Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at craigd2599@gmail.com
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at www.craigdaliessio.com


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday Thoughts...

I wrote this 4 years ago. It's hard to believe it's been that long. I have always been proud of this article so I thought I'd repost...


"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos"" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you"),
This is the Latin phrase from which we get "Maundy Thursday". It fits the day perfectly. Jesus gives us this command in action first, later He gives it in word. This day began with a series of teachings, and the sun set on a final dinner with his closest friends, in a borrowed banquet room. At that dinner, He would be misunderstood by his friends...yet again...asked for favoritism, each man would proclaim his undying loyalty despite what Jesus said. Then He would send His betrayer on his way and turn his disciples tables upside down, yet again, by taking on a servants job and washing their feet. When this was over He would ask a handful of them to stay by Him through the night and pray for Him while He wrestled with His Fathers' will. His friends would fail him and sleep their way through the hour of His greatest need. He would wrestle alone, ask not once but three times, and with enough overwhelming urgency that he would break his capillaries and blood would mingle with His sweat. He would ask three times for His Father to change His plans and make a different way other than the cup of suffering He was being asked to drink. Three times His Father would say "No", choosing instead to strengthen His beloved Son with enough Grace for the task at hand. He would go and awaken his sleeping friends and the chill of the night would be interrupted by the glow of torches and the rumble of soldiers and the icy betrayal of the kiss of a friend. His friends would scatter and the one who remained within sight, would curse and use profanity in an effort to prove he wasn't a follower. Then the rooster would crow...and it would be Friday...
Jesus was facing His impending death. He knew this by now. He knew how bad it would be to take on the sin of the world. He knew that it meant separation from his Father. He knew it meant a battle for the souls of men even though He knew there was no good thing in those souls. He chose to come here, chose to live here and chose to die here, for us. In those last hours, I wonder what went through his mind. Did he write a letter to Mary and tell her he loved her? Did he find himself caught up in reminiscences of happy times in his childhood? Did He draw a deep breath and smell the salt spray of the ocean that last night in Bethany? Did he spend any special, individual time with his friends...time we don't know about...chatting and remembering? Did he choke on his words at any point? Was he emotional at all? When he performed the breaking of the bread, the liturgy we now use to celebrate His death, did it make him wince just a little? For us it is symbolism...for Him, at that moment...it was about to happen for real. Did He wonder how God was going to pull this little band together after He was gone? I know he trusted His father to do it, and take care of them, but did He wonder to Himself..."I don't know how, Father...they still don't seem to get it." Did He commend his few personal effects to one of his friends...maybe telling them to sell them and give the money to his mother? When he dipped the bread into the bowl and declared Judas the traitor...did his hand touch Judas' for an instant and did it break his heart? When he told Judas, "What you do...do quickly..." was there breaking in his voice? Most of us have been betrayed by a friend at one time or other...few have known full well it was coming. Jesus was a man, after all...the Total man...how would I have handled this? Thank God we never have to find out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve...the Christian response to Homosexuality


For years…since I was probably 15 years old, maybe younger…since homosexuality first began to leave the shadows and enter the mainstream, there has been a growing debate about what the position of the Church should be.
The Catholic Church was always clear in it’s rejection of homosexuality and it in its usual way; methodical, without emotion, denying the Sacraments to those who practiced the lifestyle but not actively persecuting them.
The Independent Baptist Church of the day was far more aggressive and far more harmful to gays on a personal level.  They saw homosexuality as a personal attack on their faith, and on the Faith.  They saw it only as a choice and denied the possibility that these folks didn’t choose the proclivity to be gay.  Further, they saw no discernable difference between the proclivity to be gay, and the choice to act on it and actually be a practicing homosexual.  (meanwhile lauding an alcoholic who was tempted to drink but resisted) To these myopic folks, even being tempted by homosexuality was evil and sinful itself.  And if you were to try challenging them on this, they would perceive your questioning as some sort of tacit admission of your own homosexuality, so we sat quietly and believed what they were telling us.
They found it repulsive to be gay or to even be tempted by homosexual desires.  All the while ignoring the Biblical admonitions against gluttony even thought they were morbidly obese.  Ignoring the Biblical warning against playing favoritism within the churches, even as they paid more special attention to wealthy members and ignored the moderate incomed amongst us.  They ruled their homes as tyrants ignoring Paul’s command not to wear out their children and to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church.
In other words, they were human…and as humans do, they found certain sin far more repulsive and repugnant than certain other sins and spent their substantial energies railing against those pet sins.  All this did was cause pain and separated people who were seeking, from the Jesus whom they sought.
The battle cry of the day was always “God created Adam and Eve…not Adam and Steve!”  We thought it was clever and that it summed up our position perfectly.  We spit it back at the shouting faces of the gay community every chance we could and drove them further from the God who loves them deeply and wanted them to come to Him as they were so He could show them He loved them.  By 2013, all we have to show for the battle is a chasm that might never close.
Yesterday the battle was intense and it already cost me three “friendships” on Face book.  Now normally that amounts to nothing in my world but the two people were lifelong friends who never even cared enough to ask me my position on the matter, they simply attacked for not agreeing with theirs.  Que Serra.
Very early this morning, another friend posted this clip on my FB wall.  I think it’s the most concise, loving, brilliant, logical and cogent answer I have ever heard in my life about the Christian position concerning homosexuality.  Here is the link  Ravi Zacharias speaks about Homosexuality

It stirred me to think more about the position we have always held.  More specifically, it stirred me to think about why we hold that position.  And about how we defend that position to the world.  It got me thinking again about “Adam and Eve…not Adam and Steve”
There is enormous truth to that trite, clich├ęd statement but we have missed it all along.  It was a brilliant, logical, concise theological defense of our position, but we missed that point, turned it into a battle cry, and made it sound stupid.  It became a slogan that Westboro Baptist hijacked and stuck on placards and shoved in front of TV cameras and in the faces of grieving military families.  It made people hate the phrase.  And that’s a shame.  It’s a shame because in reality, maybe nothing reveals our position more perfectly than this simplistic, jingoistic, bumper-stickerish phrase.  Let me try my best to explain…
At the risk of stating the obvious, the phrase is a reference to the Creation of mankind.  It states the truth, that God created a man, and then He created a woman and set them to work populating the Garden of Eden and subsequently the world.  It seems simple, and when fired from one side of a police barricade during a gay rights rally…it is an angry rant.  But it’s so much more.  Here is why…
First of all, to follow my thought line you will need to accept some presuppositions.  Otherwise you can stop reading right here and save yourself some anguish.
The first presupposition is that the Bible is both inerrant (accurate without fault) and it is inspired.  (The actual word that God gave to the writer, stylistically influenced, but not altered by the men who wrote it.)
This leads to the second presupposition, that the Biblical account of Creation is accurate and literal.  This is what I believe and what most Evangelicals / Orthodox / and Catholics believe for the most part.  Adam and Eve were literal, not figurative.
Third is that God is infinite.  He exists outside of time and has no limits.  There is no thought He has not known, no resource he did not create.  Whatever exists…exists within Him, but He exists outside of everything else.
Fourth, God is Omniscient.  That’s a 50-cent word for “All Knowing.”  He is more than all knowing…He is all knowledge.  Anything we have ever known, or ever will learn in the future is merely a speck of the infinite inventory of knowledge God holds.
With these four positions clarified we can proceed.  If you disagree with these positions, again…stop reading.  We simply can’t agree.
So on the Sixth day.  God made man.  Man was the only thing in all of Creation that God made by touch…by hand.  He spoke everything else into existence except us.  That’s very important…especially to a world who is more and more convinced that if God does exist, He hates us and gnashes on us regularly.  But God lovingly hand-made man and named him Adam.  Adam lived in the only absolutely perfect place on earth and was—until that point—the only human to be physically in the presence of God and live.  God visited Adam daily in the garden and Adam looked at Him directly and knew his voice.
After some time…maybe days, or weeks or even years…God noticed that Adam was alone.  He wasn’t lonely necessarily, but he was alone.  All the animals had mates.  They had an opposite gender and more than one of their kind.  But Adam was uniquely alone.
God knew Adam.  Knew him the way a father knows his son.  He knew from Adam’s countenance that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  (Genesis 2:18)
This is the critical moment in our discussion…
Adam was perfect.  He was without sin.  He lived in a perfect place.  Perfect temperature, perfect existence, perfect relationship with God Himself.  God doted on Adam and hung out with him and was his companion.  But Adam was alone.  Adam was the only thing in the garden like himself and it was not good.  God saw it as a problem (“It is not good for him to be alone…) and he recognized it as a need.  So He decided it needed to be solved.
Remember presupposition numbers three and four…God is Infinite and Omniscient.  Now they become vital.
God looked at the problem and the need of this very unique and alone Adam, and in His Infinite Omniscience, he solved them both.  How?  With the unlimited potential of infinity, and the limitless wisdom of omniscience at his disposal…with a universe of possible solutions and combinations of solutions available for God to provide for Adam’s aloneness what did He do?  And why does it matter?
I’ll answer the second question first.  It matters because it reveals to us God’s design.  And not just His overall, general design, but also His specific, purposeful, intimate design in a specific situation that only involved one man.  This was not a creative action as Creation had been.  He didn’t speak a whole universe into existence here.  This was God, one-on-one with the crown of His creation.  God taking care of a specific singular need of his friend Adam.  With all the vastness of the Universe and beyond that; the infinite creative ability of a limitless, all-knowing self-existence at His disposal what did God do?
He made Adam another companion.  But he didn’t make another one like him…he made one different from him.  God, after evaluating the situation, and knowing that anything He wanted to do he could have done, put Adam into a coma, took one of his ribs, and made a woman.  The word used here for woman is “Ishi” it means “Pierced one” It describes the anatomical and spiritual differences between a man and a woman.  Had God felt that Adam would have been better served with another man, he could have done it right there at that critical moment.  He could have made men capable of progeny or he could have made babies grow in seedpods.  But in His wisdom, His infinite power, and his love for Adam, he made his companion a woman.
That was God’s design.  That was God’s plan.  That was God’s loving response to the jewel of his creative crown.  God could have done it any way He wanted and we would have been no worse off for the not knowing.  But He designed it this way.  Adam and Eve.  No other options.
We joke about being wired different, about not speaking each other’s language.  That was God’s design.  That was the sum of His infinite wisdom and limitless creative power.  He could have done it any way He saw fit…He did it this way.
What does it matter?
Well as Ravi Zacharias so brilliantly stated in the video clip, because God designed it this way, that renders our sexuality sacred.  It’s God breathed…God ordained.  It is how God wanted it.  At a moment in history when it could have gone in any number of directions, God took it in this one…and only in this one.  Our sexuality is a choice.  It was God’s choice.  When we say otherwise we decide we know better than God. That is folly.
This view makes it far more personal and far less combative.  I learned this today too.  Had we thought about it from this perspective 30 years ago maybe we wouldn’t be here now.  The Levitical laws we bash over the heads of gay people are not the real issue here.  They only tell us that sexual proclivity matters…they never revealed why.  All this time, we’ve been basically throwing the Levitical law in the face of the gay community and effectively saying, “Because I said so…that’s why!”  When there was a more loving, more tender, more personal answer.  The answer to “Why is homosexuality wrong?” is not “Because Leviticus 18 says so!” it’s  “Listen…when God was faced with providing Adam with a companion…with someone to love him and who would provide the love in physical form that God wanted to make sure Adam received…He didn’t just send Adam  out to find whomever he could find.  And he didn’t create another Adam.  He made someone special, someone who was exactly what Adam needed and yet someone different in gender from Adam.  And he stopped there.  That was the only solution to the problem that God provided” 
When we refuse to make it an act of hate and rather explain it as an act of love…perfect, wise, infinite, love…they still might not like it but, they can’t respond in anger.
Why haven’t we?  We want to remind them how God calls homosexuality an abomination but we never bothered finding out why.  Well it’s because God built our souls for someone similar to us but not the same.  He made our hearts so that a man needs a woman to be a finished work.  And vice versa. Quite simply it’s because God knows better.
God didn’t just make a man and a woman and throw them into the garden to see what would happen.  And when he noticed that his friend Adam was alone…when He saw the look in Adam’s eyes as Adam began to notice that everything else living in this wonderful place had a companion except him…God –the all-knowing and all-loving Creator— set about creating the perfect answer to Adam’s situation.  That was a woman.  It wasn’t a decision he made to wound gay people, it wasn’t something He did to trap those with desires outside the realm of acceptability.  It was a loving, thoughtful, infinitely wise act of benevolence.  And because He loves us, and is infinite, and omniscient we know that this way was the best way for Adam.  Otherwise, He would have done it some other way…or multiple ways.
So the proper answer…after all these years of anger and fighting and driving each other away from each other…the answer to the question of “What does a Christian say about Homosexuality?” is “It was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!” but with a caveat.  In love…when Adam was alone in this world and needing the perfect solution to the problem of his aloneness…God lovingly made Eve.  That was wise, that was best, that is how God designed it and how He wants it.  For a Christian to hold any other position is in direct disagreement with God’s plan.
Does this have any effect on the laws of the land?  No.  It won’t and I didn’t write this for that purpose.  I wrote this in the hopes that this explanation removes the walls of anger and what folks perceive as “intolerance.”  Our sexuality is sacred…because it was designed by God.  And because it was only designed one way by God.
My personal position on the matter is that I will love and accept my gay friends and family members.  And really love them not just “act loving” while secretly wanting to stick my finger down my throat.  I will love them.  Them and any others I meet.  But when asked what my personal position on the matter is…and what the position of the Church or of God is, I will answer as I did here.  I hope they will understand the love with which God did His work and hopefully with which I will speak my words.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brotherhood and The Laffing Devils...Part 4

I'm sitting in Panera, where I often come to write, whether it's a new book or a blog post. Listening to some music (at the moment it's Bowie, "Young American" but it's on shuffle...Springsteen is next) and thinking about life.
My life has most definitely not been tidy and neat.
In December 1999 I went through a terrible divorce that broke my heart. It made me feel very different from other guys my age.
In January 2007 I lost my home when the mortgage industry started to collapse. It hurt like crazy to lose that place of mine. I had five acres and a big vegetable garden and a 750 square foot detached garage where I built furniture and worked on my cars. Losing my home made me feel very different from other guys.
In March of 2008, The company I worked so hard for closed their doors and I was without a job. Not only that, but the whole industry collapsed and I couldn't find a job at all. I was now homeless and I had a daughter to worry about. I was crushed and embarrassed and humiliated. And again I felt very very different from other guys my age.
I spent 4 years...from May 2008 until January 2012 living in my car. I completed my Bachelors degree online while living in a Volvo 850, until that died and I scraped together enough money for a used 1996 Yukon. I hid from view for the most part, because homelessness embarrassed me and  made me feel very different from everyone else.
I graduated in May 2012. I started a carpentry business to try to pay the bills while figuring out my next move. I wrote a Christmas book. But I am still struggling. Work is infrequent and my landlord sold the house last month. I am afraid of the future for the first time in my life. I am going to be fifty this fall, and I can hear the time whistling past my ears. I don't have anything like the life other guys my age have. And it makes me feel very different from them all.
The truth is I don't fit here and I never did. 15 years and I feel like I am still living from a suitcase. I wish I could go home.
I had a talk this afternoon with an older man whom I know and respect. He filled in a few gaps for me. I had labored under the impression that the group of people who essentially turned their backs on me during that horrible time were right and that I was a lazy, ne'er do well. I had such respect for them that when they turned their backs on me I thought I deserved that, and I worked hard to try to change some perception of me they'd had. It turns out that they treat everyone that way...everyone who isn't someone famous or wealthy or powerful. I lived in my car for four years so that I could remain in my daughter's life and not vanish like my father did from mine. I worked on my degree and graduated, I wrote two books. I also built chicken coops, pressure washed driveways and did a hundred other things to keep gas in the tank. And never once in all that time did they call me and ask how I was. They never checked on my daughter or offered me a job or bought me a cup of coffee. They did complain once that I wasn't suffering the right way and I should stop complaining, on the few occasions that it was all overwhelming.  Meanwhile I had to give away our two beautiful Springer Spaniels and our cat. Try doing that when your daughter is ten and loves them like family.
The people I needed to lean on only made me feel very different from everyone else.
They have never tasted failure or shivered in the dark in a car hidden behind a church, or showered in the rec center or washed in a public bathroom. I kept my clothes clean and my hair cut and tried not to "look" homeless and yet I was treated like a vagabond because they had no comprehension of how it hurt being in that situation. And I wasted four years trying to prove myself to them.
I thought I had brothers...
I watch the Laffing Devils and to be honest...I am a little envious. They are rough and edgy and certainly not like the folks I looked to for a little comfort and support. But had I been one of them and gone through what I went through, they would have helped me along. Because I am like them.
Tonight it dawned on me what it is that forges their brotherhood more than anything else. What it is that makes them take the Cut so very seriously and defend each other against all intruders. It's because they all have something or many things in their souls that makes them wince a little. They all have a memory or a lot of memories that they wish they could forget. They have all made mistakes and they all have scars that make them feel like they aren't like anyone else...anyone else except their brothers.
And there it is...
The real secret to the brotherhood these guys share and the bond that beats in all their hearts is that maybe the rest of the world sees someone rough and edgy and broken and not exactly a perfect fit in the mainstream, but the brothers all see another brother. They see themselves looking back and maybe this is the only place on earth where they don't feel awkward and out of sync with everyone else.
They might never admit it out loud, but I think every man in the LDMC needs the others. Just because it's safe with them. They are different from the white breads of the world...but they are all different together.
I have some very very good Christian friends. It's just that only one or two live here.
To be honest...I've been a little beaten up by the saints. I wish I had a couple of devils around me right now.
This might be my final chapter about the Laffing Devils. I think this post really captures what they are about. I'm not sure yet but if it is...Bonez, Sancho, Danny Boy, Sandman, and the rest of you guys...you have something that the "regular" people only wish they had. It's rough around the edges but the heart is pure. It's a lot more like what Jesus had in mind for His brothers than we church folk might admit.
Stay safe and keep the shiny side up. And guard that brotherhood.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Brotherhood and The Laffing Devils Part 3

                                                                  Big Brothers
So last night I was watching "The Devils Ride" again. It's hard, given my current living situation but I find it where I can and what I can't watch, I can get in pieces on the Discovery Channel page.
The club has been in turmoil. The founding Prez left and has been subsequently disgraced. In fact his disgrace is such that I won't speak his name or mention him from here on out. Because it's despicable to me.
Anyway, a new Prez was installed last year, and that's really been the premise of the show since it's inception...how the club was handling growing pains, how the older members were accepting the influx of new blood and whether the new blood was even a good idea. I could write a whole thread on this alone in comparison to the church and our discomfort with modernity but that's not really the lesson here.
The topic has been brotherhood and how it's demonstrated in the church compared to how the Laffing Devils demonstrate it amongst each other.
Yet another leadership change rendered the group in chaos. Last night there was a group of new members brought in to replenish the dwindling numbers. They seemed green to me and I felt uncomfortable with it. It's not my club, but I have watched this group of men carefully and I was imagining how this must have made some of the older guys feel. There was a comment made about guys getting their patch (which means you can ride with the club) without doing any prospecting. Prospecting is that period where you are essentially being checked out, poked, prodded, and investigated as to your character, your trustworthiness, your willingness and ability to behave like a real brother and your accepting of your low rank when you first come in. Are you going to be willing to prove yourself or are you arrogant and a hot dog who thinks he should be a full member right away?
Lots of men think they belong in a group like this. Most of them are pretenders who are weeded out right away. A few more fall out after a short while. Precious few prove themselves over again until they are trusted and finally accepted as brothers.
But that's the point...
You are becoming a brother. You aren't joining a bowling league or drinking beers by the curb with Hank Hill. This is a serious membership, not to be trifled with. When the crap hits the fan and you are up against it, these men will not run. They will stand by your side. If you are wrong, they will still stand by your side. They'll call you on it privately, but in public it's you and them against the world. They expect the same from you. That's why getting a patch, and eventually your colors, is nothing to hand out like candy at Halloween.
It's the same in the Church. We throw around the terms "Brother" so frequently that we don't even realize it anymore, and we certainly don't think about the enormity of what those words mean.
I am essentially an orphan. I have a biological family that I am not a part of for various reasons. Not to all of them at least. I have three brothers and I have no relationship with any of them. One of them I've never even met. But I always wanted a close brother. I wanted to be one of the Unsers or the Matthews brothers. I am a hockey player...I wish I had been a Sutter.
I have a real, strong definition of brotherhod and I don't like being called "brother" if you aren't going to be my brother.
The church is bad about this sometimes. We have called each other brothers for so long that it's just a word now. We have "patched" so many new brothers without "prospecting" them first that our "Colors" have been cheapened just a bit. I'm not talking about doubting the Christianity of those men in the church, but I think brotherhood needs to be proved, whether it's in a motorcycle club or a prayer group.
Last night, the older members raised objections to the new, untested patches. I agree. I refrain from calling someone my brother for the same reason as Danny Boy argued about easy patches; Nobody has proved nothin'!
Stand by me for a while first. When my night is dark and cold and I am worried about my future or my daughter, let's see who is still around when the sun comes up again. When I am broken down by the side of the rode and can't find my tool box and it's 2 AM...let's see who answers the phone. Even if I called them just last week for the same reason. That is a brother. Whether you are my brother in Jesus or my brother in blood and membership in a motorcycle club...a brother is a sacred thing.
A brother is what Vietnam vets call each other. It's what the LDMC call each other. It means you're family.
You can't give yourself the title...you earn it.
Christians would do well to prove themselves to each other a little more.
...by being brothers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Brotherhood and the Laffing Devils...part 2

Something about the word brotherhood makes most men smile. If not outwardly, than inside for sure. We watch shows like "Band of Brothers" and we wish we could have the kind of friendships forged in the fires of difficulty and testing and peril. Because those friendships go well beyond the kind we form at neighborhood cookouts and PTA meetings and on the golf course. We watch movies like "Miracle" and we understand why those great hockey players from 1980 are still joined at the soul and still care deeply for each other. Because they endured something so hard that most other men would have quit. It was getting through the test that was half the battle and it's what made you a brother. It made you a brother because it proved to the others around you that you were cut from the same cloth. That you had the stuff. That you were willing to work every bit as hard as they were and that they could count on you to give your very best until you had nothing left to give.
That's where brotherhood is born.
David and Jonathan were brothers like this. David was the future king of Israel, and the present king, King Saul, despised him for his status as God's favored man. Even though David honored Saul and respected him and loved him as his king...Saul tried to kill him several times. Jonathan was Saul's son and he loved David as a brother, and it was literally taking his life in his own hands to defend him against his fathers jealous insanity. But he did. He did because David was his brother. And even if it cost him his life, he would stand by his friend.
There is a sad scene that plays out in their friendship. Jonathan discovers a plot against David and he warns him about it. They meet in a field at dusk and they embrace and weep openly, because they realized that this was likely the last time they would see each other alive. It was heartbreaking.
Paul often describes leaving churches on his missionary journeys and the people hugging his neck and weeping. Paul was a brother.
I watch the LDMC guys and I see the same devotion. It's not cloaked in the innocence of young adulthood, as it was with the teen-aged David and Jonathan. And it's not quite the same as Paul and his relationships with the early churches. But it's similar at it's heart. These guys really care about each other. And they care about the club and their colors. They get frustrated with each other sometimes because they care so deeply. A brother in the club letting you down or breaking the protocol is a heart-wound, and it incites passion and emotion. These are tough men who have been hardened by life. Some of them have deep wounds and the club is their refuge. Most of them are distrusting of anyone not wearing the Cut. That makes the brotherhood they share with their other members so much more important.
It's an amazing parallel for my brotherhood with Christ. He is the only person...outside of my daughter...who has never once failed me. He is the only one who I know will stand by me. His blood is my "color" and my white robe of forgiveness is my "Cut". He is the only person who really knows me...with all my failings and frailties and bad habits and weaknesses, and yet loves me and stands by me.
I am told to have the same mind as Jesus has where my brothers in Christ are concerned. (Philippians chapter 2) yet how many times have I held a brothers sins against him? How safe is it for a broken friend to let his hair down in my presence and find in me, someone who won't judge him?
I watch the LDMC guys and I see something closer to unconditional brotherhood than I have ever received with only a few exceptions. Like salvation, there is only one way in the club. But once you are in, you are in. Whatever you are to the outside world, when you are amongst your brothers you are a brother as well.
Five years ago, when the mortgage industry collapsed and I lost my home and my career and I was sleeping in my car hidden behind a church, I longed for someone who would remind me who I was. That what I lost was not who I was, and that I had a safe haven. I had to call home and talk to friends I grew up with. My "club" was 900 miles away and the distance, at times, seemed like it was unimaginable.
I watch the Laffing Devils and I see a model for a men's ministry in a future church I will pastor. I want to have a place where honor and integrity can mingle with toughness. I want guys to see a place where their hearts are safe and where they realize that devoting yourself to your friends is the highest calling. I want men who are able to be brutally honest with each other because underneath the toughness they know they love each other as brothers. I want to raise up a church full of men who know each other, care about each other, accept each other, help each other get better and stand by each other until the last shots are fired.
I want to teach brotherhood...because while we often call each other "Brother So-and-So" we seldom really live like we are brothers. The saints could learn a little about this from the Devils.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Defining Brotherhood...The Laffing Devils Series

Okay...so you take your inspiration where you can find it. Sometimes God speaks to us in a voice that only we hear. Where others see madness we see beauty. That's where this post is going to start...
About a year ago I came across a show on Discovery Channel, called "The Devil's Ride". It follows the lives of a motorcycle club in San Diego who go by the name "The Laffing Devils".  I was fascinated by the show and by who these men are both in the club, and in their personal lives. I saw guys battling their own demons, guys trying to balance their marriages to their wives and their family lives with the marriage to their "colors" and their family in the club. Mostly...I saw brotherhood. Real honest to goodness brotherhood.
So I noticed a few of the guys post on Twitter and I started following a few of them. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that because a famous (or notorious) person "follows you back" on Twitter, you are their friend in the real world. Usually it means they recognize that you aren't a twitter troll or some jackass who wants to try scoring some personal tough-guy points on the internet. I've seen this with lots of people, not just the guys from the LDMC.
But last summer, I happened to notice a "Tweet" from one of the Laffing Devils guys that I follow. He goes by "Bonez".  Apparently some Christian folks had decided that being a Laffing Devil somehow meant you took the name so seriously that you had no recognition of God whatsoever in your life, and they were trying to hammer him pretty good.  I imagine they were doing their share of twitter evangelism, and making the guy's skin crawl. I can't remember what Bonez posted that made me ask him what was going on, I just remember feeling like I needed to apologize for the way some Christian folks behave. He was appreciative of whatever it was I said and not much else transpired.
While they were filming the current season, the LDMC guys all went silent on social media. I imagine it was part of the deal with DC so that nothing leaked out about the upcoming episodes. The show returned a few weeks ago and with it, the LDMC guys were posting with more regularity.
So last week I said hello to Bonez and asked him if the "faithful" were still giving him a hard time. He was nonplussed about it and I told him I was developing a Bible study about Christian brotherhood based on what I saw when I watched "The Devil's Ride". I guess Bonez saw that I was serious and he told me the analogy was actually perfect. "It's a great parallel example" he wrote back. Bonez is no dummy. None of these guys are.
I watch the show and I find things that I know I would miss if I looked through the lens of legalistic Christianity. I see things I wish I could experience. I see guys living out MY faith sometimes better than I do and--that I am aware of--none of them claims to have any particular relationship with Jesus. But they sure live like they do. At least where real brotherhood is concerned.
I was thinking about how these guys really love each other. There is politics, and anger, and arguing and sometimes violence amongst them. But all that existed within the 12 Disciples while Jesus was alive on Earth. Peter was loud and bragadocious and appointed himself the leader. He swore he would never betray Jesus and he lopped off the ear of the servant who came with the soldiers to arrest him. He lived with Jesus every single day for 3 1/2 years and then as soon as the heat was on, he denied he even knew Him and did so with a mouth full of vile obscenities. Jesus forgave him and there is no record that the other disciples ever held it against Peter. Because he was a brother.
They lived together, worked together, and learned about this new way of living from the son of God Himself.  They had a special bond that their years of being together had forged. They were brothers.
I grew up in a home where brotherhood and family were never really embedded in our hearts. I became a Christian when...after growing up in church...I had my head-on-collision with Jesus at age 27 and never looked back. I saw in the Church a family, and I sought out other Christian guys to be my brothers. I sometimes found great brotherhood. Sadly...sometimes I was disappointed.
We Christian men talk openly about being "Brothers in Christ" but are we? If you are my brother, the same blood courses through our veins. If not literally than spiritually. If you lose, our entire family loses a little. If I don't have your back, who does? Brothers love each other. They laugh at each others jokes and at their mistakes, but they help them overcome those mistakes. They love each other with toughness sometimes but tenderness under it all. They love each other with integrity. They are honest.
I watched TDR last year and I frequently thought how much I wished I could have that here in Nashville where I have lived since 1999, and can only point to maybe one guy as a real "brother".  Last year the club had to have a long heart-to-heart with a guy who had a serious chemical problem. They did what brothers do...they were tough as nails until they made their point. Then they were loving and offered to help any way they could. When this man lost his battle with some health issues, his brothers were visibly hurting and they vowed to watch out for his family as long as they lived. I'm guessing they have kept this promise.
They have had serious splits in their group, they have had ego driven arguments, battles for prominence, and disputes over who was running things.
...just like the Disciples did on the night of the Last Supper when two of them were arguing with Jesus over which one should be the greatest in the Kingdom. It was embarrassing then and it is embarrassing now two thousand years later. Two or three guys arguing over "sitting at the Right hand of God" while Jesus was washing their feet and serving them. Years later and there was never any evidence that those men ever had that argument again. They fought and then forgave. They argued with each other and then prayed together earnestly. They disputed doctrine and rules and then broke bread together in peace and loving friendship.
Just like brothers.
I see this every week when I watch "The Devils Ride". I see guys who are very very human. Very loving and very harsh. Very tough and very gentle. They are brothers. Their brotherhood is messy, and difficult and real. I share a common thread with my Christian brothers...the blood of Jesus. These guys share a common thread too...the blood that makes their "Cut" something sacred to them. They are different men indeed but that Cut makes them all the same.
I went through five years of hardship and loss when I lost my home and my career and even my pets. I missed time with my daughter and I worked so hard to rebuild my life. I was watching these men thinking how if this happened to one of their group, they would have done anything possible to help them fix it.
Their brotherhood is far from perfect but it's so darned real. The brotherhood I've experienced has been so careful. So cautious. So very dependent on my being perfect. Where the Laffing Devils care about each other without limit...we Christians tend to only care about those exactly like us, who do it our way, and who pose no threat to our neat little lives.
Inside, I think we all wish we had battle-hardened friendships like these guys do.
I'm going to continue this in the coming days and weeks. I hope my readers will maybe tune in to "The Devils Ride"  see the guys and what it is that inspires me about this show. And maybe you'll find some inspiration from an unusual place as well.
If any of the LDMC guys stumble across this blog...be safe. Keep watching out for each other.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Coming Alongside...

Ministry is full of sayings. Christians speak in fashionable, bumper-sticker-friendly, cute-isms that they don't even understand. If they did, they might not use the phrase, or they would at least try to live up to it. Case in point, today's example..."Coming Alongside".
To come alongside--in Church vernacular--means to "walk together". It is frequently used in conjunction with that other skin-crawling term "Do Life Together". Who are these folks kidding? You really want to "come alongside" me and walk together? You want to "Do" my life? Really? Heck, I don't even want to do my life. My life sucks a lot of the time. I wonder where you were when I was sleeping in my car and studying by flashlight to get my Bachelors. Nobody in my "community of believers" was in much of a hurry to do any of that life with me. Oh heck no. I did that life all by myself. They didn't come alongside my Volvo when it was 19 degrees and I was shivering in the dark and sleeping in short spurts. They didn't have the slightest interest in "walking with me" as I did permanent tissue damage to my neck from the odd angle I was reading my school books as I tried to better my situation.
I suppose they weren't "equipped" for it. That's another ministry lingo favorite. "Equipped". You can equip a mule but it won't ever be a thoroughbred. You can equip a mind, but without the heart of Jesus it's just useless facts.
The phrase "coming alongside" has two connotations. One is to walk with someone...as we said before. But not in the way the average Christian uses it. To "walk with someone" is to endure their troubles with them. To  take the same steps with them and feel your feet hurt in the same places. You cry the same tears, feel the same sorrow, long for the same destination. You help where you can, ease the burden if possible, and just your being there along the way makes the trip more endurable and less isolating and lonely. That is coming alongside.
The main definition of the term is nautical. A tug boat "comes alongside" a large vessel when it loses power and can't make it to port. Or when the channel is tricky and the tug captain has more experience navigating the treacherous waters. I grew up near the Delaware River. Often times, a tug or a pilot boat would "come alongside" a massive oil tanker and the local pilot would climb up a gangway and take the helm and get the immense boat safely into her berth. The term bespeaks a large ship, straining away at her destination and needing help, and a little guidance, from an experienced captain to make the last push to port. Sometimes the big ship lost an engine and had no power of it's own and depended on the tug to make it safely home. Other times the tug merely guided the final few moments of portage. The tug never came alongside to change the destination of the big boat, or to board her with ill intent. That is piracy. The tug never forces it's will on the boat it is helping. It helps the big boat by giving a final shove, or gently braking a ship as it docks.
That is coming alongside. I am out here at sea...I am trying to get to where God has in mind for me. If you "come alongside" you are NOT here to change my course or my destination. That's not your job...God has charted my course. You are here to help me navigate the waters, give me a push sometimes, or slow my thrust other times. You are not here to steer me or stop me. You are coming alongside, to get me home.
A tug usually does this by nudging gently. Or by tying a line. But there has to be contact. Gentle but firm. Guiding and well placed. You aren't a blockade. You're a tug.
We claim to come alongside each other but we never make contact. We float alongside each other, within hailing distance but never connecting. We seldom make contact with the wheelhouse and find out where the captain is heading. We offer a quick warning about the rocks ahead, then speed off to our home port, too busy to tug, and nudge, and push, and prod and guide.
I lived for four years in a car. I earned a Bachelors in Religion, and this summer I am beginning Seminary. I worked odd jobs and lived a humiliating existence at times. I worked hard, studied and graduated. And nobody in my "fleet" ever asked me what the charts held for my next voyage. Because nobody "came alongside" Not in my immediate world anyway. That's sad. But it's also why any future ministry of mine will banish all use of these overwrought phrases that lost their meaning when people stopped thinking about what they were saying and subsequently stopped living like they knew what they were saying.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Faith, Works, and Love...


Often I find myself embroiled in controversy and arguments about legalism, “old time religion” Baptist Theology, fundamentalism and assorted other topics concerning modern Evangelical Christianity.  Some say we need the rules and regulations.  That the command to be separate from the world is also a command to act separately.  That any discussion of obedience to Christ begins with a change in manner of lifestyle.
I suppose there is some merit to that argument.  A heart change will always yield an action change.  Nevertheless, an action change is not always indicative of a heart change.  You can follow rules simply because you were told to, trained to or guilted into following them.  You can perform for the sake of performance and never have a real change of heart.  You might not even know why you are living a certain lifestyle except that someone in authority over you told you this was “right and proper” living.
These folks contend that living for Jesus requires behaving like others who are living for Jesus…as they define living for Him of course.  However, aping someone else’s behavior doesn’t mean you’ve had the same experience that caused that behavior.  “Acting like a Christian” doesn’t mean you’ve actually encountered Christ.  It could mean that someone simply told you that this is what it looks like if you have.  And this person holds enough sway over you to induce you to act this way.  You could even convince yourself that you have had this encounter with Jesus if you follow the code closely enough.  If you were just like all the other Jesus followers in your circle, why would you ever question whether you had a head-on-collision with Jesus?
The other side of this, of course are those who claim that there are no requirements to the Christian life.  That since Grace covers all; we are bound to no performance standards at all.  That to even suppose that we could bring God happiness by behaving in a certain way is heresy.  I understand this.  I held this position for a long time after leaving the legalism of my youth and young adult years.  And to be honest…this position is more Biblically sound that those demanding lifestyle performance as a sign of my love for Jesus and the depth of my relationship with Him.  However, they too, take this too far.
As I approach my fiftieth year and my 24th year of knowing Jesus and having this relationship with Him, I find myself grasping the truth of both Ephesians and James.  “For by Grace we are saved…not by works.”  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8.  However, James wrote, “Faith without works is dead…”  James 2:14-26
The Biblical principle is both.  Faith without resulting works is not really faith.  Not in a life changing way.  And believing you have Faith because of your works is just as wrong.  The truth is your life yields works because you have been given faith.  And that faith yields works.  They are inseparable.
So what is the real motivator for a real lifestyle change?  What constitutes “Godly” living?  Is it rules made by one man governing another man?  Doesn’t this eliminate the need for change and reduce it simply to the need for obedience?  Doesn’t this change the impetus for change from internal to external and from loving obedience to Jesus to grinding obedience to the Law?
Of course it does.  The truth is that the only real change…the only change that will take root and never fail is the change wrought by Jesus as a result of an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.  I can never please Him by any action of my own, save one…that of letting Him love me.  He does this when I let Him come close to me as I am, and let Him stay there.  When I let Him draw closer each day and in the proximity, He changes that which He desires to change.  Not my Pastor.  Not my Theology professor.  Not the TV preacher.  Jesus.  Whose blood was shed to purchase that right.
My focus has shifted from trying to do this or that to get Him to approve of me to trying nothing.  Spending more time quietly in His presence letting Him walk around the hallways of my heart, springing the trap doors and sweeping the cobwebs out from under the furniture.
From this depth of relationship comes an obedience that takes almost no effort.  When you love someone who loves you it’s easy to make them happy…because you already do.
From this depth of relationship come the changes that mold me ever closer to the image of Christ that He has for me.  Close to being called by that special name He knows me by…a name I have yet to hear.  (Rev 2:3)
Is it effortless?  No, of course not.  But it’s a labor of love instead of a grinding effort of my flesh or a shameful frolic through the world with the attitude of someone with a “Get out of Jail Free!” card.  Neither resembles the reality of a lifelong walk with Jesus of Nazareth.  A walk where every step draws closer to His until quite often only one set of footprints is visible.  Instead of the sweet sentiment of the old Christian illustration that says, “That’s where I was carrying you,” the truth is that “That’s where you were so close to me in every step that we took them together”
I hope someday that is true of me.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Men's Ministry is Pathetic

I have been kicking this topic around for a while now. I've mentioned it to some friends and they are universally in agreement. So here goes.
Men's Ministry is pathetic. P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C
Right out of the gate, let me be clear about one thing; I am currently not a member or regular attender of any church. So this rant is not aimed at one church men's group. It's the cumulative observations of 40 years of church attendance, with about 25 of those years involved in some way, with whatever passed as a men's ministry at whichever church I was attending at the moment. Now for the record, I am not a church hopper. Not counting the years I was a resident student at Liberty University and attended TRBC, I have been a member of only four churches in forty years of Christianity. So I am a pretty solid attender who tends to put down roots. On the one hand this means I have not experienced very many different men's ministries. On the other it means I don't let petty things run me off easily and so I tend to overlook most minor shortcomings.
That said...I have to state...men's ministry is pathetic.
Let me explain.
Men's ministry and women's ministry are two very very different things. They have entirely different aims and goals and approaches. Let me sum them up for you.
Women's ministry is about;
     *It's hard work being a mom
     *It's hard work being a wife
     *It's hard work being a godly woman
     *My butt is big / my boobs have started to droop / my kids irritate me / my husband sucks as a spiritual leader/ I have crows feet.
     * I wish I'd finished college and become a professional and had a life outside these ungrateful kids and this spiritually lame husband
     * In my heart I know I was called to ministry and the entire men-dominated religious establishment is against the idea. Except for Beth Moore. Because Beth Moore is too shrill for them to put in her place and besides...she makes a truckload of money for the SBC who owns Lifeway bookstores.
    Therefore...in light of the above truths, women's ministry is all about helping women cope with the innate difficulties of simply being a women with all that stuff going on. The implied message is "You are doing it all so well. If only your husband was a better man of God"
Conversely; Men's ministry is about;
      * You suck as a spiritual leader
      * You are selfish
      * You aren't manly enough. (Okay actually they never say that. because most men's ministry leaders are barely men themselves.)
      * You are too testosterone laden. Too quick to hunt and fish and burp in public.
      * You are a lousy husband / father / friend / church member / employee / employer
      * You are not "Christlike" (a catch-all phrase that is open to definition depending on the crowd and can mean anything the speaker wants it to mean.)
Basically, men's ministry is built on the premise that whatever it is you are doing in your life, your job, your home, your church, your bedroom, your garage and behind the wheel of your car...you are doing it WRONG.
Where women's ministry is all about helping women "cope" with just being a woman; Men's ministry is all about making you feel awful for even being a man.
Therefore; I hate men's ministry. I hate it. I know it's a strong word, but I can't use obscenities here.
I hate it because it is always...always taught by some wimpy, waxed-lipped metrosexual guy with perfect hair. A guy who has never had a problem in his entire life. A guy whose biggest failure in life was not remembering that his wife was gluten free when he was making her those crepes on day one of their anniversary month celebration.
They always teach the same trifling lessons. Husbandship as viewed in Ephesians. Loving our wives as Christ loved the church. Not falling for the sin of David. Avoiding porn. Watching our temper while we drive.
They always latch on to the same tired themes. Let's have a bonfire and cook hamburgers! Yippee Ky-ay!
Let's have a golf tournament this summer. Let's have a workday at the home of the single mom down the street.
Zzzzzzzzzzz
How about we host our own MMA tournament? How about we get together and go to a Pro Wrestling show or a boxing match? How about we forgo hamburgers / hot dogs / brats and eat a salad now and then?

More than anything...how about we stop pretending.

How about we stop pretending that we have the easier job in the marriage? (It's equally hard to be married...man or women)
How about we stop pretending that nobody in our midst is hurting, cries tears that nobody sees, feels like a failure or has given up hope?
How about we throw out the phony, perfect leaders that somehow got stuck with us and we with them, and let someone run a men's group who has some dirt under his nails and smells like sweat and sawdust.
How about a man teaches a few lessons about divorce, and single fatherhood, and failure, and loneliness, and broken dreams, and the fears of being a dad, and a husband.
How about we stop reading every book on the market written by some guy we'll never meet, and start teaching ourselves real honest-to-God Apologetics, and Bible study techniques, and we start giving all the real men in our midst the opportunity to teach the other real men in our midst.
How about we talk about how very hard and how very scary it is to try to live like Paul charged us with living in Ephesians. How hard it is to love our wives...or anyone...as Christ loved the Church. How scary and risky it is to "give ourselves for them".
How about we discuss the real hurts and pains in our lives and team up with other men who feel the same way and pray prayers that pour out of broken, frail hearts instead of spiritual John Waynes. How about we stop with the Jedi Mind tricks of convincing each other to simply grab the latest trends in Christendom, and we get back to the icy headwaters of real, Biblical Christianity?
I have been holding this in since I started re-editing my divorced dads book (Sometimes Daddies Cry) and realizing how little men's groups really deeply care for hurting men. How they avoid divorced men like the plague. How they don't know the first thing about what a divorced dad feels and they don't want to know.
It makes me mad. Because men are slipping through the cracks each day and the men's "pastor" merely bids them adieu.
Men's ministry is an afterthought in the emasculated church of today. And everyone is paying for it. Men's ministry that makes you apologize for being a man does a disservice to men...and women...who hope to find a biblical example of a godly man only to discover that he has been neutered and covered over. Their frustration can't be hidden forever and it ends up showing itself in the fact that the divorce rate is as high or higher in churches, than out of church.
Men are so confused. Their God-given "wiring" tells them to do and say and act one way. The perfect-coiffed pretty-boy men's pastor tells him all that stuff is wrong, and he needs to be a soft, mushy wimp who sits down to pee.
Women are "wired" by the same God, and their wiring desires something God engineered. The very thing that modern men's ministry seeks to eliminate.
So men go, they eat, they exchange business cards and they go home bamfoozled and confused.
And if they were hurting when they got there, they leave even more hurting. Because underneath it all...hurting is not allowed.
Because Men's Ministry is Pathetic.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gimme That Old Time Religion--Conclusion...You Need Jesus


I suppose if I thought about it long enough I could come up with another dozen or so defining items about "Old Time Religion". But it would become extraneous at some point. I think I covered the items I wanted to cover. Except one. It's been a few days since I wrote and it's given me time to contemplate. And in my contemplation I came up with one more item. You'd think this one would be a given, and an assumed part of even the most contemporary Faith gatherings today, but it's not...and that's the real problem.
It's Jesus.
When I was a boy, growing up in church, (for the record, I'm 49...I was a boy growing up in church in the 70's and early 80's) Jesus was the central figure. Jesus was the Son of God. The Savior. The Sacrifice, The Beloved Son. The Returning King. I started attending that church in 1973. I was almost 10 years old. I will tell you without blinking that during the roughly 15 years I attended that church--and the Christian School they operated--I learned real, honest to goodness Theology.
I learned that Jesus was God Incarnate. Very God of Very God. I couldn't fully explain it then, and I can only explain it a little better now, after graduating with a Bachelors in Religion. But I knew He was totally God and totally man. He was Holy. He was deity.
I learned that Jesus was the only way to Heaven. The only means of salvation. The only path to a relationship with God. There were not a lot of other paths. Jesus was not an inclusivist. Nor was I. Nor am I now.
I learned that there was a literal hell. Some of the descriptives were symbolic or metaphoric, but Hell is real and what makes it terrifying is not the torture described in the Bible. It's not the pain or the fire (which some claim does not exist...and I understand their claims) What makes Hell so terrifying and awful and frightening is that it is the one place in the universe from which God has totally withdrawn Himself, His Grace, His Mercy and His influence on the actions of men and the spirit world. If we think our society has been declining in recent years, and if we (rightly) make the correlation between the absence of a recognition of God in our society to that decline...imagine a world where nothing holds back the evil hearts of men. Imagine a place where God's Grace, Holiness, Mercy, Image, and Presence are totally withdrawn, and the evil in the heart of man is unbridled. That...is Hell.
I learned that Jesus loved us so much that He died a horrible, painful, unimaginable death. He did this willingly, and purposefully. It wasn't a tragic ending that caught Him by surprise. He wasn't a great teacher who got caught in the crossfire of the Jewish Religious Establishment and the Roman Empire.
I learned that Jesus made the claim about Himself, "I am THE way THE truth and THE life. NO MAN comes to the Father unless they come through me!" (John 14:6) I learned that God the Father established this truth and verified it and holds this true. He has not changed His mind. He has not remodeled the path and made it wider.
I learned that Jesus was the "Soon Coming King". His return is imminent and He is not coming as a Lamb this time. He is coming as a conqueror. He is coming to do terrible business with those who reject Him and stand against Him.
More than anything...I learned that Jesus was the only means of change, of redemption, of renewal, of rest and rejuvenation. Not social platforms, not "engagement" (a term that makes me throw up in my mouth a little) not out-of-sequence discipleship where you skip over the head-on-collision moment with Jesus and get right into the training part and hope that somehow the soul catches on to what is missing. He supersedes "equipping" people who barely know Him. He is far more glorious and majestic than the weak worded worship songs that speak of Him like He is a teen heartthrob.
Jesus was and is God in human skin. And He was not to be trifled with. He was gentle to those who needed gentleness...because they were already broken. But He was tough as nails and unbending in the truth of who He was. He never watered down the message. He never told the sinners, "It's okay...just try harder next time". He gently told them "Stop trying! You can't do this...you need me!" At this news the broken soul fell down before him and declared themselves unworthy. There was a sorrowful, repentant moment where they bowed their hearts for certain and their knees quite often. They had what has become my favorite term...a head-on-collision with the Christ of God. They did not come slowly to a crossroads so much as they smashed into a cross. They climbed from the wreckage realizing that they could not take one more step without making a lifetime, permanent decision to accept or reject this man. This bloodied, beaten, carved-like-a-side-of-beef man who claimed to be God. They had no options for negotiation. They could not hold up Buddha or Mohammad, or Vishnu, or Confucius or Freud, or Kant, or Bill Nye the Science guy an equal to this man they stood face to face with, or a way to refute His claims. It was Jesus or NO ONE.
That is the basis of the theology I was raised with. Yes...a lot of ancillary, unnecessary, personal preferences were included and they morphed from conviction to doctrine. But they never changed the essence. They never wavered from the belief that "Jesus is the Answer, for the world today, above Him there's no other. For Jesus is The Way"
Today's Gospel has moved far afield from that belief. On the far side of the spectrum lie (pun intended) the Emergents and their nonsense, Non-Theology. Preaching a barely necessary Jesus to an already-good-enough crowd. Church is a social gathering and a place to remember liturgy or listen to Tom Petty suddenly sanctified as Sacred Music, because it makes something twinge in our hearts. So does a Monet, but we don't hang one in the sanctuary and genuflect to it.
The Emergent Jesus is unnecessary because they have done away with Hell. To get to that fallacy they had to do away with inerrancy. From there...you have a religion of your own creation.
The less-than-Emergent "Contemporaries" are slightly better. They believe in Salvation. They believe in an inerrant scripture and a necessary experience with Jesus. They just don't believe you have to do that first. They spend weeks, months, or even years on social gospel issues or Christian-life Self Improvement. How to wear your armor better or be a better tither, or pray more. But they don't begin their doctrine with the head-on-collision with Jesus that is so clearly depicted in the Gospels. As best I can determine, they teach far more than they preach. As best as I can deduce, they build their evangelistic vision on the premise that "If we teach from the pulpit as if everyone listening is already a Christian, the ones who aren't will someday see some magical difference between themselves and the others in the church and they'll simply bow their heads at that moment and accept Jesus and have their salvation moment. But we don't "do" altar calls and we don't make clear cut distinctions between "saved" and "lost" because we don't want folks getting uncomfortable and leaving (with their checkbooks). Jesus in this genre has been rendered a necessary disturbance. "Please go somewhere and get saved and then come join our "fellowship" " (And bring your checkbook)
The fundie Jesus is still out there. Angry and miserable and hating us all for what we made Him endure. But that is fading and the inroads made by the grace teachings of Brennan Manning and Chuck Swindoll, to name a few, have quieted that storm quite a bit.
But the fact is that Jesus has been mollified.  The modernists have neutered Him where His claims to exclusivity are concerned. They have created a dozen paths to replace His claim as the only way. They have removed Hell, claiming that  loving God would not do such a thing. If He were merely loving perhaps, but He is also Holy. And He is Just. And a Holy, Just, God can...and must...render judgment, and consequence for sin. He may not surrender any of His attributes or He ceases to be God. He lovingly provided an escape mechanism through Jesus' work on the Cross, but for that to be an authentic substitutionary sacrifice it must be willingly accepted. Not granted in a random manner to all...whether they ask or not.
They have removed the head-on-collision moment with Jesus and replaced it with a high five. A group hug with Buddha, Mohammad, Confuscious, Vishnu, Crystals, Stars, moon gods, nature and...for good measure...Carl Sagan. Nobody wins unless we all win, so they rewrote the rules and decided we all win. The only way to achieve that was to denigrate the authority of God Himself and violate the Person and Deity and Exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
I certainly didn't learn this in the Baptist Church I grew up in. Where Old Time Religion was taught...not merely preached. Where wreckage was strewn from those collisions, but rescue was offered at the altar. Where stories of the impact of that collision were told through tears and with great passion. And where we believed so much in what had happened to us through the work of the Cross that we told others at every chance.
They were far from perfect. But 30 years later I realize they were far closer than I gave them credit. Because people came there seeking, and seldom left wondering where the answer was.  If they walked out of that building after 90 minutes, and they didn't know absolutely that they needed Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God...they did so willingly, and could no longer claim ignorance.
Methods could be improved. That is eternally true. But the message cannot be improved upon. It doesn't need to be.
As long as the Message is Jesus.