One of the striking things about evangelical corporate worship in our times is the evident paucity of Scripture. There is relatively little Scripture read, prayed, or sung in our assemblies. While high liturgical traditions continue to infuse service with scriptural language via lectionaries and other devices, even when there is is little actual clerical or congregational esteem for the final authority of God's word written, it is a supreme irony that in evangelical worship (the gathered praise of those who among all Christians profess to take the Bible most seriously) the Bible often almost disappears.
1. I'm concerned with the growing business model of Facebook, Google, and lots of other companies whose main goal is to collect information about us and sell/profit by profiling our lives, preferences, communications with our friends and family. You would be shocked at how much information is available about you and your family to people willing to pay for it. You know all those frequent shopper programs at the grocery store and restaurants? Yeah. There's a reason they're willing to give you a discount.
And Facebook isn't just tracking what you do when you're logged on to their website. It's easy for them to track a huge number of things you do in any web browser where you leave your account signed in.
2. Facebook's model of choosing what I see, rather than sorting posts by date/time or other objective means gives them too much control over my social media experience. It means that Facebook can and does bury our posts and comments that they don't think others should see.
3. The pitiful performance of the iOS Facebook app. Before I deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone, the timeline would jump around while loading, sometimes repeat itself, and just be generally sluggish.
4. Forcing people to install messenger is ridiculous. I used messenger app for a long time before they made it mandatory. I'm not particularly worried about the overblown privacy hoopla around the messenger app awhile back, I just leaves a bad taste to force people to install an app they don't want. So I join those who refused to install the app by deleting messenger too.
5. It's so easy to waste time, continually scrolling down and down and down mindlessly.
6. Ads are more and more annoying, and they're only going to get worse.
Al that said, I love staying in touch, seeing your photos, hearing about what's going on in your lives, being able to pray for you. So I am going to check in, but not daily. And not from the iPhone app, only from a desktop web browser, and not even my usual web browser. I usually use Safari but to keep Facebook from tracking (spying) my other web usage, I'll use a second browser just for Facebook.
So if you want to get in touch with me quickly, don't send me a Facebook message. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text or call. I love you guys, but Facebook is coming between us.
The reason I write today is because of the layers of public controversy piled on top a situation that is already highly emotional charged (for the record, heightened emotions are perfectly appropriate right now). About a month ago, a vocal pastor named J. D. Hall, criticized photos and comments Braxton had posted to his Twitter feed. Let me try and give a brief summary and background.
J. D. Hall has had an ongoing, if pretty one-sided, public feud with Ergun Caner. Caner rarely-to-never responds to Hall and his cohorts, but Hall and others regularly blog, tweet, and podcast about Caner’s past. Out of sensitivity to Caner and his family during this time, getting into the details about what the criticisms are about is neither necessary nor appropriate. They’re well documented online for anyone who wants to find out. And I’ll say that I have been critical of Caner in the past as well, though I’d like to think my criticism has been more measured, reasonable, occasional, and stayed away from making things personal.
So Hall has been a frequent and strong critic of Caner, but Caner refuses to respond, and I think that makes Hall and his followers more annoyed and angry. Hall then pushes harder and the attacks become more and more petty and personal as time goes on. I don't think Ergun Caner could brush his teeth in a way that J. D. Hall wouldn't criticize. There’s a lot more to the backstory, but I just don’t have time to cover it and that’s not my purpose today. I hope that will suffice as context for Hall’s comments about and to Braxton Caner on Twitter.
The Twitter Exchange
July 2 was the day Hall criticized Braxton’s social media activity. Hall tagged Braxton’s Twitter account in his comments, ensuring that Braxton himself, not just Ergun, would be notified and see the tweets. Braxton responded and there was an exchange of four or five responses by each. Hall’s actions and comments in this exchange are almost breathtakingly shocking, concluding with him telling Braxton to “email me” if Braxton “ever want[s] to speak or seek truth about your dad.”
His comments were quickly condemned by a number of people online. Here's one example. In fact, that tweet is what alerted me to the exchange. Even though, as I’ve said before, I’ve been a critic of Caner in the past, I recognized Hall’s actions were way out of line. I’ve also previously and publicly criticized Hall (here and here for examples). I believe that public statements and actions are rightfully publicly condemned so I also criticized Hall for his actions. Then I criticized even further when it became clear that he was responding by doubling down on his actions, despite a number of people publicly and some privately telling him he needed to apologize and repent.
After a couple days, Hall did finally admit, in a revision to a blog post about the situation, that it was poor judgment to include Braxton in his crusade against Ergun. (Note: that original post and the apology revision have since been taken down at Hall’s blog. I’m assuming his reasoning for taking it down was an attempt to be sensitive to the Caner family since the original part of the post contained material critical of Braxton.) Considering Hall’s earlier attempts to justify his actions and the laughable efforts at some of his followers to argue there was nothing wrong with J. D.’s actions, his apology was a welcome step, though nothing could make up for the complete lack of discernment Hall showed in the first place.
I want to make clear that I am not excusing or minimizing the fact that J. D. Hall's actions were immature and reprehensible. In fact, I was one of those who called him out publicly at the time of the event. I was vocal enough in my criticism that Hall blocked me on Twitter.
Tragedy and Blame
I’ll admit that when I heard about Braxton’s death, the second thought, after sympathy for his family, was the Twitter exchange that occurred a little less than a month earlier. Could that have been a cause or contributing factor in this horrible situation? And if so, how much might it have affected the young man? Now, to be fair, I didn’t know anything about Braxton—at all—except for this online exchange a month before. Where else could my mind have gone? And I think a lot of people in my situation (online observer) likely had those same kinds of questions for the same reason.
In the days since the news spread, I’ve seen people condemn Hall as if he is the sole and lone cause of the young man’s tragic decision. I've seen long blog posts documenting every word written and spoken by Hall about the situation, seeming to tie his actions in a causal sense to Braxton's death.
Then, on the other side, I’ve also seen defenders of Hall ask things like, “are you saying J. D. is to blame?” insinuating that there’s no blame whatsoever to be assigned to Hall—as if to assert that his actions were a contributing factor defies logic and is nothing more than an emotional reaction.
Neither reaction is right nor helpful to anyone. One thing we know is that we don’t know—especially those of us viewing this situation from a distance. It seems virtually impossible that this one event, 27 days before his death, could have single-handedly caused something so tragic. On the other hand, I don't believe it had no effect on Braxton. For a young man, one who could have been struggling in other areas of life, to be the victim of what he considered an attack on himself and his family very well could have weighed more heavily on him than it would have on many of us. It may have weighed heavily on him, or he may have brushed it off quickly and thought no more of it days or weeks later. Once again, those of us observing from a distance just don't know.
Maybe Braxton’s family and closest friends have some insight into what was going on in his life and mind. Maybe they have reason to believe Hall’s actions had a great impact or relatively no impact on him. If that’s something they ever want to talk about publicly, I’m willing to listen carefully and learn. From what I know of those who have dealt with suicide closely, often those closest to the deceased can only speculate—so it may be that no one ever knows how much, if any, blame deserves to be laid at the feet of J. D. Hall.
It’s completely reasonable to posit Hall’s comments could have been one more cloud on an already dreary day for this young man. In this scenario, Hall’s actions would be properly considered a contributing factor, though I think it would be nearly impossible to determine how great of a factor. It's also completely reasonable to imagine that Braxton laughed off Hall's actions as "some weird guy from Montana who stalks my dad tried to bother me on Twitter." Braxton did poke back at Hall as being "creepy" and strangely obsessed. The fact is that we don't know. We don't know if Hall's actions were a considerable factor, a minor factor, or no factor at all.
The fact that we don’t know should make all of us—Hall’s critics, his defenders, and the rest of us—very cautious about the way we speak, either accusing or defending. The one thing we do know is that Braxton’s death is a terrible tragedy and we ought to continue praying for all those personally affected by his death. As for the rest of it, let us be slow to speak and ready to listen.
Note on comments: Due to the nature of this topic, I've temporarily changed the comments policy site-wide to require moderator approval before any comment appears. I welcome productive conversation, but am afraid of the direction comments could go on this subject. The line between what's allowed and what's not will be completely subjective and up to my judgment. Personal attacks directed toward anyone will be off limits. Feel free to contact me on Twitter as well. I may selectively reply to concerns there.
Summary of John’s Gospel
Yesterday I finished preaching through the Gospel of John at New Song Fellowship. We spent seven and a half months on the gospel and I wanted to wrap up with a summary of what we had seen in John's gospel over that time. Here's the summary I wrote and read as a part of yesterday's message.
by Brent Hobbs
In chapter 1, Jesus is the Word, who was with God and was God, the light of the world, who darkness could not overcome. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
In chapter 2, Jesus changes water into wine — a sign that his kingdom is not about dead ceremonial washings, but a living, joyful celebration of God’s kingdom. Then he clears the temple courts and claims to be, himself, the greater temple – God’s very presence on earth.
In chapter 3, Jesus talks with Nicodemus, telling him he must be born again to see God’s kingdom, and we learn that God loved the world by sending his only Son, so that all those believing in him would not perish, but have eternal life.
In chapter 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well and proves he’s the promised Messiah. The woman and many Samaritans in her village believe because of the words Jesus speaks to them.
In chapter 5, Jesus shows he has the power to heal and possesses the very authority of the Father.
In chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and walks across the lake, but many desert him when he claims that he himself is the bread of life, greater than the manna God gave through Moses.
In chapter 7, Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and uses the water and lantern ceremonies as object lessons. He teaches that he, himself, is the true fountain of living water and the light of the world.
In chapter 8, Jesus lets us know that all of us who sin are slaves to sin, but that there’s hope for us and true freedom can be found— because if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed.
In chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who had been blind his whole life, and offers to give sight to the physically seeing but spiritually blind Pharisees.
In chapter 10, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He’s come so that they might have life, and have it in full abundance.
In chapter 11, Jesus waits for his friend to die, then arrives at his funeral to call him out of his grave. The Pharisees and chief priests decide that since Lazarus lives, Jesus must die.
In chapter 12, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey, to a king’s welcome. But he knows that the path to his throne leads also to a brutal cross.
In chapter 13, Jesus takes his disciples to the upper room. He washes their feet and serves them as if he were their slave, to give an example that we all should follow.
In chapter 14, after predicting Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and his own death, Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” because he is the way to the Father, the truth, and the life – and because he is sending the Holy Spirit to be their advocate.
In chapter 15, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We must remain in him.
In chapter 16, Jesus tells the disciple there will be weeping for a night, but afterward their weeping would turn to joy.
In chapter 17, just before his arrest & trial, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us: that we would live lives of unity and love.
When chapter 18 arrives, Jesus turns himself over to the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, because he came to earth to be lifted up and reveal the Father to the world.
In chapter 19, Pilate condemns an innocent man to die. Jesus is beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross. The King of the Jews humiliated and tortured, fulfilling God’s perfectly designed plan, down to the lots cast for his clothing. Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit with the cry, “It is finished!”
Jesus’ lifeless body is laid in a tomb and it seems like darkness reigns.
But the sun dawns on Sunday morning, and chapter 20 tells us about an empty tomb, a savior who comforts us by name, and Jesus appearing to his disciples. The light of the world lives! And Thomas proclaims, “My Lord, and My God!”
In chapter 21, the story is nearly over, but Jesus appears again. He continues to reveal his character and grace as he cooks breakfast for his disciples and forgives the one who denied him.
When the Word was made flesh, light invaded the darkness, and the darkness could not hold back God’s mission – what he meant to accomplish in Christ. And now what’s left is for you to believe this good news: Jesus reigns.
The competent Christian was sufficient to interpret the Bible, and the Bible is sufficiently clear in content to yield its meaning to the believer. Further, the Bible was a world of fits own and so Scripture interprets Scripture. At point where the Bible was obscure, the Catholic referred to the unwritten tradition of the Church. But Luther shut the interpreter up within the Bible and made the obscure passage yield to a clear passage. Much of Catholic exegesis was nothing more than studies in patristics. This Luther rejected:
A corollary at this point is: the analogy of faith. The scholastics interpreted by glosses and catena of citations from the Fathers. This was arbitrary and disconnected. Luther insisted on the organic, theological unity of the Bible. All of the relevant material on a given subject was to be collected together so that the pattern of divine revelation concerning that subject would be apparent.
I ask for Scriptures and Eck offers me the Fathers. I ask for the sun and he gives me his lanterns. I ask: “Where is your Scripture proof?” and he adduces Ambrose and Cyril... With all due respect to the Fathers I prefer the authority of Scripture.