Thursday, March 31

Happy Opening Day!



Today is the Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Those who know me well know that I believe this should be a national holiday – that everyone should stay home from school or work and watch baseball today! But, alas, that will not be. However, I will make my annual trek to Kansas City for the Royals’ home opener. I’ll tailgate with three of my best friends from high school and we’ll cheer on the Royals with hearts confident that this will be the year! (You are know we are true fans, because who but true fans would continue to cheer for the Royals after all these years of disappointment.)


In honor of Opening Day and the start of a new season, here is my lists of the best baseball movies and the baseball songs. They aren’t in any particular order. Let me know what you think or what I may have missed …


Best Baseball Movies


The Natural (A little slow in spots, but the final home run is classic.)

A League of Their Own (Even if it is about girls, they can play the game.)

The Rookie (I love stories of people who got to fulfill their dreams.)

Bull Durham (Some of my more conservative friends will probably disagree, but it’s a great and funny baseball movie.)

The Sandlot (A little cheesy but brings back a lot of memories for those of us who spent our summers at ballparks or on schoolyards.)

Eight Men Out (Not every baseball movie is about just the good things and happy endings. Most Royals’ games don’t have either.)

Field of Dreams (Not sure of the metaphysics of it all, but James Earl Jones’ soliloquy on baseball is classic.)


Best Baseball Songs


Who’s on First – Abbott and Costello (A classic who can listen to and laugh at again and again)

A Song About Baseball – Bob Bennett (Wish I could have found this online. A great song on unconditional love set to a baseball theme. Worth the time to track down.)

Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin’ Baseball) – Terry Cashman (This song just got Cashman into Cooperstown. I couldn’t find a link to the original, so here is a link to the Tigers’ version.)

The Cheap Seats – Alabama (We love minor league baseball. Go Naturals – the team that gives us Royals fans hope!)

Centerfield – John Fogerty (Brings back memories of when I coached the Kiwanis Babe Ruth team. Don’t ask.)

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – Edward Meeker (A 1908 version of the baseball classic with verses I had never heard.)


What do you think? What have I missed?

Monday, March 28

Palatable Truth


There is a debate going on among those who minister to Muslims: How far do you go to make the message of Jesus accessible to the Islamic culture? I am not going to go into detail, but would encourage you to read this article from Christianity Today on the conflict. Basically the issue comes down to this: there is Biblical language used of Jesus (specifically “Son of God”) that is “offensive” to many Muslims. So some translations of Scripture have changed that language to something that is more neutral. The result is that there are many Muslims willing to read the Bible and study the life of Jesus with the new translations. But in making the change, have the translators compromised the identity of Jesus and the nature of his relationship with the Father? I’ve not studied or thought about the issue deeply enough to take a side on this issue.


But it does cause me to wonder if, in the US, we have ever become so eager to share the Gospel in a culturally relevant way that we have misrepresented it? Have we, in a noble desire to remove any obstacle, not presented clearly who Jesus is and the implications of following him?


I have served on a university campus right on the buckle of the Bible Belt for almost 29 years. The vast majority of the students on this campus have attended church growing up. They have been involved in FCA or Young Life. They have been exposed to Jesus and most have made some type of statement of faith in him. In other words, they are like their parents and their grandparents.


But I don’t see much transformation among Christians in the US. I see culturally comfortable Americans with a religious habit. Their faith leads them to see Jesus as their friend or their healer or their counselor or their “ace in the hole” when things go wrong. But they don’t see Jesus as their Lord who has something to say about their career and their relationships ands their marriage and how they use their money and time. We have preached a Jesus that is palatable to a self-centered American culture that often doesn’t accurately depict his real identity or the implications of following him.


Currently, our staff is reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Though his words are familiar to many, they are worth repeating:


“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…. Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”


May we, in our desire to make sure that the truth about Jesus is understandable to the world and culture around us, never fail to present the full and complete picture of who he is and what the implications of Biblical faith and grace really are.

Wednesday, March 23

Leadership: The Trap of Pleasing Everyone


After almost 29 years of campus ministry experience I have learned at least one undeniable thing: You cannot please everyone. That hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn. I want people to like me and to like Christ on Campus – our ministry, our worship, our teaching, and our purpose. I want them to want to be a part of what we care doing and the direction we are heading.


But that doesn’t happen. Every leader knows what it is like when people opt for another church, another ministry, another leader that better “meets their needs”. Every time someone decides that Christ on Campus isn’t for them, it hurts a little. When that happens, a part of me wants to say, “Let’s see if we can work something out.”  No matter what I tell myself or others tell me, a part of me takes it a little bit personal. There is a small feeling that it is me they are rejecting.


Yet you never find Jesus running after those who chose not to follow him. Though he looked with love on the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), he didn’t try to “renegotiate” when the young man walked away. And when many chose to no longer follow him (John 6:66), Jesus didn’t chase after them and try to change their minds or soften his stance.


How was Jesus able to deal with this so confidently? Because, as John tells us in John 13:1-4, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do. He knew where he was going and how to get there. So he was content to let those who didn’t share that vision or calling to walk away. Some will choose not to walk with us for a variety of reasons. But if we remember who we are and to what we are called, we can handle this like Jesus.


Those in leadership must have a clear sense of vision and direction. And that doesn’t come through a congregational vote or democratic action. It comes through time spent alone with God, seeking him and searching his Word. It comes as you hammer it out with godly and like-minded leaders who are seeking God with you. If our ministry is driven by the wants and desires of the people or community around us, we are setting ourselves us for disappointment and frustration. If we think our purpose is to gather a crowd or provide entertainment or keep everyone happy, we are looking to please men more than God. In these cases, we are taking our cue and calling from men – not from God.


God’s call on the Church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), bring them to maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28) and equip them for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). These are the values that should shape the vision and direction of our churches and ministries. We have to beware of calendars that are full of activities without substance that keep people involved but produce little maturity. Our campus ministries cannot be “spiritual baby-sitting services” – designed to keep students busy and entertained, making sure that students stay in church and out of trouble.


Not everyone who walks through our doors has this perspective.


Two writers that I resonate with are Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. (I would encourage Christian leaders to read The Tangible Kingdom and AND.) In talking about those who don’t stay, they write:


“Sadly, many people really are satisfied to live as consumers, and they are just looking for a place to hold their beliefs together and to provide a sense of belonging relationally. In other words, all they want are some sermons and some friends. Now, neither of these is bad in and of itself, and any person who grows into a community ought to find that these come naturally; but if they are the only two reasons people are coming to our church, we have to realize they aren’t looking for transformation, either for themselves or for the world.”   AND, p. 106


All of our ministries experience this dynamic. When our ministry has a clear sense of vision and direction, we are better able to deal with those who have yet to catch it. We don’t want to run people off, but we realize that not everyone is at the same place we are. Like Jesus, we teach and cast vision and help others gain a sense of excitement about our calling. We invite them to watch and listen and be a part of what we are doing, but we don’t design our programming around them or change our vision to please them.


One of the traps of Christian leadership is trying to please everyone. When we do that, we lose a sense of ourselves and our calling and fail to please the only one whose opinion ultimately matters. Jesus’ eyes were continually set on his Father and his calling. That shaped what he did and it influenced who chose to follow. And he seemed to be OK with that.

Wednesday, March 9

Misc. Thought: The Girl Effect, a New Favorite Band, and the Ten Greatest Records


Here are a few random thoughts. I hope you enjoy, but mostly I hope they make you think ….


Check out this great video regarding a major problem with some very practical solutions. Also, check out the African Education Resource Center. A couple of our former students (Jenise Huffman and Jene’ Huffman-Gilreath) are on the Board of Directors of this organization that is taking steps to provide resources.




I first heard Gungor at Catalyst last October in Atlanta. I’m usually not a big fan of most Christian bands, but love their style musically and the things they have to say. Here is a video of theirs that has been making the rounds: “God is not a white man”.




Finally, in honor of this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championships, here is a list of the “Ten Most Untouchable” high school track and field records.

Friday, March 4

Spiritual Jazz: Improvisation


There are many things that are attractive about jazz music as a metaphor of the Christian life. Both are built on discipline, commitment, community, and structure. And both should also be marked by a freedom that gives life and adds beauty and blessing to the world. There is a freedom that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the God. I would encourage you to go back to posts from September 24, October 1, November 12, and February 4 to see where we have been.


My last post in this series talked about the place of syncopation in the Christian life. Syncopation is a shifting of the accent, usually by stressing the typically unaccented beats. It’s emphasizing the things that aren’t usually emphasized. Jesus’ life and teachings are great models of spiritual syncopation. He accented things that neither the secular nor religious cultures of his day emphasized.


Another characteristic of jazz that has great implications for the Christian life is improvisation. Here is what Robert Gelinas says about jazz improvisation:


“When jazz musicians take the stage, they are there, in part, to take the risk of composing in the moment – improvisation.


The word ‘improvisation’ derives from the Latin ‘im’ and ‘provisus’, meaning ‘not provided’ or ‘not foreseen’. Improvisation is the willingness to live within the bounds of the past and yet to search for the future at the same time. Improvisation is the desire to make something new out of something old. It is the craving to respect tradition while at the same time leaving one’s own mark. Improvisation is having a plan and yet not being incarcerated by the plan….


It is about being so familiar with one’s instrument of choice, the song, and the essentials that we can trust ourselves to search for the unseen – for what the moment is presenting. When we incorporate improvisation into our faith, freedom follows (for jazz is all about freedom!). Not freedom for freedom’s sake. Rather, freedom within and freedom that results from the good and right standards of our God. Improvisation will keep us from just copying others spiritually and set us free to play a little.”   Robert Gelinas, Finding the Groove, p. 33-34


Improvisation is not possible without the discipline to learn one’s craft and to stay within the “rules” of music, harmony, etc. Improvisation takes those rules and that discipline and then sets them free to explore new territories and to express one’s individuality. One of my favorite examples of jazz improvisation is John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things” played at the Newport Jazz Festival. Though I’m not much of a fan of the original song from The Sound of Music, Coltrane’s version is over seventeen minutes of exploration and individuality. He and his band take the melody, the theme, and follow it into new and wonderful places – always coming back to the foundation of the song.


Scripture is full of examples of spiritual improvisation. Jesus’ life is full of it. He was always open to the will of his Father and the leading of the Holy Spirit. You can see this in the “on the way” incidents in his life – those times when he was “on his way” and followed the Spirit to improvise into something unplanned. The Apostle Paul improvised in Acts 16 when he abandoned his plans to go to Asia and Bithynia and went to Macedonia on the Spirit’s leading.


What keeps us from practicing spiritual improvisation? Some of the more common reasons are:


A failure to listen f0r God or to look for the leading of the Spirit in our lives. Sometimes we don’t slow down enough listen for God. Some aren’t close enough to God to recognize his voice when he speaks through this Word or his Spirit or others. We often live as practical atheists, without much though given to God or what he might be saying as we go about our lives.


Fear can keep us from spiritual improvisation because, by definition, improvisation takes us out of the familiar and into new territories. Some of us prefer the safety of structure, of routine. Improvisation challenges routine. Improvisation takes risks. And many prefer the safety of routine over the excitement of walking on the edge with God.


Busy-ness is a mark that many in our society use to gauge our importance. In reality, it is the curse of our age. We live so rushed and harried that there is no margin for improvisation. If we divert from our planned agenda, we feel guilty. Though Jesus accomplished much during this ministry and launched a movement that changed history, he was never rushed or harried. He always had time to follow the leading of his Father and improvise in ways that brought his Father glory.


For many, our lives are all about ourselves, though we would never say it that way. But we have plans, agendas, and goals for ourselves, our families, our churches, our businesses – for everything in our life. And, if we were painfully honest, we find anything that disrupts those plans to be very aggravating – even if it is God! We have our lives in order, going the direction we want them. Improvisation would just get in the way.


Is your life marked by spiritual improvisation, by the freedom to follow the Holy Spirit to new and exciting places that are on God’s agenda? If so, please share an example where you followed the Spirit!


If this is not true of you, do you want that kind of life? What is getting in your way?