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.

Prayer from The Lutheran Prayer Book

empulse lutherIN TIME OF PESTILENCE.

    O Lord God, the giver of our health, it is only of thy mercy that we have so much health continued after the manner in which we have lived. And oh how just were it with thee utterly to take away that health from us which we have so greatly abused, to a forgetfulness of thee and wantonness against thee!

    How justly mightest thou smite us with sharp and noisome diseases, which our nature most abhorreth; to hurry us out of the land of the living, and put a sorrowful end to our wretched days! But, O thou Hope of Israel, the Savior thereof in time of trouble, regard not our ill-deserts; but remember thy own tender mercies and gracious promises; and take pity on us, and turn away this plague from us.

        Put a stop to the raging pestilence, and say to the destroying angel, “It is enough;” that we may not be afraid of the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flies by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday: but, with calmness in our minds and gladness in our hearts, may serve thee faithfully and cheerfully all our days, and devote our spared lives, which we have begged at thy hands, and our health and every mercy, to thy honor and glory, through the strength and the righteousness of thy dear Son, our most compassionate and prevailing Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.

~Benjamin Kurtz, The Lutheran Prayer Book of 1860

      This prayer in times of pestilence should need no further clarification. “Nough said.” Nonetheless, forgive me if I engage your minds a bit further.

      The times were not that different in the 1860s than they are today. Japan was experiencing enormous changes as their Meiji Restoration reshaped society. In Latin America, the Paraguayan War was the bloodiest in the region’s history. The American Civil War raged from 1861-1865 brought death on both sides (North/South) with the introduction of mechanized weaponry. Malaria plagued the construction of the Suez Canal, killing thousands. These were perilous times in the world, as they are today.

      This Coronavirus is devasting our ways of life. With over 1,000,000 cases worldwide, and almost 60,000 deaths worldwide, this is a major pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in a century. We are ALL affected by it. It is time we give ourselves to wisdom in our actions and prayer in our spirits.

      The attitude of this prayer pointed true Christians to look to Jesus’ tender mercies and gracious promises. It pleaded to Put a stop to the raging pestilence and say It is enough! And then called us to neither be afraid of the terror by night nor the arrow that flies by daybut with calmness in our minds and gladness in our hearts, may we serve thee faithfully and cheerfully all our days.

      Would to God that this could be our manner and mindset today.

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

NEXT— Making the Cut: Psalm 15

The Interior Castle

default  Beside Holy Scripture a good deal of my personal spiritual life has been shaped by the Saints who wrote of their journeys of faith and discovery. One such person is Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). She was a Spanish noblewoman within the Carmelite tradition of the Catholic Church (Protestants were forming throughout her lifetime) known for her mystical faith and writings. She was not prone to writing until she was directed to write by the head of her Order. One of her best known works is The Interior Castle, where she describes the chambers of the human heart as a series of Mansions through which we move in growing closer to Christ.

  1. The Mansion of Humility & Grace
  2. The Mansion of the Practice of Prayer and Growth
  3. The Mansion of the Exemplary Life
  4. The Mansion of Prayer of the Quiet, where the supernatural and natural meet
  5. The Mansion of Prayer of Union, where the soul is completely possessed by God
  6. The Mansion of the Bride & Groom, where the soul would receive more favors, but also afflictions
  7. The Mansion of Spiritual Marriage between Christ and His Church.

     Where would you find yourself in Teresa’s Interior Castle? In many ways, even at this stage of my life, I would place myself in the Mansion of Humility & Grace, needing a great deal of both. In other ways I am firmly planted in #4, the Mansion of Prayer and Quiet, wherein the supernatural and Natural worlds blend.

     Most certainly I am not in the Mansion of Prayer & Union, where my soul is completely possessed by God; although I am most definitively striving for that.

     It must be also noted that I more likely than not skipped over the Mansion of the Exemplary Life entirely. For this, I hold much regret. But I am not dead yet.

     The most encouraging aspect of this delineation is that it helps me measure where I am in my journey to holiness, in my journey to become more like Jesus. It was penned almost 500 years ago. Maybe you might write one in a more contemporary vein?

     My journey has been one of service, suffering, joy, and celebration. May our Lord grant you one of similar combination.

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,

Gary

NEXT—  untenable

But…. I’m Afraid

Fear grips us. It transcends every emotion and dominates our lives. Severe fear immobilizes us. Momentary fear startles us and leaves us with a temporary (or not) sense of exhaustion. Long term fear dissipates our energies and leaves us in a state of anxiety about anything new. This is the worst kind of fear. Seek help from a professional counselor for this one. It is more than spiritual— it is truly evil. 

~ Gary Davis, When There’s Nothing Left.

    Ever since I wrote this paragraph my empathy for those who live in fear every day of their lives has grown. How do they do it? Maybe you’re one of them. Scripture tells us that The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. [Proverbs 9:10] But this is not that kind of fear. This fear wells up from deep within. It overwhelms everything we do— our thoughts, our confidence, our relationships, the way we drive (unless you’re in Boston or LA], our self-esteem, our ability to get anything done. This fear grips our soul and perpetuates itself.

    The difficulty comes when you try to break free of this spider web of venom saturated virulence. It is no simple matter. Allow me to offer some discoveries I’ve learned through counseling.

  1. For a Christian, you can trust in God for His resolution from the terror. Sadly, many of us don’t. We do not truly believe He can take away our fear, or even walk with us through it. I would point you to Psalm 42. The writer admits his fears and depression and goes on to fight his dire condition with Hope. Seriously, give it a try.
  2. Whether you keep these things more to yourself or talk them to death, you should seek help from a true listener who has perspective and older wisdom. Yes, older. Your college buddies or business drinking buddies just won’t do the trick. You must act on this. And that presumes a prior decision to trust. Not so easy.
  3. Get outside of yourself. I’ve known runners who run to hide. They tell me it actually helps…, for a little while. It separates them from their fears in physical exertion; but it’s still there.
  4. Go see AVENGERS: endgame. Trust me…, you think you’ve have problems!?!
  5. Switch your prayers from petition to practical meditation. Not the kind where you empty yourself of everything, but the kind where you open yourself to the God of the universe…, and listen. Intently. I process externally and get a load of stuff off my heart (mind) on long walks in the mountains; then I can hear Him more clearly. Oh, wait! You live in Boston?!? Bummer. Try the beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. You live in Kansas? My prayers are with you.
  6. At least get a good massage. It will be the best $100 you’ll spend this week. A darkened room, soft music, and tranquil separation from the world outside.
  7. Sorry, you really do need to do more than breathing exercises. You need our Lord and someone who cares enough about you to listen.

NEXT— Excuses, excuses, excuses! 

Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,

Gary

Why?

Gary, Davis, College, church, northampton, lament, prayer, why, depression, anxietyA few weeks ago I heard a sermon in our local church that really resonated with me. The series is taking prayer and our relationship with God and bringing it down to an almost childlike level. This sermon was especially poignant, as it spoke to the questions: Is it ok to be mad at God? Why do I feel so miserable? When will it get better? What do I say to my friend who is really struggling right now? I encourage you to click on the link below and listen, then ask yourself if you know how to truly lament.

Why?