April 11, 2011

    Recently, I invited myself onto your screen with my Point of View presenting a stewardship solicitation, asking you to sponsor me in our upcoming Golf Challenge event. The effort underwrites The Master’s Program; TMP is known – by its participants, its graduates … and their friends – as a mentoring program for Kingdom leaders. There’s a concept with huge appeal … and limited availability: mentoring.
    What is it, exactly? How do you know that "mentoring" is happening? The concept offers significant panache among people who already enjoy a level of accomplishment in life… but know that they still have a reservoir of untapped potential that remains beyond their reach. A mentor is a unique player: a person who is accomplished in his/her own life pursuits, who makes himself/herself available to someone who is on the same – or, similar – journey… and is willing to slow-down, come alongside them, and provide the wisdom gained through experience that will enhance their progress. The leaders who participate in TMP say they’ve been mentored through the process.
    Most people who plan to maximize life have either explored or experienced mentoring. The ache to be nurtured is God-given; the process of transference is biblical: "…and the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul challenged his protégé – Timothy – to be multigenerational, passing the experience along to his own "downline" of beneficiaries. Be mentored … then, be a mentor, to others who will – themselves – be mentors, in time, to another generation.

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April Fools Day Emails

April 4, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend,  

    This year, I was ready. The old adage – “Burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me!” – is not lost on me.
    I have a friend – a Master’s graduate, on top of that – whom I’ve known for nearly 20 years. Last year, about this time, he sent an e-mail to his “list,” announcing his wife’s and his upcoming mission trip. The e-mail was longer than the normal paragraph, but it was provocative…
    They were going to spend months in isolation with an unreached people group, to whom no known missionaries are assigned. They had done their homework on the group; it was traveled, multinational, and had immediate accessibility to our friends’ missionary agenda. With no training time lag, they would “hit the ground running” in developing relationships with this group. All they needed for their three month assignment was about $40,000 contributed by their friends; their sacrifice was a mid-ship cabin – without a balcony – on the around-the-world cruise segment they were targeting. Their ministry recipients: cruise ship staffs. They would leave Pocket Testaments on their bed each morning for the steward, and put tracts at their meal table places three times each day. Care to donate? April Fools
    Sure enough, last Friday’s e-mail input included a new “offer” from Rick: he’s adding a new “professional service” to his personal service catalog. As your Travel & Dining Advocate, he’ll interview you to deduce your preferences and passions… and then find restaurants that match you to a “T” (think On your behalf, he’ll make reservations – in your name – and then accompany you and your spouse (with his wife included, of course) to read the menu and make his food/drink suggestions. Since more than one item will be a “match,” he’ll order – and, eat – your “runner-up” entrée (at your expense, of course) so you can double your menu experience, per visit. All for a modest monthly retainer, plus you picking up the tab at your weekly outing. There it is, at the end: April Fools
    Rick has become, for me, “the boy who cried wolf.” I now look forward to his annual mass e-mail, as do most of his friends. The problem: now days, I open any inbound email from him ready to be bluffed with a good one; if he writes with a real announcement, I may discount it because of our “history.”
    We live among a suspicious people group, we upscale, high-exposure, high-experience Americans, circa 2011. We’re all braced for the “too good to be true” offers that land in our in-box – or, spam pile – on a routine basis. Things are never what they’re purported to be, it seems…
    Discernment is caution; skepticism is cancer. Discernment is a filter; skepticism is a barrier. After a few rounds of burn me once, and twice, and a third time – ad infinitum – you reach a point where you wouldn’t believe Ed McMahon at the front door with the Publisher’s Clearing House mega-check…
    I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that people have a hard time believing that the ultimate solution to life’s gnarliest dilemma has been secured for them by the generous act of a really rich man who isn’t from around here. Like a Secret Millionaire (new ABC prime-time show, Sunday nights; check it out!), he came incognito, lived in the neighborhood… and then offered his help in a surprise ending.
    The dilemma: life, after life. Judgment. Sin. A real stewpot of distress. The solution: He calls it “the Gospel.” Good news. Forgiveness for failure; redemption for eternity; adoption into His family. A free gift; our part is to accept the gift – on His terms – follow His lead… and say, “thanks.” No April Fools

Bob Shank

Many are invited but few accept

March 21, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend,

    Blame the Boomers. Count me in, I suppose. My – our – generation has insisted that we examine the whole sociological/cultural thing… and renegotiate everything. “Start with a clean page” is the First Commandment in the Boomer Top Ten. We don’t accept anything as a “given;” except, of course, that there are no givens.
    Our most-typical venues for The Master’s Program are private clubs – some are city clubs, some country clubs. Their standard: at the front entrance is a brass plaque that reads, simply: “Dress Code.” For the pre-Boomer contingent, those two words are sufficient; they get the message. For my age peers – and the next generation – that statement requires line-item definition, every single time they come in the door.
    The fact that “jeans of any color” are not allowed doesn’t stop modern folks. “Cell Phones Not Allowed” – the plaque on the other door – doesn’t make anyone hit the kill switch, either. I play the embarrassed host as I watch successful, accomplished, 97th Percentile marketplace leaders clad in designer jeans talking excitedly on their Android or iPhone… just inside the doors with “The Rules” etched in bronze. Didn’t these guys’ mothers teach them anything?
    We seem to have a problem these days with the very notion of exclusivity. To propose that there is anything – anywhere – that can be confined to convening or serving a specific group with self-limiting criteria seems to have become morally indefensible.
    I was conducting an Executive Briefing for The Master’s Program recently; I made the point that we are a mentoring program for proven Christian marketplace and ministry leaders. A man in the room raised a question. “It seems like you are trying to be exclusive. Isn’t this a Christian program? Why aren’t you willing to offer it to the masses?”

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The Crisis in the Land of the Rising Sun

March 14, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend,  

    The headline was sourced in Canada, not in the United States – or, Japan: “No Doomsday Seen in Recent Quakes, Just ‘Bad Luck’.”
    The focus of the following article was purely scientific: “Powerful killer earthquakes have rocked one corner of the globe to another in just over a year but scientists warn against looking for a Doomsday scenario in this recurring ripple of big earthshaking natural disasters. ‘There’s nothing going on out of the ordinary,’ Dr. Daniel McNamara, a research seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told Reuters.” (Reuters, March 11, 2011)
    The quake that hit Japan last Friday was measured at 9.0 magnitude (upsized from the original 8.9 assessment); that’s equivalent to 25,000 nuclear bombs. Today, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that the disaster was the worst occurrence for their nation since World War II. Current predictions assume that 10,000 lost their lives in the devastation that followed the earthquake and tsunami.
    Asia’s #1 Economy has opened for business on Monday morning… with a virtual “closed until further notice” sign in the window of many offices. The full effects of this geological upheaval won’t be fully realized for months; for now, the search for survivors and the basic necessities (water, food, electricity) for millions will be the preoccupation of the leaders, both in the country and in the world community.
    Haiti. Chile. New Zealand. Now, Japan. In the span of months, the challenge to terra firma (“solid ground”) has been a recurrent theme. Bullish behavior in life is founded on the confidence of “can’t lose” certainty. If markets react negatively to Steve Job’s cancer treatment; the globe will undoubtedly react to an essential world trading partner who will be consumed with survival for the near-term future. No Doomsday seen in recent quakes; just “bad luck?”
    In our superstitious past, events akin to these would have been understood under the category of “acts of God.” In the legal and economic worlds, that term has taken on contract meaning, allowing non-performance without recourse when caused by circumstances beyond one’s control. But, where does this “act of God” idea come from? Is that an unenlightened way of explaining (away) one’s bad luck?
    There have been times in history when enlightenment was the result of revelation, and leaders have influenced their followers to respond to disaster – or, the threat of disaster – in spiritual terms. I’m reading all of the newspapers this morning, and watching the same live coverage that you are. The intervention of assistance from outside the collapse is the immediate need, even as the concern grows regarding the radiation potential from the failing nuclear reactors. I’m with you in finding a way to help in a hands-on way (go to and help fund Samaritan’s Purse immediate aid to the Japanese victims, through churches on-the-ground in Japan).
    But, what do you think about all of this… and how do you process it, through your worldview?
    Disaster has been a recurrent reality through human history. Sometimes, it hits a country, and leaves some people standing. Sometimes, it strikes a person, and the culture around him never feels a thing. How do you sort it out? Has anyone thought to call for an international day of repentance and prayer?
    Click here to read Psalm 37 as you ponder the realities of life. Is it just “bad luck,” or is there a divine orchestration behind it all?
    The Psalm ends with assurance: “ The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.   The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:39-40)
    May God use the crisis in Japan – and, the world around them – to point the way to Him.  
Bob Shank

Winning a Lost Someone

March 7, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend, 

     I was tempted to announce that I would no longer be producing this weekly digital discourse, created at one of Starbucks’ 10,000 US locations before sun-up; instead, I’m trying to grab the timeslot on the VideoCam Network just after “Charlie’s Korner.” Why not allow my Point of View to lean into the New World and go viral?
   If Sheen can rant from his unique worldview – and grab 100,000 people on-line for the preview to see what Tiger Blood enables, why couldn’t I slide in behind him to expose my worldview… and show them what Jesus’ Blood can do? If Sean Hannity could work alongside Alan Colmes for 13 years – working from two very different spots on the ideological spectrum – is there a possible future for Sheen & Shank? (I’d be willing to give up alphabetical name order in recognition for him being the Adonis he says he is… and me being a “troll.”)
   Sorry, I’m ahead of myself, but that’s out of my system.
   Besides the obvious, one gigantic difference between Charlie Sheen and Bobby Shank is this: he knows how to exploit the myriad of “social media,” and I don’t.
   Facebook? I’m not there; not yet. Twitter? No one knows where I ate last night. Linkedin? Haven’t accessed anyone’s network yet (I guess that makes me “unLinked”). YouTube, of me? Nada. No personal videos. Flikr? Good luck finding my headshot. If you used “social media” to determine my existence, I would be rated just below the Dodo bird of Mauritius on the “used to be, not anymore” list.
   Does that mean I’m not social? What, exactly, is “social?” Technically, it is “needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in community.” What’s “community?” It is “a group having a religion, race, profession or other particular characteristic in common.”
   I spent the weekend at an “undisclosed location” in the Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia with 500 men who had come together for “community.” Their professions were diverse; their zip codes were red and blue states, from both coasts. If they had political party commonality, it never came up. If “religion” – marked by institutional membership or certification – was the measure, they were all over the denominational map. Were they just random residents of the same hotel for 48 hours? Or, was there something more?
   The meeting rooms had been booked in the name of the New Canaan Society, but that’s just a shell non-profit for a bunch of men who have a Best Friend in common… and an ongoing, real-life community of men who invite their friends to come closer to their Best Friend. In the most precise terms, they were – and, are – a “community,” being “social”… without the assistance of “media.”
   Sociologists should be tracking the relationship between the rise of Facebook and the trend line for suicide. If the Big Dog in connecting has 500,000 people meeting in the Social Square, aren’t our needs for relationship finally resolved? Is relational “disconnection” displaced by broadband?
   God made us with batteries that run down, quickly. The quick charge – good for minutes, but exhausted quickly – comes from connecting with other people. The deep charge – good for hours, and suitable for our most challenging assignments – comes from connecting with Him. How do we connect with Him?The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
   I’m not ranting against Social Media; I’m simply recognizing the digital limitations. Charlie Sheen doesn’t need an audience; he needs a friend. He doesn’t need two goddesses; he needs one God. He doesn’t need Tiger Blood; he needs Jesus’ Blood. His tattoo says, “winning;” his life says, “lost, and losing.” Charlie Sheen needs a Savior…
    God, please bring someone alongside Charlie Sheen, who can bring Charlie alongside the one and only Son…

Bob Shank

the King’s speech

February 28, 2011

    It’s still dark outside. Today – Monday – is a session day for The Master’s Program in Santa Barbara. A good friend – TMP grad in SB – did a “reply” on my Point of View a week ago to snag a coffee time before today’s session; I was delighted to say, “yes.”
    Backtime: arrive at the Canary Hotel for set-up by 7:00am. An hour with Drew? Meet at 6:00. Time to write the PoV? Before Drew; hit S’bucks on State Street in Santa Barbara by 5:00…
    MapQuest says it’s 133 miles; not much traffic when you pull out of your driveway at 3:00am. Draw the MQ “straight line” from Shank’s to Starbucks SB: it goes straight through Hollywood…
    The partiers were still venue-hopping – post-Oscars – as I cruised the 101 through Hollywood this morning. The all-news – “traffic and weather on the 5’s” – radio was repetitive. Once you heard that The King’s Speech received the honor it deserved, there wasn’t much left to say… except the gracious allowance of Melissa Leo’s expletive during her acceptance for best supporting actress. As one insider wrote this morning, “… Melissa Leo is, after all, an actress. Her speech was the most scripted non-scripted speech I have ever seen, and I sincerely believe the profanity was intended to look spontaneous.”
    A bad morning for news, even if I could find it. I sure didn’t need an update on the “public servants’” camp-out in Madison, Wisconsin. The teachers entrusted with nurturing the intellectual development of that state’s children have been posing an ad hominem attack on Governor Scott Walker, calling him “Adolph Hitler” because of his efforts to rein-in the state’s financial crisis through setting some budget boundaries that the unions don’t appreciate.
    World news offered no relief, either. One by one, countries with oil and mosques are erupting in political flames. “Stability” is the polar opposite of today’s status reports. No one – not on Main Street, not on Wall Street, not on Pennsylvania Avenue – can predict where those mob bombs will land. The only “smart money” says that oil will pass café lattes on a per-ounce value before it’s over.

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Presidents Day Everyday

February 21, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend,

    Yet another Monday “off,” if you work in an environment that regards holidays as sacrosanct. In an act of efficiency, we’ve declared the third Monday of February as Presidents Day in America, to honor George Washington… and the 43 men who followed him in the office.
    In America, a president’s best day is usually the day he is elected; popular support often slips from there to the political equivalent of Death Valley. Do the job well, and you may get another 48 months; lose your grip, and you’re finished, in less time than most people spend today in college.

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Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2011

    Back in grade school – when I was a kid – today (February 14th) was a day of ritual. Everyone brought everyone else a “Valentine;” each desk in the room had a stack of hokey heart cards with the name of a classmate etched on the back. If you had a “special friend,” you might add a touchy tagline above your signature, but that was risky. Everyone was everyone else’s Valentine…
    By high school, symbolized romance was no longer practiced with everyone in the room. If you bought a Valentine, it didn’t come in a box with 24 others; it came off a rack at Hallmark for a very specific person. All of the cards in third grade said, “Be my Valentine;” the offer went out to everyone. Later, when you had a drivers license, it was no longer a shotgun request, but a sniper solicitation.
    Key word: “my.” Webster paints “my” as: “belonging to or associated with the speaker.” Possession is not just implied; it’s declared…
    During this Valentine month – February – hundreds of Christian leaders will be participating in Barnabas Groups, from San Diego to Charlotte, from Danville to Chicago. I was at the “mothership” for The Barnabas Group last week in Orange County, and was introduced to the +300 people in the room as the “co-founder” of the movement.

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Super Bowl 45

February 7, 2011

    Wednesday afternoon, February 2nd. I was flying to Dallas, scheduled to lead a session for The Master’s Program on Thursday (ultimately, scrubbed because our Country Club venue had a “weather malfunction” and could not open). My high-mileage gets me free upgrades, so I was sitting in seat #5B, up in the expense-account front cabin.
    As we were in final approach to DFW, the two guys started talking (it takes men a while to become conversational). One of them revealed that he was headed to the Super Bowl, clutching the ticket (15 yard line, second level) he bought for $5,000 (it had an original $700 “face value”). The other guy mentioned a friend who had just attended the Pro Bowl, in Hawaii. “Yeah, but that was the Pro Bowl. It has no real value; it doesn’t mean anything…”
    The Deep Meaning wasn’t in Honolulu last Sunday; it was in Dallas, yesterday. The ruse was a football game between the Pittsburg Steelers (can’t you just hear the, “We’re #2!” chant today?) and the Green Bay Packers. It was quite a game, and it held the attention of zillions until the last fall-on-the-ball play from scrimmage.
    Interesting, though, that the outcome of the game doesn’t close the file. There are two tracks that run out of Cowboys Stadium that haven’t even come close to the Two Minute Warning.

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Rescue from our resignation to the wrong

January 31, 2011
    Name association time: what do these men have in common? Here’s the roster: Owen Honors; Charlie Sheen; Tiger Woods. Give up?
    These were not “two and a half men.” They were three grown-up men, playing at the top of their game. All had won the respect of the specialty worlds around them: Honors was the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise – one of America’s premier aircraft carriers; Sheen was the 2008 winner of the American Latino Media Arts award for “outstanding male performance in a television series;” Woods was on his way to challenge Jack Nicklaus’ lifetime record of 18 major golf championships, at the age of 34. Each of them was at a high-point, but shifting gears to go to the next level, when…

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Governor Bentley

January 24, 1011
    “Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother. If the Holy Spirit lives in you that makes you my brothers and sisters. Anyone who has not accepted Jesus, I want to be your brothers and sisters, too.”
    If you’ve ever attended a church that embraces a biblical, evangelical faith, those are not “fighting words.” In fact, you would probably hear some “amens” from the crowd while the “preacher” uses the family image to encourage the not-yet-committed to come to faith.
    But those words – from a pulpit, in a Baptist church service, from a recognized deacon in the Southern Baptist denomination – have incited a firestorm of controversy. The reason? They were made by Robert Bentley, the same Sunday he was inaugurated as Governor of Alabama.
    "We live in a country that is hugely diverse," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, the country’s oldest atheist civil rights group. "The governor basically said: ‘If you’re not like me, you’re second class.’ This is a man who puts the Bible above the Constitution and his preacher above the president. His words are disgusting and bigoted and reinforce Alabama’s reputation for being backward and bigoted."
    A spokesman for the Anti Defamation League said the governor’s comments were "stunning" and "distressing" and were tantamount to proselytizing. "It is stunning to me that he’d make those remarks. It’s distressing because of the suggestion that he feels that people who aren’t Christian are not entitled to love and respect," said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s regional director. "On the day that he is sworn in as governor, he’s sending a statement to the public saying if you’re not Christian you can’t be with me. From our point of view that is proselytizing for Christianity and coming very close to a violation of the First Amendment."
    Wow. That’s no small amount of conflict, within the first hours of one’s governorship. Has Bentley’s new job placed him in a position where exercising his First Amendment rights are a violation of the First Amendment? As a refresher: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech… As the Governor, does he no longer have freedom to exercise his religion, or to speak what he believes to be true?

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“Ball in play” moments for followers of Jesus

January 17, 2011

    Pittsburg. Green Bay. Chicago. New York. Another weekend coming up for non-sports folks to tolerate the hooting and hollering – and the home-delivery pizza world to put all of their cars on-the-street for emergency calls – until the cast is determined.
    For the non-recovering footballholic, the binge will peak on Sunday, February 6th. We don’t call it “Super Bowl” for nothing. The World Cup gets a bigger international audience, but don’t tell that to red blooded Americans. Time stands still on the last NFL day of the (playing) year; this year, Dallas is Mecca – home to the annual culmination of all things pigskin. Every Pop Warner kid, all of the high school wannabes, the college athletes: they all fall asleep with visions of heaven someday… as long as “heaven” involves a game watched by millions, and a ring that will forever designate that they made it to the top of their competitive heap.
    Not everyone watches those post-season championship games for the same reason. Last year, a team from the Wall Street Journal watched – no, analyzed – last year’s playoff games as they were broadcast on four major TV networks. Their objective was intriguing: they wanted to know where the time went.
    The question: how much playing time – actual ball-in-play time – was found in a championship-level, professional football contest? If you performed an audit, where do the scoreboard seconds really go?
    Here are their findings:

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Run in such a way as to get the prize (p. 2)

January 10, 2011

Okay, here’s Part 2 of my Welcome to 2011 Point of View counsel. If your career activities are anything like mine, you spent 2010 trying to rake your yard during a hurricane. Your efforts had little effect, against the 100+ MPH winds that pummeled the Marketplace.

Last week, we packed up the residue from 2010 and put it in the attic; today, I want you to make some commitments – to yourself, but even more, to God – regarding the things that you have the power to effect, no matter what the circumstances around you might be. How can you assure that 2011 will produce noteworthy progress in the things that matter the most? Here are five agendas for consideration:

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Run in such a way as to get the prize

January 3, 2011

    My parents – and, parents-in-law – had unique perspectives about life that were formed, in part, through their experience in the “Great Depression” (1929-1940). We’ve been cast as characters in the 21st Century sequel to that drama: it’s been tagged the “Great Recession.”
    Everything happens faster today, in the Digital Age. Maybe the 10+ years for Depression will be accelerated for the Recession. Time will tell; for now, all we know is that 2010 was a year that most would like to pack up with the Christmas trinkets and stuff into life’s self-storage vault.
    Most of our peers evaluate a year-end using the same dashboard metrics. Whether the times are tops or tragic; the self-reflective questions are pretty shallow:
        » Did I make more money last year than I ever have before?
        » Did I acquire more “stuff” than I had a year before?
        » Did I improve my position, enhance my career, or go out on my own?
        » Did I enhance my image in the eyes of my friends? and,
        » Did I cultivate envy in the eyes of my enemies?
    Are those the best questions to ask in evaluating the quality of a year of your life? Do those put the spotlight where it really belongs? Let me suggest some different questions that might help you establish a more biblically-solid attitude about your last twelve months. What are they?

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If that’s all true

December 27, 2010

Okay, it’s a wrap. Retail Rescue ’10 is in its final stages; the game was in the win column before the holiday weekend. The post-holiday turnout put the icing on the cake; RR’10 got extra time on the game clock with the day-after happening on a weekend day, allowing shoppers to show up without work conflicts. The numbers were all “up;” Wall Street will bounce, after the storm passes…

The celebration of Christmas can be traced back to around 400 AD. No one disputes the impossibility of tying the birth of Jesus to a particular calendar date. The events surrounding Christmas were not timestamped…

It’s hard to consider Christmas – the birth of Jesus, at whatever calendar posting one chooses – apart from the cultural baggage of holly and bearded fat men driving sleighs, or decorated pine trees and front-door wreaths, office parties and family gift exchanges, nighttime carol sings and year-end sale events. Once all of the hype of the holiday is reboxed and put back in the attic, there’s a question that remains on the table: what if it’s really true?

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Rejected and Silent

December 20, 2010

Well, this is the week; it’ll likely be “all ‘christmas’, all of the time.” Do you hear a little “bah, humbug” coming from my keyboard? I’ve chosen to refer to the onslaught as “small ‘c’ christmas” rather than “big ‘C’ Christmas.” Small “c” for the mall version; big “C” for the Bible version…

I was in New York over the weekend, where I started my days with the local paper – the New York Times – and did cultural digs to see what that iconic paper would feature in the lead-up to Christmas, 2010.

Two stories caught my attention. One of them owned front page headlines on December 19 th, nationwide: after 17 years of policy prominence, “don’t ask; don’t tell” is no longer SOP (standard operating procedure) for military recruiters. The effects – ripple or tsunami – will follow, as the change finds its way into the uniformed ranks of America’s armed forces.

The other was buried deeply in Saturday’s edition. A lawsuit is underway – Gaskell v. the University of Kentucky – that plays on some similar American issues.

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Heavenly forces at work on Christmas

December 13, 2010

I preached for a pastor friend yesterday; it isn’t often that a “guest speaker” has the chance to do one of the lead-up-to-Christmas Sundays…

Between you and me, that’s tough duty. Everyone knows all of the details of the Christmas story, so there isn’t much mystery left to be explored. How would you maintain the interest of a well-informed crowd, on the subject of Christmas?

I threw a change-up; instead of referencing Matthew or Luke in their historic treatments of the birth of Jesus, I drew the Apostle Paul into the discussion. In his many letters – now NT books – he did not spotlight the birth of Jesus often. Here is his signature statement: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

The conventional approach to Christmas casts the story with some predictable characters: Mary, Gabriel, Joseph, the Innkeeper, Shepherds, Wise Men, Herod and the Angels all get rolled out onto the stage as the Sunday School kiddos don bathrobes and say their lines. None of those notables are found in Paul’s A-List of Bethlehem’s stars…

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Would this be the year?

December 6, 2010

“So, whatcha gonna get ’em? Are you done with your shopping? Are you ready for Christmas? What in the world are you gonna do??”

The modern madness is unrelenting. In an earlier era – pre-iPad – it was kinda cute when you said, “I think I’ll make them something.” What, cookies? We have friends who live in houses that are out-of-warranty… whose ovens have never been burned-in. Cookies? Don’t they sell those by the box somewhere? Why waste your time makin’ something when you can buy it and be done with it?

It used to be easier. Christmas was a two-part deal:

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Live like the cameras are on you

November 29, 2010

If this was a weekly installment of NCIS – the CBS hit series combining cop-drama, military decorum and a Washington, DC venue – I could hear special agent Anthony DiNozzo pop up with an outtake from I Saw What You Did.

Tony (played well by Michael Weatherly, in the top-rated weekly) is known for a few quirks; one of them is his incessant reference of old movies to draw parallels with current events. He hits those cinema classics with a batting average approaching 1.000…

You’d have to be a certified MB (movie buff) to archive an impression from I Saw What You Did. Made in 1965 by Universal Pictures, it was panned by critics as lackluster. Saturday Review said, “ Unfortunately, there is little for the eye, ear, or mind in [the film] …”

Contemporary scorn notwithstanding, time has formed a movie cult around the story of two teenaged girls who decide to turn an evening at home into a prankfest. They use their rotary-dial phone to call random numbers and announce, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” They never expected to call the home of a nearby husband who had murdered his wife and buried her in the woods. You can figure out the suspenseful gyrations that followed…

Fast forward 45 short years.

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It is Thanksgiving

November 22, 2010

A few weeks ago, Cheri and I were in London on a week-long multi-focus trip (in large part, a Sabbath break to renew, but also a “working trip:” to sow seeds for a possible Master’s Program entry into England). It included the opportunity to introduce friends to friends: two American couples, living as “ex-pats” in London.

A few days ago, I was copied in an e-mail exchange between the two couples: they’re getting together on Thursday this week, for dinner; not in a restaurant, but in one of their homes. Agenda: it’s Thanksgiving.

They haven’t gone very deep in conversation yet; they haven’t had the opportunity. They’re “new friends.” But that can follow; for right now, the common denominator that makes dinner on Thursday a date is their identity as Americans. It’s Thanksgiving!

A day celebrated through history, based on an epic story: a beleaguered people group who reach a place of overwhelming oppression in a place they could never call “home.” Driven by their desperation, they embrace a vision for rescue that involves perilous adventure and life-threatening circumstances. They arrive at their destination and begin a new life that, over time, is everything they had hoped, and more. To commemorate their story, a holiday feast is established to recount and remember their past, so that future generations would understand the origins of what could now be taken for granted.

If this was a game show, you could shout, “Thanksgiving!” as your answer for that definition, and you would be right. But there are more answers that would apply…

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The Greatest Indicator of One’s Influence

November 15, 2010

Dear Marketplace Friend,

Talk about stark contrast: if you’re in the magazine business – competing for the newsstand shopper who is visually stimulated – you’re pretty careful about whom you put on the front cover. Blonde starlets are Choice #1, it seems. Wait: what’s the big guy with the big open mouth doing on that cover?

On the cover of Newsweek, it’s Rush Limbaugh. The cover story is “The Power 50.” The exposé inside explores the question of America’s most influential players on the political field.

They used a strange criterion to form a list that begins with Limbaugh and ends with #50, David Axelrod. In between the top and bottom are names like Glenn Beck (#2) and Sarah Palin (#6); Bill Clinton (#8) and George W. Bush (#18); Karl Rove (#35) and Dick Cheney (#32). The measuring stick, oddly enough, was their most recent annual earnings. Rush pegged $58.7 to be first; Sarah Palin is slotted at $14 million, while President Obama occupies #20 with $4 million (book sales, not salary).

It causes me to step back and ask an unpopular question: is influence really measured in income? Have we come to the place in our cultural slide where the ability to generate cash flow is the greatest indicator of one’s influence –

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We lost because…

November 8, 2010

It may never end! Innocent me: I thought that I’d take my own advice, and vote. They’d count the ballots, winners would be declared, and the newly elected would go home and pack…

No way, pal. The leaders may be packing, but the losers are doing interviews trying to explain why the voters veered the other direction. Talk about spin! “We lost because we didn’t tell them how well we were doing?” The last two years has been a 24/7 campaign speech…

One of the best stories of the election of 2010 is in today’s Newsweek; it features Tim Scott, the newly elected congressman from South Carolina’s First Congressional District.

Tim Scott’s bullet points:

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Getting ready for Election Day

November 1, 2010

We should be used to it; they are the signs of the season. Football – at all levels – fills the weekends. We gain an hour’s sleep next Saturday night… and then we’ll curse the darkness on the way home from work. Strange creatures came around, looking for a handout while we asked ourselves, “Who do they think they are?” They don’t scare us, because we knew they were coming.

Trick-or-treaters on Halloween? Nope; I’m talking about candidates, getting ready for Election Day! The “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question has turned ugly. Mothers won’t admit that their baby grew up to be in Congress…

The fact that politics is not a popular profession doesn’t mean that we can live without them! Even so, the projections for Tuesday are sobering: the people who may set the course for the future are the ones who fail to turn out and vote…

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Is there room for God to disrupt “the plan?”

October 25, 2010

Paul owed Barnabas a lot. When Paul was freshly-converted, he walked into the church in Jerusalem… and no one trusted him. He had led the official Jewish effort to eliminate the followers of Jesus, and the question of his sincerity was uppermost in everyone’s mind. Barnabas – the “Son of Encouragement” – took Paul under his arm and believed in him.

Years later, Barnabas brought Paul the untested to Antioch and made him his protégé, as they led the first church established outside Israel. Then, God supernaturally called them out of that established setting to begin their faith expansion into the Gentile communities of the Roman Empire. That first missionary journey ended well… and their partnership continued as they participated in the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) that would establish the protocols by which non-Jews would be welcomed into the faith community formed around Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel.

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