Category Archives: The Ultimate Selfie

To Chase a Cheerio

For some, like me, cereal is a breakfast staple. I can’t help it. It’s just easy to fix and I like the taste. Some brands are even fortified with essential vitamins and minerals and, of course, milk is a basic and a necessary source of so many good things. Right?

When I was a kid, I ordered a Tony the Tiger cereal bowl and matching cup. The ordering was quite a process in those days. I had to provide a proof of purchase label from the box top and a check I begged my mother to write.  I sent it all through the mail, and after several weeks, it finally came. I loved it. If I finished the cereal (Frosted Flakes, of course), I could see the smiling face of its Grrrrrreat mascot.

I’ve graduated from the sugary stuff to those whole grain versions that are chocked full of daily nutrients, or at least that’s what it says on the box. Sometimes I opt for the old standby, Cheerios. It’s wholesome and prevents heart disease, or at least that’s what it says on the box.

Anyway one day, not long ago, I found myself getting to the bottom of my bowl and, though it had gotten a little soggy, I was insistent on chasing that last one until I captured it. I corralled  it after a couple of tries. As I slurped it into my mouth, it occurred to me, at that point, how I often worry about trivial things—things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of life. Often I find myself chasing a morsel of life that is not very important.

One of those things I fuss over is how I look. I knew this day would come, but I didn’t expect the natural aging process to be so cruel. I don’t want to be 16 again, or 26 or 36, but I wouldn’t mind looking more like I did back then— before Mean Ol’ Mister Gravity had his way. And his ugly sister, Snow White Roots, shows herself between salon appointments. All I’m saying is that I spend a lot of time pursuing trivial goals that turn out to be temporary, if not totally unsatisfying. 

Another Cheerio I chase is significance. As I stated in my blog series The Ultimate Selfie: Seeing Yourself As You Really Are we often think that we can only find satisfaction and worth in what we’ve accomplished. I struggle with this. As I get older (which happens with every heartbeat) I sometimes stress over the lack of notoriety I possess. I know. I’ve accomplished some things in my life that I’m proud of and thankful for. However, that is one cup that can never be filled. The more I get, the more I want.

Good King Solomon calls this quest striving (or chasing) after wind. In Ecclesiastes he lists several pursuits in this category: works, knowledge, authority, beauty, and so on. In fact, Solomon who was supposed to be the wisest man to ever live, let his acquisition of wisdom consume him and drag him into an ungodly life… and make him even hate his life.

 No. I’m not hating life at all. I’m loving my life, but I have to look into the cereal bowl every morning and promise not to pursue the last, illusive, unsatisfactory morsel.

 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is futility and striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14.

Hard Lessons and the Scars They Leave Behind.

A few weeks ago, I sliced the end of my finger off. Completely off. It bled and bled and bled. A lot. Anyway, when it started to heal (it’s almost there) I realized that the print on that finger will forever be changed. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not. Either way, it’s forever different from before. A few weeks ago, I had some skin lesions biopsied. They were benign. I already have had two melanomas surgically removed, so I can’t be too careful, you know.

Anyway, these scars represent hard life lessons learned. 1) Don’t get fingers near a mandolin food slicer 2) Don’t stay out in the sun without sunscreen. (I sat out in the sun a lot as a teenager and now paying the price.) These scars join their brothers and sisters on my body— many that are almost as old as I am. Accidents. Surgeries. Child births. Childhood foolhardiness—and diseases. And every scar has a story to tell.

Between my eyes there’s a divot left behind by chicken pox. A subtle reminder that I’m vulnerable to maladies of every kind and to do as much prevention as I can. A 2-inch scar on my thigh reminds me to be careful when climbing a makeshift ladder into a neighbor’s treehouse. If my scars could speak!

I’m constantly amazed at how the human body is able to regenerate tissue. It’s the only machine I know of that can fix itself. However, it will leave a reminder that it isn’t built to last forever.

Life, in these bodies, is fleeting and oh so temporary. Think about it. Every prophet, every saint, every hero—or villain has or will leave this physical body behind. Everyone. So why do I hang onto the transitory things of this life when I’ve got a long (eternal) one waiting for me? Why do I stress about everyday physical things? Here’s a lyric to a hymn I’ve always liked: Softly and Tenderly. This is the third verse.

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me.

That lyric may sound morbid or it might sound preachy, as if warning the listener that death is just a breath away. But it is. We have friends and family who were alive one minute and dead the next. Fragile.

Author and pastor Rick Warren wrote: “You weren’t put on earth to be remembered. You were put here to prepare for eternity.”

Two Halves Don’t Always Make a Whole

Mike and Cindy met on a blind date. A mutual friend had set them up. The friend had told Mike a little bit about Cindy. He said, “She’s really beautiful, she’s smart, she’s sweet and I think you’d make a great couple. But,” he added, “she has really big feet and she’s quite sensitive about it. So, whatever you do, don’t stare at her feet.”

Well, of course, that was the first thing Mike tried to see. Just a quick sneak peek. Yet he couldn’t see anything really unusually huge about her feet. But, of course, she had on dress shoes and they had met in a dark restaurant. He really liked Cindy though. She was everything that his friend had said she was.

So, Mike and Cindy went on a second date. This time it was a casual affair and she was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Still, Mike didn’t recognize anything odd about her feet. He had trusted his friend’s warnings though, and he tried to avoid an embarrassing encounter.

Well, eventually his friend admitted to Mike that he had told a fib, he had pulled a prank. The half-truth was not well-received at first. It all turned out okay, however. Mike and Cindy got married and the prankster was eventually forgiven.

But how many half-truths does it take to make the whole truth? Zero…or it won’t compute.

There is an ancient story called “The Blind Men and the Elephant” that further illustrates this idea. Here’s a version of it:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and explore it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant at different places.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! It is a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! It is a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is a big hand fan,” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is a solid pipe,” said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. Sound familiar?

The moral of these stories is that the whole truth is not always what we think at first, especially if our perspective is limited or if we listen to the wrong people. We have to be sure and test out what we hear, see, or touch…or otherwise experience.

Christian apologist, Josh McDowell writes, [1]“Belief will not create fact. Truth is independent of belief. No matter how hard I may try, believing something will not make it true.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, NASB).

The whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Hop Out

A modern urban myth, “The Frog in the Kettle” has been told many ways and for many purposes. But most agree that it is an allegory for life. The basic story goes that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it’ll  jump out, but if the frog is put in lukewarm water and the water is then brought to a boil slowly, the frog will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. A rather gruesome example I’d say, but the moral of the story, for me, is that change, especially when it is subtle, can consume us without our knowing it or without our permission.  Such is the reason for this blog post.

It’s no secret that I’m a word nerd. I accept the moniker without shame. And since I retired I have had more time to think, ruminate, and exercise this gift (or curse). And the past two years have had its days of rumination, adjustment and, often, angst.

The words comfortable and complacent come to mind often as it refers to my current status. The words are alike but sometimes quite different. They each have their own denotations, or dictionary meanings. Comfortable means having physical ease and relaxation. Synonyms include cozy, snug, warm, content.

Complacent means to be satisfied – actually self-satisfied. Its synonyms include lazy, proud, pleased, gratified, content. Other connotations of the word complacent imply boredom, uselessness,  worthlessness. The implication I get from this is that getting too comfortable, in the slowly warming surroundings, may lead to self-satisfaction and worthlessness. I fear that, before long, it’ll be too late to jump out. The idea that I could go from nice, warm comfort to lukewarm complacency scares me to death.

The Apostle Paul chose the word content (which can be a synonym of both comfortable and complacent). I like this word better. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” He is saying that he has little control over his environment, but I would hardly say that Paul was complacent. Not even when he was in prison did he sit and “stew” in the rising zeal of his oppressors.

The writer of Hebrews (unknown to us) puts it this way: “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you…’” Hebrews 13:5.

Again, Paul writes to Timothy “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it, either.” 1 Timothy 6:6-7. 

Please pray that I (or you)  will find that happy place of contentment without becoming lazy and complacent.

Where Have All the Churches Gone?

Hey everyone. This is an article I wrote a while back and it was published in a couple of newspapers. However, I haven’t ever shared it on my blog. Here goes:

Where have all the flowers gone/Long time passing/

Where have all the flowers gone/Long time ago?

Remember this protest song recorded by the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary in the 1960s? Its lyrics describe a sort of cycle of life… of flowers…picked by young girls…who take husbands…who become soldiers…whose bodies go to graveyards…that are eventually covered in flowers.

Occasionally a similar question comes up about the Church. “What’s happened to the church? Where has it gone? Will the church as we once knew it ever return?” These questions are usually referring to music and worship styles and are often asked by those who prefer the more traditional ways–of which they are more familiar. My answer is usually some mumbo-jumbo about trends, and relevance, and post-modernism and such. But in reality I have no idea what’s happening in the worldwide Church.

Through my six decades on the planet as a “church girl,” I’ve seen the Body struggle with itself (or against itself), in an attempt to make it more relevant. I am just now starting to see a pattern and trying to make sense of it all.

My friend and former pastor, Dr. Gene Mims, in his book Kingdom Principles for Church Growth[i] breaks down the Church’s role in the world into five functions: discipleship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and worship. It seems as though the Church hasn’t always seen these functions as equal to each other. We’ve had a tendency to focus on one individually instead of all of them as a group – even though they all share equal importance in our living out the Great Commission.

When I was growing up discipleship happened to be the big thing. Because of this push to teach and equip the saints, I was in Bible drills, Vacation Bible School, and other programs that emphasized scripture memory, helping me to “hide God’s word in my heart.” I’m grateful for that experience.

In my college days (early ‘70s) there was a call for a little less talk and a lot more action. We needed to be the hands and feet of Christ. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. Lift up the fallen. We needed to take off the Sunday school shoes and put on the work boots of ministry. Some great social ministries came from that movement.

Then came the 1980s and we discovered that just handing out food and clothing to the less fortunate wasn’t enough. We needed to also share the gospel. Schools of evangelism sprang up to teach us soul-winning techniques. I was a trainer in one of these schools.

Then we discovered that we needed to walk along beside those we were trying to reach. Fellowship. Support groups. Softball teams. Community events. We—and they—needed fellowship.

But there was still something missing. There had to be a reason why we hadn’t made a greater impact on the world. Why, at least in America, have our numbers dwindled? Oh yes. Worship. Let’s fix that!

And that’s where we are now – still trying to make a difference and still trying to figure out how to be salt and light. But like we did in decades past, we think if we teach the Church how to do one thing better it will make all things right; thus, schools of worship and master’s degrees in it.

So if this doesn’t work, what then? What will we do to make ourselves relevant? Will we go back around like the circle of life in the flowers in the folksong? All I can say is: If or when the church trend brings us back through the five functions one at a time, we can’t ignore any of them. They are all important – essential. And if the focus of an age is not one of our favorites let’s remember that the church isn’t ours anyway!

[i]  Mims, Gene. Kingdom Principles for Church Growth. Nashville, TN: Convention, 1994. Print.

Where Did You Park?

Goofy 5.

Mickey 10.

These were rows of parking designations we used to find at Disney parks.  There were signs with an iconic cartoon character on them and then a number so we could remember generally where we left our car when we entered. If we could remember that one character and that one number, we’d be able to return to our vehicles at the end of the day. Theoretically. Now, notice that we were not encouraged to remember that we’d parked between a white Chevy and a blue Ford. Why? Because these are not permanently stationary points of reference. Chevy Guy might decide to leave before we did and Blue Ford Lady may have been replaced by a burgundy van by the time we decided to exit. My insight into this is that we shouldn’t anchor ourselves to something that isn’t constant. The signs were anchored in concrete and not likely to move. The vehicles not so much. (Maybe the Disney reference isn’t appropriate here, but you get the point.)

I’ve heard people vow to someone they love (and I’ve done it myself) “I’ll always be here for you.” That’s so sweet, especially if it is genuine, but it is a sentiment that has no real basis in reality. What if I die one day? And I will. What happens to my promise to always be here? You can say that I’m with you in spirit—looking down on you from heaven. And, if that’s even possible, that is a comforting thought. However, the reality of putting all of our hopes into something or somebody so temporal, that is not permanent and eternal, will inevitably lead to disappointment and disillusionment—not to mention loneliness.

The writer of Hebrews calls our hope in Christ the anchor for our souls. It’s a metaphor that the writer uses (Hebrews 6:19) to help the readers understand that they should not attach themselves to something or someone that isn’t “nailed down.” And how there’s only one Someone who never leaves, never moves, never leads us astray. The Message paraphrase of this Hebrews passage says this:

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us…”

I guess it’s a little strange to refer to something as concrete when this is a rather abstract thought. But that’s how it often is with spiritual things. We have to dig into such ideas with nothing but faith.

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable…” Hebrews 6: 19 (NASB)

BTW, I read recently that some parking lots at Disney parks are divided into 2 sections: Heroes and Villains. The Heroes lots include: Woody, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Simba, Mulan, and Rapunzel. The Villains lots include: Zurg, Jafar, Hook, Scar, Cruella, and Ursula. Times are changing, huh?

Patting Ourselves on the Back

I’m preparing to substitute teach a Sunday school class this week. The lesson is from 1 Kings 18 and 19. You may or may not know this story, and I’ll admit it isn’t one that I learned as a child. It is a great biblical story with a profound lesson, nonetheless.

Elijah was a prophet and one of God’s favorites. He, apparently, was also highly revered by the Israelites throughout their long history. Elijah was the topic of conversation many years later in the Old Testament and in New Testament times. Some even thought that Jesus was Elijah coming down from heaven. And Elijah actually showed up in a heavenly body at the Transfiguration—he and Moses joining Jesus on the mountain.

In the time of the kings in ancient Israel, many had started worshipping a pagan god—Baal. Elijah is incensed by this and sets out to prove that Yahweh is the one true God. He instructs the prophets of Baal to build an altar to their god and offer a burnt sacrifice without benefit of external fire. The idolaters cannot get Baal to light their altar, no matter how hard they beg, and therefore the demonstration succeeds in showing that Baal is not the Living God. When Elijah offers the same kind of sacrifice to Yahweh, he douses it with water and God sends down fire from heaven, consuming the sacrifice, the water on it and around it to prove that He is in control. It was quite the show-down. What a spectacle that must have been! Many Israelites switched teams in that moment—going back to worshipping the One True God. Mission accomplished.

However, after this incredible display of God’s power and Elijah’s faith, Queen Jezebel (a faithful worshipper of Baal) vows to kill Elijah because the prophet has not only made a mockery of Baal’s power, but has the prophets of this false god slaughtered. Interestingly, Elijah fears this woman so much that he runs and hides. It’s like a huge Rottweiler cowering to a chihuahua. Elijah whines that he’s the only one left in Israel who is faithful (which isn’t true), and he wants to give up.

What happened? From revered representative of God to a scaredy cat? The story ends well, but only when God challenges Elijah to listen for His still, small voice.

So, the biblical prophet Elijah was not a doubter, but he was a pouter. What can we learn from him and his story? After a victory, the “highs,” are often followed with “lows.” Why do you think? Perhaps, in Elijah’s case, success had fostered a sense of pride in him, and he began to take his importance and his power too seriously. Perhaps he was looking for another “high” and when it didn’t happen, he sank so low that he even asked God to let him die.

Success can sometimes be more damaging to our lives than our failures. King Solomon found that out the hard way.  He writes in Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Let’s be careful to recognize that our successes are from God’s providence and power.

Words to Live By

Every year or so, a few of my friends from long ago reunite. We all grew up in the same small Southern town and have known each other since infancy. One of the last times we got together we reminisced about Friday night football games, Sunday morning church, family dinners, and pre-teen campouts, and we marveled that we had lived through a golden age—a time when life was good and uncomplicated—and simple.

Lines were clean. Rules were enforced. Neighborhoods were safe. We were blessed.

This experience made me think of a poem that was found written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Calcutta. Though the Sister probably didn’t write the original poem, it has been closely tied to her for many years. It has borne two different titles: Anyway and A Simple Path. Anyway… here it is:

“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;


If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;


If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies;


The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow;


Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable;


What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight;


People really need help but may attack you if you help them;


Give the world the best you have and you might get kicked in the teeth;


“Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God.” ― Ronald Reagan.

Marco. Polo.

Remember the game Marco Polo? We played it at the pool almost every day of the long, hot summers in Southeast Alabama. It’s basically a call-and-response game—on land called Blind Man’s Bluff. The point is there’s an outcast, the “it,” who with eyes closed, calls out “Marco.” The others play by responding “Polo.” “It” must close his/her eyes and find the other players by sound only. No peeking. And once a player is tagged, he or she becomes “it.”

Now, why this game is named after that 13th-century explorer is still a mystery. Wikipedia (which, of course, is a totally reliable source) suggests that the game was so named because Marco Polo had no clue where he was going. He just struck out blindly to explore the globe and drifted where the wind blew him. Okay. Maybe.  

The spiritual connection (and there always is one) is that when we can’t see God working in us or in the world, we must stop and listen. Eyes closed and opened ears.

Today it seems there are more and more societal voices than ever trying to drown out each other. Some are shouting and some are whispering to us, but they’re all vying for our attention. Not only do many of them want us to listen to them, but they want us to buy into their message. Follow their lead. So, how do we tell which voice to follow? How do we know which is the right way to go?

When bankers learn how to identify counterfeit money, they first handle the real thing enough times so they can know when the false bills come across their stations. In this context, listen to His voice, through reading scripture and asking in prayer, enough times that you’ll know it when you hear it.

Another analogy on this subject was spoken by Jesus Himself. It had to do with sheep. He said, recorded in John10 (The Message paraphrase):

“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

The game of Marco Polo has another dimension: when “it” thinks that one of the other players has left the pool, he yells “Fish out of water!” That disqualifies the player. For believers, choosing to be on the periphery of God’s will is like being a fish out of water; it is confusing and makes it hard to hear Him.

So test the real thing enough times so that you can discern when the voice of Truth is speaking.

Etched in Stone

Down here in the South, family is really important. That’s why family reunions are often major annual events.

A few summers ago, I went to my family reunion in L.A. (Lower Alabama) held at the “mother church” where there was food (to the tenth power), hugs, kisses, and, for me, reacquaintance with long lost cousins. I felt like I was speed dating when one cousin would sit and talk for a while and then be replaced by another one. This went on for almost a whole afternoon. Before dark, we walked through the headstones of the church cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. Apparently the cemetery visit was a tradition at this event. Both of my grandparents and some of their children on my father’s side are buried in that cemetery, side by side, of course.

On that journey, I listened to the relatives talking about each aunt, uncle or grandparent as they would stop and say something (kind words, of course) about each one. I began to notice at a point, that some would stop in front of my grandfather’s headstone and smile. Not laugh out loud, but just smile. That was the day, I noticed for the first time the dates on my grandfather’s headstone.  Born June 8, 1898…died September 31, 1956. Wait a minute. September 31? Let’s see “thirty days hath September”…so there was no September 31…a mistake…and that’s what brought the smiles (which I was told would have pleased my jovial grandfather immensely.)

That reminded me that some mistakes are etched in stone, and they never go away. They’re always visible and accuse us every time we see them. However, sometimes etchings are merciful and removable like when the gulf rolls in and sweeps away a message or a castle. Which ones are which? Permanent or wiped clean? Earthly consequences of past errors in judgment and sins can last a long time. But all of our missteps can be forgiven (and even erased) by God’s grace. It’s called redemption.

My mother collected S&H Green Stamps at the Piggly Wiggly. (For those of you in another generation, that’s like bonus points or rewards that one collects with various purchases.) Anyway, the stamps worked just like today’s points in that when you had enough, you could redeem them. In those days, we went to the redemption center where we could turn our books of stamps in to receive “valuable” items such as small appliances, dry goods, and even toys. I was smart enough to figure out that this exchange was trading something of little worth on its own (the stamps) for something of great worth (at least to me). That’s where I learned what this scripture meant. God said,  

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!” Isaiah 43:1