Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Proposing a Toast


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Tonight, celebrants around the world will raise a glass to toast the New Year. Where did this tradition come from? Why do we raise a glass and drink (personally, I’ll be using Ginger Ale tonight) to someone’s health and well-being? What does alcohol have to do with wishing, anyway?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the expression “to propose a toast” comes from the use of spiced toast to flavor drinks in the 1700s. This helps us understand where the term “toasting” comes from, but again, why do people do it?
Since the dawn of time (or perhaps the dawn of fermentation), alcohol has been associated with spiritual things, due to its mind-altering qualities. People often have a tendency to confuse intoxication (note the root word “toxic”) with spiritual experience.

In the year 1610, the word “spirits” was first used to refer to a “volatile substance” by alchemists. Later, the term was narrowed to “strong alcoholic liquor” by 1678.
The ancient tradition of making a wish when sharing spirits comes from the idea of offering alcohol as gift to God or gods. The Online Etymology Dictionary defines a libation as “pouring out of wine in honor of a god.” When a person offers a libation, he pours a bit of the alcohol on the ground prior to drinking. The spilt alcohol is an offering to God. The drunk alcohol is said to be sharing a drink with God. So you could say that a toast is really a prayer, powered by alcohol.
So, when you share your Diet Pepsi or whatever this New Year’s Eve, will you add a little spice from toasted bread? When you make your toast, will you drink first, or pour it on the ground? The real question isn’t about your relationship with “spirits” this New Year’s Eve. The real question is—what is your relationship with The Spirit? Which will you trust with each day of your new year?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year Traditions

As we approach the New Year, I thought I'd share with you an article I wrote for the Southside Messenger a few years ago. Happy New Year!


"New Year Traditions"


By Greg Smith (c) 2005 - Published in The Southside Messenger

In cultures around the world, the New Year brings special traditions. Many of our holiday customs come from the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. In these lands, people celebrated the first few moments of the New Year with family and friends. It was thought that making loud noises would frighten away evil spirits. Thus we inherit the custom of sounding bells, using noisemakers at boisterous parties, and shouting loudly to ring in the New Year. Today, many of us celebrate New Years Day by eating black-eyed peas, which are a symbol of luck, together with ham, which represents prosperity. Cabbage is another popular New Year dish, because its green leaves which remind us of money signify wealth in the New Year.

Not all traditions begin the year on January 1. For example, this year Chinese New Year will begin on February 9. Jewish New Year began on September 15. Asian calendars, unlike the Julian calendar that we use, are based on the cycles of the moon and planets. Their dates are not fixed, but are movable, depending on celestial events.


The Chinese begin their New Year with spectacular celebrations and parades. These traditions are based on bringing luck, prosperity, happiness, and good fortune for the coming year. Thousands of people line city streets, while dragons and lions dance and weave in and out of the onlookers. These sacred animals symbolize longevity and strength, and their heads are said to ward off evil. Firecrackers scare away evil spirits, and people display bright new clothes, and flowers which betoken fertility in the coming year. The first thing Chinese people do to celebrate the New Year is give honor to the family ancestors, then to Deity, after which the younger members of the household honor their living relatives. A pair of tangerines may be given as a symbol of unity and abundant happiness. Noodles are eaten as a symbol of long life. The New Year is a time to cast off old grudges and renew commitments to friendship, so family and friends visit one another during this nine-day festival.


Chinese New Year festivals center around the family. Participants reflect on how they might bring harmony to their relationships. Throughout the celebration, people focus on what they might do to develop good fortune in their lives. Houses are cleaned, debts are paid, and attention is given to goal setting and prosperity.
Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, is a similar time for facing the future and clearing up the past. Rosh Hashanah means “Head of the Year,” and is a day of judgment and reckoning. However, believers face this day wearing good clothing and with prayer, being certain of God’s mercy. The holiday is celebrated for two days in Israel and elsewhere, beginning at sundown on the first day and ending at sundown on the second.

After evening prayers at the synagogue, worshippers return home for a festive meal with family and friends. Like the Chinese, Jews celebrate with special “omen” foods. They share traditional wine and challah bread, which is shaped like a ladder and represents prayers ascending to heaven. Sometimes it is shaped like a crown, which reminds the people that God is the king of Heaven. The bread is dipped in honey, which represents a sweet New Year. Fish is often served, and celebrants often bring the fish’s head to the head of the family, who prays on the household’s behalf, “May it be your will that we be like the head (leaders) and not like the tail (followers).” Carrots are a popular food, since in Hebrew, gezer (carrot) can also mean decree. So the request is made that God will not allow any evil decree against the Jewish people. One Jewish author suggests that the same principle could be applied in English, so eating celery with raisins in it could represent a desire for a “raise in salary.”


Like most New Year celebrations around the world, Rosh Hashanah is welcomed with loud noise. The shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown in solemn assembly, to remind the faithful of the sacrifice Abraham made in offering Isaac to God. For this reason, the festival is also called “The Feast of Trumpets.” It is a time for self-reflection and asking the question, “What sacrifice can I make for the Lord?” While Rosh Hashanah does have its festive side, Jewish New Year is a time for getting one’s spiritual house in order. Preparing for the New Year means evaluating the past, and making plans for the future. Elul, the last month of the year, is a time for charity, which is one of the commandments of God.


L.L. Peretz tells the story of Rabbi Nemirov, who would vanish every year during the month of Elul. Some said he was in heaven, asking God to bring peace during the coming year, but one villager had doubts about that. So the villager decided to sneak into the rabbi’s house just before dawn and hide under his bed. When the rabbi awoke, he got dressed. He put on his shirt, pants, boots, and tucked his axe into his belt, then headed out the door. The villager followed the rabbi to the woods outside of town. There Nemirov cut down a small tree, chopped it into sticks, tied them in a bundle, and slung it on his back. Under his heavy load, he made his way to a dilapidated shack and knocked at the window.


“Who is there?" asked the frightened, sick woman inside.


"I, Vassil the peasant," answered the Rabbi, entering the house. "I have wood to sell."


"I am a poor widow. Where will I get the money?" she asked.


"I'll lend it to you," replied the Rabbi.
"How will I pay you back?" asked the woman.

"I will trust you," said the Rabbi.
The Rabbi put the wood into the oven, kindled the fire, and left without a word.

Now whenever anyone reports that the Rabbi has gone to heaven, the villager only adds quietly, "Heaven? If not higher."


For most of us, the year begins and ends with parties and overindulgence. It is a last hurrah before we have to go on those diets we resolved to start, or put out that smoldering cigarette. The first thing we do as the calendar turns is kiss somebody or take a drink. We have forgotten the spiritual side to New Year celebrations. Many of us face the new day with fear, but God has a different plan for us. Jeremiah 29:11-14a says, For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD.


This New Year, let’s begin with faith. In the place of revelry, may we find revelation. Instead of making resolutions, may we have a revolution in our thinking, in our traditions, and in our way of life. When we begin the New Year with faith, we are certain to have a future with hope. Beginning in love, we may find ourselves like Rabbi Nemirov—visiting heaven, if not higher.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Sign of the Times


I saw this little decoration in a store recently, and had to take a picture of it to share with you. It's a sign of the times, don't you think? A Christmasly decorated thingy that just says "Merry Everything." I'm not normally one to rant about people taking Christ out of Christmas, but this one really got to me. Humbug!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some Pictures from Last Night's Christmas Caroling Trip

What a great time we had!



Christmas Coffees


It's Christmastime, and for coffee lovers that means new flavors at Starbuck's and other favorite coffee shops. But you don't have to go to those shops for great Christmas coffee! You can make it at home.

I don't know about you, but I think those flavored creamers you get in the grocery store are pretty good. The problem is, they're not very subtle or complicated. So here are some suggestions beyond the chocolate or hazelnut you might find in the grocery store.

For all of these, I recommend strong coffee because, well, it's better.


Triple Chocolate Coffee:
Put a dash of cocoa powder and a teaspoon of sugar (don't mess with that artificial sweetener garbage) in the bottom of the cup. Fill cup (almost) with coffee. Add frothed milk or whipped cream (I prefer frothed milk). Drizzle the top with chocolate syrup, and add some chocolate sprinkles. Yum!

Black Forest Mint Coffee:Put a dash of cocoa powder, a few drops of peppermint extract, and a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of your cup. Fill (almost) with coffee, and add frothed milk or whipped cream on top.

Pumpkin Pie Coffee:Yes, I know you can buy pumpkin pie creamers this time of year, but they aren't as good as this. Put a dash of pumpkin pie spice (from the jar) in the bottom of your cup, along with a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract. Fill (almost) with coffee, and add frothed milk or whipped cream on top. Can you tell that I like something on top?

Eggnog Coffee:
Add some nutmeg, vanilla extract, and allspice, and rum flavoring (just extract, mind you--we wouldn't want the Baptist preacher advocating anything else) along with a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of your cup. (Almost) fill the cup with coffee, and add frothed milk or whippped cream on top. Add red and green cookie sprinkles on top for texture and color.

Cinnamon Sin-sation Coffee:
Add some sugar and vanilla extract to the bottom of your cup. (Almost) fill the cup with coffee, and add frothed milk or whipped cream to the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Add a sprinkle of cocoa to the top of that, if you dare!

Helpul Hints:
  • When you put your mixtures in the bottom of the cup first, the pouring action mixes them up, so you don't have to stir.
  • Ikea has a wonderful milk frother that works like a plunger. You can use it on either hot milk or cold milk, and it only costs $1.99. When you use this, together with strong coffee, and get the right mixture of milk to coffee, it mimicks espresso without the extra machine that's hard to clean.
Have fun with your holiday coffee, and Merry Christmas! My wife was just reading over my shoulder. "Is this stuff you actually do?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered.

Wandering away, she said, "I wonder if there's a 12-step program for coffee-addicts."

A Christmas Shopping Game


Do you have Christmas shopping lines as much as I do? I don't mind the shopping so much as I mind the lines. It's actually fun to find things to give people you love. But standing in line is the pits. So here's a suggestion for how to make shopping lines fun, if you're in a group. The more people in your group, the better.

Divide your group into as many lines as possible. See if you can get into similar positions (with the same number of people in front of you). Then it's a race to see whose cashier is fastest, and who gets to the cashier first. If you're buying a bunch of stuff, then each person can buy an item or two. But suppose the whole group is only buying one item. That makes it even more fun! In that case, when the "winner" who gets to their cashier first is greeted by the cashier, they wave their hands and recall the entire group to that register. Even if the "winner" didn't have the item to be purchased, they have it now, and can make the purchase. Want to make it even more interesting? Why not make it so the winner gets a nickel (or a quarter or a dollar or a stick of gum) from each of the losers? (I'm not advocating gambling--just a little incentive.)

Or--another way to play--instead of recalling the group to return to the winner, let everybody stay in line until they get their cashier. The person who actually has the item or items for purchase does the purchasing, but the others wait as if they have a transaction to make. When the cashier greets them, they say, "I didn't want to buy anything--I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas." Now won't that make the cashier's day?

You don't have to let Christmas shopping stress you out. Have fun with it. Use your shopping experience to brighten up someone else's day. You've gotta spend time line anyway--why not have fun with it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mistletoe

I was going to blog about the origins of Mistletoe--basically because I think it's a funny word and wanted to share what the word and its traditions were all about--but I found a great Youtube video that already has all the same stuff. So here it is. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Must-See Movie For All Ages



If you want a great family-friendly movie that's a lot of fun and has a deeeper message for the older viewers, you absolutely have to watch Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, which recently came out on DVD.

The incomparable Dustin Hoffman plays Mr. Magorium, the proprietor of a magical shop filled with all kinds of wonders. He is 243 years old, and has decided that he is about to die. So he leaves the shop to his helper, Molly, who is played by the adorable Natalie Portman. Molly doesn't believe that the shop will be magic for her, and when Magorium is gone, she has to learn to believe on her own.

This would be a great family or youth group Bible study starter, tying in John 15:9-17, and John 14:1-12.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Recently, I finished reading Monster, by Frank Peretti. I cut my teeth on Peretti with his first books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. Both are supernatural thrillers about spiritual warfare. Angels are major characters in these books, and I'd be lying if I said they didn't contribute somewhat to my interest in angelic fiction in general, and to Giant and Death Angel specifically.

Monster is a truly great work of Christian fiction, a genre with rules all its own, like other kinds of fiction. Christian fiction generally tackles an issue of importance in Christian life. This time, the issue is evolution. I commend Peretti for not being too preachy, but just telling a good story and letting the story do the preaching. Most Christian fiction has the fault of being too milquetoast, but not Monster. Full of fight and flight scenes, it will keep you on the edge of your seat.

(Here's a picture of Peretti)

This is how Monster advertises itself, from the front flap of the dust jacket:

Reed Shelton organized this survival weekend. Hired the best guide in the region. Meticulously trained, studied, and packed while encouraging his wife, Beck, to do the same. But little did they know that surviving the elements would become the least of their worries.

During their first night of camping, an unearthly wail pierces the calm of the forest. Then someone--no, something--emerges from the dense woods and begins pursuing them. Everything that follows is a blur to Reed--except for the unforgettable image of a huge creature carrying his wife into the darkness.

Dependent on the efforts of a small town and band of friends, Reed knows they have little time to find Beck. Even more important, he soon realizes that they aren't the only ones doing the hunting. Something much faster, more relentless--and definitely not human--has begun to hunt them.

Frank Peretti is at the top of his game in this ultimate tale of "survival of the fittest." Nothing is as it first appears in this thriller where things that go bump in the night are only a heartbeat away.


One thing that Monster lacks (in a positive way) is that element that is always obligatory and gratuitous in Christian fiction. Just as the romance novel always has an obligatory and gratuitous sex scene, so the Christian novel always has a scene that goes, "And so (insert main character's name) bowed (his/her) head and prayed to receive Jesus as (his/her) savior and lord." Now don't get me wrong--there's nothing wrong with receiving Jesus as your savior and lord. That's what our faith is all about. But it gets pretty predictable if every Christian novel centers around that. In this story, there's none of that--just some main characters finding courage in a tough situation, and learning that God is there no matter what. A good lesson for all.

Another thing that Monster lacks (in a positive way) is a neat and tidy ending. Things don't necessarily end, theologically, the way you'd expect them to. I was left pondering Shakespeare's statement, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in our philosophy (Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5 (1604)." And that's a good thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Consolation Prize



Consolation prizes are worth a lot.

Today was not a good day at church. How strange that last Sunday was so completely awesome, and this Sunday was (in my mind) a dud. I'm sure there were a lot of people who were blessed by something or other today, but to me, it wasn't all that great.

Beth was sick today. Usually, she leads the worship service--doing announcement and generally emceeing the worship. In the early service, I had to do that. I used to do that at all the other churches I've served, but now that she does it, I'm out of practice.

I felt that my sermon today completely missed the mark. At least I know my church is full of honest people, because not a single person gave the obligatory "Good sermon, preacher" along with their handshake after church. They would've been lying if they had said it.

In addition to the two dud sermons I preached, I felt that the two Bible classes I taught were lackluster.

The one thing that brightened my day was a little gesture from a church member who has taken it upon herself to be an encouragement to me, and to other pastors in the area. This person has twice now given goody bags to the pastors who meet at Antioch each Wednesday for breakfast. She does this, just to brighten our days. Today, my consolation prize was this stainless steel Virginia travel mug. She had no idea that I was short on travel mugs, or that I prefer the stainless ones. Even more, she had no idea that I needed encouragement this evening.

So, I don't know if she'll ever read this or not, but thank you to the one who gave me this consolation prize. You have no idea how much your simple gesture meant.

And to the rest of you who are not members of my church, I ask this question: Does your pastor need consolation? Does your pastor need encouragement? What can you do to support your pastor today?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Please Pray for Ashley


Today, I got up early (as I said I would last night) and wrote my sermon. We were getting ready to go to Charlotesville when through my window I saw a couple on horses riding down the road, followed by a little dog. I took a peek, because I always like to watch people on horses. Not a minute after I looked away, I saw through my window that one of the horses was galloping back the opposite direction--with an empty saddle!

I bolted out the door, in time to see a friend who had happened to be driving behind the couple on horseback, who had stopped her car in the road and was running up my sidewalk to get me. Fifty yards away, on the road, was the couple. He was cradling her in his arms, and blood from her head was already everywhere. Her horse had gotten spooked, and thrown her. She landed head first on the pavement, suffering a horrible gash in her head, along with cuts to her face and hands.

I arrived maybe thirty seconds after it happened. Jed (the young man--one of our neighbors) told me that as soon as he looked up to call for help, there we were. Ashley (the young woman) was already in shock. I called to my kids, who brought a blanket and pillows to elevate her feet. (They were so fast--I'm very proud of the good job they did.) Nobody had any rubber gloves, so they went to the neighbors' houses to hunt some down.

We called 911 and waited for them to arrive. Drivers began to stop and offer assistance. Jed's brother arrived with a first-aid kit. We put a dressing on the major wound on her head. Thankfully, the bleeding did stop after a while. We tried to keep her immoble, and kept her in the road while my kids and other motorists who stopped directed traffic around us. One of the drivers who happened to be passing by was an EMT. He stopped and helped while we waited for the rescue unit to arrive.

After a while, we heard the siren. I mused later that we hate to hear that annoying sound in everyday life. Sometimes it makes us nervous if it's behind us. But today, it was a sound of wonderful hope! While we were waiting, Ashley was drifting in and out of clarity. We had to keep talking to her, keep asking her questions, to try to keep her awake. There were several times when it looked like she was not going to remain awake (That's the most I'll say, without any professional expertise.)

When the EMTs got there, I stayed to help as much as I could. They got her on a backboard stretcher and took her to UVA hospital.

I wanted to check on her. We arrived at the hospital ER some time later, and they told us that her head wound had closed up pretty quickly. She had no spinal injuries that they could find, after multiple MRIs. She did have a concussion, but they said they would probably be sending her home tonight. As soon as we got there, the plastic surgeon arrived, and we were ushered out. We stayed with Jed and his dad for awhile, and left with their promise to call us later to update us. I'm sure they've been very busy today, and haven't called. I'll check up with them tomorrow.

I'm writing this to ask you to pray for Ashley. She's 23 years old, and she and Jed were on their 3rd date. Please pray for her healing--body, soul, and spirit. Please pray for Jed, too, as he deals with all of this.

I thank God for the quick response and skill of the EMTs and fire & rescue people, for the good work of all the doctors, nurses, medical and support staff at the hospital, and for the neighbors who cared enough to help.



(It's been a pretty full day for me, between this, sermon prep, and a Sunday school dinner tonight. No writing today.)

Tired


I'm tired. Yes, it's official. NoNoWriMo is half over tomorrow, and I'm tired. People have started to notice that I'm tired. Almost every day somebody says, "Are you okay? You look...off...er somethin'."

My answer...Yes. I'm tired.

So I'm not writing today. I should write my sermon tonight, but it's going to wait til tomorrow morning. It's 12:22, and I've been going since 7 this morning, and I only got 4 hours of sleep last night--which is becoming almost standard now that I'm doing NaNoWriMo.

Sustainable for the short term, but not indefinitely. The event this month has taught me a lot of things. At the conclusion of the month, I'll tell you what those things are. But once NaNoWriMo's done, I'm going to make some changes.

Thanks for your encouragement, and for your prayers.

Blessings to you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A New Word for Me


No--I don't use a "word of the day" calendar. I probably should, because I love words. It's unusual that in daily conversation I encounter a word I don't know. Yesterday I learned a new word: Casuistry.

Merriam-webster.com defines Casuistry as follows:

Main Entry: ca·su·ist·ry
Pronunciation: \ˈkazh-wə-strē, ˈka-zhə-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural ca·su·ist·ries
Date: 1723
1 : a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine
2 : specious argument : rationalization

An example of casuistry:

It's okay for me to claim that I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, even though I haven't registered on the nanowrimo website, and even though I'm not keeping the kind of schedule necessary to write 50,000 words in one month. This is okay because I'm non-dogmatic about most things (thus resolving my own specific case with my ethical and religious principles). It's also okay because I started out halfway through. It's okay because I really believe in caring for my church and family, and the way I do that is by caring for myself, as their caretaker, and if I'm going to care for myself then that means I should get proper sleep and not stick to the 50k goal. Casuistry, casuistry, casuistry.

Yes, I'm a casuist. A rationalizer. That said, it's 10 PM and time to plunge in to write. If, four hours from now, I have nothing to show for it, I'll probably employ a bit more casuistry.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anne Rice and Inspiration


Thank God for Anne Rice!

Many Christians wouldn't say that, but I do. A few years ago, I was driving to a minister's hike on the Appalachain Trail, listening to her book Taltos on CD. As a pastor, I can't reccomend this book, as it was written during her pre-Christian days and reflects a lot that isn't edifying. But nonetheless, her book inspired me as a writer.

Full of otherworldly creatures ike vampires, witches, et cetera ((click here to see the origins of this wonderful phrase) mingling unnoticed in the lives of human beings, her books made me ask the question, "Why can't a Christian author write something similar?"

That got me out of my non-writing slump and got me started on my book Behold the Giant. (It's a whole other story why that book's not finished, but finished or not, that book and Anne Rice got me writing again after a decade or more of not writing.) So I thank God for Anne Rice!

Another reason to thank God for Anne Rice is because she's come back to the Christian faith that she left behind for most of her life! (Click here to see an article, "Anne Rice: An Interview with the Believer" by Gloria Gaither) I praise God for her return to faith!

Another reason to thank God for Anne Rice is that I've been piddling around with Death Angel and Behold the Giant for long enough. Now that Anne Rice is writing Christian books and considering writing a series on angels, that lights a fire under my butt to hurry up and finish these books! I'd hate for someone who has been an inspiration to me to also become competition for me--someone who already has name recognition, readership, millions of dollars, etc.

So thank God for Anne Rice, who jump-starts my writing a second time!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Like Father, Like Son, Etc...


My Grandpa, Raymond Smith


Recently, I was looking at some old family photos. When I came across a picture of my father’s father, taken when he was just a little younger than I am now, it really surprised me. The physical resemblance was remarkable. When I think about it, there are times when I not only look like my grandfather, but I act like him as well.

Each of us carries with us elements of our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents in our genetic code. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not so good. We take the hand we're dealt.

Like every human being on the planet, Raymond Baker Smith was a mixture of good and bad. There were some fantastic things in that guy's personality, and some less than fantastic things. When I remember him, there are some things that make me laugh, and some things that make me angry. I'm sure it will be that way when my grandkids remember me.

What I can say is this: My Dad is a heck of a lot better father than his father was. (Hats off to you, Dad!)

I also hope my kids will say that I am a heck of a lot better father than my father was. (No offense to you, Dad!)

In like manner, I hope my grandkids say that my sons are a heck of a lot better fathers than I was. (Gosh--I just offended myself!)

My point is this: Each of us has the opportunity to do better or worse than our parents. In my family, we tend to improve with each generation. (If we didn't, I'd be worried.) In terms of genetics, we take the hand we're dealt. But in the choices of life, we're the dealers. We choose to improve or we choose to worsen. 2 Chronicles 25:4 says, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins." This means that in both the good and the bad, God only holds us responsible for us. God doesn't judge us according to our parents, and God doesn't judge our children according to us. Each of us has choices to make, and each of us is responsible for those choices.

So what will it be for you?

Like father, like son?
Like mother, like daughter?

Really?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who's at the Helm?


This is a picture of my 11-year old, taken on our visit to Portsmouth, Virginia, a week or so ago. We saw a lot of the tall schooners that participated in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. My brother gave us a tour of The Amistad, the schooner he crewes on. Here's my daughter posing at the helm. Doesn't she look like she knows what she's doing?

Looking at this picture, it occurred to me--a lot of us like to pose at the helm of our own lives. We like to look like we know what we're doing. We like the idea that we're in control, that our lives will go on whatever course we set. The truth, however, is that each of us is like that 11-year old who only looks proud at the wheel. We have no more idea how to steer our own lives than this cute kid knows how to direct a ship. Isn't it a great thing that we have a Master Helmsman who knows where to take us?

Then another thing occurred to me--in just a few short days, we're going to elect the next President of the United States. We're going to put someone at the helm--someone who can stand proudly and look like he knows what he's doing. But neither candidate has ever worn the presidential shoes before. They can debate all they want about who's the most qualified for the office, but when you get right down to it, whoever wins will be in uncharted waters--at least in his own personal life.

Praise God that whoever wins the election, the Master Helmsman knows how to steer the ship of our nation as well. With all the uncertainty, let's remember as we sail that God won't set us adrift.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Anti-Hero


Link to Flickr Photo

Literature has changed. Gone are the days when the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. This is a new day--the day of the anti-hero.

"What's an anti-hero?" you may ask. It's a morally complex character who wants to be heroic, but who struggles with his or her own inner demons. The anti-hero can be a rascal, a would-be good guy but for all his flaws. Or he can be a villain who has some redeeming characteristics.

In the postmodern era, traditionally defined heroic qualities, akin to the classic "knight in shining armor" type, have given way to the "gritty truth" of life, and authority in general is being questioned. The brooding vigilante or "noble criminal" archetype seen in characters like Batman is slowly becoming part of the popular conception of heroic valor rather than being characteristics that are deemed un-heroic. (Lawall G, (1966). "Apollonius' Argonautica. Jason as anti-hero". Yale Classical Studies 19: 119–169.)

The anti-hero gives all of us hope. While we long for the days when you could tell the good guys from the bad by the color of Stetson they wore, we are increasingly aware that life isn't always that clear-cut. Moral ambiguity haunts us all. Of course, there are definite rights and wrongs, but they're not always easy to see. The anti-hero gives us hope by reminding us that even though we fail, even though we make mistakes, we can still turn out okay in the end.


The Bible is full of anti-heroes. From the trickster Jacob to Samson with all of his flaws, we see that God isn't done with us just because we've made mistakes. David the adulterer/murderer, who wasn't allowed to build God's Temple because his hands were stained with blood, is still a "man after God's own heart."

Death Angel, the book I'm writing, is about an anti-hero. Karath is a death angel who doesn't like his assignment. Of course, none of the Guardian Angels either like or respect Death Angels, because their two missions are very opposed to one another. Karath questions his own identity and purpose in God's plan, sinking deeper and deeper into depression and rebellion. Will he find a way of redemption, before his inner demon claims him?

Link to Flickr photo

This is actually the question that is asked of us all. Each of us struggles to defeat our inner evil. The apostle Paul said in Romans 7:21-24a (NIV), "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

That last phrase, "Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord" is important. It's only through Jesus that we can know peace. We can't defeat our inner demons--only Jesus can. Personally, I'm not all that interested in stories of anti-heroes who never find redemption. Redemption is what it's all about. And it only comes through Jesus.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Lesson from the Skeet Shoot

Follow this link to the photographer's work on Flickr.

While at the skeet shoot last week, the gentleman who runs the skeet range told us that he had cut a new path in the woods to attract deer. Now, I'm a hunter but I learned something new. He said that the deer like a fresh-cut path. They like an easy path. What a great hunting spot, along an easy path! Not only does it draw the deer, but it gives you an open field of fire, uncluttered with branches that might get in your bullet's way.

Then it hit me, how Satan likes to hunt those who take the easy path in life. He cuts the path, knowing we'll follow it. When we're in the open, out of the sheltering trees, he picks us off with ease.

Where are the fresh-cut, easy paths in your life? Are they really safe roads to travel?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pastor Appreciation Day


Here's a picture of me looking very ministerial. The picture was taken by Earl Clore, a retired minister and member of our congregation.

This past Sunday was Pastor Appreciation Day. Not every church remembers this day, but every pastor knows when it is. The fact that every pastor knows when it is makes it really important for churches to remember it. To forget it would be like forgetting your spouse's birthday or forgetting to give your secretary something nice for secretary's day.

Not that getting presents is what matters. Gifts are tokens that express appreciation. Pastors (of course, I'd never say this about myself) often feel under-appreciated and taken for granted. The hours are long and unpredictable. You're on call 24/7. Your motives are misunderstood. You and your family live under a microscope. You're put on a pedestal just so you can be knocked off. So yeah--it means a lot when your church members remember Pastor Appreciation Day and thank you for what you do.

Over the years, churches have remembered Pastor Appreciation Day in a variety of ways. Once, a church I served gave me a beautiful leather-bound 4-parallel-translation Bible. One of my church member refers to this mammoth tome as "The-Bible-That-Kicks-All-Other-Bibles'-Butts." Another year, another church gave me a standing ovation--it cost nary a penny, but brought tears to my eyes. Remembrances don't have to cost anything, and every one is greatly appreciated.

This year, my church remembered Pastor Appreciation Day by presenting my wife and me with a check and a card. "You can either go to some place like Burger King with the kids, and eat like a king; or you can go out just the two of you to someplace like Applebee's." (Of course, we chose the latter.) Then at evening Bible study, one couple (who shall remain nameless) placed a card with a gift in it on my lecturn. This family hasn't even joined the church yet! I was blessed by both remembrances.

Also, I can't overlook another member of our church who has taken it upon herself to be a blessing to the entire group of local pastors that gathers at Antioch for breakfast on Wednesdays. She made goodie bags for each one of us, full of all kinds of useful and encouraging things.

Then there are the ones who recently took us out to lunch at a local restaurant. (You know who you are.) God bless you!

I'm aware that my readership is mostly members of my own church family, so through this blog I want to say "thank you" from the depths of my heart.

But many of you aren't members of my church, and worship elsewhere. I'd like to encourage you to remember your pastors. Thank them for their service to God. It goes a long way toward strenthening a pastor during those long hours. Even if you've missed Pastor Appreciation Day, you can make their day any day. Click here for a link to an article in Christianity Today, "8 Ways To Encourage Your Pastor."

Thanks for reading my long-winded combination of a thank-you-note and shameless plug for pastors. I'm so fortunate to serve such a caring church. I hope your pastor too(if that's not me) feels the same way.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lessons from the Skeet Shoot



Last Sunday afternoon, the men's group at our church had lunch and then went out to shoot some skeet. (Yeah--I know--I love this church!)

We had a short devotion just before shooting, based on Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The word sin is actually a target-shooting word, and means to miss the mark. We sure had a lot of "sinning" going on at the skeet shoot later that day!


We talked about some things that cause us to miss the mark of God's glory in our lives. They are some of the same things that caused us later in the day to miss the skeet we were aiming at.

1 - Taking our eyes off the target
2 - Being distracted by what's going on around us
3 - Not taking our time to do what needs to be done, the right way
4 - Not breathing correctly. (If you're not a shooter then you might not know that your breath has a lot to do with your accuracy. In life, we need to be able to stop and breathe--relax and focus.)



Each of us has targets we aim at in life. Each of us misses the mark. Each of us fails (as our score chart would later indicate). The good news is that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)." He didn't wait until we got it right. He didn't wait to see if we'd hit our target of His holiness, because He knew we never could. Instead, He stepped in between us and our mistakes, bore the brunt of our wayward shots, and died for us. By so doing, He gives us his perfection and eternal life.

Bullseye!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Father-Son Time



Here's a picture of my 6-year old son with his fishing rod last night. (I apologize for the picture quality, but it was taken with the camera on my cell phone--not the best for difficult lighting.) We went fishing at a local lake from about 9 PM to midnight. I had recently gotten some new lures, and wanted to try them out. Most of my fishing experience has been with either cut bait or live bait, so lures are something new for me. I figured an evening with a 6-year old would be a perfect occasion for testing out some new lures. No squirming worms or wriggling minnows to disgust a little fishing newbie. Just Dad, Son, some fishing rods, and the night.

Before you ask, I'll tell you. We didn't catch a thing.

Actually, I didn't expect to catch anything. Not with my inexperience with fake bait, along with the fact that it was a new fishing spot for us, so we didn't know the best placest to cast our lines. I hoped to catch something, but wasn't really counting on it. For me, it was an evening of father-son time. And I got what I wanted.

For my son, things were a bit different. His 6-year old mind had probably concocted all kinds of scenarios where he would land a shark or whale or octopus or something really exciting out of Ruritan Lake. To catch nothing was a huge disappointment for him. He expected something more.


It occurs to me how similar it is with us and God sometimes. God just wants to spend time with us, teaching us and loving us. But we expect something else. We're looking forward to some "religious" experience that leaves us with that tingling feeling all over. Some "I saw the light" experience that will transform us from fishers of minnows into fishers of men. And we're disappointed when our time of worship at church, or our devotion time at home, is lackluster. Sometimes we're like my son, who pouted a bit about not getting what he expected out of the experience. I imagine God in the same position I was in last night, saying, "But I thought it was all about just being together, you and me."

Which really is what it's all about.

When he woke up this morning, my son gave me a huge hug and thanked me for taking hiim fishing last night. It took him all night to figure it out in his sleep, but he really was glad that we just had the time to spend together.

May we figure out the same thing that my 6-year old now knows.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Learning to Walk Straight



Our beloved Dr. Brown, deacon and chiropractor extraordinaire, has been picking on me for months because of my fat wallet. He says that it's not good for my back, and could give me a wallet sciatica. <--- em="">Click here to learn more about that.) Unfortunately, my wallet isn't fat because it's crammed full of the green stuff. It's fat because it's not only a wallet--it's also a calendar, notepad, and organizer. Finally, the good doctor had had enough of my fat wallet, and lovingly gave me a new wallet. A chiropractic wallet made of ultra-thin, ultra strong stuff that helps arrange your back-pocket items in a slim trim kind of way. (Of course, the chiropractor would also advise I carry it in my front pocket, not the back.)

While that helped organize my credit cards, library and other membership cards, money, and so on, there still remained the problem of the notepad, calendar, and organizer. That's where the cell phone came in.



My cell phone contract ran out just a couple of months ago, so we were on a month-to-month plan. With a 2-year contract we were able to get a discount on a new phone, and since the old phone was experiencing multiple serious problems, this seemed like the time to make a change. This is the LG UX 380, a cheap little phone that has everything I need. It has a digital note pad, voice recorder, calendar, MP3 player for all those audio books I like to listen to, camera, video camera, and I think it even has a kitchen sink. So by replacing my old messed-up phone and bulky wallet/organizer, Doc Brown <--- em="">Click for his website) should be a lot happier with me.

Of course, it means I need to make some adjustments in the way I do things. I'm having to learn a whole new system of calendar-keeping and note-taking. I'm shifting from post-its that I used to stick in my wallet, to voice messages. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks? It's not true. Any of us can learn new patterns at any age. And by learning these changes, it's helping me learn to walk straight.

If you're like me, then you know that we need to learn to walk straight on the inside, too. There are all kinds of things that throw us "off kilter" <--- em="">I love words--click here to see the origin of this phrase.) Bad habits cause us to spiritually walk or stand in crooked ways. Sometimes we need to learn new ways of doing things, so we can walk straight again.

In your life, what's your thick wallet? What old bad habits do you need to change so you can stand straight? How are you going to make those changes?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Harvest Time

A quick visit to the stores these days will show that harvest time is nearly here. Everywhere you look, fall colors are in fashion. Go to your local craft store and you'll see bundles of wheat, scarecrows, Halloween and Thanksgiving items. The year keeps cycling, and it seems like it goes faster every year.



The church year goes through its cycles as well. It begins with Advent, then moves on to Christmastide. After that comes Ordinary Time, followed by Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. Pentecost lasts until Advent, when the year starts again.

We get used to annual cycles, based on holidays and special events. Even the most modern of us is not completely divorced from the agricultural cycles that governed life for centuries of human existence.

Church growth is cyclical as well. This is not something that I read in a book by one of the church growth gurus. It's just something I've noticed over the past fifteen years of ministry. The church growth cycle follows an agricultural pattern.

In the wintertime, farmers mend their fences, take stock of everything they have, make necessary repairs on their homes and barns, et cetera. They also prepare the ground for planting. They do these things in the wintertime because the weather doesn't permit them to do much else, and because they're too busy to do much of this stuff the rest of the year. Churches, too, take stock of themselves during the wintertime. Beginning with Christmastide, churches tend to have in-house visioning retreats, manage their membership lists, and so on.

In the spring, farmers plant their seeds. In the spring, churches begin to plant the Gospel in the hearts of those who attend only for Lent and Easter. Internally, they begin to plant seeds with preparation for summer activities like Vacation Bible School, youth trips, and so forth.

The summer is a boom time for farmers. While everybody else is vacationing, many farmers find themselves far too busy to take time off in the summertime. In the same way, larger churches gear up in the summertime, with all the activities they've been planning since spring. At our church, summer is definitely one of the busiest times.

Fall brings the celebration of harvest for the farmer. Crops are gathered in and taken to market. At every church I've ever served, fall has been the time for new members. Of course, people join churches throughout the year, but in my observation, more new members join during the fall than during any other time of year.



Many years ago, a deacon was upset with the diminished church activity during the summertime. "Everybody's on vacation," he said. "I'm worried because church attendance is down." I calmly reminded him that this is what you can expect in the summer. People go on vacation, so attendance will decline. On the other hand, activities perk up. Since activity gears up and attendance goes down, that means fewer hands doing more work. Summer seems both busier and leaner. "We haven't had a new member join in months," the deacon told me.

I simply smiled and told him, "It's not harvest time yet."

And sure enough, in the fall they came in droves--right on schedule.

Have you noticed that your life tends to operate on an agricultural cycle like this, even if you're not a gardener yourself? Winter tends to be the best time for introspection. Spring prepares you to plant seeds and begin new works. In the summertime we have the most daylight, so we're reminded to work hard and play hard. Fall brings harvest and reward for your work.

What harvest does God have for you this fall? How are you seeing the things God has been building inside you come to fruition? And most importantly, will you give thanks?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That Old Time Religion

I've never liked that song "Give Me That Old Time Religion." Something never struck me right about that line, "It's good enough for me." As if to say, "I'll settle for it," or "I know it's not much, but it's good enough."

I have never wanted to settle for "good enough." Maybe I'm an idealist. I've been called a perfectionist. I probably am, in some areas at least. In terms of the old time religion, that's probably true.

Take preaching, for example. I've never believed that the old time religion was good enough for me. Preaching has changed a lot through the years, from the days of Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (pictured here) with his hellfire and damnation, to the milquetoast messages of this "feel good" era. It has changed in intensity, in focus, and style.



For centuries, preaching was full of cerebral arguments, philosophical propositions, and high theology that most of the common people could never understand. That didn't matter too much, because it was mostly in Latin, which nobody could understand either. Even once preaching moved into the vernacular, its meaning usually remained unattainable. Then, a couple of hundred years ago, things started to change. Revivalism and Great Awakenings took over, and preaching moved into a whole different arena. Suddenly, the message was brought down to a level that people could understand. Popular preacher Billy Sunday (pictured here in one of his wild preaching gestures) said, “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf where the little kids can reach them, and the old folks can bend over and get them.” This is how preaching should be!



So the old time religion had become the new-fangled religion of revivalists. But as the generations move on, this new-fangled religion has become the old time religion that so many love. What was once new has become the old tradition. "It's good enough for me."

But is it good enough? A lot of things have changed since the days of Billy Sunday. For one thing, technology has changed so that we can rely on microphones to carry our voices to thousands of people at a time. That's got to change your delivery. Research has been done regarding the different methods of teaching, to accommodate various learning styles. We now know that some people are visual learners, some aural learners, and some kinesthetic learners. School teachers know this, and so they use a blackboard for visual learners, laboratories for kinesthetic learners, and lecture for aural learners. Preaching is only recently being adapted to accommodate all these learning styles.

So I preach with a PowerPoint presentation (like this one)
flashing behind me. I've only been doing it that way for a couple of years, but I've been told that the sermons are much more visually interesting. I've also noticed that people retain what's in the sermons better. They quote the sermons weeks later, whereas before they were doing well to remember what I preached on, at lunch the same day. We're beginning to use video and drama in the worship service, as well as setting up 3-D visual presentations in the sanctuary from time to time. Preaching styles have changed, but the message stays the same.

This week, the saints at Antioch celebrated God with an old-fashioned tent service.
Our guest speaker, the Rev. Todd Brooking, gave messages that Billy Sunday would have been proud of. No PowerPoint, no Latin, no philosophical propositions. Just Gospel. And it was wonderful! Intelligent, and down-to-earth at the same time. Definitely spirit-filled. Believers were revived. One young man gave his heart to Jesus. I baptized five in the river, the old-fashioned way.

So I guess you can say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Methods of delivery change, but the Gospel stays the same. My prayer is that as we progress through the generations--as our children and grandchildren become leaders and preachers and teachers--we might not be so hung up on "that old time religion" that we refuse to be open to new methods of communication. My prayer is also that those young upstart preachers and teachers with all their gimmicks might not forget that it does us good sometimes to take a step back, simplify, and just preach the Good News, putting the cookies on the bottom shelf.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Teachings from Toadstools

Photo: "Ring of Mushrooms" by Maria Keays

What's with all the toadstools lately? A casual stroll down your road or a drive down the street reveals that many lawns have cropped up with toadstools. From tiny to massive, these fantastic fungi have taken over our area. Has your area been overrun as well? Where did the come from? It looks like they sprang up overnight.

Cultures around the world have mythologies about mushrooms, especially when they appear in circles, or "fairy rings." Some attribute their presence to the footprints of fairies, the will of gods, and omens of the future. While I don't subscribe to these views, I do believe we can learn a spiritual lesson from these toadstools.

In a fairy ring, what seems to be a circle of individual toadstools is actually one single organism. Each toadstool is only a manifestation of that one organism. Many fairy rings have been thought to be up to 600 or 700 years old. (For more information than you ever wanted on fairy rings, click here.) In the same way, we know that each of us is interconnected. The Bible says that each Christian is only part of the body of Christ. You may look at a person and think you see an individual, but what you're seeing in reality is a manifestation, or a part, of the single organism of Christ. It is God who connects us all.

One of my least favorite songs of all time is "It's a Small World After All." Unfortunately, the song's true. We can't go anywhere or talk with anybody without encountering another aspect of the same organism we're part of--God. "In Him we live and move and have our being."

Today in a restaurant I encountered two women who really bothered me. Between them they had three children who were running around, being loud and raucous. Of course, you can't blame the 2 and 3 year old children. The women were shouting at the children, using profanity, calling them monsters, devils, and worse. I was angered and disturbed by these people at the table next to me, and wanted to fuss at these women for their behavior toward their children. But then I thought of the toadstools. We're all connected. What you do to one affects everyone.

So instead I decided to be an encouragement. I smiled, admitting that sometimes I get frustrated with my children too. I told them that their children really were little angels--even if they weren't acting like it at the moment. This started a 20-minute conversation about child rearing, and the entire tone of the afternoon changed.

So the next time you feel like stomping someone like a toadstool, remember that they're one of God's precious people. Remember that we're all connected. There's more than just fairies in this ring. There's the Spirit of God.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Good Day at Church


Today was a good day at church.

Of course, every day is a good day, when you get to go to God's house. But today was especially good. Here's why:

1 - I came into church, feeling like I was fully prepared. Sermon notes printed out, nothing to do but worship.

2 - The praise team started something new today, starting the early service early (yes, I did mean to say "early" twice) with informal singing of contemporary praise songs. I don't know if anybody else felt the Holy Spirit moving that early in the morning, but I sure did. It got me fired up and ready to go.

3 - Sometimes I feel like I preach well at one service, but not so well at another. Today I slipped into the groove that God carved out for me in both services.

4 - A potentially difficult problem had a solution that God presented--an answer separate from any of the solutions that the involved parties had had in mind. Not only a mutually acceptable solution, but actually a solution that's an answer to many people's prayers, and that everybody can get excited about! How often does that happen???

5 - Somebody joined the church today.

6 - Several people wanted to talk about being baptized.

7 - Somebody with the gift of encouragement asked me for ideas as to how she could give gifts, commit random acts of kindness, et cetera, to give a boost to local pastors. What a blessing!

I suppose there were plenty of other good things that happened today, but 7 just seems like a good number for me to bring it to a close. Sometimes you just have to celebrate when there's a good day at church! Praise God for His faithfulness!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Function Over Form: An Observation of Nerdiness



My teenage daughter hates this hat. She says it looks like a cross between a floppy lampshade and a mosquito net.

But I love it. It keeps off rain and sun, and can be balled up into any shape, then put back on the head looking no worse than before. (Maybe the reason it looks no worse than before is because it couldn't possibly look any worse.) But this hat makes a lot of sense.

Thinking of this makes me realize the essence of nerdiness--function over form. Think about it. Pocket protectors make a lot of sense. They protect your pocket from messy ink leaks, AND they have the added benefit of allowing you to load twenty pens into your pocket in one quick movement. Who cares if it looks horrible--it works!

Now, I don't wear a pocket protector (though I won't pretend I didn't own one back in the 1980s). I realize that style is important. But nerds recognize the importance of function over form. The function of a thing is more important than its style. After all, who am I trying to impress?

Non-nerds, on the other hand, can be so preoccupied with form that they deprive themselves of perfectly functional tools, just for the sake of fashion.

I'm sure if I tried, I could think of some great philosophical or theological truth that this illustrates, but I'm too tired to try today.

What do you think this means? (And, how do you like my hat?)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Crustacean Elation



Last week we went on vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. During the day we visited parks, shops, museums, and of course the beach itself. A couple of times, our fifteen-year-old daughter Emily volunteered to babysit for us while Beth and I walked the beach at night. How different the beach is from day to night!

Daytime life at the beach includes sea gulls, sand pipers, scantily clad sun worshippers, and only the occasional sand crab. But the sand crabs rule the night! Everywhere we walked, sand crabs skittered across our path. Sandal-wearers beware! They're like cockroaches in a New York tenement. Some are the size of a quarter, but other gargantuan crustaceans lord it over their smaller siblings. These bullies of the beach disturb the peace everywhere you walk.

Or so I thought.

We were walking the beach at night, trying desperately to avoid these disgusting nuisances when we came across a young family with four children. Each child had a flashlight and a net, and they were having a blast in their nocturnal hunt. Kids were giggling, parents were smiling, and crabs were providing the evening's entertainment.

Then it hit me.

Crabs are only crabby in your mind.

Each of us has the ability to define our experience of the crabs in our lives. We can either let them disgust, threaten, and annoy us, or we can make them our entertainment. We can see them as the comic relief that they really are.

So I decided to celebrate the crabs in my life, and enjoy my crustacean elation.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Smile for the Camera!

"I'd rather have all my teeth drilled at the same time than have my picture taken." So says a friend of mine. "I always end up looking horrible."

A lot of us feel that way. Personally, I don't like posing for professional photographers because the way they joke around with you is designed to generate an artificial laugh, usually at the expense of someone else in the picture who's being ridiculed. "Yeah, that's it. Put your arm around her and pretend you love each other." Obnoxious!

Then when you get the pictures back you say, "I don't like the way I was smiling in that picture. My eyes look like I'm sleepy. Why didn't I comb my hair before taking the picture? Do I really look like that?"

The real reason we don't like looking at ourselves in photographs is that we're not used to seeing ourselves that way. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we are actually seeing a reverse image of ourselves. It's the reverse image that we get used to seeing. It's the reverse image that feels normal, but that's not the way we really look. The way we really look is the way we look to other people--or the way the camera shows us.

If I could see myself the way other people see me, what would I think of myself? Would I be more critical, or less critical?

Genesis 6:8 says "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Now, I realize that I'm stretching the scripture a bit here, but let me suggest that it really is in the eyes of the Lord that we find grace. They say we're our own worst critic, and I think that's probably true. They also say the camera doesn't lie, and that's pretty likely as well. So whether we look at ourselves from our own perspective or from another's outside perspective, we're liable to be disappointed.

Where can we find grace? In the eyes of the Lord.

When we are finally able to look at ourselves through God's eyes, we'll have grace for ourselves. We'll forgive all those imperfections that God has already forgiven.

Now, if the rest of the world could just catch up...