The Whiskey Chronicles 21 – Inaccurate, Inappropriate, & Unintelligible

       One of the issues I have with our Christian message is that it too often comes across as inaccurate, inappropriate, and unintelligible. The general problem in Europe, Asia, China, South Africa, Canada, and the United States is that our message is being presented in such a manner that it does not relate to the normal peoples of these cultures. We are religious freaks to most normal people. All of us.

       And we speak a language that is totally unintelligible to them. We tell them that they are sinners; and that has no point of reference for them. Hitler, maybe; but not us.

       And we choose the most inappropriate times to bring up our faith and their lack of faith. [Birthday parties and celebrations are NOT the time.] Seriously, who do we think we are?!? We just don’t get it!

       Then our understanding of their life and world is, for the most part, completely out-of-touch. We make assumptions about what non-Christians believe, the way they live, and what they think of us without ever asking them directly. We hold an inaccurate estimation of our pagan brothers & sisters that adds to the rift between us. Thus, my position of the importance of a dram of Single Malt Scotch. [More on that later.]

       We need to make more of an effort to walk in their world, in their successes and struggles, than we have been. Without Judgement! God is their Judge. We are not. We are their fellow beggar telling them where we have found bread.

       At the very least, we should walk alongside them, in the gutter, in the Board Room, in the prison, in the restaurant, in the supermarket, in our neighborhoods. This is imperative.

       Our job is not only to point them to our Lord. It is to be their companion as we travel the road together.

       Learn their language. Do not judge it. Listen to their struggles. Do not judge them. Hold their hearts in your hands. Do not crush them. Celebrate like crazy with them wherever we can! Do not hold back.

       And invite them into your lives, into your struggles and celebrations. Be REAL with people. Kill the nice Christian façade.

Loving God; loving people… and bringing the two together! 

Gary

NEXT— we are like ships passing in the night— our constant mindset

New Years 2023

New Years Eve by the Fire

       It’s late. I’m sitting by the fire next to our Christmas Tree remembering so much of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this past year.

       I entered 2022 with a final radiation treatment for cancer. A year later, it seems that I’ve beat it. Praise God!

       In many ways I have new eyes to see. Not just new lenses in my eyes, but personal/spiritual eyes as well.

       Our Lord has been honing and refining me through extended times with Him. A lot of my arrogance-of-accomplishment has been ripped away; polishing continues. My personality has also been tempered to become more like Christ’s. We extroverts have a tough time with that.

       One thing that has helped with that is Christmas. Every year, especially in these recent years, the miracle of Christmas— that the God of the Universe would take the form of a helpless baby to be born to a 16 year old out-of-wedlock Jewish girl, in a backwater town in an insignificant Roman province in an era with little considerable technology, is still a miracle to me.

       I had become a Christian after trying to live various philosophies of life when I was in college. To say I was a basket case would have been obvious. For two years I struggled to find any other explanation of life, save the Christian one. But the only belief system, the only existential, reasonable I constantly returned to was Christianity. Thus, 60 years later, it is the only adequate faith I have found that fits reality best. Wow!

       So as you and yours enter 2023, inspect your faith. Does it answer life’s most difficult questions? Does assist you in making daily decisions? Does it provide you with a basic rubric for living? Is it still reasonable? Reliable? Realistic?

       Have you updated your faith to meet the challenges our culture today? Or are you still in the same ‘ol, same ol’ format of faith formed for the late 1940s and early 1950s?

       These are the meanderings of my mind as I welcome in 2023. What a fantastic way to start a new year! Do with them what you will. I’m going to bed.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2023!

Gary & Starr

 www.cluelessChristianity.org

Image Credit-  Gary Davis

The Whiskey Chronicles 21 – Foreign Concepts

Formerly, most Christian communication was based on common ground. People had a basic comprehension of the Christian faith that we relied upon in presenting our gospel to them. That is no longer the case.

         It’s wiser in our era to assume that people, in America and worldwide, have little to NO understanding of the basic tenets of the Christian worldview. We have lost our voice to those around us. We are no longer seen as part of the solution; we are considered part of the problem.

         Many of my friends think our world would be better off if all Christians would just go away.

      Over the last 50 years western culture has seen the introduction, the invasion, of foreign concepts to the general public. Our universities, once closely tied to our faith, have turned their backs on Christian beliefs. If anything, Christianity is mocked and dismissed in schools of “higher learning.”

      Personally, I like having all these foreign concepts welling up from the grass roots. But too many Christians still cling to that ol’ time religion, the way it used to be, semi-annual revival meetings, the simple gospel, etc. If it is true, that 85.33% of our world is considered Developing Nations then the same percentage still needs our Christian message on their level. But for the other 15% of wealthy, dominant countries, our gospel must be couched in a format and language appropriate to their level of society.

      For that culture, our culture, we must offer an intelligent, well formulated Christian message that considers the hodgepodge of foreign concepts that our society has been exposed to. The simple gospel communicates little to nothing to this postmodern, postChristian world.

      We cannot offer a Third World gospel to a postChristian humanity.

      I gave my wife Starr a greeting card with two ships passing in the night on the cover. We didn’t have enough time for each other. The inside of the card simply read— We’re like two ships passing in the bathroom. Far too often we are like two faiths passing in our culture; one Christian, one totally unaware of who we are and what we believe. And in many ways our cocooning has lost any understanding of who they are in their own world as well.

      In postChristian America, as elsewhere, our rich faith has also become a foreign concept within our society. WE are the outsiders trying to break through the barriers that surround us.

FINAL THOUGHTS

1.       Get to know your healthy pagan neighbors.

2.       Go out with the boys (for that drink?) after work.

3.       SHUT UP! Listen.

4.       Play in their world.

5.       Use this Christmas to love on them.

6.       YOU throw the New Year’s Eve Party. Provide the Asprin.

7.       We need to love the hell out of these people. OK?!?

      Christianity has become the foreign voice in modern culture, worldwide. Get used to it. What we formerly designated as pre-Evangelism must now be incorporated into the context of what we are trying to say.

      Then again…, has it ever been otherwise?

Loving God; loving people… and bringing the two together! ©

Gary

NEXT— inaccurate, inappropriate, or unintelligible information

The Whiskey Chronicles 17 – Deep Prayer a Mystery

On the north wall of my study hangs one of my favorite paintings of all time. It is St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata. Painted by Jan von Eyck around 1428-1432, it depicts St. Francis in such deep prayer that he received the stigmata, the actual wounds of Jesus Christ— when He was nailed to the cross.

               Whether this actually happened is not the point. The point is this— that Francis was known as a man of deep prayer.

               This begs the question of us. What is your prayer life like?

               I refrain from wondering whether it would ever be to the depth of St. Francis. Our society moves far too fast for that.

     But do we, as 21st century Christians, set aside enough time to enter into deep prayer? It is not an easy thing to do. So much becomes us to remain immersed in normal, human concerns.

     Yet if anything is necessary for God to work His miracles through/in us it is the holy task of coming apart from our world for a time of deep, worshipful prayer. There is no substitute for it. NO substitute.

     Too many of us have lost any ability to pray at all. It has been relegated to the status of filler in our faith and service. As was the case in many colleges & universities in the sixties, chapel service was mandatory. One chapel speaker grabbed me like no other. He stated emphatically that Prayer is NOT the preparation for the battle. Prayer IS the battle. From that moment on I started to change my attitude and practice of prayer.

     Drawing aside for a couple of hours, or days, of prayer must be central to our faith. Otherwise, we will never engage those around us with the power of the gospel. It will, instead, remain mere words, mere explanation of facts.

     We must become intrinsic vessels of Christ that hold His Truth deeply entrenched in every fiber of our being. Anything else would be a meagre transmission of data. This is not the gospel. The gospel must engulf us fully if it is to engage the hearts and souls of others.

     In every sense of the word, WE ARE the Gospel.

     One of my favorite quotes from Francis [now attributed to another.] is Preach the Gospel at all times…, when necessary use words. This cannot be accomplished without a basis in deep prayer in ourselves.

   So, please, fellow Christ follower, give yourself over to secluded times of friendship with our Lord. It is exactly what each of us need. It is also what our pepole need in us if they are ever to see Jesus in us. Prayer is the presence and practice of Jesus Christ in us, flowing to others.

     In deep prayer…

 Loving God; loving people… and bringing the two together! ©

Gary

NEXT— no expectation that God is at work

The Whiskey Chronicles – Learning to Listen

One of the most difficult practices most of us forget is our need to listen. Most people will pour out their soul to you if we just give them a chance to speak. The problem at hand is that we want to get our point across, first. All of it.

       In education etiquette, and education theory, it is called testing-for-learning. A good communicator will always pause and ask Did that make sense to you?

       I have someone in my life who I call and he immediately starts talking…, about himself. How someone can start talking, seemingly without ever taking a breath, and never give the other person a space to talk is beyond me. His record is an hour forty minutes; then a So, how are you? I’m too exhausted to answer. Fine.

       Christians are just as guilty of this sin as many other people. We just keep talking, believing if we can fill the room with our point of view people will cave in to the gospel and its barrage of truths. Really.

       One of the key ingredients in communication, especially when explaining our gospel is an Italian principle I was reminded of from The Godfather movie franchise. Shut-up a you face! We need to shut-up and listen to the other person’s point of view.

       We may think we’ve gotten our point across clearly. But how do we know?!? Simple. ASK.

       This is not rocket-surgery. It is simply courtesy. Politeness. Showing interest. Learning.

       Do we trust God so little that we think we have to get His point of view across, presented in a complete logical-sequential package? There is a basic principle in Christian communication— Give God some room to work. We dare not ignore this principle in favor of our own words.

       So. Some suggestions.

1.      Our message is built on relationship. BUILD one as a context..

2.      Shut-up a you face.

3.      Ask questions.

4.      Give people a chance to think, to respond, at their own pace.

5.      Don’t cram the Gospel into someone’s life.

6.      Again, give God some room to work. We don’t have to seal-the-deal. That’s God’s work.

       Always keep in mind that the rich context for our words is LOVE. Do you actually love this person? Or is your love merely a pretense for their conversion? Not a good idea.

       Finally, remember that God is at work. If He is not at work, all our explanations and presentations will fall of dumb ears. He is the initiator and convincer of our faith. Follow Him into conversation. Look for the threads of God woven throughout a person’s life. He is probably at work in peoples’ lives long before we show up.

Loving God; loving people… and bringing the two together! ©

Gary

NEXT— No joy in life.

Road Map Here  

The Whiskey Chronicles 13 – Learning to Love

 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Cornithians 13

     Oh, that it were that simple. But it isn’t. Too many of us guard our love. Husbands/wives, parents/children, church members, power trips, turf wars, political games, corporate positioning and manipulation.

     Pick one. Or several. We’ve made it all about winning.

     We’ve even turned the Gospel into a set of conditions; “if then.”

     Hewlett-Packard’s marketing tagline a few years ago was “What if…?” Well, what if the gospel were a free offer of grace, a free offer of forgiveness, an unconditional gift from God that we could in no way pay back, or meet a certain set of criteria for acceptance?

     Well, it is.

     Somehow we’re turned the Christian message into a set of qualifiers with stipulations to receive God’s forgiveness and favor. Question— Is this how all your other relationships work? I will love you…, if? If you will give me your heart, if you will stop drinking, if you will be faithful, if you will trust me… . This may have to be true for many of our interpersonal relationships, and rightly so.

       It’s not that way with Jesus. Our westernized, twenty-first century conversions seem to be based more on what WE will do, rather than what He has already done.

       On our part we truly need to learn to love people again, like Jesus did. We need to let Christ’s love, grace and forgiveness flow freely through us.

       Has loving our lost world with Christ’s love become so complicated that we need to learn to love again? I dare say it has.  If only our unbelieving world would learn to receive Christ’s love as it is offered.

Loving God; loving people…, and bringing the two together! ©

Gary

NEXT— Learning to listen.

Road Map Here  

The Whiskey Chronicles 8 – No Other Name

One of the hardest things for people to face when considering the Christian faith is the fact that it claims to be exclusive. Of course, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and, to an extent Judaism, also claim to be exclusive. Inside each of these religions there are further sub-groups that claim exclusivity.

       However, the world at large ignores Jesus’ claim that No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6) Most people believe that finding our way to God matters very little. Our faith appears quite narrow to those outside it. It makes Christians seem arrogant and repulsive in the halls of academia and civil discourse. It is as if we have chosen to exclude ourselves from normal society.

       To be sure, many Christians have chosen exactly this route. Not of the world: not in the world. And they are proud of their isolationist position. They argue that their stance is to protect their children and to abstain from all evil. The problem with this thinking is that it contradicts Jesus’ instruction to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:15). How will our world learn that there is no other Name if we withdraw from the people around us?!?

       Still, our Christian faith does claim that the only way to God, to serve Him, to worship Him, to love Him, is through the sacrificial atonement in payment for our sins (rebellion) through Jesus against a Holy God. This theme runs throughout our Scriptures as the Red Thread of Redemption.

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Fulfillment

       Therefore, it is quite true that Christianity claims to be the one true religion. That there is no other God-of-the Universe save Him. And He is Jesus Christ, in equal relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

       Now, I will be the first to admit that I do not understand all this. The Trinity of the Godhead has also puzzled me most of my life. But more than that, Our Christian faith claiming to be the Only Way to God seems way too exclusive and restrictive. Yet it is exactly what our Holy Scriptures declare.

       As a thinking, educated man, I find this hard to swallow. So I must conclude that my problem is with the God who said this, and the Holy Scriptures, where it is revealed. I may wish it were not the case; but when Scripture proclaimes it so, and 2000 years of Christian history have affirmed it, who am I to object?

       Many of us believe that mankind (humankind for those offended) is the pinnacle of all Creation, or Evolution, however you would have it. We are the final determiners of all moral and existential experiences. In my thinking, this is even more arrogant than asserting that there is a God in the heavens that holds that position.

       Or, put more crassly, Who the hell do we think we are?!?

       It is far more reasonable, far more rational, to believe in a Supreme Being that created all that there is and maintains some form of governance over it than to place ourselves at the top of the food chain.

       Now to postulate that the Christian faith is the only way to God is a matter of much study, and/or a faith that is bestowed on us as a gift from above. No one can “prove” the existence of God. It is a matter of evidence, trust and faith. Yet, in my personal experience, I have found my faith substantiated through faith and evidence, both subjective and objective. Our faith is not simply a shot-in-the-dark kind of thing. It is backed up by a great deal of historical evidence and study.

       Yet it must come down to the question of evidence, trust, and believing.

       There is no other name under heaven by which anyone can stand before God other than that of Jesus Christ. But in this postChristian era that has become more and more difficult. Multiculturalism (which has always been with us), keeping-our-options-open, hesitency to commit to anything, and a fear of being over-written by some external set of definers have all caused people not to put all their marbles in one pot.  Therefore, our postChristian society has never truly investigated Christianity and has very little understanding of our Christian faith. And when we assert that there is no other name by which we can be saved, our secular society can only stand in skepticism and surprise.

       So, when you encounter resistance and rejection, be prepared for it. Our faith is not very popular these days.

       We will return to this idea in later chapters.

Loving God; loving people…, and bringing the two together!

Gary

NEXT— CHALLENGES CHRISTIANS MUST FACE (a new beginning)

The Whiskey Chronicles 7 – The Gospel Re-Imagined

For almost 75 years we have used what is known as a problem-solving model of the gospel. You have a problem; we have a product that will solve your problem; buy our product; and your problem will be solved. Simple, straight-forward, and to the point.

       But what if a person doesn’t follow that line of reasoning? What if they are not so much a linear learning student, but a visual, or auditory, or kinesthetic learner? A four point, linear-sequential explanation of our message doesn’t communicate.

       The Christian Message in an illiterate society might better be communicated through storytelling, or art, or personal expression. The simple gospel simply isn’t that simple anymore. We need to learn to express Christ’s message of Redemption in different ways— not just one way. A visual gospel by culture. Verbal story telling. A gospel expressed in movements and shape and art.

       Then again, the forever-context for the gospel is love. Our message will never be understood unless it is covered in genuine love and graciousness.

       Still, the challenge remains— what would our message look like, feel like, sound like, if we moved it out of its linear explanations?

       Some years ago a young Ethiopian college student came to our home and asked if she could become a Christian. Why would you want to do that? Her reply? Because I’ve seen how you two love each other and I want what it is you have. Wow! The content (explanation) of the gospel followed its expression in the love she saw between Starr and me.

       Francis of Assisi is famous for giving us Preach the gospel everywhere you go, and, if necessary use words. He understood that the Christian faith is more than merely words. And its expression must be more than meager words. It must be expressed and received in the mindset of each individual, in their culture.

       We need to become keen observers of the world around us. Of the people around us. We have never lived in a monolithic society. To assume so would be naïve on our part. So it would be amiss to assume that anyone can understand the gospel in our cultural context. They need to understand it in their context.

       We must re-imagine the gospel in the contexts of the various peoples and cultures around us. One size no longer, and never has, fit all. We are probably more diverse now than at any other time in human history.

       Let’s reframe our message so it can be grasped by more people in more ways. Multicultural.

       And cradled always in the arms of love.

Loving God; loving people…, and bringing the two together!

Gary

NEXT— No Other Name!

THE WHISKEY CHRONICLES – the road ahead

       In the early years of our marriage Starr and I would always take our vacations in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. About 5 years into our marriage we tested ourselves to see if we could find our way to Jackson Hole, WY.

       Since we had traveled those roads before it was an enjoyable adventure. We arrived safe & sound at our destination— no mishaps or detours.

       The road we travel today, between the Christian and secular cultures, is not so easily navigated. The old roadmaps to guide us just do not apply anymore. New roads have been built over the old. The New England saying You can’t get there from here, is more appropriate that ever.

       So this entry into our adventure will lay out some of the issues & obstacles we will encounter as we build bridges to connect ourselves with normal people.

       Don’t panic, this is the menu on our plate. Some offerings will be more appealing than others. But it’s a BIG menu, like those roadside cafes you find all across New Jersey. 329 choices, No descriptors. Ask your waitress. So here we go.

Menu

THE WHISKEY CHRONICLES—  what normal people think of Christians ©

A Normal Person’s View of Christians & Christianity.

Assumptions About Each Other.

No Point of Contact.

Common Grace.

“The Distance Between Us.”

The Christian Gospel Reimagined. Resident Aliens.

No Other Name.

Challenges Christians face.

1.      No point of contact

2.      Fear

3.      Thinking in outlines instead of facets of faith (stories, experiences, functionable Truth)

4.      Simple gospel— complex multicultural positioning [3D Gospel]

5.      Learning to love

6.      Learning to listen

7.      No joy in life

8.      Cloistering/cocooning

9.      Deep prayer a mystery

10.    No expectation that God will work his miracles

Challenges Normal People face

1.      Do not know any genuine Christians

2.      Fear/disgust

3.      Foreign concepts

4.      Inaccurate, inappropriate, or unintelligible information

5.      Ships passing in the night mindset

6.      No sense of need for religion, Christ, let alone salvation

7.      Salvation from what? (C S Lewis quote)

8.      Happy the way I am

9.      I’m OK…, you’re out of your mind

10.   Anger over Race

The Value of Single Malt Scotch

Giving God Room to Work

Looking for the Threads of God

Afterthoughts…, my best ideas always come to me in the shower  

     OK, long list. But all of these issues are tantamount to clear up any disparities in our encounters between our faith and the precepts that guide other peoples’ lives.

     So let’s get on the road and find our way together.

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

Gary

NEXT— Laying out our roadmap

More Tired

Photo by Marco Verch

In this sequel I want to raise the question— How can we fight this ceaseless exhaustion? This is no longer a Western problem. It’s worldwide. The Japanese are notorious for being workaholics; so now the rest of the world has stepped in line right behind them. We are ALL working our fingers to the bone.

       I’ve found some things that have worked for me I’d like to pass along to you. I hope they help. (I know this sounds like I am asking you to DO MORE. But this is not the purpose of the following list. It is a call to FOCUS. Who do you need to be as followers of Christ in this increasingly fracturing world?]

       Sooooo…

1.      Care about something. Anything. Deeply.

2.      Care passionately! All talk and no action isn’t good for any of us.

3.      Instill your passion in others. You won’t get very far taking it on alone.

4.      Join local and national communities that share your passion.

5.      Focus…, but be open to learn, to change.

6.      READ about the broad field of issues facing our nation and our world.

7.      What weapons will you need to overcome this lethargy?

       For me it’s always been about passion. When I was trudging through my dissertation, I came across a quote by Georg Wilhelm Friedrick Hegel [1770 – 1831].

Nothing great in the world

Has ever been accomplished

Without passion.  

I am a visual-kinesthetic. Doctoral dissertations are linear-sequential. I was very passionate about what I was writing. There were many times I simply wanted to give up. But I didn’t. Passion carried me through.

       We each have only so much time to address the agonies of our world. What will you tackle? When will you get started.?  Now would be a good time… .

       Now go take a nap to get ready!

Honor God, honor people, Make a difference!

Gary