Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and DeliveryI’ve been reading Presentation Zen for a class I’m taking this Spring. Don’t let the title scare you, I’m no more Eastern mystic today than I was last week when I celebrated the astrologically heralded birth of a Middle Eastern man who grew up to calm nature and to claim to be “the way” and to tell people they could live forever if they ate his flesh. Dang! Maybe I am a little mystic…

Anyway, the book is a great look at some of the basics of putting together a presentation that people will actually gain from, enjoy, and remember – a presentation that matters. If you have something to say, and you have the opportunity to say it to a bunch of people at once, this book could help you present your message more effectively. And that’s pretty important, unless your message doesn’t really matter. If that’s the case, just skip the book and keep doing what you would have done anyway.

For example, if you’re presenting your ideas on how blue socks are better than green socks, you probably don’t need the book because, let’s face it, white socks rule them both and black socks are in a whole higher realm. If you’re a pastor, however, who’s tasked with an ambassadorship requiring you to present Christ to people who don’t usually notice him… get the book. Stare at the rocks on the cover for a while and let them transport you to a happy place where…  just kidding. Read it!

Incidentally, this is the first book I will have read entirely without paper and ink. I’m using the Kindle for Mac app to read it onscreen. I like tracking my progress with the little bar across the bottom, but I don’t like the feeling of not being about to ‘see the whole thing’ at once. It still feels kind of weird.

Don’t Quit in the Middle

And so, since God in his mercy has given us this wonderful ministry, we never give up.” -Paul, the Apostle who got beaten, shipwrecked, & imprisoned as often than any other non-criminal I’ve ever heard of.

I remember as a kid that sometimes, I wanted to quit some certain activity mid-season. Usually it was some activity that had caused my parents to part with money in exchange for the opportunity to participate. Often, it was with much weeping and gnashing of marbles that I’d convinced them to part with the money. Some days it was piano lessons, or little league baseball, or swim team, or pretty much any other endeavor that was requiring more sacrifice than I was in the mood to make…

Thankfully, my parents never let me quit.
They wouldn’t force me to sign up for the next term or season, but I never remember once being allowed to quit in the middle of a season. “You committed to this… yadda, yadda, yadda… your team is counting on you… gurgle, blurble, bloo… I paid good money for this… blah blah blah.” (At least I think they said something like that.)

It became engrained in me to not quit in the middle. But there were days when, though I was present, I wasn’t really fully engaged. It was too hard, I was too tired, I wasn’t having fun… blah, blah, blah.

That’s all one thing when the issue is 6th Grade soccer (which I would have never wanted to quit, by the way), but when we’re talking about the life God calls us to, there’s a whole new dimension at work. Not only can we not quit because Dad keeps dropping us off at the practice field, but because the assignment is from Him. You just can’t quit when your Father’s the coach!

But there’s hope. No matter how tough it gets, no matter how crappy the day, the ministry God gives you comes with all the power and ability you need to get it done. Not only has God given you a job to do, He offers the power of His Spirit to work in your life to get it done.

Last Minute Shopping?

The week of the last minute deal is upon us, all decked out with holly jolly tinkling bells! Can’t you just feel the excitement in that guy down the street trying to pass off his 4000 flashing lights and boom box as a high tech Christmas extravaganza for the whole neighborhood? Or maybe you caught it’s whiff in the lady that just snatched the last almost passable sweater virtually from your grasp?

I once had a year where I proudly refused to buy any Christmas presents for anyone until the final week before the day. It was amazing. Well, not so much amazing, but that’s not the point, now is it? (It’s not, I promise.) I’ve noticed a couple different kinds of last minute shoppers out there:

  • Oh, Crap. It’s Christmas Already?”You see these guys, who’ve been diligently working to put food on the table all year long zipping around the mall like hummingbirds sucking all the tinsel tinged nectar the Buckle and Bath & Body Works have to offer. The poor guy had no idea Christmas was so close. Wasn’t there supposed to be snow or something? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Do this guy a favor next November and give him a heads up, alright…
  • “Gotta Keep it Even” This is the shopper who carefully tracks each expenditure. She may be marking a spreadsheet to make sure each grandkid gets the same amount of stuff, but today’s savvy Grams will be tapping away on Numbers on the new iPad she bought herself on Cyber Monday. Either way, she’s made her list and she’s checking it twice to make sure Jenny and Bobby and Brooke and Stan all get their equal share. (Lincoln gets a bonus because he was such a good boy this year he’s always been grandma’s favorite little snow shoveling brown noser – but don’t tell the cousins.)
  • “Mama Wants a New Pair of Shoes” This isn’t really about shoes. It’s about the new dad giddiness, which is unmatched outside outside the 6th Grade cheer squad. See, when you become a dad for the first time, you suddenly realize your wife is a mom. As a mom, now, she’s entitled to some special perks… a secret stash of chocolate, the freedom to sleep at will whenever 5 uninterrupted minutes can be strung together (and you WILL string them together!), simple things like that… But on top of all that, you realize that “Mom” needs a present from little Jack. But little Jack, himself, was this year’s Easter Egg, so he’s all of about 3 days old now and couldn’t possibly get mom a gift on his own, so Dad wanders around trying to figure out just what a kid in a milk induced coma would buy the love of his lactic life. New Dads, trust me on this one – don’t go with the shoes, it will only end badly.

Maybe you’ve seen some other types of last minute shoppers out there… Who did I miss? (There’s one right there!)
Shift gears with me quickly here… Do we procrastinate the buying because we don’t really want to do the buying? Are we just reluctantly shuffling from store to store to buy stuff for people whom we really don’t want to buy stuff (and who will promptly set much of it aside and forget it ever existed)? I’m not talking about the new diamond ring I just bought my wife, or the PS3 for the boys (just kidding on both counts, for the record)… but about the little trinkets and gadgets and tokens that really don’t say anything. Here are a couple alternatives to spending hundreds of dollars on people who pretty much have everything they need already:

Check out Living Water International’s Christmas gift cards. You give a gift to provide clean water to some of the 884 million people who don’t have access to safe water in the world today. You send the electronic card (too late for the physical cards by now) and the person you send it to gets to choose from among several projects that will benefit from your donation. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems just a little more important than those awesome light up reindeer socks…

Check out Compassion’s Gift Catalog. If you’re last minute shopping for me, buy one of these gifts on my behalf. As tempting as yet another chocolate orange may be… I’d love to be able to say someone bought me a mosquito net, or a chicken… or even a toilet stall! (Besides, I don’t even like chocolate oranges.)

A friend posted this link to a cool gift package from World Vision. Corporate gifts will multiply your gift greatly.

There are tons of other worthy recipients of the money we’re tempted to spend on stuff that doesn’t matter this Christmas. Recipients like: 3:18 Ministries, Nebraska Christian College, giving a donation to your church’s youth ministry, asking your neighbor if they need anything, spending the time you’re not shopping hanging out at a Sr. Center or nursing home, taking a Jr. High kid out to lunch somewhere with forks… use your imagination and give something that matters.

Interrupting Mimes?

I got a phone call this morning to go help a friend tow a car. I left the office and got the car where it needed to go, but when we got done I decided to stop at home for lunch a little bit early rather than go back to work just to leave a few minutes later.  (Not like we’re in a huge city where that’s a big hassle, but still, early lunch sounded good.)

About 5 minutes after I got home, Lizzie decided to carry a geoboard (fancy name for a square block of wood with a pattern of finishing nails sticking up) into the living room. She tripped. She hit her face. She bled all over.
Instead of lunch, we took her to urgent care and got 3 stitches. That chin is really small for 3 stitches! She also knocked a recently capped tooth loose, so we get another trip to the dentist Monday. So thankful her face did not become a well measured graph of 1″ squares though!
As I was writing about this, my wife sent me a message to let me know the phone was not functioning, so I just got back from a quick trip home to force the battery into submission. It would have been much easier if we’d had industrial strength tweezers to pick at the tiny wiring harness! I guess the elves who made it thought it would be funny…
Have you ever felt interrupted? You have everything (or at least some things) all mapped out and ready to go, but then something unexpected holds up your thought train like a gang of Old West mimes. You thought I was going to say bandits, didn’t you? Desperados? Gunslingers? Nope. Mimes.
They’re not exceptionally dangerous interruptions… just terribly inconvenient and awkward.
So do you let the mimes get through their schtick and then simply get back on course, or do you just run them over? 
(Bet they’d make some noise then!)

Wear the Name… Reflect the Reality.

I found myself being fairly critical yesterday. The Big Ten came out with a new logo. I checked, and the design firm that made it is NOT run by 4th Graders, it is NOT the Graphic Design Team of the Blind, and it is NOT staffed by invertebrates or crustaceans. I suspected at first that the press release was a leak from the GAP in a desperate attempt to recover from their own logo mishap not too long ago, but it turns out, the Big Ten really did commission a logo that is that bad.

In defense of Pentagram (there’s a clause I never imagined writing), the design team tasked with imaging the new identity of the Big Ten, they had a rough place from which to start. How are you supposed to create a logo for an organization whose very name has nothing to do with what it actually is or does? They’ve done other work that’s great. So why this dud in Carolina blue? There’s no Carolina even in the Big Ten, but that’s beside the point.
I wonder if the Big Ten has lost its story in order to cling to its name. Why call a conference which has not been limited to 10 schools for 20 years the “Big Ten”? I know, I know, “tradition… oldest conference in the nation… heritage…” But it’s not 10 schools anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, the Big Ten is a great conference – it’s just not 10.
I know it’s always easier to criticize than to actually do something… so I humbly offer a few alternatives (in unskilled jest, of course). 
  • The Big Ten played in the first Bowl game (in 1902) and this new conference will certainly see its fair share of bowl games far into the future. Maybe a name change to something reflecting the Midwest nature of the new set of 12 would be in order… 
  • The TV deals and Big Ten Network are sure to keep these 12 great schools in front of a lot of eyeballs. Maybe they could just become the TV Conference… 
  • The existing Big Twelve now only has 10 teams. Since these are heavily within the gravitational pull of Texas, maybe they’d trade names and pull in a negative space T for themselves just for fun.
I’m wondering why I find myself writing about college athletics right now, and here’s a thought that’s haunting me. These conferences’ names reflect absolutely nothing about their reality, and that bothers me. What bothers me more is that I’ve recognized the same problem in the Church. How many Christians wear that name only out of heritage & tradition? How many wear the label, yet live as if Jesus is long dead and gone? How many people throw a fit about cashiers who don’t say ‘Christmas’ to them, even while they imbibe with drunken stupor on a consumptive holiday buying binge that would have sent their precious baby in a manger into a table throwing fury? Jesus wasn’t meant for a manger, he was meant for a throne. We (myself included) could do a whole lot better, Church. 
Wear the name… reflect the reality.

60 Days of Nothing but Spuds

My mom tells me of a period of my childhood when the only thing I could eat was french fries and bananas. I don’t know how long this time lasted, and I have no idea just what precipitated such a starch & K weighted diet. In fact, I really don’t remember any of the details well at all (but I do remember the subsequent force feeding of fried liver quite vividly). This may have been a contributing factor to my entry into Kindergarten at the weight of a small 2 year old. When the teacher said to “Get in your desks” I could comply in a way that was much more literal than she’d hoped for (which is a pretty funny, but completely unrelated tale).

Last week, I came across a story out of Washington (the state) that reminded me of my pre-school starch experience. Chris Voigt is the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission (I still suspect they were secretly behind the political disappearance of Dan Quayle a few years ago). In an attempt to prove the nutritional value of the spud, Voigt embarked a couple months ago on a 60 day journey of deprivation from all foods – except potatoes!

For 60 days, he ate about 20 potatoes a day. My spidey-math senses are telling me he ate about 1200 potatoes during October and November – and nothing else. No birthday cakes, no ice cream desserts, no Thanksgiving turkey… just fork after fork of potatoes. Mashed, baked, rebaked, broiled, sliced and put in the toaster (hope not)…

He lost 20 pounds and dropped his cholesterol levels significantly. I’m sure when word gets out, this will have people rushing out to the nearest corner store to stock up on bags of chips in hopes to shed a few holiday pounds. Bad news… your couch just called to say it’s not going to work.

This all has me wondering?

What if I could only eat 1 thing for two months?

  • 60 days of Nutella on hard rolls sounds kind of good, but I’m afraid of what that would do to my youthful complexion.
  • I’d contemplate 2 months of smothered TDO’s from Taco de Oro, but there’s not enough Charmin in the Bluffs to counteract all that pork chili-taco salad goodness.
  • I really like donuts. I think I could handle donuts for 60 days. Unfortunately, a new wardrobe of stretchy pants is not in the budget – besides which, I already have enough trouble with finding new pants!

What would you eat exclusively for 60 days? What do you think would be the results?

Hearing a Voice?

In a discussion the other day with a minister friend, we were talking about books as we rode down the highway, and Francis Chan’s Forgotten God was mentioned. It really is a great book that addresses what I believe is the root cause of so many churches finding themselves less effective than they want to be – without the power of the Spirit of God, we simply cannot accomplish the mission of God.

I was challenged with a question: “So, how did the book impact your life specifically? What are you doing different because of it?” (This is a great question to ask someone when they tell you how good a book was.) I blathered something about trying to pay more attention to the Spirit and spending more time digging through Scripture, becoming familiar enough with the voice of God in Scripture that I recognize it more readily outside of Scripture.

Another youth minister who’d been at the meeting we were at all day had commented earlier about feeling that the Holy Spirit was pulling in a particular direction. Some in the meeting sort of chuckled at that idea, jokingly accusing him of trying to drum up support for an idea by invoking the Spirit of God as the idea’s generator. It was a lighthearted moment for most of us, but I wonder… why are we so cautious (even skeptical?) when a trusted servant of Christ with a good reputation and a level head shares that God is leading him?

When the wind blows, why are we so afraid to let ourselves be moved?

I know, I know… how do you know the wind will take you where you want to go? How do you know it’s really the Spirit of Jesus and not some other? How do you really know you can trust what you’re feeling God wants? I offer no easy explanations for these questions, but I wonder… is our fear of the uncertain keeping us from connecting with the very power to do what we ARE certain should be done? We know, for example, that the church is here to continue on His mission. Do we really think we can accomplish the mission of Christ apart from the power of the presence of the Spirit of Christ?

The early Corinthian Church may have thought so, and Paul reminded them of God’s foolishness. He concentrated only on Jesus and His death on the cross (which is not how you start a global movement of any lasting significance). It wasn’t Paul’s exceptional rhetoric that convinced those early believers – it was the Spirit of God.

Paul told them to stop fooling themselves, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”

Do we need to stop fooling ourselves, too?
Maybe this is more of an issue within myself… How are you seeing the Spirit of God lead you? What are you doing to recognize and respond to His leading?

Dear Youth Minister…

Dear Youth Minister,

I know sometimes your job well done goes unnoticed and you feel taken for granted… A lot of people just don’t seem to understand and they seem to be too busy to really, genuinely care or even take an interest in the next generation for which you are pouring yourself out… Just thought I’d send a quick note to remind you why you don’t quit.

You don’t quit because you don’t work for them. God has called you into His mission to rescue young people from the sin and apathy that subtly choke the life out of them before they even have a chance to fully live. He is the one that works through your efforts to resuscitate a generation that is desperate for a breath of true hope. You’re not responsible to the hearts of the people who look right past you and the students you love – but to the Father who loves us all… so you keep moving forward with Him.

You don’t quit because your kids are awesome! They may be ignored by most of the adults in their lives, but you’ve seen what can be… you’ve seen the glimmer of life that blooms when Jesus moves in. You’ve seen them set aside their own egos and agendas in order to do what God is calling them to do, even if they don’t know the outcome. You’ve seen them try – and keep trying and praying and learning to work to reveal the Kingdom to their friends who don’t see it… so you keep working with them to help them hone their craft and offer the best of what they have to give to a King who deserves nothing less.

You don’t quit because you’ve seen the future. If the church abandons the young the way much of the rest of culture has, it will be further relegated to a place of scorn and shame, set on a back shelf to collect nothing but dust and mold. As long as it is called ‘today’ you’ll not let that happen without doing everything possible to see God turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. You love the Bride of Christ too much to let her be put out to pasture like some old cow… so you keep showing up in some strange stretch of time, trying to connect yesterday with tomorrow.

Your job in student ministry will result in waves of change you may never fully see. But those waves are part of a history shaping tide that will demolish the gates of Hell. It’s never going to be easy, it’s never going to be finished, and nothing in this world will be an adequate reward… so work hard, stay fresh, and remember Who you work for. May God strengthen you and sustain the work He’s doing in and through you.

In Hope and In Faith

A Part of Your Tribe

Christmas Series…

I’m  excited for the series that we’re doing for the next few weeks. Advent is a time of anticipation, excitement, waiting… But do we really understand what we’re waiting for? What are we supposed to be doing while we wait? What if it’s time to stop waiting?

Pulled Together

We had a great night with our student ministry Wed. night. We did an open mic night where I encouraged the students to share what God had been teaching them that they could pass on to the rest of us. There were some really good comments shared by the students and even more after we were done. It is awesome to see the students really taking ownership of their faith and responding to what they see God doing around them. They want to be a part of His mission! I’m excited to see them continue to grow and to see what God will do as more hearts are open to Him.

Last night followed that up with a good time with our small group. We haven’t all been together for a while, so it was great to meet again. There was nothing too urgent on the agenda, but it was great just to get together to talk and pray together and to bring together some resources to send to a great ministry’s (3:18 Ministries) Christmas project. It’s awesome to be brought into community with people with a pretty wide range of backgrounds & interests to encourage each other as we join God in His mission, and to be pulled into His momentum.

God is on the move in our community of faith. He’s at work to rescue what’s been wandering… to find what’s been hiding. Today as I sit here reflecting on what’s been a pretty good week, I’m so thankful to be able to be a part of it.