Sunday, October 30

Saturday was a good day for me all the way around. First of all, it was Gina's birthday. We aren't really be "celebration" people - we don't do parties and such for our birthdays. So Saturday was pretty much like any other day for us, but we did get to spend it together (though it was a full day). We got to sleep in and go to a late breakfast at our favorite breakfast place - Susan's (eggs, bacon, and french toast). Then to a wedding at one of the parks in Fayetteville. Then to the gym, where Erin and Stacy were working at a gymnastics meet and a chance to see them and visit with some more friends, then to dinner (pizza and salad at Tim's) and then home. It was a good day together. And I am so blessed to have Gina in my life. She is so giving and so patient with my schedule and my flaws. And she's not getting older (well, OK, I guess she is getting older), but she is definitely getting better.


Yesterday's wedding was a fun one for a lot of reasons. I've known the couple since they were each freshmen at the University of Arkansas. It was held in a park on a beautifully sunny fall day in Arkansas. The park was full of current students and former students and others that I have known through ministry here. The service was relaxed and fun. When I asked the couple if they had a token of their love, Trevor pulled out a Pez dispenser and gave a piece of Pez candy to Laura and himself. (And then he got the ring.)

One of the blessings of the kind of ministry that I am in is that I get to do a lot of weddings. I have done them in parks and libraries and hospitals and jails. I have done them for high school classmates, jail inmates, former teachers, cousins and nieces, and lots of students and former students. There were probably four or five couples at the wedding yesterday whose weddings I had performed previously and at least one engaged couple whose wedding I'll perform next May. Most have been extremely joyous. One I even performed with my suit pants torn clear down the back! It's a joyous time to watch two people whom you know and love - and whose commitment to Christ and each other you know and admire - "leave their father and mother and cleave to their spouse and become one."

Friday, October 28

It dawned on my yesterday that Gina and I hit a small milestone this week. This week has been Parent-Teacher Conference week in the Springdale Schools. Of course, that makes for a long, hard week for Gina! But I realized on Thursday that this was the first year since 1988 that we haven't attended conferences as parents of a student!

We always made it a point to go to conferences (and most open houses) and meet all of the girls' teachers. It was never because there was a problem. Erin and Stacy are both great students and great girls. Every teacher spoke highly of them. But more than anything, it let both the girls and the teachers know that we were interested in what was going on in their lives. We wanted to know who was teaching them and what we could do to help. If the girls had a problem with a teacher (and that happens occasionally), we had at least some relationship with the teacher so that it was easier to approach them and find a solution.

They don't have parent-teacher conferences at the university. I guess that's OK. But maybe I should go around and find each of the girls' professors and schedule my own little conference with them ...

Tuesday, October 25

Tonight was our annual "Ask Mike Night" at Christ on Campus. I don't really remember how long we have been doing this, but it is always a lot of fun and stretching to me. And our students seem to enjoy it. The way it works is this:

1. Students are given blank 3x5 cards when they come in. They are asked to write down any questions they might have - on any subject. We get questions on everything from religion and the Bible to politics to relationships to things you wouldn't believe.

2. During the service, the cards are gathered, put into a basket, and mixed up.

3. When my turn comes, I pull questions out of the basket and answer them. I have to answer the questions in the order I draw them, I have to answer them right then, and my answer can't be longer than three minutes.

The questions this year included:

* What about people in other religions who have no access to Christianity? Are they lost?

* Should Christian married couples engage in sexual practices that are illegal in their state?

* Do you think most people who call themselves Christians in the US will go to heaven or hell?

* What did Jesus mean when he said he would leave the Holy Spirit as a counselor?

* How much free will does God give us?

* How do we distinguish God's voice from all of the other voices around us?

As you can tell, it is always challenging! It's my goal to work through these questions, and others, over the next few weeks (or months) on the "Ask Mike" part of this blog. And by clicking on "Ask Mike" anyone can send a question to me anonymously via email.

Monday, October 24

This afternoon I was sitting at the hospital, waiting with a family while their daughter (one of our former students) was undergoing surgery. As we sat there, I talked with Jenise's aunt, who expressed a conern that her son, a student at a university in another state, was enjoying too much of the party life.

After being on a university campus for over 23 years, I know all too well the number of students who fall prey to that. A recent survey on campus showed that half of the students here have done "binge drinking" (more than five drinks in a sitting) in the past month. Our 2:00 AM Grill on Friday nights often puts us in conversations with students who have been partying too hard.

Last night, we saw it again. As we were having our small group leaders' meeting (10:00 pm on Sunday nights), there was an accident across the street. The picture shows you what happened. When I asked the driver how he got his Jeep in that situation, he was too drunk or high to remember.

Friday, October 21

This is a great time of year to be living in Northwest Arkansas.

The temperatures are great. The highs are around 60 degrees and tonight, for the high school football game, it was in the low 50's/upper 40's. Ideal!

The leaves are starting to turn. I drove to Ft. Smith and back today and it was just a beautiful trip.
The Yankees aren't in the World Series.

If the Razorbacks were a good team, things really would be grand.

But it still has to be better than most any place else!

Thursday, October 20

From the files of fanatic fans. I mean, I always liked Larry Bird, but this is ridiculous:

OKLAHOMA CITY - A man got a prison term longer than prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed to because of Larry Bird.

The lawyers reached a plea agreement Tuesday for a 30-year term for a man accused of shooting with an intent to kill and robbery. But Eric James Torpy wanted his prison term to match Bird's jersey number 33.

"He said if he was going down, he was going to go down in Larry Bird's jersey, " Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott said Wednesday. "We accommodated his request and he was just as happy has he could be."

"I've never seen anything like this in 26 years in the courthouse. But, I know the DA is happy about it."

Tuesday, October 18

Some baseball-related musings ...

Wasn't last night's play-off game in Houston between the Cardinals and Astros great? I like both of these teams and really don't have a favorite in the series, so I was able to enjoy the shifts of fortune during the past part of the game. Lance Berkman's three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to put the Astros up by two runs sent the stadium into pandemonium! And then Albert Pujols (the best hitter in baseball) hitting his own three-run blast in the top of the ninth to put the Cards back up by one run just sucked the air out of the Astro fans. One sports guy said it was like someone punched 50,000 people in the stomach all at the same time. It was a sweet finish.

How can anyone prefer the NBA over this???

I can never understand those who have no taste for baseball or find it boring. In baseball, every pitch is a brand new contest between the pitcher, batter, the manager positioning the fielders, and more. There is so much happening! And the play-offs are even better. Especially when the Yankees lose!

I will find it hard to root for the White Sox in the World Series. In my mind, I still see them in those baggy "slow pitch softball" uniforms they wore a couple of decades ago. Who could be a fan of theirs after that?


An update on my football teams ...

The ConC Waterdogs didn't make the UofA Intramural playoffs.

Mike's Big Dawgs (my fantasy football team) is sitting at 3-3 right now, though we are second in the league in scoring. We have suffered from inconsistent performances from our running backs (Corey Dillon and Jamal Lewis especially) and the total disappearance of Tony Gonzalez at tight end.

The Razorbacks are suffering through a hard season. They are currently 2-4 and 0-3 in conference play. They have wins over Missouri State and University of Louisianna at Monroe (not really too much to feel good about). They have lost to Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Auburn, as well as that 70-17 loss to Southern Cal. Our defense has improved, but still isn't very good and we don't have a passing attack at all. Needless to say, the natives are getting restless and there is much talk of coaching changes being needed. The bright side is that we have some outstanding young players, like sophomores Marcus Monk and Peyton Hillis and freshmen running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. And most people seem to have Mitch Mustain penciled in as the starting QB for next year, even though he is still just a senior at Springdale High School.

Which brings me to SHS! They continue to be the bright spot on my personal football landscape. The now stand at 7-0 and are ranked #1 in the state and #9 nationally by USA Today and #4 nationally by Sports Illustrated. Mitch Mustain has completed 30 of 38 passes in the past two weeks for about 620 yards and 8 touchdowns, plus he ran for two more. And he's coming to Arkansas next year. Damian Williams could be their best player, however. He has just lifted his whole game to a new level this season. For the season, he has scored 15 touchdowns on just 50 touches of the ball (31 catches and 19 rushing attempts). He is averaging 104 yards receiving per game (on just 4.5 catches) and 11.9 yards per rushing attempt. He says he is going to Florida next year.

Sunday, October 16

Saturday was a day full of running. Not me running, of course, but other people running! I served as meet referee for the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival in Fayetteville. It was an event with eight races, about 315 teams, and about 3,000 runners. The runners ran in age from under 10 in the Fun Run to at least 77 in the 10k race and the teams included junior high teams to the #1 ranked college team (the Razorbacks, of course). My job was to make sure the timers were doing their job (which wasn't hard since we used a computer system where each runner had a "chip" in their shoe that tracked their time) and to handle any inquiries (several inquiries, especially from runners who had lost their computer chip during the race - but we had a backup system) and protests (only one real protest and we handled it the best we could, though not to everyone's satisfaction). It was an enjoyable day, but a little too hot (low 80's) by the time the last races came around.

One of things that I enjoy about these kinds of events - and track and field, in general - is that, though there is a competitive element to it, much of the satisfaction comes from competing against yourself. One of my friends who ran in the Open 10k race finished in 135th place, but he was excited because he ran it a minute faster than last year. Another friend had a son running for his junior high team. He was a 7th-grader and finished in 236th place in the junior high division, yet both he and his dad were excited because he ran the distance two minutes faster than ever before.

I've had the privilege of officiating meets from grade school kids to the US Olympic Trials. Competitors of all ages can compete against themselves and get excited about a personal best. And, as an official, that always excites me, too.

Thursday, October 13

I saw a Seinfeld rerun recently that was pretty funny and also got me thinking. In the episode, Elaine was concerned about her permanent medical records and that doctors were indicating that she was a "difficult" patient. So she would try to see what was in the file, switch doctors, and more. But they always knew about her and wrote more notes in her permanent records. Finally, she recruited Kramer to act like a doctor and steal the file. It was a pretty funny episode.

The show got me thinking about my permanent records. Even when I was a kid in school, there was always the threat that if we misbehaved it would go in our "permanent record." I've always wondered what was in that closely-guarded folder. Or maybe I don't want to know! But now I have all kinds of permanent records. My doctor, eye doctor, and dentist all have permanent records on me. (Though I have to admit that my dental file probably full of dust and cobwebs since I never go.) When I need to borrow money to buy a car or a house, someone has to check my credit record. Annually, my car insurance company lets me know that they have been checking my driving record (which isn't necessarily a good thing).

Some folks think that God keeps a permanent record. Most religions believe that God keeps track of the good things we do and the bad things we do and compares them when we die. If the stack of good things is better than the bad things, then we are OK. If the stack of bad things is better than the good things, then we are in trouble. In fact, I think many who are Christians carry around this idea.

If that's the case, what does my permanent record with God look like? To be honest, not too good. There have been lots of failures. Lots of choices to disobey God. Lots of unkind words to others. Lots of selfish acts. In fact, God says this about my permanent record (and yours):

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Romans 3:10-12, 23

If I have a permanent record like that with God, I'm in trouble!

But the good news is that my permanent record with God is clean because of what Jesus as done for me. Here is an example of what God says:

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him." Psalm 103:8-13

"If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared." Psalm 130:3-4

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." II Corinthians 5:21

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Colossians 2:13-15

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." I Peter 2:24

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."
I Peter 3:18

The good news is that when we are in Christ, our permanent record of sin has been wiped clean and we stand before God forgiven and welcomed as his child. Sometimes Satan likes to remind us of what used to be on our record, but we need to remember (and remind the devil) that Jesus has wiped all of that clean. We are accepted and loved by God.

I love the story of a priest who was continually racked with guilt over some of the things he had done while in college. There was a woman in his church who claimed to have dreams in which Jesus would come and talk with her. The priest was skeptical, so to test her he told her to ask Jesus what sins the priest had committed while in college.

A few days later, the woman returned to tell the priest that she had another dream in which Jesus talked to her. At this news, the priest felt his palms beginning to sweat. He asked the woman, "Did you ask Jesus the question I asked you to ask him."

"Yes, I did" she replied. "I asked Jesus what sin you committed in college."

The priest swallowed hard. "What did Jesus say?"

The woman answered: "Jesus said, 'I don't remember.'"

The permanent record was gone. The slate was wiped clean.

The next time Satan tries to accuse you of those things that Jesus has forgiven, remember that. The next time you are tempted to define yourself by your failures rather than by who you are in Jesus, remember that story.

And the next time you pray or worship, let this truth motivate you.

Friday, October 7

This fall our staff is reading John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted. It's a book on spiritual disciplines. It's not quite up to the standard of some of the "classics" on the topic, such as Foster's Celebration of Discipline or Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines, but it is a good, easy to read, and practical book on the topic.
This week we are reading the chapter on prayer. (Interesting parenthetical note: A couple of us have older editions of the book and the rest have a newer addition. Our older editions didn't have a chapter on prayer! How can you have a book on spiritual disciplines and not have a chapter of prayer??? I guess Ortberg caught the irony of that and included a chapter in later editions. They photocopied it for me.) Anyway ...

This week we are reading the chapter on prayer. Of all the spiritual disciplines, this is the one with which I seem to fight the hardest. It is much easier for me to spend time reading the Bible or memorizing Scripture than it is to give regular, focused time to prayer. A couple of things that Ortberg mentioned are giving me a lot to think about. (Maybe I should be writing this in the second-person, so it is about "us" and not about "me". That would make me sound better. Oh well, I've already started ...) Both are actually quotes from Dallas Willard:

"The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best."

Am I convinced that prayer actually changes things? If I am, then it follows that I would find it easier to be more actively engaged in it!

The second is that prayer is "talking with God about what we are doing together." Could it be that I often don't see life as something that God and I are doing together, but more as something that I do and, occasionally, let God be a part of? If I lived with the concept that life is something that God and I are doing together, then following Paul's command to "pray without ceasing" would be much easier.

Thomas Merton once wrote: "We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life!"

The longer I'm a Christian, the more I can see the truth in that statement.

Monday, October 3

We have again made it through the noisest weekend of the year in Fayetteville. Last weekend was "Bikes, Blues, and Barbecue" - Fayetteville's annual motorcycle rally. According to reports, there were about 75,000 motorcycles and over 250,000 people in town for it.

And I think every motorcycle roared by six feet away from my office. Literally, I guess they did. My office is a sidewalk-width off of Dickson St., the site of the events. From about Wednesday through Saturday, you could hardly talk to others - let alone think - inside our offices.

But all the people and the bikes and the food is pretty interesting! It's quite a weekend.

And I really don't mind putting up with it once a year.


We also celebrated Stacy's 19th birthday this weekend. It's hard to believe that in a year, Gina and I will no longer have any children who are teenagers. Stacy's is an incredible young woman - bright, intelligent, beautiful, caring. I can't imagine any parents being more proud of their kids than Gina and I are of our girls.


Last week, at our campus ministers' prayer time, there were five or six of us. Among us, we have children who range in age from pre-schoolers to out of college and married. Some of those with younger children were wondering about how it was to raise children in a campus ministry setting. The consensus from those of us with older kids is that campus ministry can be a great place to raise kids! They can be exposed to people from around the world, have a whole "passle" of big brothers and sisters, get the chance to experience hands-on ministry with people they look up to, have a huge source of tutors to help with homework, and more! But the key is to work hard to not let work obligations crowd into family time and opportunities too much.