Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Line Between Frugal and Cheap

As we walked the aisles of our local grocery store yesterday, my 3-year-old happily chirped “Buy one, get one free.”   It appears I’ve passed my spending habits on to my sons.  

I like to think of myself as frugal.  I combine BOGO deals with coupons.  I squeeze every last drop out of a toothpaste tube.  When a local department store went out of business, I bought so much discounted shampoo and conditioner that I didn’t have to purchase any more for a year.

But I struggle with cheap.  There’s a fine line between frugal and cheap.

Sometimes my husband or children will want something, and it’s a reasonable request.  My first reaction is “No.”  No reason. Just no, I don’t want to spend money.  I can really be a party pooper.

I did a little research: What is the difference between frugal and cheap?

According to my online dictionary frugal means “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful”   

I like that.

Cheap means “costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive”  That sounded good until I read a little farther:  “of little account; of small value; mean; shoddy:  stingy; miserly”

So the Cratchits are frugal; Scrooge is cheap.  Got it.

It appears that the difference between frugal and cheap comes down to a matter of the heart.  Frugal people care about others while saving money and resources. Cheap people care only about money, even at the expense of others.

We’re cautioned against loving money: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10 NIV)  We’re counseled toward generosity: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,  and he will reward him for what he has done.” (Prov. 19:17)

I’ll never give up my penny pinching ways, but I hope that I’ll have enough sense to save generously.

Shalom y’all.

For more “frugal vs. cheap”:

"Crossing the Line: When Does Frugal Become Cheap" at
"Frugal vs. Cheap" at
"What is Frugality and Are We Frugal?" at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Pretty Sorry Lot

“If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot.”  1 Cor. 14:19 The Message

What do you do when you’re a pastor who no longer believes in God?  Tufts University’s Center for Cognitive Studies confidentially interviewed five ministers who no longer believe in God.  An article, featuring the results of two interviews, appeared in our local newspaper last Sunday.

When I read the first interview, I thought, “Mister, you need to resign. Quit posing and quit the pulpit.”

I sought out researcher Daniel C. Dennett’s website and read the rest of the study.  Each interviewee was able to perform great feats of mental gymnastics that allow him to feel that he is a “believer,” although he doesn’t believe in anything but himself.

I’m not shocked, just saddened, and outraged.  Years ago, while attending a conference, I encountered this sort comfortable pluralism in a pastor my age.  I was surprised at how quickly he abandoned the truth of the gospel once a minor celebrity at the conference scoffed at the notion of a God who will, one day, pronounce judgement. [Yep, Jesus was pretty clear in Matthew 25]  I saw, that day, the infant “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14)

I was stunned then.  I’m not stunned anymore.

But I’m still outraged. As I read through the study I was ready to reach for some sackcloth and ashes.  “Repent,” I thought, heartbroken for their souls,  “Or at least have the integrity to resign and do something else.”

Do they themselves have doubts about continuing in ministry. Yes, but why abandon the paycheck?  And why give up that good feeling you get when you’re helping others.

But helping others to what?

At least one man questioned his own motives early on, but quickly found his conscience soothed when he asked, “Am I posing? Am I being less than authentic; less than honest?”

Yes, you are posing.  You are not “caught in a trap, cunningly designed” as the study declared.  And you’re not “brave” as the study proclaimed you to be.  You're lost. Terribly lost.

Yet, there is still hope for the lost. I know.  I was once lost too.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bye Bye Birdy?

The bird has flown.

For sometime now, I've had a bright, chirpy bird at the banner head of this blog.  I'd looked at several free template sites, but never found anything to convince me to update.   Every time I found an image I liked, the color contrast between text and background were poor.  That goes against everything I ever learned about web design.   Text must be readable.  No matter where I looked for templates, I never found anything I liked as well as my "bird".

Until today.

Blogger announced a new series of template designs and I just had to take a look. When I looked at the first design under "picture window", I fell in love. Here are all the elements I was looking for: a picture indicating travel,  excellent contrast between type and background, a nice font.  Well, I guess you can see all that for yourself.

So here I am, updated.  I hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Spring. Time to Rake the Leaves

It happened last Saturday around 1:30 p.m.: the vernal equinox (or March equinox, if you will), the day when the Sun crosses directly over Earth's equator.  It's finally Spring.

My northern friends are beginning to wax poetic about snow melting and trees budding, daffodils blooming and birds chirping.

How do we know it's Spring in Florida?  The leaves finally fall off the trees.  No kidding.

I helped a neighbor rake a few leaves this past weekend.  I'm not that skilled in botany, but I'm assuming that our oaks have to shake off the rest of their dead leaves so that they can spout a full head of pollen. It's literally dripping from the trees right now, bringing on allergies and car washes.

Florida doesn't have seasonal changes in the same way that our northern neighbors do, but we sure know our own signs of Spring.  As the leaves fall gently into our yards and swimming pools, we look for these other heralds of the season:

Spring is here. Rake up the leaves and enjoy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Did Jonah Have a Six-Pack?

I was browsing the children's department at my local Christian bookstore when I saw something that took me by surprise. It was Jonah, clearly visible through the plastic shield of a boxed set, which included both a big fish and a tiny boat.  But it wasn't Jonah that surprised me, it was the size of his bulging biceps.

That's not all.  I found Noah, looking all buff and very young.  David appeared clad in a purple jumpsuit that showed off his bulging muscles.  Moses sported an Egyptian headdress, sword and shield. Samson, with his mane of blond hair, looked like Thor, the Norse God of Thunder.  

"What's going on here?" I wondered.

Turns out, the "Almighty Heroes" are the brainchild of Don Levine, the creator of G. I. Joe.  He developed them a few years ago with the hope that children would develop an interest in the characters and message of scripture.  

I'm all for that.  It's admirable that this toy making legend would put so much work into a toy that brings scripture to life.  And little boys do like to play heroes. However, I'm bothered by the visual message that the muscles make the man.  Didn't our heroes, of all ages and (I assume) body types, draw their strength from the Lord?

Sure gives new meaning to Deuteronomy 6:5:  
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Shalom y'all.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God Among the Dishes

Martha and Mary.  Mary listens; Martha is busy in the kitchen.  When Martha complains to him, Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen the better portion. [Luke 10:38-42]
My busy-mom mind plays a coda to this story.  
Martha settles down to listen to Jesus. She has completely forgotten about her preparations.  Sometime later, the disciples wander into the dining room, exclaiming, “Dinner’s not ready?”  Martha looks at Jesus and says, “See. I told you so.”
The Lenten season is a busy time in our household, but this season has been unusually hectic.  Take one round-the clock mom job, add the pleasures of potty training, mix in some soccer coaching, and a dash of part-time teaching and you have a recipe for chaos.  Lent is supposed to be a time for reflection and devotion, a time of meditation and listening to the Holy Spirit. Oh, that I could retreat to a quiet place and just sit at Jesus’ feet all day.
But who’s going to fix dinner?
A few years ago our women’s Bible study read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This 17th century Carmelite lay brother was in charge of the monastery kitchen, working full time so that the monks would be free to study, pray, teach, and copy manuscripts. He spent his days endlessly cooking and cleaning. At first he detested his menial job. Who wouldn’t? Then he had a breakthrough.
Brother Lawrence discovered that he was spending too much time worrying about himself, that he needed to get back to loving God.  He found that he could do this just as well in the kitchen as in the chapel.  He began to seek--to practice--the presence of God in each of his duties.  He used his time in the kitchen to focus his thoughts on God. After all, somebody had to get dinner on the table.
The most excellent method of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing people but purely for the love of God.  (Brother Lawrence)
We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.  (Brother Lawrence)
Jesus didn’t chide Martha for preparing dinner or tell her to forgo her responsibilities.  Luke 10 is not a denunciation of housework any more than Mark 7 advises against hand washing.  Jesus reminded Martha (and us) not to get so worked up about what needs to be done, but to seek and listen to Him, not the worries of a distracted mind. 
Perhaps Martha looked back at her kitchen, thinking a cold buffet supper would be just fine and sat down to listen.  After all, Jesus was an expert at feeding crowds without much fuss and preparation.  Later, as she washed the dishes, she reflected on his words.  I’m guessing that no meal at her house was ever the same.
Lent is our time to practice the presence of God in order to carry on that practice throughout the year. I am challenged to do this. There’s a time to sit and listen, but the dishes won’t wash themselves.  God is everywhere. And when I seek Him, I will find Him, even among the dishes.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Col 3:23-24)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bibleman: Combating the Commandant of Confusion [Review]

When I first saw Bibleman, I wasn’t sure what to make of a purple and yellow superhero battling evil with a lightsaber. That was before I had boys.  My 5-year-old watched one of his friend’s videos and was hooked.  
We’re briefly introduced to Bibleman as young Josh Carpenter. After giving his life to Jesus and studying scripture Josh grew in Biblical knowledge and strength until he became Bibleman.  Accompanied by Biblegirl, Cypher, and Melody, Bibleman battles the evil forces that attack us.  (forces, not people, we're reminded) Their chief weapon? The word of God.
This video captures a live Bibleman show where our heroes battle the Commandant of Confusion and sidekick, Chaos who attempt to steal, and detonate, “the most powerful weapon known to man.”  The audience participates as members of the Bible Adventure Training Academy. By the end of the adventure we’ve learned that God is not a god of confusion, but of peace.
The production is a bit campy and the live action show format, with its entrances and exits offstage, was a little confusing for my son (“When is it going to start?”).  But it has all the Bibleman essentials: action, scripture cited with chapter and verse, prayer, and God as source of strength for our heroes to combat evil. Bonus features include a song about putting on the full armor of God and an explanation of some of the sword fighting techniques the actors use in the production.
So many Christian children’s books cast Biblical heroes in soft, rounded, even feminine forms.  Bibleman shows us that muscular guys can serve God too.
Appropriate for ages 5-10.  My 3-year-old found some of the swordplay a “little scary”.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Palm Tree Epiphany

The palm tree is like an epiphany...
I wish I could remember where I first saw this analogy, wish I had noted the author, the text, anything.  Google search?  Nothing. Nada. Zip. But I like this analogy.
The palm tree is like an epiphany.  Its bare, brown trunk rises toward the sky, fairly plain of texture and pattern. Then, suddenly, it erupts with a flourish at the top.  A-ha!
I love palm trees.  They’re the predominant tree in our Florida yard.  The streets I drive to school and church are lined with palms of different sorts.  Each type seems to have its own personality.  Queens have long, languid fronds that wave elegantly.  Chinese fan palms look like dancers.  On a windy day, oaks and maples wave their branches at different levels, while palms are confined to waving their arms above their heads, so to speak.

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,"Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Mark 11:9 NIV

I first saw today’s verse right before I went to exercise at the Y.  As I warmed up on the treadmill I looked at the trees planted outside the fitness center: palms waving briskly in the morning breeze.  They’re trimmed so neatly that their rigid fronds seem to be shouting, “Hey! Look over here!”  I imagined long avenues of palms welcoming Jesus as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, their trunks and fronds aimed toward heaven.  I imagined the crowds cutting and gathering stately palm fronds to line the road leading into Jerusalem, while shouting “Hosanna!”
In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday, when the people proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, shouting words that one was only supposed to use when announcing the Messiah:
 "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" 
  "Hosanna in the highest!"

But that’s not the only mention of palms in scripture.  Psalm 92 proclaims that “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree” (92:12).  Like the palm, the righteous grow strong and take root in the courts of God, proclaiming the goodness of the Lord.
As we approach Palm Sunday and Easter, be like a palm tree. Stand tall and upright, looking toward heaven, bearing witness to the righteousness of our Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.
Shalom y’all.