Just Having A Little Fun. Right…?

Rip Off Alert

JUST HAVING A LITTLE FUN. RIGHT…?

   Are people really trying to rip you off? Yes. Yes, they are. And you know what they say about a fool and his money, right?

   Take Beth, for example. She thought she’d save some money by shopping at the big department store’s “May Day” sale where she bought a cute sweater for a cool 50% off! Killer deal, right? Maybe—except that she still paid $100 for that sweater. Now, to hear Beth tell it, she would never have paid that much for a sweater but this one was on sale and it just would have been wrong to pass up a half-off sale!

   Now I know what you’re thinking: “But if it’s a brand name then…” Maybe. However, unless I’m wearing that brand-name tag on the outside of the sweater, I don’t normally move in circles where someone would come up to me and notice that that particular sweater deserves to cost $200. But maybe that’s just me.

The dirty little secret of the marketplace is that many stores mark up merchandise just so that they can then turn right around and mark it down for a “momentous, one-time-only sale that you can’t afford to miss!”

   (Yeah, I can. Really.) And ever notice how often these retail stores offer these “incredible, one-time-only events”? Let’s count ‘em.

   In January, there’s the “New Year’s Sale” and the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sale,” not to mention the occasional “Big Snow Event Sale” or “Polar Vortex Sale”.

   In February, there are sales for Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Washington’s birthday (or a “Presidents’ Day Sale), and somewhere in the mix between February and March are the Marti-Gras’ sales.

   Come March, of course, are the HUGE St. Patrick’s Day sales—and being Irish is not a prerequisite to have a sale commemorating ‘ol St. Pat (although you do have to like collecting a little green). And these “Pot O’ Gold” sales continue for at least two weeks—or until followed by the “Spring Forward” sales (celebrating the dawn of daylight savings time). Of course, then the “Spring” sales immediately commence, regardless of whether Mother Nature has finished her infamous snow dumps or not. (“Not” seldom occurs .)

   In April, there may, in fact, be an “April Fool’s” sale (no joke)—unless Easter comes early, in which case those sales can run simultaneously for three weeks, overlapping the “Spring Break Sale,” and/or “End of Winter!” sales. And don’t forget all of the weight-loss companies “guaranteeing” that you can lose “UP TO” 15 pounds before summer!  (Realize that “up to” starts at a half pound…)

   Besides flowers, May brings the afore-mentioned May Day sales as well as Mother’s Day, college graduation sales, and Memorial Day sales.

   And on it goes—the big Madison Avenue conspiracy to separate you from your cash.

   Summer brings still more grad sales plus more “Big Savings” for Flag Day, Father’s Day, the 4th of July, and “Christmas in July”. (Really.) And that’s not all! Beginning in July are also “Back to School” and “Dog Days of Summer” sales—both of which continue ad nauseam till fall. And don’t forget—you can also lose UP TO 15 pounds before fall—if you call right now! (So exciting!!)

   Then it’s the “End of Summer” sales, followed immediately by Labor Day sales which continue until the Columbus Day sales (celebrated even by those who strongly disapprove of Christopher Columbus) and Grandparents’ Day sales. Somewhere in the mix begin the Halloween sales because that’s a huge cash cow with people in the U.S. spending $92 billion a year on costumes and candy. Of course, immediately following the nationwide candy chow-down, you can conveniently lose UP TO 15 pounds before the holiday parties—and save! (But only if you call in the next 15 seconds.)

November 1st kicks off the Veterans’ Day sales—merrily brought to you by corporations and companies who never give another thought or discount to veterans any other time of year.

   And somewhere in there fall the “Fall Back” sales (lamenting the end of daylight savings) and the pre-Thanksgiving sales. These are followed close on by Black Friday sales which now begin on Thanksgiving evening (not to be confused with the Thanksgiving Day sales), the Super-Saturday sales and the Cyber-Monday sales.

   Then, before we’ve barely had time to digest the pumpkin pie, it’s time for the “holiday” sales: Hanukah, Quanza, and Christmas—all the way till 11:59pm on Christmas Eve. The “After-Christmas” sales begin on December 26th (although the occasional “Christmas Night” sale has been spotted), and post-holiday sales continue till the New Year’s sales—followed closely by the “Lose the Holiday Weight” campaigns (up to 15 pounds). And all of these sales, naturally, drag on until the MLK sales… then rinse and repeat.

   Of course, there are also all of the national “Fill-in-the-blank Day” sales—like national Donut Day, Pizza Day, Hat Day, Library/Book Day, National “Smoke-Out” Day (not sure what’s on sale there…), and—drum roll, please… Coffee Day! Add to that gifts for the various “Teachers-Policemen-Nurses-Firemen-Administrative Assistants’” days and you have the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to save money dozens of times a year—and that’s not even counting all of the anniversary sales that most stores launch two or three times a year! Just think of all the cash you’re saving!! Especially at “up to” 50% off…

   So, grab your water bottles, shopping lists, and riot gear and hit the malls. And may the sales be with you!

   Oh, disclaimer.: Lest anyone become so bothered by this massive corporate conspiracy that sleep aids should become necessary, rest assured—none of this is really true; there is no Madison Avenue back-room think-tank, and no one’s really ripping you off.

   I made it all up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Frustration Overload

Frustration-Smoke

FRUSTRATION OVERLOAD

   When Bernie, a middle school student, gets frustrated, there is much yelling and screaming, throwing of chairs and books, and even some fists tossed around. No surprise that, awhile back, Bernie ended up throwing chairs at home for a semester. Sadly, after investigating a very loud ruckus in the hallway yesterday, I discovered that Bernie was still battling his frustration levelsand losing.

   Over the years, I’ve watched hundreds of students as they struggle to cope with their own shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures. Or not cope. The number one challenge in dealing with any of those? Frustration. The difficulty is that there’re many different methods of dealing with frustrationsome successful, some not.  

   Method #1: Meltdown. Like Bernie, usually anyone who melts down over a challenge or trial—whether adult or student—does it for one of two reasons: embarrassment over others’ perceptions of why they can’t do that thing (whatever it is) or anger at themselves for being “stupid” —evidenced by the inability to accomplish some task or goal.

   It was a few years back when I first tutored Bernie after he’d been removed from school for his violent reactions to frustration. Whenever he wasn’t able to accomplish an assignment (or didn’t want to), the meltdowns would commence. There’d be the aforementioned activities capped off with a refusal to try at all and then a finale in which he’d end up screaming, “I’m so stupid!” Sadly, no amount of reassurance or coaxing could convince him otherwise.

   While, as adults, our meltdowns might not be as violent (hopefully), they often still involve some form of pushing back: arguing, blaming others, and/or the ever-popular “freeze-out”. These usually stem from either seeing ourselves as “stupid” (even if we don’t recognize that that’s how we feel) or from seeing a situation as stupid and a waste of time. Sometimes the frustration isn’t about how we feel about ourselves; often it’s over the powerlessness we feel when some situation really is stupid, ridiculous or harmful and we don’t have the authority to change it.

    The fix? Timeout. Sometimes students reach such a level of frustration that they either ask to time themselves out—usually by sitting outside of the classroom where it’s quieter—or they have to be directed to a TO—the hallway (if they cooperate) or the principal’s office (if they don’t). Adults are the same way—sometimes in life we need a timeout. These might range anywhere from a 30-minute soak in the Calgon bubbles to a withdrawal from a job, relationship, or ministry for a short (or long) season. Of course, a voluntary TO is always less humiliating, but the problem is that sometimes we don’t recognize our own frustration soon enough to separate ourselves and deal.  Unfortunately, the consequences for not timing ourselves out can be much more devastating should we neglect to do it before someone else has to make us. Losing a job or business, nuking a relationship, or being removed from ministry are all sad consequences of failure to recognize and deal with our own shortcomings and/or bad behavior and the frustration which inevitably follows.

   The lesson? Even if a voluntary timeout might be painful to have to do, it’s a much better option than having someone else—God included—step in to do it for us.

   Method #2: Negativity and Complaining. Protesting and muttering are common reactions to frustration and are, admittedly, part of the human condition. In fact, those are reactions with which I struggle; I just don’t handle nonsense and/or stupid situations well. To clarify, it’s not struggling people I resent—rather, it’s ridiculous requirements and/or “hoops” that absolutely defy common sense that smoke me. (Common Core comes to mind.) Am I complaining? Yep. And I could let myself off the hook by making the observation that everyone else is complaining, too, but that would be rationalizing.

   But what’s the big deal about complaining? The problem with chronic muttering and complaining is that negativity is both harmful to us and contagious to others.

   The fix? Three Options: On the surface, it would seem that I have two options to relieve the frustration of futile circumstance: I can try to make the best of a bad situation or—I can move on. However, for a Christian, there is another option: I can implement the Ezekiel 37 solution and prophesy to those very dry bones—that impossible situation—and see a very real solution to that problem. Welding the authority of the weapon of the Word of God is powerful to change circumstance and to relieve the frustration of hopelessness.

   The lesson? Complaining does very little but prolong the problem or situation—stupid though it may be. More importantly, muttering and complaining only multiplies the frustration in our own lives.

The bottom line is that it’s difficult to deal with frustration unless our thinking changes.

   First, we have to look in the mirror and admit that we have a problem with frustration—which can be hard because it’s probably the one negative emotion to which we feel entitled. The only way we can break the cycle of frustration in our lives is through deliberate effort to be grateful and to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…” (Phil. 4:8). This type of focus works whether one is a Christian or not. We know this because research shows that optimism has beneficial effects on the brain.

   The truth is that we can reprogram ourselves to think more positively if we really make a concerted effort. It won’t be easy because it’s never easy to change a long-ingrained habit but I have to believe that once having conquered the better part of frustration, we’ll have a better quality of life. After all, who wants to live life angry?

   I know I don’t.

 

 

 

 

Fight Like A Girl.

Girls Fighting

FIGHT LIKE A GIRL.

   Ever heard the term “fight like a girl”? Ever seen girls fight? It’s dirty. By virtue of the fact (I guess) that ladies aren’t supposed to duke it out, we’re never taught the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules that dictate a good, clean fistfight.

     That is, most girls aren’t.

     Back in the day when I was being bullied by a pack of particularly vicious junior high girls, my well-meaning father taught me how to defend myself that way. Alas, but I found out the painful way that when girls fight, fists aren’t the only body parts involved. While there is lots of punching and smacking – hard – upside heads and other places, there’s also lots of leg action: kicking and tripping, which is usually followed by much rolling around on the ground. Oh, and let’s not forget the hair pulling – lots of hair pulling. And I don’t mean just a gentle tug here and there. No, this is the grab-a-handful-of-hair-and-yank-HARD kind of hair pulling. Have you ever tried to smack, kick or trip someone who has her fist wrapped around your hair? In case you have not, the fact is that that move generally dictates the location of your head. Let’s face it – whoever gets to the hair first usually wins.

     Those are his Lordships’s rules for girls.

     Granted, you might never encounter the infamous junior-high girls’ species (feared by wolf packs worldwide), but make no mistake: you will cross paths with a ruthless adversary in this lifetime – sometime, somewhere. It might be a battle for your dream, your destiny or even for your life, but regardless, in order to win, you had best comprehend the rules. Or lack of them.

     Rule Number One: Understand the game. I was once playing Monopoly with a few friends, one of whom complained that he “never” wins the game – ever. A few minutes into the game and I began to see why. I watched as, turn after turn, he would land on a property and pass on buying.

     “Why aren’t you buying any property?” I asked.

     “I’m saving my money.”    

     “For what?”

     “Because saving money is good.”

    What my dear friend didn’t understand is that while it’s good to save money in real life for retirement and other stuff, this wasn’t real life and there is no retirement in Monopoly. I explained to him that early in the game, his only job was to buy up as much property as he could and start building because if he didn’t, someone else would – and then he could kiss his cash good-bye. My friend was a quick learner because in no time, he had snapped up all four railroads, both utilities, and a couple of monopolies on which he proceeded to build. In the end, he owned us. Why? Because he was willing to let go of his idea of what the rules should be and play by what the rules really were.

     Rule Number Two: Watch who you’re listening to. Recently I heard an interview with former heavy-weight boxing champ Joe Foreman who was asked whether he ever felt discouraged or defeated by hecklers booing and shouting. He had a rather surprising answer. He said that when he entered the ring, he blocked out every single voice around him and literally did not hear any of them. He said that it was only when the fight was over and he got back to the locker room that he would find out what others had been yelling because he had so completely tuned out. Foreman’s focus was on one thing only: winning.

     The Bible gives us another good example of this principle of censoring the voices around us. At one point, Jesus heals a leper and then tells him to go to the Temple and give an offering to the priests as a testimony to his healing (Matt. 8:3). But the very first thing Jesus tells the man is, “’See that you don’t tell anyone.'” Why? Because Jesus knew that if the former-leper had stopped to chat with anyone about his healing, some skeptic or other would start telling him how lepers can’t get healed or that his healing would just wear off in the morning or some silly thing that would erode his faith.

To Jesus’ point: We need to be very careful who we’re listening to when we’re trying to do the difficult or even the impossible. Otherwise, we could well be talked out of believing that we can do what we were born to do.

     Rule Number Three: Why not you?  It’s way too easy to be intimidated by the competition while pursuing whatever vision we’re working. Unless we figure out, as some people have, the secret to overcoming that paralyzing insecurity.

     I remember once in college, I had a friend who had developed a crush on God’s gift to women (or so he thought). Of course, other women must have thought so too because he never lacked for girlfriends. So when my friend decided she was going to make this guy monogamous, I have to confess, I giggled. For days. But I’ll never forget what she said.

     “He’s only human. He has to fall sometime. It may as well be for me.”  

     The fascinating thing was – she was right and he did.

     So why not you? Someone has to get that job or record deal or scholarship or agent or client. So instead of thinking about all the reasons why it shouldn’t be you, begin to focus on all the reasons why you should be the chosen. On the way there, it helps to remember one thing: Everybody was nobody before they were somebody. That might be a cliché but that’s only because it’s an indisputable truth. How did those somebodies get on the map? By believing that they were the possibility.

     The bottom line is that we all have to contend for what we believe in – our dreams, our visions, our destinies. And someday, somewhere, someone in your game will be the one to beat the odds and win the prize. Why not you? Fight for it. Fight for it like you mean it.

     Fight like a girl.

 

 

    

 

The Magic Genie Lamp—and Other Success Myths

genie-lamp.jpg

THE MAGIC GENIE LAMP—AND OTHER SUCCESS MYTHS

   My sister has a lot on her plate. She has a full-time job as a nurse case-manager at Duke University Hospital where she manages a department with several employees under her supervision; she’s in school getting her Master’s degree; and she goes to Guatemala every year on a medical missions’ trip. In between, she’s a wife, mom, mom-in-law, grandmother and, may I say, an awesome sister. But why does she have so much responsibility? Because she’s so responsible.

   “’Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…’” (Luke 16:10a).  

   That principle is the great equalizer. In our society right now, there is much chatter over “fairness” and “privilege,” the debate being over whether some folks have more opportunity for success than others. The thinking is that some are born with advantages and some are not—which is not untrue—but the real fact is that success is determined, not by how one starts, but by how one finishes. In other words, it all boils down to the story of the three servants and their allotted talents.

   If you don’t know that Biblical parable, here’s the short version: a master (think “boss”) gives ten talents (think money) to one servant, five to another, and one to a third. He tells each of them to invest wisely because he expects to receive a profit on his investment when he returns. So… the first and second servants invest wisely and each makes a 100% profit on the amount he was given. The third servant hides his one talent for fear of losing it and then—and here’s the key—blames it on the boss, saying, “You’re a hard master.” He doesn’t take responsibility for his choice not to invest his talent; rather, he buries his talent and then accuses the boss for the lack of return. What does the boss do? He takes that man’s one talent away from him and gives it to the one who began with ten and now has twenty. Why? Because he liked the first guy better? No, because the first servant proved to be more responsible.

   To prove the point that his reward was about responsibility and not about the money, what if the first servant had buried his ten talents and the third servant had doubled his one? The first servant would still have had eight more talents than the first servant but I guarantee you one thing: the boss would have taken those ten from the first and given them to the third servant because that servant had proven himself responsible.    

   “’Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much’.”

   When I say that responsibility is the great equalizer, I’m not making it up.

If privilege is the guarantee of success, then all people born to privilege should be successful and no one born to disadvantage should ever be able to accomplish anything. Right?

   So wrong.

   Granted, some people are given many “privileges” in life: they were born in America (as opposed to some country with no opportunity); they were born a certain gender or race or creed; and they were born to affluent parents who could afford to send them to college. However, let’s say that instead of being grateful for all of that and working hard to multiply the return on those advantages, they party, can’t keep a job, and squander away their money. In short, they waste their talents and see no return (at least no good one).

   But, on the flip side, let’s say another person grows up economically disadvantaged, comes from a one-parent household, but works hard in school and earns some scholarship money. Still, once in college, he has to take out loans and work—which, no lie, is really hard. But he sticks with it, majors in business and graduates. After saving some money (and thereby proving himself an acceptable risk to a bank), he is able to get a business loan to open his own small business. Granted, he’s got loans to pay off but many of us do. So he works his tail off and his business becomes successful. Eventually, he is able to open a second location and his success continues. And how? Because he buckled down, used the resources available to him and did whatever it took, however long it took.

   In short, he was responsible.

   Fortunately, this scenario is not a fairy tale; many thousands of people do succeed by working hard and consequently achieving their dreams, regardless of their challenging starts in life. And many do not—regardless of their privileged starts in life. Why? Because it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. And when you prove yourself responsible in small things, greater things are given.

   “’Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?’” (Luke 16:10-12)  

   In the end, there’s really only one thing which determines success or not—and it’s not about whose grandpa founded the town, who’s got the nicest boss, or even who found the magic genie lamp at the garage sale. It’s about the one thing that only you can control: your commitment to responsibility.

   What are you doing with your talents?

 

 

 

 

A Name Like A Crown Jewel

Crown Jewels - post

A NAME LIKE A CROWN JEWEL

   Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Maybe it would, but let’s say we called a rose a “blackwart”—who would ever want to smell one? The point? The name of your business or product is probably the most important decision you’ll ever make in terms of success. Why? Because most other bad decisions can get a do-over but once you name your business or product, you’re stuck with it—for better or worse. A bad name is, at best, a lame cliché and, at worst, can convey an impression you never intended. Great business/product names, on the other hand, intrigue people, set you apart from your competition, and convey exactly the right image. Some examples?

   Let’s say you’re a truck manufacturer and want to brand your newest truck as strong, tough, invincible—a real “man’s man” piece of machinery. Which name conveys that image best: a “Ramor an “F-350? Let’s face it—the Dodge Ram moniker was a real home run. Whether a Dodge or a Ford is, in reality, the better truck is not the point. Maybe a Ford is a better truck (I don’t know), but when you put the names head-to-head, a “Ram”—big horns and all—just sounds tougher. Besides, what’s a “350” convey, anyway? Nothing. It’s just a model number. So… “Ram”—big winner, “F-350″—not so much.

   Cosmetics? Which company brand sounds more appealing? Revlon? L’Oreal? Cover Girl? Well… isn’t the idea that make-up is supposed to make us all look like magazine cover girls? What else is it supposed to do? So Cover Girl was a brilliant pick. L’Oreal, being a French word (although I have no idea who it is or what it means), isn’t a horrible name. After all, all things French are supposed to be sophisticated, non? Revlon? Not even a factor.

   Other examples include Bird’s Eye (frozen vegetables). This is my question: Why on earth would you call a frozen vegetable company that?? It’s just disturbing. It makes me wonder what would be in that plastic bag. Green Giant, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot to do with vegetables but a giant is an image you’re likely to remember at the grocery store—and, hey, it’s green…

   Recently, I discovered two service company names that were particularly bad, one using the word “creative” and the other “beautiful”. If that’s the best these businesses can do in terms of originality, I wouldn’t throw them any cash. Those words do nothing more than tell what the owners are trying to convey.

   So—how do you choose a fabulous name for your business or product? There are a few do’s and don’t’s.

   #1: Show, don’t tell. As with any good writing, adjectives are far inferior to actual images. Use an image in your name if possible because most people are visual thinkers and if they can see a picture in their minds, they’re more likely to remember your company name. Goes something like this: “Uh, you know, that restaurant with the moose in the name…?”

   If, for instance, you’re trying to convey “elegance” in a brand, do not (not, not, not) ev-er use that word. Don’t call your bridal shop “The Elegant Lady” (or some such lame thing); do something different. Use an image in the name that conveys elegance: think “The Velvet Boutique” or “Lace Gloves and Gowns”. A good example is “Victoria’s Secret” (as opposed to “Hildegard’s Secret”). Victoria is an elegant name, perhaps because of its connection with Queen Victoria, so the royal association is illustrated, not stated.

   Keep one important thing in mind: Most adjectives used in branding are overdone and therefore, entirely forgettable. And that’s not your objective. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises means nothing. It’s supposed to convey (I guess) that guests are treated like highnesses but the word “royal” is so overused that it doesn’t even register when we hear it in a name. The same is true of words like “quality” (Quality Inns), “superior” (Superior Sound) or “luxury” (Luxury RV’s, Inc.)—and a million other sorry adjectives. Now, that said, occasionally an adjective will fit, simply because there is no image that will,  but in choosing one, make certain it’s not worn out and meaningless.

Most adjectives are the plague. Avoid them.

   #2: Clichés are invisible. Much like adjectives, clichés are also overdone and under-effective. We tune them out. One of the worst is “Think outside the box.” That’s supposed to mean “be original” but it’s really so overused that it’s become an ironic joke. If a cliché is even to be considered, it must be given a twist. For example, Taco Bell did exactly the right thing with that same overused cliché in their tagline when they gave it a new spin. “Think Outside the Bun” is brilliant! It makes us stop and pay attention when we recognize that they changed up a burnt-out old adage and so we actually hear the message (which is entirely the point). The fact that “box” translates nicely to “bun” is what makes the idea so ingenious; they’re saying “Be original—get a tortilla instead of a bun”—except that they say it without telling it. It’s perfect.

   #3: Pay attention to what you’re saying. A while back, I saw a sign for a company called “Irregardless”. May I just say—there is no such word. (The word is “regardless”.) The fact that they either don’t know that that’s not a word or didn’t care enough to find out before attaching it to their brand makes me think that they’re probably careless at best and, at worst, not especially knowledgeable. Probably not the impression they were aiming for.

   It’s all about image.

   #4: CHECK THE COMPETITION! Unfortunately, if you love a name, chances are someone else might have loved it first. For example, “Trendsetter Events” is a company name being used by several event-planning businesses around the country. And even though the domain name TrendsetterEvents.com is not being used (because it’s for sale for a ridiculous amount of money), there are soooo many other businesses starting with “Trendsetter” that you’d want to avoid it entirely. Moreover, even if your dot.com is available for a reasonable price, check to make sure it’s not already being used on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes people never buy the domain name but use your favorite company name with the dot.com on social media.

   Bottom line: The very last thing you want is for potential customers to confuse you with another company.

   Branding your business is exciting and can be lots of fun. Just make certain you take the time necessary to make yourself stand out from others, not just in your industry but from other companies everywhere.

You can have the best product or service in the world but if your name and brand don’t convey that image, it won’t sell. Period.

   So—put on your thinking headgear, test drive some ideas, and then survey friends and potential customers; get feedback.

   Remember, your product or service is like that infamous apple in the Garden of Eden. It’s your job to charm people into feeling that they would pay any price to have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Hearts, Broken Toys

Toy Man on Piano

BROKEN HEARTS, BROKEN TOYS

   Ever felt like a broken toy? Parts missing? Batteries dead? Scratches or dents or bruises? Ever felt like you’d be better off just retreating to some distant corner and staying there—like a worn out doll relegated to a dusty shelf?

   Life Truth #23: It’s very difficult to get anything done with a broken heart.

   More destinies have been turned to ashes by broken hearts than perhaps even fears of failure. Why? Because brokenness affects our ability to function—and function we must in the dream-chasing biz. But how do we know if we’re broken-hearted? It might not be as easy to recognize as we think because a broken heart doesn’t always look the way we’ve been taught that a broken heart should look.

   First of all, we tend to think of damaged hearts as resulting primarily from the loss of a relationship—a bad breakup, a divorce, or a death. And then we suppose that the main symptoms of a broken heart are grief and depression, characterized mainly by sadness and tears. Lots of tears. And while those causes and effects can often be telltale signs of a broken heart, the sad fact is that shattered hearts many times command a much wider realm of ruined sentiment.

   As with any other broken object, a heart, when damaged, doesn’t work properly—or even at all. And because the heart is recognized to be the seat of all emotion, that means that all feelings originating in the heart are crushed as well. Love turns to malice, trust to fear, hope to despair, and gladness to sorrow. But that’s not all of it. What about those emotions that we don’t associate with broken hearts—like cynicism? “Like that’ll ever happen!”

   Bitterness? “She gets all the breaks! And me? I got nothing!”

   Apathy? “Who cares, anyway? It’s not like it matters.”

   Procrastination? “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe…”

   Panic? “But what if…??” (Fill in the blank.)

   Inferiority? “I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be.”

   Anger? All of the above, only louder, with lots of slammed doors and shattered glass.

   If our emotions are crushed, then our heart is broken.

   So what do we do with a broken heart? Will time mend it, as the old wives tell it? Do we go all stoic and harden our hearts, filling our days and minds with endless busyness so we don’t have time to feel the pain? Or do we simply readjust our expectations to reflect “reality”? After all, only fools dare to dream. We could. But I guarantee that if we do, the heart shrivels, the vision fades, and the destiny dies.

   So then—what?

   First, we need to recognize the scope of our heartbreak and that the non-traditional emotions we feel could be evidence that we were hurt far more than we understood or acknowledged. We need to grasp that every one of the above emotions can be a symptom of grief; we don’t all have the same personalities and how one person grieves can be very different from how someone—or anyone—else expresses grief. Maybe you cry and maybe you don’t. Maybe you swear and punch walls. Maybe you sit and stare at the TV. Maybe you drink. Maybe you yell at the kids. Maybe you don’t do anything—and you used to.

   Moreover, all kinds of experiences can cause heartbreak, not just relationship issues. Perhaps a job loss has tanked, not just our bank account, but also our self-esteem. Maybe it’s unfair and we’re angry. Or maybe repeated rejections from coaches or agents or publishers or prospective employers or producers or even colleges has broken us down until we’ve lost all self-confidence or ability to try ever again. Maybe it’s inevitable that those ballerina slippers or that pen or that business proposal or that football simply end up where they’ve always belonged—in the trashcan.

The slow bleed of slashed expectations has slain more than one heart.

   Here’s what you need to know: You are not incompetent if you failed. You are not stupid if you missed the mark. And you are not an idiot if you slip on those dancing shoes again or pick up that pen or revise that proposal or re-inflate that football—or even say “yes” to that unexpected invitation to a cup of coffee.

   You are not a fool if you dare to dream again.

   Maybe you need to revise your dream or even to find a new dream. That’s okay. More than one of us has chased the wrong dream sometime or another. (And some of us perhaps more than once…) The main thing is to get a vision to do something that makes life sweet again. A dream is a guaranteed cure for a broken heart. So get one—and then as the song says, “Tell your heart to beat again.”

   You are not a broken toy.

 

 

 

 

Death of A Dream—Or Not?

House on Fire

THE DEATH OF A DREAM—OR NOT?

   The world is full of dead dreams. We’ve all had them—the degree we never managed to get, the business that never got started, the marriage that didn’t happen or failed, the ministry that got sidelined, the book deal that never materialized… the list could go on forever. And all around the world, millions are mourning their dead dreams as well. In the meantime, life goes on and we trudge forward, trying not to think about what we lost or never really had.

   Sound familiar?

   This is Easter week—a week during which, 2000 years ago, the dreams of many died an abrupt and bloody death. That’s because Jesus died. Jesus—the one who was supposed to save Israel from the cruel brutality of the Romans. The one who was supposed to get revenge for all of the vile and inhuman atrocities propagated by Roman rulers and soldiers: the horrific rapes of young Jewish virgins, the vicious slaughter of hundreds of babies, the oppressive and unbearable taxation of the Israelis, the horrendous crucifixion of Jewish “criminals,” the slavish orders given to ordinary people everyday… the never-ending terror that was life under Roman occupation. Jesus was supposed to end all that; he was supposed to establish his reign on earth and set right every wrong.

   He was supposed to make life worth living.

   I can only imagine the list that Peter and the disciples had for Jesus:

  1. Become King in the line of David and reign over the whole earth forever.
  2. Annihilate the Roman empire and punish every Roman soldier who’s ever abused any Jewish person. In fact, You should probably crucify them all.
  3. Restore all land stolen from the nation of Israel.
  4. Restore the Jewish temple to its former glory (and all of its treasure).
  5. Put each of us, Your faithful disciples, into positions of power and authority.
  6. Make Israel great again.  

   But that didn’t happen. Instead, Jesus died—and with his death, all of the dreams of all who had ever followed Him, hoping that He was the answer to their desperate prayers for salvation; those dreams all died, too. But what the people didn’t know—and what we often don’t know at the funeral of our own dreams—is that God had a much bigger plan for salvation than any of them could ever have imagined. It wasn’t just that God desired to save the Jewish nation from the hands of the Romans but His ultimate plan was to deliver all people from a much greater destroyer: SIN. And so Jesus shed His blood and died—and with His death, the Jewish people were not only delivered from the Romans, but also from themselves—from their own selfishness and greed and hatred and unforgiveness and prejudices and, and, and… And then, to demonstrate that an even greater dream had been fulfilled, Jesus rose from the dead and proved that He had also conquered DEATH.  

   How’s that for a dream fulfilled?  

   The salvation of man is a dream conceived in the heart of the Father—much more incomprehensible and vast than man could ever fathom. Even when Jesus told the disciples that He had to die, they didn’t get it. (We wouldn’t have either.) And they weren’t the first not to understand the scope of God’s plan; many in the Bible had dreams that they had yearned and pleaded for, decade after decade, and yet never saw come to pass—at least, not in the limited way they had hoped.

   Abraham, for example, begged God for a son to inherit his estate, to preserve the family line—year in and year out he pleaded. But then all hope withered; he and Sarah grew too old to have a child and the dream became cold and dead.  

   But God had a bigger plan for them: His dream was not simply to establish just another family line upon the earth but to establish a nation—one that would last forever. Could Abraham and Sarah ever have fathomed such a plan? No.

But it did require one thing before coming to pass: the death of their ordinary dream.

   Could Elizabeth, childless and disgraced, desperate for just one little baby, ever have imagined that God had a bigger dream for her: not just any baby but a prophet for the ages?  

   The Apostle Paul dreamed of spreading the gospel and for that, he braved extreme hardships: beatings, imprisonments, rejections by his own people, shipwrecks, murder attempts—all of which he was willing to endure to fulfill his vision of seeing people saved—in his time. Still, in the midst of those adversities, did he ever wonder whether his imminent death would bring a tragic end to the finite dream? But Paul did not die before God resurrected His own dream for Paul’s life: that Paul’s faithful letters would become the foundation of Scripture in the NT, impacting billions of people throughout all of history with the gospel. Never in his wildest dreams could Paul ever have imagined that his dream would be fulfilled that way.

   Maybe your dream has died. Or maybe it’s simply in the tomb right now, awaiting its transformation into the dream that God has for you. Maybe it’s a dream much more colossal then you could ever imagine—just a seed right now, buried in the ground, waiting to blow up into a gigantic oak.  

   Maybe your dream isn’t dead. Maybe it’s about to be called forth from the grave.

   Maybe it’s time.

 

  

That Thing That Matters

Man with Tears

THAT THING THAT MATTERS  

   Today I looked around my classroom and my eye caught some words posted on my board: HAVE, DO, and ARE (grammar/vocab stuff). Those words got me thinking—are we defined by what we have, by what we do, or by what we are? And who defines us? Or—does it matter?

   It should matter because who defines us and as what shapes how we see ourselves, which, in turn, determines whether we believe we can fulfill our destinies—or not.

   So—are we defined by what we have?

   Do we have a car? What kind? New or not new? Pretty or not pretty? Luxury or basic? Don’t tell me people don’t “feel” a certain way when they buy a vehicle. Proud? Ashamed? Envious? Disappointed? And what about our clothes? Do we “feel” the same way when we’re wearing our finest suit or dress than when we’re dressed in casual clothes? And let’s not forget money. Lots or little? Savings in the bank or living paycheck-to-paycheck? Retirement pension? 401K? Or not? Do we feel secure or scared? Grateful or frustrated? Do we own a house? How big a house? Where is it located? Is it as nice as our neighbors’ houses? Or—do we not have a house?  Where we live often has something to do with how we think about ourselves. Not always, of course, but can we honestly say that nobody judges themselves of the basis of where they live? I know that once upon a time, I did…

   Are we defined by what we have?

   If so, let me mention a few of the best people history has ever known: Take Jesus, for example. He didn’t have much and what he did have, he lost. In the end, all he was left with were splinters and thorns. And there was Mother Teresa—I don’t know what she had before she moved to India but once there, she gave it all away. I could cite dozens of others but the point is that neither of these people let what they didn’t have keep them from fulfilling what they did have—a destiny.

   We are not defined by what we have.

   Are we defined by what we do?

   In a world where we’re pushed to “become something,” the world often defines for us what we “should” do. And that’s reinforced when we meet someone. Small talk usually includes a “So what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”

   Does it matter?

   Are we better people if we’re dentists rather than dental assistants? Do we have better character if we’re professors rather than teacher aides? Have we accomplished more in life if we’re the CEOs of corporations rather than small business owners? If we lose our credentials or our titles or our paychecks, are we lesser people?

   We are not defined by what we do.

   Let me repeat that—and not for those who don’t have the lucrative positions or incomes, but for those who might: We are not defined by our achievements. In other words, if we were to lose that position tomorrow, our circumstances might be different but we’re not—unless we define ourselves by what we do.

   I remember my father telling me that he’d once met one of the richest men in the country and that that man was one of the humblest, most down-to-earth people he’d ever met. Why? Because that man did not define himself by his money or position.

   Are we defined by what we “are”?

   There’s a question that haunts many: What are we? Are we rich or middle-class? Are we young or elderly? Are we married or never-married or divorced? Are we black or white or yellow or brown? In a world where we are increasingly defined by our outward appearances and/or statuses, those things can too often determine how we think we should think, behave and even react. To complicate the problem, the dawn of DNA testing has some people finding that they are not who or what they thought they were. But does DNA really define what we are—or are not? The culture, traditions, and values that we’d grown up with—are they all null and void if the DNA doesn’t line up?

   Can our DNA really disqualify us from belonging?

   And here’s the bigger question: What if (not like this could ever happen) we’re treated differently because of what we “are”; does that really make us different?

Are we more or less of a person because we’re rich or poor or married or single or black or white or tall or short or blue-collar or white-collar?

   The fact is—and this is so often repeated that it’s almost a cliché (sadly) —we’re all children of God. Period. It doesn’t matter whether there’s money in the bank account or whether there’s even a bank account at all; it doesn’t matter whether we have a low IQ or we’re Albert Enstein; it doesn’t even matter whether we have wrinkles or not (honest!). Our identity never changes. But if we allow it to change, if we’re swayed by the opinions and prejudices of others, then we’ll never fulfill the destiny that we’re called to tackle. Look at it this way: How we were created was designed to perfectly equip us to accomplish that one thing we were created to do.

   It’s not about what we have, what we do or what we are; if it’s about anything at all, it’s about the character we display. And that’s the one thing that transcends all races, all statuses, all ages, and all abilities. To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr.: We look forward to the day when we are not judged by the color of our skin—or (may I say) the ages of our bodies or the images in our mirrors or the bottom lines on our tax returns—but by the content of our characters.

   In defining ourselves, our character should be the one thing that determines what we have, what we do, and what we are.

   It’s all that matters.

 

Peacemaker—Or Peacekeeper?

ICBM IV

   PEACEMAKER—OR PEACEKEEPER?

   The Convair B-36—aka the “Peacemaker”—was a bomber used exclusively by the U.S. Air Force during the 1940’s and 50’s; it had an intercontinental range of 10,000 miles, an 87,200-pound bomb capacity, and was the first bomber capable of delivering any of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. In other words, with the “Peacemaker,” the United States could make peace around the world—one way or the other.

   On the flip side, the LGM-118 “Peacekeeper” was a land-based ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missile) used by the United States for the intent of shooting down any nukes launched against the U.S. (primarily by the then-USSR). The “Peacekeeper” was armed with a 300-kiloton warhead—a rather convincing deterrent to attack.

   The point is that the “Peacemaker” was an offensive weapon, and the “Peacekeeper” was a defensive weapon. The “Peacemaker” was designed to launch a first-strike attack against another nation for the purposes of offsetting a more destructive engagement, while the “Peacekeeper” would defend against a first-strike after a nuclear launch from another country.

   Now while the United States no longer employs these weapons, that’s not to say that there aren’t currently peacemakers and peacekeepers in the country today. The only difference is that these models aren’t bombers, they’re people.

   Let’s face it—sometimes making peace is messy. The fact that you have to make peace in the first place implies that something is out of alignment and that usually has to do with relationships—whether between people or nations. “Peacemaking,” by definition, requires that some person or group steps up and puts an end to a conflict already engaged, whereas “peacekeeping” simply endeavors to maintain a lack of conflict.

   Which is not to say that conflict is not happening.

   Is there “peace” when no one dares to speak because if he says the wrong thing or uses the wrong tone of voice, there’ll be hell to pay? Is there “peace” when some group has to be continually pacified, mollified, or coddled so they don’t pitch a fit, hurt someone or riot in the streets? Is there “peace” when all’s quiet in the kingdom but iron-clad tyranny lurks in the shadows?

   There is no peace where there is no peace of mind.

   The Apostle Paul said, “’The kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’” (Romans 14:17 NIV). Jesus said, “’From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force’” (Matt. 11:12 NASB).

   So which is it? Is the kingdom of God peaceful or violent? Who’s right—Paul or Jesus?

   They’re both right. True peace, “kingdom of God” peace, must be hard won and—make no mistake—the battle will be bloody. Sometimes bodies bleed, strewn across muddy battlefields littered with bullets and bayonets. More times, hearts hemorrhage at front door showdowns with tear-weary words: “Your home or your drugs (or rage or lies or…). Choose.”

   Sometimes peacemaking requires harsh change, heart-wrenching decisions, or grueling sacrifice.

   It’s the day the short, skinny kid stands up to the bully who’s been tormenting another—even though there’s a very real probability a public humiliation will be posted later for all the middle-school universe to savor.

   It’s the day the honest bread-winner visits his boss with the news that he can’t be a part of the latest company scheme to make a fraudulent buck—even if it costs him his job, his unemployment benefits, and his future recommendations.

   It’s the day the trembling wife with the carefully hidden bruises steps between her child and the man who’s about to hurt him and says, “Never again.”

   It’s the day a naked body hung impaled upon a cross by razor-sharp spikes, a body all splinters and blood—to liberate billions from the chains of eternal fire and torment.

   That’s peacemaking.

   Jesus said, “’Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Matt. 5:9).

   At no time did the warrior Son of God ever call a summit and sit down with the devil to negotiate a peace treaty. Nor did the skinny kid, the honest bread-winner or the trembling wife. The fact is that peacemaking is not easy, it’s not fun, and it’s not popular. It is sometimes bloody, often terrifying, and always heart-shattering. But, in the end, it brings true “righteousness, peace, and joy”.

   Peacekeeping, on the other hand, is easier. That is, if one enjoys walking on eggshells, guarding toxic secrets, petting demons, and compromising one’s very soul. 

   Maybe it’s time to pick up your sword and make peace.       

 

 

 

 

 

“Destroyed for Lack of Knowledge”

2018 Evidence of God Conference III - Chris

   “DESTROYED FOR LACK OF KNOWLEDGE”

   “God can’t tell the future.”

   I blinked. Had I heard correctly? Was I dreaming? Or was a professor at a Christian college really standing up in front of several hundred people telling us that God was not omniscient?

   The spawn of Satan continued… “God can’t tell what’s going to happen ahead of time; he finds out when we do.”

   What???

   I looked around the auditorium but none of the other students at this fine institution of faith seemed bothered. To the contrary—they seemed quite impressed. This professor did, after all, have a “PhD” after his name. And who were we to question the almighty doctorate?

   “God!” I whispered, “Are you listening to this?? Do something!”

   And God did do something—just not what I expected. He said, “Ask him a question.”

   “Who? Me?” I looked around. No one else seemed to be having this conversation. It was beginning to dawn on me that perhaps this was about to become one of those cans of worms that you wished you had never opened. I think I squinted. “What question?”

   God told me. I sighed. “Professor,” I called out (from my customary refuge in the back of the hall), “can I ask you something?”

   He stopped and peered in my direction. “What?”

   “Do you believe the Bible prophets were able to tell the future?”

   “Yeah, of course.”

   “So they can and God can’t?”

   Professor PhD was not happy. The next thing I knew I had been challenged to a debate to happen in a few short hours in a very public forum. I hardly knew what had hit me. I only knew that I had a very, very bad feeling about it. It seemed hardly likely that this prof would challenge me to a debate he wasn’t certain he could win. I suppose I could have declined, but that didn’t occur to me till later.

   I got slaughtered.

   And I was crushed. I had never before encountered someone who could twist a Bible verse like that person could, and all I could think was that I’d only made it worse. All of those impressionable students who had been so deceived with his original lies about God would now be doubly convinced he was right. After all, he’d won. Only now, looking back, I realize he didn’t win—I’d lost. And all because I didn’t know how to respond to the challenges thrown around by skeptics and atheists. Here are some of the most common:

   “If evolution is not true, then where did all of those almost-human fossil bones come from?”

   “Jesus Christ was not really God; he was just a ‘higher-intelligence being’.”

   “Hell is not an actual place; it’s simply a state of mind.”

   “God wouldn’t really exclude people from heaven just because they worship in a different religion. All roads lead to heaven—one faith is as good as another.”

   “Every religion believes in reincarnation—even Christianity.”

   “Science and the Bible are simply not compatible.”

   Do any of these claims make you uneasy—even the tiniest bit? Maybe they’ve kept you from believing in God, or maybe, in the depths of some dark night, they haunt you, causing you to wonder—

   What if…?

   Discover the truth about deliberate deceptions surrounding evolution, creation, the “Big Bang,” parapsychology, the occult and the New Age at the upcoming EVIDENCE OF GOD: “Equipping the Saints” Conference in Baldwinsville, New York on March 24th. Learn how deception has crept into our colleges and culture, blending lies with truth—often in the name of “science”—and discover how to defend your faith from these subtle counterfeits. And most importantly, find out what deceptive strategies are being planned next. The fact is that we cannot guard against danger that we don’t know about.

   Do not become the next victim “destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

 

For conference registration details, see the bottom of the flyer (above). For information on speaker Christopher Rupe, co-author of Contested Bones, visit his website at back2genesis.org.

   Sponsored by New Heart Ministries, Baldwinsville, New York.     

  

  

DRIVE YOUR VISION.