After There’s Nothing Left: Soulfood – Learning silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

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

After There’s Nothing Left: flat-2-fantastic faith

Sistine Chapel      As promised, here some of the things I am doing to restore my faith from flat to vibrant. These actions have made a major difference in both recovering from depression and restoring my soul.

1.       Interfacing with a diversity of people. Surrounding myself with only like-minded friends would never expand my understanding and acceptance of them. I learn from those who are of a different mindset, a different culture and temperament. Maintaining this balance in my life seems to reinvigorate me; it draws me to a place where the earth and its peoples come into clearer perspective. I regain a sense of mission in life and what my role is in the grand scheme of things. (That’s why I still have to get above 14,000’ at least once a month.)

2.       Seeking more times of solitude. Please note that I am a genuine extrovert. Though significantly tempered from earlier in life, an extrovert in every sense of the word— grabbing life by the bal…, er horns and going for it! Ergo, solitude, for me, is difficult, yet critical. I tend to end my days earlier (usually with a wee dram of fine single-malt Scotch), pondering if I had made any difference this day, as its hours and minutes tick away. God willing, I have.

      If you are primarily an introvert, you need not heed this advice. It is true that you need solitude as much as us extroverts. But you also need to get out more and engage with God’s creation in the lives of others. And I’m not sure the single-malt Scotch would be a good idea for you; unless you are with someone.

3.       Furthermore, I read the Bible differently now. I read it not so much for content, or information, or to support a theological position; rather, I read it to see and sense how Jesus moved.  I track his movements, not topologically, but relationally. How did he interface with people? How did he meet them on their own grounds, in their own life situations, and reveal himself to them? Why did they respond the way they did? Why did he use questions and metaphors (parables) so much? Why was he cryptic on some occasions and not on others? What pushed him to seek time alone with his Father? And an especially important question for me— How did he love people, no matter their cultural diversity?

      In a way, I enter into the text of Scripture to feel its pulse as much as I used to analyze it for its content and truth. In my book CLUELESS CHRISTIANITY, I have a chapter subtitled “-the non-propositional nature of Truth.” If you enter into the times and culture, the life-situations and heartbeats of a text, you will see what I mean. When Jesus said, “I AM the way, the Truth, and the life.” he wasn’t kidding. He was shocking.

4.       I pray differently too. Though I have special times for deep, concentrated confession, worship, and intercession, I have also learned to “pray without ceasing,” as it were. That is, I arise each morning in an attitude of prayer (…er, after coffee) and maintain it throughout the day. This often becomes difficult, to say the least. It is often interrupted by lust or laziness, hunger, counseling, that guy who just cut me off, or writing (like now). But the attitude of constant prayer, that is, an open channel between myself, and Jesus Christ, the God of the Universe, is always, ALWAYS open. I do not believe I have ever had a simple two way conversation with anyone where the Spirit of God was not involved in the discourse in some way at some time. I’ve also learned to keep quiet in prayer. I now wait for God to speak. That’s important, and takes time.

      Granted, this three-way-open-prayer exchange has some side effects. We always have to listen, even if ever so briefly, to that funny little voice in the back of our head, before we respond to the person in front of us; which, of course, is a good thing for an extrovert. On the down side, having an open channel to God on an ongoing basis does ruin our enjoyment of sin. It truly, really, just is not as much fun as it used to be. This too may be a good thing for us…, and for me.

5.       Finally, I have been listening to astute Christian leaders from around the world [Ian Montgomery- Peru (now Vermont), Vaclav Havel- Czech Republic (through his writings), Phill Olsen- South Africa (now stateside), and Leonard Sweet, (Rings of Fire)] who can feed my soul. It would not be an understatement to admit that there are many men and women around the world who have a more significant grasp on Scripture, on the interface between the Christian faith and our world’s cultures, and on their own lives, than I will ever have. Thanks to the Internet I can now access many of them as I drive, sit in my study, or in front of my fireplace on a cold winter’s morn. I have learned that I know very very little. Thus, I avail my mind to learn from others, some of whom I find myself in cordial and vast disagreement. But that’s OK. My faith is being challenged, probed, assaulted, and fed. Thus, it is moving from flat to fantastic. Hopefully, by the time I am finished writing this book (yes, these EMPulsi are coming out in book form…, hopefully before I die), flatness of faith will be a thing of the past for me. That would be nice.

      Simply put, we need a faith that is Alive! Vibrant! and Full of Life! We need to live as if we are truly forgiven; for, in fact, WE ARE!

Honor God, honor people, make a difference,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— After There’s Nothing Left— Things that Keep Me from Fulfilling God’s Design.

Tenacity and Disruptions – Consider What I Say

jesus2bpraying “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”  2 Timothy 2. [NASV]

     Thinking, thinking, thinking. We do a lot of that in our evangelical enclave. We want to get things right. We want to think Biblically; from studying the Bible, to theology to worship to communication. Even Paul the apostle encourages us to consider what I say….  He must have had some sense that what he was writing carried some weight with Timothy.

     I wonder if the people I’ve taught over the years still consider the things I have said. Then again, do I still listen to the voices that come into my life? I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

     Heeding what others say to us, taking it to heart, may be just the way our Lord is driving home His point of what He has designed us for. His guidance comes in many forms— first, of course, is through the revelation we know as the Bible. That is inspired by God and binding on all humanity for all time. But the second, specific to us individually, may come from a consensus in a meeting, a whisper from your wife or husband as you nod off to sleep, or even through a little child in your neighborhood.

     Our Lord helps us understand His divine revelation and His personal guidance through many means. Do not try to tie Him down to our boxes of form and focus. He is full of surprises! I once heard the voice of God coming through an 11-year-old boy I was chatting with in a hallway at First Baptist Church, in Amherst, MA. Wasn’t looking for it, no buildup to it in our talk: just Boom! I don’t think he ever knew.

     When our Lord gives us understanding He also expects us to do something with what we now know. Has God been speaking to you about anything new through Scripture, or a non-descript 11-year-old boy, or someone else? Take heed. For as understanding comes, so does our responsibility to act.

     I end with a warning. Never put yourself in a position where you cannot hear your Father speaking to you. Stay immersed in Scripture. Have your “God’s-voice antennae” always fine tuned and ready to listen. [See I Samuel 3; Samuel, the Lord, & Eli.]

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Being a Christian in a postChristian world.

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