Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sonrise Update

Remember... we meet on Tuesday's now! We're going to have a smaller group this week (travel/work conflicts), so what should we talk about... let's see... I just wrapped up an OT survey of Genesis and was particularly struck with how challenge and adversity preceded God's blessings. Want to talk this week about adversity in our own lives... and the good that's come from it? (You may want to scroll down and read "Obstacles and Opportunities".) See you at Cowamunga's at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday! Love, Sarah

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign...

A friend from seminary e-mailed recently and asked me what the Spirit's ministry of illumination has revealed lately. I thought this was a great question. I have sensed, as I contemplate some interesting "coincidences," that the Holy Spirit is teaching me something. As I was reading Scripture this week, I locked onto something in Genesis that made me think about how we process our experiences and encounters with God today.

Genesis 24

Abraham, who is now very old, has dispatched a loyal servant to return to his homeland to fetch a good wife for his son, Isaac. As he approached the city of Nahor, the servant stopped to rest by a well. There he prayed for God's guidance, then proposed a scenario that would serve as a kind of "signal," helping to identify the right woman.

I will say to a young woman, "Please lower your jar so I may drink.' May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, 'Drink, and I'll give your camels water too.' (Gn 24:14)

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah approaches with a water jug on her shoulder. Abraham's servant ran to meet her and asked for a sip of water.

"Drink, my lord," she replied, and quickly lowering her jug to her hands, gave him a drink. When she had done so, she said "I'll draw water for your camels, too..." (Gn 24:18-19)

So, do you think this is a sign? At this point, I can imagine that Abraham's servant wanted to break into song. To whip out the Williams Sonoma gift registry forms. To hash out the guest seating. To settle on beef, shrimp or chicken entrees. But, what did he do?

Silently, the man watched her with interest to determine if the LORD had made his journey successful or not. (Gn 24:21)

So, Abraham's servant has been given a very strong "sign," yet he moves forward patiently. He wants to be sure.

Something to think about, perhaps, as we process our own experiences with God today.

On my iPod... Another Layer by Jon McLaughlin

Friday, September 28, 2007

Genesis 20:2... What's Up with That?

Another busy week! I'm posting an interaction that's due for my online OT History course next week. We were told to pick an aspect of "belief" or "unbelief" in Genesis, then expound upon it. So, I will post this, probably today, then my classmates will have an opportunity to rip it apart. Well... that's not really fair. Most tend to critique very nicely. But I always hold my breath and count to ten while praying before I hit the "submit" button on class interactions...

Genesis 20:2 "Abraham said about his wife Sarah, "She is my sister."...

Context: Though Abraham exhibits tremendous faith as a "sojourner" for God, there is a curious aspect to his faith presented in Genesis 20:2. History repeats itself here as Abraham's fears drive him to pass off his beautiful wife a second time (ref. Gn 12:13) as his "sister." Abraham is a "temporary resident" of the land of Negev (Southern desert region of Canaan) when he encounters Gerar's King Abimilech, whom he inherently distrusts (20:11). Fearing that Sarah's beauty will spell trouble for himself and his travel companions, he reverts to the tricky tactic he first employed with Pharoah in his trek through Egypt. This would appear to be a rather significant "kink" in his faith, inasmuch as he lived through God's intervention into this scenario once before. God has made a promise that will be fulfilled through Abraham and his wife, and He has previously overseeen their safe departure from Egypt. Yet Abraham defaults again to this human ploy. (Does he fully appreciate that it was God, not a lie, who guided them safely into and out of Egypt?)

Ramifications: Though Abraham exposed Sarah to the sexual exploitation (Gn 12:19) that occurred under Pharoah, she was spared a physical encounter with Abimilech. Yet, the deception caused a curse (infertility) to befall Abimlech's immediate family and household. Though Abmilech leads an ungodly people, he has been "duped" and pursues Sarah without culpability. Still, there's a price to pay for those who get in the way of the promise. Abraham's duplicity stains his state of righteousness, presumably both in the eyes of his wife and God (though we aren't privy to any fall-out from either). On the positive side, God's graciousness and mercy is showcased as he continues to show His favor to Abraham and Sarah. It's also vivid testimony God's commitment to His word (Gn 12:3).

Application for Ancient Audience:

1. The Promise Keeper: Those about to enter the Promised Land have lived in a state of miserable oppression. We know from post-Civil War and Holocaust accounts that there can be overwhelming challenges associated with the transition to freedom. The original audience for this text needs the reassurance of God's promise to Abraham for a land of their own and blessings, but also the comfort in knowing that God will oppose the enemy (Gn 12:2-3). The fulfillment of God's promise with respect to adversaries is dramatically illustrated in Gn 20. Insight into God's dealings with the "bad guys" will come in handy.

2. Human leaders aren't perfect... Abraham's deception illustrates the "humanness" of those to whom He has entrusted much. God's agents on earth are not to be deified... they are "mere mortals."

3. ... But, God has given authority to chosen leaders, despite their shortcomings, and there is divine protection along the path they forge. This will be an important reminder as new leaders rise up (e.g., Moses) and assume the task of bringing unity and common purpose to a newly liberated and struggling group.

4. God is consistent and utterly trustworthy. Repetition of this scenario, with its favorable outcome for God's people (2x for Abraham, 1x for Isaac), is powerful testimony to God's loyalty and loving oversight in the face of considerable risk.

An interesting "aside": Abimilech, who invokes "Adonay," (20:4) (non-literal usage/NASB Key Word Study Guide) has experienced the wrath of God... yet there is no evidence that he converted to faith (his descendant, also named Abimilech, is a future king: ref. Gn 26.) I'm thinking that if I were Abimilech... I'd be moving on down the road with Abraham... or extending a big, old over-sized welcome mat...

Research tools: Bible (NET version), NASB Key Word Study Bible, Moody Atlas, Victor Hamilton's "Handbook to the Pentateuch," Strong's Concordance, DTS OT History course materials (J. Allman).

What's His Name?

So, Jacob ("he grasps the heel") gets a name change (Gn 32:28). Having overcome struggles with both men and God, he will now be known as Israel ("he struggles with God"). This name change is restated by God in Gn 35:10. Yet subsequent text within chapter 35 alternates between the two names. We flip flop between the two names again in chapters 45-49. Interestingly, God will refer to him as "Jacob" when He calls out to him in a dream (46:2).

It would appear that he retains the name Jacob as a personal reference? The name Isreal, then, is perhaps invoked as a "title" with respect to his paternal headship of the twelve tribes that will lay claim to a homeland for the future Israelites?

In Gn 17:5, Abram's ("exalted father") name changes to Abraham ("father of many") which is reflected as thus altered in subsequent text within Genesis. So, this is a "done deal." I'm wondering why Jacob's name change is treated differently. Why the continued reference to his "old" name? Anyone?

On my iPod... Dreams I'll Never See by Molly Hatchett (... I have no good explanation for this one.)

Pic: Jacob Wrestling with Angel by Gustave Dore (1855); Granger Collection, NY

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sonrise Update

Awesome party for Kathy P. this morning. Thanks to all who were able to come! The management remarked to me on the way out: "Someone needs to get control of you loud, laughing Christian ladies." Ha! That's a job for someone else... 'cause I'm still laughing!

The Distant Harvest


Vincent Van Gogh, the legendary artist whose paintings fetch astronomical amounts of money today, went to his grave having sold just one painting, Red Vineyard at Arles which resides today at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I was reminded of this escalating "momentum" of one's life work following death as I continue to study the life of Abraham.

God's promises in Genesis 12 to Abraham for a "great nation" and "land" have distant fulfillment. Full fruition of the promises would come not to Abraham, directly, but to his descendants, and, ultimately, through Jesus Christ. So Abraham laid the roots for a distant harvest. Or as Victor P. Hamilton writes in his fabulous "Handbook on the Pentateuch," [The patriarchs] are catalysts and not conclusions."

For those of us who fancy metrics and measurements and outcomes and results, it's a little difficult, perhaps, to fathom that God's purpose for us is something that we may never live to see here on earth. Our purpose may come to fruition long after we're gone. Yet we have a role to play that God has deemed important enough to create for us by virtue of our very existence.

Abraham was a facilitator for a distant harvest. He set his eyes on land he would never possess, and he was, we may theorize, OK with this. As Hamilton noted, "On several occasions, he does ask God, 'Where is my heir?' But never does he ask God, 'Where is my land?' For him, living in tents was fully satisfying. (Heb 11: 9-10)"

What's emerging in my mind is a portrait of a patriarch who didn't need constant reassurance and encouragement or man-made benchmarks and measurements. He didn't need peer reviews, performance assessments and acclaim. Following after God was really all that mattered. "True, he does not have, in terms of personal realization, all the promises of God, but he does have the God of all the promises... The giver, not the gifts, is Abraham's highest reward and his consuming obsession," Hamilton writes.

Red Vineyard at Arles by Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Neiman Marcus Cookie

I received a complimentary copy of Women's Wear Daily (WWD) in the mail a couple weeks ago (Don't they know I shop at WalMart and Nordstrom's Rack? My idea of haute couture is a DTS logo shirt.) What follows is the fabled Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe featured in that magazine.

(A very nice lady once told me that it was "false advertising" to run a picture of a food item that was not made with the recipe featured. I don't have a picture of the actual Neiman Marcus cookie... so just so we're all perfectly clear... an old tennis shoe.)

The Neiman Marcus Cookie (from WWD)

An urban myth is a modern folk tale, its origins unknown, its believability enhanced simply by the frequency with which it is repeated. Our signature chocolate chip cookie is the subject of one such myth. If you haven't heard the story, we won't perpetuate it here. If you have, the recipe below should serve to refute it. Copy it, print it out, pass it along to friends and family. It's a terrific recipe. And it's absolutely free.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds)

2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.

4. Using a 1 ounce scoop or a 2 tablespoon measure, drop cookie dough onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2 inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies
p.s. No, no, I haven't fallen off the wagon with respect to my kooky vegetarian ways... but I do recognize that most of you enjoy a cookie now and again that doesn't substitute apple sauce for butter...
(Pic by Cindy47452; flickr.com)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cute Dog Needs Home!

Evelyn is trying to find a home for a really cute, smart puppy (rescued from shelter). Check it out:

http://evelynadams.blogspot.com/

Obstacles... and Opportunities?

There's a small creek at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia where crystal water bubbles up and flows through an obstacle course of rock and stones. I don't know where this body of water begins or where it ends. But there's a point where these stones, which have piled up and shifted over many years, have erected a barricade that makes the water's passage suddenly difficult. When the water hits this barricade, it seems to stop. Then the water curls to the left and gushes white foam out of a small, narrow passageway. The force of this liberated rushing water appears far greater than the force exhibited before it hit the rocks. Somehow the stones that held it back inevitably and powerfully also push it forward.

(Excerpted from Little Sins, Big Problems)


It feels a little weird to quote myself. But as I continue the slow, deliberative walk through Genesis this week, I am reminded of a creek in Wintergreen, Virginia, and the experience of watching an obstacle impede before it liberates.

Genesis 12: The Promise Amidst Obstacles

Old Testament History Professor Dr. Allman had this to say in one of his lectures about the account of Abraham. "God starts the blessing process with obstacles."

We see this play out in a variety of ways in Genesis as the man we first meet as "Abram" faithfully follows the path toward realization of God's promises (Gn. 12:1-3). God has told Abram that he will be made in to a "great nation." He is destined to be both famous and inordinately blessed.

What Abram may not fully appreciate at this point is that the road to this blessed end state will be filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The land he is slated to inherit is chock full of idol worshippers. How will Abram and a little band of followers displace the wild and debauched Canaanites? In verse 7, God speaks of a legacy blessing to Abram's "descendants." Problem is, his wife, Sarai, is infertile, which didn't bode well for natural heirs. Abram also has limited knowledge of God, who revealed Himself in dialogue from time to time, but was hardly on "speed dial." There is famine. Formidable enemies will soon rise up. And he's got some, well, character issues (vs. 13).

We have to move past this chapter to see how God brings His promises to fruition. Through Abraham's seed (zera: Heb.) God provided in the future for both the nation of Israel and ultimately salvation for all believers through Jesus Christ. So God kept His promises... and allowed significant challenges along the way.

Reading the Bible this week and processing Dr. Allman's lectures refreshed my perspective on some things. I was comforted through this window on ancient history that there is a grand and perfect design and a process playing out all around us. We are a part of this process.

I was also challenged. How often, I wonder, do we let apparent obstacles stop us in our tracks? How often do we back down or opt out or play it safe in the face of challenges or risks that appear too great? When God is, perhaps, leading us into and through an impasse, testing and growing our faith in the process.

(I'm kind of wishing Abraham left behind some media files on faith...)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sonrise Group Now Meets on Tuesday!

The Sonrise Group is now meeting on TUESDAY's at Cowamunga's from 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.! If you show up on Monday, you'll be lifegrouping with the coffee guy... he goes to DTS, by the way. Super nice guy... but your bff's will not be there on Monday!

Next week, we give Kathy Padgett a big hug as she sets off for India... so please join us!

What I'm wondering today... might we be guided by the Bible with respect to how we ought to view the President of Iran's planned visit to Columbia University next week?

On my iPod... I Will Remember You (live version... oh, my... takes my breath away) by Sarah McLachlan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Miscellany

Busy week! Going slowing through a fascinating survey of Genesis in OT History and I have about six blog posts swirling around in my mind. But I can't seem to get too much quality time on the computer this week.

Todd said there's a really funny song clip on KLTY that all moms will enjoy. I missed it this morning, but it will replay locally (94.9) at 7:30 on Friday morning (tomorrow). Check it out!

The CEO of the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters spoke at Todd's workplace yesterday. He shared some sad and frightening stats with respect to children in our midst who are suffering, and news about alarming downward trends in U.S. academic competitiveness. I'm going to try to track down the speaker and get some more information to pass along here.

I've been cold and clammy ever since I heard about the science fair log book. Someone please reassure me that this, too, will pass...

Love,

Sarah

Need a trustworthy, top-notch house painter in the DFW area? Martin Tester & Sons painted the inside of our home this summer and did an incredible job. It's a wonderful Christian family business that's been painting for nearly 20 years. Martin's son, Dennis, even did a "handyman" project for us and refused to accept money. "I'd drive around helping people all day if I could," he said. Nice guys. You can call Martin at: 817/656-7203. They get busy, so you may want to plan ahead and cue up...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sonrisers...

Meeting recap... very interesting discussion. Lots of spiritual/moral/philosophical angles on "social justice"... who to serve... how to serve... where to serve. I am encouraged by our outward concern (lots of examples out there of the perils of turning inward as a church, that's for sure). Will be interesting to see how this comes together over the next few months.

If you have suggestions... concerns... epiphanies... please don't be shy about speaking up. We had a very real dialogue today and this is healthy. I'm not sure we're done talking about this as a group, frankly. I might suggest that we spend about half of our next session picking up where we left off today...

More t/c!

Love, Sarah

Friday, September 14, 2007

Part III: How Are You Seeing Things?

Faulty Lens #2: The Black Cloud Syndrome

Pessimism (n.): A tendency to take the gloomiest possible view of a situation. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

A good doctor once told me he knew with 80% certainty after meeting with cancer patients who would survive and who would not. He based his assessment not only on the staging of the disease, but also how people responded emotionally. Did they exhibit a spirit of defeat before the battle even began? Or did they resolve to fight? According to the doctor, the mental and emotional state of the patient was, indeed, a huge factor in his or her outcome.

An optimistic outlook is a major influence, I believe, in our overall emotional and physical well being. It also has spiritual implications. Pessimism doesn't energize us. At worst, it slows us down, sucks the life out of those around us, and can diminish our effectiveness for Christ.

It would seem that we are "wired" with certain psychological and personality dispositions. And our environment and life's experiences obviously have a lot to do with whether or not we lean in the direction of being positive or negative. Is the pessimist doomed to life with a black cloud overhead? (Don't ask him, because he will probably say, "yes!")

Pessimists can have a change of heart. How? By praying to God for more joy and trust, and by making a conscious decision to stop and look for what's good.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This verse speaks to God's gracious willingness as it relates to His followers to bring about good through all things. Around the verse, we can find encouragement in knowing that we are being conformed to the image of Christ and that God is with us. What we don't have here is the promise for a Hallmark happy ending in all earthly endeavors. God has a high-elevation, big-picture perspective on goodness and sometimes we go through rough terrain and hard training toward this end. My cancer diagnosis, handed down when my boys were 4, 6 and 8, might have been a catalyst for "good" in God's eyes because it served some important purposes. But when the word "cancer" first spilled off the lips of my doctor, I would have been hard pressed to see anything positive about the prospects of death knocking at the door of the Romper Room house. (God intervened in our lives almost immediately, though... that's the subject of another post!) In the case of evil and atrocities, sometimes the only good thing you can say is that amidst the horror, God has revealed His glory and mercy in certain events... and there are lessons to be learned should we choose to heed them.

Stormie Omartian once wrote that whenever a crisis presents in their lives, they ask the question: "What's right with this picture?" As we go about life, we should be looking for the silver linings.

Have an Open Mind

Rather than defaulting to the runaway feelings I wrote about recently, have an open mind... force an open mind if you have to... before leaping to conclusions. If you run into Mary by the frozen foods at WalMart and she "snubs" you, don't default to the conclusion that she hates you. Could be Mary just got bad news from her doctor. Maybe she had an argument with her husband. Could be she's late for work. Maybe she has a headache. Could be she's daydreaming about a cool breeze on a sandy beach and she didn't even see you! In the absence of all the facts, don't assume that Mary's actions have anything whatsoever to do with you. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't!

Be Grateful

I pray every night with the boys for forgiveness for all that we take for granted. I'm also increasingly sensitive to blessings that come in the form of challenges. Odd as it sounds, I try to be thankful for those, too. In many cases, God has been gracious to show me, in retrospect, the surprisingly positive outcome of some of life's biggest hurdles.

I've also begun to thank God for all that I simply can't fathom. A frightened servant who kept company with the prophet Elisha had the benefit of seeing an army of heavenly hosts assembled on hilltops... ready to fight the good fight. This army was otherwise invisible to the human eye. (2Kings 6: 15-17) How is God protecting us today? What mighty, invisible force might envelop and safeguard you? And have you taken a moment lately to thank God for what it is that is very, very good that, perhaps, cannot be seen?

Can you always spot a pessimist? Sometimes these folks are poster children for doom. But sometimes negative outlooks come in fairly sunny packages. While I love to laugh and encourage others, I am ever mindful of worst-case scenarios. I think about what could go wrong. I worry about you. Some of you, I worry about a lot. I've seen a lot of suffering and this has affected my own "lens" on life. While I have tremendous optimism and hope with respect to the "end zone," I do have pessimistic tendencies. Part of my own "area for improvement" centers on maintaining a spirit of gratitude... and wholehearted trust in God's good and mighty game plan... even when it seems to me that clouds are rolling in. I'm getting better at this as I go along, I think. But it's a conscious effort... something I work at consistently with the patient help of God.

Today, let's ask ourselves: What are five things I want to stop and thank God for as soon as I "x" out of this blog!

Coming Soon: More on this topic

On my iPod... September by Earth Wind & Fire (a little retro groove...)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sonrise Group Update

Hey, Friends...

Remember... we are meeting with Ross on Monday at Cowamungas from 8:00 - 9:00. It would be good if we could all try to get there as close to 8:00 as possible. :) We'll be learning more about the "big picture" and I know several of us have questions for Ross.

Also, I was challenged at church last week on three points with respect to our life group:

1. Accountability... "iron sharpening iron"
2. External "mission" opportunity?
3. Hosting non-Christians

We won't have time to get into all of this on Monday, but let's plan to talk the following week about some direction issues for our group.

Love,

Sarah

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Part II: How Are You Seeing Things?

We all have biases. To say that I'm not biased is to suggest that I've never had experiences that shape my outlook and perspectives. The way I view my world and my place in it is richly textured and shaded by the sum total of my experiences in life.

But, sometimes I think it's wise to step out of our shoes, pull the reins as best we can on our sentiments and perspectives, and become a "reporter" on the scene of our own lives. To force ourselves to assume a modicum of detachment (recognizing complete subordination of human bias is impossible).

I wrote earlier in the week about the faulty lenses that can destabilize us. These often begin with feelings or hunches in the heart that become conclusions in the mind and, ultimately, drivers of our actions. If the lens is not processing reality, we can encounter trouble.

Let's pretend for a moment that we are looking at this subject from the perspective of a good journalist:

Faulty Lens #1: Disregard for the facts

Running on instinct (the wrong way)

The editor has handed down an assignment. "This is what happened. Go get the full story." Our investigative reporter will then pursue all sorts of hunches, tips and leads as he chases down various angles on the story. He may arrive at a compelling hypothesis along the way. But a good reporter never welds together a conclusion on the basis of unproven guess work or feelings. He must move from suspicions and speculations and rumors and innuendo to facts. In our own lives, sometimes this means we need to ask ourselves whether or not our hearts are trouncing all over our minds.

While feelings and impressions can guide us toward a good conclusion, we need to be careful that the primary default for our decisions isn't resident in feelings alone. Sometimes we do know with near certainty that certain feelings have been put upon our hearts by God. I wrote recently about a calling I had to attend seminary. I am less certain of other conclusions I've arrived at emotionally. It's wiseto recognize that emotions can be deceiving, and that a careful, somewhat detached assessment of the facts makes for better choices and a healthier outlook.

Cherry-picking the facts

A good reporter doesn't focus on one set of facts to the exclusion of other important information. The beloved patriarch, Joseph, had been convicted of an act of seduction he didn't commit (Genesis 39). He fell to a prideful, vengeful woman's response to rejection and a husband's hotheaded outrage. Then a rush to judgment in the absence of facts. I'll grant you, the fact that the wife had Joseph's garment to wave about didn't look good. But wasn't there more to consider? One wonders if Joseph was given an opportunity to even defend himself. One wonders if the husband had taken a moment to reflect upon other facts. How about Joseph's character, his work history, and the blessings that blanketed the household during Joesph's tenure. What about the wife? One wonders if there were other "red flags" that, perhaps, the husband had missed or somehow tolerated? Does an otherwise good and trustworthy woman find it so easy to to be this cunning? Surely there were some clues to the nature of her heart and her reliability that long preceded this event. Were there relevant facts in this case that were ignored?

I'm reminded of the hot spotlight on security guard, Richard Jewell, some years ago. Never formally indicted in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Bombing, he was "tried by the media" in a thin, barely circumstantial investigative debacle that essentially ran on the fumes of editorial zeal and emotion.

In the tragic and baffling case of little Madeline McCann who went missing in Portugal, we have the helpful bachelor living nearby with his mother who was the initial focus of the investigation because, well, he was a helpful bachelor living nearby with his mother. The guy tried to help the family with some translation issues then found himself a focus of the investigation. Not because anyone had any evidence against him, mind you. But he was a little too helpful and a little old to still be living with Mum!

In the book of Deuteronomy, we're given the test for false prophets. (Dt 18: 20-:22). If a prophet's claims don't come true, those claims did not come from God. This is simple, timeless fact checking that we can apply not only to religious deceivers today but to other areas of question in our lives. "This is the claim or this is the promise; these are the facts. Do they square up?" While not every decision will wait on specific proof to comfort or convince us, we should know the experience of suspending our emotions and judgments as we dig a bit deeper, in some cases, for the truth.

Coming Soon... Faulty Lens #2: The Black Cloud Syndrome

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

How Are You Seeing Things?

I've been a little smug about my 20/20 reading vision (my distance vision is about 20/400, so I needed to feel good about something). But the recent blurring of books in a certain light and my inability to easily read the dosing chart for Children's Motrin suggested my days of perfect close-up vision are over. A recent trip to the eye doctor confirmed that I now need correction for reading.

Todd got bi-focals a couple years ago. He opted for the newer "progressive" lenses without the traditional "granny line." But he had some real adjustment problems. "I'm seeing things through a fishbowl," he remarked. Despite Todd's experience, I figured this was probably the best choice for me, too. But I wasn't looking forward to the break-in period, that's for sure.

To my delight, I experienced a seamless transition. Things in the distance looked clear. Things up close looked sharp. I opted for a super lightweight, rimless frame. It was like not having glasses at all. I was thrilled!

Then on Friday night while visiting a friend, I bent down to look at some family photos on a coffee table and suddenly had this sensation of being on a boat that was rocking back and forth. Am I moving, I wondered? Is the room moving? In reality, I was standing still in a static amd stable environment. But my eyes caught some part of the new lens that upset my equilibrium. I felt slightly dizzy and at the mercy of this strange swaying motion.

The distortion in my vision destabilized me. I stood there for a few moments afraid to move because I didn't know what was really happening around me. And I knew I couldn't trust what I was seeing.

The "blurred vision" that affects Christians.

Wouldn't it be so much easier if, in our lives, we always knew that we could trust what we see and hear. That truth was always evident and crystal clear. Think of all the problems we would sidestep if we have the benefit of knowing whether or not certain decisions were good ones based not upon what we feel but upon what is real. But like the distortion I experienced with my new eyeglasses, the faulty lens with which we process information in our lives has a similar destabilizing effect.

What does Scripture say?

I find myself continually seeking the counsel of Scripture, leaning heavily on the truth that God has graciously given us in writing. What a great time to be a student of the Bible, what with all the tools we have to bore into and better understand the gracious provision of ancient words and their timeless, living relevance to our lives today. There are Key Word dictionaries and wonderful resources on Bible commentary. Not to mention a wide open world of possibilities for research through reliable sites on the Internet like crosswalk.com or netbible@bible.org.

What would Jesus do?

I also look to the model that Scripture puts forth of Jesus Christ. The WWJD bracelet fad has come and perhaps all but gone. But I like the heart of this quest and I'm grateful for its impact on my thinking as I wrestle with all kinds of decisions today. I do think about what Jesus would do. I'd like to say I always do the right thing; I don't. But I do make better decisions more often by considering first the model put forth by Christ.

So why don't I always see things clearly?

So, if I'm consistently processing decisions through the filter of Scripture and thinking about what Christ might do, I should be a model for my faith. I will have challenges and sufferings like everyone else, but my response to life will look very different. Rather than rocking back and forth in a state of imbalance like I experienced with my new glasses, I will be standing on unshakable ground. I will see things as they really are. I will stand tall and strong like a redwood tree amidst the thin saplings that bend and bow at the whim of the wind.

Always.

If only it were that easy...

Coming Soon: Emotions... comparisons... pessimism... three faulty lenses that can destabilize us.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Housekeeping Stuff

Hey, friends! I'm looking for some better efficiencies this school year. I love photography and have really enjoyed cruising around flickr.com looking for photos to illustrate blog posts. But finding the right picture... downloading it... chasing down permissions in some cases... takes more time (by far) than writing. So you may see more posts without pictures this year. I hope you'll continue to hang out with me even on the kind of "drab" days. I'm praying through more teaching/speaking stuff this year and need to become increasingly sensitive to economies of time.

I'm also going to consolidate a couple blogs. I'll be sending my Monday morning group here for meeting updates. It will be a bit of "housekeeping" for the rest of you. Just ignore us (or better yet... plan to join us at 8:00 a.m. on Monday's at Cowamunga's in Grapevine... we are what my church calls a "lifegroup"... not a classic Bible study group... but a small body of Christian women who meet to apply God's Word... as reliably as we know how... to "real time" struggles, complexities, and triumphs in our lives. We don't take on extended, structured studies that require a lot of at-home preparation because we're all maxed out as it is. So, this is not exactly BSF. But it is a group that's seriously chasing after God and immersing in the Biblical response to the issues that life throws our way. We have diverse local church representation... the hour goes fast... we all leave feeling somehow stronger than when we arrived... and we'd love to have you join us.)

Next Sonrise Meeting: Monday, September 10: 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. at Cowamungas in Grapevine.

Topic: Getting Along with Almost Anybody, cont: "Are personality differences a healthy but misunderstood part of God's design?"

Upcoming: Monday, September 17 (8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. at the Cow): Pastor Ross Sawyers joins us to talk about social responsibility/activism and church vision. If you want to know more about 121 Community Church, please join us!

Please e-mail me with any questions: sarah@sarahonderdonk.com

Have a great weekend everybody!

Love, Sarah

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Evelyn Adams on Photography, Part II















Welcome back for more of my recent interview with professional photographer Evelyn Adams...

Sarah:

Hello, again! Thanks so much for chatting with us, Evelyn.

Evelyn:

My pleasure!

Sarah:

What makes a photograph beautiful?

Evelyn:

I guess it depends of who is looking at it. I take pictures of things and people I love, but while a baby picture looks amazing to me, to another, the "heroin chick" look... something I might find really disturbing... is what's captivating.

Mostly pictures with honesty, to me, are the most beautiful ones.

Sarah:

And that's what I see in your art. You capture these moments that are just so real. Nothing looks staged... just very natural. Or, as you say, honest. I love that.

You have some really interesting nature pics. I'm wondering if photographing nature influences your view of God?

Evelyn:

I am always amazed at the beauty around us that God puts in our lives. Taking a picture makes me take the time to enjoy and also be grateful for everything in my life. Capturing those small, precious moments of a child or a puppy dog just being themselves, not posed, seems to capture the essence of God for me... real, unfiltered and honest.

Sarah:

I had to get a professional picture taken for my book a few years ago and the photographer was telling me about a lady who had posed recently. She wasn't happy with the way she really looked and spent a bunch of money to get the image edited. They blotted out all her wrinkles and did some other stuff and when they were done, she had gone from, like, 63 to 23. She had the thing blown up real big and framed and proudly presented it to her husband. And his response was: "Who is that? Give me back my wife!"

Evelyn:

That's funny! Like I said, honesty is good!

Sarah:

OK... how about some tips for the non-professional?

Evelyn:

Digital or manual... it doesn't really matter. Choose your equipment according to your needs and learn it. Read the manual. Be patient. Most importantly, have lots of fun!

Sarah:

Thanks, Evelyn! Can someone contact you if they want to arrange a local family photo shoot?

Evelyn:

Yes, absolutely. You can send me an email at: studio@evelynphotography.com.

Sarah:
Evelyn's taking our family picture for the Christmas cards this year. She also designs and produces coffee table quality books for your families, graduating seniors, engagements, new babies, anniversaries, etc. which make for a truly special and unique gift. I'm proud to shamelessly promote Evelyn here... she has a real gift and a humble heart.

Check out Evelyn's beautiful photography here: http://www.evelynphotography.com/

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Nothing More Than Feelings (Sometimes)

We tend to look for "peace" a lot these days as we go about trying to discern God's will around our decisions. "Do you feel a peace about it?" we ask, leaning, perhaps on Paul's prescription in Philippians.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

While this verse reveals that there's protection in Christ and a "peace" available to us from God, it doesn't say that every, single decision we make must first bear the tug of a fuzzy feeling. If I were to wait on peace before making all of my decisions, I'd be a lifeless lump of uselessness.

I'm reminded of my decision some years ago to attend Dallas Seminary... a decision that was based upon a volition, certainly not a spirit of peace. My children were very young at the time and I was at home full-time looking after them. The seminary was a 40-mile commute along winding, grinding Dallas highways. It could take nearly an hour in typical rush-hour conditions. Throw some rain or a fender bender into the mix and you could add another 15 or 20 minutes. In a near-perfect scenario, and assuming everyone was healthy, I could squeeze in a single morning class and be back in time for 11:45 pre-school pick-up. But when would I study? I refused to put my boys in front of a TV while I hit the books. So I would have to find a way to study around them. That meant very early mornings or very late nights. In summary: No thanks!

I made the decision to attend seminary and I had absolutely no peace in my heart. None. What I had was a calling... a strong sense that, in spite of a lack of positive feelings about this decision, I had to make a volitional choice. This was one of the clearest, strongest callings of my life. And there wasn't an ounce of peace around it. If I had waited for the peace to make a decision, I'd still be waiting.

Sometimes, we just have to step out in faith and be obedient despite what we feel. I do wholeheartedly believe that God does give us the peace that transcends understanding. Sometimes he graciously does this right up front. Other times it's delayed (as was the case for me with respect to seminary). But there's no guarantee (e.g., Mother Teresa?).

I no longer look for a feeling to precede every, single commitment in my life. Feelings can deceive us. The theater that hosts my emotions is often directed not by God but by Satan who knows that shadow-and-light manipulation of our hearts is a wildly successful conduit for bringing us down. It's not often, really, that he hurls us violently off a cliff; many of us won't get too close to the edge. Sometimes he simply guides us along a gently, descending slope... where it's a matter of inches and feet... small degrees... imperceptibly down we traverse by way of our tender, feeling hearts.

A funny one heard in class: Said the professor to the student: "When they give you your master's in theology... don't you believe it!"

Check back tomorrow for more of my interview with Evelyn Adams!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Evelyn Adams on Photography











My friend, Evelyn Adams, is a professional photographer. Her photos are striking and alive... and seem to get inside the moment. I asked Evelyn to share with us some of her perspectives on the art of photography.

Sarah:

Evelyn, your photography is beautiful. How long have you been at it?

Evelyn:

About ten years off and on. The arrival of my two sons sometimes "changed" my schedule!

Sarah:

Your professional exposure to photography was first in front of the camera as a model. it. Does this make you a better photographer? If so, how?

Evelyn:

It was a great learning period. But I found myself more interested in the creative process, so I learned a lot by watching and asking questions. I also learned that the photographer could ruin the entire photo session by being impatient, inflexible, or insensitive to the subject's mood on a given day.

Sarah:

That's interesting. I never realized that a photographer's demeanor had such a big impact.

Evelyn:

Yes, it really can influence what you ultimately see in the picture.

Sarah:

I know that children and dogs are your passion. You've picked two very cute but not entirely cooperative subjects! Any tips for non-professionals when taking pictures of our own children and pets?

Evelyn:

The tips apply to both: be very patient, understand your subjects, be ready to reschedule, get up close, pick a time that they are rested and not hungry, and have several changes of clothes. I think the most important thing is to just have fun... that's when the magic happens!

Sarah:

I remember taking a photography course in college with a very complicated Pentax camera. All the settings were manual. Now, of course, everything's digital and automatic. My own photography is a lot better now because the camera "figures out" a lot of the technical stuff for me. But how, from a professional standpoint, do you feel about this evolution? Have we lost or gained something?

Evelyn:

My first camera was an all manual Pentax which I borrowed from my art school. It was great to learn in the manual mode and I loved the darkroom. I actually bought my first digital five years ago and it took me a while to switch to digital only. I think technology is a great gift from God (I am a bit of a geek) and, like everything, there are pros and cons.

I do agree that the new digital cameras do the thinking for you and it makes the photo session flow a lot faster. There's no more cost in film, processing the film, and getting the proofs. If you do take pictures of fast moving things, you really appreciate the ease of the digital world.

On the down side, you are the lab now, so you have to count the picture processing time and not fall into the "I can fix that in Photoshop" trap because you will have to live in front of the computer. For me, I love digital and it was an answer to prayers. I don't have a lot of time because I have two kids and I was looking for a more affordable way to do photography. Changing to digital was a learning curve, but not too bad because my background is in graphic design. I think digital is almost like learning to drive an automatic car after driving a stick shift. It is such a smooth ride... but it's always fun to go back to the stick shift!

Coming Tomorrow: Part II of my interview with Evelyn and some tips for the non-professional!



Check out Evelyn's beautiful photography here: http://www.evelynphotography.com/

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Basis for Opposites Attract?

My primary textbook for a course on Old Testament History is Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor Hamilton. I really didn't know what to expect when I clicked this book into my amazon.com shopping cart a few weeks ago. It sounded a little, well, dry. But as I work my way through Hamilton's survey of Genesis, I'm loathe to put it down. Can I just say... this textbook rocks.

While the author gives us plenty of insight into his exegetical conclusions, he covers a waterfront of divergent thinking. I'm in the thick of Hamilton's analysis of Creation and the Fall. I'm not fishing in the deepest waters here, but for some reason I find myself wondering whether or not Genesis helps us with the matter of why it is that opposites attract.

My Monday morning small group just finished reading Getting Along with Almost Anybody by Florence & Marita Littauer. In the marriage section, we are taught to have a kinder regard for personality differences. Todd and I took a personality profile that revealed we have similarities and dissimilarities. Most people, I would gather, do have a bit of a mix. But if I reflect upon what first attracted me to Todd, it was probably the things that were deficient in my own person. Once I breathed a giant sigh of relief over the knowledge that he was a committed Christian, it was what was different from me that I found most endearing about my husband-to-be. I've found this to be the case with lots of other couples. Opposites do attract.

Is there something in the account of Creation or the Fall that helps us understand this? And does whether or not you think it might relate to 1) Creation, or 2) the Fall influence how you view your differences and how you engage on a daily basis with those who are, in some ways, opposite?

Embracing our Differences: Helping One Another?

Genesis 1:18 tells us this: "The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." The word "helper" (Hebrew: ezer) is the subject of much debate. Some believe it denotes god-like assistance even steerage on the part of Eve. Others believe it means the first woman was a serf (or, perhaps, the vision behind Southwestern's Fall sewing class...). Most probably imagine the truth lies somewhere between.

I think it's fair to say that an understanding of the word "ezer" in this context is largely colored by our biases and will always be debatable. But the text does conclusively tell us this: God thought Adam needed Eve. The question is, why? To possess or exhibit or offer up something that he already had in full? I'm thinking probably not. Eve, it would seem, was bringing something(s) different to the party.

I think back to my days in the workforce when there were projects and I needed an "ezer." Sometimes "help" came in the form of someone with whom I could divide and conquer. People with similar skill sets "cloning" ourselves taking a piece of the project to go work independently. But more often than not, "help" came in the form of people who could do what I couldn't do. "I'll work on the script, you work on the budget." That sort of thing. So, despite the fact that Eve was flesh of Adam's flesh, can we make the case that there was critical, life-enriching diversity of skills and talents wired into the first couple that established the phenomenon we recognize today as the attraction of opposites?

And if we entertain this theory, does it change the way we view what's different about our spouses? Are we more inclined to celebrate the diversity that would otherwise frustrate us?

Disdaining Our Differences: Hurting One Another?

Is there something within the Genesis account of The Fall that presents itself as a lingering stain on relationships today? ".... You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you." (Genesis 3:16) Is there spiritual warfare affecting familial relationships, in general, related to the enmity (3:15) imposed by God between the serpent (Satan) and Eve?

So, opposities attract. Why might this be? To round us out? Or, to challenge us? And is there something in the account of Creation and the Fall that hints at why this is so?

p.s. On the Southwestern Seminary cooking/sewing class flap... I'll grant you... it's a peculiar offering. I don't know enough about the motivations behind this to really take a position... is it mandatory... or part of some grand "design"... or is it just an odd little non-core offering... I don't know. But I will say this... with respect to wives/moms... there is a tension between home life and academics or ministry that must be held in some sort of balance (recognizing that "balance" is probably a goal and not an end state). If I'm sewing my heart out and ignoring God's ministry calling (assuming my ministry is something other than sewing), I'm going to experience a lot of internal unrest as the Holy Spirit affirms my priorities are out of whack. On the flip side, if I'm blazing a trail out there in the world for Christ but absent from the lives of my husband and kids, I'm similarly out of whack. This is a huge issue for women today. Huge! And if a sewing class at Southwestern puts a spotlight on the problem... well... perhaps it's ultimately healthy controversy...