Monday, December 21

Young Adults and Spirituality

From the Ivy Jungle Report. The thoughts are mine ...

Most Young Adults Think They are Spiritual: A survey conducted by LifeWay research indicates the vast majority of unchurched young adults consider themselves spiritual. This contrasts a view of young adults as uninterested in God or spiritual matters. 73% of 20-29 year olds said they think they are spiritual and want to learn more about "God or a higher supreme being." Among those 30 and over, that number is only 62%. 89% of 20-29 year olds said they would be open to a conversation about Christianity – 14% higher than those over 30 years old. 63% said they would attend church if it presented truth to them in a way that "relates to my life now." 58% said they would be more likely to attend if they felt the church "cared for them as a person." ( September 16, 2009)

These numbers reinforce what has been said in other places - the vast majority of young adults are interested in spiritual matters and have a very positive view of Jesus. But those who aren't involved in a church tend to have a negative view of the church. As someone once said, we have a message that young adults should want t0 hear - it's about something they are interested in and someone they admire. But our "delivery system" needs work!

Some things that we who are Christians need to think about:

* We need to listen more and talk less.
* We need to care more and judge less.
* We need to demonstrate in visible way how the message of Christ affects our lives.
* Relationships based on trust and love are the bridge over which the Gospel travels.
* Spiritual conversations are not taboo. People are interested if they know you care.

Friday, December 18

A Small Church Doing Big Things

It was in the auditorium of Oak Manor Christian Church, in April of 1982, that Gina and I were asked to come to Fayetteville and begin the ministry of Christ on Campus. It was there that the first pledges of financial support were given. A few weeks later, folks from Oak Manor moved our meager belongings to Arkansas and stored them in the church basement until we moved in to our apartment. Until we began having Sunday services at the Rockhouse in the Fall of 2005, Oak Manor was our family's church home. And, in many ways, it still is.

Oak Manor has never been a large church, or even a medium-sized church. Their attendance right now probably runs at about 40-50 on Sunday mornings. But they have proved themselves to be a Body that reaches far beyond what most would expect and that has a vision and a heart that is Kingdom-wide.

In regard to our Christ on Campus ministry, they support us in important and personal ways. Yes, they give financially. But they do much more than that. For 28 years, they have provided and prepared our Thanksgiving Banquet. What began in our living room in 1982 now serves about 300 students each year. It's a huge undertaking for a small group of people, but one that they do joyously and abundantly. They also provide "Finals Survival Kits" for our students each Fall and Spring. And they do these things, knowing that the vast majority of the students who are served will never attend their services and may not remember the congregation's name.

When our Board discerned a few years ago that God was leading us to start a service geared for students next to campus, Oak Manor graciously sent us out. They saw what we were doing on campus as an extension of God's Kingdom and their part in it - even though the change meant that they would lose some key people from their congregation.

But their vision is bigger than just that. My wife is a kindergarten teacher. Her school is one that faces many challenges. At least 75% of the students don't speak English as their first language. But more than that, about 95% are on a free-lunch program and many return to homes where hunger is often the norm. So Oak Manor decided to adopt the school. During this school year, this small congregation with a huge vision and heart has supplied hundreds of pounds of food for families in the school who are in need. This week, they provided Christmas gift bags for each of the over 600 students in the school, as well as the teachers.

Keith Mackey, the pastor at Oak Manor, will probably never be invited to preach at big conferences or interviewed by Christianity Today magazine. Those things are reserved for mega-church pastors with big attendances and buildings and budgets. The congregation will never make a list of the largest or most influential churches in the nation. But in the lives of those 600+ children, they make a huge difference. In the lives of the college students they serve through our ministry, they make a huge difference.

The title of this post is a misleading. To call Oak Manor a small church is inaccurate because it uses the wrong standard of measurement. My guess is that in the eyes of God, they are huge. After all, God is in the habit of judging people (and churches) by the size of the heart.

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:7

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

Monday, December 14

Changing Attitudes Toward the Bible

This fall, the Barna Group released research on the differences between generations and how they view and use the Bible. The study found that the younger generations (especially those who are labeled "Mosaics" - 18-25) are more skeptical of the Bible and what it teaches than those of older generations. That probably isn't unexpected by any of us, especially those who spend time on a college campus. There are many ideas valued on a college campus that can work against one giving the Bible serious consideration. Some of these are:

1. A dichotomy between science and faith and the belief of many that one can't be committed to both. This is unfortunate because I believe that all truth finds its source in God. The exploration of science just helps us more fully understand God, His truth, and His nature. Sometimes we cannot see from our perspective how the truth fits together, but I believe that it ultimately does. We need more people who are committed to God and to the exploration of creation involved in science at all levels - but especially at the university level.

2. The elevation of the kind of "tolerance" that pushes to affirm that all religious or spiritual perspectives are equally true. (This relativistic tolerance may well be the "highest value" of today's college campus.) We do need to practice the kind of tolerance that shows respect to those of other religious perspectives, but it is foolishness to believe that all religions can be equally true. You don't have to study comparative religions for long to see that they teach very different things about the nature of God, man, sin, and salvation. But our world has bought in to this view of "tolerance" so that many see all religious perspectives as equal without any exploration.

The fact is that there is much evidence to attest to the reliability of the Bible and the truths it reveals to us about God, man, our world, and our lives are unique and life-giving. We who are older need to be diligent in helping those who are younger see their world from a spiritual perspective, using God's Word to help them understand what they are hearing from science, society, and other religions. We don't have to be scared of any of those things. We just need to see them from a perspective that includes God and His Word as that by which everything else is evaluated. (Note: This where we have to be careful not to let our presuppositions become as authoritative as God's Word. History is full of religious people who let their interpretations of the world or sacred tests - or their prejudices - lead them to acts of atrocity or foolishness.)

Though Barna's study may seem bleak (and the trends aren't encouraging), there are many in this generation of students who are diligently seeking to know God through His Word - who are reading and studying and learning. I'm excited to be serving with them and helping them discover the truth of God's Word and see how it can enlighten their view of science, business, education, and more.


On a lighter note:

Here is one place I probably will never go to on vacation unless there is another way to get there.

What do you think of this list of the 20 Best TV Characters of the Past 20 Years? Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, November 18

Messages Available ...

My apologies for not being more active on here, but things will pick up soon. I do want those interested to know that this semester's messages should now be available for download at the Christ on Campus website (

Wednesday, August 26

So what is spiritual maturity?

Most every ministry and church has as part of their purpose to help bring people to "spiritual maturity." Unfortunately, most of us don't have a very clear picture of exactly what spiritual maturity is. Here is a report from the Barna Group (and reported by the Campus Ministry Update) that talks about our confusion regarding this.


A study by the Barna Group and Living on the Edge indicates most churchgoers and clergy are unsure of what they mean by spiritual maturity, let alone how to pursue it. Among the challenges identified by the report:

* Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules

* Most church goers are unclear of what their church expects in terms of spiritual maturity

* Most Christians offer one dimensional views of spiritual maturity – often with a highly personal focus

* Most Christians struggle with feeling the relevance of expressing objectives for spirituality. They favor activities over attitudes in what they should do as mature Christians

* Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to ground their ideas of spiritual maturity.

( May 18, 2009)


The problem with not understanding spiritual maturity is that we don't know where we should be going or how to get there. And if we don't understand God's perspective on spiritual maturity, then we are apt to set our own goals and standards, which may be far different than what God values.

So ... what do you think of when you think of spiritual maturity? How would you describe or define it? Let me know what you think and I'll come back in a couple of days and share some of my thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, August 19

Interesting Odds and Ends

Some things that have come across my computer lately. You might find some of it interesting ...


Each year, Beloit College puts together a "Mindset List" that describes some of the cultural landmarks that year's college freshman class has experienced. This year's freshman class was born in 1991. Here is Beloit's description of the world they grew up in.

Another study examines the correlation between what students choose to study and their religious convictions.


Here is an interesting video describing the growing impact of social media in our world.


According to a report on CNN, 90% of the currency in the US has traces of cocaine on it. Weird.


I'm a little hesitant to mention this last one, but I will. One of the favorites in the Women's 800 meters at the World Track & Field Championships (now taking place in Berlin) will have a hearing today to see if she can compete in the final. The question at hand: Is she "entirely female"? Here is a report on the situation and an editorial on it (that describes some situations in the past). I feel bad for the young woman involved. She is only 18. Regardless of how it is resolved, it has to be uncomfortable for her.

Monday, August 17

Stacy's Wedding

The summer of Armstrong weddings is over. As most who read this know, both of our daughters got married this summer - making for an exciting, and sometimes exhausting, time. Stacy and Ryan were married on July 31, but I've waited a few days to post this because I wanted to include some pictures with it.

Stacy is 22 a
nd our baby. She is the more introverted of our daughters, but is bright and beautiful and caring. She is like her dad in that she is "always right" - and maybe right more often than I am. (I quit playing Boggle with her when she was in about the seventh grade because I could no long beat her.) She finished her degrees in marketing and organizational management at the University of Arkansas in May and wants to work in the non-profit sector in some way. Just as Stacy is different than Erin, so was her wedding. It was indoors and elegant, but both were great parties!

Ryan also graduated from the UofA in May, but he started his education in the kindergarten classroo
m of Mrs. Armstrong. (He claims she almost flunked him because he couldn't skip!) He is a good man whom I have enjoyed watching grow personally and spiritually over the past 3+ years. He and Stacy have worshiped and served together at Christ on Campus. The only bad thing I have to say is that his job as a software engineer has moved them to Colorado Springs.

Gina and I are happy for them and proud of them both. And the girls getting married isn't as hard as their men moving them to other states. We'll have to be praying about a solution to that.

Thursday, August 13

News from the University Campus

Here are some interesting trends on college campuses. As the new school year approaches, I'll post a few more of these. Credit goes to the Ivy Jungle Network. They compile information like this in their monthly Campus Ministry Update.


Booze More than Books: A recent study indicates nearly half of college freshmen spend more time drinking than studying. The survey asked questions of more than 30,000 first year students at 76 campuses. Students who said they had at least one drink in the last 14 days, spent an average of 10.2 hours drinking and only 8.4 hours studying. 70% of all respondents said they drank. 49.4% spent more time drinking than studying. (USA Today March 19, 2009)


Facebook and Grades: A study out of Ohio State indicates that those who spend time on the social networking have lower grades than those who do not. The study is small and preliminary, but indicates that students may not realize the effect of their social connections on their studies. Facebook users studied an average of five hours a week. Non-users studied two to three times that amount. 80% of students believe that their use of Facebook does not interfere with their studies. ( April 14, 2009)

Tuesday, August 11

Some Summer Reading

August is here and I'm back to work after a couple of months off for a "sabbatical." I put that in quotes because it wasn't a typical sabbatical - a time given for spiritual renewal and reflection. There was definitely an element of that, but with both daughters getting married this summer, there was also a lot of wedding preparations, moving children, etc. So, though the time off was much needed and much appreciated, it was also pretty busy! But now that I'm back at the Rockhouse on a regular basis, my blog posts will pick up. You are warned.

One of my goals during those couple of months was to read at least two hours a day. Though I didn't accomplish that every day, I did get through quite a few books. I wanted to just mention four that I found interesting and worthy of your consideration. These are listed in the order I completed them:

"The Contemplative Pastor" by Eugene Peterson - Anything by Peterson is valuable and worthy of your time. In this book, he challenges the role of most in ministry - running a church or a ministry. He calls us to replace the role of "religious executive" with something different: to be one whose "job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives." In order to that, we must learn to be unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. And I love this quote:

"If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless." (p. 15)

That is the reason why I rarely volunteer the fact that I am in ministry when I first meet someone. As soon as those words come out of my mouth (or someone else's), stereotypes set in and barriers go up. People assume they know what I'm like or what I think because of the title they give me. I prefer to let people discover that I'm a minister as our relationship grows. It often freaks them out.

"The Great Emergence" by Phyllis Tickle - In this short, readable book Tickle describes the transition taking place in Christianity, the forces that have brought it about over the past 150 years, and her idea of what the future looks like. She also traces us back over the past 2,000 years of history to demonstrate that this type of transition isn't really anything new. As she puts it, "Every five hundred years, the church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale." That may not be completely accurate, but you get the picture. Tickle gives a general overview of church history. She then zeroes in on the last 150 years and highlights factors that she feels has led us to post-modernism, the emerging church, etc. Her liberal biases do poke through on occasion, but I think her insight on history and cultural area valuable. Here is one of my favorite passages:

"The question of 'Where now is our authority?' is the fundamental or foundational question of all human existence and/or endeavor, be it individual or that of a larger, social unit. Without an answer to it, the individual personality or the personality of the group at large alike will fall into disarray and ultimate chaos. It is Hell where there is no answer to that question." p. 72

"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell - This is Gladwell's study of those who lie outside the usual human scope of ability and accomplishment. It is an examination of genius and success. He points out that in the US, we think of success as being the result of hard work and ability. We like the stories of the self-made men and women who overcome great obstacles to build their successes and their fortunes. But as Gladwell makes his case, there are some interesting factors in success:

* Ability - Though some natural ability is needed to be successful in any endeavor, greater ability doesn't necessarily equal greater success. In studying the IQ's of those who are successful, Gladwell says that you have to be "smart enough" but that, after a certain point, a higher IQ doesn't guarantee greater success. Someone with an IQ of 140 is just as likely to be successful as a person with an IQ of 195 and people from "good" schools but now "elite" schools are just as likely to win Nobel prizes. His point: there are other factors that come into play.

* Opportunity - This is where it starts to get really interesting. Often, success can be influenced simply by your birth date. If you were one of the oldest starting school (or playing in little league), that often translates into greater success. Those who have been the biggest names in the computing revolution (such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy) were born within six months of one another.

* Perseverance - But ability and opportunity aren't enough. There is a certain level of practice and perseverance that is needed to rise above others. In fact, Gladwell tells us what that level is: 10,000 hours. That is the amount of practice time needed for one to really excel and rise above their contemporaries.

* Cultural Legacy - The final component is what you inherit from your cultural and your family. This includes attitudes and habits and values and opportunities that are passed down from generation to generation.

Of course, statistics can be made to say about anything and Gladwell's book is more anecdotal than based on solid objective research. But it is fascinating and easy to read. And it may make you spend a little more time practicing.

"The Shack" by William P. Young - I have put off reading this book for a long time. It has been on the best sellers' lists for a long time and I have heard many people talk about it. It just never sounded like the kind of book that I would be interested in. I was wrong. Once I started reading it, I had a hard time putting it down. I found the book interesting and challenging and thought-provoking. It is not solid, biblical theology and it doesn't attempt to answer all of the questions we have about God and how he operates. But that isn't its purpose. It is a work of fiction that causes us to look at our beliefs and preconceptions from different angles.

Tuesday, July 7

John Hogan: Parenting with Purpose

John Hogan and Christy Waller arrived at the UofA as freshmen "several" years ago. Both grew up in military families and had graduated from high school together in Heidelberg, Germany. They arrived at the UofA as a couple and, as everyone expected, were married soon after graduation. Looking back over 27 years of doing student ministry, I can't think of anyone more kind and tender and caring than John and Christy. "Sweet" is a word that would describe both of them. They loved each other, cared for those around them, and were deeply committed to the Lord. But early in their marriage, and while their two sons (Luke and Grant) were still small, John died suddenly. I'm going to let Christy tell the rest of the story from a note on her Facebook page that was written shortly after Father's Day this year:

It was a special Father's Day for us because it is unusual for Luke or Grant to have an opportunity to talk about their dad. Since John died when Luke was 5 and Grant was nearly 2, we usually "get through" days like Father's Day, John's birthday, or "Dads and Donuts" day at their school. However, we talk about him a lot at home. He comes up in our conversations often.

What Luke had a chance to share was that John, his dad, kept a journal for him. He wrote in it for 4 years; the last entry is dated July 11th -- the day before he died. He began the journal when Luke was 12 months old. I had just completed a one year baby book for Luke and wondered aloud to John what I would do next in the way of scrap book or photo album. He was struck with an idea...he wanted to start a journal for Luke and fill it with things that were happening in our lives, and John's thoughts towards Luke. He went to the store, bought a simple black and white composition book, and got started. He said it would be a memory book. I got excited and said I couldn't wait to write in it, too. He grinned, shook his head, and said I should get my own journal :). So I did! However, John wrote much more faithfully in his, and more eloquently. He wrote about the milestones in Luke's development as baby and toddler, special events, and his feelings of love and delight in him.

Naturally, when Grant was born 2 1/2 years later, John picked up another black and white composition book, labeled it similarly to Luke's (“Memories for Grant From Daddy”) and got started. He wrote in it for 21 months. The third entry was written when Grant was 12 weeks old:

"Grant, I hope you will have a wonderful, happy life. I hope you will have a heart for God and for caring for others...I hope you will have good, close friends and that you will be loving to your friends. I pray that you will find your direction in life, with blessed assurance of your purpose and of my love, your Mommy's love, and God's love for you throughout your life. I pray that you will grow up to be wise, choosing right more often than wrong, to be strong enough to mend wrongs quickly, to learn from your mistakes, and to feel empathy for the misfortunes and sorrows of others. I want you to know the fullness of joy of a life lived well and in harmony with those around you.

I want all of this and more for you, Grant. Please know that I love you deeply, even now. And I look forward to our growing relationship, to getting to hear you call my name, and to sharing many special memories and times with you. I love you.


Most people would love to have even one love letter from their father; Luke and Grant have a book of them!! And John did not write out of any premonition of death -- not at all -- he was simply a man who desired to communicate, and he was very good at it. He even had a memory book for me! There are only 12 or so entries over the course of 4 years, but those messages are still encouraging me. He never left anything unsaid. He lived intentionally when it came to expressing his feelings for his family and friends. He wrote tributes to his grandparents while they were still living; he wanted them to hear and enjoy the words and not wait until they were gone to share his enjoyment of them. To be a wife on the receiving end of his thoughtful expressions of love was a joy.

I grieve deeply for Luke and Grant; they don't get to "know" John like I did. And yet, I am grateful for his journals; the boys can get to "know" him through them. It isn't the best. Having him here would be the best, but what a treasure to read how much their dad loved and pursued each of them! They will never doubt how he felt about them. I am overjoyed to know they will have the chance to get to know him in heaven. They express how much they look forward to that. The only way I can survive the pain of losing such a beloved man and dad is to cling to the certainty of heaven. John's existence isn't chance -- and he still exists. Not in some "collective," but as himself, his personality, and with his knowledge of Luke and Grant and me intact. He was planned for, prepared for, and he lived exactly as he described in Grant's journal: "I want you to know the fullness of joy of a life lived well and in harmony with those around you."

When I read this, I was humbled and moved by the legacy that John left his sons. I can say that I was never as pro-active and purposeful as John was in my "fathering." That is not to say that I didn't love my daughters as much or that I didn't do my best to be there for them and to share my love for them in purposeful ways. But the discipline that John demonstrated in leaving a legacy for Luke and Grant - and for the others in his life - is admirable and an example that every parent (and especially every father) and every person (and especially every man) should strive for.

Why especially father's and men? Because we tend to be less vocal with our feelings and emotions and the people in our lives need to know how much we care and how we feel about them. You may not be as eloquent as John, but your words will be just as powerful in the lives of those you love.

By the way, the video that Christy referenced was a Father's Day video that her church put together. Luke talks about John and his journal in it. Here's the Youtube link. Luke is towards the end.

Friday, July 3

Erin's Wedding

Our summer of weddings is half way over. Last Saturday, Erin became Mrs. Rick Merrill in a beautiful outdoor ceremony on the hottest day of the summer. Though we sweat through the ceremony and the reception, it was a beautiful and joyous time with lots of family and friends from around the country.

Erin is the oldest of our two daughters - 26 and an RN at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. She is personable and caring, always willing to laugh and help. She has
the perfect demeanor for a nurse and is great at her job (as the hospital where she works has realized). Rick loves her greatly (how could he not) and is attentive to her. He is working construction while taking college classes at night to finish his degree. I respect the way he is working hard to improve himself and their future. I also appreciate his efforts in his spiritual life over the past year and a half. Though he didn't grow up active in church, he has been attending church and a small group with Erin. When his class schedule interfered with his ability to be in the small group, he took the initiative to get the group time changed so that he could be a part of it.

We are happy for them. Please say a pray on their behalf as they start their lives together. And pray for Gina and I, too, as both of our daughters get married this summer and will soon be located several hours away from us. As Bob Dylan would say, "The times they are a changin."

Monday, June 22

Spiritual Jazz

I'm attending a conference on spiritual formation this week. It is sponsored by Renovare', an organization founded by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and others to teach and provide resources to churches, ministries, and individuals regarding spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. I've chosen to be here as a part of my sabbatical - finding ways to enhance my personal spiritual formation and my ability to lead others in their development.

The main sessions feature some of the best contemporary writers in the area of spiritual formation: Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, John Ortberg, and others. Some are more dynamic speakers than others, but all have great content and the ability to help you think about issues from new perspectives.

Maybe my favorite session so far was a workshop called "Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith." It was led by Robert Gelinas, a pastor from Denver who recently wrote a book called Finding the Groove. I've not read the book, but the content of the workshop really resonated with me for a couple of reasons.

The is that I'm a jazz fan. I love listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Count Basie, WyntonMarsalis, and others. I love the improvisation of jazz, how jazz musicians can take a basic melody and make it their own while staying in the framework of the key and ensemble. I love the way members of a good jazz band respond to one another and take turns passing the lead from person to person. There is structure, there is freedom, there is community, and there is individuality within jazz.

The other reason I resonated with the workshop is that I feel those things are often missing in the pre-packaged, program-oriented life of the church. We are often more like a marching band - straight lines, matching uniforms, and whole sections playing the identical notes while marching to make prescribed formations. We try to fit everyone into that framework, specifying how a Christian looks, thinks, acts, etc. There is often no room for improvisation or individuality. No freedom to express ones own creativity or the unique strengths we bring to the table.

These ideas are going to be bouncing around in my brain for a while and you'll be reading more about them, I'm sure. But I like the image of spiritual jazz.

Sunday, June 21

An Athlete to Cheer For

One of the great things about being closely involved with track and field is not just the chance to get to know some outstanding athletes, but some incredible people. The sport is filled with men and women of great character. Unfortunately, most folks in the US - including sports fans - don't know much about our track and field athletes. They couldn't tell you who the stars are track and field (except for maybe an Olympic year) or who are the people of character (except for the occasional athlete caught using performance enhancing drugs). Though I could give you a whole list of great people worth your attention and applause, I want to highlight one for you. Bryan Clay.

You might recognize the name. After all, he won the Olympic gold medal last year in the decathlon. He has been on the Wheaties box. On Letterman and Leno and Oprah. Though I have officiated Bryan a few times, I don't know him well. But I do respect him. Not only as an athlete (and the decathlon is a great test of an athlete's strength, speed, and mental toughness), but also as a man of character and values. Here is a quote for a recent interview in the July addition of Track and Field News:

"I look at what I've accomplished and my goal always has been to create a platform to go out and relate the Kingdom of God.

I always tell people, 'I accomplished what I have on the track because I was a champion in life first.' It wasn't the other way around. I was able to do what I've done on the track because I took care of my responsibilities spiritually and also with my family. I give 100% to those areas. If I do that, it frees me - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually - to give 100% to track and field.

I also believe you have to have balance. I always say my priorities are God first, family second and track third. That's my motto.

When I can put God first, it gives me the parameters, the focus, everything I need to make my family happy. Being the father and husband I need to be, making them happy, that allows me the freedom emotionally and physically to give 100% to the sport. If I have distractions in those other areas, then I can't give track 100%. So the priorities are very important and I really try to live my life by them."

So when you watch the US Championships this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (and you need to watch them), be sure and cheer for Bryan Clay. You can even follow him on Twitter: @bryanclay.

Thursday, June 4

Retreating in Indiana

I'm spending a few days this week in Indiana at our annual retreat for campus ministers. Since 1983, we have been meeting at the Canyon Inn in McCormick's Creek State Park. It's a beautiful park with lots of trees and trails.

But the best part each year is just being with a group of folks who share a common passion for God's Kingdom and reaching college students. We are here from Florida to Wisconsin to worship, encourage one another, and prepare for future ministry. This year's speaker is Al Hirsch, one of the leading author's on missional church strategy - basically approaching our community as a mission field and building our ministry in a way that communicates with those who don't know Christ as opposed to building a ministry and expecting those who aren't Christians to adapt to us. He's doing a great job of helping us to think in creative ways about our culture and our ministries.

But I do feel a little old. I'm one of about six here who have been doing campus ministry for 20 years or more. There are more than that here who weren't born when I started in campus ministry! But there is a lot of enthusiasm, passion, and potential. The future looks good.

Thursday, May 28

The Passing of a World Changer

Dr. Ralph Winter passed away a few days ago at the age of 84. Most people, even most who are deeply committed to Christ and his work in our world, won't recognize his name - even though Time named him as one of the 25 most influential Christians in the US just five years ago.

Dr. Winter spent his life as a missionary, a missions professor, and a "mission engineer." His wisdom and insights literally changed the way much of Christendom engaged in the work of cross-cultural ministry. In 1974, he introduced the concept of "unreached people groups" that changed the way people looked at the world. Throughout his ministry, he encouraged collaboration and cooperation among Christian groups to accomplish greater things for the glory of God. This is best seen in the US Center for World Mission, the organization that he established in Pasadena, CA as a hub of mission activity, research, strategy, and sending. Dr. Winter also developed Perspectives on the World Christian Movement - a college-level course on missions that has been taught to thousands of Christians in hundreds of locations across the US.

As with many Christian leaders today, I have been influenced by Dr. Winter's vision and insight and efforts. I have taken the Perspectives course and was stretched and encouraged by it. But I also had a couple of occasions to meet Dr. Winter and spend some time with him - listening to him teach, asking him questions, sitting at his feet. In both instances, his insights into Scripture and into our world changed the way I looked at our God, our mission, and my life and ministry.

Though we will mourn Ralph Winter's passing, the Kingdom of God is larger and more diverse because of his ministry and vision. In my mind, he was one of a handful of the most influential and important Christian leaders of the last fifty years.

You can read Dr. Winter's obituary here and John Piper's tribute to him (with a four minute video of Dr. Winter) here.

Monday, May 4

Communicating with Restraint

"A man of knowledge uses words with restraint ..."
Proverbs 17:27

Those of us who are called to ministry are in the "communication business" in one form or another. I speak in front of large and small groups a few times every week, plus spend a few hours talking with folks one-on-one. And being in the "communication business", I find myself observing communicators. What makes them effective? What are the obstacles to effective communication?

Though I could write a long time on this, I just wanted to mention some things that I have noticed in others (and in me):

1. It is easy for those who speak to groups on a regular basis to think that they always have to say something, ignoring James' admonition to be "quick to hear, slow to speak."

2. The more comfortable one becomes in speaking to groups, the easier it is to talk more. A beginning preacher may struggle to put together a 15 minute talk. But before long, he will be struggling to keep a talk under 40 minutes.

3. Often a longer talk masks imprecision of thought. We exchange precision of thought and clarity of speech for more words. Saying more doesn't always mean that someone knows more. It just may mean that they don't know what they want to say or what they are talking about!

In light of those things, here are a couple of websites that I've come to enjoy because their purpose is to encourage clarity of expression in a minimum of words. Both are exercises in clarity of thought and expression. The first is One Sentence. (I learned about this site from a tweet posted by @mrskutcher.) The other is Six Sentences.

Another form of creative communication is poetry. I have never been disciplined enough to be a poet and I marvel at those who are gifted and committed to the art form. Here is a poem recently posted by a campus ministry friend of mine - Jim Schmotzer of Bellingham, WA. We also share a common love for baseball.

Friday, April 24

I have a few minutes before I head to the track at the 100th Drake Relays, so I thought I would just post a few interesting items I have seen online over the past few weeks. Nothing too spiritual, but I hope you find them interesting ...

Here are some great photos of the Mall Vault we did in Des Moines on Wednesday night (courtesy of the Des Moines Register) ...

This is Tom Yarbrough's website. Tom was a student at the UofA and in ConC a few years back. I bought his music. Really good stuff ...

A list of the Top Ten "sporting gestures". Of course, it is in a British publication so far too many have to do with soccer and cricket ...

Odd body facts explained. Enough said ...

And, finally, if you didn't have enough to worry about with the economy and all - watch out for those killer Komodo Dragons ...

Monday, April 13

Old Friends ... Priceless

Through our high school years, you could usually find the four of us together. Michael, Craig, Allen, and Mike. If we weren't playing on one of the Tiger athletic teams, we were playing penny-ante poker or cruising up and down National Avenue and playing the game "What would you do if ...?" There wasn't much else for high school guys to do in Fort Scott, KS back in the day.

It doesn't feel like it has been almost 32 years since the class of 1977 graduated. But it has. Two of us are over 50 and the other two will be soon. Over those years, life has taken the four of us in several different directions and over some rocky roads. There have been a lot of good choices, and some bad ones. We have buried parents. Some have buried children.

But after all of these years, we are still good friends. Last Friday, we got together for the Royals home opener in Kansas City and had a great time. We all have other friends, newer friends, and maybe even closer friends at this point in our lives. But we don't have friends who have the history that this group does - who know us and our histories, where we come from and where we have been. The relationships picked up where they were over 30 years ago. Some of the old stories came out, but it's more than that. We know that, after all of these years, if we need someone we are all just a phone call away and would do almost anything for each other.

Treasure your old friends. And if you haven't talked to them in a while, give them a call. They are a gift from God. I know that mine are.

Friday, April 3

Always Being Prepared ...

"... always being prepared ..."
I Peter 3:15

Be prepared in season and out of season. When it is convenient and when it is not. When I am tired and when I am rested. When I am "on duty" and when I am "off." When I have another agenda and when I don't.

Be prepared to give the reason for the hope that I have. To step through an open door. To share the Good News of Jesus. To pray for someone who is hurting. To serve someone who has a need. To say a word of encouragement. To share a word of instruction. To listen to someone tell their story. To set aside my agenda for a greater purpose. To hear the voice of God. To say "yes" to prayer. To say "no" to sin.

But I am far too often not prepared. I am often self-absorbed. I am often tired. I am often lazy. I am often unaware. I am often calloused of heart. I am often distracted. I am often disobedient. I am often sinful.

May I always be prepared for everything to which my Father calls me.

Sunday, March 29

Setting the Compass

This is an expanded version of an article I posted on Crux - a blog for those in campus ministry.


I'm a collector, of sorts. I collect compasses. It's not a very big collection. I only have about six of them. And though some of them look pretty cool, none of them are too expensive. But I do like compasses. I have a couple setting on my desk at the office. I have one on my desk at home. I have others sitting at various spots throughout the house.

A compass is all about direction. It's not so much about where you are at this moment in time, but about the direction in which you are heading to get to the place where you want to be. I need that reminder. In a world ruled by full inboxes, crowded calendars, and over-flowing "to-do" lists, it is easy to lose sight of where you want to be and wander from the direction that will get you there.

The longer I am in campus ministry, the more convinced I am that destination and direction are vital. One reason is that they can keep us from the comparison game: Is my ministry as big, as cool, or as effective as another? Many of us will never have large ministries with hundreds of people in attendance. But effectiveness in ministry isn't always determined by numbers. Though healthy ministries usually grow, there are many factors that influence the size of a ministry. A clear sense of destination and direction will help us focus on that to which God has called us.

Destination and direction are also more important than what is happening at any given time or in any specific year. If you have been in ministry very long at all, you have experienced the cyclical nature of the work. Some years you grow and some years you don't. Some years your leaders step up and do a great job and some years they get distracted or lazy. Some years you baptize people by the dozens and some years it seems that all the students you share the Gospel with have hearts of stone. Some years you will feel like you have this whole thing figured out and you should write a book about how to really do ministry. Some years you write about a half dozen different letters of resignation. But if I am more about destination and direction rather than the success or failure of the moment, I am better able to navigate the roller-coaster of ministry. I will be able to say "no" to the temptation to re-invent the wheel every year, trying to find the right formula. I will be able to express a clear and compelling vision of the purpose and progress of our ministry. And that vision will help me communicate to students, supporters, and potential supporters what the end goal is and how we are going to get there.

So how are you in defining the destination and direction of your ministry and casting a clear and compelling vision of it? What is the primary purpose of your ministry? Can you state it in a sentence that will excite and stir the imagination? If you fulfill God's vision for your ministry, what will that look like? What strategies will help you reach your destination? Are the programs and activities you are now doing moving you in the right direction? How will you know if you reach your destination? How will you know if you accomplish your purpose? What kind of qualities will let you know that you are fulfilling the mission to which God has called you?

So set your destination toward God's vision and purpose for your ministry. Keep moving in that direction.

And maybe put a compass on your desk.

Monday, March 23

Interesting News on Religious Life in America

Interesting data from the Ivy Jungle Report:

Less Religious in America: A widely reported study by Trinity College (Connecticut) shows the US becoming less religious with 15% of Americans reporting no religious affiliation. Those without religion are the only group to have gained numbers in every state in the union. For the last 20 years, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Christians has continued to drop. Denominational affiliation has taken an even greater hit. Now more than 8 million Christians claim to be non-denominational; up from 194,000 in 1990. The decline of religion can also be seen in the fact that 27% of the interviewees did not expect to have a religious funeral and 30% said their wedding was not a religious service. ( March 12, 2009)

Creating Their Own Religion: A recent Barna update shows that Americans are more likely to create their own religious beliefs than follow an established set of beliefs from a church or denomination. By a margin of 3 to 1, (76% to 24%) respondents said they choose from a blend of ideas to describe their faith. This often leads to contradictory positions. 82% of those under 25 take this approach. Among "born again" Christians, 61% say they do so. (Barna Update 1/26/2009 quoted in Mission America Update February 2009)

Paths to Eternal Life: 65% of all Christians say there are multiple paths to eternal life. According to the Pew forum survey, a majority of Christians believe other religions such as Judaism, Islam, or no religion at all can lead to salvation. (Christian Post December 08 quoted in Mission America Update February 2009)

Saturday, March 21

25 Years of Spring Break Trips

I'm home and my suitcase is unpacked from another Spring Break Mission Trip. From the first Christ on Campus trip in March of 1985, we have taken at least one Spring Break trip every year for the past 25 years. This was at least our 13th trip to Vida Nueva Ministries in Piedras Negras, Mexico.

This year's trip provided some unusual difficulties - especially a US State Department warning against traveling to Mexico! The University of Arkansas "helped" our cause by forwarding that to UofA students. All of that prompted some understandable parental concern. But after reading the warnings and talking with friends in Piedras Negras, we were confident that we were not taking any undue risks. The decision, however, did prompt some coverage by the local newspaper.

So why go? Is the cost, effort, inconvenience, and occasional risk worth it? Here are some of the reasons we feel these trips are important:

1. Some admittedly inexperienced help to the mission. Though we can't always accomplish much, we can provide manpower to advance some projects.

2. Some personal experience with an impoverished culture. Though Piedras Negras is in much better economic shape than it was fifteen or twenty years ago (thanks to NAFTA), as soon as you cross the border you realize that things are completely different than in the US. Driving through the outskirts of town to the ministry site provided a first-hand glimpse of life in poverty. Even though it is a short glimpse, and not close to what much of the world endures, it does begin to open the eyes of students to those in need and allows them to evaluate their standard of living.

3. Extended time away to focus on God and what he is saying to us. The highlight of this trip was the nightly times of worship and the devotions that students shared at lunch and each night. Removed from the distractions of classes, work, facebook, and television, we were better able to worship and listen and share and refresh ourselves spiritually, even while we were wearing ourselves out physically.

Most of the time, we breeze through our daily life and weekly worship and Bible study times without much thought. We don't reflect and we don't apply. We just go. We are most open to what God is saying and doing when we are taken out of our usual context and begin to look and listen in fresh ways.

These trips provide those opportunities. Over the past 25 years, students have been touched by God in dramatic ways. Some have accepted Christ. Some have changed their career goals. Some have gone into ministry or missions. Some have made choices to sacrificially use their resources to care for those in need and advance the work of Christ.

Students this week made some significant decisions that will affect their lives and the Kingdom of God for years to come. That's why we go. That's why we will continue to go.

Tuesday, March 17

After ten years away ...

This week I'm back in Vida Nueva Ministries in Piedras Negras, Mexico for Spring Break. I first brought students here in 1987 when there was nothing but an empty field. We came back every year through 1999, digging and building and loving the people and the work they were doing.
But for a number of reasons, this is the first year we have been back since 1999. And so much has changed: more buildings, more children, a clinic, a school. But every where I turn on the campus, there are memories. Those who made decisions for Christ while we were here. Those whose hearts were opened to ministry and missions while we were here. Those who served with us here as students and are now with the Lord.
This year's group got here with some fear and trepidation. The US State Department didn't make it easy by posting a travel alert for Mexico. The University didn't help by forwarding it to our students. I dealt with several phone calls and emails from concerned parents (and understandably so). But we are in a safe place with people I trust completely. And God is blessing the trip. The weather has been great. The group has worked hard and have a great time together. This is the 25th year I've led a Spring Break mission trip and I can promise you that those aren't always the case.
Keep praying for us. Pray for our safe travel. Pray for the work of Jair and Norma Castillo and Vida Nueva Ministries. And pray for God to work in the hearts of our students as he has done in this place so many times in the past.

Thursday, March 12

Making the Cut

I always hated those days when my girls were in junior high and high school. There may be no more "cruel" process than how most schools handle cheerleader and pom squad tryouts. The winners (and losers) were revealed on a list posted on the gym door for all to see. I can still remember the faces of those crushed by not being chosen - some of them year after year. Most of the time by girls made it. But not every time. And my heart hurt for their broken ones.

The daughter of a friend of mine experienced that last week. She had worked hard for years as a dancer to make her college's dance squad. And she is a great dancer - one of the best in the state. She had worked hard to be in the best possible condition. Everything was geared for success. But her name wasn't on the list.

While that drama was being played out last weekend, a series of Last Chance track meets were held around the nation. They serve one purpose - to give track and field athletes one last chance to qualify for the limited number of spots at this weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships at Texas A&M. They do the best they can, wait to see how everyone else does, and then wait some more to see who makes the cut and whose names are on the list. When the list came out on Monday, many discovered that their best wasn't good enough. They weren't on it. Some missed the cut by one-hundredth of a second or one centimeter.

These kinds of things make me appreciative of the grace of God all the more. No limited number of winners. No missing it by just a little. Because it isn't about how good I am or how perfect I become. It is about how perfect Jesus was and his death for me. It isn't about pleasing a God who is looking to only accept a few but about drawing near to a God who desires none to perish and all to be saved. Christianity isn't about what I do to be perfect, but about what Christ has done for me. It is about the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus. It is about my trust and faith in him, my obedient submission to him.

There is no cut to make. Just a gift to accept.


I'm not going to take my computer with me over Spring Break, so there probably won't be a blog post for a week or so. But I will be posting to Twitter, so look for me there!

Thursday, February 26

The Appreciation File

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29

In the lower left hand drawer of my desk there is a file labeled "Appreciation." It contains an interesting assortment of notes, cards, and drawings that I have kept over the years. The thing they have in common is that they are items others have given me that express thanks and appreciation.

I know that, to some, keeping such a file sounds like an attempt to stroke one's ego. But the truth is we all need to be appreciated and that we live in a culture that doesn't express it often enough. So much of our lives are built on competition with one another - grades, scholarships, sports, jobs, promotions, and even relationships. Many people feel that their contributions aren't noticed or appreciated. So it is refreshing when someone steps out of this tide of competition or self-absorption and lets someone know how they have encouraged them and added to their life.

I flipped through my appreciation file today. Some of you might be surprised to know that you are in there. I have items from almost thirty years ago. But each of the items, and the person who gave it, are special to me and have been used by God to encourage me and build me up. And there are times when I'm discouraged or tired when that file is one of the things that keeps me going.

In the passage above, Paul calls us to say only those things that encourage others and build them up. Does that describe your speech? When was the last time you made a point to encourage someone? When was the last time you expressed appreciation to someone who influenced your life?

Be like the Biblical character Barnabas, who was known as the "Son of Encouragement." Or like my friend T.Ray, who has the gift of encouragement. You are encouraged any time you are in his presence.

Make a point this week to say "thank you" to someone who has touched your life. Look for a chance to encourage someone.

And start an appreciation file of your own.

Sunday, February 22

Out of the Overflow of the Heart

"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Matthew 12:34

I spoke this morning from James 3 - a passage on the power of the tongue. I referred to the passage above during the talk. The words that come out of our mouths are a barometer of what is in our heart. They reflect our character and our spiritual condition. The implications of the verse are sobering.

When I complain, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are sarcastic, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are sharp and angry, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words "modify" the truth, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are negative or pessimistic, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are such that I couldn't imagine Jesus saying them, what does that reveal about my heart?

What do your words reveal about your heart?


If you haven't seen this picture, you need to spend some time checking it out. I need to get me one of these cameras! Adrian, can you find you and Shallon in here anywhere?


I'm always a sucker for these kinds of stories. It is so encouraging to read about kids who understand the things that are really important in life. This young man's parents and coaches have done a great job in raising him.