Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fake plants in real soil?

I once lived in an apartment complex where a neighbor placed artificial flowers in the ground around her patio. It could be quite disorienting to see bright blooming flowers “growing” up through the snow in winter. Every time I saw them (and I saw them every day) I thought of how my dad would react if he were alive.

My dad was a florist; a noted grower of real roses and other flowers. He was very picky about the quality of the flowers he would allow to be cut and passed along for sale. And he hated fake flowers. He could spot them a mile away. That is, until the technology changed and the fakes began looking more and more like the real thing. He hated that. Being faked out.

My mother preferred real flowers but was okay with the plastic ones. She felt they had their place. Dad usually bit his tongue on the topic around mom. He let her do her thing. But even she would not have “planted” fake flowers in the ground or even in pots with real soil. That would have been just too weird.

I agree. Some things just are not meant to be.

Yet, there are people who are like fake plants in real soil all around. They go to church, know the lingo and the liturgy, and have that dazzling – is that plastic, you wonder -- smile. At first, they seem okay, but then it snows and nothing shifts.

Fake plants blow away in a storm because they have no roots. When faced with constant sun light, they fade. In the glare of the sun they are exposed for what they are – fake.

Grounded Christians are like perennial plants. They may not bloom in the snow, but they’re alive and solidly rooted no matter what. Real people of real faith may wilt when the soil is dry or the weather is harsh. They’ll bend in the wind. They’ll loose their petals when whacked. They’ll turn brown if a dog pees on them. But they’ll also recover, straighten, re-green, and arch toward the Son when the storms pass. When the Son shines, they blossom.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV).


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The marketing silver bullet!

How to solve an organization's marketing problems? Get all the customers it needs? Push sales/enrollments through the stratosphere?

Well, according to one self-proclaimed marketing guru,the solution is this: Brighten up the colors on the marketing materials. Period.

Problem solved.

True story.

Have you got some gems like these? If so, please share them!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It takes over: Satan talks about the power of money

Something I'm learning about my money is that it's not my money. It's His. But I still wrestle with letting it go.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brand Jesus?

“People who think they are religious but say things they should not say are just fooling themselves. Their 'religion' is worth nothing. Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence." James 1:26-27 (New Century Version)

An article by Richard Tompkins titled "Christ replaces Coke as the focus of youthful longing" that appeared in the July 30, 2004 issue of the Financial Times caught my eye. The essence of the article is captured in this excerpt:

"Put simply, Christianity is cool. Or at least that is the way it is being marketed...Cool Christianity is the cult brand epitomized, making its customers feel part of a community and instilling a sense of ownership that verges on the fanatical. Old Christianity used to be about serving God in this world with the promise of uncertain rewards in the hereafter. Now, provided you can afford the merchandise, the rewards are up-front: loud music, multimedia entertainment, a cool image and a comforting sense of spirituality...Far from brands being the new religion, it seems to me that religion is the new brand."

It's both good and sad that this is the perception Tompkins has of the church. It touches on the truth but glances off into a gross misconception. We are brothers and sisters in an infinitely extended family. That Christians feel part of a community is accurate and a huge plus. And the rewards that we look forward to in the hereafter are far from uncertain.

But, Christians are not customers or consumers of religion. We are customers of stores and consumers of products. In our "religion," which is better defined as faith, we are adherents to God's laws, disciples of Christ's teachings and examples, and ministers to each other of His grace. Christian faith is about relationship, not retailing.

True, Christians enjoy the privilege of buying products that can both enhance our relationship with God and express to others our commitment and calling. But we also know that any pleasure we derive from purchased goods is temporal and not the "reward" or point of our faith. We know that real spirituality is not found in a cool image, but rather in a true relationship with Jesus that often makes us seem very uncool. Our faith is in a Person, not a brand.

As for the claim that Christianity is being marketed, I must concede that this is true, and it's something I'm not particularly comfortable with. My fear is that wrapping our faith too tightly in the practices and methods of Madison Avenue, instead of yielding new converts or a deeper faith, promulgates wrong perceptions such as that expressed by Tompkins in his article.

Old and now Christianity are both about serving God in this world. It isn't about marketing a cool brand of religion in order to entice a larger share of consumers into churches that are more like malls than places of worship. A marketed, hyped "faith" is nothing more than a transient disposable experience, another consumed cup of gourmet coffee.

Jesus didn't command His church to market His brand; He has called us to build His kingdom through truth, relationship, and service. He said: "… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

And religion? “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:24).

True faith is the true cool.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Flash fiction: What surprised Edward?

At an early age Edward discovered the uncanny ability to foresee certain aspects of the near future. The first time this happened he was sitting quietly listening to friends having a discussion and knew what each was going to say before they said it; kind of like an echo; he heard them first in his head and then just moments later speaking the exact words out loud.

The effect was fascinating and frightening, as well as a little annoying. It didn’t happen all of the time but came and went without warning. However, it never extended past the near, almost immediate, future.

For example, on his birthday he had to feign surprise as he opened his gifts since as he unwrapped them he knew exactly what each one was before he had the packages fully opened. Just an hour earlier he was totally clueless as to what he would be receiving.

Over time as he grew older he learned to somewhat manage the phenomenon. But he never really got used to it. Most of the time he wished he didn’t know what was about to happen. He had no concept of what it was like to experience a real surprise.

The last thing he ever foresaw was how he would die. Then he did. What happened next he never saw coming; it was a complete surprise.

What do you think surprised Edward in the end?

Terry Pluto: In dark times, it can be hard to trust in God: Faith and You

I've not met Terry Pluto, but I'd like to. He's a sports columnist for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and he also writes on faith from time to time. He's worth reading, so I thought I'd share his latest. Here are the opening lines; you'll need to click the link below to read the rest:
A friend for whom my wife and I had been praying was seemingly clear of breast cancer. The news had been good for a few years. She and her husband are in their 30s, and they have three children under the age of 10.

Answered prayers?

Just this week, our friend was told that the cancer had roared back with a vengeance to several parts of her body.

So often, we tell a person who's gotten such devastating news that we're so sorry to hear what happened. We may say something like, "Keep the faith."

"But there are times when keeping the faith is really, really hard," said the Rev. Bruce Riebe of St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville. "And I've said it myself to people whose faith was really shaking."
Click here to read the rest >>


Thursday, July 16, 2009

What if worship was like an NBA game?

Thanks to my friend Jon for pointing me to this video. It's a hoot! Don't you just love the PowerPoint projector malfunction? So true.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Strategies for getting the blue out of a bad day when you have to go to work

Bad days happen and they aren’t always rainy days and Mondays. Causes behind a bad day can range from the silly, such as forgetting to put a filter in the coffee pot and getting a cup full of grinds; to the tragic, such as hearing about the desperate misfortune of a good friend.

We are all susceptible to life-issues that will impact our moods and attitudes and can follow us to work. The challenge is not to let these issues have a negative impact on our job, colleagues, or customers.

When the blue’s on you…

When you are feeling blue, here are three simple tips to help yourself:

Be prepared. Take some time before going into work to process what’s going on. Plan to meet with a friend to talk away from work. Write down any actions you can take to deal with the issue. A simple plan helps alleviate a sense of being powerless.

Be aware. Acknowledge your feelings; stuffing or ignoring them won’t make them go away. Even talking out loud about the problem as you drive to work can help relieve stress and bring clarity.

Be happy. Worrying won’t make a problem go away or a dark day brighter. One you’re at work, it’s okay to ignore the issue and focus on your job. What often happens as you distract yourself from the issue is that emotions settle down, the mind clears, and solutions surface as if by magic.

When the blue’s on them…

When it’s a co-worker struggling, here are tips to help them:

Be sensitive. You know how far a little sensitivity can go. The tendency to counteract a perceived bad mood is often to try to inject humor. Humor is not always appropriate. Show empathy, listen, and learn what the issue is first.

Be tactful. Once you learn what’s going on, respond appropriately. If it is something silly, lightening the mood with humor can be exactly the right thing. If it’s something more serious, showing concern and understanding are best.

Be balanced. You’re not a therapist so don’t feel you have to be one. Don’t pry beyond what the person is willing to share. Listen a bit, maybe offer some gentle feedback, then let it go without being critical or judgmental. It’s okay to redirect the conversation or recommend they consider seeking out a counselor if the issue warrants.

Also, keep in mind, some people just need a little space and a second cup of coffee and they’ll come around on their own. Be patient and focus on your work in the meantime.

Showing the blues who’s boss

Managing your attitude while at work is important for at least two reasons:

• Your customers deserve your best. A bad mood or a negative attitude will impair your ability to give good customer service. No customer wants to hear about your bad day, nor should they.

• Your co-workers depend on your best. An obvious bad mood can create tension with co-workers and impact everyone’s productivity. To paraphrase a well known quote, to maintain a positive attitude when dealing with a life-issue: seek the serenity to accept what you cannot change; the courage to change what you can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Facing a life-issue with courage and maturity in public will help beat the blues and clear the way to a brighter day tomorrow.

In the meantime, when you’re home out of the public’s eye, it’s also perfectly okay to whine, pray, cry, be grumpy, sit quietly in a corner, stomp all over the house, stuff yourself with ice cream, let out a few screams, and do whatever it is you need to do to grapple with and work through whatever has blued your day. Just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else as you process. And know that it does get better.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marvin Creps, the inside story

The "from my archive" items are quotes, clippings, cartoons, faxes, postcards, and other odds and ends that I've collected through the years. This one I've had for a couple of decades. I love it. I think there's a little "Marvin Creps" in everyone; we all have stories that want out. When are you going to write yours?

Have you got a story in you? Are you writing it?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Closet worship: Wearing my grandma’s genes in secret

I don’t dance. At least not in public. I did once when I was in high school. I let myself go at a dance that I stumbled upon while at a choir contest in another town. My arms flailed, my head bobbed, my body twisted and turned, my feet shuffled about. Later, as I thought about it and pictured myself as others must have seen me, my face reddened. That was the end. Ever since, I’ve never been able to muster up the courage to dance in public. No matter how much I want to, or how much I care about the person I’m with who wants me to, I just can’t move a muscle. I freeze from the inside out.

When I was a kid, the church I grew up in was one rockin’ place. We were Pentecostals and we didn’t care who knew it. In the summer, before the building was remodeled and air conditioned, the unscreened windows would all be wide open, the music would be pumpin’, and the people would be jumpin’. It was great.

My grandmother Clark, Mammaw, was an amazing woman, full of the Spirit, and totally uninhibited in worship. I guess I didn’t get her genes. She, on the other hand, would let the Spirit take her and would dance her heart out.

Not only did she dance in the Spirit, but she did it with her hands raised, a foreign tongue spilling from her lips, her face lifted toward heaven, and her eyes closed! Exalting and praising God, she moved from one end of the steamy bug-filled sanctuary to another, in and out of the rows of old leather theater seats, and did not bump into anyone or anything. I never saw her trip.

While it just wasn’t in me to do what she did, I watched her intently. Partly because I thought for sure she was going to do herself or someone else serious harm. She moved fast! But also because it was so cool to see someone totally immersed in the presence of the Lord. She practically glowed.

David, who “danced before the Lord with all his might,” and my grandmother, got it right. I can just envision David, his body tense with the sense of God’s power, sweat pouring off him, tears soaking his face, snot dripping from his nose, the kicked up dust of the road coating his skin in a moist mud, lost in fierce focused worship, his spirit aching toward the heavens and an even more intimate experience of God.

That’s what you do when you unabashedly acknowledge the depth of sin in you that has been forgiven in the face of His absolute holiness.

There are moments, in the evening, when I plug my iPod into my ears, click to the worship songs I have loaded, and it’s as if my grandmother taps me on the shoulder and says, “Wade in deep. Let go. Just dance!”

And, please don’t tell anyone, but I do.

The songs stir my shy heart with the passion of God’s love. “I can only imagine…Surrounded by your glory, What will my heart feel? Will I dance for You, Jesus! Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.”

My mind fills with the image of being before His throne and I am flooded with the Spirit’s power and gripped by His love.

“Better is one day in Your courts than thousands elsewhere! … My heart and flesh cry out, for You the living God.”

We sing this song in church, and it’s all so nice and neat and proper. But inside, my inner dancing man strains to see His face, to touch his hem, to be embraced. When I’m alone, the inner dancer comes out.

“This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence living in me. And I, I’m desperate for you…”

Alone, as I listen and sing along to songs like these, I become a little like David and my grandmother. I dance, I jump, I reach up to the ceiling. Knowing my own potential for evil and understanding that in spite of myself He loves me without reservation, the tears soak my face, the snot drips from my nose, my spare tire bounces, my hands clench and open, my arms are raised to the heavens, my under-exercised body strains in clumsy dance, and I worship him, uninhibited.

There are moments it feels as if my chest will split open and my spirit will go soaring straight to the sky. And that is a very lovely feeling.

God doesn’t care how uncoordinated my dancing may look. He doesn’t care if my rhythm is off or I jerk about like an under-lubricated spastic robot. What he cares about is the passion in my heart that’s directed toward Him. And at these secret moments, it is laser-locked on His amazing grace and awesome glory. I am humbled, crushed, grateful.

I ache and long and yearn to “fly away, oh, glory!” I want to be completely “washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb.” I want to “sing of [His] love forever.” I want to see the “mountains bow down and the seas … roar at the sound of [His] name.”

“Holy, holy, holy….”

I’m not holy, except by virtue of His grace and mercy, and for that, I will dance, and cry, and be foolish. Okay, only in private for now. I’m an introvert after all (click here see this prior post).

But apparently I did get a few of my grandmother’s genes. That’s not a bad thing either. Maybe, just maybe, one day, some of that will leak out in public. But, in the meantime, it’s better to have danced before the Lord in private than to never have danced at all.


Sunday, July 12, 2009


“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:28-31 (NIV)

In my Expository Writing class in college, the professor, Dr. Elsie Elmendorf (now with the Lord), would admonish us regularly to avoid the use of the word "things" in our writing. Her reason was that it was too general, and when writing persuasively, we should be specific.

Generally I would agree with that assessment, but specifically in this passage, I think even Professor Elmendorf would agree that Paul's use of "things" is entirely appropriate. Why? Because it's so inclusive, especially attached to "all."

"All things" means exactly that. Everything that comes into our lives as Christians, no matter why or how, can be turned from bad to good through the grace of God.

This isn't always easy to accept when the "thing" touching us is hurtful, disappointing, and damaging. In the midst of a bad thing, disillusion, despair, anger, and more cloud our sense of hope and worth. Especially if the bad thing, the hard circumstance, is a consequence of our own sinfulness, the intentional act of another in whom we trusted, or the seeming senselessness of a random accident.

But whatever the source of the bad thing, the truth of Paul's statement stands. Paul knew pain, disappointment, and frustration. He experienced a lot of very bad things. How did he deal with these?

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he wrote: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

We don't know what Paul's thorn was, but it's clear that it was an uncomfortable thing. Many commentators believe that what it wasn't was some sort of struggle with sin. However, my personal sense is that Paul was vague on purpose, leaving open the possibilities to allow us to identify with his experience of grace. It does not diminish Paul's stature or impact to think that he could have been challenged by sin. In fact, in Romans 7:16-20, he offers a wrenching revelation of just such a struggle.

Whatever "things" come into our lives, both good and bad, we can "be more than conquerors" through the strength of Christ, the grace of God, and hope fed by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

When faced with death, disease, disappointment, failure, divorce, loss, joblessness, debt, injury, and "all things," we can be confident even in the midst of grief or shame, "that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

And that, I think you'll agree, is a very good thing!


Saturday, July 11, 2009

I’m genetically programmed to sleep in: Science is on my side!

I am not a morning person. Never have been. Never will be. So stop trying to make me one. Otherwise I just may not be a peaceful person anymore. I’ll definitely be cranky.

Oh, sure, I can make it to a 7:00 AM meeting on occasion, if I absolutely have to; I just set my dual alarm on nag and nag some more a little later. But don’t expect me to actively participate in the meeting. My brain doesn’t kick in until a little later in the day. I’ll be lucky to show up dressed decently.

Thanks to dear old Benny Franklin, me and my ilk have been ostracized and derided for decades. You know, Ben’s the smart aleck kite-flyer who coined that inane phrase, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Right. What the heck does that even mean? This from the guy who wore wet shirts on hot sunny days to keep cool. Please!

Ever since this daffy motto appeared in Poor Richard’s, those of us who are more nocturnally inclined have been discriminated against. We’re called sleepy heads, lazy, pillow pushers, and worse. Outcasts. Bums. Where’s our on-the-job accommodation?

But now things are going to be different. Science is on our side! Being an anti-morning person, aka night owl, is in our genes! Check it out: "If you have a hard time crawling out of bed in the morning, it could be that your body is biologically programmed to start the day later."

We truly are allergic to morning. It’s not our fault!!! “Experts say a spectrum of natural sleeping and waking rhythms exists, ranging from extreme morning people to extreme ‘night owls.’”

See that? “Experts” are endorsing our anti-early inclinations. It has nothing to do with lazy! We’ve been trying to tell you all along, you snooty, self-righteous, early morning coffee guzzlers.

Seriously. Have you ever been at a truly productive early morning meeting? There is no such thing. And as far as getting to work “promptly” at 7:00 or 8:00 AM – why? What happens in most companies for the first couple of hours or so? Everyone’s getting coffee, hunting down pastries, warming pastries, making oatmeal, getting more coffee, eating cereal, paying an extended visit to the bathroom, chatting, and, well, you know the drill. No one’s working until at least 10:00 AM. And then it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

Later, all those “early birds” who got the proverbial worm (yuck!) are suffering from sugar crashes at 3:00 PM and dawdling as they eye the clock, straining for 5:00 PM to come. Then they’re gone and done.

Us later-in-the-day starters tend to hit the ground running, and then keep going late into the evening. Why? Because we are happy to follow our natural, in-born rhythms rather than conforming to a senseless and exhausting 9-to-5 routine.

But let’s go back to Ben for a minute. Do you really believe that if Ben Franklin were alive now, surrounded by useable electricity, cable TV, iPods, the Internet, thousands of e-books, and a never-sleeping-always-accessible planet, that he’d be in bed early? No way! The guy’s mind was way too active.

When he quill-penned that misguided platitude it’s not like he had a lot of choice but to go to bed when the sun went down and get up when the sun rose. That’s pretty much what everyone did back then in the semi-dark ages. I guarantee that if Ben F. were alive today he would be searching for whatever it took to never sleep. He’d be up all night chugging Red Bull and popping bennies.

And yet, mindlessly, society tries to shame night owls to change who they are implying that their proclivity to late-night endeavors is somehow evil and less than normal. Shame on all you late-night-o-phobes! Where’s your tolerance for those who are different from you?

States Dr. Nancy Collop, Medical Director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, “’It's very difficult for a night owl to become a morning person.” All hail genetics! We bow to thee!

Given that the world is a 24/7 wonder, it’s senseless that those of us who are not morning people continue to be castigated, chastised, and chastened. It’s time to get over it already. It takes all kinds to make the sleepless world go ‘round. We sleep in and stay up late. So what?

We are not bad! We are merely genetically designed to sleep in and stay up later than the rest of you weird early risers. Frankly, I think anyone who “naturally” wakes up before 9:00 AM is the real freak of nature. What’s wrong with you anyway? Maybe you just need a more comfortable pillow. And people who “love” getting up at 5:00 AM – you really need therapy; that’s just sick. Seriously. You couldn’t do it without massive amounts of caffeine or drugs, I’m sure.

And don’t even get me started about those “bubbly” early morning people who bounce around like they’re main-lining something way more potent than coffee. Anyone who is extremely cheerful and perky before noon is just not right. Frankly, perky is weird any time of the day. That there are perky people is one reason I don’t own a gun. But I am mulling it over.

Anyway, heed my warning. If you insist that anyone who clearly does not do their best work in the morning attend a 7:00 AM meeting and they snap your head off, don’t blame them; they didn’t want to be there in the first place; and you really didn’t need to call that meeting so early.

Go back to bed already! You really look like you could use a lot more sleep. Getting up early is just showing off. It’s not healthy. Did you know early risers are more susceptible to heart attacks? If that’s not true, it should be.

And me? Don’t underestimate my ability to sleep in. And don’t ever call me before 10:00 AM; or else I’m going to buy that gun. I think it’s time for a nap.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

PBTAS: Sweet tips for licking sticky interviews

When coaching people who are about to be interviewed by the press, common advice is to tell them to not answer questions too quickly, to take their time, to think, and so on. One of my favorite tips comes from an episode of The West Wing where Leo, who’s an expert at this stuff, has to be reminded to not accept the premise of the question. That’s a great tip, too! (See the graphic for more.)

Being grilled, even by a friendly griller, can cause you to feel like you’re being cooked while marinating in your own sweat! In any situation where you have to field questions, it’s good to have a tool that can help keep you cool. I’ve got just the thing to beat the heat of any Q/A situation: PBTAS. This is an acronym for the mnemonic, Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Spit.

I shared this little treat with people at a school that recently went through a visit from an accrediting agency. Many had to sit through both one-on-one and group interviews, and they were a tad nervous. Later, more than one said my tip helped them to stay on point and keep their answers succinct. That’s the goal!

So, what does Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Spit stand for? Pause, breathe, think, answer (or act), and stop.

Peanut = Pause. For some reason, when asked a question we feel like we need to have the answer on the tip of our tongues. Sometimes we feel almost compelled to start answering before they’re finished asking the question. When you are asked a question, you are not required to respond immediately. In fact, it’s usually best if you don’t. Listen carefully to the question. Don’t start focusing on formulating a response until you’ve heard and understood the complete question. Take a moment to pause and reflect.

Butter = Breathe. While you are pausing, breathe! Take a few slow, deep breaths; they’ll help relax you and clear your head. Breathing keeps the oxygen feeding into your blood which in turn feeds your brain.

Taffy = Think. When asked a question, you have the right to remain silent and actually think about how to answer. In fact, feel free to ask to have the question repeated, and then, just before you answer, restate the question. This gains you more time to formulate your best response. Never answer a question off the cuff without forethought!

Apple = Answer. Now it’s time to answer the question. You can’t hold out forever! But don’t sweat it. Tell the truth. Stick to the facts. Don’t spin. Use verbiage from the question in your answer. And if you don’t know something, say so. Don’t ever try to fake an answer when you really don’t know; it’ll come back to bite you sooner or later, especially if you’re dealing with the media.

Act. You can also use this little formula when working through a decision. In this case, the “A” would represent “Act” instead of “Answer.” Just as you can’t keep mum forever when in an interview, you don’t want to get locked up in a decision-making loop – you’ve got to step out and take action at some point.

Spit = Stop. Have you ever noticed that when you’re chatting with someone and both of you go quiet at the same time it feels a little awkward? Why? Silence between friends is not a bad thing! And it’s also not a bad thing after you’ve given a complete answer to a question. Just stop.

If you’re dealing with a reporter, or any interviewer, odds are they’re going to be quiet for a few moments even after it’s obvious you have finished answering their question. Why? Because the natural tendency is to fill the silence with more talking, and if you keep rambling on, odds are you’ll say something you wish you hadn’t.

A reporter isn’t as interested in your factually correct, nicely worded answer as much as he or she is hoping you’ll provide a provocative sound bite. You don’t want to go there. It’s much easier to bear the momentary awkward silence than it is to endure the never-ending embarrassing sound bite playing over and over on the news.

Stopping and remaining silent is kind like “spitting in the eye” of the reporter who is hoping against hope you’re going to ramble and fumble. Just stop it! Shush! Say no more!

So, there you have it: Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Spit. Sure, feel free to use Pause, Breathe, Think, Answer – Stop if you want, but that’s just not as much fun to say or as easy to remember; the mnemonic has more stickiness!

This tool is handy in a job interview, when fielding questions from a group, when meeting with your boss, or any situation where you are required to answer questions. It’ll all be sweet when you remember Peanut Butter Taffy Apple – Spit.


You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.

This is a scan of a Polaroid of a poster I used to own. The quote belongs to John Viscount Morley. The art is that of Ben Shahn; you can learn a bit more by clicking here. Given the situations around the world where people are being silenced, sometimes with violence, this is an important truth to keep in mind.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Furious longing: Building a new vocabulary for fierce unfettered faith

On the flight out to San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I finally read The Shack by William Young. Just prior, I purchased and started reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God, and finished it after arriving in California.

This juxtaposed reading of the books had an interesting effect on my thinking.

I don’t mean to diss The Shack but it wasn’t all that engaging; I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure what all the hubbub was about. However, one image that did trigger a small epiphany for me was the way Young described the relationship among the Trinity that was comprised of intense, pure, unfiltered love, respect, and acceptance. Seeing this triune relationship played out in the story line was intriguing, and provided fresh insight into God’s nature and love.

This image is actually laced through Manning’s book. But what Manning does is attempt to connect the heavenly with the human and bring to our relationship the same intensity. He does this by using words not typically associated with faith: relentless, boiling, furious, chutzpah, reckless, raging, extreme.

He states early on in the book, “There is no need to mince words. I believe that Christianity happens when men and women experience the reckless, raging confidence that comes from knowing the God of Jesus Christ.”

You and I won’t get there through what he calls the “…assiduous search for shortcuts to holiness.…” Knowing God (in the truly biblical sense) comes through an unconditional acceptance of God’s heart-burning love.

He explains, “The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy.” [Italics mine.]

I am a Christian. Mentally I give assent to the tepid longing that puddles at the bottom of my soul that I kind of, sort of want to know Him maybe a little bit more. You know, to become a “better” Christian, a nicer guy, a likeable human being with heaven in my future.

But what God wants, and what Jesus wants, and what the Holy Spirit wants is to rip aside all my civilized hesitancy and propriety, and embrace me in a face-to-face, full-body, passionate, holy soul kiss: to become shamelessly one. No holds barred. No holding back.

While, on one hand, that’s a tad scary, on the other, it’s compelling; to be fully, unreservedly embraced by and conjoined with God. Easier said than done.

As Manning points out, “…if we continue to view ourselves as moral lepers and spiritual failures, if our lives are shadowed by low self-esteem, shame, remorse, unhealthy guilt, and self-hatred, we reject the teaching of Jesus and cling to our negative self-image.”

Did you get that? Instead of clinging to the cross of Christ, we make an idol of our negative self-image. It’s an idol that’s all too easily fed. After all, sin is in our skin and holiness is not a natural inclination. As the old hymn states, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Any straining toward God is unavoidably frictioned in this life with the relentless pull of sin. We don’t slide into God’s arms without resistance. Spiritual adultery is an easy gig.

Words are powerful. The language we use to describe ourselves can hold us back or propel us forward. The same is true for how we describe our relationships and our faith. Bold faith and a radical relationship with God needs a better vocabulary. Manning is doing his part in giving us new words, images, and metaphors to propel our faith toward a holy consummation better than safe, sweet, and saccharine spiritual slogans can ever do.

He writes, “Jesus came not only for those who skip morning meditations, but also for real sinners, thieves, adulterers, and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.”

Sweet words aren’t going to cut it with real sinners. Like me. And you. God’s goal is not to clean us up like a maĆ®tre d’ who slaps a tie over a T-shirt so we can get into that big restaurant in the sky. It’s not about being a good person doing good things for a tolerant god.

“How is it that we’ve come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what we do for God?” asks Manning. “The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations.”

God’s goal is intimate unshackled oneness with his new creations. “Love by its nature seeks union,” states Manning. “Words such as union, fusion, and symbiosis hint at the ineffable oneness with Jesus that the apostle Paul experiences: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). No human word is even remotely adequate to convey the mysterious and furious longing of Jesus for you and me to live in His smile and hang in His words. But union comes close, very close; it is a word pregnant with a reality that surpasses understanding, the only reality worth yearning for with love and patience, the only reality before which we should stay very quiet.”

Yes, looking into the furious longing of God is intimidating. But Manning reassures saying, “It is natural to feel fear and insecurity when confronted with the radical demands of the Christian commitment. But enveloped in the truth of God’s furious love, insecurity is swallowed up in the solidity of agape, and anguish and fear give way to hope and desire.”

God is Love. As John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

It’s time to throw out our nice expressions of a sweet faith. Real faith tends to get dirty and gritty. Wrestling with the devil’s soul-killing guile and deceit can be bloody battle. We need stronger, better language that will fire our minds and hearts with an unquenchable, jealously passionate, bear-hugging love and longing for God.

Manning is a good 21st century source for new terms, but John Donne preceded him by a few hundred years when he wrote in the 17th century:

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearley'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

The furious longing of God isn’t about holding hands and walking in the moonlight making goo-goo eyes, or a romantic stroll in the garden while the dew is still on the roses. The love of God is not a romantic school-boy crush.

It is consuming, hungering, desiring, lusting, craving, embracing, unrestrained, arduous, fervent, gripping, energetic, fierce, compelling, and so much more.

I’m wondering if I’m man enough to allow His love to truly “ravish” me. I hope so. I really hope so.

FYI: Brennan Manning passed away 4/12/13. Click here to read more from Christianity Today.

How are you longing or not longing for God?


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fearfully and wonderfully made: Spiritual gifts & personality style

Awhile back I was involved in the planning and execution of a special study series in my church. The study was called MADE, and addressed finding your calling within your faith. It included taking a look at your personality type and spiritual gifts. As a result, my thoughts were turned to more clearly discerning my own giftings within the context of my personality style.

One day, a woman at work commented during a conversation that she viewed me as analytical. This struck me as interesting since she didn’t know me all that well. It also annoyed me.

I’ve taken several “personality” assessments; they’re fun. These “tools” always include a category of “analytical” and attach to it activities such as accounting, technical work, and other emotionless pursuits, most having something to do with numbers. I hate dealing with numbers, don’t consider myself emotionless, so have always rejected the notion that I am analytical. Being analytical just seems so cold and, well, bean-counterish.

However, days after the comment was made, as I was turning it over and over in my mind, wondering what about me prompted this assessment of being analytical, the light bulb went off! I was analyzing this comment in very fine detail!

Literally, at that moment (since I was alone at the time), I actually said out loud, “Oh my gosh! I’m analytical!!! When did this happen!?!?”

Many months later I’m still coming to terms with this insight and like to think of myself as warmly analytical. You know, I don’t really analyze things – I ponder them, or mull them over, or ruminate on them, or assess ... well, you get the picture.

The reality is that I’ve always been analytical, but until that moment, had never acknowledged this part of who I am. Now I also see how it impacts other aspects of who I’m not.

One thing I’m not especially is “spontaneous.” Why? Because that’s not who I am as an analytical person. There are times when I’m able to very quickly assess and respond to a situation in a way that appears to be spontaneous. But spontaneity is just not in my makeup.

Understanding my own personality and recognizing how God has gifted me helps me make choices that fit who I am. When it comes to working with others, getting a sense of their personality styles and giftings, and how the different styles conflict with and complement one another, is very valuable.

I believe God gifts us both according to our personality style combined with the needs of the moment.

My top three spiritual gifts are administration, wisdom, and discernment. Administration is consistently high. The others tend to shift a tad.

Based on DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and other similar tools, I’ve learned that I’m INFJ, as well as an introvert with A-type tendencies; kind of an AB. Mostly, I’ve learned that I’m flexible, often adapting my style to fit the situation.

Generally though, I love process and tend to be methodical when accomplishing tasks. I use lists a lot. I’m able to see order in chaos; I can see patterns in clutter which helps me move from disorganized to organized. Being able to envision the end result, I can patiently work through untangling the chaos. And I’m a muller: I will spend a lot of time thinking and assessing. At the same time, once I have a clear vision of where I need to go, I’m full speed ahead; let’s git ‘er done!

What about you? Or the people you work with? Understanding your own personality type and giftings, and being able to discern those of the people around you, can improve relationships and productivity, and increase your happiness.

There are several tools, many online, that can help you discern your spiritual gifts and understand your personality. Just Bing or Google “spiritual gifts” and “personality inventories” and you’ll find a ton.
Here are a few URLs to get you started:

Spiritual Gift Inventories. Take more than one and compare results:

Information on DiSC:

Information on Myers-Briggs:


Friday, July 3, 2009

Doing gladness: Matching giftings to need

Here is a short excerpt from an interview with Frederick Buechner clarifying a quote attributed to him: "Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world's deep need."

Q: You wrote a famous line about one's own deep gladness and the world's deep need. What is your advice to a young person trying to find out what to do in life, trying to figure out a vocation?

A: I never got my own quotation quite straight. There was a little piece I once read on vocation or all these "voices" -- "vocare," to call, "vocation," calling you to be this or to be that. Which one do you answer? I said the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet. When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn't need that. But on the other hand, if you give your life to good works -- you go and work in a leper colony and it doesn't make you happy -- the chances are you're not doing it very well. Those for whom you were doing it will recognize that this is not an act of love. It's a good work and they are the object of it. Just the other day somebody my age in some sort of a crisis said, "I don't feel I'm being what I ought to be." And I said, "What makes you happiest? That's the clue." It struck him dumb. He said, "I never thought that. What makes me happy?" I think he was thinking, what makes me useful? What makes me religious? No, no, no. What makes you, in the deepest sense of the word, happy? That's what you should be doing, if the other part is also met -- if it is something the world needs.

Q: What is that for you? Preaching or writing?

Well, writing. I don't make a distinction really. Preaching and writing -- it's the same. Whether I'm writing to speak or writing to be read in a book, it's the same thing. Yes, it's what makes me happiest. One can only hope that the world needs me to do it. I've never been a great best-seller, so it's not as if millions of people have taken heart from what I've written. But I get enough letters, after all these books I've written over all these years, from people saying, in one sense or another, "You saved my life" that I have to take them seriously, always with tremendous embarrassment. I don't know how to save my own life, so anything they've found in what I've written that saved theirs -- I can't take responsibility for it. But something that's touched me, and through me them, has saved their life. That's something I love more than anything else to do. I mean, the world needs people who save lives.

You can read the entire interview at

Click here to find Frederick Buechner's books at


The man from space: A cover mystery

This was the cover art submitted with a book manuscript sent to a Christian publisher.

I came across this when I was the managing editor at Bridge Publishing in New Jersey (now Bridge-Logos in Florida). It was painted on a sheet of pressboard. All I could learn about it was that it had been submitted with a manuscript that was rejected. I don't know any more. I would have loved to have seen the proposed book. What in the world -- or, rather, out of this world -- could the story line have been? For a Christian book?

I guess I'll never know, but it's still an intriguing image. A stoic blue-eyed space man. A pensive brown-haired woman. A puffy-cheeked flying saucer spewing purple exhaust. Two aligned planets. And a ghostly city in the background.

What could it all mean? Thoughts?