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Trust Your Instruments – the Bible

Even the bigger towns in Iowa seems like small towns everywhere else. So a plane crash is a big deal. The local airport services commuter connectors to Chicago and Minneapolis. The pilots tend to be younger, just starting their aviation careers. Two of them had a day’s layover and decided to take a plane up.  The cloud ceiling hung low and they wanted to log some hours flying in those conditions. Things were great for awhile. That’s why the plane crash came as a shock. No radio or mechanical failure of any kind. No turbulent weather. No medical emergency. A retired air traffic controller who investigated told me the pilots died because they broke one of the first rules of flying; that is, always trust your instruments. Apparently flying in thick soup can cause complete disorientation until the pilot can’t sense which way is up or down. The two in the plane panicked, going with their gut even though the instruments told them they were in a steep dive. They flew the plane straight into the ground.

No one knows how things on university and college campuses will shake out. We’re flying in thick soup. With all the challenges listed in the last post, I won’t be “going with my gut” or asking you to go with yours. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV) True – whether flying a plane or a life. But what can we trust? If all we bring to this moment is a motley stew of things stirred up out of our emotions, glands, opinions and confusion (all seasoned with end-of-term stress and that old reliable poison, self-centeredness), we could be heading for the ground. Is anything tipping us off to another way to go?

I will be using the Bible. The Bible has a voice, an undertow that keeps whispering (even to its critics) that its words can sustain the weight of our souls. It’s bedrock stuff that holds solid in face of our disagreements and aggravations with it. In the book review that comes in every Sunday New York Times, they interview a writer of some note as to their reading habits. What books would we find on your night stand? What books on your shelves would surprise us? Again and again, they cite the Bible and these people inhabit every corner of the metaphysical map. A prominent atheist with a well-travelled website raised a few eyebrows admitting that he intentionally read things he disagreed with to stretch the muscles of his thinking. And so he makes it a point to read the Bible almost daily.

We live in the shadow of a disease bruising many people in many ways. Students bear the weight of end=of-term things alongside survival issues. Faculty and campus ministry staff do triage with students online whose worlds are coming apart. And these same faculty and campus ministry staff simultaneously try to refigure how to do the things they love that drew them onto the campus in the first place. When my doctor hands me a prescription, she never asks for my opinion or preferences. Just take it. And I will gently do the same here. Want something solid that transcends our confusion and pours concrete under our slipping feet? Try Psalm 139. No limit on the dosage. Take it as often as necessary. Twice a day is a good start. There is one more thing laying traction underneath our times. Not a book but a person. His name is Jesus. I pilfered a church sign idea from a Mennonite super market (Sounds a little strange but they do exist.) It said, “Jesus knows me. This I love.”  He does whether we know Him or not. And nothing we can pull from our bag of tricks, shame or nightmares can scare Him away. More on Him next time.

If you think this might encourage college students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If this rings your bell, you might want to consider Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for We’re a mix of students, student ministry staff, professors and administrators, theologians, broadcasters, booksellers, business people, pastors, musicians, visual artists, writers, enterpreneurs and a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that campuses are pretty special places. You jumping in will only make us better. I also invite any questions concerning Christian faith and living. No names required but I do reserve the right to aask follow up questions to dignify your good question with a good answer.

It Takes a Smackdown to Open Our Ears

The ground isn’t supposed to move. When everything starts to shake and bake we can hug it with everything we have and we should be okay – we hope. In a famous picture taken a few miles from Mt. St. Helens, that’s what one climber thought. As the top of the mountain blew away,  he instinctively collapsed to the ground. They made it but what if the ground starts shaking everywhere and won’t stop? Corona has that feel to it, doesn’t it? It’s the “black hole” that swallows everything around us and sucks everything out of us if we let it. It has our attention like nothing in recent memory. With all kinds of stay-at-home orders and shut downs in place, a lot of what we know as “normal” has been swept off the radar for the undetermined future.

Huge changes shake everyone’s tree and higher education doesn’t draw a pass. People outside the loop just think that students pack up and go home. What’s the big deal? A wide swath of big deals sprout up like poisonous weeds.  In posts to come, I will look at what campus people (student ministry workers, professors, etc.) tell me they see.  But one thing cries for attention: these are prime times to hear the voice of God. Life smacking us down can open our ears to hear Him in ways that we just don’t when everything seems stable. You know…the way we like it.

Meet Saul of Tarsus, a man burning with hate and the architect of his own success. Saul was the whole package – a Pharisee to the marrow of his bones. He sported a pedigreed, elite education having studied with Gamaliel, a highly revered teacher. He hated the Jesus followers with a muscled passion. How could Jesus say He was God? How could people buy it? The priests and scribes knew they had a rocket to ride in this one; Saul was making good connections promising a prestigious future. Maybe the Sanhedrin! And then one day on the road to Damascus, as he rode carrying arrest warrants and Jewish expense money for the trip, the unthinkable hit him like someone kissing a load of falling bricks. Everything he believed, everything he’d worked for, all the trappings of Saul’s carefully stacked life smashed so flat that not even pieces remained. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” He would sit blind for three days…gives one time to think over being wrong about most of one’s life. And Saul didn’t know it would be three days. He might be like this the rest of his life. Smackdown.

Meet Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, God appears to this guy who has the spirituality of a turnip and makes huge, God-sized promises to him. As I write and as you read, the two of us are part of the fulfillment of what God offered Him. Who in blazes is this guy? Abraham looked for God about as much as I look for Ben and Jerry’s to come out with two new flavors – asparagus cream and liver whip. Everything worked for, familiar and known pitched in the dumpster. But now, in what takes us seconds to read, he must  leave everything behind that he knows to go…where? He had no idea. He would go when God said “go” and stop when He said  “stop”. Abraham threw all the vital concerns of life, all his ambitions and dreams, to the wind of the voice of God. Smackdown.

Meet Jonah. How he hated the Ninevites! Nothing described the venom that boiled inside him over those people. Was there good reason? Maybe there was no good reason; since when does hate need a reason? God could have chosen anyone to go to Nineveh. Why him? What was God thinking? Well He could just get Himself another boy. Those people could all go to hell on a flaming roller coaster and slowly roast to death five excruciatingly painful times over. Jonah was out of here heading the other way. Don’t ever try to run away from God. You may or may not be a Christian. It doesn’t matter. God exists; His face is Jesus. Argue if you like. Ask all the questions you like. Flex the muscles of doubt. But do not try to run away or hide from God. Jonah spent three days bathed in stomach acids lying in darkness listening to the digestive organs of a whale. And the smell… As God appears to have vomiting whales in His retrieval repertoire, we ignore Him at our own risk. Smackdown.

Meet Job. When God brags on us in the face of Satan, we have something on our fastball.  That was Job; he could carry across-the-board prosperity without it pulling his heart away from God. And God knew it. Suddenly the bottom dropped out of his life. Thieves stole his livestock, killing his servants. His house collapsed in a storm crushing all his children. Overlapping boils and sores covered his body. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends proved to be self-righteous fixers. He fights to maintain his innocence but no one believes him. Where is God? Smackdown.

The ground on campuses is shaking. Nobody really knows when it will stop. What will education and our lives look like when it does? Graduations cancelled. New jobs eagerly sought and hard won on indefinite hold. A semester’s work on shaky ground. Grad work derailed due to faciliity shutdown. Student independence curtailed and stressed by moving back in with families. Students shut in with families not much like the Waltons. International students with nowhere to live as dorms close. On campus or college town jobs badly needed to pay for school shut down. A population that already faces emerging genetic mental health issues now grapples with social and relational deprivation. One professor fielded student emails asking for an extension because two grandparents had died within the last week. Another needed more time to complete a paper due to high fever. Smackdown.

Smackdowns are good times to listen for God to speak something new into our lives. When everything else in our lives seems bolted down like we’re used to, somewhat under our control, falling out along lines that we like left alone, His voice gets murky. Maybe even ignored or taken for granted. C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.” God, being God, not only shouts but can play the bagpipes and crash cymbals at the same time. We are in such times. Could be time to listen. Smackdowns don’t leave anyplace to look but up.

If you think this might encourage college students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If this rings your bell, you might want to consider Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for We’re a funky mix and I mean that in the best possible way. Adding your funk (And you do have some because Jesus put it in you.) to the pile would only make us better. I also am open to any questions you have about the Christian faith and living it. Just shoot it to me at No names required but I do reserve the right to ask clarifying questions to dignify your question with a decent answer.


Send Josheb-Basshebeth Some Brownies…

You gotta love biblical names. What were some biblical parents thinking? Isaiah named one of his sons Maharshalalhashbaz. Yes, it describes a partial fulfillment of prophecy but really! A list of names like this jams II Samuel 23:8-39; a list even Dr. Suess couldn’t spit out. Give it a try. And outside this passage, nobody ever heard of these people (with one exception in verse 39). So why did the Holy Spirit think it important to include them here? Quite simply, these guys had David’s back and he would have been nothing without them. Hidden in this tongue twisting list of names lies the nugget of a story. David and his army were in campaign against the Philistines. He made an offhand comment about how great it would be to have a taste of water from the well of his old hometown Bethlehem. He wasn’t dying of thirst; it was an exaggerated comment we make when we say we’re starving or dying of thirst (and we’re not). But three of them penetrate some heavy Philistine defenses to bring back a slurp or two for David. Man, did he freak when he found out what they’d done. You did what!!!  They’d laid it on the line for him and it wasn’t a one shot deal. Over thirty more walked with David through times good and bad. Without them, he winds up a dart board for Saul’s spears.

For a lot of us, graduation (or at least the hope of it) comes up fast. But the semester is still young. Remember the Josheb-Basshebeth’s while you can. Nobody pomps their way through the circumstances leading to a degree alone. Some mighty men and women have had our back. Most of the world will never know of or remember them. Will we? Over the next few months, we still have time to say something, write a note, share a bagel or do something that tells one of our mighty men (or women), “I couldn’t have gotten here without you.”  Scripture says that one the first signs that spiritual death is eating on our cracker is ingratitude (Romans 1:21) Don’t let ourselves get numb to real impact, a real redemption footprint we can leave behind. Here are some places to start.

Family   You knew this. Some of us will be the first in the family to graduate from college. We will walk the stage on the shoulders of the prayers of great hearts who walk with us in spirit. The depth of character and wisdom, the monuments they were and are, never saw the inside of a classroom or maybe never could finish. Others in our families worked extra jobs or did without so their student could have. Some made it possible for us to finish debt free; kiss their hand. When the music starts and the line we’re in begins to move, walk proudly – and gratefully.

Roommates and friends  Aren’t they same thing? After almost four years, we know this isn’t always true. Either way, some of these people will stick with us through the years. We’ve lived a lot of life together, seen each other through the good and bad, the goofy and the serious, the exciting and the mundane. Real friends show up in person even if they’re on Facebook. We’re rich to have two or three. Don’t let these months slip away without saying important words face to face and celebrating.

Faculty   Before I get to the profs we had, let’s go “retro”. What about school teachers before college? Teachers concentrate on the students at hand so it’s easy to lose track of so many who went before.  The stories filtering back aren’t always pretty. If we didn’t cross this ‘T’ of gratitude in high school (and we probably didn’t), we can catch up here. A college prof or two had more than a finger in the pie as we grew into the people we are over the last four years or so. Profs deserve a break!  While many students work hard, the average professor also remembers the coffee downing zombie apprentices in many classes looking for the easy ‘C’, three credits and out the door. Sometimes profs touch our lives in things outside the classroom – the head of the campus radio station, the jazz band director, a community services director. Did a Christian on the faculty step up to be a sponsor for our Christian group? Going public with their faith carries some risk. They did it because they remember their own student days and the campus group that meant a lot to them. They love students. Staff like dorm heads or the bookstore manager. How about the university president who has a job almost nobody wants keeping the lid on our school long enough for us to get a pretty good education?

Campus ministry staff   We’re graduating and moving on into careers and ministry like shredded wheat management or meeting the needs of extra-terrestrials whose transport is in the body shop and they can’t navigate American currency. But that campus ministry staff person is staying and will be there for that next group of freshmen who will be as insecure as we were four years ago. They listened to our crazy ideas and the ruminations of our hearts that never seemed to come to a head until after midnight. They would help us struggle through doubts without treating us like heretics who should be run slowly through a cheese grater. And they did this gladly while living on sometimes sixty percent of a salary other pledged to give but sometimes just hasn’t shown up. Aren’t we glad they were there?

Locals    Many students don’t get to know anybody in the community during their time on campus. I remember the townspeople in local churches who embraced all of us Jesus Freaks, loving us through our “fruitcake” phases of early faith and giving us solid examples of what mature Christian living, marriages and family looked like. A local woman, a retired missionary, ran a small bookstore from the card tables on her sun porch. She was Yoda and Gandalf rolled into one for us. Before I left campus in the spring, I would take her a long-stemmed red rose. It was one of the smartest things I did in four years of college. 

Some who we think are above needing encouragement   I cannot imagine my life without God’s using books to play into my life. I’ll tell you a dirty little secret. Many of the best known writers, speakers, musicians, etc. quietly wonder if it’s not more than a mouthful of ashes – the books, concerts, etc. They come into sunset seasons of life wondering if it made any difference at all. And our social media world only allows for the shallowest bursts of immediate feedback. Am I suggesting sending brownies to John Piper or moose jerky to Eugene Petersen? How about getting out the Crayolas to draw a picture that N.T. Wright can put on the fridge with a magnet? Maybe the five points of Calvinism on a hand made of popsicle sticks for Tim Keller? It’s simpler than that. At the right moment, nothing absolutely drips with the power of God as a handwritten note. Take the hint. Just sayin’.

If you think this might encourage college students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If this rings your bell, you might want to consider Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for We’re a funky mix and I mean that in the best possible way. Adding your funk (And you do have some because Jesus put it in you.) to the pile would only make us better. I also am open to any questions you have about the Christian faith and living it. Just shoot it to me at No names required but I do reserve the right to ask clarifying questions to dignify your question with a decent answer.


Are You In a Good Place Or What?

When we get to be sixty-six, nobody is too surprised when we start forgetting things or acting a little strange. But when we do strange things all along the way, that’s another matter altogether. So I have a sort of confession to make. One of the things I do to get away, to refresh and recharge, even on a number of vacations is (wait for it…) to visit university campuses. And I don’t mean good Christian colleges where Jesus plays Catan in the union with the Apostle Paul, Francis of Assisi, C.S. Lewis and members of the band Switchfoot. I mean liberal, secular, faith warping (So say some.), God hating (So say some.), alcohol and sex saturated (These are there.), society polluting (So say some.), values corrupting (So say some.) institutions oozing with demonic pus and evil of all kinds (So say some.)  I just love these places. Books that limit universities to what I just said are out there but not on the “Great Reads” page of this blog. Nor can they be bought from Hearts and Minds Books or sold at places like Jubilee, Urbana and the Passion Conferences.

Why do I do this, love these places, seek them out? I just need to be somewhere I can feel the Holy Spirit ripple across the grass! And you, returning or beginning student, get to live or drive here every day for the next few months! When I speak to students in the fall, I take special pains to identify the freshmen (freshers in Canada) and tell them this. If God wanted to do one single thing to build into someone all they needed to love Him for the rest of their lives, to live with sustainable resilience that could meet any and all life situations, to lean into life with a cutting edge that brings His life to any and all circumstances we might encounter and to live with joy, intimacy and satisfaction running deeper than emotion and having a bottom deeper than the blackest depression – He would place us on a university campus.

Christians in student ministry groups get calluses on their walk with God, learn how to take a punch, get some dirt on their faith. And you will get to pump much spiritual iron this year. Here are some of the ways.

1.) THE WORLD WILL COME TO YOUR CAMPUS. Globalism is little more than something on TV or the internet. But students from places most people can’t find come to the American campus, even to the smallest schools. We can meet the world in the hallways outside our dorm room. Make friends with as many of these as we can.

2.) OUR CAMPUS IS THE INCUBATOR FOR BOTH MUCH THAT WILL FLOW INTO THE SURROUNDING CULTURE IN YEARS (MONTHS?) AHEAD BUT ALSO FOR MUCH THAT BOTH GOD AND THE EVIL ONE LAUNCH FOR THEIR PURPOSES. Start paying attention to bulletin boards and student newspapers (especially student produced ones as opposed to official ones). They’re telling us things.

3.) BEING ON CAMPUS TAKES THE PLUNGE INTO THE REAL WORLD WHERE WE WILL SPEND THE REST OF OUR LIVES. DON’T WASTE IT. Parents want to protect us as long as they can. We did with our kids. That’s why there’s a new freshman somewhere this fall with a parachute under their bed. Mom and Dad aren’t there to take care of us so we’d better have one just in case. Faith is like a muscle; it grows by working against resistance.

4.) WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN TO THINK. We assume that this is what higher education is about. Sometimes it’s about embracing only those points of view branded as okay. Sometimes students just zombie their way through classes doing minimums to pick up the credits. But the great ideas that shape lives and cultures still cry out for a hearing and a good chew. Meeting big ideas on their own turf builds mental and spiritual muscle – a sharpened mind. We’d be amazed where Jesus Christ can take that.

5.) I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO LOVES THE CAMPUS; THE LORD LOVES THEM TOO. A hidden but juicy part of Christian history was, and is being written, on university campuses. Some things on the “Great Reads” page of this blog tell those stories. But know for sure that Jesus Christ knows your campus and smiles whenever He thinks about it.

Some good advice for the new year, freshmen or not? Try here and here. Advice from upperclassmen? Try here. Some old timers? Try here or here. Advice from an old dog who emerges unannounced from the woods to speak in large groups in the US and Canada for the last 34 years? Got you right here. And if all these don’t say anything to you, please don’t fluff the following. A father gave his son beginning at Cambridge this advice in 1777.

“Rise early. Shun idleness. Read the Bible with prayer. Take care that your bed be thoroughly dry and lay for the first night in your waistcoat, breeches and stockings. Don’t let spiritual immaturity make you arrogant or excessive. Be chaste, sober and humble. Keep a diary. Study standing up. And every other morning attend your mouth and clean it well with snuff [read smokeless tobacco], which I find of great service to my teeth.” Doesn’t that just say it all? Could I possibly add anything to that?

If you think anything here might encourage a student or someone who loves them, then share, Twitter, subscribe and all those social media things. If we already subscribe, than maybe we need to be part of Geezer 1. It’s mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, pastors, administrators, artists, theologians, writers, musicians, composers, business people, broadcasters, booksellers, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs, a few campus rats and one Goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. Take a look. You will only make us better.

See you next post at



Choices – The Dust of Death or the Juices of Life. Pick One – Mt 9:9-10

Choices, we make many of them every day often without thinking. I hit Little Caesar’s and pick pepperoni over plain for five bucks. The world doesn’t shift on its axis. But sometimes what seems like a small choice can become huge. My wife and I hike. By hiking, I don’t mean a few laps around a city park for exercise. We’ve hiked up and down most of the mountains in the eastern United States, doing fifty-seven miles in our last vacation and nineteen miles in one day. We don’t talk much on hikes; nature is just too spectacular to miss by chit chatting. But never let the beauty of nature fool us. Nature doesn’t hold one drop of mercy. It demands respect on its own terms and can turn nasty very quickly if it doesn’t get it. Whether we’re climbing, kayaking or canoeing, fishing or hiking – we must play by nature’s rules and there’s no elastic in them at all. Even people experienced in the wilderness who swear on a stack of Bibles that everyone should go by all the procedures, protocols and cautions sometimes bend nature’s rules and pay for it.

Almost two thousand years ago, a guy named Matthew sat at his job not knowing that the end of the day would be different; one choice capped by a decision made in a second would change everything. Matthew collected taxes from his own people, the Jews, for the Romans. This earned him contempt and hatred from his people, disgrace and shame from his family. He did have money as the Romans didn’t care if he skimmed off a little something for himself as long as they got their cut. And his life was in peril every day. A group called the Zealots believed in and sought the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation.  Assasinations of low-level traitors were quite common with the Romans looking the other way as long as the Jews killed off their own people. There were always more who would sell out.

How did Matthew get here? Choices. Had he been born into poverty? Poverty in childhood leaves huge marks, both good and bad. Did he see this as his only way out? Was he rebelling against Dad? People make some crazy choices to forcibly break away and tick Dad off in the process. How can I stick the old man? This would do it. Maybe he ran with a rebellious peer group, the cool guys who thumbed their nose at everyone and everything. Roman authorities all over the empire looked for these guys and knew how to play them. Choices, driven by self-centeredness and emotion, some seemingly small and made in an instant, can land us in strange places we never imagined.

What did Matthew have? I mean really? He had money. Money isn’t everything. It’s nice to have to pay for rehab, therapy and other mop-ups of the debris of poor choices. But the rest is just stuff. I know this is a tough sell to college students who accrue student loans and work extra jobs that hinder study time. At a student retreat, I sat picking the brains of a number of students as to what would be good to include for care packages sent to college students from our church. “Blank checks for next semester,” one fired back. Matthew probably had little self-respect. Every day, a stream of people stood in front of him with their eyes saying, “I have to pay you but I don’t have to respect you. You’re filth.” And deep down, Matthew must have felt the pangs of knowing the Romans owned him; he was a dancing bear for “The Man”. Knowing he really was a sellout oozed up through the pavement of all his rationalizations and denials. How about any sense of meaning and/or purpose? Was this it? All there ever would be? Even that wasn’t a big concern as Matthew’s life would not likely go on much longer. Paranoia had to be the cherry capping the sundae because somebody was out to get him.

Enter Jesus. Matthew had to have owned some prior knowledge of Him. Scads of anonymous people passed his door every day. Why jump and leave it all for this one? He certainly had heard things; Jesus had been busy. Miracles of extreme healing and casting out demons. Teaching that blew the socks off rabbinic scholars. Maybe he’d even laid eyes on Jesus from a distance. That might have been as close as Matthew ever thought he’d get. And that’s why Jesus standing in his doorway captured Matthew with two words, “Follow Me.” (v.9) The best spiritual teachers of the day didn’t walk up and down the street saying to complete strangers, “Hey, buddy, you want to study with me?” The students came to them and many were turned away. Now here stood…Him. Now Matthew had an offer to really think about, a choice worth a hard look.

Something important about choices – we can choose any road we want but we cannot choose where the road goes. Where did leaving the tax office take Matthew? He never could have imagined. “A greater story is being told, beyond the things you see and hold. The pictures turn in perfect time…” (from Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow). He would heal the sick, cast out demons, hold a basket of leftovers from Jesus feeding over 5000 people with a kid’s lunch, see hurricane force wind smacked down with a word and see this one saying “Follow me” both crucified and risen from the dead. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13,14) I’m still learning what that choice to follow Jesus means for me so I don’t know what it might mean for you. But, just like with Matthew, He has shown us all enough so that nobody will be able to say they didn’t know (See Romans 1:19,20) And what do we have anyway really worth hanging onto and squatting in our stuff when Jesus stand on the threshold of our life and says “Follow me?”

If you think this might encourage a student or someone who loves them, then share, tweet, subscribe and all that social media stuff. And take a look at something on Facebook called Geezer 1. It’s a bunch of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, musicians, writers, broadcasters, booksellers, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs, pastors, business people, theologians, a few campus rats and a Goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. You coming on board would only make us sharper.

See you next post at

The Four Week Window

I watched a gang of incoming freshmen wandering campus sporting T-shirts, caps and backpacks with school logos and colors. They were doing the summer orientation thing. Freshman insecurity often makes us do two things. We posture being cool, with it and on top of things to our peers. And we gape at everything like we’ve stepped into Oz. We posture that we’re the Munchkins (We’ve got this place down.) and hope not too many notice that we feel like feel like Toto (This place could get us down.). By now the checks and online bank payments have cleared the bank and milk crates of stuff sit in the corner of suite rooms. In fact, we do belong to this place now. And now we get to figure out what daily life will look like in this place many of us will call home by Thanksgiving and/or Christmas break (This will drive a stake through the hearts of some parents.). See the picture at the right? This is Penn State University but it could be a lot of places. What’s going on? A “Ramen Noodles for Greater World Karma” rally? Free day old bread give away at Jimmy John’s? No, this is 14067472_10154264247171131_2915045424681020234_nclub day. Called Involvement Day, Bronco Bash, Welcome Expo – it’s a day when every group makes it’s pitch for new people and what groups they are! Yes, there’s French Club. But also we might see something like “The Harpoon Catchers Society”, “A Capella Ping Pong”, “Vegans for the Re-election of Millard Fillmore”, or the “Zombie Quilt Guild”. I’m not stretching much here. And there’s free stuff!  Food (cookies, burgers, dogs), cup cozies, pads and pens, fridge magnets, African animals of all shapes and sizes and carnivorous plants – it’s all there. See the picture just below ? How surprised that guy will be to find an armadillo in that free backpack! Just kidding!

But mixed in with those other groups will be a bunch of Christian campus ministries. Their leaders have been busting their tails for this moment like the Blue Man Group on steroids. Along with showing presence with all the other student gr14034996_10154264251916131_5759236989816583616_noups, they all know they fight a running battle against the four-week window. What’s that? Well, first of all, the four-week window is not how long semi done Ramen noodles can lay in a suite bathroom sink before they grow green fuzz long enough to  put cornrows in. It’s not how long into the semester before the dorm cleaning crew runs screaming from the building and enters therapy at the university health center. The four-week window describes the idea that by the time students returning to campus have been there about a month, they will have settled on their personal involvements and time investments outside of class. New friendships will be jelling. Christian groups all want to be in on the ground floor of that – rightly so. And the ones who can really help this effort to reach new students are the returning students. You are the pros from Dover! (old movie remix – M*A*S*H) You know the ropes and remember how it was coming in. Most important, you know how much Jesus Christ changed your life that first year and what those friend have come to mean. So sign up, get out there asking interesting survey questions, shake hands and hand out free parrots.

And while we’re thinking about what will capture our time and who we will hang with, let’s not let the Atomic Monopoly Fellowship (although they’re great people) absorb all our discretionary time. Ditto for Facebook and gaming. Christians returning to campus already know about the Christian groups at their place. They are not hard to find. A quick look at the Blogroll on this blog will show many of them if we need help. Meanwhile some good advice from some old dogs like me. First, A.E. Housman –

“If you knew that there was One greater than yourself, Who knows you better than you can know yourself, and loves you better than you can love yourself, Who can make you all you ought to be, steadier than your squalid nature, able to save you from squandering your glorious life, Who searches you beyond the standards of earth…One Who gathered into Himself all great and good things and causes, blending into His beauty all the enduring color of life, Who could turn your dreams into visions, and make real the things you hoped were true, and if that One had ever done one unmistakable thing to prove, even at the price of blood – His own blood – that you could come to Him, and having failed, come again. Would you not fall at His feet with the treasure of your years, your powers, service and love? And is there not one such (Jesus), and does He not call you?

Next, Philips Brooks –

“The great hunger everywhere is for life. All things are reaching up towards it. All living things are craving an increase of it. Into this world comes Christ and announces Himself as that world’s Savior and satisfier, in virtue first of his bestowal of vitality…’I come to you here that you may live, that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.’ So speaks Christ to the student. And with great trust and great hope and happy soberness (read intensity)…believing truth, rejoicing in duty, the student goes forward into ever-deepening life. Of such life, and of brave, earnest students entering into its fullness, may this new year…be full.”

And lastly, Henry Venn’s advice to sending his son, John, off to Oxford in 1777.

“Rise early. Shun idleness. Read the Bible with prayer. Take care that your bed be thoroughly dry and lay for the first night in your waistcoat, breeches and stockings. Don’t let spiritual immaturity make you arrogant or excessive. Be chaste, sober and humble. Keep a diary. Study standing up. And every other morning attend your mouth and clean it well with snuff, which I find of great service to my teeth.”

Doesn’t that just say it all? Could I possibly add anything to that? 

If you think this might encourage college students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If this rings your bell, you might want to consider Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse It’s a funky mix and I mean that in the best possible. Adding your funk to the pile would only make us better. I also am open to any questions you have about the Christian faith and living it. Just shoot it to me at No names required but I do reserve the right to ask clarifying questions to dignify your question with a decent answer.

Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at

What Is Green and White and Has 96,000 Legs?


I don’t know but…it’s crawling up your back!! Arghh, old bad joke – sorry. The real answer, framed in “Jeopardese” is, “The answer, Alex, is ‘what is the returning student population of Michigan State University?'” Maybe we’re a rookie or maybe an upperclass veteran. Maybe we’re inching our way up dorm stairs around somebody hauling a couch to the fourth floor. Or maybe we’re exploring that flush of freedom of the first off campus apartment even if it’s a hole that still has cave paintings from the last inhabitants. Maybe there’s even that eerie feeling of starting over as we begin grad school. Jesus Christ has two words for us. One is “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) In context, Jesus merely talks about the renewal of the cosmos and not something big like the miraculous healing of our grade point average. But we need to take a breath amidst unpacking to savor…

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Identity – Being Clean. It’s Worth Feeding and Protecting

It was the sixties and we were students. Woodstock happened my sophomore year. The Vietnam War gobbled up all the flunked out college students who lost their student deferments as if they were popcorn. Drugs, sex and rebellion (often violent) made up the air much of a generation would breathe. Nobody looked for Jesus Christ to show up in the middle of all that. But that’s exactly when He shows up. The Jesus Movement bubbled up on campuses like spring mushrooms. Something weird came over a lot of us with no prompting or Bible beating from anyone; we stopped swearing. Profanity was rebellion; a lot of our music swore. Many college students celebrate the heady air of being away from home by swearing a lot. We couldn’t say a sentence without two or three F-bombs.

And then it stopped, just dropped away while we learned to love Jesus, did the Jesus stuff and plugged through school. We didn’t realize it until it had been gone for a while. Jesus said, “…his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45) Simply, what comes out of our mouth is what we are full of. We didnt decide to stop saying nasty words; we caught the Holy Spirit in the act of actually making us clean. The Bible calls this holiness. If forgiveness is all we think about when we think of Jesus’ work on the cross, we’re missing a lot. As the Holy Spirit indwells us, He brings an infusion of something called holiness. Holiness gets bad press. It doesn’t mean acting weird even pursuing it will set us apart from the crowd. It doesn’t mean giving up everything even though when we go after something hardcore, other things get laid aside – even things we might once have loved. (See Hebrews 12:1) Holiness describes the unique quality of the sinlessness of God. It’s not about God’s sinless performance or a possible inability on His part to sin (like sinlessness is part of His job description). It’s who He is at the core of His heart. But doesn’t the Bible say that “God is Love”? (I John 4:8) Yes, but it also says, “…holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.” (Isaiah 6:3) Think of a brilliance greater than a thousand suns, a beauty eclipsingimg027 the Royal Botanical Gardens of Canada (see picture), an expansive greatness that could drop the Grand Canyon into a thimble and a power thundering over a hundred Niagaras. Without being crass or blasphemous, imagine a huge York peppermint patty stuffed into our spirit. Now think of all that loose and roaming free inside us. Taste it once and all the appetites for anything else that might promise deep and/or ultimate satisfactions wither away.

Holiness also encompasses the removal of the filth of shame. God does not inflict shame: He is the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3). Guilt and shame aren’t the same thing. Shame coats everything we are with a vulgar film tainting everything we long for or hold dear. Nothing in time and space removes it – not counselling and medication, not self-help tinkering or the self-deception of alternative spiritualities. Not only does it stick, it eats. It  paralyzes and defines us, even under the shallow cover of appearing to have it all together. Shame accuses; it’s the tool of choice in the evil one’s bag. will bWe’re worthless and we always will be. No one will love us because we’re not worth it. Nothing we dream of will ever happen because we’re losers. When Jesus enters our lives, He blasts this crud off the walls of our soul and relines our inner being with the beauty of His holiness. It’s terribly important to know the ring of the voice of God here. In Psalm 51:8, David says, “…let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Ever had a broken bone? No doubt about where the trouble is, right? The pain is specific and we do whatever it takes to get things right. Remember the last time we had the flu? Ached all over but nowhere in particular, right? When the Holy Spirit speaks into our lives, He comes with great precision speaking pointedly into our lives and moving us to concrete action of whatever it takes to put things right with God and others. Nobody suffers a compound leg fracture to say, “It’s not a good time to rush to the ER. It can wait till the weekend.” Shame makes us ache in spirit: we hurt everywhere over nothing in particular. The evil one peppers us with accusations, misplace guilt feelings over pain inflicted on us by others, false guilt over things not our fault at all and over sin God has already forgiven. We’re left deflated and paralyzed to wallow in our own ooze. And we do.

We’ve seen the guy with the brand new car parking across two or three parking spaces so no one can get close enough to scratch or dent his new baby. Keeping the beauty and sheen of this cleanness of God’s holiness stands as one of the best motivations to follow and love Jesus well instead of spewing our self-centeredness all over what Jesus Christ has done. When that happens we feel that corrosive stain we sadly know so well begin again to spread and must come back to Jesus Christ for a hosing down of mercy and grace. On the outside, I want to take what Jesus Christ did in me and get it covered with dirt, dents and dings from taking it full-bore into the world He died for. As He held nothing back for me, I want to run right up to my last breath with the pedal to the floor and the wheels ready to fall off. But the inside I want to keep His holy cleanness as pristine as possible as only then can all this beauty that Jesus can work in a life breathe into the fibers of my bone and spirit.

Got a question about the Christian life? I do. Feel free to send it along to No names required. I reserve the right to ask clarifying questions so I can dignify your question with a better answer.

If you think this might encourage a student or someone who loves students, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. You might be interested in Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, artisans, composers, business people, booksellers, broadcasters, pastors, theologians, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs and a few campus rats and a Goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks the university is a special place. Take a look and see.

Please return your seat to the upright position and give the infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at

Identity – Sonship: Belonging to the Right Person So We Can Stop Giving Ourselves to Shabby Things.

We need to belong. It pulsates deep beneath the daily stuff and drives us a lot more than we know. I sat in a college speech class listening to a girl hotly slice and dice the Greek system on campus. I felt a nudge from the next row. Dom was usually asleep so this sign of life surprised me. “She didn’t get chosen by any of the sororities.” The next semester, she made a pledge class and all the cruel insensitive injustices laid on in that speech evaporated. Belonging. We can wind up in strange places, embarrassing ourselves and violating our deepest values in search of belonging.

Remember playground games? Everybody finds out what they’re worth right out there in front of everybody. The leaders start choosing up sides. The second ones picked immediately become the scout advising the leader who to go for until almost everyone is gone. I don’t know who gets the worst rap. The last person doesn’t get chosen at all; they just slump over to join a group that doesn’t want them. There’s just no one else left. But the next-to-last person get taken only because they don’t want the last guy. Being chosen ascribes value; makes us grow an inch. I’m not adopted but have known quite a few people who were. Yes, I get the quest to eventually find out who this person was that gave us up for adoption. But there’s more. Even though somebody appeared to give us away, somebody else wanted us badly enough to go to a lot of trouble to pull it off. Mountains of paperwork and legal hoops. Money (adoption fees, legal expense and, in some cases, bribes). Background checks. Overseas travel. Huge shift of life routine and direction. All done gladly because somebody wants us.

Knowing Jesus Christ births powerful things in our deep places. “…you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15) “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1). The “we” in I John gets special emphasis here. Who gets to be chosen to be children of God? People like us! Messed up, wounded, stuck on ourselves, responsible for serious pain in others lives and our own, not really caring about what God thinks – you know, US.  We are far more likely to be a hot mess than a hot commodity. John wrote this in amazement and we should read it the same way. What makes us such a prize? What makes us the first pick? This may take a minute or two. If the list looks pretty short and negotiable, we’re standing on the edge of mercy and grace.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve have taken the big bite and are now hiding in the buff in the bushes. This is no cutesy kid’s fable to fill in the gap until science figures out what really happened. Even though He already knows exactly where they are and why, God comes looking for them. Knowing their blatant sin, God could have turned the Garden of Eden onto a landfill and walked away. How about that gang known as the prophets? Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and all those others all rolled together at the end of the Old Testament – what a fun crew! God didn’t send this jolly bunch to condemn Israel. If He wanted to do that, all He had to do was to leave them alone.

Then He came down to us Himself. And not in the form of some pompous jerk wanting everyone to line up to kiss His pinky ring. God was in Jesus Who told stories (in Luke 15) about how one lost sheep is worth leaving ninety-nine to find, how one lost coin is worth ransacking a house for, how one rebellious and self-centered child is worth waiting for with love and a hug as long as it takes. Jesus also extended great and generous invitations. “…if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38) And He freely paid the adoption fees and costs which were pretty steep; it took everything He had. He gave till it hurt and more. “…you were ransomed, …not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…” (I Peter 1:18-19)

God adopts children from His enemies, people like us who blow Him off, mess Him over without a care and tell Him to butt out of our lives and to go jump off a bridge. While these words may never cross our lips, they echo and bounce around inside our hearts like a super ball in a tile bathroom. Knowing that, He still chases us down. And, when our plunges back into darkness confuse us that God speaks only when we’re talking, He chases us down again. And God is exceedingly generous with His children. My grandchildren love to go shopping with my son-in-law. you just never know what may end up in the cart or what unplanned stops the car might make. They’re never disappointed. Without spoiling them, God loves to give to His children in ways like we’ve never seen giving before. “He who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things.” (Romans 8:32) When I was thirteen, I wanted a bass violin. I know that’s not every thirteen year old’s dream but jazz had captured me. Musicians will understand. My Dad said he didn’t have the money to buy one but he would let me go earn the money. So I went out, got my first job and took away much more than a bass violin. The gifts God gives His kids have so much more than what we ask for packed into them.

Do we want to be wanted? Do we want to belong? Do we want to be loved? Do we want these badly enough to stop running away and hiding from Someone who wants us so badly that He’s paid whatever it cost and won’t quit coming after us no matter how obnoxious we can make ourselves? Do we want to stop running from Jesus Christ and His cross?

Do you have questions about the Christian faith? After forty-six years, I still do. I’m open to any question you have, anytime. Just email me at You don’t have to include your name. I reserve the right to ask a clarifying question or two if needed so I can dignify your question with a good answer.

If you think this might encourage a college student or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, tweet and all that social media stuff. Take a look at Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, musicians, composers, writers, artists, pastors, theologians, business people, booksellers, broadcasters, artisans, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs, a few campus rats and a Goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place.

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Identity – Justification. Coming Clean, Kicking Our Ghosts in the Rump and Really Going Free…

Sam, a friend, had life nailed. Getting a late start on college, he blasted through everything finishing with a high GPA and a smooth move into a career he loved. One day a single complaint brought police detectives to his home where they found questionable pictures in his computer. His name splashed across the front page of the newspaper, his mug shot as well. He did time and tried to make the best of it. On a visit, Sam showed me the homemade Monopoly set he and other inmates made. He wore a cross made from a mop strand. One night, the other men in the cell with him found out why Sam was there and beat him up. Upon getting out, his dream job would be gone forever, his education largely trashed. He could never own a computer or any device with online capability. Nor could he live within certain distances from schools or other buildings where children might be.  He would be subject to inspections without notice. Any attempt to find a job would inevitably arrive at the application question, “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” Background checks would confirm that. Sam will walk through, breathe the air of and live in this terrain the rest of his life. Ten seconds in a computer will lay bare a life no one might suspect on the outside.

Stuff follows us like ghosts and shadows. We hear about people losing jobs in colleges because years before, they lied about degrees they’d said they’d earned. We might say and think we’re moving on but stuff lingers and resurfaces – often at bad times and in bad ways. These things don’t include the junk other people dump into us from their mess (read “sin”) that turn our souls into landfills. I mean things we work hard to shut up, sit on and squelch that we’ve done to ourselves, other people and, more importantly, to God. Things we cringe and wince at when they pop up unbidden even after years. Conscience used to be our guide but now our compass has a bent needle. Culture and society find the whole idea of anything being sin to be a nasty inconvenience except for the sin of not getting our way.

Because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Justified – it’s a legal word meaning not only to be declared to be not guilty, but that the record of our offenses has been wiped clean. When Jesus Christ steps into our lives and makes the call as to who and what we will be, we walk through the story He writes without ghosts or shadows stalking us. That’s huge. It’s very difficult to expunge criminal records. Decades can pass but they lurk in a computer somewhere.

But the peace in Romans 5:1 isn’t a license to skate or blow off the damage to others as if nothing’s happened, nothing to revisit. My phone rang and a stranger in a local motel wanted to talk. He’d spent a lot of years ignoring and hurting his family. Now Jesus Christ ran the things of his life and he’d come back to apologize and reconcile. What about the things we’ve racked up in the memories of people we’ve hurt? What about the pain we’ve inflicted on the heart of God? If God kept score and held grudges, who could stand? Peace with God because Jesus died in our place on the cross frees us to make peace with others both for their sakes and our own.

We can also make peace with ourselves. Since through the cross of Christ, the penalty for our sin is paid and the record of our sin wiped clean, we don’t hide from ourselves or anyone else. Someone attempted to blackmail the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon, threatening to end his ministry. He said, “Take everything you know and write it across the skies. Jesus knows it all and has paid in full.” A professor wrote up his Christian story to be included with others in a book. The editor came to him and said, “Professor Jones (not his real name), are you sure you want to write it this way?” The editor thought the prof might regret later that he’d revealed so much of himself. The prof took back his copy and revised it being even more explicit than the first draft had been. His record was clean and so he was free to tell his story to draw others to Christ.

One person (Hearts and Minds Books – 20% off if you say you saw it here.) wrote, “Guarding tombs is a joyless job, as anyone who has sought to keep the past from the future can attest…Is shame standing watch over any dead things in your life?…[Stop] guarding that tomb. Let an earthquake or an angel roll away the stone so that you can see that nothing is there anymore. Jesus conquered it. Jesus removed it. All that remains is light and hope.”

Maybe you have a question about God or the Christian faith. I do. If you’d like to throw yours out there, send it to You don’t even have to give your name. I do reserve the right to ask clarifying questions so I can dignify your question with a respectable answer.

If you think something here might encourage a student or someone who loves students, then subscribe, share, Twitter and all those social media things. If you already subscribe, maybe you need to check out Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, pastors, artists, writers, musicians, composers, business people, broadcasters, booksellers, theologians, artisans, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs, a few campus rats and a Goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. Take a look. It’s a sharp bunch and you will only make us better.

Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at



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