminds them that true life-fulfillment    they can only be achieved by reuniting with the God who made them, Jesus Christ. A Fulfilment Model.You can only fulfill your lifeBy reuniting with the God who made youThrough Christ’s love for you.He completes YOU.


    We need to ask— What does the world outside the church know about our faith?    We also need to ask— What do we know about the world outside when it comes to our faith?

Honor God, honor people, make a difference, Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— A NEW Series. Don’t know what yet, You have any ideas?  

Challenging Challenges – What’s Worth Dying For?

One of favorite novels of all time is Charles Dickens A TALE OF TWO CITIES. In it he describes the horrors & inequities of the French Revolution (1789-1799). But it is also a story of love and nobility. Without getting too deeply into the plot, Sydney Carton switches places with Charles Darnay so that he is the one who is executed by guillotine, thus saving Darnay. In Dicken’s novel his last words are—

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

     So the question we each need to think about is— What’s worth dying for?  

     Julius Caesar’s vision for a Roman Empire led to his murder. Jesus’ proclamation that He was God led to His crucifixion. Mahatma Gandhi’s fight for India’s independence led to his assassination. Martin Luther King Jr’s cry for racial justice also led to his assassination.

     Let’s tighten the question. What, who, would you die for?

     I would die for my wife, our children, my friends, and, if necessary, even a stranger. I would die for my faith in Christ.

     But maybe this is the wrong question. What’s worth living for? might be more to the point. What you would live for you would also die for, of course. But how you live is as important, if not more so, than what you would die for.

     Some challenges— Are your beliefs serving a higher calling? A greater purpose? Do you live with a purpose? Or do you simply wait for whatever comes along?

     Are you guiding those around you? How? Are you leaving behind a legacy, a reason for the next generation to come alive? How are you training younger believers to live their faith in their way in their culture?  All followers of Christ are called to do this.

     What’s worth dying for? I would hope you would have a long list.

Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friend.

      ~ John 15:13

     In these crazy days, please, think about what you’re living for: and what’s worth dying for. If it is just yourself, you might want to reconsider that.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT—  Cancer

Challenging Challenges – Fighting God

Nooooo! Not the Greek God of Thunder. Definitely NOT Chris Hemsworth. THAT would be a simple feat.

     Fighting the real God of the Universe is somewhat more of a challenge. Actually, it’s just a plain bad idea. Stupid too.

     But far too many of us do it consistently. We reject His principles for living; we reject His perimeters of protection; we fight His offer of salvation; and we reject His offer of manifold gifts and blessings. What is wrong with us?!?

     This is a fight we cannot win that has dire consequences. But fight on we do!

     We truly believe God will take away all our fun, box us in to become a charming, conservative package, and make “nice” people out of us. Yet, seemingly, we seek to return to our barbarous pillage & plunder days, adhering to no code but our own, if it’s even a code at all.

     There are some advantages in fighting God. We get to write our own principles for behavior, based on what we want. We get to live outside His perimeters of protection for us and sin boldly. We are free to deny His offer of salvation and place ourselves above all others with, supposedly, no consequences for our actions. We are free to define our own happiness, snubbing any and all miracles He might want to grant us. Is this what you really want?

     However, we are all still called to make a difference for good in this world. We are encouraged to bring peace between desperate factions. And we are summoned to love other people. So what do we really gain by fighting God? He is our one reliable source of strength and safety. Are our individual rights, our personal freedom able to protect us as much as He does?

     I often ask people What is God designing you for in the next phase of your life?  Do you know?

     Or this question from James 4:1-3 [erv]

Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that make war inside you. You want things, but you don’t get them. So you kill and are jealous of others. But you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God. Or when you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your own pleasure.

     Isn’t it time for each of us to take time to examine our own wars with God? Seriously, what is worth fighting God for?

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— What’s worth dying for?

Challenging Challenges – White Blindness

In recent days (and years), we have seen an increase in racial challenges to white autocracy. It has not been a pretty picture: but it has been a good thing. For too long have white people, especially in the South, turned a blind eye to the black issues that we have created.

     This EMPulse will try to speak into some resolution to this systemic problem.

     First, some review of white attitudes toward black people over the past 175 years is in order.

·         Slaves-property/profit. Negros were seen as property, somewhere between farm animals and human beings, fit only for what they could produce.

·         Freed-a blight & problem. By the late 19th century blacks were seen as a blight on society. Human, but dirty and immoral.

·         Repressed- uneducated, persecuted. The industrial revolution in the early 20th century kept them uneducated. They were persecuted in their poverty.

·         Rising presence- cannot be ignored. By mid century Black people became a rising presence in white dominated America; treated still as inferiors, tolerated by the white establishment.

·         Societal acceptance- almost. With the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and the clarion voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., white-America was forced to adapt to an intelligent vocal minority that knew that this national prejudice what not what God intended in creation.

·         Latent systemic prejudice. Within the first two decades of the 21st century, there arose a chorus of voices from the black communities across America that enough is enough! White repression, especially from local police, has grown out of control. A few bad cops, and possibly an undercurrent of resentment, gave impetus to a swelling outcry against police brutality. And, of course, disproportionate racial response within Black America.

     So, here we are, 5 months into the 21st century. We have NO resolution, NO solutions, and little understanding of the local and national scheme of things on either side. Personally, I do not believe that any white man has the ability to put himself in a black man’s shoes. The historical/social differences & distances are too great.

     What can we do to correct, or at least address, the inequities, prejudice, hangings, burnings, murders, discriminations and ostracizations of these past 175+ years?

     To look to government, local or national, to correct these injustices is vacant expectation. Do any of us really believe they know how?

     To let the people work it out on their own terms hasn’t worked out so well either. Look up the Tulsa (OK) race massacre on May 31-June 1,1921, or, the Rosewood Massacre in Levy County, FL; or the police repression of the Freedom Movements of the early 60s – late 70s.

     The only solution is for genuine Christians is to take up their cross and follow their Lord to repentance and faith. To sit before our Lord and examine our own hearts in terms of our hidden prejudices is a good place to start. Remember what our Lord calls us to—

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Matthew 5:39-41

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28.

     I grew up in Baltimore in the 1950s-60s. To say it was a dangerous, tense time between whites and blacks would be academic. I lived it. I had some truly great friendships with a couple black guys that were frowned upon by my white friends. It was a hard time in my life. And I would do it the same way all over again to live out the gospel in their midst.

Honor God, honor people, of all races, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Fighting God

Challenging Challenges – Anger

     The greatest cause of conflict between individuals, political factions and people groups is anger. I, WE, have to be right! And we have to win. Ever since the Fall man has sought to control man. In rage we have endeavored to dominate those around us, their lands, their people and this earth. And we do it with all vitriol and anger.

Over the centuries millions have died from our rage and anger. It seems we cannot control our tempers. Getting mad turns to madness, and madness to obsessive wrath. Look at any world history; often, it will not be a review of our accomplishments; it will be a history of tribal and global warfare & conquests— then, accomplishments.

     How do we, as followers of Christ, deal with this madness?

     First, unless we live in a highly controlled environment with little contact with anyone outside our control, we will, at one time or another, get angry. It might be at an incredibly poopy diaper, a teenage frustration, or a political change, somewhere along the line something, someone, will get to us and light our ire. We need to admit this!

     Second, prayer and counseling may help or hinder. In prayer we often bury or disguise our anger as a spiritual issue which needs to be cast aside. Good luck with that. Through counseling you may learn coping methods to calm or sublimate your anger. Or, counseling may just serve as a good way to talk yourself through it. Depending on the kind and depth of your anger these paths may or may not help.

     I have known some people who have lived their whole lives in anger. And they do not want help. Be careful around this kind of person. Their fuse may ignite with the slightest irritation.

     Third, consider just dropping it, letting it go, giving up on any resolution whatsoever. You already know it’s seething inside you, eating away at your soul. At times there just are no answers…, only moving on. I hate this: but sometimes there is no resolution. But, there is always forgiveness.

     Still, if you insist on holding onto your anger keep in mind that your desire for payback, revenge, whatever, will slowly destroy all the rest of you. I watched this with my own father; it was not a pretty picture. And, yes, I’ve had my anger issues too.

     When Scripture admonishes us “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” [Ephesians 4:26] it is not a mere suggestion. It is a principle and a command to wrap up your day and let go of those incessant goading’s of our Adversary go by the way. And yes, they will ruin your night’s sleep if you let them ruminate within your soul.

     Stop it! Let it go.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— WHITE BLINDNESS

Challenging Challenges: Regrets

regrets

  Let’s see… . What are some of the things we do, or don’t do, that we later regret?

·         Irrational fears; being afraid of something, of someone.
·         Being insecure about something.
·         Losing my cool.
·         Not going for it. The RISK Quotient.
·         Putting myself first.
·         Not offering forgiveness…, first.
·         Or…, never seeking forgiveness.
·         Never admitting wrong.
·         Living behind a façade.
·         Standing forth for what is RIGHT.
·         Sacrificing.
·         Withholding love.
·         … & many, many more.

     What are some of the regrets that you carry with you? Some cannot be resolved, but some can be resolved. What are some creative ways you might bring about a resolution of some of your regrets?

1.       If in the last 2-3 years, go to the person or group and seek forgiveness in person.

2.       On the other hand, if you were the one offended, just let it go.

3.       If you regret what you did, seek forgiveness within reason.

4.       Some regrets from your past will just have to take their place in your history. There will probably be no resolution. Again, just let it go.

     Too many of us drag painful memories along with us in case we need to call on them as weapon in some future argument. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for new life and new growth to take place in your life. It drags you into an abyss of anger and resentment.

     Neither are options for genuine followers of Christ. Seeking forgiveness is. So is offering it. The time for forgiveness for past-wrongs is well overdue. If we are the recipients of God’s FORGIVENESS & mercy shouldn’t we extend that to those who done us wrong?

     Remember this conversation between Peter and Jesus? [Matt. 18:21-22]

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked,
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive
my brother or sister who sins against me?
 Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, 
I tell you, not seven times,
 but seventy-seven times.

     We all carry regrets with us; things we have done, things we could have done, things done to us. For all and any, Jesus’ directs us to forgive. AND forget.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— ANGER