Closing Doors #5 A Sliver of Light

prayer_for_usaAs we follow Christianity across the ocean to the Americas you must, by now, see that I have been covering large swaths of history in a single ¾ page offering. This has been unfair. Excellent books have covered far less time periods in far more pages. So this will be the final entry in my cosmic fly-over of the church and its interface with the world around it.

     From 1850 to the present, colossal revolutions swept the Church. The rise of American denominationalism, the struggle over the slavery issue, the Civil War, two World Wars, terrible conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and a seemingly endless cold war with Russia have overshadowed the Church’s stance in the public forum.

     Add to that the divisive nature of “Christian” personality cults, our flip-flops during the civil-rights movements, and Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, have all placed the Church at odds with the secular society around us. More recently, the conundrum over LGBTQ issues and the “cocooning” of many evangelical churches and ministries, the faith we love is pretty much a joke for the majority of the nation.

     On the plus side, the field meetings of Charles Finney, the urban popularity of Billy Sunday, and the incredible ministry of Billy Graham have done much to keep a positive spin on the true nature of the Christian faith. The ‘70s Jesus People ushered in a new face for a more youthful Christian expression. And where would we be without contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Rend Collective); even the mainstream music industry has to take notice.

     So how do we keep these doors open so the waiting world can at least see a sliver of light of who we are?

     Well, at the least we need to unlock the doors from our side. Replacing Kingdom language (King, Lord) with less medieval constructs might be a good place to start. And fewer thee’s and thou’s mighteth help. Charles & John Wesley utilized popular well known tunes and put Christian lyrics to them. We’ve got a good jump on that; let’s keep going.

     90% – 95% of Church activities revolve around itself. Think we could change that?!? And what about revising that judgmental attitude toward others?!? Maybe a little more forgiving this time around?

     We could, believe it or not, get involved in local government, or run for public office! Maybe even start a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or a CEO’s Confidentiality Consortium. When I lived in the northeast, I was asked to join the Pioneer Valley Gentlemen’s Whiskey Association because I was a Christian. Go figure. Opening doors.

     God does not want any of us to spend the rest of our days cloistered inside our churches: well, unless you‘re the Pope; and even ee gets out!

     Our place is one of intermingling with the people of our society; both with those of influence and those who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. What has the Lord called you to? Get there. And bring the peace, forgiveness, and joy of our Lord with you.

 … a glimmer in the dust,

  Gary

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Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

Closing Doors 2-Changing Arenas

jean-lc3a9on_gc3a9rc3b4me_-_the_christian_martyrs_last_prayer_-_walters_37113     Images of Christians being eaten by lions or slaughtered by gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum can be found in many of the West’s museums of art. Oddly, many of these paintings were commissioned by the Church to recall our less than auspicious beginnings.

     From the crucifixion of Jesus to the stoning of Stephen, to the persecution of Saul, the Church got off to a precarious start. In its attempt to squash this new, blasphemous religion the Roman Empire did more to coalesce early Christian resolve than they could have imagined.

     By the early 3rd century thousands of “Christ followers” had been tortured, crucified, and ripped apart by lions. Because of their sacrifices, many people saw the principles of the Christian faith as a viable alternative to the gods of Rome. One such martyr was a young convert to Christ named Perpetua. Her death in the arena served to solidify the faith in a myriad of Christians who followed, including Augustine.

     In the early 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337 CE) declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, leaving Christians alone to believe what they wanted. This act (some say on Constantine’s deathbed) changed the lot of the Church forever. The Roman government had cleared the way for the early Christians to spread their beliefs freely; and spread they did.

     “Missionaries” ventured forth into the unknown to tell people of the salvation found in Christ. From China in the East to Gaul and Britannia in the West, individuals with godly passion and personal dedication spread the message of Jesus wherever they went. Roman roads, designed to move Rome’s troops rapidly throughout the Empire, now carried the Gospel to the ends of the known world. The Church grew and expanded. And it also became enormously wealthy, possessing lands and holdings funded by her adherents, sometimes willingly, other times, not so much. Eventually, this wealth resulted in a vicious rivalry between Church leaders and Feudal Lords; both vying for political power and possessions.

     Many Monastic orders grew out of the perceived divisions and commercializing of the church. Men and women would cloister themselves in monasteries for scripture study, service, and escape. These movements, and others like them, began the separation of the church from society. However, some sets their minds to preserve the codex of Scripture, provide “monastic escapes” for those who required silence, secrecy, and protection. And they provided basic life sustenance for their surrounding communities.

     However, they never understood the importance of being IN the community, rather than an evasion from it.

     A story— One of the men I mentor is teaching a course on 21st Century Evangelism. When two of the students learned that we were actually going to talk with a realnonChristian” they dropped out of the class. What have we come to? Should we build more walls and defend ourselves against the onslaught of our “evil” society?

     Jesus didn’t.

What will it cost you to engage your world?

  Gary

Phases #10 Deliverance…again

sir_peter_paul_rubens_-_daniel_in_the_lions_den_-_google_art_project
Peter Paul Rubens, between circa 1614 and circa 1616

   By now you must be wondering if the Christian life is like going ‘round in circles— deliverance, delight, discipleship, discouragement, decisions, & now, deliverance, again. In many ways, you would be right. For a life of faith is not a straight line to the future, with no kinks, knots, bunny trails, or temporary suspensions. It has all of that and then some. Maybe even a lion’s den for some of us.

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     No Christian is perfect. We are always in process. [Although, I must admit to being PERFECT in 2004, for about 5 ½ minutes, in April. Most of the time, I am not even close.Our faith journeys are not set in stone, even though our salvation is. We all doubt, wander, reject, reaffirm, and celebrate over and over again. Our faith is set in the context of who we are designed to be as individual Christians, in the context of the whole Body of Christ.

     So in times when we need yet another deliverance from our anguish, our pain, our sin, it is good to have fellow journeymen around you who can attest to the power of God to free you from yet another mess you’ve made of your life. Christian community…, remember?!? I’ve often wondered if we go through these cycles so God can remind us we are fickle beings and must constantly rely on Him. Deliverance has a definite recurring role in our journey of faith.

     There is another side effect of deliverance. It is the reminder that we are also forgiven for our sins (READ— no condemnation!) Many of us never lay hold of this reality; instead, we wallow in the Dark Night of the Soul believing we will never get it right, never be good enough for Christ, never be worthy of heaven. Seriously!?! Can we be so stupid to believe that Christ’s work of the Cross was not sufficient to cover the price for all of our sins? Even the ones we have not come up with yet?

     You ARE in a state of grace. You have been declared holy. Get used to it. Get on with it in your journey and believe that you are truly forgiven— past, present and future. No defeatist wallowing allowed.

     AND, when you mess up again, again, and again…, and need the deliverance of the Father, know it is already there; and the forgiveness to go along with it as well. Seek forgiveness wherever you need it; then get back on track. Our Lord has all your bases covered.

You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

~Psalm 32:7 [NIV]

 SMILE, Gary

Phases #9 Dedication

how-to-be-successful-with-weight-loss_1-1024x682There is a section in the Judeo-Christian scripture that asks a question—

“O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

In other words, who would live long in Your presence? The Psalmist offers a number of criteria. For our consideration, I will choose only one—

“He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

~ Psalm 15: 1, 4. NASB

     Dedication is our internal, decisive will power to stick to the matters at hand. It is commitment, determination, stick to-it-tiveness, perspicuity— call it what you will; it is a critical obstinacy that we use to fulfill a decision we’ve made, no matter how hard the road.

     When it comes to the Christian faith, this is the one characteristic that must be exercised the most…, after prayer, and worship, and probably a few more. But for me, it has been the one thing that has pushed my faith to the limit. Remember Never give up!? Well, never give in, either.

     In marriage vows we swear to be faithful and committed to one another. Loving, too. The primary reason marriages shatter is our lack of dedication to make it work, no matter what. The same is true of our faith in Christ.

     Too often in our life of faith, things go wrong, or we sin, rebel against God, or just find the journey too tedious and binding. So we jump ship. Or sex grabs us; and I don’t mean the kind within our marriage. Our entire faith gets dumped for some handsome guy or cute little thing. Just brilliant!

     G.K. Chesterton once said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. As long as WE continue to set the perimeters of our faith, it will remain just that— our faith. But if we are serious about our decision to truly follow the claims of Christ, no matter what, that’s when the required dedication needs to kick in.

     Setting our minds to the task of being a Christian is not a simple matter. The most probable reason Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us is that He understood that. He knows our weaknesses, our whimsical nature when things get tough. He knew our dedication to Him would be challenged. Therefore…, God within us: establishing our commitment to Him: forging a faith within that is unshakable.

 Dedicated, determined, and heading in the right direction,

  Gary

PHASES #3, Delight

gary davis, christian, delight, discovery, life           Welcome to the Christian life! Can’t you just taste that cheesecake with strawberry topping and drizzled chocolate?!? And that huge scoop of cookies ‘n cream ice cream! Yeah…, me too. No? Go ahead…, take a moment to taste it. Yes, now.

            The first days of freedom and realization in the Christian life are like that. You can just taste your whole body smiling. The Delight phase, at least the initial one, is pure hot fudge! My first days as a Christian were a complete Lightness-of-Being. After 3 years of fighting and running from God I gave up; it was as if a tremendous weight that was pressing me down had been lifted off me. I was finally free.

            There is an peculiar sense of peace, of inner-grinning-joy that overcomes you when you realize you are forgiven and set free before God. If there were any subjective evidence of regeneration in Christ, as God’s grace is extended to us, it would be this internal delight.  This inward quiet peace that has a warming, soothing effect.

            Still, for many of us, when we lose our joy and return to a more settled Christian life, we wonder what happened. Let me see if this helps. Remember your first kiss? And the next and the next and the next? Of course you do. Well, as your relationship with Christ develops and deepens, those kisses take on a richer meaning beyond mere passion. They become symbols of your mutual commitment to one another. Your passion morphs into something far more powerful than initially.

            The same is true within your Christian faith. The passion is still there; but it manifests itself differently. It expresses itself in worship, longer times in prayer, and acts of grace to others. Its language takes on more practical and private expressions.

            Now, all this being said, it was a surprise to me that, as I aged, my original passion returned. And it did so within a much more informed, educated, experienced faith. It is a far deeper delight than I might have imagined.

            So as you move through the various Phases of your Christian life, and maybe recycle a few, keep in mind that it isn’t over ‘till you’re dead. You’ve got a few more Phases to grow through.

Reveling in the new reality!

  Gary

PHASES- #1, an Introduction to the Christian life

            Welcome to the Christian life!

stoning_of_st_stephen1625oil_on_oak_panelmusee_des_beaux-arts_lyons“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”–Tertullian

       In the first few centuries, Christianity grew quickly. By AD100, it had become mostly Gentile and had begun to break from its Jewish origins. By 200, the faith had permeated most regions of the Roman Empire, though Christians were mostly in the larger urban areas (Gaul, Lyons, Carthage, Rome). By 325, an estimated 7 million were Christians with as many as 2 million killed for the faith.”http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/anceint_christian_martyrdom.htm

The Martyrdom of Stephen, (only 36 at the time of his death) spurred many “Christ Followers” to deeper understanding of the cost of their salvation. Is this what you’ve sighed up for?

Throughout these next few months I will set forth the various Phases of the Christian life, as I see them. Granted, there are many more, or fewer; this is only one early 21st Century writers perspective. Enjoy.

Here is my list of the Phases of the Christian life we will explore.

1.      Deliverence 6.      Discouragement
2.      Delight 7.      Decisions
3.      Discipleship 8.      Dedication
4.      Distraction 9.      Deliverence (again)
5.      Disillusion 10.  Delight

For now, let’s start with the admission that if everything in your life of faith is static, solid, and unchanging, you are not growing in your newfound faith. You are pretending or hiding or deceiving yourself. The Christian life is not a static, once-for-all-time thing. It is a fluid work of art in constant flux.

Get used to it.

Much love,

Gary