The Whiskey Chronicles 16 – Cloistering & Cocooning

 An unconscious practice many Christians don’t know they have is that of cloistering and/or cocooning. With the first, we huddle within our own tribe. It’s not a conscious act; it is normative to any affinity group with a common interest. Reading clubs. Baseball teams (and their fans). Fantasy football, C.S Lewis aficionados. Mountain bikers. Prayer groups. Dinner parties.

              We hang with people who are like us, who have common interests. Affinity groups.

              The other inclination of many Christians is, what Faith Popcorn termed, cocooning. We hide out within our own little perimeters of safety, a cocoon, to protect us from those outside our common-interest group. The world “outside” can be a scary place for many followers of Christ. So, when not with fellow Christians, we tend to hide in our own, safe, world, venturing out only to go to the bank or to go shopping.

         We very much keep to our own or stay alone. It’s safer that way.

         Unfortunately, this is not the road God has designed us to trod. He made us to intentionally live and move among those who have no clue what our Christian faith is all about. More and more I meet great people for other people. But very few Christ followers couch their faith in the context of loving this world. Instead, we tend to avoid people in the world, like we could be stained or somehow have our faith tainted by them.

         How absurd!

         Christians are just immerging, or are trying to come out, of a century of isolationism. Protectionism. Our connections to this world have been limited to commando raids, timid witnessing, and assumptions about nonChristians dreamed up in a church think-tank pondering an outreach program.

         May I suggest that it is time we shed our cocoons and emerge as warrior-butterflies! Ready to declare the incredible glories of our God in an increasingly forlorn world. This world needs us.

         Are you ready to spread your wings?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,

For it is the power of God for salvation

To everyone who believes… .

Romans 1:16 ESV

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

Gary

NEXT— deep prayer — a mystery

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 12 – Is there a Simple Gospel?

      I became a Christian through studying and living various philosophies of life: both secular and religious— Western thinkers and Eastern mystics. To say that I had multiple personality disorder, not to mention semi-schizophrenic weirdness would be an understatement. But I learned that people come to Christ through various paths, not quite fitting our traditional evangelical pattern.

       Is there a simple gospel?  Hummm. Well, yes and no. Albert Einstein once said that we should strive for truth to be simple…, but no simpler. There are countless books and pamphlets written on the Simple Gospel.

       Over the years I’ve learned that our Gospel takes multiple forms. Sometimes it’s just a prayer of faith, in response to an encounter with Jesus. Other times, it can be a complex matrix of interconnected ideas and statements, when a questioner needs a more in depth explanation of the Gospel’s place in the grand scheme of things.

       It all depends on the context of the individual, or group, or forum, seeking a deeper understanding of what the message of our Lord Is.

       People who communicate our message in multiple cultural situations must deal with this constantly. Wycliffe Bible Translators face the nuances and meanings of our message in every culture. Actually, in our American Multicultural Conglomerate there are as many “contexts” for the Gospel as there are around the world.

       When theologian Carl Barth was asked this question he merely recited a children’s song— Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. In so many cases this may be all someone needs to explain Jesus.

       Today (2022), in North America at least, there is very little understanding of what Christianity is all about. In our population at large, very few people even attend church, let alone have any rich understanding of the genuine nature of our faith.

       The gospel is as simple or complex as it needs to be to draw people to the feet of Jesus for forgiveness and new life. Anyone who claims otherwise is either manipulative or ignorant. Our Lord calls us to be lovers of people and lovers of God. To reduce the message of Jesus Christ to mere words misses the point of our faith in Jesus completely.

       So much of our Christian message is simply to fall in love with people for the Gospel’s sake.

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

Gary

NEXT— Learning to love.

Road Map Here  

The Whiskey Chronicles 10 – Fear

       I was just a kid— maybe 10-11. On that fateful. hot July day I heard the familiar ring of the Good Humor Truck coming down our street. I grabbed some change from my mom and bolted out the door.

       As I waited for the boy in front of me to happily grab his ice cream cone, a big dog came out of nowhere and snapped at my feet, growling.

       I was terrified.

       The Good Humor Man dove into his truck and came out with a baseball bat, swinging at the dog for all he was worth. I was still petrified and stood there in terror. After he had beaten the dog off me I fell into his arms and sobbed in fear as to what had just happened to me. The FREE toasted-almond ice cream cone really was a great elixir to me. Salvation!

       As Christians, there are many of us who tremble in fear at the world around us. When it comes to explaining our faith we absolutely panic. Forget the joy and excitement over telling others about our faith, we generally freeze-up and cower.

       We are afraid of getting it wrong, of messing up, of forgetting something. Sadly, where we should be giving God room to work, we are more concerned for our own public image, being a perfect witness, or being successful in leading someone to faith in Christ.

       The good news is that we can’t mess this up! If God is at work, He will draw the other person to Himself exactly the way He wants to. If He is NOT at work, then there is no way you can force conversion onto this person. So, lighten up!

       Your FEAR is more a matter of social patterning, implanted ideas from a petrified church, and stupid training than it is a work of God. So lighten up! Give God some room to work His miracle of salvation. You’re not in charge anyway.

Do not fear.
I am with you.
For I AM
Your God.
       ~Isaiah 41: 10.

       Later on in this book, we will return to FEAR. Not our fear, but to that of those considering Jesus. In the last century we did a lot to turn peoples’ hearts away from even considering our faith as a viable foundation for living life. We have much to rectify.

Loving God; loving people…, and bringing the two together! ©
Gary
NEXT— THINKING in FACETS of Faith, NOT in OUTLINES

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!

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

      Wondering if I have made a difference over these past 40 years, my mind wandered back to the first days of NEEDinc. Since those New England Evangelism Development, Inc. days began, our ministry has crisscrossed America, spanned the globe, and reconsidered the properties and presentation of what we call “the gospel.”

       We’ve become aware that the “gospel” is so much more than the transmission of a simplistic summary in four sentences. It has as much to do with God making it possible for us to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ as it does with our being forgiven by Him.

       In many senses our lives ARE the gospel.

       In those first days of NEEDinc we ran a tagline of Loving God, loving people…, & bringing the two together. We haven’t shifted from that original inspiration over these past 40 years.

       What has changed significantly is the culture surrounding our message. When I first became a Christian we were all about spreading the gospel. Then it shifted to immersing ourselves in the culture; learning to “share” the gospel in its various adaptations to the diverse cultures around the world.

       But for us at NEEDinc [now CluelessChristianity.org] it has always been about loving. In the West, Biblical Christianity has become far too cerebral, too theological, and divisive. What if we could all go back and start over with loving? Loving God, first. We’re not too good at that. Everything has to be quantified, analyzed, categorized.

       Loving God isn’t that complicated.

       But I have to raise the question— How do we love God? We think of service first; but does He? Feed My sheep. Of course. Still, what about our heart issues? Are there any feelings, emotions, senses involved in our loving God?

       We have so quantified our Christian faith that there is little room left for simply loving.

       For us, at NEEDinc, this has been an ongoing bugaboo, challenging the cohesiveness of our faith within an angry, broken world. We even created a definition of evangelism based more on the heart, than on mission. Our purpose is to LOVE THE HELL OUT OF PEOPLE. Think about it. This definition is both theologically and socially accurate. But that is a discussion for our next EMPulse— loving people.

       So, I ask you, how are you doing loving God these days?

Honor God, honor people, Make a difference!

Gary

Web: www.cluelessChristianity.org

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

Tired

       If we were to look at a cultural quilt of the United States, and even of the world, we would find that most cultures, politics, businesses, people groups, families and individuals could be described as tired. We’re tired of our political landscapes becoming even more vitriolic. We’re tired of culture strife & conflict. Tired of deceit in business and government. We want to feel safe in our families and communities again. We want to feel safe within ourselves.

       It seems as if our whole creation is groaning and in travail until our adoption as sons. (Romans 8:19-22) It is not like being sick. It is being sick. Our world, her nations, and powers are struggling with a long-term global sickness. To make matters worse, we, as inhabitants of this realm, aren’t doing so good ourselves. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually we are in deep $#&%.

       I will not belabor how we got this way. We just did. It is the history of the human race. The question we must face now is— How do we address or minister to the sicknesses that encircle our globe?

       First, we must press beyond this endless weariness that has taken over our daily lives. Someone needs to rise to the fore and declare— Enough is enough! Maybe we need a leader in each realm of our reality. We need someone in the political arena, someone is the spiritual field, and someone in international relationships.

       Are you that person? Maybe not on a world stage, but in the realms where you live and move and have your being. I am a firm believer that we can and should make a difference in whatever situation we find ourselves.

       That being established, allow me to add that I personally have felt the weight of global/local tiredness. At first, I thought it was the aging process. But that was only part of it. I am just as guilty of running way too fast, like everyone else. Thus, I am tired. And I can’t keep up with the younger set anymore.

       We need to write on our morning mirror STOP! Or at least SLOW DOWN. Either of these admonitions should be a reminder that we do not have mythical super human strength.

       Or maybe our mantra should be— I’m only human; I’m only human; I’m only human. True, some people are more A Types than C types…, but that doesn’t mean we should continue at this frantic pace.

       Be still and know that I am God. [Psalm 46:10] Remember?!?

       I often wonder that the reason we cannot slow down is all the voices clamoring for our attention.

… to be continued.

Honor God, honor people, Make a difference!

Gary

Web: www.cluelessChristianity.org