Saturday, April 2, 2022

Year Three...

Three years.
It’s been three years since that fateful day and still, sometimes it feels like yesterday. Sometimes it feels like a dream, and maybe it never happened, and it’s just been a while since our last phone call. But reality is always a cold cruel mistress and I remember that day. That day three years ago.
I had just pulled up into my driveway. The driveway of the new house I had closed on only two weeks before. Rick had been so happy for me and my daughter Daisy. He and Linda had been there with me through every hard mile of the previous ten years. He’d encouraged me, given me advice, prayed for me, and as was his style...helped me laugh through the hardest times.
Rick was more than simply a musician whose music I was a devoted fan of. I was more than just a fan who had managed to strike up a conversation with my favorite artist. Rick had become my “big brother.” He was the closest friend I had in Nashville and one of the closest friends in my life. He and Linda were a family to me when I needed one.
Rick and I got each other. Our similar upbringing and Italian heritage bound us in moments of wildly hysterical storytelling, and also the unspoken brotherhood of both of us having grown up without any interaction with our fathers. There were things we could talk about with each other that we couldn’t talk about with very many other people in the world.
I could talk about Rick’s career and his body of work. I could rank his albums in order of my personal liking. I could tell you about the best show I ever saw him play or the people in his universe that he introduced me to. People who were recognizable stars in their genre. I could have done that if I had only remained a fan for the 32 years, I knew Rick.
But a funny thing happened...
Somewhere along the way -and it happened rather early in our relationship—Rick stopped being a musician, or a celebrity in the world of CCM, or the brilliant writer and producer of the “That Thing You Do!” soundtrack.
Rick just became my friend. My dear, beloved friend. My brother.
I was wanting to post some pictures of Rick and I together and I realized that I really only have one. It was taken at the “Creation 91” festival in Pennsylvania. Taken when I was still more fan than friend. Taken when it was somehow a cool thing to be in a picture with Rick Elias.
I am bad about remembering to take pictures with my friends. I guess it’s because I see them all the time and I have so many pictures in my heart that a picture on my phone, or in a scrapbook seems almost ridiculous. I wish I had more pictures of Rick and me. Pictures at the annual Elias Christmas party would be great. Those parties were epic, and nobody was funnier than Rick...except for Tom Howard’s annual gift of “Butterfly Kugen.”
But I only have this thirty-one-year-old picture of a mullet wearing Craig and a very weary Rick...arm in arm and the backstage area of Creation. He had driven all night, with his band, from a gig in Illinois, to play the early evening show. Oddly enough the soundcheck always sticks with me. It was typical Rick...
The stage guys were trying to get Linda’s mic levels right and the guy kept saying “Linda Linda, Linda,” in her mic while the engineer adjusted. Then he sort of started making up stuff to give the engineer more to work with. “Linda, Linda Linda...Linda Lou...Linda...” It went on like this for a while. I think they might even had changed out her mic.
They finally got it right and then moved on to Rick’s mic. The guy asked Rick to talk into the mic so they could set his levels and Rick -never missing a chance to demonstrate his acerbic wit—said.
“Linda Linda Linda...
Linda is my wife!
All you single guys.
Better look the other way.”
It was half song and half military cadence and funny as heck in the moment.
It was typical Rick.
I drove out to New Castle PA to see him at a little church where he was playing a solo gig. He didn’t know I was coming, and I surprised him as he was setting up his gear. It was a wonderful concert. That was the night I heard him play “Man Of No Reputation” for the first time. I sat there in silence when the song ended. I couldn’t move. I had been brought face-to-face with Jesus Christ, in song, more clearly than any other song had ever done in my life.
After the show I helped him pack his gear and we drove to Shoney’s for a very late dinner. New Castle is a small little town and we joked and made “The Deer Hunter” references. If you knew Rick, you knew that quoting movie lines at the perfect moment was one of his great gifts.
We sat down to eat, and he told me that Linda had called him when he got to town and informed him that she was pregnant with Zach, their youngest. Rick was excited and concerned all at once. Excited because he loved being a dad. Concerned because he was a musician and he took his responsibilities as a husband and father seriously, and a musician isn’t always the most stable employment option when you have a family.
We finished dinner and said goodbye and I drove back home the next morning.
I remember that morning when I heard the news that Rich Mullins had died. I knew how close he and Rick were and I knew that Rick treasured his friends. I called the house to let him know how sorry I was and to tell him I was there. Rick was shaken and it was hard for him to talk but he appreciated the call and he let me know that.
We moved to Nashville in 1997, and it helped having friends there already. Rick was swamped at the time...” That Thing You Do” he created a world of soundtrack opportunities for him, and he was busy with producing “The Jesus Record” for his late friend Rich Mullins. And he was raising a family and being a husband. But we made time to chat from time to time.
One of the other great memories I have of Rick is his deep abiding love for his friends. He didn’t throw his arms open to the world, but if you made it to his inner circle, he loved you deeply. Late one night he had gotten word that a friend from back in California had passed away. Rick wrote the most heart wrenching post on FB, detailing how he found out this friend had died, and how it hurt him, and how much his friends meant to him. He tagged me and Bob Sale, and Tom Howard, and a few other guys I can’t remember at the moment. He told us specifically, “I love you guys. I mean it. We never say this enough to those we love.” I was floored. And honored. I loved Rick as a brother and now I realized he felt the same way. Rick loved his friends and his family with everything he had. If anything marked him as a man...that, was it.
I remember the phone call in July of 2018, telling me of his illness. I walked outside the building so I could hear him better. I felt my knees buckle when he told me he had a brain tumor. He told me the story of what had been happening leading up to the doctors discovering what was wrong. And -as was his way—he spoke of his love and concern for Linda. He wanted her to be okay. He wanted the kids to be okay. He wanted Reese and Mazy to be okay. He wanted to live. Live for them. But if he couldn’t, he wanted them to be okay when he was gone.
The next nine months were a painful blur. I kept in contact as best I could, while trying to respect his time and the need to be with his family as much as he could. I was in Nashville in October of 2018 and called to see if I could stop to see him, but they were walking out the door to go to the airport and fly to Florida for one final family vacation together. So, we chatted for a minute and planned on getting together another time.
Time was the enemy all along. We talked a lot. I tried putting together a fund raiser here in Lynchburg. Those plans were altered when we tried to arrange flying him and Linda up here to speak at Liberty. But his health, and the preparations for the Ragamuffin show in January 2019 never opened that door.
So, all we had were phone calls. We talked about once a week or once every ten days. We ended every call with “I love you.” The last call we had, I sensed something had changed. He had worsened. Rick was always optimistic, at least publicly with his friends, about his illness. But something in his voice sounded the slightest bit resigned. I was sitting in the Kroger parking lot, about to go grocery shopping and I had called him on the drive to the store and sat there in my truck until we said our goodbyes.
I told him what he meant to me through the years. I recounted some great stories we’d shared. He made me laugh, as usual. But there was sadness under it all. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d talk to him...but I knew.
About a week later, I got a text from our mutual friend Paul. Rick was back in the hospital, and it was grave. Then at 5:30 that afternoon, as I pulled into my driveway, Paul texted me again. Rick was gone.
I sat in my truck and cried. The movie of our friendship played in my head as I tried to sort out my world without Rick Elias.
I went in the house and told my daughter. She cried too. She loved Rick because she is a musician and a gifted singer and Rick had taken time and shown interest in her through the years. Her dream was to take his songwriting class at Belmont one day. Now that was not to be.
It’s been three years. Three years and some days it’s like it just happened. I still have a hard time listening to Rick’s music. It is too full of memories. And it’s too final. There isn’t any more of it and because of that, it reminds me he is gone.
I miss my friend. I miss funny conversations and watching the Superbowl with him and Linda, and, he loved Christmas!
I miss his deep love for Jesus. His sensitivity and his occasional profanity. His surgeon-precise truthfulness, his acerbic wit, his hysterical rants...and the amazing depth of his heart. I miss the love he had for his friends.
I wish I had more pictures with Rick. But I have a million of them in my heart and that will have to do.
Three years gone and I still miss you like it was yesterday, my brother.
Thank you for all you gave this world. Thanks for loving me back.
See you soon...

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Greatest Love Song Ever Written

 Like any hopeless romantic, especially one who writes and loves the power and strength of words, I've collected what I thought were great love songs over the years.
And also, as a romantic and a writer, I dabbled in lyric writing from time to time. I'd say I'm "Not Bad." I'm no John Hiatt but I'm not embarrassing either.
I think, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought I'd write the perfect love song one day. One that said it all, said it perfectly, and made people wipe away a few tears when they heard it.
Somewhere around 1991 I found out that the perfect love song had been written. 
Marc Cohn wrote it. It was the last song on his debut album, the one best known for "Walking in Memphis." (Itself an indescribably wonderful song.)
He wrote these lyrics and when I heard them for the first time, I knew..."Nobody will ever write a song more perfect than this." This says it all. 
The burden was lifted. Turns out I didn't have to write the perfect love lyric. I just had to find the girl in this song.
I did. And maybe one day, if God permits, she'll see me in her heart when she hears this song. And she'll feel the same way I feel.  And the perfect love song will become the perfect love.
Until then...

True Companion
-Marc Cohn

Baby, I've been searching like everybody else
Can't say nothing different about myself
Sometimes I'm an angel and sometimes I'm cruel
And when it comes to love, I'm just another fool
Yes, I'll climb a mountain
I'm gonna swim the sea
There ain't no act of God, girl
Could keep you safe from me
My arms are reaching out
Out across this canyon
I'm asking you to be my true companion
True companion
True companion
So don't you dare and try to walk away
I've got my heart set on our wedding day
I've got this vision of a girl in white
Made my decision that it's you alright
When I take your hand
I'll watch my heart set sail
I'll take my trembling fingers
And I'll lift up your veil
Then I'll take you home
And with wild abandon
Make love to you just like a true companion
You are my true companion
I got a true companion
Oh, a true companion
When the years have done irreparable harm
I can see us walking slowly arm in arm
Just like that couple on the corner do, 'cause
Girl I will always be in love with you
When I look in your eyes
I'll still see that spark
Until the shadows fall
Until the room grows dark
Then when I leave this Earth
I'll be with the angels standin'
I'll be out there waiting for my true companion
Just for my true companion
True companion
True companion

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A Child at Christmas. Looking for the Christmases I lost along the way...

Anyone who knows me even a little, knows I am the most “Christmassy” person on earth. I am Clark W. Griswold in real life. I love the music, I love the lights, I love the decorations. I love it all. But this year -and all the most recent Christmases—I’ve felt different.
With each passing year I’ve felt less connected to the holiday than I have been previously. Something has been missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Until now.
I’ve been pondering this attitude of mine since before Thanksgiving and last week I think I found my answer. I think it is something shared by a lot of folks at the stage of life I find myself.
I’ve lost the wonder.
I’ve lost the wonder and the magic of Christmas, and as I’ve been thinking about it and wondering why, I believe I came up with some answers.
I think I’ve forgotten how to be a child.
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and don’t deny them from approaching me. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is inhabited by those who are childlike.”
(Matthew 19:14)
Last week I began another reading of Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” It has long been my favorite book by Manning and one of the best works on the topic of Grace ever written. I read it for the first time the day before Thanksgiving, 1993. You read that right…I read the entire book in one day. In eight hours to be exact. I was so thirsty for Grace and so desperate to know that God really loved me that I could not put it down.
I read more than half of the book on my knees, sobbing as I read, gulping down the words of grace and God’s affection. It changed me drastically. But over the years, something happened.
Reading the book softened my heart, but a soft heart must be maintained. Childlike faith grows into skeptical doubt if you’re not careful. Life has a way of harming the innocent among us and stealing whatever joy we found in simply believing God and taking Him at his word.
That happened to me.
In the twenty-eight years since I first read that book, the child I reconnected with that day was once again forced into a closet somewhere in my heart.
It happened slowly, over time. When life took swings and connected with the occasional roundhouse to the chin. Each time, the little child retreated further into some hiding place in my soul.
Three years after reading the book for the first time, I lost my little sister in a car accident. And the child in me had a hard time understanding God’s plan in all of it, even though His hand was mercifully on her even the day before her death.
Four years after reading the book I got married. Five years after reading it I became a dad. Six years after…I was divorced. The child was devastated. He had finally found an outlet for the massive love in his heart, and it was gone before he even got started.
But I had my daughter, and so -even as my childlike innocence was hardening into the carapace of adult cynicism and doubt— I was able to see childlike faith and innocence on display through her eyes and her heart and it kept me at least aware of what that all looked like.
Christmas, when my daughter was a child, was as exciting for me as it was for her. Maybe more so. Every memory we created together, was a reminder of the wonder of Christmas and the promise of the baby in the manger. Having a child at Christmas kept me connected to the child I was at Christmas.
It was easy to remember the “why” of Christmas. In fact, it was more vital and more real for me as a parent of a small child, than it had been as a child myself. Christmas, when she was little, was a season of wonder.
But, as all children do, she grew up.
My daughter is almost twenty-four now. She hasn’t been a child in a long time. She might still be my child…my little girl, but in reality, she is an adult and Christmas morning isn’t what it was for her fifteen years ago.
And so, I realized this week that my reference had once again shifted to an adult view of Christmas. I don’t have a little child in my home anymore from whom I can absorb the wonder and through whom I can live the magic of Christmas vicariously. It’s two adults, a man and his adult daughter, and the wonder is gone.
The music has not sounded the same this year. Christmas music holds a place in my heart but this year it has been flat. The movies I watch each season have struggled to hold my interest, whereas in years past I could watch them over and again, happily, until the season was done.
And perhaps the hardest truth about Christmas this year, and in recent years, is that somehow…someway, I lost sight of the Baby in the manger. The tiny infant in the center of the story who is the whole reason we have this holiday.
Somehow, in losing all contact with childlike faith, I lost contact with The Child at the center of that Faith.
Reading Manning again has reminded me of how it once was for me. How childlike faith felt when I first tasted it. This week has been a daily pursuit of that child and The Child.
It’s only December 2 and I am determined to restore that child inside me and to find my way back to the sheep pen where The Child once again lies. God Himself, in human skin, desiring to be held, coddled, loved. Waiting to give His love to all who would venture to Bethlehem, find Him in his lowly place in a sheep trough, and let Him do what all babies do…touch our hearts in places we long ago forgot we even had. He makes it okay to become children again. To have childlike faith again. To wonder again.
My friend Rick Elias once said: “He was born in a barn, lived as a pauper, died on a cross in the trash heap of Jerusalem. He was the son of God with spit running down his face…and I have entrusted my soul to Him.”
He was the very Son of God who chose to leave Heaven, be born the same way my own child was born, wear human flesh and be touchable, and vulnerable. He did this so that I could become a child again.
His child.
That… is what brings the wonder to this holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A brief word to Christians telling me not to worry about the outcome of this election...

 Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
7 Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
This Psalm is just one of many scriptures where open patriotism and love for country are heralded. Where the emotional disposition of the writer is directly tied to the fate of his homeland.
To my Christian friends -well meaning, non doubt-- who insist on telling me that "God is in control" and "This is part of God's plan" and "I'm a citizen of Heaven," read the Psalm again. Throughout scripture there are examples of deep love for homeland and concern for her fate. Even Jesus, in his discourse with the woman at the well, and in other parts of the Gospel, made it clear He was there for Israel, first.
Last Tuesday very well might have begun the last days of this wonderful nation. This country is all I have. It's the only family to which I am CERTAIN I belong. (Beside the family of faith, obviously) Please spare me the high handed Bumper Sticker theology and platitudes. We're in more danger this morning than we were on 9/11. We're closer to the precipice than ever in our history and it was done by our own people. It wasn't the outside forces who figured out how to steal an was people claiming to be the same American I am.
If this doesn't break your heart, good for you. But please don't try convincing me that Christians are somehow above Patriotism. There are too many examples in scripture for that to be accurate.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The last free election in the U.S.

Since Tuesday night I have been heartbroken. I see this election differently than many and it's breaking my heart. I haven't slept well and my days have been spent in worry and deep thought.
I am a hockey player and draw a lot of my observations from my time on the ice. Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest to ever play the game, was as successful as he was because he had an uncanny knack for seeing where the play was going, instead of focusing on where it was at the moment. He would pass to an open patch of ice, because he saw his teammate heading for it and instead of hitting him where he was, he sent to puck to where he was going to be in a split second, and opened up a million opportunities.
That's how I view last Tuesday's elections. The Democrats, and their owners, figured out how to pass the puck to where we're going. They figured out how to circumvent the rules while using the rules, Something only the truly evil genius can figure out.
The danger is not just Biden / Harris and the evil they will introduce into American society. The real danger is the PRECEDENT. How do you ever take away mass mail-in voting now that it's been introduced into the public awareness? An already lazy electorate will never give this up now that they've tasted it.
This wasn't about making it safer for voters in the midst of a "pandemic" it was about making a way to flip states without changing the electoral college rules. I promise you, you will never hear Democrats complaining about the Electoral College again. They've figured out a way to not only defeat it, but have it at the ready to validate their evil deeds. You just out-vote it with enough falsified mail-in ballots to render it unnecessary. You flood the system until you won the state and then the Electoral College does what it was intended to do.
And who will go to the American people now and say "That was a one-time deal because of the virus?" The Democrats will instantly call that "Voter Suppression!" and find a judge that agrees. This is the new reality folks. That's why I've been sleepless all week. That's why I'm sad to the point of tears. My beloved country has been checkmated by those who hate her.
Biden and Harris will come and go like all presidents. But the damage is permanent. 2016 will go down as the last time there was ever a true legitimate election in our history.
This bell can't be unrung.

God Help America...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

It's OUR Mountain Too

I am a proud Liberty University Alumni.

I loved my school in her success and I love her more now when she has suffered a wound. This is my school. That’s my mountain.

I know its God’s school. I know its Dr. Falwell’s school. But a little piece of it is mine as well.

I’m from the generation who came to this mountain before she had world class dorms, and world class food services, and world class educational facilities. She had a football team that practiced out at Treasure Island and played in Municipal Stadium. Williams Stadium was land we didn’t even own yet when I arrived on campus.

My freshman English classes were held in a single wide mobile office trailer out where the old guard shack used to be…roughly where the bookstore is now.

We didn’t get financial aid back then, so I worked thirty-five hours a week at Advance Auto Parts in Hills Plaza and repaired cars in my spare time. We lived four to a room in rooms built for two. We rode buses to Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening because we weren’t allowed to go to any other church.

I played on the very first hockey team we ever had. We skated on a frozen retention pond in the ravine, where the Vine Center would one day stand. We played games in Roanoke.

Liberty was just a vision back then. Financially so shaky that we’d go home at Christmas wondering if there’d be a school to come back to in January. We did prayer walks. We wept with Doc. We believed that this place would one day be all that he promised us it would. It would happen long after we had left this sacred soil, but our kids, or our grandchildren, would attend college here where we once did, only in the buildings he saw in his soul.

My grandmother lived on a fixed income of $6600 per year for the last ten years of her life. But she was so proud of me for going to Liberty and studying to be a pastor, that she sent $20 per month before I was even out of high school to support this place. She thought that somehow it would be credited to me one day and I had to explain to her “Mom-mom…that money goes to the college. If you want to help me, send it directly to me.” And she did. A card showed up every month or so…maybe six weeks, in my campus mailbox. Always at exactly the right time. Her beautiful cursive handwriting adorning the envelope…only a little less beautiful and worn by arthritis which made it harder to hold the pen. There would be a note and a crisp Twenty-dollar bill. The note full of scripture and assurances that she loved me, she was proud of me, and she was praying for me.

My grandmother once scraped together enough money to buy a memorial brick in the old religion hall. A couple of years ago, I was working for the university when they tore the building down and I walked through there a few times trying to find that brick. My grandmother’s “widow’s mites” were poured into this school. My hopes and dreams were birthed here.

When I was in high school, the only college I wanted to attend was Liberty. Dr. Falwell was my hero. He was a visionary. He was exciting. He was a patriot. He preached an unswerving message of the cross and didn’t pull punches or mince words. I loved him. We all did. All of us “Jerry’s Kids.”

I learned life altering lessons here. I sat under solid, old school preaching, and learned actual, tested and tried theology. I learned to pray into the wee hours in the lobby of dorm five with my best friend Greg St. Clair.

I preached sermons to empty chairs in the education hall after classes were over. I dreamed of the same big God Dr. Falwell served and got his vision from. I was changed here. I became a man here. Emotionally and, especially…spiritually.

I was educated in theology and doctrine. I was taught to test the spirits. To compare scripture with scripture. To not accept any old teaching that came down the pike, simply because it sounded nice. I was taught to rightly divide the word of truth. That God can use anybody, but especially somebody who is prepared. Deeply, thoroughly, prepared.

And Liberty prepared me. We had a dress code I bristled against, but it taught me to submit to authority and look sharp. We had early classes with unforgiving professors who didn’t abide excuses. But they made me appreciate the early morning and manage my time better. We lived in tight quarters, but they made it impossible to be a loner and I met the best friends of my life in those years.

It took me a long time to graduate. Life threw me some curves and it took a while to reach home. But I did. And as I did, I was solidified as a Christian. I knew the how and why of my Faith. I knew what it meant… not just what it felt like.

My classmates went on to start churches and Christian schools and be strong, stalwart, Champions for Christ. We didn’t bend to the culture…we stood against its push.


My beloved Liberty has wandered so far from Dr. Falwell’s original vision. Sure maybe we have the buildings and the facilities and the sports teams and we’re flush with cash. But spiritually…we are not even close anymore, to what he wanted for us on this mountain. We are no longer pushing back against the culture. We are shaping the gospel to fit the culture. The neo-evangelicalism that is pervasive at the Baylors of the world has it’s foot in the door at LU and unless we act right now…we are heading for the same fate. Christian on the sign on the highway, but pagan in our soul.

Not everything wrong with the spiritual atmosphere at LU can be blamed directly on LU. The students coming to Liberty now aren’t the same kids we were 40 years ago. They don’t come here to be pastors or Christian schoolteachers. They come for a liberal arts education with some Jesus sprinkled on top. They come here from far more theologically liberal homes where emotion is doctrine and the difference between solid theology and heresy is a blurred line. Liberty can only work with the raw materials sent to us.

But where Dr. Falwell would have said “You’re here and we’re going to indoctrinate you against the culture of the day"…the current iteration of Liberty says “You’re here and we’re going to shape our spiritual life here on campus to the culture out there.” “We’re going to tickle your ears and feed your emotions and we’re going to imply that actual doctrinal education and theological discourse is somehow stuffy and old, and the only thing that matters is the emotionalism that we see on the You Tube channel of the latest flock star." The uber pastors with entourages who come here as forty somethings dressed as twenty somethings trying to pull a fast one on the kids…because they see them as kids. Easy marks. They preach platitudes not sermons. They couldn’t do an actual exegete if their lives literally depended on it. The names read like a most-wanted list for biblical heresy: Lentz, Stanley, Wilkerson, McManus… Posers and preeners, who crack jokes, emote, tell warm stories, and couldn’t find their way through an actual theological discussion without a roadmap and a flashlight. Narcissistic showmen who spew out-of-context scripture references like a Pez dispenser. And anyone with even a basic grasp of systematic theology can blow holes in their teaching like tearing a tissue.

On top of these questionable (I’m being kind) teachers, we’ve now been invaded by the Critical Race Theory, woke culture. A godless lie that heaps burdens on innocent backs and itself breeds a more subtle racism in the name of abolishing racism.

Two weeks ago, there was a “BLM-lite” march on campus. They claimed not to be associated with the Marxist radical group BLM, but they held up their signs and chanted the names of their heroes…including a sexual predator named Jacob Blake.
And some of them knelt.

I assure you, if you knelt on this campus while Dr. Falwell was alive, your bus ticket home would have been on your bed in your dorm room before you got back there.  And some of our leadership stood with them.

The problem is large on Liberty Mountain. It’s a lack of theological grounding. A lack of deep education and the absences of peer-reviewed presentations. Somehow, someone made their own tape measure and declared themselves ten feet tall. Bad teaching after bad teaching had slithered its way into convo and the only thing worse than the fact that it wasn’t recognized as bad teaching, is that it was invited to come here.

We are not training young champions for Christ anymore. Not by the real meaning of that term. A champion was a knight who entered battle to defend the honor of his King. He was sharp. He was ready. He was fierce. We are not training warriors who defend their King. They no longer no how to wield the sword, how to use the shield. And they don’t even know when their King has been offended.

The world has come in and dictated Liberty’s spiritual life and atmosphere. It sounds nice. It’s a nice optic to have bus loads of students picking up trash in Miller Park with LU T-shirts on. But as one anonymous staffer told me, those same kids couldn’t explain salvation to a child. The know platitudes but they could not defend the faith. The believe in hell as a concept but not as a reality. Evangelicalism they know…evangelism…they’ve never heard of it or practiced it. Doing alms and service days in the community are fine. But that’s not what Jesus meant when He said “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. Pray that God sends harvesters into the fields.” Not trash pickers. Not bottled water deliverers. Harvesters.

The alumni who have responded to my writing and my program this week and last are upset. Our hearts are broken. We want change. It’s not a person we want changed…it’s a process. We want the school Dr. Falwell built. We want people making spiritual decisions who understand the roots that alumni have here. The blood sweat and tears that we literally shed on this mountain. We want solid theology, not the midway at the county fair.

I have literally recruited dozens of people to Liberty. Adults who wanted to complete their degree online, and young adults going off to college for the first time. Whenever a friend asked me about Liberty, and should they send their kids there I always answered with a resounding “yes.”

Now, for the first time, I cannot endorse my school. My daughter will finish here because we live here but she grew frustrated with the spiritual atmosphere and accepts that LU will never be what I told her it was for me. She seeks God but can’t hear Him over the circus clowns and self-absorbed “flavor of the month” guest speaker at Convo.

Liberty doesn’t need our money. They are swimming in cash. But they need our references. They need perpetual families coming here generation after generation. Nothing is worse for a college, especially a Christian college, than an alumni base that has lost faith in their alma mater and can no longer recruit for her.
Liberty has come to that crossroads.

I have spoken to pastors who no longer recommend their young people come here. And one alumnus who pastors a church and wants to get his PhD. But as he told me, “I won’t give them any more of my money until they fix the problems and get us back to Dr. Falwell’s Liberty.

Whoever has made the decisions about convo, and about the Christian atmosphere at Liberty must take a good long look at the history of this college. They must value that heritage instead of trying to rewrite it. Take the woke liberalism and paper thin, shallow theology and toss it in the trash. Get us back to what Liberty was. Otherwise, as Doctor Falwell said himself on many occasions… “If we ever get away from who we were when we started, I’d rather they burn it to the ground then let it live as something it wasn’t supposed to be. Better a smoldering rubble than a campus that has lost its way.”

We have lost our way.

Instead of resisting the culture like a seawall, and growing mature, doctrinally well educated, theologically sounds adults, we have shaped our spiritual programs (including the mandatory religious academic training) to go with the cultural flow. Our campus spiritual life has become a glorified campus outreach at a nearly secular college.

The alumni have spoken. They deserve to be heard. Because this is our mountain too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We're losing this Battle

 "Always, the most revealing thing about the church is what she thinks about God" 

                                                        -- A.W. Tozer 



"Adolescent Christianity is any way of understanding, experiencing, or 

practicing the Christian faith that conforms to the patterns of adolescence 

in American culture. I am well aware that the tangled web of beliefs, practices, and experiences that we call “adolescence” is itself a product of human cultures and changes over time. Attempts to define a universal set of 

traits that apply to every adolescent are always gross generalizations that 

betray cultural biases. One reason juvenilization is so powerful and deceptively difficult to manage is that adults are constantly investigating, debating, and misreading the supposed “nature” of adolescents. Juvenilization is 

also driven by actual changes in the lives of young people, not just adult 

perceptionsSo, no matter how the experience of adolescence changes, 

churches will eventually conform to that new set of adolescent traits. 

A reliable body of social science research has identified some common 

aspects of adolescent development in American society. And though some 

of the traits we ascribe to adolescents have changed over time, beneath these 

particulars lie some foundational realities that have remained relatively stable. Adolescents are people in a particular developmental life stage, who occupy particular positions in the social and economic structures of society, 

and whose lives provide important raw materials for creating meaning in 

American culture. Each of these aspects of adolescence shapes the process 

of juvenilization in the church, so each deserves some explanation." 

     The above quote is from Thomas Bergler's book "The Juvenilization of American 

Christianity." In it, he lays out the case -quite powerfully-- that modern evangelicalism has become nothing more than an extension of high school youth groups in its adolescent approach to ministry and the Gospel.  

     Discussion of sin, wrong, conviction, boundaries, standards, doctrine, and even God Himself has become tainted by the influence of the youth culture and viewed only through the prism of spiritual adolescents for who the entire services are structured. 

God has moved from deity and awe- inspiring, all-consuming, to your best bud, incapable of demanding circumspect living from His worshippers. Worship itself has, in fact, become en emotionally driven, shallow exercise more akin to the squealing teenaged girls fainting at the sight of the Beatles in 1964, than Moses prostrate before the burning bush. 

     The worship music has taken on the sound and feel of sappy teenaged love songs about some dreamy high school senior that the sophomore female singer has a crush on. 

      Social Justice warriorism has replaced St. John of the Cross and his "Long Dark Night of the Soul." Traditional orthodoxy is lost. Sneered at as some relic in an archeological dig. If it doesn't elicit's not "anointed. 

      We've spent the last thirty years or so, reshaping the message of the cross to fit itself around the culture, instead of digging in deep, reinforcing our proclamation of that gospel and influencing and reshaping the culture by the power of the cross.  

Paul taught us that "the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  

     But the current trend in evangelicalism is to look at the traditional gospel message as the foolishness and to try to bend it to fit the foolishness of the lost.  

Carl Lentz with his semi-erotic stage productions (replete with handsome youth pastor onstage in his underwear at a women's conference) and knocking back shots with Justin Bieber in an Aussie bar.   

     Andy Stanley declaring the Old testament bulky, cumbersome and unnecessary excess baggage for the modern church.  

     Stephen Furtick in his frequent displays of spiritual egomania, declaring himself a theological superman and posturing like a peacock while spitting out charismatic pablum. 

       Even the SBC's own J.D. Graeer weeping over a gavel...a gavel and declaring that the SBC ought to refer to LGBTQ people by their preferred pronouns because it's "welcoming." (never mind the fact that it's blasphemous and amounts to telling God that He got it wrong when he "fearfully and wonderfully made" said confused person) 

This current generation exists in a theological Sesame Street. Or Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood.  Descriptives like "warfare" "battle" "endure" "circumspect" "grave" or "sober" are not used in these services. It's all about love. God is love. God is ONLY love. At the expense of all His other Godly attributes...even His Holiness He is not a consuming fire...he's a warm cup of cocoa. He is not Holy and terrifying (in an awe-inspiring way) He is really really good. And He can't be offended and all He cares about is your frail little heart.  

     Where the heroes of scripture were rugged, stalwart, fierce men of prayer and conviction...this brood know nothing about long nights laboring in prayer over people going to Hell. They know nothing of fasting until God moves. Crying out in burden of soul for the lost. They have never confronted sin in society, save the annual pro-life rallies, which -while necessary and of utmost urgency-- have become the low hanging fruit of the evangelical world. Kill babies? Of course, that's wrong! but confront someone over a sinful lifestyle that they claim God approves of? No... that's not "loving."  

     When Dr. Falwell first envisioned Liberty University, he saw a place where culture would meet its seawall. A place that would stand out as a line in the sand like a firebreak cut in a forest. We would be different. Biblically, theologically different. We would cherish the gospel and the work of the Cross so deeply that we would never consider bending it to shape itself to society.  

      The Bible says that Jesus became the cornerstone...and you would either fall on it and be broken or it will fall on you and you will be crushed. The choice was simple. Surrender to the Gospel of the Cross, or ultimately be judged by it and destroyed by it. 

We have taken the Gospel of the cross and made it a warm fuzzy emotional Hallmark Channel movie. Jesus has become Mr. Rodgers. "You are special to me" has replaced, "Don't be surprised when I tell you that you must be born again." "I love you just as you are" has replaced "If anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross and follow me. He must die. We have removed the death-to-self requirement from salvation and we have failed in doing so. 

    Liberty University has been moving toward this chasm of liberalism since Dr. Falwell passed away. And our affecting society has been weakened because of it.  

Our students are simply not hearing the Gospel as they once were. They have been fed this liberal neo-evangelicalism by the bucketload and it shows.  

         If we will truly train Young Champions for Christ, then we MUST abandon this false god of society-filtered gospel and preach the Cross once again. We have fallen far. We have a lot of ground to reclaim.