Monday, December 13

Inventions, Vending Machines, and Christ’s Return


Here are some “interesting” odds-and-ends I discovered as I was cleaning out the bookmarks on my browser. I hope you find at least some of them interesting!


Christ’s return is set for May 21, 2011!


A sign of the above: We are running out of chocolate!


What the internet killed – some important things.


Coke, soda, or pop? It depends on where you live.


The 50 Best Inventions of 2010 (so far).


10 Weird Vending Machines Foods

Monday, November 22

Leader vs. Contractor


Collide Magazine has a great post today on the role of a leader. The basic point of the article is this:


“A leader doesn’t execute what the people want — a leader guides the people toward what they need…. The leader’s job is to evaluate needs and wants and to pursue the long-term vision. That doesn’t mean leaders are infallible, nor does it mean a leader should be isolated from feedback and counsel. It’s just that the leader still has a decision to make after everyone else has said their piece.”


Far too often I have seen those in positions of leadership in Christian organizations abdicate their role of leading those whom God has entrusted to them. They function more as contractors or managers than leaders. As the article states, we do have to listen to those around us and take seriously their input. But ultimately, the leader or leadership team has to set a direction and a strategy that gets the organization to accomplish their purpose and fulfill their vision. Then you have to cast that vision and strategy to those in your organization.


Leaders need to lead.

Friday, November 19

My Birthday Project: Completed!

About a month ago, I shared these facts with you:

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

So I decided to use the occasion of my 52nd birthday to raise money for a freshwater well in a developing country through the organization Charity:water. And I asked you to give toward that project. And did you! In that month, you gave $5,000 – the average cost of building a well that will provide clean water at least 250 people.

Though part of my job is raising money for our ministry, the giving to this project was different. It was for my birthday. And I asked folks from all aspects of my life – family, students, former students, friends, track friends. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to such a blatant request for money for my birthday.

What I discovered is that people from all walks of life, and all over the country, resonated with the need for clean water and were excited about a chance to help with such a project. And I was moved and humbled by the responses – that 63 people from 17 states (including DC) cared enough to give. Thanks to all of you. It will probably be at least a year before the well is completed, but I will keep you updated on the progress.

This project has also been a reminder that we can accomplish great things and make our world a better place for others when we work together. We just to do it more often.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Monday, November 15

The Passing of a Track (and Kansas) Legend

For decades, one of the greatest high school rivalries in Arkansas was the Springdale Bulldogs vs. the Fayetteville Bulldogs. But my favorite memory from any of those games had nothing to do with football or basketball.


The st14obitsantee-articleInlineadium in Springdale was packed for the annual match-up. Sitting beside me was a white-haired man in his 70’s. We began chatting and I soon discovered that he didn’t know anything about either team. He was just there to watch his grandson in the Springdale Marching Band. I also discovered that he, like me, was from Kansas. And somewhere in the conversation, I discovered that I was sitting next to Wes Santee.


Of the few thousand at this football game, I was probably one of the few (and maybe the only one) who would have recognized that name. But I was from Kansas. And I was a University of Kansas Jayhawk fan. And I was a track and field fan. And Wes Santee was a track and field legend in Kansas and, at one time, around the world. I don’t remember who actually won the football game that night, because Mr. Santee and I talked track until a storm caused the game to be suspended and we went our separate ways. But a few days later, I received an autographed copy of The Perfect Mile from him. If you enjoy track and field, you will love the book.


I will let this article from the New York Times give you the details of his career. But in 1953 and 1954, the world watched as Santee, John Landy of Australia, and Roger Bannister of Great Britain raced to become the first person to break the four-minute barrier in the mile. On May 6, 1954, Bannister ran a 3:59.4. On June 21, 1954, Landy ran a 3:58. Though Santee was the American record holder in the mile and world record holder in the 1,500 meters indoors and outdoors and in the mile indoors, he was never able to run faster than 4:00.5.


Wes Santee passed away on Sunday in Eureka, KS at the age of 78. I fondly remember my evening with him and his graciousness to me.

Friday, November 12

Spiritual Jazz: Your Life as a Work of Art


A few weeks ago, I began writing a series of posts on jazz as a metaphor for the Christian life. The premise was that many think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and staying in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are pretty clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual.


There is nothing wrong with any of those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life (and many bring those attitudes into the Christian life), it can become stifling. I think there is a freedom - an improvisation - that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the Spirit. Many are missing that. I would encourage you to go back to posts from Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 for more details.


One of the reasons that I have postponed the series is because some of these thoughts were in a guest piece I wrote for a “blog-a-thon”. It ran last week on Faith on Campus. I would encourage you to check out the other pieces posted.


Before I write more about elements of jazz that apply to our spiritual lives – things like syncopation, improvisation, etc. – I want to lay a piece of Biblical groundwork.


“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10


As many who have been around our ministry would tell you, this is one of my favorite and most often quoted verses. I believe it sets the stage for a life of fruitful and joyful service to God and others.


We need to realize that God has re-created us through Jesus Christ to be works of art. The word translated “workmanship” is poiema, from which we derive our English word “poem.” We are God’s poem, God’s musical composition, God’s work of art carefully crafted by his own hands.


We live in a “paint by numbers” world where creativity and uniqueness is often discouraged. Our world – from schools to churches to corporations to athletic teams to families to friends – works hard to bring everyone into conformity and to keep everyone from straying too far from the accepted ways of thinking or living. But works of art are not mass produced. Each piece is unique and different from every other piece. We need to recognize, and help those around us recognize, the unique way that God has created us. We have the freedom to express that individuality as we are led by the Spirit. Of course, we need to cling to Scriptural truth and practice spiritual disciplines so that the work of art that God created maintains is unique beauty, but we must beware of “cookie-cutter” approaches that make Christians more like other Christians or our religious culture (or us) than the work of art God intended.


Works of art are also created for a purpose: To reflect the creator and his or her values and nature to the world in a unique way. Every painting, sculpture, poem, or musical piece says something about the one who created it. So, too, it is God’s desire that the works of art he has created in us reflect him accurately to our world – but in unique and creative ways. We were designed for something far greater than a paycheck – to be works of God that communicate the nature of God to the world.


I believe that it is interesting – and significant – that the only other time that a form of the Greek word “poiema” is used in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20. In this verse, God states that the purpose of the creation around us is to reflect God’s power and nature so that the world is without excuse. They should recognize that He exists from what He has created. We, as God’s new creations, are to make God’s nature and power known, as well.


The primary way that we do that is by getting involved in the “good work” which God has prepared for us. That is the reason that God has re-created us and made us into works of art – to fulfill his purpose. God has a job for you – one that takes advantage of your unique giftedness and reflects his nature. It is something that is good. It is something that honors Him. It is something that makes Him known to the world. God has prepared it for you. God has prepared you for it.


We need to quit acting like the Christian life is all about me – my enjoyment, my entertainment, my comfort, my needs. The Christian life, the life that is in step with the Spirit, is a life that is on a mission. It honors God by fulfilling the purpose for which it is designed.


Those of us in leadership need to remember that one of our major roles is to help those around us recognize the gifts and value they have as God’s re-creative works of art and to help them catch a vision for the unique and critical purpose to which God has called them. Then we help prepare them to respond to that calling as a part of Christ’s body and in a way that reflects their Creator and draws others to Him. When we do these things, they will experience the joy of a life lived in step with the Spirit and the truth of these words by Frederick Buechner:


“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”



Monday, November 8

My Favorite Title for Jesus

We could fill this page with the names and titles that the Bible gives for Jesus – from the Old Testament through Revelation. And each of us would have names or titles that spoke most closely to our hearts. Maybe for you it would be the Prince of Peace or the Good Shepherd or the Alpha and Omega. (In fact, please feel free to share your favorite titles in the comment section.) These preferences probably change depending on the time and circumstances of our lives.


At this time in my life, the title of Jesus that I most resonate with is one that apparently was used in a derogatory manner by his enemies: “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19) On one level that speaks to me because I am a sinner and I need a friend like Jesus. On another level, that is what I want to be. I want to have the same kind of heart that Jesus did for those far from God and whose lives aren’t what God intended for them. I want our ministry to be one that is known as a place that is “sinner friendly” – where those not walking with God can feel loved and that they are in a place that will help them move into a relationship with God.


One of the amazing things from the biographies of Jesus is that those who were most attracted to Jesus – and to whom he seemed to be most attracted – were the ones far from God. The rough crowd of sinners loved being around Jesus and he really seemed to enjoy being around them. He wasn’t like those with a reputation as religious people, who went to great lengths to emphasis their separation and moral superiority. Jesus lived out a kind of holiness (what the authors of The Tangible Kingdom call a “winsome holiness”) that was attractive to those around him. Jesus was holy – all the time and in every way. He was sinless, but his wasn’t a holiness that was just based on the “don’ts” that we often focus on. It was a holiness that exuded a life and values – the fruit of the Spirit – that attracted  people to him. Of course, Jesus didn’t just leave people where they were. His most common message was one of repentance.


Those who “knew” God best – who knew their Scriptures and said their prayers and gave their tithes – were the ones who had the hardest time with Jesus. They were the ones who eventually arranged for his death.


Somehow, we have done a good job of turning that whole paradigm upside down. For the most part, we practice a Christianity with which religious folks are real comfortable and of which those far from God want no part. We live out a holiness that is more about separating ourselves from the world and those in it than it is about incarnationally living out the character of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And, I suspect, that if Jesus became a part of one of our ministries and started to live out the life he lived in Scripture many among us would have a hard time with him.


I could keep writing, but I better stop before you do. Here are some questions for you to think about:


Are you a friend of sinners? Do you have meaningful relationships with those whose lives aren’t connected with God? Do you find your heart going out to them or do you feel yourself being judgmental toward them? Does your life look more like Jesus’ or the life of a Pharisee?


Is your church or ministry a place where those whose lives aren’t connected with God feel cared for? Is it a place where they can safely explore the person of Jesus and their relationship with Him?


I spoke on this topic yesterday morning and the podcast should be available online soon at


Finally, I had decided to write this yesterday. This morning, Alan and Debra Hirsch posted an article on the same topic. Of course, they develop it better and in more detail than I have. Be sure and read it, as well.

Wednesday, November 3

Leadership and Seeing the Big Picture

I’m getting to spend this week at Camp Allendale in Trafalgar, IN working with four good friends. Roger, Tim, Don, Barry, and I are serving as officers for the Association of College Ministries – a group of about 110 campus ministries around the world. This is the third time in my 29 years of campus ministry that I have served as an officer of this group. Probably now , more than at any other time, I feel a responsibility for the care and success of those ministries and the over 300 folks who serve with them. We’ve spent the week talking about and planning retreats and conferences, but also about how we can add value to others’ ministries and help equip them for success over the long haul.


The week has also got me thinking about how one’s perspective changes the longer one is in leadership. The first time I served as an officer (about 20 years ago), my vision in all areas was more limited. Most of it centered on my specific ministry – our growth and development and needs. Though I had friends ministering in other places, my mind was mostly wrapped up in what I was doing where I was at. That wasn’t true of just the ACM (or the NACSF as it was known then), but also of my ministry at the UofA. I didn’t have much of a relationship with the other ministries on our campus. I was busy working to build and shape Christ on Campus.


Now I find myself thinking a lot about the big picture of furthering God’s Kingdom. That doesn’t mean I’m not totally invested in our ministry. I am as committed as ever to our growth and success in reaching and equipping students on our campus. But I also realize that God’s vision for our campus – and for our world – won’t be accomplished just by our efforts. So I’m concerned about and interested in the other Christ-honoring ministries on our campus. One of the most important appointments on my calendar is our weekly campus ministers’ prayer time when leaders of a dozen or so ministries gather to pray for one another. And I’m interested in and committed to the success of other ministries around the world that share the same desire to further God’s Kingdom.


This week has been about the Kingdom of God on a bigger scale. Teaching, training, and encouraging campus ministry staff and students from around the country. Strategic partnerships with other like-minded ministries.


I believe that is one of the tasks to which leaders are called. We are to be looking ahead and considering the big picture, the ultimate purpose. It is not just about the success of this event, but how does this event move us toward our purpose, towards God’s purpose. It is not just about the success of my group, but the advancement of God’s Kingdom and His glory. As a leader, your ministry needs you to be looking ahead and thinking strategically about the big picture – your purpose and the steps it will take to get there. Don’t get side-tracked by the immediate. Keep your eyes on the big picture – what will it take for God’s vision to be accomplished and God’s Kingdom furthered.

Monday, October 25

Thoughts on Leadership - Tension is Good

The theme of Catalyst, which our staff attended a few weeks ago was "Tension is Good." That seems counter-intuitive at first glance, but if we think about it we realize that it is tension that allows us to grow, mature, move forward, and reach new territories - both personally and organizationally. It is the tension in a violin or guitar string that allows it to make music. It is the tension in a pole vaulter's pole that sends him over a crossbar three times his height.

Tension isn't a negative in and of itself. We need it. But we need to learn how to properly deal with it personally and organizationally. Tension can produce opportunity or stress, all depending on how we choose to respond to it. As I consistently tell my students, "All stress if self-induced." Stress is a result of how we choose to respond to tense or difficult "opportunities". (I'm not sure my students believe me.)

Here are some thoughts on tension for us who serve as leaders. They come from a variety of sources, with major contributions from Andy Stanley.

Every leader has a motivating tension. That's what keeps us moving and pressing forward - the thing that drives us to achieve. What is the motivating tension in your life? How can you harness it to be more effective - not just professionally or organizationally, but personally and spiritually?

Tension adds depth to our story. A movie without tension is a boring movie. The tension and its resolution is what makes a good story a good story. A life without tension is boring. It is often lived without a sense of our need for God or testimony of God's work in our life. The tension in your life enhances your dependence on God, gives Him room to work, and adds depth to the story of your relationship with God.

Every leader should learn to overcome the fear of tension. Leaders shouldn't dread tension but realize that it is an inherent part of leadership. In fact, tension tells you a lot about your organization and its needs.

It is impossible to love people and avoid tension.

Our role as a leader is to break through the tension to something significant. Tension is necessary for any organization that wants to make progress. Great organizations learn to use tension. The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of our life and organization.

Tension is a powerful platform to clarify what is important. Tension helps us identify our priorities and the things in our life or organization that interfere with those priorities.

Friday, October 22

Thinking Biblically - Thoughts From Francis Chan

Francis Chan has not only been one of the most popular Christian speakers and writers in America over the past couple of years, he is a man who models what he talks about. His books, Crazy Love and Forgotten God, are well worth the read.

In April, Chan resigned the mega-church he led in Southern California. He and his family sold their house and last Saturday moved to India without (as I understand it) a detailed plan. Their goal is just to follow the Holy Spirit and his leading.

Earlier this month, Chan spoke at Catalyst. Here is a clip of that message. As you watch, ask yourself:

What is there in my life that gives evidence that I am thinking and living Biblically?

What is there that the rest of the world would consider weird because it is shaped by God and not our culture?

Would your life fit well inside the pages of Scripture or would it look weird in that context?

Wednesday, October 20

Sharing My Birthday - Clean Water for Others

One of the great things about the Catalyst Conference is that they make a point to share about world needs with the leaders who are there. Last year, the issues that were highlighted were adoption and micro-finance. I, personally, love the concept of micro-finance - providing small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries to help them start businesses to provide for their families. I would encourage you to check out organizations like Kiva and Hope International. My wife and I have loaned through Kiva over the past couple of years and have seen our small investment help three or four families in different parts of the world.

This year's highlighted issues at Catalyst were human trafficking and clean water. Did you know that:

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

In light of this, we were challenged to use our birthdays to provide clean water. So I'm taking that challenge. My 52nd birthday is coming up next month and I am asking friends, family, former students, and anyone who reads this blog to help with this project. I don't need another birthday present, but there are a lot of children who need clean water. My goal is to raise $5000 - the average cost to build a well that will serve 250 people.

If you could give $52 for my 52nd birthday - or $26 or $10 or $520 - please go to my Charity:water page. It would be a huge blessing to me and an even greater blessing to those it will serve.

Wednesday, October 13

Change, Restorers, Generations, and The Corner - Catalyst Day 2

It was my intention so post this earlier, but travel and schedule kept me from getting it done. Here are a few more highlights from last week's Catalyst Conference:

Seth Godin on change:

"Change comes from people who accept responsibility without demanding authority."

"If you want to succeed, you have to be wiling to fail. In fact, you have to be willing to embrace failure as a benefit."

Gabe Lyons on the next generation of Christians:

"Restorers are provoked to engage a broken world. Rather than complain, they create. They're not critics, but creators. They respond to calling where they are."

Craig Groeschel on generational tension:

"Older generation: don't resent or criticize the younger generation. Invest in them and empower them.... Delegate authority. This produces leaders."

"Younger generation: Don't over-estimate what God wants to do through you in the short-run. Don't under-estimate what God can do through you in the long-run."

"Honor publicly leads to influence privately." Andy Stanley

"When we honor Jesus, we will learn to honor those he has put in authority over us. Respect is earned; honor is freely given."

T.D. Jakes on getting out of our comfort zone:

"Leadership is about getting 'off the corner' and the community where we are comfortable, with its limited worldview."

"Are we armed with the language that reaches the masses or a language that alienates the world?"

"If you live in a room where you're the smartest person, get out of that room."

Thursday, October 7

A Bowl of Stew and a Biblical Life - Catalyst Day 1

Today and tomorrow, our staff is attending the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. Catalyst is a gathering of about 13,000 Christian leaders and always features a packed schedule of some of America's greatest speakers and thinkers in the areas of ministry and leadership. Today's line-up included Andy Stanley, Daniel Pink, Christine Caine, Seth Godin, Beth Moore, and Francis Chan (as well as shorter interviews with several others). This year's theme is "Tension is Good" and each speaker shared ideas that were stretching and valuable. Here are a couple of the highlights for me:

As he traditionally does, Andy Stanley led off the conference. Stanley is one of my favorite Christian leaders and I always seem to resonate with what he has to say. Today he talked about the tensions of leadership that are associated with our internal appetites - things such as progress, responsibility, respect, winning, achievement, etc. Regarding these appetites, he said:

1. God created them and sin distorted them.
2. Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied.
3. Your appetites always whisper "now" and never "later".

He then took us to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25 and talked about how Esau gave up his birthright - his future and his legacy - for a bowl of stew to satisfy his appetite. He then brought us to the point: Would you trade your future and legacy for a bowl of stew? Any of us could and many of us have.

So what is the bowl of stew for which you would be tempted to trade your future and your legacy? And how are you going to avoid falling for the deceptions that could lead you to that choice?

According to Stanley, we need to reframe our appetites in the context of what God has called us to and the future and legacy we desire and then refrain from trading that calling, future, and legacy for the "bowl of stew" that we think will satisfy.

Francis Chan, maybe the most popular Christian speaker in America right now (though he and his family have sold their home and are moving to Asia next week), closed the evening. Chan is a very "winsome" speaker - easy to like and listen to - and what he says is an obvious overflow of his walk with God. Tonight he gave us this (uncomfortable) idea to think on and pray about...

We say that we think and live Biblically, but if we put our life into the pages of the book of Acts, would it fit? Or would it seem weird and out of place? A lot of what seems normal in the Church and in the lives of Christians would seem weird in Acts. It wouldn't fit. And much of what was normal behavior for the Christians in Acts would be out of place today and we would consider it weird or radical.

So who are we more like? Jesus and the Christians and Church we read about in the Bible? Or our culture and the people we live around today?

The "bowl of stew" and a Biblical life both issues with which we need to wrestle. Let me know what you think about any of these thoughts.

Tuesday, October 5

Expanding the View of Christianity

Here are a couple of recent articles on the spiritual views of young adults. I thought I would share them with you and see what you think about them.

USA Today ran an article a couple of weeks ago calling the spirituality of young adults "wide, shallow, and compelling". This generation is more eclectic and more skeptical than previous ones. But they do have an interest in engaging Scripture (as one of many interests) and a desire to get involved with the world and to find ways to help people who are struggling.

Gabe Lyons, one of the authors of the excellent book unChristian, has a new book (released today) called The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America. Though I haven't had a chance to read it (I'm hoping to score a copy at the Catalyst Conference this week), this interview that he did on Ed Stetzer's blog is very interesting. Here is some of what he says about the next generation of Christians:

"Instead of discovering something new, they've actually recovered a key understanding of the Gospel that has largely gone missing in many parts of Christian teaching and doctrine in the last century--the idea of "restoration." They believe that part of their responsibility in following Jesus is to lead lives that are prioritized around restoring broken people, systems, schools, neighborhoods, marriages and a variety of other things to reflect God's original intention for his creation. They emphasize seeing the image of God in every person they encounter, even if that person wouldn't acknowledge it. They don't only care about social good, but see that as part of a holistic faith that naturally opens the door to much deeper conversations with their friends about the meaning of life, who we are as human beings and what God's best is for his creations."

Both pieces bring home the point that we need to find ways to engage students - both believers and unbelievers - in the places where Scriptures intersect our world. So many students arrive on a campus with a compartmentalized faith (it only applies to what they do on a Sunday or at a Bible study) and an overly personalized faith (it is only about "Jesus and me" and the Gospel is solely about me getting to heaven). Unfortunately, much of our programming in churches and campus ministries just adds to the problem. Young adults need to see that the Gospel affects all parts of our world and that God is in the process of reconciling all things to himself (Colossians 1:15-20). This will help those who are not yet Christians realize that following Jesus is much more than religious ritual. When you submit yourself to him and begin to follow him, he will involve you in this mission and purpose of reconciliation. It will also help those who are Christians to realize that our understanding of the Gospel has often been far too limited. This process of reconciliation has implications beyond what happens when I die. It affects how I live and how I engage with a hurting world.

Friday, October 1

Spiritual Jazz: Discipline

Those who aren't familiar with jazz often have the misconception that improvisational jazz is music without rules. Musicians just do what they want without regard to the usual structure that you find in other forms of music. The reality is that this incredible music is made by very disciplined musicians who have spent years honing their craft and that it is built on the same musical structures you find in others genres.

Though jazz musicians often improvise, their "stylings" are always done within the "orthodox" laws of music - the rules of harmony, melody, rhythm, etc. Even though they may not have studied it formally, these musicians know musical theory. They know what notes fit together in the key being played. They know rules of meter and tempo. It is their knowledge of the "truths" of music that allows them to play together in harmony and beauty rather than in disharmony and in tones that distract rather than enthrall. The music really isn't a free-for-all. It is the result of "scholars" who know the structure of their medium by heart.

On top of that, they have developed their skills as musicians by hours and hours of practice before they ever hit the stage. Any professional musician would tell you of the hours they spent in secret - practicing technique, scales, etc. They have given themselves to the discipline of learning their craft. And it is those hours of secret discipline that frees them to improvise when the spotlight is on.

One other regarding the discipline of jazz: The knowledge gained through experience and the abilities honed through discipline have to be used in humble cooperation with the others in the ensemble. If the musicians are not willing to "submit" to one another, there would be chaos as musicians played over one another and forced their way to the forefront. The knowledge and skill has to be tempered with unity and humility to produce the result that all desire.

The spiritual applications, I hope, are fairly obvious. If we desire to live a jazz-styled spiritual life - one that is free to improvise and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit - these characteristics have to be true of us. There are Christians who say they are following God but are not willing to learn the truths of Scripture that provide the "structure" for life and the Church. The truths of the Christian faith aren't just open for everyone to interpret for themselves. The Bible teaches us what is true and what is right and how to live. Our lives need to be lived in submission to those truths. If we don't, we will find ourselves in a climate of division and distrust. In other words, the religious climate that the Church finds itself in today.

How do we learn these structures that allow for cooperation and unity? Through the disciplines that hone our knowledge and skills - such things as the study of and meditation on the Word of God, time with God in secret prayer, the guidance of spiritual mentors, etc. These spiritual disciplines develop in us the knowledge and skills that allow us to discern the voice of the Spirit and give us the ability to go where he is leading with confidence.

Over all of these things, we have to put on the love and humility that allows us to hear what God is saying to us through others and to work with them to produce the desired results - the honoring of God and the furthering of his Kingdom.

Friday, September 24

Spiritual Jazz: An Introduction

Fortunately for those around me, my musical "career" has long been over. But at one time, I was a trumpet player. Those of us who attended Eugene Ware Elementary School in Ft. Scott, KS in the 60's and 70's had the privilege of knowing Mrs. Purcell. She was our music teacher and the director of our school orchestra. Not just a band, but an orchestra - violins, tympani, and all the rest. And in the fourth grade, I joined the orchestra as a trumpet player and began taking lessons from Carl Clinesmith, one of the most beloved men in our town.

When I was in high school, Mr. Clinesmith retired and I began to take lessons from Neil Smith. Neil was a few years older than me and had played trumpet through college before settling in Ft. Scott to start his career. One day, Neil loaned me a record called Basie Jam. It was my introduction to jazz and I have loved it ever since. Even in high school, when I went to bed I would tune the radio to KANU from the University of Kansas to listen to "Jazz in the Night." I still listen to jazz. I love Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and (of course) Count Basie.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that life lived in step with the Holy Spirit is a lot like jazz. I'm not the only one to think these thoughts. Robert Gelinas wrote a book called Finding the Groove that develops this idea in more detail than I will. My friend, Tim Hudson, wrote a post on his blog called The Jazz Paradigm that also hits on this theme. And what I write will draw from both of these men. But in these Friday posts on Spiritual Formation, I want to develop some thoughts on the spiritual life that tie in to what I love about jazz.

I believe that many folks think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and staying in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are pretty clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual. And there is nothing wrong with any of those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life (and many bring those attitudes into the Christian life), it can become stifling.

I think there is a freedom - an improvisation - that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the Spirit. And I think many are missing that.

Hopefully this will get you thinking. Next week, we will pick up with the disciplines of jazz.

Thursday, September 2

Interesting Morsels of Knowledge ...

Here are some items I've been holding on to. I hope you find them interesting ...

Who is the highest paid athlete in history? Probably no one you would have ever guessed. Check out Diocles ...

Thought you made a mistake or your project was a failure? Maybe not. Read about the 10 Greatest Accidental Discoveries ...

See the World's Most Dangerous Roads. love to drive but I don't think I would even walk on that first one ...

Wednesday, September 1

Anniversary Thoughts

Today is a day that reminds me of just how good God is to me.

Today is our anniversary. In some ways it is hard to believe that Gina has been a part of my life for over 35 years and my wife for 31. But then, I can't imagine life without her. God certainly let me "out-marry" myself and gave me a wife who has been a source of encouragement, wisdom, and blessing. She is patient with my shortcomings and travel and understanding of the schedule and pace of campus ministry.

"A wife of noble character is her husband's crown." Proverbs 12:4

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD." Proverbs 19:14

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." Proverbs 31:10

I don't know that she ever reads this, but just in case she does: Thank you, Gina for all that you are and all that you give. I love you more than ever.

Monday, August 30

More Teens Becoming "Fake Christians"

Ever since I have been involved in ministry to college students - and I'm starting my 29th year - the conventional "wisdom" has stated that "85% of young people will lose their faith when they go away to college."

I'm not sure about the statistical validity of that comment, but you can't get past the fact that a majority of students drop out of active Christian involvement when they get to college. The University of Arkansas is typical of this. We sit in the "buckle of the Bible belt" and I have no doubt that at least 80-85% of our 21,000 students attended church during their high school years. But once they get to college, it would be safe to say that no more than 25% of them continue to be active in their faith.

The easiest scapegoat for this is, of course, the university environment itself. It is true that there are a lot of landmines to faith on a university of campus. But most of us who work in campus ministry know that much of the problem is present before students ever hit campus. They arrive without a vital faith in Christ or a commitment to living out their faith.

A recent article on expands on this concept. John Blake quotes Kenda Creasy Dean, author of the new book "Almost Christian". She did considerable research on the Christian faith of teenagers. Some of her observations include:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.... "If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can't talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

So what can be done? Dean shares this interesting observation:

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

We, as parents and church leaders, need to do a better job of helping our teens verbalize their faith and the ways that God has influenced their lives. We need to help them build relationships within our churches. We can't let attendance at "events" take the place of face-to-face and life-on-life relationships that are built on a common commitment to Christ. And we need to continually paint for them a picture of how their lives can be eternally significant - no matter what direction they choose to go. Unfortunately there is still an attitude in many churches that the "committed" kids will attend Christian colleges. They are celebrated while those choosing other routes are often ignored.

Elizabeth Corrie, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, adds some advice of her own.

Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens' religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor. She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.

And what can parents do? Kenda Dean adds these thoughts:

Get "radical," Dean says. She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips. A parent's radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says. But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says. "If you don't say you're doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people," Dean says. "It doesn't register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots."

I know that part of my own spiritual development was watching the growing faith and changing lives of my parents - especially during my teen years. The reality of their faith and their commitment to serve was noticeable and helped to solidify my own faith.

So churches, ministers, and youth ministers, it is time to call teens to deeper community, a greater vision, and a more personal relationship with Christ. They need to be called to a faith that demands something of them and isn't just a weekly ritual.

And parents, model for your sons and daughters a faith that affects how you live and that demands something of you. If your faith is challenging and stretching you, there is a better chance that it will take root in the lives of your children.

Tuesday, August 17

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

It's that time of year again. Since 1998, Beloit College has released it's "Mindset List." The list is a reminder to us of our changing world and the "cultural touchstones" that have shaped the lives of this year's entering class of college freshmen. Check out the Beloit College Mindset List for the class of 2014.

Tuesday, August 10

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Thanks to Matt Perman and his What's Best Next blog for pointing me toward Clayton Christensen's address to the 2010 graduating class of the Harvard Business School. He challenges the graduates of one of America's most prestigious schools to consider how their choices and life strategies will answer these three questions:

1) How can I be sure I'll be happy in my career?

2) How can I be sure that my relationships with my wife and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

3) How can I be sure I'll stay out of jail?

It is a great speech and worth your time to read and consider.

Monday, August 2

The Tangible Kingdom

"They said this so much better than I ever have" was a recurring thought as I read The Tangible Kingdom (Jossey-Bass, 2008) by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. I heard Halter speak at the Exponential Conference last April and resonated with his story. In this book, the authors take concepts that I have been trying to express to our staff and students and put them into clear, practical, and moving terms. They help us to look at how we, as followers of Christ, approach the world and go about the mission to which God has called us. Here are just a few thoughts to whet your appetite:

"The missional part was Jesus leaving his Father's side in the heavens and coming to us in the form of a human. The incarnational part was how he took on the flesh and lived with us. Said another way, missional sentness is focused on leaving and everything related to going, but incarnational represents how we go and what we do as we go.... Words communicate what we know; posture represents what we believe and feel. Therefore, posture is the most important part of relationship and communication. Posture shows true emotion and the intent of our heart. When we try to figure out why those outside the church aren't interested in our 'good news,' it may have nothing to do with our message, but with our nonverbals.... Posture is about helping people want to hear the truth." p. 38-39

The book goes on to talk about the posture - the attitude and habits - that we need to demonstrate as we move about in the world and seek to represent Christ in a way that draws people to him.

From my experience, there are several causes of "bad posture" among Christians. One is lives that don't demonstrate a difference because of the presence of Christ. Our lives are too much like the world's in our values and lifestyle or they can be the negative and condemning. Another cause of "bad posture" can also be our habit of slowly withdrawing from the world and those who don't share our values. We slowly remove meaningful relationships with those outside of faith. I love this sentence:

"Influence doesn't happen by extracting ourselves from the world for the sake of our values, but by bringing our values into the culture." p. 31

If you're a church leader, read The Tangible Kingdom. If you're a church planter, read The Tangible Kingdom. If you're a Christian hungering to be a part of God's mission in our world, read The Tangible Kingdom.

Friday, July 30

Anne Rice Quits Christianity, Part Two

Last night I wrote about Anne Rice's announcement that, though she was continuing to follow Christ, she was quitting Christianity. Part of my post admitted that many often feel frustrated with the hypocrisy of Christians, the negative stances that many Christians take, and the failures of the Church over the years. That seems to be a growing sentiment in our nation and books like unChristian document how many outside of Christianity view us as being "anti" everything. I am frustrated by that, as well, and feel that far too often the Church hinders its own cause by narrow-mindedness and a desire to pontificate rather than listen.

But the more I thought about Anne Rice's position, the more frustrated I became. She has fallen in to the trap that so many have - letting the failures of Christianity blind her to the positive things that have been done and continue to be done by the Church in our world. Schools, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, meal programs, HIV/AIDS programs, micro-financing agencies, agricultural programs, clean water wells, disaster relief projects, and the list goes on. Christianity and the Church give time, money, resources, etc. throughout the world to people who are and aren't Christians.

So, before you write off Christianity, look past the failures to the contributions that the Church has made. No other group of religious or non-religious people has given as much to so many. And I will continue to be a part of Christianity and the Church, in spite of its shortcomings, because it is the Body of Christ in this world and God's chosen avenue for accomplishing his purpose in our world.

Thursday, July 29

Anne Rice Quits Christianity

Anne Rice is best known as the author of books such as Interview with a Vampire and other vampire books. About ten years ago, she converted from her professed atheism to Christianity. Today, however, she announced via Facebook that she was quitting Christianity. In her words:

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.... I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen....My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."

There are many things in this episode that hurt my heart and, I'm sure, the heart of God.

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life."

Her words reflect the perception that many have about Christians - that we are "anti" everything and everyone but ourselves. This is also reflected in the research behind Gabe Lyons' book, Unchristian. Much of Christianity is known more for what we oppose than for what we support. We're not known as being for the poor or the hurting or the afflicted or the disenfranchised. The sad part is that those are the ones with whom Jesus most closely identified.

"It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group."

After ten years of following Christ, this is her description of Christians. How sad that this is her experience. But I know that it is the experience of many.

It is not hard to identify with Anne Rice's frustrations. I often feel the same things regarding Christians or those who pursue agendas that seem far from Christ, his purpose, and his character. But she also misses the point.

It is OK to denounce the shortcomings of Christians. It is even alright to admit that the Church has not always been all that God intended it to be. But you cannot take Christ without his Body - the Church. Yes, we are an imperfect lot. Yes, we often show more of the works of the flesh than the fruit of the Spirit. But the Church is Christ's body in our world. It is established by him and loved by him. And we need to take our part in it and work with God to accomplish his purpose through it.

What are your thoughts as you read Anne Rice's comments?

Monday, July 5

Misc. Thoughts: Track, Olympics, & iPhone Worship

I hope you all had a great Fourth of July holiday. Here are some things that I have been holding on to share with you. They may not be "deep" but they are fun to think about. I hope you enjoy ...

Thursday, July 1

Leadership Thoughts: Dealing with Criticism

Regardless of what level of leadership in which you serve - from the Chairman of the Board to a parent - you are going to have to deal with criticism. It come with the territory. You are not going to be able to avoid it (unless you choose not to lead), so you are going to have to deal with criticism constructively.

Of course, that is easier said than done! My natural tendency when I receive criticism is to get defensive - even when it is constructive criticism from friends. That response never helps. When I get defensive, I quit listening for what truth or helpful information there might be in the criticism and start justifying myself (at least mentally).

For example: Last week, I served as the head high jump official at the US Track and Field Championships in Des Moines. Our crew of six officials was responsible for each of the eight high jump competitions that took place during the Championships. In this size of meet, there are all kinds of people who are looking over your shoulder and evaluating the event: Meet Directors, Referees, National Technical Officials, officials working other events, media personnel, etc. And there were several who had suggestions for me about how our event should be run.

As mentioned earlier, my first response was defensiveness. My ego kicked in: "This is my event and my crew. We will do things my way." But when I was able to step away from that response and really listen to the suggestions being offered, I found that some were valuable. I listened to some of the criticism and it helped us run a better event. Other suggestions I listened to and chose not to follow. But all the suggestions were considered and evaluated.

If you are going to be effective as a leader, you are going to have to learn to do the same thing - to listen, evaluate, and choose what to keep and what to disregard. This is especially true when you are surrounded by people who are as committed to the "cause" as you are. They need to know that they are heard and their input is valuable, even if it doesn't always result in change. Ultimately, as the leader, you have to decide which suggestions to heed and which to disregard.

This is also true for those of us who are parents as our children grow into their teen years. They need to know that their concerns matter and that we will listen to them. We might not take the course of action that they would prefer, but they need to know that their voice is heard.

So when criticism comes:

* Let go of defensiveness and ego.
* Listen and learn.
* Ask yourself, "Does this criticism have validity? Does this suggestion help us to better accomplish our purpose?"
* Determine what actions, if any, you need to take and move forward.

"He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray." Proverbs 10:17

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." Proverbs 12:1

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted ..." Proverbs 27:6

Friday, June 18

Leadership Thoughts: Changing the Way Ministries Think

It's a pattern that I have often seen in our ministry:

The longer one is a Christian, the more their life gets wrapped up in Christian activities and the more their circle of friends becomes exclusively Christian.

This is the typical pattern in most churches and Christian ministries. At first glance, it seems like a positive thing. Christian activities - worship services, Bible studies, prayer groups, accountability groups, etc. - provide valuable input. Christian friends are essential for spiritual growth.

The problem is that it doesn't take long for our focus (individually and corporately) to get turned inward rather than outward. The Christian life becomes about our spiritual "needs", our preferences, our comfort, our convenience. Relationships with those who don't share our spiritual convictions are sometimes left behind. We get so busy being religious with other religious people at our religious building that we forget that God never called us to that.

I'm always intrigued (and convicted) by the fact that the people most attracted to Jesus were the least religious while the Bible scholars of the day were the one's most opposed to him. Jesus didn't fit the way they thought a godly person should live - even though he was God in the flesh!

God has called us to live and minister as Jesus did - living out the Kingdom of God wherever he has placed us. Our call isn't just to invite people to our religious activities, but to follow Jesus' example of "incarnational" ministry - living out the reality of God's Kingdom in the world in which we live and demonstrating Christ's love and values to those around us.

Our Christian culture often works against this. We want our members to come to one more meeting, take part in one more Bible study, play on our ministry softball team, and patronize our Christian businessmen. We are so busy directing people to another Christian activity that soon there is hardly time for family, let alone time to know and care for those who aren't already in the group.

Our students are starting to get the idea. We don't want them to think about having another Bible study for their Christian friends, but to think in terms of missional and incarnational communities - groups of students who are living out the Kingdom of God where they are. They are seeking ways to serve and care and model Christ's values and life in their residence halls, labs, jobs, fraternities/sororities, etc.

Here is a short video by Jeff Maguire that does a good job of communicating the concept.

Wednesday, June 16

Leadership Thoughts: The Importance of the First Follower

One of the areas that I enjoy studying and writing about is leadership. Ideas about leadership often show up in this blog. This video by Derek Sivers presents some ideas on leadership and the way that movements happen that stretched the way I think about these issues.

Take three minutes and watch Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy.

Here are some of the key points that he makes:

The leader must be easy to follow and clearly show a path. He must welcome those who follow and include them as important parts of the movement. It's not about the leader. It's about them and what they are doing together. Therefore leaders need to nurture those who follow, making sure the focus is on the movement and not on the leader.

The key to what happens isn't the leader. It's the first follower. He shows the way and clears the path for others. As Sivers says, "The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire."

"A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers because new followers emulate followers."

Sivers closes the video with these remarks:

"Leadership is over-glorified. Yes, it started with the shirtless guy, and he'll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There is no movement without the first follower. We're told that we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow."

Monday, May 31

A Collection of Interesting Stuff

Happy Memorial day to all. As so many already have today, I want to start by saying "thank you" to all who have served to protect our nation and the things we love. Like you, I have friends and relatives who have sacrificed greatly for the freedoms that we enjoy. So "thanks" to all who served.

Below are a few interesting websites that I have seen over the past few weeks. I thought you might enjoy at least some of them.


Preaching has presented their list of the 25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years. Do you disagree with any of the selections? Who would you add that isn't listed?

Along the same line, Time Magazine has listed their 100 Most Influential People. Again - do you agree, disagree? Who did they miss?

For those who like to travel, here is a list of Eight of the Weirdest Hotels on Earth. I think the one in Chile is the one I would most like to stay in. How about you?

I have always enjoyed the movie Mystery Men. Here is a story of some folks who have moved the movie to reality.

And, finally, a story for The Chronicle of Higher Education that I find personally affirming - The Trustworthiness of Beards.

Wednesday, May 26

Leader as Designer

A couple of weeks ago, Collide Magazine posted a very thought-provoking piece on the role of a leader. It talks of author Peter Senge, who often asks groups of leaders to imagine themselves as head of an ocean liner and their role within that organization is the leader. He then asks them to pinpoint their role within that organization. The most common answer is the captain, but others will name navigator, engineers, helmsmen, etc.

Senge argues, however, that the most important role of leadership is never mentioned - that of the ship's designer. The ship's design will influence much of what the other positions can do: How fast they can move, what direction they can turn, how quickly they can turn, etc.

The article has really got me thinking about the leadership roles that I fill and how I can help the "design" process to make the organizations better able to respond to conditions and better able to stay on course and move toward their purpose more effectively. Often, we as leaders don't think broadly enough. We try to manage the status quo rather than thinking about organizational systems that may be hindering our effectiveness. Leadership isn't always just doing the same thing we have always done. Sometimes what we have always done needs to be re-evaluated or even re-designed to better accomplish the purpose of the organization.

One could even say that one of Jesus' role as a leader was to re-design the spiritual structures of his day and bring about a better way (the only way) for people to know God and be reconciled to him. He received opposition from those who were vested in the structures and status quo of the day, but Jesus' goal was to give all people access to God through his death and resurrection and our faith in him. It wasn't a tweak of the "organization" - it was a brand new (but long promised by God) "re-design."

I currently serve in some kind of leadership capacity for about eight different organizations. (That is probably more than I need to be involved in, but that discussion is for another post.) Some are Christian organizations and some aren't. They range from local groups to national ones. One of my roles for each of these organizations is to help evaluate the design to make sure that each part works together to accomplish the purpose of the group.

As a leader, are you thinking big picture? Is the structure of your organization helping or frustrating your effectiveness? And if the design is in the way of the purpose, which is more important to you?

Friday, May 21

The Spiritual Life of Young Adults

The last worship time of the year is almost always one of the best. Our tradition at Christ on Campus is to give students who are graduating the opportunity to share what God has done in their lives during their time at the University of Arkansas. It is probably my favorite week of the year as we get to hear stories of changed hearts, changed lives, and changed visions.

This year was no exception. Several students shared during the service. They came from Illinois to Mississippi to California to Georgia, as well as from Peru and South Korea and England. Some had grown up going to church all of their lives. Others had never stepped into a church until they arrived at the UofA. Some shared about the darkness and hopelessness they had felt in life until they came to know Christ and the joy and life he brings. Some talked about the disappointment they had felt with churches or Christians and their renewed commitment to and excitement about their relationship with God. Others talked about how God had changed their vision for their lives and how excited they were to serve him and make a difference where they were with the gifts that he has given them.

It is the kind of day that reminds me of why I love campus ministry and why I have done this for 28 years - and will continue to do this until God tells me to quit. Changed lives and changed hearts. A vision of being used by God to touch the world - not just in a distant land but wherever God puts them in their career.

Some recent articles have come out that don't shed a positive light on the spiritual life of young adults. A recent article in USA Today starts off:

"Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trend continues, 'the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships.'"

However, another article that recently appeared the Leadership Journal starts off this way:

"If you want to rile up church leaders, drag out dubious statistics about how many Christians fall away from the faith after high school. We fear for our youth, that they'll rebel against what their parents and churches taught when they leave home and the youth group. But what if we're wrong? What if our particular fears about 'emerging adulthood,' the period between the ages of 18 and 29, are unfounded?"

There are difficult times for Christians on university campuses. But that's not the whole story. God is still changing lives on college campuses. And God is still raising up leaders for his Kingdom who will make a difference in the generation to come.

Monday, May 17

Some Holy Discomfort

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of getting together with nineteen of the finest Christian men in our country. The things that brought us together were the fact that we each have been in ministry on college and university campuses for at least 20 years (in fact, the total combined experienced was over 500 years) and a love for the Kingdom of God and a desire to see it grow - especially on college and university campuses.

Though we spent some time talking about transitions and the next steps for us and the ministries we work with, what I mostly experienced was a continued enthusiasm for ministry to college students. We spent more time talking about how to channel our strengths and opportunities and overcome our weaknesses and challenges than we did about what comes next for us as individuals. That is one of the reasons why I have such great respect for the men I was with (and others, who weren't able to be there). They have been through the battles on campuses and with Christians who don't grasp the vision of campus ministry. They have spent decades teaching students, training staff, raising millions of dollars of support, and traveling all over the world in a ministry setting that has few of the "perks" of many church settings. But rather than counting down the days until they can transition out, their minds were on what's next for the Kingdom and the ministries that we believe in and care about so deeply. After spending a couple of days together, I left as enthused about campus ministry as I have ever been.

But I also left challenged. Late one night, after our day's meetings were completed, a small group of us were sitting around and chatting. One of the group asked, "What in your life or ministry is making you rely upon God right now?" One by one, friends shared about the things taking place in their lives or ministries that were keeping them on the "edge" of their faith - things that were pushing the envelope of their abilities and resources and forcing them to rely upon God. As I listened, I came to realize that, even though I wasn't just going through the motions of ministry and that we have seen God do some amazing things in the lives of students over the past few months, I have been operating pretty much in my comfort zone. The ministry is going well. My family is doing well. Our ministry's financial situation has been pretty stable. It has been a pretty comfortable place to be.

But I don't think God calls us to just be comfortable. And I don't want to just be comfortable. I want to walk in faith. I want to trust God. I don't want to be content with visions and dreams that are small enough that I can accomplish them. I want to be moved by God's visions and dreams - things that are only accomplished when God is providing the power and wisdom and resources. I don't know what any of that means right now. But I am praying for some holy discomfort.

Friday, April 16

The KC Royals, me, and God

Below is a "re-post" from almost five years ago. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this. Maybe you do, too.
I'm a Kansas City Royals fan. There. I admitted it. I have been since they played their first game in 1969. There really isn't much reason to be a Royals fan now-a-days. Especially in Arkansas. This is Cardinal country. It's easy to be a Cardinal fan. They spend a lot of money. Have a lot of good players. They win. They are easy to love.

But it's not easy to be a Royals fan. They haven't won anything since about 1985. They have lost 8 of their last 10 games. (They didn't lose tonight! But then, they had the night off.) They have more losses than any other major league team. I probably couldn't name five players on their roster. The Royals aren't an easy team to love.

But I'm a Royals fan. This summer I'll probably head to Kansas City and watch them play (and probably lose) a couple of games.

Sometimes I'm sure God thinks of me like the Royals. I'm not always easy to love. I can put on a good show sometimes. But you don't have to watch too long before my failures begin to show. I am often self-centered. I'm impatient. I'm not loving. Not pious. Not zealous. Distracted. The list could go on. I'm not an easy person to love. But God is a Mike Armstrong fan. He loves me in spite of my inconsistencies and failures and sin.

And he loves you, too. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. Sometimes we get distracted by our failures and forget that we are loved. Regardless of our test scores. Regardless of our "relationship status." Regardless of how we rate on the financial scale or the looks scale or whatever other scale people measure each other by.

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
I John 4:9-10

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:38-39

Back in 1982, a Christian singer named Bob Bennett released "A Song About Baseball." The song never mentions the name of Jesus. Never mentions the name of God. But it is all about his love for us "no matter how we play." It's a great song. I bought the CD just for this one song. Stop by my office sometime and I'll play it for you.

Thursday, April 1

Road Trippin' - Campus Ministry Thoughts

Christ on Campus staff and students have been hitting the road for Spring Break to help out around the country (and Mexico) for over twenty-five years now. Our first trip, in 1985, was to work with a church in Juarez, Mexico. Over the years we have taken hundreds of students to:

Mexico (about 20 times to build houses, a children's home, and such)
Atlanta (to do inner-city ministry)
North Carolina (hurricane relief)
Louisiana (hurricane relief)
Mississippi (hurricane relief)
Kansas (tornado relief)
Florida (evangelism)
Arizona (projects at an Apache Reservation)

Though these trips require a lot of time, money, and effort we are firmly convinced of their value. And, though we hope that the groups we work with benefit from our labor, we believe that their greatest value is in what our students gain from the experience.

* They gain a broadened view of the world. They begin to see beyond just their experience and see how others live, how others think, and how others serve God. They begin to experience other cultures, worship in new ways, see need up close and personal. Their eyes and hearts are opened.

* They gain a greater appreciation of their ability to serve and meet needs. They contribute to the lives of others in ways that pull them out of their comfort zones and stretch their faith. Our prayer is that they carry the experience with them as they leave the UofA and that they will continue to find ways to serve and meet needs wherever God leads them during the rest of their lives.

* They experience God in deep and fresh ways. For those who are already Christians, they often return revived and closer to God. For those who aren't Christians (and there are often those with us who aren't), they get a chance to see the lives of Christ-followers up close and personal - both those they are traveling with and those they are serving. It is not unusual for these to later give their lives to Christ because of the seeds planted during a trip.

* Many begin to sense God's call on their lives on Spring Break trips. As I think of those who have left here and are now in ministry in the US and internationally, at least 90% of them took part in at least one Spring Break mission trip. I am sure that each would speak of the impact that experience had on their life.

I often tell our staff and students that there isn't anything that we do that can't be changed - but I can't see us ever not having a mission trip over Spring Break. The benefits are just too great for our students and for the places they will serve through the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, March 31

"Why do bad things happen to good people?"

This is the first of what I plan to be a regular Wednesday series on here - answering "Ask Mike" questions. Feel free to submit questions either on here or via email. I won't promise that I will get to all of them on here, but I will try to respond to each in one form or another.

One note on these blog posts - they won't be as complete an answer as some would want. It is my goal to keep the response fairly short and readable. There is much more that could be said about any of these questions. I'll just be hitting some of the "big ideas."


My first reaction to this question is why shouldn't bad things happen to good people? Why should we expect that good people should only experience good things? Our belief in this comes from several sources - poor theology that results in inaccurate preaching and teaching, our own sense of "justice"or "fairness", the concept of Karma, etc.

But the fact is that the Bible never promises that this would be the case:

Apostle Paul - "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him." Philippians 1:29

Apostle Peter - "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." I Peter 4:12

Jesus - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble." John 16:33

People suffer bad things for many reasons. We suffer because of our own bad choices. Some of the consequences are fairly minor. You get a speeding ticket or slide off of a slick road because you drive too fast. You pay an overdraft fee to the bank because you spent more money than you had in your account. Others are more severe - broken marriages, financial failure, job loss, jail time. But much of what we suffer comes by our own choices.

But we also suffer because of a fact of history that many choose to ignore: We live in a fallen world. The world that God created as perfect - environmentally, relationally, and spiritually - has been marred by mankind's rebellion against God and desire to assert self. You cannot grasp what you read in the newspaper without understanding this fact. We live in a fallen world with broken people on a broken planet.

So sometimes we suffer because of the bad choices of others. Innocent people suffer because of others' greed and cruelty and hard-hearts. Sometimes we suffer because we live on a planet that has marred by the Fall and damaged by mankind's lack of stewardship to care for that which God interested to us.

And sometimes we suffer because we have an enemy whose goal is to "steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10).

We are not going to avoid bad things in this life. What we can do is take heart that Jesus is with us and he has overcome the evil one.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

We can also choose to let God use bad circumstances in our life to build maturity.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4