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?