Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year Thought...But Not Mine

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:

in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:1-6, 12-14, 16-17

("A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God ")

Happy 2011!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grace in the Darkness

Having just pondered here a season of darkness for me, I wanted to illustrate how those days were not *all* dark. With a head fake too; you've been warned...*smile*

Almost immediately after renouncing my faith (or trying to...) some friends in town showed up within just a couple of days. It was *very* awkward for them; what does one say when tragedy has struck a family & you walk into it? Here's what they said: "'re going to hang out...wanna go?" I recall looking @ Mom, & seeing her smile & say "you should go." So I did. I can't tell you how absolutely great that gesture was, & how much it me. I have no recollection of exactly where we went or what we did; I just remember being amazed at how much fun it was just to hang out & do normal stuff again. Basically, a reminder that life goes on, even when we don't really see how it could.

These guys were just some of many HS friends who stepped up large in December, 1974, and during the weeks & months after. Beach trips. Concerts. Waterskiing. Meals. Ice cream. Pranks. (both on me, and with me as a participant). Yards rolled. (Guilty! And we were pretty good at it, I must say.)

Some of those HS friends then are still friends now, and I remain ever more grateful for their friendship & encouragement then and now. I am still rather amazed that so many would hang with an angry, confused, self-centered, flaming...jerk like me back then.

Basically, those friends helped me see that, though it seemed the world went gray in 12/14/74 when Dad died, it really hadn't changed. There was still laughter & beauty & fun & music &...(etc.) An invaluable blessing to me back then.

One of those guys actually went on to room w/ me in Broward Hall @ U. of FL. We had a blast, despite me being perhaps the worst roommate in the world. A couple of others also went to UF. Unlike me, they all got it done in the classroom part. But they helped me laugh & learn & have a blast & keep on recovering & moving forward. Thanks, Jim...Barry...Cyndy...Rick...

Fraternity. I learned so very much there, much of it good & valuable info to know. (Well, some things, not so valuable...but the valuable stuff was great!) The good stuff learned was endurance...patience...getting along with others...pursuing a common purpose...discipline (for me a latent piece of knowledge, but it started there in the LXA house)...sacrifice for the good of another. (I still remember one guy tying another guy's shoes every morning, because the one guy had crippling arthritis.) And of course, I learned a lot about good music.

As a related aside...One guy is an IT type down in S. FL...another is an aerospace engineer...another teaches engineering in college part-time when his full-time gig as TX Instruments allows...another is an accountant in GA...another is a senior guy w/ one of the Federal financial institution regulatory agencies. (Among other success stories from my friends back then; I'm proud to be associated w/ those guys!) And some are still in contact & are friends today, after all these years.

Enjoyment of college sports. I already did, but it was elevated there, despite some epic-ly awful Gator teams. The football record one year was 0-10-1...brutal. And I still loved the games!

Scuba diving. Got certified @ this w/ yet another fraternity brother. Which led to some of the coolest life experiences ever! Ginnie Springs...the Manatees' home harbor down there in SW FL...diving off Key Largo...

Junior college. Academic redemption. For the first time in a *long* time, I discovered that I could, in fact, succeed in the classroom as a student. Went to juco w/ a friend who, like me, needed to re-boot his academic life. He now a retired military officer with a Master's degree, and is one of the senior managers of a hospital system in south FL.

Alabama. Roomed w/ my cousin Gary. By which I mean, he & I shared a room in an apt. Again, I was likely the world's worst roommate, and yet Gary hung out me & loved me & demonstrated faith to me by the way he lived. And there were others, who showed me how to have a *blast* without getting intoxicated. (Sadly, that was a big revelation for me.)

Plus, there was this coed who lived upstairs across the breezeway...26.5 years ago, she put a ring on my finger in a small church in SW AL.

The college & young adult class @ Hopewell Baptist Church. The pastor, Billy Austin. I started singing the hymns again (see previous entry for back story). The young marrieds class @ First Baptist Church. The pastor, Rick Lance (now director of Alabama Baptists). *Great* preaching! Richard & Lori, our Sunday School teachers. Don Bennett, Director of the Baptist Student Union.

The three professors @ UA that I've written about in this space before.

Just a sampling of countless bits of grace I received...

So, you see, even in the midst of great spiritual darkness, there were grace notes added to the symphony of my life, as God wooed me back to Himself. I would not have chosen the path, but I now cherish it. And *that* is how I can sing w/ the southern Gospel song "I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now."

I am so very blessed, and was during those 10 years of denying it. I am so grateful for the people & places & events of those years. I am so very humbled by the love & grace they showed me.

And now for the head fake. Read back through this. Think it was about me or about people & circumstances from back in the day? Think again. While I am eternally grateful for the people and for those events & circumstances, this entry was really about you & your future. Notice in these examples how VERY easy it is to be a huge blessing & grace note in the hands of the Master Composer in someone else's live. Go thou & do likewise!

Thankful for much grace in the darkness...and in the light,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Darkness...and Light

36 years ago today, I abandoned the Christian faith.

It was right after we got home from Dad's funeral. (Dad died of a heart attack as a young 47-year-old)

I snuck out into the back yard, and literally shook my fist at the sky. I said "God, if this is what you're about, I quit! Leave me alone!"

And wandered in a spiritual desert for the next 10 years or so. I'll not elaborate on the details; suffice it to say that I truly lived up to (or down to?) my sin nature.

I was deeply hurt, terribly confused, and quite bitter about Dad's death, and I buried myself in arrogant, selfish immaturity, both spiritually and generally.

I stayed angry at God & at life. How in the world anyone would hang out w/ me back then, I don't know. And how in the round world this beautiful Alabama coed would go out with me multiple times and then accept a marriage proposal from me in the midst of that darkness...grace notes that threaten to overwhelm the entire score!

And yet...right there in the midst of my pouting funk, God kept on dropping grace notes into my life. People...circumstances...and little by little, He drew me back on course. (Yeah...there's quite a long story there...)

When I moved to Tuscaloosa, I would occasionally go to church with Aunt Daisy & Uncle George. Mostly, I went because she'd feed me some great home cooking after...but I went. She told me years later, "Mike, you were so angry that you wouldn't even sing the hymns!" It pains me to see an image of that dear, sweet lady holding a hymnal up so both of us could read it, and then watching me just stare at the words. (I am so very thankful that Aunt Daisy later saw me sing the hymns...and even co-lead the family worship at the reunion!)

Have you ever tried to hug a 3-year-old who didn't want to be hugged? For about 10 years, I was that 3-year-old, rejecting the loving embraces of my heavenly Father.

Basically, I slowly & surely realized a few things: 1) I was a whiny-baby, moping around in the midst of great folks & circumstances. 2) I was receiving grace beyond measure (see, beautiful Alabama coed, for starters). 3) I was like Simba in the Lion King; I was "Mufasa's boy" but had forgotten who I was. 4) The arguments I was making against Christianity were becoming more frantic, as I realized how hollow they were (are!). 5) As Petra once sang, "you can walk 10,000 steps away, but it's always only 1 step back..." 6) I had some work to do, first on Mike Madaris, and then for the King of the Universe. 7) The grace of God demonstrated in Christ's atonement--for me!--is such that words fail, and I have to just exclaim with Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33)

Paul wrote my life story many years ago. Please read this next part slowly.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1-3

(2 of the most significant words in all of Scripture to me personally: "But God...")

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:10, 13

I am so thankful for these truths, and for so many more. Just two more here:

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Psalm 25:7

(Quite the prayer there, huh? I am so thankful that He chooses to not remember my sins, but to remember ME. Amazing grace!)

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
John 10:28-29

(Long a precious passage to me, as I spent some years trying to jump from His very thankful now that He didn't let me...)

So on this day, I remember the self-inflicted darkness that began 12/16/74. And I absolutely rejoice & celebrate that the end of that darkness did indeed come.

...a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...
1 Peter 2:9b

As the old gospel song says, "I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now!"

Celebrating the season of the Light that shines in the darkness, (John 1:5)

Monday, December 13, 2010

I wonder what went through his mind on this night 36 years ago...

Did he have an inkling that it would be his last night in which eternity was but a dream & a promise out there in the future? The last night in which this world would be all he knew of reality? The last night before meeting his Savior face to face and hearing those magnificent words “Well done, good & faithful servant!”?

I wonder if he pondered the greatness of God, before Whom he would stand the next night. Probably so; a favorite hymn of his was “In the Garden”—“And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own…”

Did he think about his sons’ future lives? Somehow, I think he did, for he thought of that often. I wonder if God’s grace gave him a glimpse of daughters-in-law…and of 5 grandchildren…whose life journeys would forever be inexorably linked to his, despite their having never met him.

Did he think about his beloved wife’s future? I ‘spect he did this too, for he was a man who loved her much and who thought often about what he could to provide for and shape that future.

Did he think about finishing the race & keeping the faith? Overwhelming evidence from the previous 47 years (his lifespan) suggests that he did.

Did he think about the gigantic hole his passing would leave in the lives of so many? I’m sure he had thought of that now & then, as ours is a family that knows how to live life well and how to deal with its end. Regrettably, we have a good bit of experience with that “ending” part. He had that experience too. However, no 47-year-old spends too much time thinking of his own life’s end.

Did he think of Christmas & the Incarnation & family & how all of those seem intertwined? I think so, for on this night 36 years ago, he & his family decorated the tree and fired up the music of the season. He absolutely deplored the ever-lengthening “Christmas season” as cheapening the meaning of itself. Thus, the tree went up about two weeks before Christmas, & never earlier.

Whatever his thoughts on Dec. 13, 1974, mine on the thirty-six Dec. 13’s since have always focused on him. And on the overwhelming influence the 15 ½ years we shared on earth and the 36 years since continue to have on pretty much the totality of my own life and faith and family. And how hard I still miss him on an almost-daily basis. Especially tonight, as I ponder the 36th anniversary of my Daddy's sudden entrance into glory.

And thus, I both love and hate staring at the Christmas tree here late in the evening on Dec. 13…


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving => My Favorite Game

It's Thanksgiving weekend. Which means, of course, that my favorite football game of every season is played this weekend. It's a heated rivalry game.

And it's not the Iron Bowl between my beloved Alabama Crimson & the Auburn Tigers. (Always an awesome game, including yesterday's great comeback win by Auburn). Nor is it the UF-FSU game that will be played today. Nor the OU-OSU game in Stillwater today, nor the OSU-Michigan game. All of these are fun games to watch, but they're not my favorite.

The aforementioned games feature multiple players who will play in the NFL after their college days are done. Which is one reason they're so much fun to watch; Marcel Dareus chasing Cam Newton, for example.

My favorite game is usually played in Philadelphia, and features very few players who will ever see an NFL field as a player. Every August, I get fired up again just thinking about this game on the schedule. An intense environment...alums who circle the date on the calendar...student bodies who as freshmen learn all kinds of historical details about the series...players who will leave it all on the field that day...and--get this--student bodies in which every single student goes to their school on a full scholarship with guaranteed jobs after college and academic environments that are so far beyond those found in the SEC & Big 10 & Big 12 & Pac 10 & the like that it hardly bears comparing.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Army-Navy game. West Point v. the Naval Academy.

(Along w/ players from the Air Force Academy) These are the last true student-athletes playing Division 1 football. Yeah, I know...all of the others games feature a "student athlete of the game" with guys like Greg McElroy of Alabama. Greg made it to the final 12 of Rhodes Scholar candidates, graduated last Spring, and is now in graduate school while playing major college football & starting at QB. Barrett Jones--Bama's starting guard who was out injured yesterday--4.0 gpa in accounting; will graduate a year early from one of the top accounting programs in the country. (And so forth from other schools) But here's the thing: every student @ Army & @ Navy carries an academic workload that would bury the average student at a major football power. And then to add the rigors & demands of D1 football to that boggles the mind.

One former coach at Army said that Army & Navy are the only teams in the country for which the players view football as a break from their daily schedule. Let that sentence sink in. Football practice as a break from the daily schedule...

And that's just one of the reasons this is my favorite game every year.

Intensity & pressure that matches anything Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Southern Cal, or any of the others see. Like the big powerhouses, Army & Navy have fired coaches for losing repeatedly to the rivals. The players want this game more than any other. Student body pranks & wildness that are unrivaled. Slobber-knocking hits.

I love the pagentry of the game. Flyovers...the marching into the stadium by both student bodies in full uniform (yeah; let *that* sink in...) clips from former players located around the world at various military duty posts. Goosebumps & "allergy attack moments" abound.

One of which occurs at the end of the game. Sure, every game everywhere ends with teams meeting at midfield & shaking hands. That's not what I'm talking about. A number of teams stand in front of their student section while the alma mater is played. That's not what I'm talking about either. After the Army-Navy game ends every year, both teams stand first in front of the losing team's student section for that alma mater; then, both teams walk over & stand in front of the winning team's student section for that alma mater.

Picture with me the following teams standing respectfully for the other team's alma mater: Bama-Auburn...UF-FSU...UM-MSU...OU-OSU...OSU-Michigan...LSU-Arkansas...yeah, I can't imagine it either. Would never happen. And yet it happens every year @ the end of the Army-Navy game.

Seniors winding up their careers at the bigger programs will get jobs playing football in the NFL or will pursue coaching careers or jobs in the workplace. Seniors winding up their careers at Army & Navy will shortly take an oath and will then take up arms & ship out to places like Iraq & Afghanistan & South Korea, putting themselves in harm's way to protect American interests abroad. And they knew this awaited them the moment they arrived on campus the summer before their first semester of college.

I didn't cry yesterday when Auburn completed their comeback over my Crimson Tide. (note: I didn't *like* it of course...*smile*). It is a lock that I will have an allergy again today--as I do every year at this time--before, during, & after today's Army-Navy game. (Of course, I'm the guy who chokes up @ every USM game when the band plays that beautiful & haunting rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the flag is presented.)

I've been to multiple Iron Bowls between Bama & Auburn...Cocktail parties between Florida & Georgia...UF-FSU games...Egg Bowls between Ole Miss & Miss. St....Bowl games...National championship games... Every one of which will fade into a distant 2nd place in terms of favorite games I've ever seen once my dream is fulfilled & I get to attend an Army-Navy game.

Go Army! Go Navy! I can't wait! And, as trivial as it sounds, THANKS!

"I want an officer for a secret & dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player."
Gen. George Marshall shortly after WW2 ended.

p.s. - Want to catch a glimpse of why I love this game? Read >>this<<, by Lt. Alex Moore, who played in the game for Army.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Voices on the Wind

A song I absolutely love! And that I sing every time I head down to the Bay behind Mom's at night to look, listen, enjoy, & remember. Like I just did a few minutes ago.

One of those songs that nailed me with a few of its lines the first time I heard it, and has not released me from itself yet.

When I first heard it, people & places came to mind instantly. Mostly, the people and the places are down here around Ft. Walton Beach from where I'm writing this.

I was just down sitting on the pier behind Mom & Leo's place listening to the wind. Watching the moon. Hearing the waves. Listening to the voices. Singing. Remembering. And being thankful.

"Voices on the Wind"
Written by Craig Fuller, Paul Barrere, Bill Payne, Fred Tackett
Performed by Little Feat

Standing by the ocean watch it tear away the shore
Glide out upon the desert, the horizon is the door
And though your voice is shouting above the wind it can't be heard
Drop all sense of reason, it's there you'll find your worth
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of land's end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Searching for safe passage as you knock on every door
You still can hear the howling of the mongrel dogs of war
You call out for some comfort seeking shelter from the night
A raging rain's upon you feeling tired of the fight
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of lands end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Their words carry over water, and fall back down to earth
What follows is the silence as you contemplate their worth
A vision comes before you, but the meaning's still unclear
Standing at the threshold as you watch it disappear
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of lands end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks, Charlie...and all the rest

(Wrote this on Nov. 9, 2009; as I re-read it, I realized that I pretty much don't have anything to add this year. So, once again...)

A funeral for some of the first American casualties after our troops arrived in Europe in 1917.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the big guns finally went silent. After over 4 years...10 million soldiers killed...20 million soldiers wounded...7.5 million soldiers missing...the "war to end all wars" was over. It would be several months into the next year before the final treaty was signed, but the guns went silent on 11/11/18.

And the doughboys started coming home. One of them, a guy named Charlie, came home to south Alabama. Married his sweetie and went into the sawmill business. They had 8 children that reached adulthood, and 1 that didn't. They never had much money. Charlie sent two sons and two sons-in-law overseas into the next great war. Three crossed the Pacific; one crossed the Atlantic. All four made it home.

The two sons also went overseas in the next conflict in a far-off place called Korea. Shortly after, the younger of the two married his sweetie. Years later, their older son would chase Soviet submarines around the north Atlantic in the 1990s in a P-3 aircraft.

Quite a legacy of military service from one ordinary young man who went across the sea to fight in a war because his country asked him to do so. He knew very little of geopolitical subleties, and of arch-dukes who were assassinated. So it has been through our nation's history. Mostly they took up arms just because they thought they owed it to their country.

They have courage I can only imagine. Many of them experienced horrors that I cannot even imagine. They went from "boy" to "man" in a very quick hurry. The ones that I have known are forever marked by their military experiences. They are men before whom I stand grateful and silent. Politicians and professors come and go. And can be done without, frankly. Soldiers, however, are vital to us as a nation.

So, today, Veterans Day, amidst all of the others I honor, it is that one particular doughboy that I remember. Even though he died when I was not quite one year old. I wish I had known him for longer. His name was Charles, but everyone called him Charlie. Charlie Madaris. My grandpa.

One day we will have no more need for war. And for soldiers. Try to imagine that day, when the swords will be hammered into plowshares....What a glorious day that will be! But until then, join me in praying for and celebrating the men and women who put on the uniform and travel to distant, dangerous places on behalf of the rest of us.

Veterans' Day? Every day is Veterans' Day.

I thank God for them.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

An Evening in the Rain

Behind me as I pulled into the motel is the Reliant Center, where the Houston Texans play football, NFL style. Last summer when we drove by on the way to our destination, they were coming in from a practice; the guys looked big even across the parking lot from a car at road speed driving past.

But this isn’t about football. It’s about rain. (Well sort of…)

There’s a very soft rain that’s been falling tonight. It covers everything, but is at the same time subtle & understated, providing a nonstop backdrop to everything from the gas station across the street to I-610 just down the road to the McDonald’s nearby. It actually started some miles back before I arrived here.

When I checked in, the manager of the motel asked if I needed the shuttle in the morning. I said yes, & he asked where I was going. “M.D. Anderson,” I said. “Oh yes sir," he said, "but which clinic? Main building? Clark?” “Clark,” I said, surprised—and then not surprised—that he knew those sorts of details. When one’s motel is on the list M.D. Anderson distributes to patients, one pretty quickly gets up to speed on the details I guess. He seemed to know a lot about the rain.

And the rain continued to fall.

As I was checking in, two ladies hugged & nailed down their plans for tomorrow. Based on what I heard in their brief conversation, one apparently lives in Houston, whereas the other is here for the same reason many of us are here in this part of town. “So, I’ll pick you up at 8, then? What time’s your appointment?” “Oh, 8’s fine.” And they walked outside.

To face the rain that was still there.

Moving my stuff into the room, I saw two other cars being unloaded. In one, a lady pulled out her schedule & reminded her party of the appointment times. In the other, a lady walked to her room with some effort & sat on the bed while a guy did all the unloading. He asked her “So, what time tomorrow?”

The rain continued.

Denny’s for supper. (Well, breakfast served late, in my case) Most drove through the rain to get there; I just walked, since it was close by. But we all had to deal with the rain.

There was a group of 20-somethings laughing & enjoying each other’s company. One of them—apparently the cause of the gathering—was not as demonstrative in his enjoyment. He had “the look”…no hair on his head, worn-out eyes, very thin, looked like he could lie down in the booth & be instantly asleep. It didn’t seem that he wanted to have to face the rain again. But we all had to.

There was a group of three adults with three little ones that very busily coloring the kids menu with the crayon they were issued to their great delight. One of the ladies was wearing the scarf on her head that so many around this part of town wear. She smiled & such, but was clearly pre-occupied. Understandable, what with the rain & all…

Then there was another young lady—again, with the scarf—excitedly sharing with our server about the new comfy shoe inserts she had discovered that lessened the pain the rain caused just a bit.

I ate my old-guy, night-before-the-P.E.T. scan-approved meal, read a bit to divert my mind (from the rain, of course), chuckled at the odd mix of music, “tweeted” about it, reviewed my own schedule for tomorrow’s festivities, and headed back to this room.

And still, the soft rain fell. Like it always does the night before entering M.D. Anderson.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Once more into the breach...(me & M.D. Anderson this week)

Just a quick note about this week's return trip to MDA for followup. It's just me this time (well, me & several pastors & teachers & musicians via my ipod...*grin*)

Wed. 11/3 - drive from H'burg to Houston; check into hotel near MDA
(about 8 hours, tho Baton Rouge can add significantly to the travel time)
Thurs. 11/4 - bloodwork (just a quick stick) & P.E.T. scan
The P.E.T. scan is scheduled for noon, and there's no food--not even coffee!--until after the scan. The scan time is normally around an hour & a half, which includes a mandatory 1-hour nap while the nuke solution circulates. I like the nap part...*another grin*
Serious gluttony will occur shortly after the scan is over...
Fri. 11/5 - appt. w/ Dr. Homsi to get scan results (reminder: he's my main medical guy there)
Appt. scheduled for 1:30; drive home after.

Baton Rouge traffic will almost surely be...special...Friday night, as many of my fellow Crimson Tide fans will descend on B.R. along with tens of thousands of LSU fans for the big game on Saturday.

This trip is routine every three-month followup...but then, such trips will never be really "routine" again...

If you're a praying type, I'd appreciate a few. My own main requests are these:
--accurate P.E.T. scans that are totally boring, showing nothing at all.
--safe travel
--peace for Lisa; my part here is, as usual, the easy part...she has to just wait...

Thanks much! The quickest update will be via Twitter, which will also show up on my facebook page.

Thanks again!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If Not For Love

This song by Wayne Watson just came up on ipod shuffle yesterday. *Incredible* to ponder: What if God were NOT loving? Sobering to think about, to be sure.

Good lyrics, and the music is fantastic. Slow & moving...

With that said, freshen up your coffee & read this slowly. Especially the 2nd & 3rd verses.

You're welcome.

In time, they say, all wounds will heal
But time alone would just reveal
The measure of my best intent,
How vainly it would all be spent;
Empty boxes, if not for love.

My prayer never would be heard
Appeal denied without a word
The throne room of my father's house
Closed fast, just to keep me out,
"No admission", if not for love

If not for love the godless would reign
If not for love any light would be shadow
But love was strong, revealed the plan
Man's perfect God, God's perfect man

The cross would stand alone, refused.
The Son blessed...and not accused.
The Savior never sent, blind to the world's lament
No forgiveness, if not for love.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Every school's fanbase

Every school's fanbase thinks they are the morally pure & superior ones on the college football landscape.

Every school's fanbase thinks their home gameday experience is the best and that all rational, objective people agree with them.

Every school's fanbase thinks they are gracious toward visiting fans, unlike the other teams' fans.

Every school's fanbase thinks they are classy, unlike those other teams' fans.

Every school's fanbase thinks the refs are out to deny them their rightful victory, and that the refs are clearly longtime supporters of the other team.

Every school's fanbase thinks that it's only the other teams' fanbases that are obnoxious drunks at games.

Every school's fanbase thinks their fight song & alma mater evoke tearful reverence, whereas every other team's fight song & alma mater sounds like music that clowns juggle to. (Full disclosure: this particular one is flagrantly stolen & paraphrased from Chad Gibbs' book, God & Football)

Every school's fanbase marvels that any good high school player would even consider going anywhere else.

Every school's fanbase is amazed that (a) they're not ranked in the top 10...#1 (b) if they are ranked in the top 10...#1, they're amazed that anyone would question what is clearly the correct ranking.

Every school's fanbase knows that their school colors are just beautiful, whereas the other teams' colors look like a 2-year-old got hold of the crayon box again.

Every school's fanbase thinks their tailgating experience is the best.

Every school's fanbase would read this saying "Yep, that's how those other fans are."

Every school's fanbase has great folks who are rational & reasonable about their team & about sports in general.

And every school's fanbase has other folks who are so very often like the north end of a south-bound horse.

The former group of folks admits they have the latter; the latter deny that they themselves exist.

bb - Romans 12:18

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Faithful Man (2 Timothy 2:2)

I really love college students. Being around them every day is one of the best parts of the professor gig. It makes me feel young(er) gives me hope for the future...and they're just plain fun!

However, I am also burdened for college students. Have been for some years now.

We parents really like to think that our children have all of their spiritual convictions & their lifestyle & their behaviors nailed down before they graduate from high school. We like to think that 18 years of living under our roof has landed all of that.

According to statistics, we are wrong.

To be sure, our impact as parents is HUGELY important. CRITICAL to shaping our children's worldview & lifestyle. We have the great responsibility and great joy and great challenge of trying to guide our children's views on life & faith & behavior.

But stastically, it is between age 18 & 24 that the vast majority of people make three VITAL decisions that shape the rest of their life:

Once again...hear this, parents!...between the ages of 18 and 24.

This reality has haunted me, cost me sleep, and driven me to prayer many times since I first ran across it some years back.

That is why I am so very thankful for those who do the incredibly difficult, messy, time-consuming job of connecting with and ministering on college campuses. Who love on young men & women in the midst of them working through those gigantic life-shaping decisions. That's a slice of the ministry harvest field that wears out & runs off many a gifted minister.

Which is why I am SO VERY GRATEFUL for the life & ministry of my buddy Lloyd Lunceford.

Lloyd is the director of the Baptist Student Union at the University of Southern Mississippi. Over the past 20 years, Lloyd has connected with, encouraged, challenged, equipped, loved on, cried with, prayed for & with, welcomed, and sent out countless students all over the world. (Literally all over the world!)

This afternoon, a number of folks will come back to USM for a football game against Marshall. But a bunch of them will gather at the BSU to honor 20 years of faithful, God-honoring ministry that is impacting the campus and world for Christ. I'll be there too.

Lloyd is one of my best friends on the planet. You know those very few friends you have to with whom you can share the depths of your heart & soul? Who know things about you that would raise eyebrows if they were broadcast, but you have no fear of them being broadcast? Around whom you can be completely yourself without having to be nervous? Lloyd's one of those guys in my life.

I'm so very grateful that Lloyd's ministry journey which previously had him living in East Asia for several years brought him to USM no long after I took a professor job on campus. (He still speaks the language he learned there fluently...I'll come back to that).

Much of what I know about ministering to/with college students, I learned from Lloyd. Much of my own passion for world missions, I learned from Lloyd. Grace toward those who hold to a different worldview, while still holding firmly to my own? Yep. Passion for students of all stripes? Yep. Priorities ordered by faith and by the Gospel? Learned that from Lloyd too. Integrity? Being "missional"? Check. Much of that learned from Lloyd.

For some years now, I've had the *great* privilege of being a small part of Lloyd's ministry as treasurer of the BSU advisory committee.

You know what Lloyd wants people to do to honor him? It's not writing blog entries like this one...and it's not vacation time...and it's not financial bonuses. He is ALL about helping students be financially able to go overseas on mission trips.

I personally know of a BUNCH of students & USM alums whose first taste of missions was as part of the USM BSU. Where will you spend this Christmas? I know where Lloyd will be; he'll be in China with a group of students, where he's been for the last several Christmases.

Lloyd is passionate about several things, but mostly about equipping men & women for world missions. And there are people living now or who have lived all over the world whose life path was set by God when they passed through the orbit of Lloyd Lunceford.

Congrats, Lloyd, on 20 years of amazing, fruitful, high-impact ministry. Thanks for letting me be part of it! Thanks also for all the cups of coffee, meals, prayers, chats, challenges, words of wise counsel, and encouragement. Thanks for letting our Lord use you so mightily in the lives of so many in so many parts of the world. Only eternity will show the full impact of what our Lord has done through you and your time at USM.

I love you, Bro!
2 Timothy 2:2

p.s. - Want to be part of something HUGE? Make your check out to: Mississippi Baptist Foundation. In the memo line write: Lloyd Lunceford student missions fund. Mail your check to Mississippi Baptist Foundation; P.O. Box 530; Jackson, MS 39205.

Monday, September 20, 2010

3 Professors

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...

I was an undergrad student at Alabama. Still desperately trying to find my groove academically (although I had made progress on that front in JuCo in FL). Still recovering from the devastating embarrassment of my near-total lack of success at my first college. Still sorting through the self-created wreckage of my faith, though embers of re-ignited flames were beginning to show.

In that setting, I had to take an operations management course. The title back then was "Production & Operations Management," and the course had a well-earned reputation for being hard. Somehow, I clicked with it. And with the professor, a guy named Johnny Charnetski. Made an A in the class, for which I was very grateful and very proud. Anyway, on a test in that class, Dr. C. wrote "Have you ever considered graduate school?" I hadn't; in fact, my first reaction was to laugh. But I began to think about, especially after following up on his comments in his office. (My question for him was basically, "Are you serious??" He said he was, and elaborated...)

In another semester or two, I took an economics elective called "Current Issues in Economics." That one I took because (a) it was a 3-week full-credit course, and (b) I had the professor before in an earlier class and like him. The professor was a guy named Ron Bird. The class was awesome! We discussed the economics of education, of sports, of labor relations,...The combo of labor & sports was a very cool discussion, since one of my classmates was playing O-Line for the Packers at the time, and was the Green Bay Packers' player rep for the NFLPA union. A day came when I stuck my head in Dr. Bird's office to check on something. He said, "Mike, have you ever thought about getting a graduate degree?" By this time, I was able to answer something like "well, I've been thinking about it." He encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree.

So, shortly after, there I was, in the Master's program in Economics at Bama. The M.A. program director also taught me macroeconomics. (best Ron White delivery: "We've met...") His name was Ted Vallery. One day, I was in his office checking on something, and he said "Mike, have you ever considered getting a Ph.D.?" After I rediscovered control of my mouth & closed it, I mumbled "no" and asked about what all is involved. He talked me through it and encouraged me to give it some thought. The irony is, I was an average student (at best!) in his class.

Thus, in about a one-year period, I went from clueless undergrad student to applying for the Ph.D. program in Financial Economics. Now, 27 years later, here I am, back in the university classroom, digging every minute of it.

All because three different professors saw something in me that I didn't see myself. They all challenged me severely in their respective classes, and then saw something in how I approached the courses. It is correct to say that all three had much to do with my education and my career choice(s).

To close, thanks Dr. C., Dr. B., & Dr. V. You guys all three made a difference to me. I hope I can inspire & encourage my students the way you three inspired & encouraged one of yours a long time ago at the University of Alabama.


p.s. - Dr. Vallery passed away not that long ago. I hope he knew what a difference he made in my life! I sure wish I had told him more clearly. And I'd love to know where Dr. Charnetski & Dr. Bird are. Last I knew, Dr. Bird was working w/ a think tank of some sort up around Washington, DC.

Monday, September 13, 2010

28 years ago...

...there was a small private plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in east Texas. There was this guy on the plane with two of his very young children. A singer/preacher. I'll come back to that.

Meanwhile, there was this college student in Tuscaloosa who was coming back around to his spiritual roots and was re-discovering the joy of salvation in Christ & all that meant. He had encountered a number of folks his age who were Christians & took that seriously. But the strange thing to this guy was, they were having a total blast! They laughed, they loved football games, they went to movies, they went bowling, they went swimming, they pursued those of the opposite gender...they just generally enjoyed life. One of those was this gorgeous lady from a small town in south AL with large beautiful blue eyes. She even went out with him. Repeatedly!

And thus, he had come back home to the faith he had tried to deny & abandon for several years.

But there was still one huge hurdle. He *loved* music. Good music. (Related aside: taking bad music & baptizing it & using it to sing about Jesus doesn't make it good music. Bad music is bad music, whether the subject is Jesus or one's Jeep!) This was a quandry for our young student, as it seemed that all the good music was...not worshipful, let's just say. And then he discovered a group called 2nd Chapter of Acts, and a singer named Keith Green. While he saw 2nd Ch. of Acts in concert once--which remains a spiritual high point--he discovered Keith Green's music just shortly after Keith died. In a plane crash. That plane crash in east TX.

I cannot wait until eternity to share with Keith how HUGE an impact his music had on me and my spiritual journey. I remember when a friend asked me if I had heard of him (I hadn't), and played his "23rd Psalm" for me. Instant tears. And many times since, listening to that song. I still remember the liner notes on the album for this particular song: "Can't wait to meet King David & hear how the original went"...I'm convinced the Lord let Keith hear the original in his studio & then record it on his "Songs for the Shepherd" album, which was the last "new" album Keith Green put out. It was released shortly after his homegoing.

INCREDIBLE piano playing. Great lyrics. Great sense of humor. Great passion. Tears. Righteous anger. Joy. A Prophet who sang.
"The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight, 'cause it's asleep in the light"...
"And it's only that I care; I really only want just to see you there"...
"Rushing Wind, blow through this temple, blowing out the dust within; daily change me to your image, for I've been born again"...
"All my life I had been searching for that crazy missing part, and with one touch You just rolled away the stone that held my heart; now I see that the answer was as easy as just asking You in, I am so sure, I will never doubt Your gentle touch again; it's like the power of the wind...Like waking up from the longest dream; how real it seemed, until Your love broke through"...
"Make my life a prayer to you, I wanna do what you want me to; no empty words & no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise"...
"When I stand in glory, I will see Your face, and there I'll serve my King forever in that holy place"...
"Well you can run to end of the highway, and not find what you're looking for"...
"Nothing lasts, except the grace of God by which I stand in Jesus"...

In the soundtrack of my life, the music of Keith Green, and the passion behind it, figure prominently.

I still can't believe he left us so young. And that it was 28 years ago.

This entry originated a few weeks back when I saw something about the 28th anniversary of the crash. It was finalized tonight, after the ipod shuffle feature during my drive home after class landed on, you guessed it, Keith Green's music. I listened to, worshipped with, and shed a couple of tears to Keith's 23rd Psalm. I even sang along; luckily, there will be no youtube moment of that. You're all welcome. *smile* Then the last thing I listened to, worshipped with, shed tears to, and sang along with before pulling into our driveway was his *incredible* "Grace By Which I Stand." Like many of his songs, this one's a bit autobiographical for me.

Thank You, Father, for reaching down & saving & redeeming & transforming & putting into service this hippie from southern CA some 30+ years ago. And thank You for using that hippie's life & music to re-capture & re-focus this young Univ. of Alabama student's faith. And thank you, Keith, for listening & for passionately writing & recording what you heard. I'll catch you later, on the other side. Your life mattered to so many here, Brother. I know, because I am one to whom it mattered.

Reminded that The Lord is My Shepherd, and that Nothing lasts except the grace of God by which I stand in Jesus,


p.s. - Here's "Grace By Which I Stand" (note: this is the album version; it's not live, so don't worry about watching...just have a listen & enjoy!) >>>Click Here<<<.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Connecting the Dots (A short one with zero words by me...)

"Your life is much bigger than a good job, and understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively changing them into his likeness--and he wants you to be part of it."
Paul David Tripp
(quoted by my pastor this morning)

"We exist to proclaim good news and to practice good deeds."
Tony Merida (my pastor; from this morning's excellent sermon "Ministry and Mission"...part of a series called "Membership Matters")

"Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come, yeah!
With all creation I sing
'Praise to the King of Kings!
You are my everything,
And I will adore You'"

Jenny Riddle
(Sung @ my church this morning)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Some Challenges for this Fall...

See if you can cheer for your team without cheering against the other team.

See if you can talk calmly to fans of the other team.

See if you can praise them when their team defeats yours.

See if you can do so without making excuses. There are times when something goes amiss & costs a team a game. A bad call. A lighting issue. Sudden downpour. But those events are VERY, VERY rare. Usually, the team that plays the best on that day wins the game.

See if you can honor & respect their traditions without mocking them.

See if you can support your team as much when they don't win as when they do. (I was in Tuscaloosa when the Tide had our first losing season in decades. It was NO fun losing game after game...but OTOH, I *was* still watching football, the game I love so very dearly...and I didn't miss a game, despite expecting to lose many of them.)

See if you can always keep in mind that a college football game is, well a game...Do you & I really want to base so much of our self-worth & mood & attitude & how we treat our friends & neighbors on the outcome of a bunch of 18-22 year olds running into each other at high speeds??

See if you can be a positive, classy representative for the school(s) whose team(s) you happen to support. In other words, be that guy/lady, about whom others say "you know, if _________(your school name) had more fans like that guy/lady, I'd be more favorably disposed toward them"...


p.s. - if you're wondering, I am chief of sinners here. This blog is aimed first at me; if it challenges any of the rest of you, well,'re welcome? Sorry? *grin*

p.p.s. - Please hold me accountable for this stuff, and feel free to let me know if you hear me straying from this challenge.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18