As much as we would all like to be successful, or at least ahead of the curve, most of us nevertheless fail at some point.  Whether it be the “Peter Principle” that we all rise to the level of incompetence, or whether our efforts or skills were not up to the task – we fail.

I have had more than my share of failures, and at best I have never managed to attain higher than a middle-rung position in any organisation I have been involved with.  Not that average or the middle is a bad thing, but it is usually not seen as “success.”

Fortunately, our failings are not the end of the story – though they often feel as if they are.  Jesus’ ministry on the surface of it was in its final week rather marked by failure.   He was was alienated from increasing numbers of people, betrayed by a friend, and denied by another.  He was whipped, ridiculed, and killed.  BUT then He rose.  Ultimate triumph.

Lord, when we are down.  When the world has crushed us.  Please lift us up.


Honesty is the Best Policy


Profit making and the business of business is at the heart of our economy.  But, is it at the heart of our lives?  I was looking at some ethical questions with my students with a focus on recycling.  It was generally agreed that the reuse or reprocessing of the Earth’s limited resources is a positive and proper enterprise.

But this is where money comes into the equation.  E-Waste (electrical waste) under UK law needs to be processed in country under strict guidelines.  The problem is that to do it properly with the maximum environmental benefit, is to do it at a low profit margin.  A television for example has a financially neutral recycled value for its plastics, and the lead of its circuit boards and screen glass (about a kilogram per set) is actually a financial loss if done properly.  The profits from higher value metals such as copper are eroded.

Here greed takes over, many electrical  items are “removed” from the recycling system and sold illegally abroad, where reprocessing standards are less restrictive, and profits higher. Heavy metals, and toxic plastics are released in open fires in order to glean “the good stuff.”  So much for the law, the environment, and for ethics.

Proverbs 11 addresses this theme,  “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. . . . The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (vs 1, 3-4).” Jesus sums up the challenge in Mark 8:36,  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Food for thought.



Where do you practice your speeches? Do you practice your speeches? Some speakers are adept at always pulling off spectacular presentations with the minimum of advanced preparation. They have the key concept, the background knowledge, “and they’re off.”

Most of us, however, don’t have that ability. We plan our talks, edit our drafts, tweak here, and tweak there. Practice or rehearsal of any given address gives confidence, aids in the tweaking, and generally polishes “the finished product.” But where should we rehearse? For some it is an exercise best done in front of an audience. No not “The Audience,” but of the tried and true “product testing panel” of friends and family. This approach has the benefit of constructive feedback, and the ability to test the timings and flow of the speech with a generally non-threatening listener-ship. It does have the drawback, however, of lessening the impact or surprises of an address if the same individuals will be in “The Audience.”

Personally, I practice while driving. I have a fairly long commute each day, and this allows me to play with ideas, and phrase and rephrase my content. It also helps me to “perfect” my timings against the digital clock on the dashboard.

Then there is the evil step mother approach. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall does have its merits. Joey Asher of Speechworks cites three benefits of the talking to the mirror rehearsal style. First of all, it lets you see how you look. No not how beautiful you are (that part is obvious), but how you present yourself. It helps to develop not only the verbal content but the gestures, and use of floor space as well. It can also aid you in seeing any distracting motions or nervous habit you might have.

The second benefit is that it helps you to perfect your smile. It reminds you when practicing that “your speech is enjoyable.” If you have a pleasant expression and smile, it gives a warmer feel to your audience and makes them more receptive.

Asher concludes by noting that the mirror can help you with eye-contact. This interface with your audience is worth “its weight in gold.” It shows you are interested in them. Remember the speech is for them, not you. It also helps you overcome any over-reliance on notes. If you’re looking at your auditors, you aren’t looking at your crutch. This gives the impression of competence and confidence to “The Audience.”

Whichever rehearsal method you use, be comfortable with it. It needs to work for you. It is nevertheless helpful to find one and then use it effectively. Unless, of course, you are one of those gifted, transcendent speakers for which the mere hint of a topic can turn into a standing ovation oration with no practice at all.



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Of Immanence and Transcendence


What is the nature of God?  Is He a being who started it all off and sits back and watches? Is He an ever present force here and now?  These are the issues of immanence and transcendence.  “Our Father in Heaven” is a wonderful concept as it snaps the philosophical argument of dichotomy asunder.  God is a caring, loving father figure (immanent) and in Heaven (transcendent).  You can’t put God in a box!

Speaking as a trinitarian, the very nature of a heavenly Father, am Emmanuel Son, and an indwelling Spirit makes this dual nature of God clear.  But there is more in Micah 1 powerfully show that even the “absent” Father has direct contact with His creation, “Look! The Lord is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads on the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath his and the valleys split apart,
like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope.” 

God, Father -Son- and Spirit is with us.  He cares, He corrects, He loves.  So much for theobabble (yes, psychologists aren’t the only ones that make up arbitrary distinctions). Let us therefore be assured, God is not only not dead – but with us.


The Ten-Second Rule


Most people in the Western World have heard of the five-second rule (or alternatively for some the three-second rule).  It is a cultural belief that if food falls to the floor, it is still “clean” for the requisite number of seconds.  Rightly, or more probably wrongly, it is thought such food isn’t contaminated yet.

The ten-second rule is a little more demonstrable, and applies to pauses when speaking, especially in public presentations. It follows a basic principle that if you break your spoken momentum for two or three seconds, listeners may assume you’ve lost your place.  A five or six second pause makes it clear you have stopped intentionally. But, as every teacher knows a pause of a full ten seconds draws the attention of everyone in the audience, including those distracted by other activities (doodling, texting, etc.). After such a break, the audience assumes the pause was intentional.

This approach is counter-intuitive.  Many novice speakers feel threatened by the silence.  But remember, you as the speaker are in control.  Martin F. Tupper put it well when he said, “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” With practice, such strategic silences will prove you oratorical maturity to your audiences.

As a beneficial side point, a sharp, purposeful pause allows you time to collect your thoughts, and the hearers will have no idea you used it for that purpose.


Delegation, A True Sign of Leadership

I remember when I had just become a non-commissioned officer. As a unit, we were setting up a command post on a windy hillside. The headquarters tent was being erected, and the wind was whipping it around, so I, as much by instinct as by design, reached out to steady one of the poles. This drew the attention of the regimental commander. “Young petty officer,” he said. “You need to remember you are no longer a worker bee.”

Whether I agreed (or even now agree) with his management approach, the point he made was simple. You can’t do it all yourself. There is a need for a leader to delegate.

But how do you avoid taking it all on yourself? After all as a leader you want to see the task completed successfully. Well first you need to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. You can’t delegate if you don’t know what the task is.

Okay, that done, what comes next? Well simply, you need to know your team and what their strengths (and weaknesses) are. Use this knowledge to choose the right person for the right job.

Next communicate! “What must be achieved?” Make it clear what you expect to have achieved, and set a clear deadline for the completion.

Be ready to support. This doesn’t mean micro-managing, but rather be available for guidance and advice. Napoleon maybe went a little too far when he said, “When I give a minister an order, I leave it to him to find the means to carry it out.” But, once delegated trust your team to come to you for help, don’t “ride them.”

This last point frees you to other tasks yourself. It also uses those talents of others you have invested in. Pooled resources and abilities make you stronger. As Woodrow Wilson put it, “I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” But remember when delegating, that you, as the leader are still part of the team, so work together, but work wisely together.



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Planning and Organising a Presentation

There are many approaches to planning an address. There was a running joke (with a clear undercurrent of truth to it) when I was studying homiletics that all you need to write a sermons is, “A story, three points, and a poem.” While this may well be over simplified, it nonetheless reflects many a sermon, and points to the need of some sort of structure.

One easy way to structure a presentation is used in educational circles. While I am uncertain as to its origins, it has surfaced in several sources, and is an effective model. This is the “Cheeseburger Model.”

So let’s construct the perfect cheeseburger. To start we need a bun. This gives us a framework to pile the rest into. The top of the bun is your introduction, it states the intention or thesis (main ideas) of your presentation. The bottom of the bun, is reserved for your conclusions, and any restating of your thesis, or main ideas.

Central to your presentation is the meat of the matter. Yes, the patty is essential. This is the main body or point(s) of your speech. [Yes, you can have more than one main point, after all, multi-patty burgers are all the more juicy, and appealing].
But meat on bun, while potentially satisfying, can be a little boring, so why not add some toppings? A few tomatoes, some leaf, and a gherkin or two. These are symbolically the examples that can enhance your presentations. These “sides” [pun intended] illustrate your points, and give that little “crunch” to your audience.

Now your burger is getting really appetising. But now you have the opportunity to really spice it up with some sauces. These figuratively, are explanations to make sure your points are understood. They often are the “mayo” of why, and the “special sauce” of how, where, and when.

There you have it a juicy, multi-patty, well garnished, saucy masterpiece. It’s all there for you and your audience to enjoy.



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Armour of God


The ancient world was one of conflict, and the physical manifestation of this was often hand to hand combat.  This was not an age of long-range drone warfare, but of physically exhausting, and personally dangerous battle.  Armour was essential to the soldiers of that age, and as the armies of Rome patrolled the corners of the empire, their armour and equipment would be familiar features to Paul’s readers.

Ephesians chapter 6 uses this imagery. “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God,  that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,”

Paul has called the saints to be ready for the struggle that this world below.  This unlike the struggles of the Roman army was not a physical, but a spiritual one.  The challenges of evil, and temptation more generally, are faced.  These battles of faith and conscience are in many ways just as taxing as the physical.  As such God has prepared us an arsenal to face it with.  From head to foot we are equipped.

There is an extra factor to encourage in this battle as well. Matthew 16: 17f reads, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The battle is on, and Satan (the gates of hell) shall not prevail.  Gates are a defensive feature.  You are on the winning side.


Developing Vocal Resonance


The vocal chords are just the beginning of the story. Like many instruments the sound making apparatus needs to be amplified and the sound enhanced in order to make its full impact. Consider the reed of an oboe or clarinet. The reed produces the sound, but it is perfected by the cylinder of the rest of the instrument. Or the twanging of strings, look how much richer it is when vibrated through the open space of a violin or guitar.

So it is with the human body. Once the sound is produced in the throat, the head (sinuses and nasal cavity), and chest take over. These air filled cavities in the body perform the same function for the voice that the body of a violin or clarinet does.

You can improve the resonance of your voice by developing and training these areas. I found when researching this aspect of public speaking, that most sources use the exact same exercises which seem to indicate either a common source, or innate wisdom. Either way I will repeat them here with only minor variation.

Number one – posture. If your posture is good, then your voice will be too. Over simplified, perhaps, but still a great starting point.

Hum, yes hum. The second approach to developing resonance is simple humming. Stand straight and hum any note at a pitch which is comfortable to you. Then alter the pitch slightly lower noting the sensations in your chest. Hold that note and continue to hum until you can feel the vibrations in your chest, and then attempt to increase the intensity of the humming vibration. Try this again by returning to your original pitch, then go upwards this time. You can then repeat the exercise, but on the next round shift your focus to the sensations in your head rather than chest. Try repeating this full procedure 3 or 4 times.

The third technique involves holding your nose and saying out loud any sentence you would like to say. Somewhere it was recommended that the phrase “Many mighty men making much money in the moonshine” should be used. This quote while in several sources, does not appear in the older guides, however. The point that is important, however, is that you say it forcefully. Then immediately let go of your nose and say the same phrase. Make note of the differences in your vocal sound. Repeat this until you are happy with the control you have.

Practicing these will develop your instrument. Happy humming!


Sibling Rivalry

Siblings Fighting over Hamburger

Those of us with siblings all know about it.  It is an “absolute truth” that our brothers and sisters are treated better than we are.  We see this in the parable of the prodigal son. When the younger brother returns from his wasteful excursion to a far off land, his brother sees only the unfairness of his father “rewarding him” for his misdeeds.  No thought on my brother who was lost is found.  Only “This son of yours . . .” who was wasteful.

The family a Abraham sets the conflicts out clearly.  Ishmael and Issac contend for inheritance, as do Esau and Jacob.  Joseph is sold into slavery by his eleven jealous brothers.  Yet in the Joseph case it is confounded more by the fact that he was sold to Ishmaelites – his cousins.

In the parable of the good Samaritan the theme of neighbour-hood is explored, and the conclusion drawn, that we should see all the world as our neighbours.  But more significantly, as we are, as C. S. Lewis phrased it, all “Sons of Adam, and Daughters of Eve;” we are all siblings.

So is the rivalry necessary.  Our older brother, Jesus did not think so.  He has given of Himself that we are brought into relationship with Him and His Father through adoption.  And He calls us to love one another, as He loved us.  Something to think about.