Getting from Here to There: what to do, what to do? #1

 wandiligong_mazeIn many ways this EMPulse is what you’re really looking for in this series.  For those interested in the shift from a Modern worldview to a postModern/postChristian worldview you are well aware that we have analyzed this shift to death. Between George Barna and George Gallup we have compiled enough statistics to fill a barn. But understanding is not the issue. It’s what to DO about the shift that is the real issue. That is what this section will address. What follows are some simple things you can do to change, adjust, adapt, cope, whatever— first, on an individual level, and then, [Part 2] corporately as a Body of Christ. On the one hand, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and on the other hand, we have entered into a new phase in history. An entire generation has been born in the West with no Christian history, no Christian memory or experience whatsoever. Any semblance of “Western Christian culture” is fading into oblivion as a forgotten archeological relic. Let’s begin… .

 Paradigm Pioneers Get Shot First: ~don’t be too quick to sign up!

            First, a warning! You need to understand that as someone who is concerned, frustrated, or even angry at Christianity’s seeming inabilities to adjust to a new set of cultural rules, you will not be a popular person, especially with the powers that be. True Christian leadership within this postModern mentality is what is desperately needed. We’ve all seen those SUCCESS sections in Flight magazines—  you know, the ones with motivational posters to put up in your office. [You can find another series at the website www.despair.com that offers a truly different slant on motivational posters.] The one I find most germane to being a paradigm pioneer depicts an eye-level bright green lawn, with one blade of grass standing taller than all the rest. The caption reads— Remember…, it’s the tallest blade of grass that gets cut first. Get the picture? Ask yourself— “Are you more interested in a position of authority, where you are respected within the Christian matrix, or are you convinced that you want to lead the way in reshaping our faith in this emerging postmodern/postChristian world?”

If you find yourself in the latter position, then you must adjust your self-perception to a new reality— YOU are a target. To be sure, ALL Christians are targets…, it’s just that some are more selected targets than others; they are the tallest blades of grass. If you are sure, then rest assured you will take the first shots. The sad thing is that the shot is more likely to come from the back— not from enemy lines. Christians across North America have long valued their own comfort and safety over frontline battle. If you do find any comrades-in-arms you will probably find them on the fringes of faith. Outfielders, without whom the ball game would be lost.

            But every new wave of the Spirit of God always starts with committed, called, set-apart men and women of vision, courage, and risk. In short, any changes or ideas to be implemented in the Christian community must be initiated by people like you. It’s up to you. Are you up for it? If so, you will not find yourself alone, but you will find yourself scarce. Such are the postmodern/postchristian prophets—  you, a Christian paradigm-pioneer. You will be the first to take the shot. If this sounds like fun to you, keep reading.

            Another preemptive move must be addressed before we tackle the practical stuff. Your spiritual health and your spiritual perception are the primary armor you will need to do battle in a postChristian context. Do not even attempt to pioneer anything without a firm grounding in personal cleanness and righteousness before the Lord God. Leadership in postChristian times is always a matter of sticking your neck out. This has been true throughout the history of the church. So…, let’s go.

  1. Express your faith through life experiences. Realign your faith to balance experiencing God with understanding God. Western Christianity in the Modern era has swung the pendulum of understanding to the extreme. Faith is about belief and theology more than it was about life. But faith is really more akin to trust and risk than it is related to understanding. Remember, TRUTH is first personal, in the person of Jesus Christ; then propositional, explaining the life of faith. Like Jesus, we need to learn to think of our faith as stories, metaphors, and experiences ofah-ha! Faith is a journey, not an outline. Make sure your beliefs are in line with the teachings of Scripture; then spend more time in solitude, in prayer, and immersed in a world that doesn’t have a clue.
  2. Learn to speak the language of YOUR culture. Every subculture has its own language pattern. Football has its nickel defense, fullbacks and wishbones; computer geeks talk about Clouds, TCPIPs, i9s, i10s, and now interdependent devices. We Christians have our pre-mills, post-tribs, and supralapsarians. Notwithstanding, we need to learn the nuances and innuendos in the language of our surrounding culture. We need to learn to express our faith in a language pattern that they can understand.  They may not agree with it, but we need to express it so they can comprehend it. Remember too, that Christian expressions of faith are generationally delimited with little crossover to younger generations. Ask your Christian teen to translate “the Lordship of Christ” into their generational mindset. You’ll see.
  3. Let go of your sin. The greatest roadblock to Christians living out our faith is our own sinfulness. Until Christ comes back our sin will be ever with us. On one hand we are forgiven through the work of Christ; on the other hand, we still find ourselves wallowing in the guilt of confessed, even forgiven sin. This is in no way a healthy dilemma. We need a genuine trust in Christ, sins forgiven, new beginning in progress, a done deal! Then we need to get on with life as if our sins are actually forgiven. The reality is they actually ARE!
  4. Learn to love. If letting go of sin frees the Christian for living in a postChristian era as if those sins were actually forgiven, then learning to love makes that life come alive. This may sound quite simple for virtually any Christian, but it is not. All of us have become more cautious and guarded in our love lives; so much so, that we generally withhold love because it’s simply safer that way. And so the greatest of Christian virtues becomes our greatest matter of concern and risk. But isn’t that what the Christian life is about anyway? Risk! I cannot imagine any other model for Christ’s love for the world than for it to be exhibited through us. Because love is a definitive corollary of safety. More than anything else, postChristians crave safety— safe places, safe people, safe activities.
  5. Lose the intensity [you don’t need to win]. A lot of western Christianity in the modern era has become pretty intense. Intense about theology, intense about denominationalism, intense about appearances, intense about proper relationships, etc. People who aren’t Christians see it and conclude that Christianity isn’t for them— too intense, too judgmental, and too narrow. We Christians seem to feel safest when we have as much as possible nailed down, quantifiable and definable. I wonder if God intended us to spend more effort defining our faith than in living it out among those who truly need to see Him in us? We don’t need to win. He has.
  6. Don’t do everything, give God some room to work. If any attribute characterizes everybody in these early years of the twenty-first century it is busyness. Most of us are over-worked, over-booked, over-committed, out-of-time, frantic fanatics about squeezing as much into life each. You are probably reading this EMPulse as you fall asleep. And, you are t-i-r-e-d! One foot in front of the other… .

   Or, is there another way? Try not doing so much. Breathe more. Slow down, cut some commitments (even for your kids), and take a hike. Throughout all life there are growth-plateaus where our bodies and minds must come to rest.  Are you moving so fast that you must slow down to even hear God? Please, for Jesus’ sake, STOP! Let your spirit catch up to your body. Pressurized postmoderns need to see that kind of tranquility, that kind of s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s, and that kind of trust in our God.

  1. Open a conduit to Christ—  keep it open. This sounds so simple, yet, in a compartmentalized society we tend to pigeonhole even our relationship with God. We go to church, rather than being the church. We have times of prayer, but then manage our life as if God has little to do with it.  Instead, let me propose to you that we learn to pray without ceasing, in a sense. Our Lord is always ON, always THERE. Why not merely shift the direction of your conversation from horizontal, with whomever, to triangular, with whomever, and with God? This pre-positioning of God in our midst makes much more sense than getting ready to come into His presence. I admit that coming into His presence is nothing to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, we are, in actuality, never out of His presence. Ever!

I actually wonder if God didn’t create prayer solely for our benefit, for our sense of connection, communication, and closeness to Him?

NEXT TIME~ Reinventing Church:  

 Gary
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How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

Beyond Words Take 7 – A Community Networked Faith

In this edition of Beyond Words we will think about our place in a community. Well, actually, two communities: one, Christian; the other, our surrounding society.

First, if we are to flourish in our present postChristian culture we must be deeply networked within our churchour Christian community. We need her safety, her training, her friendships and definitely her worship together. We need to tell our stories to one another, share our lives together, and, always, eat chicken & pizza together. Maybe not at the same time.

The relationships we build within the Body of Christ are critically important for those who might attend church with us. They need to see hugging and laughter and prayer and forgiveness of one another. They need to join in on the fun. They need to see what life in Christ might be like.

Secondly, before you can ever get them to darken the doors of a church you first have to get to know them in the midst of their safe-places, among their friends and within their interests. No Christian should dwell in a void, surrounded exclusively by other Christians. We need to embed ourselves inside our office parties, Saturday baseball leagues, our children’s sports teams, even the PTA & library reading club. God never intended us to hibernate away from our surrounding culture except for times of prayer & fasting.

What He expects us to do is to become beacons of light, enjoying the celebrations of this world with the friends we make in it. If all we have are Christian friends we have somehow lost the intent of the Great Commission to “GO!” We are not given the leisure to WAIT for people to come to us. We are called to enter their world; very much, I think, like Jesus did.

WARNING: If you do this you will get your hands dirty. You will have your faith challenged…, and strengthened. Some well-meaning believers will criticize you for spending so much time among “the heathen.” That, too, is what Jesus experienced. It’s where He was meant to be.  It’s where we are meant to be too.

 

For what it’s worth,

Gary

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BEYOND WORDS – Take 6 – A Receiver Determined Offering

Gary, davis, church, Christianity, culture, faithIn this edition of Beyond Words (Take 6) we will limit our observations to the recipients of our message— the billions of “normal people” across our country and world who span the gamut from cursory familiarity with the gospel to complete cluelessness about anything Christian.

To communicate our message to the diversity of people around the world we need to know their language, their cultural underpinnings, their mores and beliefs. Most missionaries know this. We need to know the extent to which their religious beliefs affect their daily lives. Some may adhere to a particular religion but hold no dedication to that faith whatsoever.

We especially need to know about peoples’ past experiences with the Christian faith— both positive and negative. Some people have had truly terrible encounters with our own “jerks4Jesus” set. Their prejudice seethes deep within. Others were raised in the church and have come to doubt the trustworthiness of any so-called Christians. Still more have had great encounters with Christians and have not ruled out Christianity as a viable guide for life, but…, not just yet.

Then there are differences in the way people perceive life; logical, artistic, as a responsibility, as a game, as a calling, etc. Science prone individuals are not going to put up with a simple gospel; for them, life is full of order and complexity. An artist will want a gospel with vibrancy and life to it. A mother of three— a gospel with some relief and rest. A builder will need to hear a Jesus who is practical that makes common sense.

So if you are asked “What is the gospel?” the correct initial response should be “For Who?” Not that you have to BE all these kinds of people, but at least you should LISTEN to them to understand their world a little better.

Peoples’ life experiences play a huge role in how they will respond to Christianity as a faith, and to individual Christians they may know. They may have already developed their own predispositions to who we are and what we say. To ignore their life experiences is to place your agenda of the gospel over against what God may have been doing in their lives for a long time.

The Truth never changes; but our job is to offer the crux of Christ’s message within the context of their life experiences, where they are on their journey…, not ours. Never forget that.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

BEYOND WORDS: Take 5— a Culturally Sensitive Faith

Oddly enough, cultural sensitivity is one of the least considered factors for Westerners when it comes to the expression and communication of our faith. We seem to have a built-in blind spot in recognizing cultural nuances and their effect on our faith.
For example, we used to use The Wordless Book in gospel presentations. BLACK= Sin, RED= Atonement, WHITE= Purity or Salvation, GOLD= Heaven, and GREEN=Life. Simple, isn’t it. But in most African cultures Black= Life, Red= War, White=Death, Gold= Greed, and Green= Life. One point in common. See the issue? Fortunately, most of us don’t use this simple device any longer.
The point is that the surrounding culture affects our expression of faith and its communication more than we think. To not be aware of these tones of difference opens the door to opening our mouths and inserting our feet. Yes, both of them.
In our postChristian world it would be like telling a person that God loves them when they have no concept of an external reference point. Of some man in the sky who has an opinion about their life, let alone “loves them.”
Developing sensitivity to cultural differences has become tantamount in the practice of our Christian faith. We must learn to adapt our faith to blend with the language formats of the culture in which we live. Otherwise, we will come to believe that people are rejecting the claims of Christ when they are actually rejecting our own insensitive manners.
Do you want to know the first rule of growing a culturally sensitive awareness? It’s a simple principle- Shut-up! One mouth; two ears. LEARN TO LISTEN! STOP TALKING. OBSERVE!
We need to learn what it means to BE a Christian in another culture than our own. And did I mention that also includes most of Western Culture- Europe, definitely, and most of Canada and the U.S. as well. We do not speak the same language of those around us. Our mindsets are radically different.
For what it’s worth,
  Gary

Beyond Words: Take 4 – A Personality Specific Faith

Larson personalityIn this edition of Beyond Words let’s look at how your personality filters your faith.

My wife is sitting across from me just opening a medium-size bag of M&Ms. Different colors on the outside and consistently the same within. Very much like our world’s Christ-followers. Sometimes, even with a few nuts thrown in for variety.

Not all Christians are alike. Not all expressions of our faith are alike. Not all people are alike. Kind of like stating the obvious, isn’t it.

Yet within the decreasing influence of Western Christendom we try to maintain a boring sameness in our faith as is impossible. The reality of divergent races, cultures, and personalities should be obvious. We are all not one. We are a complex multiplicity of beings with a common commitment to Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, we live in an era where some really smart people have done some deep research on the different kinds of people we are. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Myers began their research in 1917, which culminated in the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator Test in 1956 (MBTI). You can take a simplified FREE version of the Test here—

https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

The observable reality that we each have a distinct personality is a great gift from God. For Christians, it means that the gospel can take on different shapes and nuances across a broad spectrum of races, cultures, and divergent personalities. We don’t all have to be the same. Even better, none of you have to be likeme. [Phew!]

You see, when God created us He intentionally built into us divergent dispositions to reflect the majesty of His glory. Thus, we are NOT all the same; nor should we be. If we were, it would be an admission that people are unilaterally boring and that the Lord God Creator of the universe is, in fact, not all that creative.

The myriad of different cultures and human personality traits is proof of exactly the opposite. Therefore we should also expect a plethora of different kinds of Christians— quiet, contemplative, sensitive, exuberant, and nuts. This must be so because the majesty and diversity of the Trinity imprints upon us, not in a manner to rob us of who God has made us, but to empower us within our specific personality design. What a gift!

So, get used to being you, trying to offend as few as possible. You have been designed the way you are for a reason; find out what it is.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Beyond Words-Take 2- Faith Factors

 

One critical question needs to be asked when desiring to connect the Christian Message with people living outside the confines of the Christian bubble. Namely— What are the key elements that determine the expression and communication of our faith in a postChristian society? As a reminder, we can no longer “just give them the gospel.”The gospel” simply has no cultural pinning in a world so long removed from its Christian roots. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words—

communication circles

In the next few EMPulses we will explore these 6 elements in more depth. For now, let us open a cursory unpacking of these ingredients.

First, to express and/or communicate our faith in this postChristian society we must establish a Biblical Mindset within our own practice of faith. Just going to church, saying the right words, and memorizing a few Bible verses conveys only s surface-faith to others.

Next, we need to understand that our faith is Personality Specific. Our personality filters our faith to fit who we are and who we must become. We must not squeeze ourselves into a faith-box. You cannot be like me or any other Christian. You must be you.

Thirdly, our Christian faith is Culturally Sensitive. We dare not continue to import a western faith into a postChristian Europe, emerging Africa, or a diverse Asia. One of the distinctives of our faith is that it fits into the heartbeats and lifestyles of the host-culture. Yet, in our Western, North American patchwork of cultural blends we must here, too, learn to be culturally sensitive.One size, or shape, does not fit all.

Fourth, as we offer people a relationship with Jesus Christ, we must remember that they must hear His offer of life in their context. “The Gospel” must be heard in their life context. Therefore, in many ways, the Gospel is Receiver Determined. How do they see the Christian faith? It is our task to express our faith in ways that they can respond to and receive Christ’s life into their own.

Fifth, the expression and communication of our Christian faith should be Community Networked. First, we should be networked within a healthy group of fellow believers who have a similar passion for the normal people around us. Second, our faith communication should be networked among those God has placed in our path. No need for commando raids or “debriefings” afterwards. We need to immerse ourselves into the lives of those around us who have no concept of the Christian message. [Warning: you may just come to love them.]

Finally, we, as genuine Christians, need to become more aware of the Holy Spirit of God within. We need to become Spirit Attuned. For we do not offer a person merely the Truths about Jesus, we are offering them Jesus Christ himself. We need to attune our spirits to be in line with God’s Spirit and also in tune with the lives of the people we have come to love. We cannot sense the work of Christ in the lives of others until we clean up our own inner-selves. No wonder God works in spite of us so much of the time.

For what it’s worth,

Gary