Challenging Challenges: Isolation

     Having just survived the COVID19 Pandemic (2019-2021) the world is faced with many Challenging Challenges. One of the strangest is a propensity for many of us to remain isolated.

     Oddly, the Pandemic was good for me. It isolated my wife and I within the cloister of our home. I wrote more, prayed for others more. And pondered my ancient question— What is God designing me for in this next phase of my life?

     There are a myriad of facets to consider: vision, strength, age, concentration, dreams, networks, support teams, spiritual disciplines, Starr, and numerous others. For me, I work best in context and conversation with other people. Give & take, argument, debate, sharpen my wits to produce better solutions about life.

     But I still need times of isolation for contemplation and reflection. These Colorado mountains offer great expanses to draw nearer to the mind of God.

     As followers of Christ, we dare not continue in a stance of isolation while our world is struggling to reboot. They need us. In Matthew 5 we are called to be the salt and light of this earth (13-16). Salt preserves: light clarifies. We cannot do that if we cloister in our churches or hide in our homes.

     Later, in John 17:13-19, Jesus prays to his Father that He should NOT take us out of this world. Rather, that we should be protected from evil. Considering we are postPandemic I do not believe continued isolation is an option for any genuine follower of Christ. Like I said, these people need us.

     For the sake of people’s redemption we need to reenter the warp ‘n wolf flow of our society. We need to be involved in the lives of the people around us. Even virtually! But not exclusively.

     Fear is Christ’s enemy. We need to overcome our fear and join in His ongoing mission to those He has chosen to place in our path.

    So where are you struggling with re-engaging? What keeps you in isolation?

     Get out there and enjoy the miracles our Lord has for you to discover.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT—  same ol’ , same ol’ .

Challenging Challenges: ReShaping our Faith

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

      Well, we’ve come a long way baby.

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

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

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

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

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

      But ALL must have certain common concerns.

1.       A broken heart for the poor and needy.

2.       Proactive in seeing social justice done.

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

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

5.       A love of life!

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

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

8.       A deep longing to see God.

9.       Joy in being with God’s people.

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

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

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Isolation

Challenging Challenges: Making our Relationships Count

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

How do we make our relationships count?!?

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

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

     Seriously?!? I was truly offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Reframing Our Faith

Challenging Challenges: Our Own Mortality

     When we’re young we rarely think about dying. Unless a friend is suddenly taken in an auto accident, or by cancer, or some extreme medical situation. These are rare, but poignant, reminders that, someday, we will all meet our Maker. Or, if you are an atheist, you will simply cease to exist. Or you’re just not sure about all this morbid stuff.

     Look at the health and beauty industry. We do all we can to prolong our life AND our beauty. For some of us…, it works. But for most, no matter how much moola we sink into ourselves it just doesn’t matter. We will get old (some, not so graciously) and we will die.

     For most people there is a great fear of death that shrouds our every breath. When my wife and I were engaged we had to go visit her dying grandmother. She lived for another 39 years. Some people live dying: others will die living life to the fullest.

     So why does death, and the reality of our own mortality, plague us? For one, it is the ultimate, final equalizer. The question we each need to answer is— Is death it? or, Is there something else? Beyond. Only a few of us have ever escaped this eventual actuality. Some have passed over and returned, with various stories of afterlife.

     For genuine Christians, there truly is an afterlife. For others…, well!?! The question then is— where? More explicitly, where we will join God, our Lord Christ, His Spirit, and a myriad of friends and followers? Or hell, which will be…, well, hell.

     Our mortality can be either a question of termination, or a matter of transition. Personally, I do not need a heaven to be rewarded for the joy of serving the God of the Universe while on earth. I see it more as frosting on the cake. Mind you, I love frosting. But I don’t need it to honor our Lord while in this life. The joy of being his servant is enough.

     The real question is one of termination! How can we grow, raise families, make a difference, and just have all that simply come to an abrupt END? THAT’s what doesn’t make sense.

     By logical sequence there must be some form of continuation beyond this present life. Our life doesn’t end. It continues. The only question is where and to what purpose.

     So, how do you see your own mortality? Or should I say, your immortality? Do surprises lie ahead? Or do you look forward to a transition into something totally wild!

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT—  Making our Relationships Count

Challenging Challenges: Cancer

     

OK, let’s get on with it. Yesterday I had my first treatment for cancer, prostate cancer, that has spread to the bone, to be precise. Today, it doesn’t seem that any side effects have kicked in. Praise God!

      This is uncharted territory for both of us. Then again, that is what Starr and I have given our lives to most of the time. Forging creative ways to be Christians in secular society, thinking deeply about the communication of the Christian message to an increasingly naïve, broken, and angry world. Moving the Gospel format from a Problem-Solving Model to a Fulfillment Model was a shift some are still not comfortable with.

     And many of our friends are still shocked that after 40 years in New England we moved to Colorado. We seriously love living by our beloved mountains. Few of our East Coast friends realized how much they were a part of our soul.

     This cancer certainly qualifies as one of life’s Challenging Challenges. On one hand, we are quite aware of the seriousness of this situation. On the other, we, I have utter confidence in the God we love that He is in absolute control. There is a great assurance and inner peace that goes with that. For those who have just this life, it makes no sense.

     Frederick Nietzsche, one of my distant influencers [who most Christians thought was attacking our faith], once said that “those who danced were thought to be completely mad by those who could not hear the music.”  I find the Christian life to be much like that in front of the normal people around us. They march to a different drummer. We follow a path of total dependence on the God of the universe who has called us to Himself. And we like His music.

         I often say in jest God is full of surprises…, don’t trust Him. You know I mean exactly the opposite. For once you put your trust in the God of heaven & earth, your need to control the world around you falls into the proper perspective.

     At the end of John’s gospel, chapter 21, Jesus asks Peter repeatedly if he loves Him. Finally, Peter replies in desperation, “Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you.” Jesus’ reply—

Feed my sheep.

     Our Lord is always asking us the same question. Do you love me? Will you continue to make a difference in My Name?

     Even with cancer?!? Yes, even with that.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

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

After There’s Nothing Left: The Reality of Depression

 Sadly, for too many of us, depression is a way of life. Earlier in our marriage there was a time when my wife and I had lost a baby in her only pregnancy. On top of that I had just been fired from a job I loved; all within the same month. To say we were in the grips of depression would be a definitive understatement.

      To deal with such deep loss I turned to a long-time friend for counsel. After numerous talks he opened the DSM-3 (now 5) that listed the Criteria for Clinical Depression.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

https://www.psycom.net/depression-definition-dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria/ ]

      To be diagnosed as suffering from genuine depression an individual had to exhibit 3 of these symptoms for at least two weeks. At one point in my life I had five. To some degree I have suffered with this depression ever since.

      Over the years I have learned to cope through worship, prayer, confession, counseling, and a couple good friends. There is no replacement for any of these.

      In a quite literal sense, I’ve recovered my soul. I’ve become more of a person because I’ve faced myself, admitted who I truly was, and became a new me. But I could not have done it without the spirit of Christ rescuing me from myself. I believe I am becoming more of the person Christ has created me to be.

      Medication is great. Don’t thumb your nose at it. Still, if you want to recover your soul as you work through your depression, no matter how severe or mild, you will need to reconnect with yourself, and your God, at a deeper level. There are no easy paths to recovery or normalcy; a therapist can help a great deal— but the burden of the resolutions will rest on you…, and God.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,
Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— final thoughts— 30.

After There’s Nothing Left: Regrouping

 It is a terrible thing to lose track of your soul, to lose track of who you are at the very core of your being. In a very real sense, we can lose track of ourselves. We become missing persons still in place.

            Before we launch into our misplaced-persons report something obvious must be brought to the surface. There are some individuals who never think like this: they never think about their souls; they never think about being in limbo, about who they are as individuals, or about what it means to be whole. They just put one foot in front of the other and press on. Are you this kind of a person? I hope not. At least not so after reading this series on depression. If you are not one of these individuals, please do not be judgmental of those who are; they are living their lives the best they know how. They may not even be conscious that they have a soul. Their lives have been lived on the surface for so long that there is little to no depth to them.

A number of years ago I talked with a young profession about his soul. My shock came when I realized that there was no one at home. He had lived a life of deception for so long that there was literally no inner depth or development whatsoever. This was quite a devastating realization for me. I hope, pray, that somewhere in these ensuing years he has uncovered some of his own inner world.

But many, sadly, have no clue.

Pressing on…, here are some of my ideas on WHY we misplace ourselves and lose track of our souls.

  1. We either set NO goals or have messed up goals. If money is your goal, you may or may not acquire it. But if it overshadows your sense of personal being, or of cultivating some inner character, it will eventually eat you alive.

You may wind up with a lot of money, but little else. Is that worth it.

  1. We compromise our integrity and thus desecrate our human dignity. We may value our own life and possessions, but those around us become mere fodder, waste-products to be squandered and discarded. It’s all about me.
  2. We deny that we have a spiritual dimension to our lives and reject the existence of any divine being who might have authority or due claim over us. This is naïve at best and ridiculous at worst. How can we deny the postulations of 10,000 – 600,000 years of human history wherein people knew there must be a God who created all this and has dominion over it?!? Oh, I forgot, we’re “modern, or “postChristian” and do not need these myths to govern our lives. Really! Arrogant. Naïve?
  3. We are afraid to face ourselves. We are afraid to admit that we might be wrong about some things. Like young Narcissus in Greek mythology, we discover our reflection in a pool of water and worship it. This is our narcissistic inclination to cast godhood on ourselves. We cannot be wrong. In the extreme, some people cannot be wrong about anything. This is a major blemish on our souls, painting them with a façade of perfection which only our Creator can impart. Look in the mirror and see yourself for who you truly are. Now, if you don’t like what you see… . What are you going to do about it?

Maybe it’s time we reflect on who we are, who we are becoming, and on our failures in life, it might be helpful to remember King David’s words at the end of Psalm 139—

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts,
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— The Reality of Depression.

After There’s Nothing Left: Soul Love

    Soul love is something both hard to define and something craved by every human being on this planet. It is the total love of one for the other; unrequited and free, without qualification or limit.

     Very few of us have experienced this kind of love. Stories and fables speak of it— Ruth & Naomi, Cupid & Psyche, Romeo & Juliet, Dr. Yury Zhivago & Lara. Young teens suppose they have found it. Newlyweds know they have. But what is it, really?

      Soul love is an unanswered love, one given expecting nothing in return. Many relationships fail because of “expectations” placed on the other to perform, to return an expected love demanded by the one giving love. This is not soul love. It is a business contract. A deal. A love not based on the emptying of ones-self, but of requiring recompense. Genuine soul love expects nothing in return. It loves with impunity, with no thought of compensation.

            Though most of us have been loved by another by at least one person in our loves, I have known only two soul loves, soul mates. One is my wife Starr, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.” Except for the death do us part part, we have weathered & faced many storms; probably more to follow; but we will face them together as soulmates.

      The other soulmate in my life has been with me longer than Starr. Since my sophomore year of college, in March as I recall, I have lived with someone who has never left me, who has loved me no matter how I have treated him. Someone who has never changed even though I have floundered and risen to fame numerous times. And, yes, you have guessed it— it is the God who created me, Jesus Christ.

      It is an odd thing to know you have a daily, ongoing, safe relationship with the God of the Universe. But I am not unique; there are others around us who have this relationship. This relationship provides me with the richest of soul loves. And it makes loving other people as simple as having a cup of coffee, or tea.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

                                ~ Matthew 11:28 ESV

      In your life, may you find as great a source of soul-love as I have found in mine.

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

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

After There’s Nothing Left: Soulfood – Learning silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

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