Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving in Florida

Just back from a memorable Thanksgiving in Destin and Naples, Florida. Boys splashed around in the surf and had a fun golf outing with Gramp. Hope you all had a most awesome holiday!

On my iPod... Magnificent by U2

Saturday, November 28, 2009


So, we had just enjoyed the sweet movie "Up" at our rental condo in Florida and I was getting the boys ready for bed. My 13-year-old remembered seeing a promo for the American Music Awards and asked to check it out on ABC. We found the show just in time to catch Ryan Seacrest at the end. We like American Idol, so we stayed put. Then, to my horror, out comes Adam Lambert dragging some scantily clad, leathered-up woman around on stage. I told everyone to look away and fumbled around rather unsuccessfully in the dark for the remote thinking it doesn't get much worse than that. Unfortunately, that was the gentle part. By the time I found an "off" button, I'd witnessed the absolute depths of prime time network programming. The sad debasement of God's beautiful creatures. Lambert is throwing the word "discrimination" around. I'm not anti-gay, friends. When I'm perfect, I can start throwing stones. But I am unapologetically anti-orgy on prime time television.

ABC says it got a modest amount of complaints. I'm thinking that if the calls and letters don't ratchet up, we'll be seeing a Caligula routine next year. If you have kids... if you think you might have kids... hey, if you know a kid... please take a moment to send ABC a note of complaint here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Manna & Mugs!

Join me on December 5 from 9-12 for "Manna Mug & Muffin" at Scofield Church in Dallas. I'm speaking on the subject of endurance. The event is free but you'll need to make a reservation by calling 214.349.6043. Details are here. It promises to be a fun morning of fellowship and gourmet muffins! Hope to see you there!

On my iPod... I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight by U2

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great Coffee... Wonderful Value!

Coffee lover or, dare I say, coffee snob? You might want to pass on the pricier brands next time you shop and try Eight O'Clock coffee, instead. At $4.98/pound, it's a better value than the other brands... and, surprisingly, it tastes better, too! Rich and velvety with no bitter aftertaste! Kathy P says the grind-your-own whole beans are great. I bought them already ground in regular and decaf and was delighted!

Looking forward to... U2 at Cowboys Stadium... nosebleed section facing stage... happy party of 5!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1 Samuel on Fathers

I'm taking an interesting course this semester on Old Testament History. As part of a recent assignment, we were asked to evaluate fathers and sons in 1 Samuel 1-15. I walked away with more questions than answers, but believe in the reflection that there's a lot to learn.

Fathers & Sons in 1 Samuel 1-15: An Evaluation

Deuteronomy 6: 6-7: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”

In light of God’s command for fathers to teach His word “diligently,” what can we learn from the examples of Eli, Samuel and Saul?

Eli: The Deadbeat Dad?

“Clueless” is the word that might describe Eli as father. Scripture indicates he “honored” (1 Samuel 2:29) his wicked sons more than God. But the honoring appears to be accidental as he becomes aware of their egregious sins (vs. 12) late in life (vs. 22). It was established and known throughout the priesthood (vs. 13) and in fact, all of Israel (vs. 14) that Eli’s sons were bad apples. This type of heart toxicity doesn’t typically happen overnight but is in evidence over a period of years. Eli was either in denial or oblivious to sin that should have been obvious. As we examine the text, one wonders why it takes third-party reporting (vs. 22-23) to see the immorality of his sons! God holds Eli accountable (2:30-36) for his lack of faithfulness in evidence by his blind eye (vs. 22) and impotence as a father (2:23-24). Eli loses his standing with God (vs. 31), the health and security of his family (vs. 32-34) and his very legacy (vs. 35).

Interesting to note that Eli “fell backward” and died upon hearing that the ark of God was in enemy hands (4:18), having first been told that Israel had suffered a great defeat and his two sons were dead. Not to diminish the huge impact of the news of the ark, but most fathers would have already been on the floor with the news that their sons were dead. This strikes me as a telling “delayed reaction.”

Samuel: The Do-Good Dad?

The Bible tells us that Samuel’s sons “… made money dishonestly, accepted bribes, and perverted justice.” (8:3b) While it’s difficult to evaluate his “parenting style” from what’s been revealed, we see his heart for the Lord in his open-minded response to the request from Israel’s elders to find a king other than his sons (8:4). Samuel puts aside concerns over legacy and never attempts to defend his sons or rationalize their sinful behavior. Instead, he goes straight to God for wisdom and is concerned first and foremost with His agenda (8:6). When it is revealed to Samuel that Saul is God’s chosen king (9:17-19), he is cooperative and obedient. Here we have the apparent case of a good and faithful man whose kids have gone afoul.

Saul: The Dangerous Dad!

Scripture reveals in vivid detail the patently bad heart of Saul who is willing to kill his son to save his skin (14:44; 20:33). From God’s perspective, he is unfaithful (15:11) and disobedient (15: 22-23). He lies (18:25), steals (15:19) and has no regard for human life (18:21; 19:10; 20:33; 22:17). He is a textbook sociopath. Yet his son, Jonathan, emerges as a moral hero, pledging at great personal risk to protect his friend, David (18:3).

Question: Why do kids from bad and good homes mess up?

Proverbs 22:6a advises parents to “train up a child in the way he should go.” Studying the father/son dynamics of 1 Samuel, we encounter a conundrum. How do seemingly good people (e.g., Samuel) rear crummy kids while evil people (e.g., Saul) can raise nice ones? I see four possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Simply, God’s purpose won’t be thwarted.

Perhaps God allowed the children to fail according to his design (much like an evil spirit tormented Saul in 16:14). If the progeny of Eli and Samuel were faithful, the issue of kingship would have been thornier. God had a succession plan it involved neither Eli nor Samuel’s kids. We see some rebellious character traits of the sons as well as intentionality on the part of God in verse 2:25b, as well: “…”But they would not listen to their father, for the Lord had decided to kill them.” (Consider here Proverbs 1: 8-9)

Scenario 2: Boys will be boys.

Or, maybe the children exercised personal prerogatives (i.e., free will) and either chose wisely or poorly, irrespective of their upbringing. Proverbs 1: 8-9 admonishes children to pay attention to parental instruction. This puts the onus on parents to teach and children to listen. Could it be that Samuel’s children simply “checked out” on dad’s counsel?

Scenario 3: Rebels With and Without a Cause

Someone once said: “Every generation will find something to annoy the parents.” Some rebellion goes hand in hand with growing up. We even see bold independence, albeit for a good cause, on the part of Jesus in Luke 2: 41-52 where we encounter the 12-year-old Jesus on the brink of Jewish adulthood. He’s been separated himself from his parents for several days and is incredulous that His mother is so anxious. As independence beckons the mortal youth, there is some degree of forced separation that may manifest in opposition to authority. So, is it possible that we see in 1 Samuel a bad father (Saul) with a good kid in “rebellion” and a good father (Samuel) with a similar u-turn dynamic?

Scenario 4: What family?

Perhaps the fathers were so wrapped up in self (Eli) or ministry (Samuel) that they put family on the back burner? So, we have on one hand, an effective agent of God (Samuel) who could have been a remote father? Scripture offers an intriguing clue about the relationship of Saul and his son. In 20:2, Jonathan remarks: “…Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me.” (Saul also shows some concern about his son’s future kingship (20:31), though it is no doubt more about self/family pride than love of son.) There is the reality or at least the perception on the part of Jonathan that he and his dad are close or at least in close contact, and what is intimated here is that the father, albeit a bad one, has invested time and attention into his son.

Bottom Line

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

In the book of Proverbs, we’re told about the results of good training. This verse has left many scratching their heads when the product doesn’t seem to always match the investment. It’s important to realize, however, that Proverbs are principles not promises. For reasons we have yet to fully understand, sometimes the real world presents with unexpected hairpin curves and u-turns. Our best defense in an unpredictable and uncertain world:

As always, prayer...

Photo by Sean Dreilenger... see here for restrictions.

On my iPod... Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones

Monday, August 31, 2009

Todd and I are prayer coordinators for Faith Christian School's Take a Knee ministry. Our focus is 7th grade football. Below is our devotional for this week.

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2: 52)

It’s hard to think of Christ on the brink of adolescence, but that’s where we find Him in Luke Chapter 2: 41-52. It was the year before his 13th birthday when Jewish tradition would legally recognize Him as an adult. Jesus had spent several days separated from his parents who had unknowingly left him behind following the Passover feast. When they were reunited, Jesus responded boldly to his mother’s anxious questioning yet remained with his parents in subjection. It is shades of where we many of us find ourselves today… experiencing a growing tug of independence versus dependence on the part of our children.

The first sight of my oldest child in full pads on the football field Thursday night nearly stole my breath. I flashed to a time not so long ago when he was a toddler full of needs and under our ever-watchful control. I have a growing sense this year of the fleeting nature of our time together. My nerves over contact football have softened this week. I find myself very grateful that this rite of passage is occurring under the discipleship of godly coaches who see beyond the boundaries of the field to the larger horizon of our faith and all that we as Christians aim to be.

Still Thinking About... The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Squawkers made it! Cheryl set him (her?) free on Sunday and we were there for the joyous release. What a sweet experience!

On my iPod... The Story in Your Eyes by the Moody Blues

Fall Bible Study!

Our Sonrise Bible study group will be looking at what Scripture reveals about Angels & Demons this Fall. If you're interested in joining us for a 12-week study, please e-mail me. We'll be meeting Wednesday mornings from 8:15-9:15 in Grapevine beginning September 16.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saving Squawkers

Texas is fire ant country. Tiny red menaces that no doubt keep some sort of undesirable population under control but also must be managed for the predatory mayhem they inflict upon civilians. Walking Ruthy last week, I encountered a still-moist and wriggling earthworm on the asphalt path that was on the early phase of an attack. Still viable but in serious trouble. I stopped and thought about intervening. I wished I had the courage to reach down a pick it up and put it back in the grass. But the gross-out factor of both worm and ants prevented me from doing anything.

Flashing to things spiritual, I was suddenly struck by how blessed we are to have a God without constraints or limitations. How he intervenes on our behalf even in our messiness, and mercifully, graciously gives us chance upon chance to survive and thrive in this world.

So when we saw the baby bird who had just fallen from its nest being bitten by ants attacking from seemingly every direction on Thursday, we felt we had to do something. It was messy and we were totally clueless about the path forward and had about a dozen things we really should have been doing but I kept thinking about God's intervention into my own life, how he has repeatedly scooped me up and nurtured me and given me new beginnings.

We did some blazing Internet research, consulted knowledgeable friends and experts, and kept "Squawkers" alive, feeding him every half hour and putting a heating pad under his little box. We investigated a return to the nest but found it had been overturned and was teeming with carpenter ants. But, God led us to a wonderful lady in Arlington named Cheryl who takes in orphaned and injured birds. She said Squawkers is a Mockingbird no more than nine days old and, apart from some bruising from the fall, is in remarkably good shape. She put him in a little box with a larger bird who'd been attacked by a cat and told us she'd take good care of him. I noticed him instinctively move closer to the larger bird, burrowing beneath it, no doubt thinking he'd been reunited with his mother.

The boys sure did learn a valuable lesson this week. Me, too.

On my iPod... Anything Can Happen by The Finn Brothers

Monday, July 13, 2009

Washington D.C. Adventures

John has better pictures of the main attractions in D.C. But here are a few outtakes from me! I haven't figured out an easy way to insert captions... so suffice to say I've got pictures of George Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon, my parents with the boys, Colin in a "line-up" at the Crime and Punishment Museum (great t-shirt choice for this shot, eh?), Daniel standing next to an enormous geode at the Museum of Natural History, the boys as "Washington's kids" at Mount Vernon, the Hope Diamond, boys on the Metro, John at the JrNLYC drop-off, Colin cutting down a tree for Papa and Mama, George Washington's teeth, and Daniel as a "Wanted" man from the Colleyville Public Library summer reading program kick-off!

On my iPod... Baba O'Reilly by The Who

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ahhh... Oregon

We had a blast visiting my brother and his family this week in Oregon. His house overlooks the Pacific Ocean and we were treated to breathtaking views of unspoiled nature. Some scenes below from our trip.

On my iPod... In the Hands of God by the Newsboys

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blogger Reflects on Motherhood

Carol Fruge is a friend from Dallas Seminary and she's launched a new blog. I love her original poem about the "unflappable mother" here. Lots of wisdom for those of us with young children.

I also stumbled upon a quote worth pondering this morning... More people fail from lack of encouragement than anything else.

And to all the mothers I've encountered this week who feel like they are running out of fuel with about sixteen laps to go: Sometimes "sufficient" or "not this year" or "no" is truly the best answer.

Question: Who have you encouraged today?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Juggling Perspective

End-of-the-school-year madness for 3rd, 4th and 6th grade is converging with little league baseball tournaments times three which is converging with a mess in my house that would tax an OSHA inspector which is converging with a laundry pile so high it would kill a Sherpa. It all hit a fever pitch yesterday when I realized that I needed to feed 49 kids world's best sugar cookies and ran out of dough at cookie number 44...

So this morning I was boohoohooing to a friend how I'm dropping more balls that I'm catching. To which she replied: "But aren't you glad for the balls you get to catch?"

Ahhhh.... I feel so much better.

Question: What are you grateful for today?

Photo by Mathias L; see here for restrictions.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On Fame and Dying

We were going around the dinner table a while back with the question: "Who among the living would you most like to meet and spend time with?" The boys were forthcoming with baseball heroes and famous authors. I can't honestly recall who Todd mentioned, but it seems he had someone in mind. But I remember struggling to identify anyone apart from people I already admire and know. Chalk it up to cancer, I guess. Something happens with respect to the way you look at people and time. You get focused with bull's eye precision on what and who matters most. For me it's family and friends.

This week, though, I realize there's one celebrity I wish I could meet: Farrah. Her fight for life and her unmasked journey toward death has me gripped. It's the lack of vanity now over her appearance, I guess, that makes her story so different on the surface, anyway. I caught the last 45 minutes of her documentary last night and also watched a bit of a talk show afterwards that featured some "experts" questioning her motives. She and her friends stated her motive pretty clearly in the documentary, I thought: to help others. Personally, I choose to believe it. Because I know how cancer helps define one's purpose, sometimes in an instant. When you're engulfed in suffering and hope is ebbing, don't you think it's natural to want to glean something, anything good from the journey? Though it was somber and depressing in parts, Farrah's story felt to me, anyway, like a soft blanket of empathy... something I pray that the "experts" will never have to wear.

Beneath the surface of Farrah's story, I wonder if the legacy she will leave goes beyond that of one's fight for life. Is there something for all of us to learn about the roller-coaster trajectory of celebrity and our own role in perpetuating a truly appalling cycle? What they do to themselves. What we do to them. There's a diseased downside to fame. When people rise and then soar and then cling to and cloy at heights before consumers change their appetites and spit them out.

Pop culture gives me the chills this week. The whole supply chain is seriously whacked. Where you have media outlets chasing falling stars like cannibals, just looking for a bit of fat on a thigh or a pedestal-smashing personal weakness. And the consumers who buy the trash at the check-outs who perpetuate this cycle. And the celebrities, themselves. In the end, would they, themselves, call it blessing or curse?

You could argue that a public figure with a hand-held camera has invited such scrutiny. The tabloids will no doubt run with "exclusives" on law suits and restraining orders and underbelly angles of this sad, sad story in days and weeks to come.

So, Farrah has invited us in. And there's something important about her story. Something sad. Something redemptive. Maybe. Something beyond how to die. I really think so.

Photo from Today entertainment. Article is here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fear Not... Always?

My dog, Ruthy, is a golden retriever who, not surprisingly, likes to retrieve things. This is charming until the retrieved item doesn't get returned and it happens to be something like your second set of running shoes and you're down to two left feet or date-night shoes for the daily power walk. That's where I found myself this morning. Two left shoes and a these kind-of-hurt-my-feet-but-are-simply-too-cute-to-throw-out pair of pink and gray fabric flats. Without a good option, I started rooting through the boys' shoe bin. Just so happens, Colin has a newish pair of comfy-looking black tennis shoes that are just my size. So I slipped those buggers on my feet and off Ruthy and I dashed for our morning sniff-about. About a quarter of a mile into the walk, however, I realized that my feet were killing me. You see, my son's cushy-looking shoes have these big metal shoelace holes that kind of dig into the top of your feet. The appearance of roomy comfort was merely an illusion. After two miles, I felt like a little bound-foot Geisha. This catapulted me to things spiritual.

Do You Really Know How Those Shoes Feel?

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (NET Bible)

I saw recently where someone used 2 Timothy 1:7 to encourage group participation in something at the peak of the swine flu scare. This reminded me of the many times I've heard good-intentioned Christians blast the suffering with this same "God did not give us a Spirit of fear..." admonition. To what end? Like this is going to make someone suddenly drop whatever the fear is like a pan that's about to host a grease fire? I have never, ever heard anyone who's suffering say "Oh, gee, that makes be feel a whole lot better." Quite the contrary, it usually makes whoever is anxious all the more fretful because now the fear is wedded to in-their-face aspects of weakness and sin.

Have You Tried Those Shoes?

I have a dear friend who gets violently sick when she passes accident scenes on the highway. For me, it's relationship stuff that makes me ill. If you tell me about how your little heart has been broken, a piece of my heart will break with you. This sensitivity has allowed me, in my own mind, to feel as if I really know what you're going through. But just like I didn't know my son's shoes were foot crushers until I walked in them, I can't necessarily understand what you're feeling unless I, too, have been there. I can give you, hopefully, counsel based upon Scripture. But I can't begin to really get your situation or feel your pain until I have lived it. So, I need to be careful using verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 to counsel the anxious or the suffering, especially if I'm not able to authentically empathize.

Some Context

The apostle Paul is the author of 2 Timothy. It's an epistle or letter from Paul to his "apostolic representative" (NIV Study Bible) or younger assistant who's been tasked with a special ministry to the church of Ephesus on Paul's behalf as he languishes in prison. In the NIV translation as well as many others the word "fear" is replaced with the word "timidity." Other references to Timothy in Scripture (1 Cor 15:10-11; 1 Ti 4:12) suggest he is both young and, perhaps, lacking in some degree of confidence. So Paul writes verse 7 to remind him of the power He has in God (2 Ti 1-8:). Some translations also capitalize the "S" in "spirit" while others feature a lowercase letter. (I just spent 10 minutes trying to explain why this is significant, but my post-semester brain is not cooperating... if you re-read it, you'll see!)

What this verse doesn't say, is that fear is an unnatural human emotion. Some fear in this fallen world is in fact a good thing. I might think the giant fuzzy panda at the zoo looks cute and cuddly, but my fear keeps me from hopping the fence and trying to give it a hug. Beyond the obvious health consequences of drugs and alcohol, it's the let down of inhibitions and protective fears which lead to risky, harmful behaviors.

So, you might say, yeah, but we're supposed to trust God and if we really trust God, we won't have any fear. I'm inclined to say that so long as I have the inheritance of Adam, I will always have some degree of fear over something. It's the post-Garden funk of our broken humanity.

The Remedy

When I confront situations that are fearful, I am reminded to pray. I recognize my frail status apart from God and turn to Him for rescue. And I don't imagine for a second that in this vulnerable moment that God is saying tsk tsk and registering divine disgust over my fear. Quite the contrary, I believe He is probably happy that I phoned home.

Pic by Jacob Earl; click here for restrictions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Whew... 142 pages double-spaced and done! Please pray that Anders lands with a nice publisher...

Cover art by my favorite photog... Evelyn Adams

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I'm swamped but will be back, hopefully, in about three weeks!
Pic by Blogging Dagger; click here for restrictions.
For FF...

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Move Over, Mr. Knight...

I read a review recently of a book called Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey. I'm not endorsing the book because I haven't read it. But there was an intriguing excerpt in People Magazine that's worth a second glance. According to the author, there are three ways to tell if a man loves you:

1. He professes it.

2. He provides.

3. He protects you.

I'm missing a bit of context here but I wonder if the author is onto something. For those afflicted by excessive Hallmark Hall of Fame sentimentality, it suggests that we are perhaps looking at our guys through lacy doilies and maybe missing the real virtues. Todd, for example, doesn't come charging through the back door after a hard day contemplating the outlook for energy on a big, old white stead with a rose between his teeth (well, not too often, anyway). This kind of behavior, Harvey might argue, "is not in his DNA." This sent me to Scripture to see what we can learn from Jesus.

The Biblical Husband

Husbands, loves your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Ephesians 5:25a)

Much has been written about what loving one's wife as Christ loved the church means. While we will never appreciate in the mortal sphere what this utterly selfless love really implies, it serves as an ideal for human love... something to strive for. As I think about Harvey's three-point love grid, I wonder if Christ's love for the church sets the standard here.

Christ professed His love.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Christ provided mortal and eternal sustenance.

Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted... (John 6:9)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world though him. (John 3:17)

Christ protected.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

So, ladies... if your husband is professing his love, trying in some way to provide for you, and protecting you, give him a hug today and tell him you appreciate all that he does!

Pic by One Lucky Guy... click here for restrictions.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Heartbreaking news from a classmate at Dallas Seminary whose baby went home to the Lord on Saturday. They have written about their journey with precious Gracie here. Please keep this family in your prayers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

About Replacement Costs

You can judge who deserves the bigger thwhack on the head: the one who left the brand, new cell phone in his pants pocket in the dirty clothes (that would be my 12-year-old son) or the one who washed the pants without checking the pockets (that would be me). So there sits his long-coveted cell phone in black-out mode in a bag of organic brown rice on a counter next to the jar of newly hatched sea monkeys that mysteriously went from seven to one overnight (sniffle, sniffle... more on that later). The Verizon guy said water damaged cell phones occasionally dry out in rice, so that's where we are.

Todd and I resisted the "But everyone else has one" guilt trip for many months before caving in and buying our tween a cell phone. I, personally, viewed with some, dare I say, judgment the accessorizing of our pre-teens with technology they really don't need. But, as our family increasingly fans out like an NYPD SWAT team over Texas ballparks, guitar studios and kenpo dojo's, it was becoming clear that a cell phone might, indeed, serve a purpose.

The Deal We Couldn't Resist

We acquired our son's phone as part of a "sign up" deal that commits us to a service contract and basically throws a nice phone in a minimal or no cost. But we learned yesterday, that the cost of replacing that good deal would be more than $300. So replacement costs are a bugger.

(Todd remembered he still had his "old" cell phone which really isn't that old. It's got a little aluminum finish chipping off and the picture window has a nice-sized crack. But, hey, it turns on! I enthusiastically rushed this over to my son expecting to see a grin of relief. "It works, it WORKS!" I chirped. "Uh, did you notice that has an antenna?" Which left me wondering when antennae became un-cool..)

Salvation: What Are the Replacement Costs?

So, we got this complimentary phone a while back with a service contract. And while the replacements costs are high, the phone could be replaced. I could go to the Verizon store this afternoon, lay down $300, and we could walk away with a new phone. It's not free anymore. But, it is obtainable. I flashed in my mind to things spiritual. Is there a salvation analogy here?

Salvation is free.

You've heard it said, perhaps, that the gift of salvation is free. This is what that means: Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again. All who trust in this truth are spared an eternity of separation from God. You are saved. You don't have to do tricks. You don't have to perform. You don't have to excel. You don't have to compete for anything. It is yours... free... for the asking. The gift made possible by a merciful and gracious God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

But there are no replacements.

Unlike my son's dead cell phone, there is not an option once you die to "sign up" under different contract terms. If you pass on the free gift of salvation and you expire, you have made an irrevocably bad decision. It's something that can't be undone or renegotiated. There's no bargaining or bartering.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

There is but one path to salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

My son fired up Todd's old cell phone last night and got himself a Bon Jovi ringtone. He has reconciled the fact that we will not be smacking down $300 for a Lexus-level cell phone for someone who doesn't even smell of after shave. The shiny, new phone still sits in a bag of rice awaiting a technological miracle of some sort. But it's all good. Cell phone, schmell phone. He's going to heaven and that's the main thing.

Are you?

Photo by b2tse... click here for restrictions.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pride Is... What?

Stand tall, don't you fall.
Oh, for God's sake don't go and do something foolish.
All you're feeling right now, is silly human pride

(Lyrics from "Stand Tall" by Burton Cummings)

OK, I don't have this song in my iPod library. I don't actually like this song. I find it kind of corporate-marketing-meeting cheesy. That of course is just my opinion (I don't have any Bruce Springsteen songs in my collection, either...). But there's something in the verse about the "silly human pride" that's worth a look. A careful look.

What does the word "pride" mean, anyway? I'll bet if you took a person-on-the-street poll, you would get answers like: "Someone who can't say she's sorry." And that would be correct. Or, "Someone who can't accept help." And that would be correct. This is probably the popular, normative understanding of the word. But as it relates to what God finds upsetting in the spirit of the creature, is there more to the story? Have we taken a truly reviling and ignoble human quality... a mortal fault... and turned it culturally into a kind of euphemism? Narrowly defining it such a way that we miss the point of what it is that leads God to allow for sometimes painful correction in our lives?

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I was trying to sketch out a kind of "trajectory" of what precipitated some legendary "falls" in the Bible. To see if there is a pattern of some sort. I looked at Satan (who was of the highest angelic order before he fell), Moses (who had a top job but wrestled with "people" issues), David (who defied God and counted his men and also sinned with Bathsheba), Solomon (who amassed a fortune and turned his affections to pagan women). There are lots of other falls, of course, but here we have a sample for illustrative purposes. All those mentioned got to the top of something. Is it possible that, like a dripping faucet, there was something "leaky" in the ascent that created a heart condition that led them to sin and, ultimately, fall? Could we call it selfishness? And is this selfishness a manifestation of pride?

Pride: noun (from

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc

Larry Crabb wrote an illuminating book called Inside Out that deals with the perils of living our lives fixated on self. And it's popular to assail the problem with "pride" in our Christian walk. "That's a pride thing," we say somewhat knowingly. But, more and more, I wonder if I really have a clue as to how this pride really manifests. And so long as culture has me thinking it's a "silly" or narrowly defined she-won't-accept-my-offer-of-meatloaf issue, am I inclinced to properly deal with it? I'm beginning to wonder if I have a clue as to what pride really looks like... and that's, uh, scary.

Question: What does pride look like in your life?

On my iPod... _____________. Having a new music deficit!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

My dog and I walk a couple miles every day. Along our route we encounter two beautiful dogs that are mostly white with tan spots. Both have arresting crystal-blue eyes. They are mostly "outside" dogs and never, ever miss an opportunity to rush the fence and bark their snouts off. One day, their owner was outside doing yard work and I stopped to inquire about the pedigree of these gorgeous creatures. I instantly recognized the legendary lineage of these prize-worthy specimens and nodded my head knowingly.

"Simple mutts," the man allowed.

"Ah," I said, "the best kind."

So, every day, day upon day, week after week, for some four years now, these dogs have responded in a predictable way to our daily appearance. They bolt to the fence and they bark at us. This despite the fact that my dog, Ruthy, has never once engaged them. I have never tried to leap the fence. We have never so much as coveted a Frisbee, tennis ball or spare rib bone. But these dogs are on point. They are missional. The are single minded in their goal. Their raison d'etre is to defend and protect their space.

God wants our focus.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

There are no doubt days those pets feel tired or dog-stereotypical lazy. Maybe they'd rather be lying belly up in a tuft of grass bathed in Texas sun. Maybe they'd rather be gnawing the heck out of a rubbery chew toy. But their innate focus is to stay focused on a priority that is instinctive to them.

What if we were so zealous in our faith as to never take our eyes off our mission in Christ? What if we were defenders of our faith and living as if our life depended upon bringing glory to our Creator. (Of course, in Jesus Christ, we are removed by faith from the burden of proving ourselves.) Still, it's worth some serious reflection as to where our mission lies and how we are living inside that mission.

How we lose focus.

So, the dogs are utterly predictable. We walk by, they go nuts. Yet one day, the pattern broke. As we approached the familiar house with its lovely canine residents, there was silence. No rushing, no barking, no nothing. Are they gone, I wondered? No, they were there. Planted like cake toppers at the bottom of a tree with those crystalline eyes fixed upwards.

"Hey guys!" I called. Ruthy cautiously broke from the path and edged over to where they were standing behind a see-through metal fence. It was as close as she'd gotten to these dogs ever. But they didn't so much as flinch. They were utterly oblivious to us even though, were it not for the fence separating us, I could have reached out and stroked them. I could have been a big, old slobbering mad dog. They didn't care! Ruthy could have been the Tarrant County Dog Catcher. They didn't care! Bloomin' Bigfoot could have been bearing down on them. They didn't care! The threat of enemy invasion was suddenly yesterday's rawhide. Because, you see, there was a squirrel in that tree. Now, the mission had shifted. Protect and defend had taken a back seat to catch that thing and eat it!

The snares of Satan.

And that's how it goes in our own lives so often. Satan shifts our focus. The real enemy is lurking and waiting to pounce while our eyes are fixed on something else. Satan even shifts our focus with counterfeit opportunities, hiding our real purpose and mission behind something that seems good but is, in fact, a drain on us or a distraction from God.

'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' (Isaiah 14:14)

Satan didn't express the desire to be different from God. He wanted to be like God. So, when we look for the traps of the devil in things that look expressly evil or stereotypical-Hollywood ghastly, are we missing the metal-teeth traps right in front of us? In the diminished mindset of those dogs, that squirrel was captivating and nothing, absolutely nothing else mattered. It wasn't a 102-pound bull mastiff or a 215-pound dog catcher that seized their attention... it was a small, vulnerable creature with a brain the side of a hazelnut that took them off mission.

Beware of myopia.

All of this makes me wonder what the dogs are doing when they aren't stirred to defend and protect (or lust). Which is a question for me, too. Did the mysterious unrevealed human author of Hebrews mean that I should immerse in Scripture and become a student of Jesus Christ to the exclusion of all else? That I should board up and shutter out the world around me? Is that what "fixing eyes" is all about? Am I to myopically stare ahead without regard to what's going on around me?

I believe we are to fix our eyes metaphorically, as revealed by the author of Hebrews. It is ultimately much more than a simple vision exercise. We need hearts and minds affixed to Christ, so that thoughts and actions and our very mindset adhere unwaveringly to truth that we find in Scripture. We're running a marathon and there are people lining the route that we need to invite into the race. There are also those running in our midst who have stumbled or fallen who need to be helped even carried. This requires that we look beside us, behind us and beneath us. That our consciousness is never removed from the familial bond and the family inheritance we have in Jesus Christ, but that we don't miss the lost, the struggling and the wounded because we fail to see them in a pursuit of knowledge.

Question: How and where are you most vulnerable to shifting focus from Jesus Christ?

Pic of Ruthy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hey, that should be our tagline, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sonrise Update

Great session this morning... and a sobering look at the model of humanistic psychology and its impact on many surprising aspects of mindset and culture. Next Wednesday, we'll talk about angels from the perspective of Scripture. What is their role and function? What do they look like? How did they minister to people long ago? How to they differ from humans? Are they actively intervening on our behalf today? Please come and also share your amazing "encounters" with God next week.

Don't forget to order your Boundaries book for our February study!

Please join us, wherever you are, in our prayers for former President George W. Bush and our new President Barack Obama. We prayed specifically this morning that George Bush and his family would transition with a sense of peace to the next leg of life's journey, knowing that there are many who stand grateful for his years of commitment and service to our nation. We prayed for safety and health and protection for Barack Obama and his family, and that the guiding hand of God would be firmly on his shoulder, ever affirming his Christian faith and providing discernment and wisdom... and that change in whatever form it takes transcends politics and economics and culture and results, ultimately, in glory to God.

Love, Sarah

The Pantry vs. the Seminary

Before the start of a new semester at DTS, I found myself in a bit of a juggling dilemma. We'd spent much of our Christmas break out of town and upon returning, the house was in a December 26 time warp. It was now January and most of my friends had long retired the old Christmas stockings, but we'd come home to vestiges of wrapping paper on the floor and a dried out tree in need of undecking. Not to mention the post-vacation laundry assault and the never-ending battle I always seem to lose against counter space clutter. I had a moment (that actually lasted about four days) of seriously contemplating dropping out of seminary, which I attend part-time, to focus like a worker ant on my house. The catalyst for this was actually an incident involving my husband and my pantry.

Imagine, if you will, a junk drawer that is accessible by foot. A place where soup sits alongside cereal and onion flakes, and chocolate baking chips buddy up to stewed tomatoes and third-grade cotton-ball crafts. Where ketchup bottles are scattered about, pocking nearly every shelf like a polka dot sweater. Where expiration dates pre-date Pauline epistles. Where there's the ever present danger of things like kidney beans--the canned ones--getting edged out by jars of mixed nuts and landing on someone's foot (or head).

So there stands poor Todd one day, at the threshold of the abomination and desolation that is my pantry.

"Uh, got any mocha coffee in there, 'ya think?" he attempted.

"Oh, dear," I cautiously began, "Could be behind the Rice Krispy treats. Or the cling peaches? If not there, than check behind the Grape Nuts. Or the paper towels. Or beside the ketchup, maybe?"

"Which ketchup?" he asked, eyeing enough condiment bottles to accommodate a new heaven and a new earth.

Todd paused briefly, then shut the pantry door, subordinating his lust for a cool Starbucks and avoiding avoid bodily injury and/or wasted man hours searching.

So began an extended inner battle of the pantry versus the seminary.

In the end, I concluded it's possible to have a livable pantry and also swing a single three-hour course. But it was a bit of a process getting there.

God's Revelation

I've never heard the audible voice of God. I've never had a vision. But God communicates to me and to you in diverse and varied ways.

Theologians speak of two "classifications" of God's revelation: "general" and "special." General revelation is how God reveals Himself as the Creator and "CEO" of all matter. General revelation is not not limited, as we know it, by a specific time or space in history and it is not manifest in words. Instead, it touches our senses. From the beginning, we have been able to look to the sky at the vast expanse of stars or the diversity of life forms on earth and sense that there is a force at work that is far greater than mortal man (Psalm 19), though not all connect the dots to the one, true God (Romans 1: 18-23). From the beginning, man has felt the "tug" of human conscience and has been able to perceive that there is something beyond the mortal consciousness (Romans 2:15), though not all heed this tug (Romans 1:18-23).

Special revelation, then, speaks to the way in which God has revealed Himself at specific and defined times to individual(s). The fullest special revelation comes to us in Scripture. The Bible itself is revelation. It also describes revelationary events (e.g., ancient appearances and utterances of Gods, visions, miracles, prophetic and apostolic communication, historical events, including creation of the Church, and the person and works of Jesus Christ.)

So, there's a lot we can know about God because He has graciously revealed aspects of Himself and His will pretty much all over the place. In our day to day lives, God communicates to us through the Holy Spirit. In my life, typically, by creating a special awareness of something or someone. A person placed upon my heart in need of prayer and support. Scripture that captures the attention and seems to have some sort of illuminating or guiding purpose. Any number of seeming "coincidences" that result in something purposeful for God.

(Is anybody wondering what, pray tell, this has to do with my pantry? I'm getting there, I'm getting there...)

God Whispers

So, I was coming home after running an errand last week and I felt very attuned to the bleak winter landscape. I drove by yard upon yard of yellow, straw-like grass lying dormant and pale in the cold. I sensed in a heart-felt, tuggy kind of way as if I was supposed to pay attention to this. So, I did. At one point, I rounded the corner and, though it was barely above freezing, there was one neighbor who had a lawn full of lush, velvety green grass. It stood in striking contrast to a landscape of yellow. One thriving lawn in a sea of old-photo yellow. Then I noticed his sprinklers were on.

Instantly, I had this green versus yellow grass analogy in my head that had a V8 slap kind of spiritual linkage. I was reminded of a course I took on Leviticus and how the "holiness" required of the Israelites was all about being different or "set apart." God's people were to aspire to a standard of conduct and thought that wasn't arbitrated by the world. It's God's standards to which they were to aspire.

My neighbor with the green grass has a different kind of grass. His grass stays green all winter long, while mine goes dormant and yellow. As Christians, you are like that green grass. You are different. Not because of anything you achieved on your own, but by virtue of the decision you have made to follow Jesus Christ.

But just as my neighbor had his sprinklers raining down on that grass, we are called to be active in our faith. To keep growing in pursuit of Christ. And that requires a tending to or watering of our faith.

I felt strongly that the "watering" of my own spiritual growth would not be accomplished by dedicating myself to the function of throwing out 2,000-year-old cans of corn niblets. While the cleaning of the pantry is vital periodic household task, it's not the reason to bail on the education that builds a ministry.

The Test of Scripture

By this point, I now have a different vibe going and see my decision to bail on seminary as potentially foolish. But at this point, it is still a feeling. And feelings deceive. So I need to check these feelings with Scripture, which is God's most detailed propositional (words) revelation.

Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding; do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak. (Proverbs 4:5)

This verse resides in a section that challenged ancient listeners to follow the teachings of God to avoid being deceived and fall into harm. What can I reliably infer from this verse today? That the pursuit of God's truth is as critical to those of us living today as it was when this verse was spoken or written. This is a universal, unchanging principal for me and for you. We are to pursue God. What is the most reliable source of God's revelation in our midst? Scripture. And for me, anyway, the best path to learning about Scripture has been seminary where every semester I am smacked upside the head with some new glint of understanding passed on from an incredible professor and, at the same time, humbled by how little I really know.

This weekend, Todd and the boys rolled up their sleeves and pitched about eight black trash bags of junk we'd accumulated that needed to go. I worked on the pantry while Todd and his little band of helpers raided closets and stripped them of clutter. It was a beautiful team effort that suggested to me that we have underutilized resources in our midst--i.e., the kids.

So, now I have a reasonably respectable pantry (though we never did find the Starbuck's mocha...) and I am back at seminary in a compelling study of angels, demons and sin. The confusion is gone and I'm right where I believe God wants me to be. Thanks to the whisper of God and the affirming truth of Scripture.

Photo of someone else's clean pantry. Click here for Jiggs Images' restrictions on use of this pic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sonrise Update: Meeting Wednesday!

Sonrisers... great time of sharing (and laughing) this morning. Welcome and Happy Birthday to AN! We looked at aspects of "happiness" this morning and will continue the theme next week by examining the ultimate human aspirations. We'll be comparing and contrasting humanistic psychology with Christianity. Please read the following Scripture: Matthew 6:33, John 18:36, Luke 12:7.

New Meeting Day

Also, please note the date change for our life group. We will no longer be meeting on Tuesday's. Beginning next week, please join us on Wednesday mornings from 8:15-9:15 at 121 Community Church in Grapevine. You do not have to be a member of our church! Contact me here for more information.

Bye for now!


Friday, January 09, 2009

Meet Logan

This is so precious... it will touch your heart.

"... Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me..." (Matthew 19:14)

In Search of Truth

Bernard Madoff swindled $50 billion dollars from thousands of investors worldwide committing what some are decrying the biggest financial hoax in history. People burned and singed by Madoff's "Ponzi" scheme include private citizens, institutions and corporations. My heart goes out to the many people whose economic viability--the ability to pay today's bills and plan for tomorrow--was tethered to untruth. We have a pecan tree in the back yard and it's hard to tell just from looking at the shell which ones are hollowed out and full of decay. So it goes with the human experience.

Perception vs. Truth

Often we confuse our perceptions about the state of reality with that of truth. Madoff's investors put their trust and confidence in something they thought was true. But the reality proved false. I found a very helpful explanation of truth vs. reality on

Reality reflects the varying conditions and circumstances that characterize our world—right or wrong, they’re all a part of “real life.” Truth, on the other hand, is objective, eternal and absolute. For the Christian, it is grounded in the Word of God.

Our Clouded Vision

It's a tricky, shadows and light world in which we live. How often do we take the "right or wrong" aspects of our reality and embrace them as truth? Making decisions and living our lives pointed toward a direction that seems right based upon the conditions and circumstances of our world only to be spit out and deposited outside the boundaries of God's truth. Truth transcends our experiences and perceptions.

Sometimes we suffer from faulty vision. If I encounter better-than-acquaintance-but-not-quite-BFF Betty Jean in the cereal aisle at WalMart and she snubs me, I may think that she hates me. My perceived reality is that I have just cheerfully chirped "Hi, Betty!" and she has cruelly rejected me with an incomprehensible sputter and a frosty, mean- girl stare. My perception is that we are no longer friends and I won't be calling Betty for coffee next month. Unbeknownst to me, however, Betty's 12-year-old Yorkie was put to sleep that morning. My perception of her feelings about me had no grounding whatsoever in truth. Betty was mourning not snubbing.

God's Truth

Truth can set us free (John 8:31,32), sanctify us (John 17:17-19) and purify us (1 Pet. 1:22). “Reality” cannot. Truth, as found throughout Scripture, gives us a reliable set of unwavering parameters to live by. Reality is affected by time and manipulated by the agendas of man. It knows no boundaries of acceptability. Every form of depravity is “real.” Does that mean it’s acceptable? (

The Spirit of God worked through divinely empowered human beings to reveal truth through the medium of words which are now canonized in Scripture. Theologians use the term "propositional revelation" to describe God's provision of truth through the written word. The Bible is the Christian's "mapquest" to salvation and a "playbook" for moral living. The text is alive and relevant to every aspect of our relationship with God and one another, and is simply truth defined.

Pursuing Truth

So, Scripture is truth. Going back to my hypothetical encounter with Betty Jean in the cereal aisle, how would my thoughts (and actions) play out if I were on a quest for truth?

Step 1: Suspend My Judgment (1 Samuel 16:7)

Understand that my "gut" feeling about Betty Jean--my perception--might not be true.

Step 2: Check My Heart (1 John 4:11)

When my feelings get hurt, my focus turns inward. My first concern is "self" not "others." This is a normal, natural first response and the universal heart affliction of our fallen state. But, as followers of Christ, we need to pray for help from the Holy Spirit to overcome this tendency to self-protect or "get back" at others when the perceived injury involves pride.

The Madoff crime is a worst-case example of something that seemed true but proved to be false. But all reality--macro and micro--is rife with untruth that often masquerades as truth. Our challenge is to discern the difference. Thank God we have Scripture as revelation to guide us.

Quotes in green from a wonderful article by Bob Waliszewski and Bob Smithouser from Click here for the full text.

Photo by The Rocketeer, click here for restrictions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sonrise Update

Sonrisers... so wonderful to reconnect yesterday. Thanks to KP for a powerful devotional on worry. I'm still processing her insights and everyone's shared input. Please don't forget to read the handout this week!

Next week... let's talk about happiness. Our Scripture periscope is 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8. Also, consider this quote by the French Philosopher Blaise Pascall: "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and others avoiding it, it is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." Do you agree or disagree with this?

We will be reading Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries in February. Please order your copy now!



Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happiness Is...

Just back from a week in Virginia visiting my parents and skiing at Wintergreen. Actually, I was an active participant in the visiting part but passed on the skiing (bahk, bahk bahk bahk). Still, I suited up in black and purple multi-layers and stood on the edge of slippery slopes trying to fend off the East Coast chill while watching the boys on their first-ever ski trip. I looked like the Michelan Man in a Barney costume, but managed to stay warm! Great fun, all around.

On the last night, however, I was done with the sporting life but lost the vote (4 to 1) to stay in by a fire and watch a movie. Todd and the boys wanted to pack in a few more hours of skiing, but graciously suggested that I could retire my Michelan suit for the evening and stay inside! So, there I sat on a fluffy couch with a TV remote in my hand, feeling a bit like the beer commercial guy looks. After a few minutes of surfing, I landed on the Lifetime Channel several minutes into a movie starring Heather Locklear. It was pretty much your typical made-for-TV deal, but something had me hooked and I hung with it to the end. I learned a lot, too.

The Plot

I can't remember the name of the movie, but the character played by Heather Locklear, a mother of two young children, is recently divorced and off on a solo trip to Hawaii to celebrate her 40th birthday. She hooks up with a 20-something surf instructor and spends the rest of the movie going back and forth between Hawaii to keep the affair alive. In the end, "love" prevails and there is the suggestion of a happy albeit complicated ever after.

The Theme: Pursue Happiness At All Costs

This sentence was uttered two or three times by Locklear's character: "They [the kids] like me better when I'm happy." This was how the character justified dumping her young brood for a week every month to romp around Hawaii having sex. Which made perfect sense to not only her, but managed to also shut up her critics.

The Trap

Have you ever fed a ticket machine at Chuck 'E Cheese? It makes those gobbling, snarfing, chomping sounds as it devours the ticket. That's how this movie struck me. I imagined all the people out there bug-eyed on a sofa watching this movie. Choking down a message about pursuing happiness at all costs. Justifying selfish, destructive behavior by passing it off as being in the best interest of someone else. Harmless Hollywood chick flick fare? Maybe so. Maybe not.

What Scripture Says

For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1Thessalonians 4: 7-8)

Much has been written on this subject in recent years, but someone said it best who said that "God is most concerned about our holiness not our happiness." Happiness is a fleeting and transient emotion that derives principally from man-made sources. And as quickly as it comes, it goes. So, when we chase off with blinders to God in pursuit of earthly pleasures and treasures, we are grabbing at fog. Not to suggest that we as Christians can't or shouldn't be happy or enjoy the state of happiness. My laughter is now officially a source of embarrassment to my tween who has hit the I-would-rather-die-than-draw-attention-to-myself stage. "Can you control that?" he often pleads. Through Christ Jesus, we are free to know joy. But when the pursuit of fun becomes life's driver, edging out our focus on Christ, we become vulnerable to temptation and high-wire instability. We say and do reckless things that threaten our primary relationships and our Christian vision ices over.

Question: What makes you happy? Why?