Three God-Honoring Reasons to Avoid the Lottery

I wrote this article Jan. 14, 2016 — shortly after that most recent historic Powerball lottery win was announced.

The hubbub is over. At least three someones bought winning tickets to the historic $1.6 billion Powerball lottery.  Congratulations!

For those with the other 371 million tickets that were in play, can we stop to reflect on what just happened? Only in the afterglow of such an exciting time of fantastical imaginings about how those many pretty millions might be spent in leisure and in helping others can we get our rational brains to remember why we usually don’t – and really shouldn’t – play the lottery.

In the run-up over the past two weeks, lots of other experts weighed in on various reasons why we shouldn’t play the lottery. Many of these experts are from the Church, but somehow, most of the reasons have been secular: it’s a regressive tax on the poor; or the odds of winning are astronomically low; and history shows us that lottery winners are disproportionately unhappy – and destitute – within a few short years of winning, etc.

Clearly those are solid warrants to ditch the odds-playing, but there are a number of compelling God-honoring reasons to not roll the metaphorical dice on the lottery that maybe haven’t yet been unpacked:

1) There are better God-honoring returns on that investment. Odds are, you’re not going to win.  Indeed, the losing ticket in your hand sort of bears that out. Those who didn’t win literally threw away $2 – or for some players, large multiples of $2.

Lots of players try to justify their gambling – and perhaps also seek to persuade God to let them win – with expressions of all the good they would do with their winnings: tithing, paying off their church’s debt, alleviating poverty and homelessness in their communities and the like. They would surely give out of their abundance, if they were only thusly blessed. But that’s man’s way of thinking, not in keeping with God’s economy (see the story of the widow’s mites, Mark 12:41-44).

With those odds, it will never work out the way you’d wish and hope and pray. Instead, what if the 1.55 billion lottery tickets sold since the run-up started in November was given to such causes?  Imagine what an incredible return on investment $3 billion dollars would have for our Kingdom work (Luke 12:33)?

So you’re a casual player who just bought a single $2 ticket – it’s harmless fun, right? You might have spent that $2 on a coffee at Starbucks.  But $2 would also fund a couple meals at the homeless shelter; would buy a live chicken for hundreds of eggs for a family in Africa; or would smuggle a Bible into North Korea. Go for the biggest return on every dollar.

2) God doesn’t want us to get rich quick. God tells us this in His Word, in a number of places:

  • “A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” – Proverbs 28:20
  • “Dishonest money dwindles away,  but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” – Proverbs 13:11
  • “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” – Hebrews 13:5 (all verses New International Version)

Indeed, our original sin means that instead, we’re to work hard to eke out our living, until the end of our days here (Genesis 3:17). Gaining quick riches is in direct opposition to God’s will for His people – which means playing lotteries or gambling is, too.

3) We’re poor stewards of God’s talents when we gamble. Meager or flush, the treasure in our wallets and in our bank accounts is His, not ours.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells how each of us has been put into stewardship with varying amounts of God’s treasure (Matthew 25:14-13). He advises that we’re to be good stewards of that treasure – to invest it wisely and to seek a strong return on it – and he warns of dire consequences to those who don’t obey this wisdom.

With the odds stacked so high against any return on gambling “investments,” playing the odds in the lottery is worst than burying our money in the ground. At least that man in the parable was able to return to his Master the principle amount. Lottery spendings are lost to the Kingdom forever.

With the ubiquity of lotteries in almost every state and gambling halls on riverfronts, Reservations and enclaves across America, gambling somehow seems to have been absolved by the culture as sin to Christ-followers and to all others in these United States. But God’s edicts; His will and His wishes for goodness and blessings for each of us – are eternal for each of His good and faithful servants.

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Representing your Faith Life With a ‘Life Verse’

Wall plaque with Joshua 24:15 engraved on it.

What’s your life verse?

For many Christians, whether they happen upon one, one happens upon them, or they intentionally scour their Bibles to find the “just right” expression, a life verse is the faith-driven equivalent to selecting a song lyric, a poetry verse or a pithy quote that deeply and uniquely represents you.

Similarly then, a life verse is often used in an email signature, put in vinyl letters on a wall at home, or, more permanently, tattooed onto a shoulder, arm, leg or back – and in that respect, sharing the verse is part of the experience of having one.

As I reflect on my Christian faith, I’ve come to realize that I’ve relied upon not one, but a number of life verses, in keeping with life’s transitions – a series of life verses that speak to my walk with Christ. Mile markers along my journey deeper into my faith.

An early life verse that resonated with me was found in Joshua 24:15: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This affirmation of faith, spoken by a patriarch to cover the entirety of his family and of his home, spoke to me when my wife and I were first establishing our home and starting our family.  Not unlike the “Give us today our daily bread,” carved wood platters adorning our parents’ walls (Matthew 6:9-13), we christened our home with a cherry wood plaque, laser-etched with Joshua’s words – and the wisdom. It was important and meaningful for me to overtly establish this value and direction for our family; to put into words a solid faith-based guide for our forward motion together.

At a much later stage of my life, we were compelled to contemplate a rather difficult decision: whether or not to leave the Air Force after 12 years of active service. There were many positive and negative factors on each side of the scale, and the decision seemed to hinge mostly on our family’s economic security in unsure times. For the first time, we were tested to put our faith in our finances fully in the hands of the Lord our father, and not also in those of a seemingly maternal Air Force. We weighed and prayed our decision a lot – for months – and in doing so, soon enough had a God-honoring decision, and with it a profound sense of calm and faith and peace in a new life verse:

“ … Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:25-34).

It was more than coincidence – indeed, it was Providence! – that I was able to find a good job here in St. Louis; a job that started the Monday after my military service ended, providing me with continuous employment across the transition that I’ve been blessed to have ever since.

There’s nothing in the Bible that says a person has to find a life verse.  But unless one tries to encapsulate their entire faith experience into 5-7 words, there’s no harm in it either.  On balance, choosing one is probably good.  Indeed, for many contemporary Christians, having a life verse might be the sole scripture they ever commit to memory, providing an ever-present help needed in hard times – or that a friend or loved one needs to hear in witness.

While the passing of time through life is bittersweet, it’s humbling to look back at what I’ve gone through.  With the benefit of hindsight, it’s cheering to look ahead, knowing there will be more, different milestones ahead. And knowing that my Lord – and His Word – will be there with me, to guide and comfort along the way.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Tattooed Shame: Indelible Ink Redeemed

Color photo of the author's tattoo that brings him shame as it represents his distance from God.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Deuteronomy 8:17-18

I have a tattoo – only one – and it’s a source of shame to me.

A tattoo doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, especially among my generation. Although I got mine in the early 1990s, they are all the more common in today’s twenty-teens.

Even most Christ-followers seem ok with them, despite Old Testament prohibitions lumping tattoos with prostitution and black magic (Leviticus 19:26-31). A post-modern seal of approval perhaps stems from Jesus’ teaching – normally attributed to food – that, “nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15). Our tattoos can even be a part of our testimony.

While earnest followers argue for or against tattoos, my shame isn’t for sake of having skin art. It’s not because a friend of a friend of my sister’s did the work – clearly, it must have been his second or third tat ever. It’s not because 25 years later, on my middle-aged shoulder, this “art” is sagging and fading and blurring, just like wiser people back in the day told me it would. And it’s not even because the design bears an unanticipated resemblance to the Body Glove logo, and the suggested commercialization of my body – without the proceeds of an endorsement deal – embarrasses me.

Rather, this is the source of my shame: I got the tattoo at the height of my self-reliance, my pride and my rebellion, in my late teens. To be clear: I wasn’t rebelling against my parents or society. Indeed, my immediate circles of loved ones, friends, and acquaintances were what you’d call freethinkers, and if they weren’t outright supportive of something like a tattoo on a young man, they were at least “to each his own” about it. Instead, my rebellion was against a God that I didn’t yet believe existed.

In that respect, the art that I selected – that I designed, I should admit – suited such a worldview perfectly: It is of my hand print, set inside a machine gear.  To my adolescent understanding, my intellect, creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work is what made me who I am; they were my means to success and to meaning. Me. My. Mine. Instead of a Holy God, I was the sole agent of my life – god of me, if you will – over something like Johnny Cash’s empire of dirt, as I’d figure out later in life.

Today, a born-again follower of a sacrificed, risen Christ, I hate my body art. As described, the depravity of my thinking “B.C.” – Before Christ – is pretty self-evident. It clearly represents my sin, even in its muddy image.

By my research, getting rid of an unwanted tattoo is futile and vain. It’s a time-honored trick to put a new tattoo over the old one; to cover up the old stain with a new stain. But even if no one else knows what’s underneath, I always will. There are some pretty fancy lasers that can blast away the pigment of a regretted tat. But the raised welts of the skin give away the mark.

Metaphorically, if not also metaphysically, the indelible mark of a tattoo represents the stain of sin on every one of us. There’s nothing on Earth or in man’s power that can forever remove the permanence of a tattoo. And likewise, there’s nothing that a fallen man like me can do to rid himself of the stain of his sin.

And yet, there’s hope.

Our hope is in the Lord, who promises to wash away all sins, with the blood of His sacrifice. New. Clean. Pure. Saved. These words, throughout the Bible, and especially in context of the saving grace of Jesus, tell us that the worst juice-sin stain on the white carpet of our souls will be Oxi-Clean with Jesus.

Arguably the most hope-filled line of the Bible is where we’re told that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God also promises us a new body – a body made perfect and without the blemish of sin (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

On these promises, I’m content to shoulder my stain for the rest of my time here, as a bitter reminder that in the place of that once-proud, rebellious young man is a new creation, filled with hope in redemption for eternal perfection. All because of Jesus.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016

This essay is torn from the pages of "The Flame," a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.

This essay is torn from the pages of “The Flame,” a quarterly devotional magazine published by Christ Church.


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Conviction: The Fuel that Drives Commitment Successes

agile-safari-pig-and-chicken-part2_panel1You may recall the conversation between the barnyard pig and his sister the hen: “You, my dear, are interested in the cause of breakfast;” said the pig, “while I, on the other hand, am committed.”

The old joke makes crystal clear the difference in meaning between two similar ideas; when you’ve committed to something, you’ve made a pledge that you will see it through to the end.  At least, that’s what Noah Webster tells us.

A concept closely related to commitment is conviction. At the other end of the spectrum from mere interest, conviction is a firmly held belief. The things that we are convicted of follow hard-won struggles on both intellectual and emotional fronts.

In that respect, our basic Christian beliefs are perhaps our most strongly held convictions. Most of us are permanently convicted of our faith because we each did the hard work to critically assess our Christian beliefs – or former lack thereof – to arrive at intellectual and emotional conclusions that convicted us of our need for the Grace-offering presence of an eternal and supernatural all-powerful, all-knowing, all- loving Triune God.

In turn, a Biblical worldview makes arriving at other convictions pretty easy. I know a guy who uses profanity too often when he speaks; particularly when he’s passionate about an idea, or when he’s around family or friends who don’t seem to mind (or, truth be told, who merely tolerate) such talk. Of late, however, people that I care a great deal about have asked me to address this social shortcoming, and I’ve taken up the cause with great zeal – and good results thus far.

Committing to curb the cursing is great – and I have on more than one occasion made such a resolution, particularly at the first of any given year.  But it wasn’t until recently that I was convicted of the dreadful sin.  The source of that conviction was a few dozen Bible verses, not least among them Colossians 3:8, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Gaining a clear understanding that God despises “filthy language from our lips” has given supernatural fuel to my more temporal interest.

Without conviction to fuel the drive, we sometimes fail to see our commitments through. So what commitment actions derive from our convictions?

1) First, moral matters demand conviction. You don’t have to be convicted about everything – indeed, some of our convictions are really mere snap judgments or even strongly held opinions. Don’t care for provel on your pizza?  Fine, skip it; let others eat it. But, for every moral matter, you MUST take a side.

2) Be on the right side of right. Accordingly, when you do take a side, choose wisely. For moral matters, there is a single correct answer. This is your chance to separate what looks to be all grey into clear black tones and white tones – again, using intellect and emotion. Completely unpack an issue to the best of your ability with good research into all sides of a matter, and with the Bible as the ultimate arbiter. Then decide.

3) Once convicted, grow in it. Learn. Reinforce your belief. Find community to help you grow. You’ll notice that that’s exactly what church is all about.

4) Act. You are now accountable to something bigger than you: your God-ordained convictions. You don’t necessarily have to be an activist – but you must take personal action. For amoral matters, your actions are at the personal level. But for moral matters, you must go outside yourself; you must share your convictions, proselytize them and seek to compel powers and principalities to veer in the direction of your convictions. When said that way, it’s pretty heady stuff – but day to day, it’s as simple as talking to friends, boycotting a business or writing a letter.

Taking action on our convictions – making commitments and seeing them through – is tough stuff.  It takes guts, and it can be lonely, difficult work. But a final word of hope: as Jesus promised in John 16, we also have an ever-present helper – the Holy Spirit – who guides us in the convictions that undergird our commitments.  And that, I’ve found, is more than enough for any conviction I might have.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.


It’s a God Thing — Do You Understand?

Open Bible showing Joshua 8 -- the passage referenced in the blog postIt’s a God thing …

For 2016, I’d like to succeed in working completely through the Bible. I’d ripped my “Inspired By … ” NIV Bible CDs and loaded them onto an old MP3 player to listen in the car: when driving home from work or when driving to or from drill each month. Progress, then, is infrequent — but comes in large draughts, which works well with my attention span, frankly.

On a lark, tonight I decided to see how my progress through the Bible compared to a Genesis-Revelation one-year reading plan. According to such a plan, I should be at Joshua 8 today. Wouldn’t you know that I am on Joshua 6 right now, and can read for 5 more minutes to be perfectly apace of this plan? His plan, no doubt?!

Every Christ-follower gets reminded every so often in a supernatural way that our Lord is with us … ask any of us to share and we’ll each have any number of instances that you might discount as Coincidence, but we correctly attribute to Providence.

God is good!

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

The Fruit of the Spirit: Waiting on the Harvest‏

Fruit tree with all 9 Biblical Fruits of the Holy Spirity

As a self-described “mature” Christian, I’ve nonetheless taken to skipping over Paul’s description of the fruit of the Holy Spirit whenever my Bible readings take me to it.

If you don’t recall, the verse goes like this:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”Galatians 5:22-23

Reading this list is an indictment on my soul-life; it’s like reading the quizzes in the men’s fitness magazines, but instead of asking about my exercise or sleep habits, this quiz asks: “How full of the Fruit of the Spirit are you? Take our quiz to find out!”

Using a scoring system from 5 = “Always” to 0 = “Never,” here’s how I self-assess:

Love: 4
Joy: 3
Peace: 3
Forbearance (What the Forbearance?!): 3
Kindness: 4
Goodness: 4
Faithfulness: 5
Gentleness: 2
Self-Control: 3

With about a 3.5 score, I’d probably rate as “Full of Life” – somewhere between “Full of the Spirit” and “Full of Crap.” Certainly I’m no barren fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20), right? But it’s enough to make me question my only 5 on the scoresheet. Why am I not bearing more fruit?

To cope with my spiritual insecurity, I’ve oscillated between over-obsessing about it and simply pretending the verse is apocryphally non-canonical – and thus does not apply to me or to anyone. Thankfully, I recently had an epiphany about it all (epiphany being a Greek word meaning “the Spirit smacked me silly straight”).

Here’s the gist of the breakthrough I had: In circa 2016, when I think of fruits, I think of the rainbow cornucopia of large, fresh, in-season selections at my local mega-grocer. All kinds, always available, abundant for picking … from a display.

In Paul’s day, however, fruit came to us in a much different fashion. It took time to grow, and it took close tending and hard work and a learned and respected agricultural process to grow it. Conditions had to be ideal, problems had to be caught early and headed off, and steady sustenance of good stuff needed to be fed throughout the seasons of growth.

And so it is with our Spiritual fruit; my first-world, modern expectations of large and abundant fresh consumer fruit – instantly available at the point of my salvation – was not in keeping with the metaphorical spiritual fruit Paul described: fruit that has seasons; fruit that takes growth and development and time and nurturing and learning to produce . Via a process performed by the patient, steady hand of its grower.

Tending to my spiritual life has happened, and has been necessary for any of the growth, blossoming and good fruit bearing that I’ve attained over the years – though as the quiz scores show, it all seems so modest. I’ve arguably provided a good plot for the seed of faith, the first necessity; but I also on the daily need to tend to the many fast-growing weeds of worldliness and worry that easily sprout up in my garden, lest they take over my faith life (Matthew 13:1-23).

What I learned after my smack aside my head is this: If we have sown well, and if we keep fertilizing, pruning and watering our growing faith, then assuredly the abundant fruit of the Holy Spirit will continue to show – and increase – in each of us. Amen.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

Copyright 2016


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

This is 40? Meh.

I’m not so ignorant to think that 40 is the new black; “meh” sums up the experience quite nicely.  #40Meh.

License plate on sports car reads "MANOPOZ"

A few months ago, in anticipation of my 40th anniversary of living, I set out to write a commemorative blog post: to riff on the significant meaning of this significant milestone.  I didn’t have a thesis going into the project, but I was confident something profound would come to me.  And why wouldn’t it? We have a pop culture pantheon of promises; of discovery, of self-awareness and of meaning at mid life.  However, as the birth day approached, and then passed, a finished blog post didn’t — the passing of time and the process of introspection brought nothing.

Despite the onset of prescription eyeglasses and a rotator cuff injury, the mundane that I’ve found in the few weeks since joining the ranks of the middle aged is that not a lot is different between 40 and most of my 30s — if not the whole of my adult life.  Sure, I feel like I’ve gained some wisdom in proportion to grey hairs, but for the most part, the advent — and passing — of 40 has been more lamb than lion; more “meh,” than, well — it was just meh.

Deep thoughts? I have none — but I still need 500 more words.  What follows, then, is the best can offer:

Forty (not-so-)Profound, (hopefully) Entertaining-if-Not-Edifying, (suitable-for-Tweeting?) Thoughts on Turning 40:

1. My life thus far: bought with 4 easy payments of 10 years each.

2. This is the age of knowing … that a Soft tail will get your engine revving a whole lot faster than a blue pill.

3. When I was growing up, there was only Rock music. Classic Rock hadn’t been invented yet.

4. Cut my teeth on Pong. Dictated this to Siri. Can’t wait to see what tech I get at 80.

5. 40 is the new 25 … 40 is the new 25 … 40 is the new 25 …

6. The pace of the passing of time picks up the pace past 40.

7. Sometimes I miss my dad something fierce. Then I look in the mirror, and there he is.

8. They say the eyes are the windows to our souls. Maybe because they are the first to fail us, ushering in old age and eventually death.

9. Condiments — it’s like I’ve discovered a whole ‘nother amazing dimension within our own world.

10. New vocabulary word: Analgesic.

11. My generation is the only to have seen Star Wars episodes 4-6 in our youth; episodes 1-3 with our children, and will see 7-9 with our grandchildren.

Original Star Wars poster

12. Corn. Not just a food. Or a band.  Now, a sore on my foot.

13. I was a teenager when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were born.

14. All of a sudden, I can be a victim of age discrimination. Wow.

15. On the Air Force Fitness Assessment, a “Passing” score at 39 becomes an “Excellent” score at 40.  Best. Gift. Ever.

16. On a road trip, I’m that guy that pulls over every hour for a comfort break.

17. Surprise parties: Awesome for 6-year-olds. Not so sure at 40.

18. I’ve developed a telescopic, go-go-gadget arm for extending my phone far enough away that I can read what’s on it.

19. I’ve finally matured into the hairline I’ve had since 28.

20. I’m 42 already and I just turned 40 last October. What’s happening?!

21. Obsessed with the 2015 Ford Mustang. Not a midlife crisis; I just hope I look that good when I’m 50!

2015 Ford Mustang in red

22. We were so spoiled back in the day: there used to be a special phone number dedicated to providing citizens with the time and temperature … Back when there were telephones, of course.

23. Crows feet, laugh lines and greying temples. Entering the “distinguished gentleman” phase of life.

24. Knowing is half the battle.

25. Deny all you want, but when Metamucil starts posting ads to your News Feed, you have to concede that you are over 40.

26. Ye shall know them by their socks: 40-somethings = white ankle sport.

27. Stayed out ’til the street lights came on.

28.  Can no longer be a fast food dumpster.


29. Wisdom = Smarts + Experience + Time.

30. My hairline turned 40 a full decade before I did.

31. Black crepe. Not cool.

32. In the gym every day. For physical therapy, not physical fitness.

33. Big Bird. G.I. Joe, Pete Parker, Obi Wan. Characters who shaped my character.

Duke from G.I. Joe action figure illustration

34. After 40 years, I’ve gotta have at least 10,000 hours toward expertise in something.

35. So let me get this straight — a new motorcycle, hobby or sports car in my 20s is cool, but now it’s a mid-life crisis?

36. I saw a red minivan with Sublime and Beastie Boys window stickers on it. Talk about my generation.

37. All the best songs of my youth were novelty songs. Top 5:

5) Abracadabra / The Steve Miller Band

4) Mr. Roboto/ Styx

3) Whip It / Devo

2) Rock me Amadeus / Falco

1) I Wanna be a Cowboy / Boys Don’t Cry

Mr. Roboto Album Cover

38. If I don’t know myself yet. I think I might not ever.

39. Into weed: obsessed with getting rid of the crabgrass in my lawn.

40. The only things that’ll make me give a double take today is a shiny fender, a spoiler or pipe noise.

There could be more things to say, but I’ve hit 40 of them, and I’m supposed to be ready for a nap now.  So here’s to deeper thoughts at 50, 60 and beyond.

A well done if more colorful list for the sisters:  40 Effed Up Things About Being 40.

Copyright 2015


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Resolving to Read the Bible Through — Part I

Baby New Year quipping about the challenge of reading the Bible all the way through in a year.

It’s January 5 — do you know where your New Year’s resolution is? Only 75 percent of you will by the end of the week!

If your New Year’s resolution is to read the Bible through in 2015, you’re in good company.

It’s not in the top 10 resolutions list for 2015.  Nonetheless more than 500,000 around the world have resolved to take part in just one organized read-through — Episcopalian minister the Rev. Marek P. Zabriski’s annual The Bible Challenge — with many multiples of that participating in church-size, small group, family or personal journeys (with that, I humbly say, “Stuff it!” to all of the post-Christianity, religion-is-dead” myth-mongers).

The numbers of people who have attained that goal, whether as a New Year’s resolution; all within a year; or simply ever, is respectable — 61 percent of evangelicals report having done so. So they say.

I’m skeptical — that number is way too high for the reality I’ve encountered. Maybe it was a study done in the 1940s when parochial schools and Sunday Schools were more ubiquitous and rigorous — when Bible reading was more compulsory (y’know, back in the the good ol’ days when people knew what words like ubiquitous and rigorous and compulsory meant). Heck, only 71 percent of today’s ‘Merican population possesses more than a “basic” reading level, and wholly 14 percent of us are illiterate — although the CIA Factbook credits our Great Nation with a 99 percent literacy rate.

I think maybe the 61 percent mean the bible, not THE Bible:

Pollster: “Have you ever read the Bible?”

Man on the Street’s Thoughts:Fisherman’s Bible of Sport Trophy and Game — that’s gotta count!”

Man on the Street: “Oh yeah. Sure I’ve read it!”

Or, maybe the response is aspirational. Recent studies have found that when asked how often they attend church in polls, people tend to heavily skew up their responses when compared to actual attendance counts — anywhere from double up to five times over. Researchers attribute this to aspirational bias — the desire to be the kind of person one wants to be, versus the kind of person one really is.  Whereas according to the study It’s likely that Bible read-through respondents are similar in this respect — and the real number is likely lower, and possibly much lower.

If you’re amongst the “39 percent” who presumably wants to but who hasn’t got it done yet, please set aside the Dan Brown self-flagellation kit and put the task in perspective:

  • The modest completion numbers speak to the difficulty of the task — if it was easy, more people would have done it already.
  • Reading all 807,361 words of the Bible is on par with reading the entire Harry Potter series. (Well, leave The Deathly Hallows‘ 198,227 words out of the total of 1,084,170 to get closer parity). How long did it take you to do that?  Excluding, of course, time spent waiting for the next book in the series to be published.
  • Alternatively, it’s really more like reading the 37 collected plays of William Shakespeare (at 835,997 words, also similar in length to the Bible) given the differences in language, setting, culture contexts between then and now, etc. Like Shakespeare, while the Bible also has mystery, drama, intrigue, supernatural happenings, suspense, sex and betrayal, even the best translations aren’t highly readable.

So with those encouraging comparisons, set yourself up for success against the formidable task.  Come back soon for Part II, which offers links to reading plans and tips for keeping this resolution!

Copyright 2015


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Feedback: The Perfect Gift


Businessman shakes present to figure out what's inside.

Didn’t get the gift you really wanted under the tree this year?  Or from your boss or a co-worker?  As New Year’s comes around, make a resolution to ask for the perfect gift — the gift of feedback!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – a time to run around stores late into the night, looking for the perfect gifts to give to family, friends and even co-workers.  Workplace holiday gifts can be the most problematic – there are all those ethics rules, hierarchy sensitivities and office politics to consider.  How do you decide the perfect gift for an office colleague?

Though it’s somewhat of a management and leadership trope, for colleagues, arguably the best gift you can give – for the holidays or anytime – is the gift of feedback.  Maybe they’d rather have a coffee shop gift card or, “hint, hint,” maybe a promotion.  But feedback truly is the “bestest” gift you can give them, ever.  Here’s why:

  • Like Clark Griswold’s 1-year membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month Club Christmas bonus, good feedback “truly is the gift that keeps giving.”  To validate this point, just think back to valued feedback that you got years ago that you still use today.  I recall a senior leader applauding the quality of my work on a project, but advising me that getting it to her the night before it was needed didn’t give her enough time to review it and make use of it the next day.  The lesson – that 90 percent quality early is better than 110 percent quality late – has served me well in the intervening years.
  • Feedback enhances performance, and that’s great fun!  Of course feedback can be positive – praise is great fun to give and to receive, and when given it can reinforce desired performance and behaviors.  But often feedback needs to address a need, and as such, at first it’s going to be like getting socks and underwear from one’s parents.  But once they try it on and wear it, it’s going to feel like a superhero-costume Underoos or like those awesome Spring Shoes they’ve always wanted – it’s going to enhance their performance and agility and speed in the workplace like nothing else.  That’s a lot of fun, for the entire workplace family!
  • If done, right, it’s a perfect fit.  Feedback is like a new sweater – it’s got to be just right for the person getting it – not too big, not too small, not too heavy nor too light, not scratchy and in the right colors and pattern for the recipient.  And what’s perfect for Susie won’t at all work for Bobby.  Feedback is not a one-size-fits-all gift, and if attention to detail and tailoring to the exact specifications of the recipient are missed, it makes for a disappointed, confused and frustrated receiver.  Although you can’t really use a gift receipt to return feedback, if it’s a good fit for the recipient, they won’t want to.
  • The packaging that feedback comes in matters almost as much as the gift itself.  Some people wrap their gifts in the Sunday Comics papers.  Similarly, some managers try to use humor to soften the blow of difficult counsel.  But such feedback is a serious gift and shouldn’t be delivered with jokes, but rather with sober seriousness.  Alternatively, don’t be the one that takes a gift and puts it in three different increasingly larger boxes to trick the recipient into thinking he’s getting something different.  Don’t play games or beat around the bush with your delivery – just give it to them.  A nice, attractive paper with a simple bow to adorn it is best, meaning: keep your delivery simple, straight-forward and pleasant.
  • Give the gift on time.  I’m that guy that misses the U.S. Postal Service mailing deadlines; you’ll get your Christmas cards and packages from me in mid-January.  I’m just not that organized.  But for feedback to be useful to the recipient, you have to have your thoughts collected, and you have to deliver it in the appropriate season.  Cheeseballs and feedback are great when fresh, but once you get past the “best if used by” date, neither is any good for anyone.
  • Finally, like nothing else, the gift of feedback truly says, “I care.”  Surely you’ve been in a situation where you’ve wanted to call a colleague or a subordinate on the Clue Phone to give them some much-needed advice.  If it was someone you didn’t much care for, you probably took a pass on the opportunity.  Why?  Because there’s some risk in giving feedback – risk that it will be rejected, that you’ll hurt the person’s feelings.  There’s a lot of potential workplace drama that comes with those emotions.  So it’s just not worth it.  That is, unless you really care about the person.  For the recipient, it’s worth keeping this in mind, and a help to receiving the gift with gratitude and in the spirit it was given.  If someone’s taking time to speak honestly to you about an area for improvement, embrace the momentary suck and remember that this person is doing it because he or she cares about you.

What’s the best feedback gift you’ve ever received?  How has feedback benefited you in your work?  Why is it difficult to give – or to receive – the gift of feedback?

Copyright 2014


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?


Love all Sinners

All have sinned. Love them all! How can you NOT with a sweet face like that?

You’ve heard it said that you are to “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  This common Christianese phrase has a basis in Biblical truth, and is recited by church people as though it was red-letter text.  But there are some problems with its use:

1) First, it’s decidedly NOT Biblical.  Similarly worded, but decidedly different in meaning — and in bona fide red letters to boot — is the following:  “You have heard that it was said, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” — from Matthew 5:43-44.

2) It’s hypocritical.  ” … He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” — John 8:7.  ‘Nuff said.

3) It’s divisive and judgmental.  Yes, there will be an accounting for all shortcomings … I will spend a lot of time recounting my own personal sins (ugh!) …  As fallen humans, we ARE our sin, so when we condemn sin, we condemn the lost we are trying to reach with God’s message of grace and mercy.  That turns people off, frankly.  It turns God off, too — in Proverbs 6:16, when the Bible describes seven things the Lord hates, “haughty eyes,” and “a person who stirs up conflict in the community,” are prime among them.  So until His return, we of the church need to try harder to be about His love and forgiveness.

And of course, like most Christianese, using the phrase usually displays a lack of critical thought, and instead is simply something that we’ve heard and parrot to others.

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.