Clueless Christianity: Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing. part 4

Hands Puzzle Love Separation HeartGrappling with our culture’s swing to a postChristian mind-set has not been easy for me. In my conversations with normal people the idea of accountability to anyone outside my immediate self sounds nonsensical. It’s tantamount to explaining thermonuclear dynamics to a classical ballet dancer; there is no overlap in perspective or interest.

So, thank you, for bearing with me in my attempts to explain God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to a vast majority of people who have no notion of “god,” let alone of their need for salvation.

Let’s be honest as we continue opening Pandora ’s Box. We want a god, if, indeed, we want a god at all, with whom we are comfortable; a god who resembles us, who has human qualities, but not divine ones. We want a god of our own design, not one who tells us who He is and who we are; we want a god who plays by our rules.  We do not want a God like the Christian God who sets up the parameters of how we are to relate to Him and His world.

Even so, this is the God that postModern people need to see for who He truly is; not a watered-down version of Him, nor a Christianized-sweet-Jesus version of Him. They need to see the God of Glory, the Creator-Sustainer God who desires to love us and enable us to fulfill what He intended for us from the foundation of the universe. And we can only see that happen in reestablishing a connection with Him in Jesus Christ. Confessing sin, seeking His forgiveness for rebellion, and finding fulfillment, need to be blended together for this postChristian era. Any partial “formula” for a relationship with Christ will lead to death, literally.

I do not want to be seen as heretical in my view of God, of Holy Scripture, and especially of the Gospel of our Lord. But it is past time when the Problem Solving/Sales Model gospel presentation needs to be laid to rest. Even those who live in enclaves of evangelical America are so familiar with the content of these formulations that the words have lost their definition and Biblical context.  Summary outlines, though helpful to remember the “main points” of the message, can lack an authentic depth and life-context. It is time for followers of Christ to build rich relationships with those who don’t have the slightest clue as to what our faith is about. The Gospel is much more than a simple 4-5 point summary. It is time we put flesh on the Words of Scripture; it is time we started reading our Bibles and not simply quoting from them. It rests upon us to learn the heartbeat of the Scriptures and the language of our surrounding society…, & to bring them together.  We need to frame our faith and message in ways that can be understood, felt, seen, and lived out in our individual and corporate lives, as one.

Besides being able to couch our message in the mindset of our host culture, we also rests upon us not only to learn their language (Missionology 101), but one thing more— we need to learn to earnestly learn to love them. Love them?!? Love people who are so different from us!?! That’s easier said than done. Quite true. We can hardly love the differences among ourselves. Jesus understood how diverse a people His Church would become; that is why He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) We MUST learn to genuinely love one another (also read- forgive) if we are ever to love “the world!?!”

Yes, precisely.

Any communication to people who have no Christian understanding whatsoever, true postChristians, must be couched in their language, their experience-set, and their precepts. To do so involves expanding our own understanding of the extent and very substance of the Christian message. The gospel is not simply about solving the sin problem. It is so much more. It is about pulling the entirety of human history back in line with the principles that God our Creator set down for us to live by. The greatness of Christ’s message reaches far beyond simple conversion; it calls for relief for those who are poor, justice in our courts, freedom for the oppressed, and healing for those in need. Jesus knew this when he read—

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free.” (Luke 4:18 ISV)

The gospel in a postChristian era has more far reaching effects and implications than individual justification: it involves challenges for the whole person, the whole culture, and the whole world.

NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing part 5.

Heart2Heart,

Gary

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Empulse #12 A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart

kermit_the_frogSarah had come to faith in Christ during  college. After two years in the campus group she showed up in our home out of frustration. She was visibly distraught. Her Christian staff worker had told her she “just needed to trust Jesus.” “That,” she said, “just was too simplistic.” She was aggravated, angry, and very near the detonation point. As we sat that evening in front of our wood stove she collected herself to tell my wife and me a story we could hardly believe.

            Sarah[i] had grown up in a proper family in a rural area in New York; mother, father, two sisters and one brother, older. On the surface everything appeared to be status quo. But just below the surface lay insidious evil. Sarah’s older brother had been raping her every day of her life since she was eleven years old. One of her sisters found her in tears one day after one of her brother’s assaults. In the process of trying to shield her brother, Sarah’s sister Jennifer[ii] guessed what had been going on and told Sarah that she, too, was also being raped by their brother every day. When they confronted their brother he threatened to commit suicide. Sarah and Jennifer told Bob[iii] that he had to tell their parents within the week or they were going to the police.

            The two sisters were resolute in their determination and insisted that Bob follow through and tell their parents what he had done to them. Instead, to their shock, Bob committed suicide. He left a suicide note for his parents blaming Sarah for everything (leaving out any mention of Jennifer).  Sarah began to sob, scream, curse, and go completely out of control as she told us that her parents believed what her brother had written in his farewell letter. They told her that she would just have to admit her complicity in the ongoing, five year “affair” she had had with her older brother. After Bob’s funeral, Sarah’s and Jennifer’s older sister told them that she too had been raped by him, repeatedly; but they did not want to speak about it, ever again.

            It was now close to midnight. Starr and I were having trouble staying awake. As I put another log in the wood stove, Sarah cried, “How can I ever ‘just trust in Jesus!?!’ He suffered and died for my sins once and for all…, and it was done with. I died every day of my life for seven years. He has no idea what I went through.”

            Sarah’s story is not the only one of its kind. In my role as a counselor I have heard similar stories more times than I would have imagined.  There is truly a lot of pain out there. Not that the pain in our era is any greater or more severe than at any time. Each epoch inflicts its own form of tribulation and torture on its populace. Wars, genocides, rapes, wholesale slaughter of entire peoples and other gruesome agonies have found their way into our history books.  They remain glibly reported events of a distant past. But for those who lived through them, who suffered through assault, or war, or witnessed genocide, the actuality was excruciatingly devastating and left lifelong scars. Life was lost to an evil enemy from whom there was no escape; there seemed no end to suffering. But people always held out hope— hope of rescue, hope of survival, hope in their God. Hope that, in the end, things could be worked out.

Until now.

As we have shifted into this postChristian era any spiritual basis for hope has been totally obliterated.  It has been supplanted by forms of pragmatism, hedonism, self-absorbed isolationism, or a simple denial of the harshness of personal and global tragedy.  People are also disappointed in a god who is not there. Hope has become a contrived notion of a cynical society, held out like a carrot on a stick. Hope in a god, any god, is perceived as a naïve pretense couched in the spiritual jargon of religion.  Empty words.

So how can the message of hope that is offered by Jesus Christ be heard, understood, and believed in such a truth-weary & broken culture?

This is the question that we will now seek to answer. And the answer will cross many lines of safety, many given definers of the gospel and how to present the truth claims of the faith.

            On a personal note, this part of the series is not easy for me to write. I know Sarah, and others like her, who have sought hope in the Christian gospel and Christian community, and found only glib patronages.

Offering hope, in a deforested war zone.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart: part 2

[i] Not her real name.

[ii] Not her real name either.

[iii] Not his real name.

BEYOND WORDS: Take 9— a Love-Leveled Faith

heart hands love take 9After all is said and done, one thing remains. Unless our faith and witness are cloaked and immersed in the love of Christ all our efforts to express our faith in a postChristian manner, and to communicate it to people who are totally clueless about this salvation-thing, will be no more than a sounding brass and clanging cymbal. (I Corinthians 13:1)

Too much of our Christian expression of faith has become rote, perfunctory, and lifeless. We go through the motions. We’re nice Christians and the world is tired of the sham. This mechanistic approach to our faith has also seeped into our evangelism, with simple gospel presentations, to forcing conversions, to erecting an invisible barrier between us and anyone trying to find their way in life.

But we were not called to be nice. We were called to be loving…, and Truthful; not in a judgmental way, but more like fellow sojourners whose lives have intersected for a time for mutual comradery and benefit. The God of the Universe has chosen us to be His voice, His feet, and His hands on this planet to explain to everyone what it is He wants to give us. We bear a wonderful responsibility— the privilege of being Christ’s loving emissaries to a world of broken, successful, hurting, and wonderful people who have no idea of the Grandeur of Christ.

Just think of who they could be if they connected with the God who made them!

There are many facets to the Gospel of our Lord, but love must permeate them all.

So, a question—Do you love people? Or maybe, Do you feel your love for them? Do you sense Christ’s love flowing through you as a vessel of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness? You know what it feels like to love your parents, children, even your relatives (well, most of them). Do you know what it feels like to genuinely love people who have had it with Christianity? Who are sick of nice Christians? Who don’t care anymore? Or who are so angry at God and His church that they wish we would just go to hell?

If your heart is broken by these people then you are beginning to sense the kind of love our Lord has for them. We are NOT called to convert them; that is the Father’s job. We are not called to cajole them into the Kingdom. We are called to love them; to walk with them on their journey— in their sorrows, to enjoy them in their celebrations, to help them in their efforts to make this world a better place; even, to suffer with them and die for them. The Truth of the gospel takes on life in the way we love people. We must give them the Words of the Truth, to be sure; but we must also go Beyond Words.

‘Nough said.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Bathed in Yellow

Vincent Van Gogh, Christians, Dr, Gary Davis, God, reflection, vision                  It is not an unknown fact that painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), used yellow in his art to signify the presence of God. In many of his self-portraits he was bathed in hues of soft gold and yellow.

Vincent lived a troubled life. Though he was the son and grandson of Dutch Reformed Church ministers, his own faith was tumultuous; he was constantly plagued with doubt, low self-esteem, and depression. So much so that at age 37 he took his own life with a single gunshot.

His paintings reflected his life— vague, obscure images, dark & brooding; yet with that thread or point of golden yellow burning through somewhere on the canvas. Whether point or thread, it is always there.

His art reflected his own life, to be sure; but it also mirrors so much in our own lives as well. The Christian life is not a glorious, joyous road to travel. Like van Gogh, we too find ourselves in places of darkness and confusion more often than not. Sometimes, the yellow glow of grace is totally lacking— or, at least it seems that way. At other times it feels like a distant star we can barely make out in the heavens. Or, as in Starry Night, we are engulfed within it—  “the glory of God shown ‘round about them.”

This is the way it was meant to be. Our faith is worth very little if we only bask in the glory of God’s golden hues. But this world is a complication of darkness and light.  It is in those dark times, in turbulence & testing that the steel of our trust in Christ is proven.

But you already know that. What you must constantly keep before your vision is the reality that your strength must come from God and not merely from within (II Tim. 2:1). In times of deep tribulation, our strength will eventually give out, fade, and collapse. Therefore, it is much easier to rely on Christ’s strength from the very onslaught of trouble rather than to tack it on after our own wears out.

For what it’s worth,

  Gary

Response: The Science is IN: God is the Answer

Religion, God, Spirituality, Dr Gary, Davis, Clueless, ChristiansFor people within the sphere of religion, any religion, Brian Bethune’s & Genna Buck’s article The Science is IN: God is the Answer (McCleans, 30 March 2015), comes as no surprise. People raised in secure loving religious homes tend to have greater skills at facing the realities of adulthood. Children raised within this kind of environment tend to be better equipped at re-defining themselves when they reach both puberty and that “ah-ha” moment we now define as “individuation.” i.e. that phase in life wherein a child ceases to define his/her-self in terms of their parent’s values and creates their own value system, beliefs, and life priorities. Granted, this can be a time of trial & error run amuck; but, hey, that’s what growth and transition are all about. If you get it right the first time, you’re holding on way too tight!

            That being stated, I have encountered a LARGE number of twenty-somethings, who come from religious families— conservative Christian, liberal Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim (Sunni/Shiite), and others, who are a psychological mess. Their lives have no borders or boundaries; they can’t make a decision about anything; commitment to anything is terrifying; and their ties to any belief system change hourly. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

            I’m sure Lisa Miller’s (the researcher who studied this topic for 18 years) efforts yielded factually supported data. But I wonder if she ever actually met an adult child from a conservative Christian family? Or Catholic family? Or modern-day Jew? There is very little faith left to their religion. They are, in effect, practical “religious-atheists” who call upon their religious roots in times of disorientation or trouble and then quickly return to their lives as really nice people.

                Our societies search for spirituality outside of faith has only yielded a feel-good-faith; certainly not one that will hold up under the pressure of postChristian non-presuppositions about why it’s not all about me. It is, ya know.

Serving God

FromDr, Gary, Davis, Clueless, Christian, Serving, God, faith a definitively Christian point of view I have never understood the concept of serving God. It’s just odd, that’s all. Let me raise some of the issues I’ve face when I consider serving God.

1.      Just what does it look like? More likely than not it actually means serving other people.

2.      The very idea of serving God makes no sense. I mean, really, what does the Lord God of the universe need in our service? He created everything, maintains everything, and honors those who honor (fear) Him. He certainly does not need our service. It’s not logical.

3.      It makes more logical sense that He instead is calling to us to love Him. Of course, this raises a tricky question. If I were to ask you how you feel when you love your mother, father, wife, husband, or children, you could identify the shape of that feeling—what it “feels” like. In contrast, I would doubt you could identify the shape of your love for God. What does it feel like? What words describe the powerful emotional bond you have with the God Who made you? Get my drift?

More than likely, God has called us to love Him and to serve one another. Whether that service entails missional work abroad or in our own godless culture, in gathering basic food for the poor, the homeless, the destitute, it may or may not be reflective of our love for God. It may be a simple, humanitarian, act of love for humanity. If it is to last it will have to have a greater strength underlying it. For genuine Christians that underpinning is their deep love for God.

We are called to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind…, and then our neighbor as ourselves.” But the service we express toward Him should more properly be directed toward our fellow man (read, everybody). The inverse is, of course, true; that if we love those around us we also serve God’s purposes on this planet. But this is not simply splitting hairs. We are called to love our God, and that is something that goes beyond the cerebral, beyond the linear-sequential explanations of Truth or theology. It is an emotion. Does emotion have a place in your love for God?

Emotion is an aspect of our faith that we dare not leave at the door of a mental understanding of Christian salvation. It is an integral part of the whole package of faith, “heart, soul, & mind.” Passion has never been a mental motivation; it must rise from the heart.

In the future may you grow in your faith where you truly learn to love God with your whole heart, body, and mind. And may that love be exhibited and amplified in your service to the rest of this world.

For what it’s worth,

  Gary

 

Playing God

Dr, Gary, Davis, Needinc, Clueless, Christianity, Christian, God, Playing, reality, pride, self-centered, atheist, beliefPlaying God. How many of us do this unconsciously every day of our lives. Of course, if you are an atheist, you cannot play; there is no one to impersonate. But if you are anything else you have probably wanted to be God in some situation or another. Sometimes, for the good—as in saving a life or preventing a disaster:  other times, for your own selfish control—you just want things to go your way. Everyone else be damned. This last reason is the most likely explanation why you are not God. You’re not that good at playing Him. It’s always too much all about you.

            Too many of us believe that playing God is about exerting absolute power over things. Some of the men I know try to do this in their immediate families with varying degrees of disastrous results. Fathers want to be dictators or drill sergeants, yelling out commands with unquestioned authority. Thank God He isn’t like that. To the contrary; he actually tells us what He wants from us, so there will be no question.  Psalm 51:16, 17 puts it best—

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Basically, outward shows of worship do not compare in any way with an inner understanding of our place in the universe. But why broken?” Really?!? Do any of us truly need to ask? Our propensity to play God is only usurped by our arrogant assumption to become God, at least of our own little realm.

            So thus do we come to play God with everything and everyone around us. Our species has a natural proclivity to assert ourselves. We are restless. We cannot wait for definition or direction; we must determine our own direction with only a casual glance to the impression we may leave on this planet, in the universe, or on other creatures. It truly has become all about us.

            We become the God we reject and complain when others will not play the game our way. And so follows war, cultural degradation, family dissolution, and a re-writing (in many forms) of the internally inscribed moral-code; for there is no one left to constrain us…; but us.

            Really!

            Though I am but one man, one human, of one species among many, I do have a sense that I am part of something far greater than myself. And though I do dare to play god at times, in my own little universe, I am always mindful that I am but a small player in a grand scheme, designed by Someone much more omnipotent than myself.

            So the next time you are tempted to assert your manhood, or your womanhood, or your position or authority over another, do so from the perspective that you are no greater than the God of the Universe dares allow you: and prostrate yourself before Him. Next to me.

  Gary