Contacting Craig

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Church: Here’s REALLY why people are leaving you! ...My response

     A friend of mine posted this article on my Facebook TL today with the caption “ wrote this, didn’t you?” I did not, and he knew this. But he knows enough about me to recognize when something sounds like I might have written it or at least been thinking it.
I like this article. I particularly like point number 1. The production has worn thin. In many churches it is about nothing more than entertaining the masses and self aggrandizement for the worship team. Worshiping God is a distant last to giving a great performance. It shows, It’s been showing for a long time now.
     My take, as I said, is a bit different.  So here goes...

     1:  You have the absolute worst self-image in the history of mankind.
Jesus said “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you to come out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)  Jesus told us we’d be hated and yet you keep wimping out and backing down and standing for less and less and trying to make the world NOT hate you. That accomplishes nothing. People aren’t going to church to feel good about where they are right now. Deep down they know something is wrong...they want to change. They DO want to come to a place where it is safe to admit they are screwed up and where it is safe to say “I need something!” Which brings me to...
     2: It’s about Jesus...remember Him?
Remember songs like “Jesus is the Answer” or “Tell Them?” Remember when you believed that when Jesus said “I am THE way THE truth and THE Life and nobody comes to God unless he comes through me!” (John 14:6) He meant it and wasn’t kidding?  When did you think He changed His mind? When did it become cool to be so accepting of other “paths?” Jesus never brooked that possibility. He was cut and dried. “It’s me or nobody!” As far as I know, He hasn’t issued a redaction of that text nor has he relinquished His claim to the Only Way. Stop putting words in his mouth.
     3: You DO have a weird language...try going back to the words that changed the world for about 2000 years. Remember when Jesus told Nicodemus “Listen...don’t be surprised that I tell you that you must be BORN AGAIN!” (John 3:7)  So why don’t you use those words anymore? Why aren’t people “born again” and why don’t they still “get saved?” You use words like “engage” “encounter Jesus” “have a relationship with Jesus” but Jesus said those things are not possible without a one-moment-in-time, specific, instantaneous, head-on-collision with the cross of Christ. The cross is vicious and harsh and demanding. Why have you bubble wrapped it?
     4: You play the popularity game.
Face it...a lot of you are phonies. Every move you make, every song you sing, every mission trip gets blasted on social media, a press release gets sent out, and you try to announce your humility. You act like you don’t want recognition, but you claw and scratch for it. You use the tired phrase “Make Jesus Famous” but you really do everything you can think of to make YOU famous, thinking that your fame can add to His. That’s a travesty.
     5: You are the worst age discriminators on earth.
You are loaded to the gills with older folks with a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom and you run them off with your pabulum-infused songs and contemporary services. These are the people who seem to know how to balance a checkbook, stay faithful to one church and one spouse for a lifetime, and raise good kids. yet you isolate them by complaining that they need to change with the times. The times SUCK. Maybe they had it right. Maybe you should listen to them a little more.
     6: You’re a pastor...stop camouflaging that. Wear a suit now and then. Shave that hideous beard. Stop wearing girl jeans and capri pants. Try drinking black coffee once in a while. Cut your own grass. And for God’s sake, maybe it wouldn’t kill you to NOT try for shock-points by talking about your favorite beer, your sex life, or your favorite KISS album. You were called to lead by get WAY OUT IN FRONT and be very different...not barely different.
     7: You are here to love people. Sometimes that means putting a hard finger in their face and telling them “This is bad. STOP!” Sometimes it means shutting up and being silent because you really aren’t that smart sounding, and the person just needs a silent arm around their shoulder. ALL THE TIME it means you are kind. Kind even in your hard, immovable stance on sin. Still be kind.
     8: Lastly. You play favorites. And the world sees it. When half the staff are either related to you or your best friends or friends of your best friends...the world sees it. That’s crap. It’s crap in the secular business world and it’s an outhouse full of crap in a church. STOP IT. This is GOD’S church...not yours. You are NOT a CEO. You are a shepherd. Shepherds love sheep. Period
     9: You are a church...aren't you? Changing your name to something that sounds like a sandwich kiosk in the mall food court doesn't fool anybody, and it doesn't help. People see Church as a landmark. A touchstone. It is supposed to be definitive and clear. Why do you try renaming yourself? Because there are a few "bad Baptists" in the world? A couple of crazy Assembly of God's who went rogue?  The Catholic Church has almost gone out of it's way to shoot itself in the foot, what with priests behaving badly and all. Yet they never considered hiring a PR firm to reinvent themselves. They believed in their core foundation and they believed that it was real, and necessary, and that simply living up to it once again would eventually restore people's faith in Catholicism. 
Some people call that being resolute. It's a good thing. You should try it. People died over the course of history to give you the Theology you adhere to. What are you so ashamed of? My daughter calls me "Dad." I'm not a perfect dad, and sometimes I mess up. When I do, I place the onus on me to be a better dad, and deserve the moniker again. What I don't do is tell her she can start calling me Craig, because "Dad" has some bad connotations attached to it. You're a lighthouse...not a glow stick.
     Finally: How about an altar call? How about a specific time in EVERY service where God can specifically do business with the people you are preaching to.
Because since we are “all fallen” (as you keep reminding us when one of your favorite flockstars falls) we ALL need time to repent and do some housekeeping. And how about some hymns mixed in with the hypno-trance worship songs. And how about a few testimonies now and then,  and maybe asking some dear old saint who has been praying for 50+ years, to pray audibly so the kids can hear what a wizened old saint sounds like when he prays. You have probably a thousand years of combined "walking with Jesus" in your midst, and yet you play to the babies. In any other culture that would be written off as foolish. 
Because it it. 
     That’s my take. I’ve sat on both sides of this, and this is what my almost-51 years tells me. The church has tripped over itself apologizing for being Godly. Guess what? That’s what the ungodly actually want from you...GODLINESS! So start doing it. Stop making them so darn comfortable in their ungodliness! That's not why most of them came to your church. So you can stop going out of your way to blur the lines between what an actual Christian is and does, and the rest of the world. That line was never supposed to be blurry. It was supposed to be bold, and stark, and it allows no turning back once you cross it. 
THAT is what they want. They are leaving because, after a few weeks of being in your presence, they feel like there isn't much different between them and you, and now that they've settled the unrest in their hearts, (sadly, they settled it with the Christian codeine you sold them) they'd just as soon stay home or go fishing or golfing or to a craft beer festival. They came to you looking for a way to be different. They came away, not with the words of Life that change you and make you different and infuse that difference into every pore of their being, but with the feeling that they don't really need to be different. 
They are leaving you because they feel like they didn't really need you after all. That's your fault...not theirs.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Christian Music sucks! (An early Sunday Morning rant about the current state of Christian Music)

You listen to what is pawned off on us these days as "Christian" music and you have to wonder.
You wonder where the visionaries are. Not the vision of where "their" music is heading, but those who caught a vision of God Himself, and then translated it into an album. The voices of prophets. I was a sophomore in high school when I got a copy of Keith Green's "No Compromise" record and from the very first day I listened to it, I was changed forever. He wasn't the greatest vocalist and once in a while his songwriting skills were mediocre. But this was a guy who couldn't give two cents about "giving a performance" the way praise and worship singers do now. He would have sung from behind a curtain. It was about changing a life, not creating a mood. Mood making is what lounge singers do.
Where is the current Andrae Crouch, who could move you to repentance and then to joy in a two hour concert? Where are the Stonehill's and the Dallas Holm's? Who will be the next Mullins?
It has long been said that the hymnbook is a reflection of the pulpit. This is true. As pastors have moved away from speaking actively about sin and right and wrong and softened the message in an effort to draw bigger crowds, the music has reflected the move.
Where the original Jesus Movement was "Come as you are, but you will change" now it is "Come as you are and hey...God loves you as you are and there is no need to ever change..." And the music reflects this. The old songs sound old and dated to so many today because the theology behind them is gone from the hearts of so many. Why sing of "Amazing Grace" when nobody ever thinks they were "a wretch?" Why sing "Just as I Am" from a mindset of repentance when you're being told that "Just as you are" is all you'll ever need to be? Why sing of salvation when an idiot like Gungor denies Genesis being literal, and Vickie Beeching openly embraces heresy and is celebrated for it? "A literal Genesis? That's so "Fundie,"  I mean that's where sin entered the world, maybe that never actually happened, and since I don't believe in the book that first described sin, why write songs about the existence of sin or the damage it does? I'll write another song about the God who is only slightly less mild than Mr. Rogers."
Nobody will be saying what I'm saying in the churches where these artists attend this morning. And so they'll keep writing this pablum and another generation will go on without ever experiencing what it feels like to lay awake all night, listening to a REAL Christian album on your headphones and being changed forever.
Hearing about the murder of the unborn or the billion starving people or the need for righteous living. Instead they'll just hear yet another "Christian Hottie" groaning about how much she loves Jesus...almost like she loves her boyfriend. Or some barely- manly hipster worship writer talking about how he is God's best friend and how hard life gets whenever he spills his Starbucks on his scarf and it gets on his skinny jeans.
We'll know we have a revival starting when we start hearing it in the music.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Final word on Braxton Caner...

     Seldom do I not know what I want to write. I almost never sit down in front of a computer and wait while hours pass and nothing pops to mind. In fact, I usually have the words flowing before I turn on the device. But this has taken a long time to write and I still don’t know what I want to say exactly. But I have to say something.
     Two weeks ago, the 15 year old son of my friend took his own life. The young man’s name was Braxton Caner. His dad is Ergun Caner, college President, Apologist, author, minister, former Muslim, etc.
     He is, before all that, husband and father. He is a brother and an uncle. He is my friend.
     Five years ago, a storm arose around him. I won’t go into it here, not because I am afraid to, but because it has been five years and the depths have been plumbed...again and again and again.
     Five years ago it was making headlines and thousands were discussing it. But after five years, the players filtered down to the core group who began this facade in the first place. The same old voices, spewing the same old hate, (they’ll say they attack Ergun out of “love” but it takes about 30 seconds of seeing their tactics to throw that out the window) pulling the same old tricks... like total strangers showing up at churches where he would speak, standing up and disrupting the service. They get themselves thrown out, then Tweet about it like drunken frat boys. Meanwhile the puppeteers they desperately want to impress guffaw from behind their monitors. I know of a few churches where if a stranger tried that sort of disruption, they’d be tazed until they smelled burnt hair.
     Five years of this and they are as hateful as they were on day one. Now...for the first time since this began...they are running scared.
They’ll never admit it. They are already in full damage control mode. But it’s going to be impossible to contain the damage this time. Because this time...even atheists say they went too far.

The situation is this... “Baptist pastor” (italics added for cynicism) J.D.Hall has been a capo in the Calvibot crime family (my personal nickname for those secretly pulling the strings of Caner-hate) for a while now. He has gone after Ergun for years, and his tactics have become more vicious, more evil, and more unregenerate in nature with each passing day. Last month, he crossed the ultimate line. He began attacking Braxton Caner...Ergun’s 15 year old son. It was terrible. It was despicable. It was creepy, especially the comments about Braxton’s 15 year old girlfriend. (As father of a 16 year old girl, I can tell you that if that were my daughter, J.D. would have already been dealt with.) It was an obsession fueled by hate and it was sickening. At no point does a grown man, a “pastor” (knowing many real pastors, I struggle attaching that title to this “man” but he is one, none the less) say to himself, “I’m harassing a BOY on Twitter. Perhaps this is wrong and I should stop?”  No sir. Instead, J.D. wears on Braxton. Going so far as to insinuate that his parents are divorcing. (Something he entirely pulled from his backside) and inviting Braxton, through Direct Message, to “email me if you want to know the truth about your father.” Really? Again, if that happened to my daughter I’d email J.D. some photos of the friends of my family. The big hairy friends with similar last names and Mob ties. But I digress.
     This was a psychological blitzkrieg on a 15 year old boy. It wasn’t the first time J.D. tried to wedge Brax against his dad. It was just the most evil.
Tragically, on July 29 of this year...just two weeks ago now, Braxton ended his life. 
Within an hour, the masterminds of the Caner-hate were online, pretending to be sorrowful and demanding that we all behave as THEY want us to. “Nobody should attack anybody else...ESPECIALLY those who have ‘called Ergun to repentance’  i.e.: the ones who hate him the most. Interpretation: “We really screwed up this time and crossed a very big line and this is bad. Now don’t any of you say anything about that, or else.” Imagine this being spoken in the voice of Don Corleone.
The gall it took to demand that those who pushed this matter to this brink, now deserve to be protected from scrutiny is amazing.
But not really...
     They realize that this turns the tables, and it exposes them. Nobody cares about their allegations about Ergun now. The whole world sees a boy who took his life and a PASTOR might have helped push him to that point. One of THEIR pastors. Rut-Roh!
That’s why they have circled the wagons.
That’s why I’m writing this. That’s the point I’m getting to. Here goes...
First, I will state my position on J.D. Hall clearly. It is this:
     I believe J.D. Hall cyber bullied, and harassed Braxton Caner ruthlessly, and without limits, in a effort to harm his father Ergun. Given the content of those tweets, his BLOG about the FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY (that in  itself is enough for a 3-day pass to a psych ward for a thorough eval, in my opinion) and subsequent RADIO SHOW about it, it’s obvious Braxton was the Voodoo doll J.D. was using to harm Ergun. Every word was intended to inflict maximum damage. Every insinuation, every accusation, every condemning, hurtful, evil tweet. Death by words...140 characters at a time. J.D. doubtless DID NOT  intend to physically kill Braxton. Maybe worse...he wanted to kill his heart. He wanted to kill his spirit and thus kill the heart and soul of the man he hates obsessively...Ergun Caner.
     I believe that given the FACTS of JD’s actions one cannot avoid drawing a line from his actions to Braxton’s suicide. The only reasonable argument is how bold a line do I draw? A pencil line or a thick, black, magic Marker?
It would be foolish to say “This is entirely J.D’s fault!” but I believe it is at least partly his fault. Braxton left no note, so we’ll never know how big a part this played. But think about what MIGHT (and I admit this is conjecture at this point) have been going ‘round and round in his mind. Not only did JD harass Braxton, he accused his girlfriend of despicable things as well. How did Brax feel about the girl he was in love with being wounded by this man? Did 15, and maybe not ready for this sort of evil attack...feel it was somehow his fault? Did he feel he let his dad down somehow? Did he think maybe this was never ever going to end? I don’t know. We’ll never know. But we DO know what JD hall did, and we can see it had SOME effect. Only a fool would deny this.
Second, I decided this morning, that I am not going to involve myself in this anymore. Not because there isn’t a cause. Not because I’m not fuming and so angry I can’t see straight. Not because I’m less outraged. None of that is true.
But because after watching the Hall supporters over the last two weeks, I see what an unregenerate soul really does. How it really behaves. In my opinion, these people hold their hatred for Ergun and for any who love him, (whether they support him in the prior allegations or not) in a higher regard than they hold love for God. Love for Man. Or love for a deceased boy. They don’t see a shattered family, a broken-hearted dad, a devastated mom, and a bewildered little brother. They see blood in the water and fresh meat on the carcass. And they are just waiting for the crowd to die down so they can swoop in and start picking. They’ve already begun...
Over the weekend, they began the move I knew they’d make all along. They tried to make this Ergun’s fault. They said as much. If only Ergun had given them what they wanted...this would never have happened.
I can’t even put into words what this makes me feel. If your soul can feel nausea...that’s what I feel for them now.
I realized after watching their tactics this weekend, that fighting with them is pointless. Countering them is fruitless. Nothing matters to them except self-preservation and destruction of their enemies.
They don’t care about a family who has to try to deal with the single worst thing a family can face.
They don’t care about the grief that the man they detest is feeling every blistering second of every day. They don’t care about the mom or the brother or the team mates or the friends. They just want to hurry up and get the quarry stuffed and mounted so they can crow about it and move on to the next one.
They are soul-less.
It’s not that I can’t fight them. I’m a smart guy with an acid tongue and nothing to lose.
It’s just that it isn’t worth it. They aren’t worth it. There is nothing amongst them to redeem. Nothing to fight for. No decency to appeal to. No soul to save.
They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.
You can’t help a person like that. It’s a fools errand.
So this morning I decided I’m not going to try.
My one and only action will be to daily remind the world of the facts we DO know...
“In the days leading to Braxton Caner’s suicide, “pastor” J.D.Hall of Sidney alleged adult...harassed and bullied Braxton online and on a radio show. While I can not definitively lay all the blame at JD’s feet, only a fool misses the connection, in my opinion.”

I knew Braxton. I have a few sweet memories of him, so this hurts more than just the street-level gravity of the events. ...which are horrible enough as it is. This is the fourth young person in my world who died too soon. One was a family member. It’s been two weeks and I can only now, barely begin to shake the gloom from this.
I just can’t bring myself to engaging these evil people. They aren’t going to change. God will have to intervene. I would not want to be them when He does. Any of them.

This is all I’ll say on the matter. For the first time in 7 years of blogging, I will not permit comments on this. I’ve said my piece and I’m done with it. Argue elsewhere.

Here are some more links for other’s input.

God’s Speed Brax.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Just another Saturday morning...

This morning in my house we're preparing for a short trip.
This morning in most houses, Saturday morning will be a ritual of cartoons, and cereal, and shuttling kids to various athletic events, and then maybe to a pool and later on to a cookout.
This morning in Texas, in the home of a dear, dear family that I love deeply, this morning undoubtedly came on the heels of another sleepless night. If there was sleep at all it is only because of the body seeking refuge from the intense pain of the past four days. This morning in Texas, my dear friends will close out one chapter in a book just beginning to be written. They will say goodbye to their son.
People use the term "closure" frequently. We strive for closure when someone has wronged us and we've wondered why for many years. Or if we were left at the altar. Or if our spouse divorced us for no good reason. Or if our luck runs bad, or our lives take a turn.
We seek closure when we lose a child. But this, as my dear friends will discover, is not possible.
Today is a hard day for them, but the hardest day will be tomorrow. And then even harder will be Monday, then Tuesday...
They will never escape the reminders all around them. They will have scant few moments when they aren't thinking of him and what happened, and what might have been. The ache in their soul will not decrease in time. It will grow. There will be even more tears. Even greater pain. Even worse anguish.
They will change, these friends of mine. They will not be the same as they were before. I promise you this. Every Christmas will remind them. There'll be an empty seat at the table and an untouched stocking on the mantle. There'll be a high school graduation with one less young man walking the aisle. There'll be the day when his friends all leave for college and his parents are denied that blessed sorrow. There'll be a college graduation, and a wedding, and grandchildren all denied. Those things are part of the natural order of life and so when they don't don't simply ignore it. The hole left by their absences is real, and palpable.
They will wonder what he would be doing right now, at a million moments over the rest of their lives. They will ache. They will cry. They will relive this week forever. Years will pass and it will be more tolerable, but it will never go away.
This Saturday morning in Texas, some people I love are ending the worst week they have ever known.
And beginning the darkest walk any parent will ever take, and no parent ever should.
I know this to be true...because 18 years ago, my family had their own "Saturday Morning" (ours fell on a Wednesday). I can still feel the chairs in the kitchen. I can still recall every second of the church service. I can still see all the faces, and the line of high school kids extending out the door and into the street...wanting to say goodbye when they never should have to.
It never goes only becomes more manageable with time. I know this to be true because as I write this, and as I think back to that phone call and that long plane ride home, and those faces in the kitchen...I am in tears on this Saturday morning in Virginia. Because it all feels like it just happened all over again.
If you've never endured this, I ask only one thing. Please don't expect your friends to respond the way you think you would. You have no idea what kind of hurt this really is. You can't even imagine.
Just pray for them, and stand near them in silence.
This Saturday morning...wherever you might be.

Praying for Ergun, Jill, and Drake and their family.